Regents’ mountain, skulkers’ valley

2005 November 18
by David J. Ringer

DALLAS, TEXAS — I heard tapping in a live oak; then I saw a flash of red. A Red-bellied Woodpecker had himself a nice fat acorn, and he was hard at work to crack it open. Trouble was, if he hit too hard, the nut fell out of the crotch where he’d wedged it, and he had to catch it and start over. I watched him for a moment, then with a silent wish for the best went on my way.

The morning air was still and brisk. I had pushed my meeting back to 10:30, deciding that this was the day for my overdue visit to the Cedar Ridge Preserve. Perhaps I should not admit such things now that one of my bosses reads these tales, but I’ve decided that birding keeps me from workaholism. That, I think, is in everyone’s best interest.

Robins and Blue Jays moved in groups through the trees, and I took time to look at them, forcing myself not to write them off. I was glad I didn’t. Chickadees and yellow-rumps were busy as well, and I saw three Chipping Sparrows sticking close together.

The activity continued as I followed the ridge — a flicker, a mockingbird, cardinals. Then there was a Golden-crowned Kinglet, and I stopped to watch her. She had the extraordinary habit of darting through space and landing upside-down, clinging effortlessly to the underside a limb.

I heard another golden-crowned somewhere, and then I saw her farther back, in a large tree. Oh, not one, maybe three! And there, a raised orange crest, so boldly colored I took it at first for a ruby-crowned. I heard a ruby-crowned, like a golden-crowned whose voice has changed. Then there it was in the tree, flaring that brilliant crown. I left the tiny monarchs to their battles and continued on my way.

Before long, the path began a descent. And racuous voices behind me increased steadily in volume. I couldn’t help but smile, and I decided the birds wouldn’t mind much either. We are still in Dallas after all. I stood aside to let the ladies pass, and I could hear them for a long time afterward, even as I watched a red-tail settle on the very top of a cedar on the distant ridge.

“I already got my lights up.”

“Wha? Come on now.”

“I’m not lyin’!”

Habitat in the lower elevations was more open, the domain of Field Sparrows and noisy Bewick’s Wrens. I passed a pond surrounded by common reeds 10 or 12 feet tall. There were Song Sparrows in the reeds, but I saw no waders or waterfowl.

The last half of the walk — on a trail called Fossil Valley — was quieter than the first. The cedars and hackberries were denser, and I didn’t hear much until I came across a feeding party of titmice and an Orange-crowned Warbler.

By the time I made it back to the parking lot, the sun was warming the world just slightly, and my jacket might have gotten uncomfortable before much longer.

A Brown Thrasher flew across the path and dived into scrub. I too departed the sunlit realms.

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