Intimate moments in Ellis County

2007 February 17
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — There is a time to bird with a crowd. There is a time to dodge cyclists and joggers. There is a time to visit world-famous hotspots.

But not today. I needed to blaze new trails today, to explore, to discover, and to be alone with the birds. I birded Ellis County between Ennis and Waxahachie, where I had Bardwell Lake and Bluebonnet Park to myself virtually all morning.

A Brown Creeper — my first this year — probed lichen-crusted limbs. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet lingered just a few feet away, but whether oblivious or trusting who can say. Half a dozen Harris’s Sparrows fed along the road; I had seen them in numbers greater than two only once before.

A whole flock of Western Meadowlarks erupted into song. A lone Rusty Blackbird paused for a moment in a tree. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew past my car. A vocal pair of Red-shouldered Hawks soared in the relentless wind, and phoebes hunted insects in the sunshine.

A drake Mallard’s head gleamed with one of North America’s most exquisite greens, and a trail through the marsh offered an excellent chance to compare the calls and plumages of Song, Swamp, Lincoln’s, and Savannah sparrows. One Lincoln’s showed a prominent dot on its breast, demonstrating that this character alone is not sufficient to separate it from the Song Sparrow.


Yellow-rumped Warblers and robins fed along the roads. I checked the warblers for signs of molt into breeding plumage, and I did find one bird with some yellow on the crown. Whether that actually indicates molt, however, I don’t know. I didn’t see any dark patches yet.


I was a bit surprised to watch this Ruby-crowned Kinglet spend several minutes feeding on the ground. The behavior is certainly not unheard of, but I don’t think I’d personally observed a kinglet stay on the ground and in the open as long as this bird did.


At Lake Waxahachie, small parties of coots ventured up onto the shore to graze. They were wary and never stayed out of the water for very long. Watching them reminded me that the first coot I ever saw was on shore with some park ducks, dashing after bits of bread. I’m not sure how old I would have been then … maybe 12?


Here you can sort of see the coot’s wonderful lobed toes. There’s a better picture here.

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