Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 19, 2011 5:43PM

Walking with John James Audubon

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Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis Tearing apart a sunflower seed.






And then, getting ready for a half-gainer takeoff holding a new seed.



There is a long list of "even though" thoughts I could mention on the nature of living in Dallas. I know I lucked out—a beautiful bride of thirty years now, three kids worthy of love and every good thing and a happy relaxed life filled with art and fun. But man, I hate the summer here—which is also known as "most of the year." That's what growing up a couple of blocks from the beach in northern San Diego county will do for you. We didn't have an air conditioner back then, there was rarely a need for it. And while what they say is true—that you can't go back—I don't really want to. The place where I grew up sadly doesn't exist anymore. It would be nice, though, to have some cool onshore ocean breezes once in a while.


This summer has been brutal in North Texas. The drought has hit the state hard. The past year from August 2010 through August 2011 have been the driest for that year-long period in Texas since the late nineteenth century, when the state began keeping rainfall records. This summer in Texas has been the hottest in the country’s history, according to the National Weather Service. Drought, wild fires and agricultural losses will result in multiples of millions of dollars in losses. There's a historic line that meanders its way from north to south through the western one-fourth of Texas. The boundary is called the 20-inch rainfall line. It has been used to describe where crops need to be either irrigated or watered from the heavens. It also describes the difference in local vegetation. I'm guessing that line is about to be moved quite a ways eastward.


Dallas had been spared for the most part having received less rain than normal, though enough to keep things green. But now every county in the state is either in a Stage 3 Drought Emergency or Stage 4 Drought Disaster. Stage 4 is as bad as it can get. I'm sure you heard that someone vying for your vote next year called for everyone in the state to pray for rain. So far that hasn't worked out.


It's been too damned hot. It still is.


Not that I venture outside much with the temperature is north of 105°—the tendency is to hibernate the summer away. I mentioned on Facebook not too long ago, when the thermometer reached 107° here and other places in the country had long since unpacked their autumn wardrobe that if Rick Perry told me to my face that man-caused global warming is just a theory as he did in a recent "debate," I'd punch him in the mouth. We've had 70 days of temperatures above 100°, a new local record. 


I went on to mention in a comment on that Facebook posting that it just goes to prove that a D+ to C- college education that our GoodHair Governor garnered while leaping about as a cheerleader on the sidelines at Texas A&M has nothing at all to do with understanding the scientific method or a scientific understanding of the principles and definition of "theory." Although that troglodyte intelligence seems to go a long way in making vast portions of the population happy. I've said it before of our previous president that it takes a village of idiots to elect the village idiot. The same applies to the current looney tune parading around in a cowboy hat and boots that appear to be too large for him. All that aside, his lack of intelligence is perhaps the least venal thing about him. But that was enough to get Shrub Bush appointed once and elected once—people just want to have a president they'd like to have a beer with. Never mind anything about  ruining a country and making your buddies richer still, by God he's someone that you can relate to. Critical thinking is overrated.










Ok, enough. We can calm down a bit by recalling that Vonnegut mantra "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." 


And living in Hades aside, I'm not sure there's any other metropolitan area that is blessed with two beautiful Audubon Centers. The Trinity River Audubon Center (TRAC) on the edge of the Great Trinity Forest southeast of downtown and the Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center (DCAC) located on the southwest highlands of the White Rock Escarpment are oases and refuges from the sturm and drang of our political maelstroms.


"Wait," you're saying to yourself. "Did you say highlands? In Dallas?" Indeed I did. Just outside of the city limits but still within Dallas County we have elevation pronounced enough to that cartographers have had to draw elevation lines close together on the local topographic maps—well, closer together than a mile apart anyway. Cedar Hill, close by the Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center tops out at around 850 feet above sea level. It's also where a cluster of radio and TV antennas reside.


The DCAC is now only a week old. The opening weekend just passed, and while I was very curious, I don't do crowds very well. So I waited for a weekday morning, and one that was relatively cool, to explore the new facility and trails in relative peace and quiet. And if you want any chance of seeing the local birds or other fauna, you're more likely to be successful without happy screaming children running wild.


The facility is in a remote, relatively undeveloped corner of Dallas County. It's heavily forested with flowering dogwoods (hence the name), a variety of different mature oak species, Texas ash and ancient Ashe junipers. Most of the county is Blacksoil or Blackland Prairie, but Dogwood Canyon is a sand and limestone uplifted escarpment—the remains of an ancient seaway that stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico right through the center of the continent.


Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor. She's not too happy the Carolina Chickadees have hogged all the sunflower seeds.

Tufted TitmouseSo she moves to the next station that has a column matrix of different seeds, but a secondary choice it seems.



You can see the forest cover and canopy in the following shot from when the site was still under construction. (I'll explain the red arrow in a little bit.)


Google Earth002

Google Earth coordinates: 32.612068, -96.970444


The cover is so dense, you can't see the spare single track trail that winds around in a big loop. An elevation gain from the visitors' center of more than 200 feet will keep your calves nicely toned. The first part of the trail is quite steep and it's an easier walk on the top of the escarpment.


Before heading out on the trail, you need to stop in the visitors' center to show your membership card or pay the day rate. You're greeted by friendly staff and there's a special surprise. Take the stairs up to a landing that is facing the tree cover and overhanging a seasonally dry creek bed and you'll see an active feeding station with a variety of seed containers and a couple of sugar water stations for hummingbirds. The images at the top of the post are from that viewing platform. The glass is angled outward to prevent bird strikes on the glass as it reflects the ground below, making the birds more cautious. I think it also adds some reflective cover for those of us viewing the little gems who stop by.


Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris resting between visits to the energy drink station. I think she also saw part of me standing on the other side of the glass and was being cautious, trying to judge the threat. You can see a larger view of her here.



Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female)

The light isn't optimal for her in this shot, but if you click on the original resolution here and scroll around the image to where the end of her bill is you can see her tiny thin tongue sticking out a little. It's amazing they get enough sugar water to stick on it to get sustenance.









It's time to hit the trails. There are two, one flat short out and back trail that is handicap accessible about a half mile round trip and a steeper ¼ mile trail that takes you to a one and a half mile loop at the top of the escarpment. The longer trail starts out easy enough, but it quickly rises.


The trails are not well marked, and when they were being constructed they used the trees and branches that were cleared as boundary edges. 



It's a bit steeper than it looks in the photographs.


Along the way, there are small things to observe. A colony of oak gall, and a mid-trail deposit from a coyote that had just passed moments before. It's interesting, though you can skip looking at it if it grosses you out. The thing is that the whole ecosystem is stressed from the drought. Trees are shedding limbs to conserve water, and the coyotes are having a hard time finding prey, as evidenced in the picture of its scat which is mostly comprised of seeds from what fruit and berries can be had.



Very few prey hairs and still damp from a recent deposit. 



We quickly get to the loop intersection and the trail flattens out. Even though were not talking high altitude here, the top of the escarpment 

is noticeably cooler and you're more likely to get some breezes as well.





In the following shot you'll see a testament to my poor eyesight. After suffering for a few weeks with increased glaucoma pressure and being very sensitive to light, I was determined to get out of the house and visit the new Audubon Center. At one edge of the bluff, facing southwest, you'll see that they've cleared a few trees to show the view. It wasn't until I got back to the visitors' center and talked with the Senior Manager for Conservation and Education and a specialist in conservation biology, Dr. Tania Homayoun, that I had taken a photo showing evidence of another denizen of the White Rock Escarpment. I wish it was a better picture and focused directly on the tree, but there you have it. On the felled trunk near the bottom edge of the photograph you'll see where a bobcat has been scratching and marking its territory. You'll probably have to view it in the larger size to see it. And then, you'll notice another personal phenomenon—that I often can't see what kind of shot I have until I get home and put it up on a large computer screen. In the upper left, on a tree branch, you'll see a tiny flash of red. That's a male Northern Cardinal keeping a wary eye on me as I stumble around.


Larger view here










As I neared the end of the loop trail and before heading down to the center I had another surprise. Remember the red arrow on the map image above? I saw something peeking around the corner of some trees and thought it was pretty cool, but had no idea what it was doing up there all by itself.



It was a corrugated cabin. 



There's no evidence that there was ever electric power up to the cabin, so the disintegrating refrigerator is a bit of a mystery, unless it was one powered by propane. 



Bullet holes were plugged with whatever was handy



It was smallish inside, but had "high ceilings and low floors." You'll notice a couple of things: A bed with box springs, a ladder leading up to what might have been a sleeping platform and a 55-gallon drum that was turned into something like a Franklin stove. There was even a countertop in the corner and its kitchen sink on the floor.



I wonder how many faces were seen in that mirror.


