Monday, August 31, 2009

Lonesome Fred and the Party 'Round the Block

If you visit the rookery around lunch time, as you come around the basketball court, you will probably see Lonesome Fred. Fred is the last great egret juvenile of the season to fly. He graduated from “wading” in the grass earlier last week, to gliding 3 feet above ground last Friday, and lifting himself 20 feet up a tree today. He is not yet ready for sustained flight. Despite regular offerings of fish in the troughs, he is thin and ever famished. We watched him gulp 24 fish in one sitting today, wag his tailfeathers pleasurably, and immediately look around for more. My word, egrets eat a lot! Let us keep an eye on Fred and continue the feedings.

To our amazement, Fred is not a bit lonesome at night! Around 8 p.m., small parties of birds began gliding into the rookery from the southwest. As this developed, we strolled around the rookery to get a better sense of things. Adult little-blue herons, ibises, great egrets, and snowy egrets, together with their young, flew overhead and everywhere. They kept coming in until they numbered about 200.

We found Lonesome Fred looking ready to turn in for the night. He even yawned once or twice. He stood on a big hackberry well away from the party.

The seriously “happening place” was the corner nearest to the staff parking lot and entry into the wooded path. The birds were perched, not in their former nests, but well "outside” the rookery, high atop the oaks and cedar elms, over the grassy areas. There was much talk and pleasantry, and lots of hopping beween branches to mix with other parties.

This resurgence of visits from large numbers of egrets began last Friday. This is unprecedented and certainly temporary.

I recommend a dusk promenade by the rookery this week. The festive atmosphere will cheer you. The marvelous sight of the white birds against the darkening orange-lavender sky is terrible for photos and perfect for reflection.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wandering Juveniles

As one disciplines oneself to observe the natural world, one learns that:
  • It is easy to see what comes and goes,
  • Difficult to see what is always around,
  • And harder still to see what is missing but should be there.
For example, since last year, the rookery’s nesting season became strangely abbreviated by nearly two months.  This year, the season is being cut short because of the disappearance of the cattle egrets early in the Summer.
Two years ago, on 28 September, I watched with pleasure as a little gang of juvenile cattle egrets and one of their juvenile white-ibis friends scoured the freshly-mowed grass for crickets and grasshoppers.  Had I not had the sense to snap a few photos, we might have had no record of this.  But here is one of the photos that was meant to be my own celebration of a successful finish to the 2007 season.  I miss those dear little friends very much.
Already this year, on 20 August, the heron-and-egret season is drawing to a close.  Fewer than 10% of the birds are still here.  The adult ones leave the site early every morning with the juveniles who are strong enough to travel to White Rock Lake and other places where they can feed themselves.  Contrary to all that I have read about herons and egrets abandoning their young, I see the consciencious parents return to the rookery at dusk.  Once there, they put their young through some rather exhaustive exercise drills, probably after administering a daily feeding.
During the day, however, those juveniles who are not yet strong fliers, shuffle about the rookery feeding themselves as best as they can. This population numbers about 50 and is made up almost entirely of great egrets (white as juveniles but smaller than their parents), black-crowned night herons (brown-and-beige striped as juveniles), and white ibises (grey-backed as juveniles). The ibises are shier than in previous years and limit most of their wanderings to the early hours of the morning.
The rookery has little to offer these baby birds in the way of food, apart from a handful of crickets and earthworms.  Our Society has greatly reduced the casualties among these young birds this year by providing them with regular feedings of minnows.  It should be possible in future to eliminate those casualties altogether.
What you can do right now:
We need continued help with the feedings and with keeping the water troughs full of clean water.
In addition, please watch the remaining birds.  When you see a bird, walk directly toward the bird and observe his response.  A well bird should fly to a higher spot, because all the juveniles are now able to fly.  Any bird who lets people get close is probably famished.  Even if the bird walks away slowly, this is probably signaling some listlessness and an inability to fly.  If the bird makes no effort at all to move away, the bird urgently needs help, no matter how beautiful he looks.
Other news:

