Mountain Creek Lake: A drama

2007 February 12
by David J. Ringer


Act 1: Saturday, Feb. 10

I birded the Cedar Ridge Preserve all morning. I didn’t find any early migrants or wildflowers, but I did get some nice birds:

  • Bewick’s Wren – 2 (one singing briefly)
  • Hermit Thrush – 1
  • Orange-crowned Warbler – 1
  • Spotted Towhee – 1 female (who uttered the species’ rather disagreeable call)

After that, I made a brief and relatively unproductive stop at the Joe Pool Lake dam. Then, instead of heading home, I decided I would finally try to explore that enigma to the north: Mountain Creek Lake. I had read that access was possible from Mountain Creek Parkway, but I didn’t know quite how. Maybe I could figure it out.

I soon discovered that there are three pull-offs just north of Kiest Boulevard (303) and Dallas Baptist University. One of them leads to a wide spot roughly resembling a parking lot; the other two are ends of a loop that run along a sort of channel (see the map). If you believe the signs, it’s a park — but it’s not a place I’d take a family. The roads are bad enough to damage a car, and there were several men sitting alone in parked vehicles, just staring.

Scores of grackles and starlings created a din, and I scanned quickly for waterbirds, coming up with a couple of Hooded Mergansers (nice!), a couple of shovelers (their bills really are absurd), and the obligatory Mallards, Gadwall, coots, and Great Egret. Most of these were in the channel and the marsh across the road. The lake itself appeared deserted, except for a few Ring-billed Gulls.

Scanning farther, I could see hundreds of gulls lined up on the northern and western sides of the lakes. And I wondered, can I get there? But, I called it a day and went home.

Act 2: Sunday, Feb. 11

With a few minutes to kill before a lunch appointment, and because I was in the neighborhood, I decided to explore the lake’s western shore. I lacked binoculars and a detailed map, but I had brought my scope.

Headed north on 1382, I took the first right turn I could: SE 14th Street. Then, I took the first possible right turn off that, and — augh! — I was trapped on the approach to the lake’s toll bridge. There was nowhere to turn and no way to go back, so (with resigned disdain) I tossed 50 cents into the basket and drove across the bridge.

I certainly wasn’t going to drive BACK across the bridge after that, and I didn’t have time to wander all the way around the north side of the lake and back down. I checked the access points on the eastern shore just for good measure (there was a solitary American White Pelican) and headed to lunch.

Act 3: Monday, Feb. 12

OK, this time I’m going to get it right, I thought to myself after work. 1382 to 14th … and don’t fall into the money trap! I took the next right turn after the toll bridge and was pleased to find myself in a suburban community bordering the lake. The road rolled left at the lake and passed a park, where I could have gotten out and scoped the lake. But I didn’t, because I could see my target up ahead.

On Saturday, I’d seen gulls lined up shoulder to shoulder on a long pier-like structure, and that’s what I was trying to reach. I ended up on Hardy Road and eventually turned right on Nina. Aha! The road led me into a new housing development and put me directly across from the pier, or whatever it is.

After driving around a bit to determine the best vantage point, I got out of the car and — in my Rockports, khakis, and blue blazer — started scoping gulls. They were ring-bills. Dozens and dozens of ring-bills. With a really excellent scope, it would have been possible to pick out something different. With a functional scope, it would have been possible to pick out something different if you got lucky. The bird would have needed to be at a perfect angle, or just really different (perhaps a Great Black-backed Gull). All this assumes, of course, that there was actually something other than ring-bills present. Maybe there wasn’t.

All I know is that I couldn’t pick anything different out of the flock.

I should have turned around and gone back the way I came at that point, but instead I decided to drive the northern route around the lake. It turned out to be a long and totally unproductive drive, and I grudgingly conceded that it would be cheaper and more efficient to pay 50 cents on the toll bridge than to make the trek.

Epilogue: Monday, Feb. 12

I really don’t hate gulls. I would happily pick through a flock of dozens on the off chance that I might discover the next big bird, or, failing that, learn something I didn’t know before. But even the best access point I found today was miserable, and I don’t think I could see a rare bird even if it were there.

Mountain Creek Lake apparently is not birded much, if ever. In the past decade or so, its only claim to fame were a few sightings of Little Gulls and a Black-headed Gull in the winters of 1996 and ’97. If we consider the last 20 years, there was also a Black-legged Kittiwake present December 1988-January 1989. (Do you know how old I was then?)

Why is the lake fit only for Ring-billed Gulls and a sprinkling of cormorants? Well, could it be because it’s poisoned? Maybe not. I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound promising.

All things considered, I don’t think Mountain Creek Lake is likely to become my new favorite birding spot.

Oh, and one final note. The pier on which the gulls line up is attached to Hensley Field, the decommissioned Dallas Naval Air Station. No more planes, I guess, but plenty of Ring-billed Gulls.

Related posts:

  1. Regents’ mountain, skulkers’ valley
  2. Caddo Lake count: Birds of the Piney Woods
  3. A reluctant autumn
  4. Chilly evening on the dam
  5. Village Creek Drying Beds in August
2 Responses
  1. Rebecca permalink
    March 14, 2007

    I was researching Mountain Creek Lake today, and yes, it is contaminated. The levels of selenium and other contaminants are so high that it has affected the birds, and it it prohibited to consume fish from that lake.

  2. Ruth A King permalink
    August 1, 2008

    This lake could be a great asset to Dallas. Why do we citizens not insist that it be cleaned up in our lifetime? Why do our leaders not bring this to pass? Something doesn’t make sense here. Read the history of this lake online and see the military and corporate connections.

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