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