Numerous “No Trespassing Signs” now surround the woods.  Two interpretive rookery signs were installed yesterday by Physical Plant, thanks to Kirby Vahle.  One is near the memorial garden, the other is across from the basketball court.  The photo at left shows a sign being inspected for errors.  The signs, apart from being beautiful, seem to have inspired a great deal of protectiveness.  I was rather pleased to be pulled aside twice yesterday, as I tried to peek into the pond, and required to explain what I was doing.
I will write again soon with political news and our extensive plans for the “off-season”.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shooting in or Near Rookery

Today we rescued a great egret quite different from our previous rescues:
  1. He was not in the rookery but in the faculty parking garage around 11 a.m. (I had to stomp on brakes to dodge him.).
  2. He was not an innocent docile juvenile, but a full grown adult Great Egret, in excellent health apart from his wound, and he was not one to suffer fools gladly.
There was blood all over his right side and wing. My first thought, since I narrowly avoided hitting him, was that another car had hit him. But closer examination showed that all the blood was streaming from a small round hole through his upper wing. This Egret had recently been SHOT with a BB gun. The pellet hit a vein, which accounted for the blood, but luckily it missed the wing bones. If the shot had been larger, or struck less than an inch higher, the bird would have been crippled. The egret is being treated to prevent infection but should easily recover.

Who would do such an awful thing? The folks at the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center believe the bird could have flown, painfully, even in his bruised condition, from a nearby residential area.

It seems unlikely that anyone is shooting at birds in the rookery. Nevertheless, we should look out for a maniac with a BB gun, probably a kid.

In other news:

We were in Madison (Wisconsin) last week and made a side trip to visit the International Crane Foundation (ICF).
There we learned that some cranes cool off on very hot days by riding the thermals up into the cooler upper air and circling as long as they can. This might explain why the Anhingas were circling high in the sky two weeks ago and dropping into odd places.

The anhingas might be gone for the year. I saw none in the sky today.

The ibises are probably not too far behind. Today I saw a small family overhead that included the first flying ibis juveniles I've seen this year.

The rookery looks no worse for our absence. Thanks to everyone who pitched in, especially Anna, Peter, and Valerie.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Raining Anhingas and Other News

Things are looking a bit better this week. Much thanks to those of you who have volunteered to do more!

WFAA News segment. The recent news segment was excellent. It was aired on Saturday evening instead of Friday.

New volunteers. The Heron and Egret Society has several new volunteers. Welcome Anna, Julie, Kris, Alex, Lesley, Jane, and Jennifer!

Our logo. Diane has agreed to design the logo for the Heron and Egret Society. She thinks this should be a shared vision and wants your suggestions.

State of the rookery: Here is what is happening now at the rookery and what we can do. The end of nesting season is near. If you go to the rookery now, you will notice dozens of great egrets walking around and through the woods. Though these birds look large, they are juveniles who are left to survive by their wits throughout the day. This is a dangerous time for them. This week we rescued an average of about two a day, all of them emaciated, and half of them with injuries. We think this is because:
  • There is little for these birds to eat. Gone are the days when a fast brook full of small fish, etc., flowed through the woods. Juveniles typically get stabbed in the head if they beg for food from other juveniles or from adults who are not their parents.
  • There is little for the birds to drink during these impossibly hot days, and they can quickly become dehydrated.
  • Juveniles who are inexpert at flying often get caught in tree branches and break their limbs.
  • Predators (hawks, raccoons, cats, etc.) who seem to know exactly what season this is are skulking around the place for meals.

Quite a few adult great egrets return to the rookery at dusk, and the total number of birds of this species is rapidly dropping. We think the adults lead small parties of juveniles away every day. In addition to monitoring the great egrets, we are watching the nests of several white ibises, little blue herons, and tricolor herons. Their young are still scrambling around in the nests and cannot yet fly. This is the time of year when a supply of clean water and minnows can be a lifeline to the rookery’s denizens (juveniles who are struggling, and parents who cannot leave their nests).