There's always someone who can't seem to understand that they're not really the only people in the world. Who would ever think it's ok to toss a filled soiled diaper just off the trail. They obviously didn't care that someone had to come along after them and pick it up. Coyote scat I can handle (not literally), baby scat is another matter. 



Of course, there's no way to get lost on a loop trail, even one that's not marked very well. There were a couple of obvious spurs that didn't go very far but were intended to take you to the edge of the escarpment for a better view. The image below shows Joe Pool Lake and in the far distance there's a pale hazy dome on the horizon 12 miles away. That's the new Altar to the Absurd of Jerry Jones, the Cowboys Stadium.




No worries, a serendipitous signpost will help you if you get turned around. 


trail marker

Natural trail marker, though it's semi-inadvertent and seasonal—and is only brightly visible for a few moments during the day. This is a much better image with which to end on. It's a vine leaf of Muscadine, a wild summer grape Muscadinia rotundifolia. (It could be the locally common Mustang Grape Vitis mustangensis, though the leaf surface texture of the Mustang Grape doesn't quite match the image shown.)



Happy trails friends. I'm glad you stopped by. Remember to pack out what you pack in!






all photos copyright © 2011 by barry b. doyle · all rights reserved




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I do enjoy photography but have never neared your skill level.
But I can see that we enjoy the trails and details, and latin terminology etc. in the same way.
Most enjoyable posting.
Ah, this is awesome! Can't wait to explore it! Fun pics as always.
Great piece Barry, with the wonderful open shots of the Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis.....whew! I need to learn to say that while drinking a glass of encourage the old memory cells...or not...
It's heartening to see this forest in Texas despite the drought. Hope your eyes get well. your characterization of our Cheer-leading friend. Our cartoon is really about him specifically...
Barry, this is such a different world than what many of us who don't live in the region would expect to find there! What a great addition to the community to have this second Audubon sanctuary opened. As always, excellent photos and story. Anyone in your area seeing this will certainly add the new site to their list of places to visit.
aka, thanks so much for your kind words. And I'm glad you appreciate the Latin binomials, it's part of the fun stuff doing the research for one of my posts to look up that info, it certainly is educational for me.

Harry, let me know if you can break away from the shelter sometime and we can walk around the site together. We're in for some cooler weather soon, just say when.

Gary, it's such a delight for me to have you stop by...and thanks for the good thoughts on the eyes...they are getting better from this latest round of trouble. I love your collaborative cartoon, and knew of course the intended target.

John, thanks so much. I hope that people here will see this, but this post is not something that the Audubon Center itself would necessarily promote, since they wouldn't want to offend any of the Perry aficionados whom I have maligned. Many of his supporters have lots of money and I think the Audubon Centers are apolitical, concentrating on the good things they do in their various communities and would welcome donations from most any source.

Thanks for your kind words John, nice for you to be here.
I find testament to the human spirit and human condition here. That is what I like about your photography and essays.
This post: Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt except the little political interlude.
Wonderful as always, Barry. My father taught me a great love for birds, but I can't forget that Audubon drew many of his wonderful illustrations by looking at birds he'd shot and posed.

As for summer, we had major snow in the mountains this weekend, so ours is over. I'll think of you while I shovel.
About those bullet holes.. were they innies or outties? Great photos as always, & that bird really does look mad.
Wow have you folks had a hot time of it. Even the birds must be feeling the heat. I am so glad to know these details and share them with the wonderful images that you make. 70 days over 100....OMG!
another spot that i'm sure i'll never get to in person and am thankful i get to follow you (through the photos) on your walk. i'm quite partial to the hummingbird series, especially her little feet wrapped around that tiny branch with the curled tendrils and the blurred red feeder that looks like a ruby saucer. i'm with julie delio, though, on that fave photo pic - the one of the shutter hinge on the window and that amazing corrugated siding, a spectacular shot. thanks, barry. xo
Beautiful. I loved my walk..
Stacey, thank you, friend, for those words. I'm glad it connected with you in that way.

Miguela, I just got back from reading your post on stealing a kiss which I thought was wonderful. It's so nice to see you here. I agree, it hurts a bit to think about Perry, but doesn't that make the rest of the post even better by comparing?

HL, I have Ridgway on my iPhone temperature app, so I do keep track. It's amazing that it's not really that far away really, yet it could be on another world. It's true that JJA killed his specimens. I think that if he lived today he wouldn't do that, it really was a common thing for naturalists at that time, in part because they had no concept of anything other than having dominion over the natural world. It's a very interesting point. I'm happy to just rely on my camera, but that still cannot match his opus magnus in any shape or form.

