Migrants before the storm

2007 April 13
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — Tornadoes, rain, hail, and winds wreaked havoc across the Metroplex this evening, but but we didn’t get any really severe weather down south of Dallas where I live. Before the storms struck, I spent a few hours birding the northeastern corner of Joe Pool Lake.

I was hoping the unsettled weather would deliver some warblers, but I was disappointed. I’m beginning to wonder whether Dallas ever gets any warblers, but I suppose I’m just being impatient. Only in the last few days have the birds begun showing up along the Gulf Coast.

But warblers, of course, aren’t the only migrants out there. I surprised a Little Blue Heron in a creek, and I saw it briefly in the snag where it landed. There are still coots on the lake, and I saw a female Ruddy Duck, a handful of Blue-winged Teal, a pair of shovelers, a wigeon, and a Gadwall. All the ducks, of course, are gorgeous in their brilliant breeding colors.

Flecks of white over the water caught my attention. I saw the Franklin’s Gulls first, their underparts almost glowing with a rich, earthy pink. There were Bonaparte’s Gulls too, and their icy white tones contrasted sharply with their cousins’ warm colors.

Forster’s Terns were there too, the fastest and most agile members of the party. Good job, that, because the Franklin’s Gulls swooped after them, trying to snatch their prey. A few mottled Ring-bills joined the fray. Most of the adult birds were in full breeding plumage. The bonies had got their hoods, and all but one or two of the terns had got their caps back.

Sometimes I watched closely, trying to see details. Sometimes I just watched the birds swooping, gliding, diving.

Back on land, a Harris’s Sparrow foraged underneath a picnic table. The bird’s sharp, vivid markings almost took my breath — gone were winter’s obfuscations. Six Scissor-tailed Flycatchers fluttered against the breeze. A Vesper Sparrow fled when I walked by.

Barn Swallows, Purple Martins, Cliff Swallows, and Chimney Swifts rode the winds at extraordinary speeds. Then, I saw a single Broad-winged Hawk coming over, just low enough to show me its banded tail, finely patterned breast, and neatly framed underwings.

Then I saw a few more broad-wings in the distance, and I settled on my trunk to see what else would pass. A lone Osprey drifted over, and I saw a couple of accipiters. Broad-wings straggled past in ones and twos, usually low, and struggling in the wind. There were Turkey Vultures too, but there are always Turkey Vultures.

The sun faded. Dark clouds rushed across the sky.

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