You can assist our efforts by:
  1. Rescuing injured birds,
  2. Delivering birds to Rogers Wildlife,
  3. Helping to keep the water troughs full and clean,
  4. Moving bird carcasses away from living birds (This should be done with a “grabber”. Do not touch any dead bird.),
  5. Helping to deliver goldfish and minnows to Rogers Wildlife,
  6. Doing volunteer work at Rogers Wildlife.
Let me know what you are willing to do. Better yet, go ahead and do it. If you need instruction, do not make an appointment. I am finding that this does not work. Phone me or Chalo when you are free to go to the rookery, and we’ll see whether someone can join you.

Fish deliveries. An example of success: today’s fish deliveries. Things seldom work as ideally as today’s fish feeds! Peter went to a live-bait depot near where he lives and picked up the fish: 1 lb of minnows for us, 6 lb of goldfish and minnows for Rogers Wildlife. Chalo and I delivered the minnows to the rookery and temporarily stored the rest. Egrets were standing by as we poured in the minnows. Anna picked up the 6-lb load from us and delivered it to Rogers Wildlife. Though we operated like clockwork, only about half of this was planned. The rest was improvised. I envision a time when all our work will go as smoothly as this, and I welcome suggestions for new ways to work that will minimize formalities.

The “Birdintrouble” posse. Chalo is setting up a bird-rescue communications system to coordinate our rescue efforts. He is testing it now.

The way this will work is that anyone finding a distressed bird will e-mail to:

This e-mail will be automatically forwarded to everyone who volunteers for the rescue team.

The person who decides to take the call will send another message to:

saying that he/she is "on the case", to prevent multiple volunteers from answering one call.

Yes, you guessed it. I am calling for volunteers for the BIT posse. Anyone willing to pick up an injured bird should volunteer their email address for this to

The Anhinga situation. The situation with the Anhingas is probably signaling some quite worrying ecological collapse. This is worth monitoring. Last week, it was “raining Anhingas” over the campus. Thankfully, this has stopped. Over a period of about two weeks, we found:
  • 1 Anhinga in basketball court (Weezer); he unfortunately died at Rogers after about a week.
  • 1 across street from basketball court in parking lot. Died.
  • 1 in closed tennis court with 20-foot high fence. Had to have flown in, but seemed unable to fly away. Good condition.
  • 1 in closed courtyard near North Campus D building. Had to have flown in. Good condition.
  • 1 on rooftop parking lot at St. Paul’s. Had to have flown. Good condition.
  • 2 very young (less than two weeks old) Anhingas at one of the watering troughs (see picture above). Good condition, and very, very cute.
  • 1 in parking lot behind building Y. Probably flew there. Delivered to us but died before we got back from dinner.
  • 1 in faculty parking garage. Died before delivery to Rogers.

To our knowledge, there are fewer than 10 Anhingas nests in the rookery, so this is a significant fraction of the total number of birds of this species. In the past three years, we have never rescued an Anhinga and only seen one dead individual. Kathy Rogers tells us that in 20 years, her rehab center has seen only two!

Our web site. Please check from time to time. There are new pages for art and literature featuring Herons and Egrets. Please send us your favorites. So far we have Diane Stewart’s lovely egret paintings and a link to the Flickr Heron, Egret, and Crane group. We are looking for poems and essays. We want the site to be absolutely first rate and would appreciate advice from the artists among us.

Campaign to make the rookery a protected sanctuary. We are getting a bit of a runaround from the politicians. This is expected. Keep right on writing. Point out that the rookery is a treasure that should be protected for the State of Texas.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Living in Place