Ric, hey man, it's great to see you. I think the bullet holes were made long after the cabin was abandoned, and before it became property of the Audubon Society, so they would be innies, right? From the outside in by vandals.

Algis, thanks for stopping by, it's true that the flora and fauna are really stressed. We had some rain yesterday, some areas it was quite heavy, so I hope that makes it easier for beasts and plants alike.

Candace, thanks firstly to you (and Algis) for stopping by the other post I put up today on another site and glad you enjoyed that one too. And you know I would have preferred to have you walking along on the trail. I love how you share the details of what you enjoyed in the images...thanks for everything. xo

Rita, I'm glad you went along, it's what I intended so that's special.
That was an educational, invigorating, leisurely walk. Thank you, for bringing your part of the world closer to me, Barry. ♥
Details everywhere. I love that. And I'd like to think that your guardian Cardinal would let you know somehow if you got too lost, sort of like watching out for a fellow watcher. May it rain a drenching rain where you are...soon and often...wishful thinking, I know, but still...thanks, bbd~
Fusun, I loved your post today of the tall ships and it's good to see you here, thanks for coming along on the walk with me, much appreciated.

catch, thanks for that little gift, a pleasure as always when you stop by.
Barry, the pictures were stunning and I especally loved the pics of the forest. As a child of the Lower Trinity River I am accustomed to vast Pine forests but I do love the great hardwoods you have up there. All in all you have made me more than a little homesick for Texas.
As always, simply stunning. Great nature photography has a special place in my heart, reminding me to stop and look closely. In this post, with the global warming thread, I suppose I have to wonder whether these beautiful specimens may end up elsewhere . . . hopefully, still somewhere on the planet, but still . . . No, tonight I choose to side with Vonnegut and you: If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.
Torman, thanks man, it's an honor for you to be here. I have an image that you might like to see, it's a loop of the Trinity River, though up near Dallas and now down where you were in the Piney Woods. It's actually on the property of the other Audubon Center, the Trinity River Audubon Center. At first I thought I was going to do a post combining images and a story line from both Centers, but it would too long and unwieldy...Will have to save that other story for another day.

Anyway, the image can be found here--a pano of two images stitched together:

Owl, I love how you get the feeling of this. What you said about ending up somewhere else really hit home. When I was doing research on the plant and animal species, there were several instances where the articles talked about how the migration patterns are moving northward. The Tufted Titmouse in particular is changing its patterns even now. They used to migrate southward from Ohio in the winter, and now current reports are that they are year round residents. If a Tufted Titmouse knows about climate change and is adapting because of it, why is it so hard for some to see it happening.
Lovely photos! I really enjoyed the writing. Hope rain comes soon! My daughter, 5 years-old, chased after some young litterers recently. I was so proud of her.
Well, of course the photos are perfect, but your words and thoughts are so worth coming here for. I really hope another candidate comes along and shines with intelligence and honesty.

But I really like the cabin interior, slice of life.
I don't know why I'm surprised hummingbirds have tongues. I must have thought they used their beaks like straws. That cabin is a wonderful mystery. You do the best virtual trips.
Thank you for the walk-about and the interesting facts. Excellent images too. Dang it gets hot there!
I only had time today to check in and read one post–I'm so glad I picked this one. Audubon sanctuaries are a piece of heaven. There is one nearby where I like to spend time in all seasons. Birds seem to know it is a safe place for them, and are plentiful if you can be quiet and look. Hawks also find these birdie McDonald's and I've seen them tearing away up at a bloody mass high up in a tree, a fascinating bird experience in itself. The rusty cabin was beautiful!
Lucy, it's nice to see you back on OS after your hiatus. I would be proud of your daughter too, but it's not absolute in the sense that some litterers are also cranky nasty people so I hope your lovely daughter doesn't get a scare from one of those.

Diana, thanks for coming by. I hope the Colorado sojourn is/has been restorative. High Lonesome reported enough snow in the little village where her church is that it had to be shoveled. And thanks for the lovely words.

Mumblety, I think at one time I thought that too until I stood quietly under a feeder one day and saw the tongues darting in and out. Thanks for stopping by.

MC, it does indeed get hot. It was in the 60s this morning though, so there is some hope for a respite.

