Blowin’ in the wind

2009 March 2
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — Saturday I joined several friends from East Texas and the Metroplex on a field trip to Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area, east of Corsicana, Texas. After a beautiful week, temperatures plummeted on Friday, and by Saturday morning, we were facing temperatures in the 30s and 40s with north winds howling at 30 miles per hour. Perfect conditions for trying to hear an early warbler and scope distant shorebirds. Not.

Despite the weather, the birdlife said SPRING. We had a flyover Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Barn Swallows, and Tree Swallows. Among hundreds of Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, dowitchers, and snipe, we had two slightly early Pectoral Sandpipers. Blue-winged Teal are back and looking beautiful.


White Ibises jostle for positions in a snag above the marsh. About 80 of these birds were hanging out in the refuge, and we also saw a small flock of dark Plegadis ibises on the wing. (Statistically, of course, they would be White-faced Ibises.) Ibises have expanded inland from the coast in recent years and apparently now are even sticking it out through the winter in suitable locations.


The Richland Creek WMA North Unit contains carefully managed wetland cells that simulate the marshes that formerly existed along the Trinity River floodplain. This provides important wintering and stopover habitat for dozens of species, including shorebirds, ducks, geese, waders, and rails. “Rail whisperers” Dell Little and D.D. Currie called up several Soras and two Virginia Rails (though none showed themselves), which was pretty neat.


We found this plainbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) basking on the road, apparently too cold to flee our approach. I’m not too competent with lepidosaurs — does anyone know which Nerodia this is? There are several species in the area. Update: Thanks to Jason for ID.


Richland Creek also contains extensive bottomland hardwood forest. Redbud, native plums, and a few other species have started adding delicate touches of color here and there, and within two weeks, breeding warblers and vireos will have arrived and started staking out their territories.

We went our separate ways after Richland Creek. I wandered around a bit and then headed south to Fairfield Lake State Park, where despite ferocious winds, I found some good birds.


This immature Bald Eagle glided overhead as I walked along the shore at Fairfield Lake. On the far side of the lake, it joined two other young eagles, and all three birds soared together, swooping at each other periodically.


Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor. The skies over the lake held at least 200 swallows, most visible only as specks against a painfully bright southern sky. I did manage to identify several Tree Swallows and a couple of Purple Martins in the crowd.

Other sightings at the park included white pelicans in breeding finery, an osprey, Bonaparte’s Gulls, and a flock of several hundred Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds. Cormorants were plentiful, and it appeared to me that at least 25 percent were Neotropic Cormorants.


On the way home, I stopped at Lake Halbert in Corsicana and found this interesting cormorant. It has pale lores and worn plumage, making the breast look rather pale, but don’t let any of that fool you. This is a Neotropic Cormorant. If you can’t tell why, I recommend studying this helpful PDF file: Field Identification of Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants.

Even though it was chilly, flowers were blooming. Here are a few species I encountered through the day:


Spring beauty, Claytonia virginica.


Texas ragwort, Senecio ampullaceus.


This is one of the native plums, Prunus, but I’m not sure which one. Possibly Prunus mexicana?


Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis.

Related posts:

  1. When the wind changes
  2. Chilly evening on the dam
  3. Fierce winds
  4. Sandpipers, plovers, and storks — oh my!
4 Responses
  1. Dell permalink
    March 2, 2009

    Looks like the eagles are in healthy numbers in the region, with your 3 at Fairfield. Also that shot of the Tree Swallow is pretty amazing.

    • David J. Ringer permalink*
      March 2, 2009

      Thanks! Yes, good to see so many eagles around.

  2. March 2, 2009

    These are great shots, David. Looks like a nice place for a road trip. With all the flowers, it certainly appears that spring has arrived.

    As for your snake, it looks like an adult yellowbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster). I think they’re sometimes called plainbelly water snakes.

    • David J. Ringer permalink*
      March 2, 2009

      Yeah, Richland Creek is great. You have to have a $12 Limited Public Use permit from TPWD, and it’s a good idea to call ahead and make sure it’s open for wildlife viewing (sometimes closed for hunts). In late summer, congregations of Wood Storks, spoonbills, and other waders are spectacular.

      Thanks for confirming the water snake ID!

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