A cliche of science-fiction stories ever since H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is the idea that hostile aliens would want to gorge themselves on humans.  Wells was a brilliant storyteller and prescient social critic who keenly followed the developments of his age and beautifully wove them into his novels.  Unfortunately he lived when biochemistry was in its infancy.
Modern writers of science fiction should know better.  Aliens from other worlds could never consume humans, nor for that matter, any other earthlings.  The scientific reason for this, of course, is that we can only consume what we can recycle:  amino acids that will be incorporated into our proteins, nucleic acids that will become part of our DNA, vitamins that will assist the biochemical reactions needed for our bodies' functions, etc.  Put more poetically, the act of eating is a communion with family.  This brings me to the main point that I wish to make here:  the notion that we exist independently of other living beings is an illusion.  All that we breathe, eat, drink, and excrete, passes along its way, connecting us to all that exists, as so much water flowing over the pebbles in a river.
I am sorry to report that things recently turned for the worse at the rookery, and the birds are suffering unimaginably of the severe drought.  About two thirds of the rookery’s denizens have already fled.
 This Summer, we are rescuing the juveniles of Anhingas and Black-Crowned Night Herons:  species who have rarely or never before needed our help.  For the rescued Great Egrets, this past week the mortality shot up to about one in four.  Initially, I was overjoyed to be able to see the rarer juveniles, but now I realize this to be very sad news. These are the early-arriving species who had the greatest chance of a successful season.
For the late-arriving species, such as the tricolor herons and little-blue herons, the majority of the nests have failed.  Bird lovers and photographers who monitor the rookery tell me that many of the eggs did not hatch for these species.  Some parents took the more pragmatic course:  they calculated that they could not reasonably maintain themselves and their young, and they abandoned their active nests.  Others stayed and died trying.
What is currently at stake is not the demise of the planet, as it has become so fashionable to say.  This is as arrogant as imagining that when we sleep the world disappears.  The planet will continue.  On the other hand, our species might well become one of many index fossils, i.e. a precise marker for a geological era because its population exploded and then disappeared.  What is under threat right now is the ecological ensemble to which we belong.  Our lives depend on the continued well-being of this ensemble as surely as it depends on the continued beating of our hearts.
 It is for our own sakes that we must learn to “live in place” and support those plants and animals that surround us.
 Right now, we can help the birds remaining in the rookery by:
 1.  Increasing the frequencing of our trips and rescues.   Based on past experience, in the next few weeks we will see the worst injuries of the year.  Collect any distressed birds and deliver them to Rogers Wildlife ASAP.  Contact "birdintrouble" if you need help with the rescue or delivery.
2.  Making our work better known to others on the campus.  As the juveniles begin to fly a little, they are wandering farther from home.  We are already finding them in the tennis courts, the parking lots in the North campus, and various odd places.  It is important that these wandering birds be discovered early.
 3.  Inspecting, cleaning, and refilling the water troughs.  The juvenile birds definitely drink from the water troughs that our Society has placed for them around the woods.  There is a white six-gallon container of water near the memorial garden that can be used to refill the nearby troughs.  Bring gloves for handling the container and troughs.  After emptying the container, refill it from the faucet by the faculty parking lot.  If you cannot manage the refill, let us know that you have emptied the container, and we'll organize a refill.
 In addition, for the long term, we can help the rookery by getting it officially recognized as a bird sanctuary.  Details about this are at:
Additional suggestions are welcome.
 Yes, our humble little Society is making a difference.  If you doubt this, drive to the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and visit the birds we rescued this season.  Some of them already wading about and feeding themselves.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rescue Season Resumes

Lots of news.

1. It is rescue season again. Since the mercury shot up, about 8 birds have needed rescuing every week. All but one have been great-egret nestlings. Incredibly, some of those rescued last week looked to be only one or two-weeks old. They are probably the chicks of the less experienced adults -- maybe first-time nesters. All this bobbing and twig-bearing is terribly complicated....

The other baby bird we rescued is the first Anhinga chick we have ever had the pleasure to see in the flesh. The Anhingas are relatively rare denizens of the rookery. There are fewer than 10 pairs of adults, but this season, they can be spotted flying over the rookery almost all the time. They are the dark birds with the extended necks and V-shaped tails in flight.

So far, the mortality has been low for the rescued birds, probably because they are being delivered to Rogers Wildlife as soon as they are found. Some lovely people, not in our Society (including a Jessica) have been contributing to the rescues. If anyone knows them, please pass on our thanks and invite them to join our group. We still need for more people to join in on the rescues. Please make an effort to survey the rookery perimeter at least once a week. We especially need coverage during weekend days.

It is time again to keep the troughs full of clean water. In past years, they became meeting areas for the juvenile birds and really helped them.