Green, yes, nature red in tooth and claw is interesting and instructive. And I think you're right, that over some time the creatures know that they are safe. When we visit our property in Colorado I think the elk and deer know that the mesa we're on is a protected zone, especially in October when hunting season is on. The locals also put their large dogs in iridescent vests when venturing off of the mesa in October since some of the hunters are a bit trigger happy. I'm delighted that you stopped by here in your limited allotment of internet time. Thanks.
I see you found my old house! :-)

Thanks for taking me along on this adventure, and thank goodness the spirit of John James Audubon lives on. Birds are our closest link to dinosaurs. I am so grateful to my sister for passing along her sense of wonder at these creatures to me.
You took me right in. That wee bit of a cabin is history to your newly open Audubon Center.

Fine place to go and I enjoyed the pictures along with the text.

I haven't been hot this whole summer in Germany. I feel for you in Texas and I'd slap Perry- for his weighing in dismissing Global Warming- and just for being himself.

Wonderful work, my friend. Many of these shot remind me of here, and if you'd like to see a variety of birds in a wilderness habitat, come visit me in the mts of East TN.
Another wonderful in-depth look at your world. The photos are of course, amazing.
What a gift you have. Thanks for sharing.
Jeanette, I've always loved the feathered dinosaur connection, I'm glad you came along on this. xo

Mango, I did talk with the senior manager there about the cabin, she gave me a bit of a backstory on the cabin that goes pretty far back to some original landowners. It was all second hand to her, so I'd be curious about finding a good source on it. Glad you, and some friends I have near Stuttgart, have had a nice mild summer.

Tom, a pleasure for you to be here. I've been a couple of times to Knoxville and spent some time in the Great Smokey Mountains. At the time there was quite a bit of beetle blight in the forests there, I hope it's been getting better. The rangers were collecting seeds for storage since they thought that vast areas would never be saved. It's a great beautiful part of the country and I'd like to revisit.

Lea, so nice to see you. xo Thanks for coming along.

Mary Ann, thanks for the gracious comment, happy to see you here.
You make me wish I lived around there heat and all, just so I could walk that trail. I love your pictures...
What a great trail--your photos and commentary capture its beauty perfectly! You were brave to enter that cabin--I would have worried that something would fly out at me!
Thanks for the lovely walk.
You are a triple threat- great writing, great photos and an artist to boot! This is an amazing piece; heading to Cape May to see the monarchs before they head in your direction. Hope to do bird watching while there so this is apropos for my curent state of mind.
What a fabulous treat. Thank you, Barry. I feel more restored now.
Lunchlady, I'm so glad you enjoyed the images, thanks for stopping by--always a welcome visitor.

Karin, I wondered about going in the cabin, and to be honest, there were some pretty horrible looking things in there. I kept thinking that if ever a place in north Texas could host a hanta virus this would be it. Thanks for your kind words.

Christing, thanks for coming by, glad you liked it.

joames, I hope you'll be able to write about the Cape May trip and have some photos to go along with it, I would find it fascinating. Thanks very much for your gracious words.

Lorraine, you honor me by stopping by. I must confess I was really taken with your beautifully written political education piece. Masterfully woven. I'm glad that I helped in the restoration. Thanks so much for coming by.
Fab RT hummer shots. And, I love the pen and ink or etchings whichever. Did you do them? You almost make me want to come from Maine to Dallas..........sort of. Nice piece.
beautiful wander through another gem in texas that i didn;t know existed. thanks for the breather. and damn, but you take beautiful bird photos. :)
Barry, when it comes to birds, nature, hiking, politics, dislike for inconsiderate people, and old abandoned houses, we are kindred spirits! Thanks, I really enjoyed the walk in the woods!
Thank you for this post and the beautiful photos. I love the one of the hummingbird and that you included a link so we could see it enlarged.
Took in everything as I read through this sterling post. Your posts are the most informative and involved ones here. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all of them. This one was another great one to add to your legacy.
Just dropped back to read this post, too. I enjoyed it so much! I hope your blog and OS will stay open forever so I can keep coming back to read and re-read it!

I must learn how to get pictures of the birds at the feeder! I have my own little Audubon Center in my yard with a lovely selection of birds year round. We saw a piliated woodpecker a few days ago! I just can't seem to capture them on my iPhone! I guess I'll have to go back to real cameras to bring my level of photography up to par. You make me want to share my photography, too. I am wishing you the best! Namaste, Carol