2. This year's official bird count is in. Overall, the numbers are not entirely outside of the normal range of the year-to-year fluctuations, although they have dropped. The interventions of last February, before things went too far, might well have prevented a more dramatic decline. Better not to know.

3. We have a web site! And Chalo to thank for constructing it. It is a work in progress. Suggestions are welcome. The address is:

There you will find instructions on bird rescuing, contact information for us, important links, and much more. The little bird in the hand is Norbert (Norder to some), a cattle egret rescued at 8 grams after a thunderstorm in June 2007. The hand is Chalo's.

4. The design for the interpretive rookery signs  is complete! The signs are gorgeous, and what's more, they can be downloaded from our web site. The graphics were contributed by Anna Palmer, the descriptions by Betsy Baker, and the photos by Anna Palmer, Kaustubh Deshpande, and Daniel Lim. They deserve our thanks for volunteering this impressive and polished work. Thanks are also due to Kirby Vahle, the Physical Plant VP, who graciously agreed to pay for production of the final prints and to construct the displays.

5. The rookery is gathering considerable appreciation from outside. Check out the articles about the rookery in web-magazine series HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

White Ibis Explosion

I've been meaning to check in with you!

The rookery's population exploded since my last mail! Many hundreds of cattle egrets joined the earlier birds. They are the smaller white birds with blond head and chest feathers.  The blond is temporary mating plumage.   You'll see them rooting through the grass for crickets and other insects.

Over 100 white ibises are nesting here this year. They are the white birds with pink curved beaks, pink legs, and black feathers beneath the wing tips. They have been putting on spectacular sky shows, with plenty of rapid formation flying, about half an hour before sunset (between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m.) every day. The best spot to see this is from the tops of the faculty and staff parking buildings.

It is abundantly clear now, from the birds actively sitting on the nests, that those on the periphery of the rookery are getting plenty of use (regardless of the thickness  of the droppings there). The birds are looking well, thanks to the cool weather and rains. No rescue yet.

As far as can be seen, the only thing the university did was to set up a low screen around the little pond. They made the screen more opaque since the initial installation, and the birds seem to enjoy the little bit of privacy.

Plenty of cats still wonder in and out of the woods, though I've never seen one attack a bird.

No shrubs were planted, but
lots of poison ivy came up where the trees were cut! Poetic justice? Maybe. Incidentally, poison ivy seems to cause its blistering skin rashes only in humans. Birds eat the seeds, and goats and deer casually browse the leaves. Do be very careful.

Another unintended development from the tree cuttings: an unusually large number of birders are pouring in from all over Dallas, and even from neighboring towns like Denton and Grapevine, to observe the birds and grouse about the hatchet job of last February. I saw one woman actually in tears over this. All watched the TV reports or read the Aubudon thread.

The completion (in a few days, I expect) of the new interpretive signs for the rookery should be a good occasion to contact the university and ask what they've been doing to keep their promises.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Texas Parks and Wildlife Recommendations

So much news.

The great egrets have hatched! The chicks look about a week old. I have been so busy working in my office that I missed visiting them last week.

In mid-March, the ibises (about 25), anhingas (5), and an undetermined number of night herons and snowy egrets arrived. This year the birds are nesting nearer to the memorial garden and are huddling together, whereas in previous years they spread out their nests. Only a few cattle egrets have come, even though in recent years, they were the majority species.

Texas Parks and Wildlife made its formal recommendations to the university on 6 April, and the university immediately agreed to abide by all of them.

WFAA was on the case.
The recommendations included:

  1. Putting a temporary screen around the pond;
  2. Planting a specific set of shrubs in the denuded areas;
  3. Refurbishing the signs around the rookery;
  4. Consulting with TP&W before any further "trimming" operations;
  5. Removing the feral cats who visit the rookery.
Our part of the job, i.e. the new designs for the signs, is coming along beautifully and is nearly finished. The new signs will feature gorgeous images of the birds and brief descriptions of their range, habits, etc. We are hoping that they will encourage the university, with its many resources, to outdo us.

So far, a screen has appeared around the pond, but it is a pathetically low and transparent one. No shrub has yet appeared.

We, Audubon, and WFAA are all watching and expecting a better job. The Audubon thread on this episode is very detailed, still very much alive, and regularly updated.

WFAA's Janet St. James, who has done a superb job so far, enthusiastically looks forward to updating her news stories.

The birds are doing their part, right on schedule. If you watch the great egrets carefully, you will see some individuals leaving the nests and others returning with small twigs. These twigs are actually ceremonial. The birds are no longer repairing the nests. They just consider it good form to offer a small gift to one's mate when relieving them from a round of parenting. Such grace! Do take some time from lunch to say hello and welcome.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meeting with UTSW Physical Plant VP

Many thanks for attending last Thursday's meeting with Kirby Vahle, the VP for the UTSW Physical Plant. The minutes are posted at the Audubon Dallas thread.

If you can, please send special thanks to Anna and Betsy of Audubon Dallas (their contact info. is in the above forum). They took the notes at the meeting and spent a good bit of time assembling the minutes.

As you will see, we stuck to our agenda, which focused on proposals for actions to repair the recent damage to the rookery, prevent future damage, and assist the visiting birds. Vahle agreed to:

1. Replace current signs around the Rookery with ones using information about the birds. (HES and AudubonDallas will furnish brief descriptions of visiting species.)

2. Notify TP&W about any plans to cut/trim around the rookery in future.

3. Call Rogers Wildlife to report distressed birds.

4. Report this meeting to the UTSW President to see if he agrees to issue an apology to the campus (as requested by Peter).

Texas Parks and Wildlife is expected to make recommendations later this week about the rookery.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Birds Arriving, Tomorrow's Meeting

Thank you for your communications.

First things first.

After a week of quiet, the birds are looking better. The great egrets are repairing their nests again, as several of you noted. The new arrivals, which had stopped since the disturbances, have picked up again and the number of great egrets has grown to about 300. The smaller birds too are beginning to arrive. I counted eleven little-blue herons yesterday.

The Audubon Dallas thread is gaining steam. Do check it.

Please make every effort to attend tomorrow's meeting. Here are some suggestions that came my way. Bob suggested that an agenda be sent to Vahle so we that we use our time well.
See below.

Item 1 of the agenda

In addition to introducing ourselves, Chalo suggests that we inquire about the experts who advise the university and how they are chosen.

He further suggests that we secure a promise that nothing will be done to the rookery in future without first alerting Audubon.

Item 2 of the agenda

Peter proposes that a water supply be guaranteed to the rookery. This of course assumes that the university would want to nurture the rookery. That is an excellent place from which to start.

Peter also suggests that a transparent "check-and balance system be set in place to protect the birds," such as a regular newsletter from Physical Plant.

Robert thinks that one outcome of the meeting should be "a public statement by the institution (UTSW, not the Physical Plant) of specifically how it plans to handle the rookery long term."

Item 3 of agenda

Several of you support the proposal that a screen be built around the area of the pond. Rogers Wildlife Rehab will advise on this.

Please plan to stick to the agenda and stay focused on the specific actions to be gained from this meeting.

P.S. Based on a conversation with Vahle on Monday afternoon, here is what you might expect (I am paraphrasing here.). He will be shocked by any suggestion that the rookery is being encouraged to crash or that Telfair would want any harm to come to the rookery. He will tell us that Telfair is no longer being consulted because he is retired, and that two individuals from Tyler are. He was unaware of our group. The physical plant was unaware of the presence of the egrets during the recent cuttings and stopped the cuttings as soon as they learned that there were egrets on site. There was nothing unusual about this particular cutting; it is only 1 to 2 trees deep. Based on many years' statistics, the rookery is thriving. (The hour will certainly be taken up with a recitation of the statistics if we allow this.) The egrets have not always been here and first started coming to this area in 1966 when an apartment complex about 1.4 miles away was destroyed. There is no need to alter university policy about the rookery, because a policy of keeping the rookery "undisturbed until deserted" has lasted through three UTSW presidents. To every suggestion of repairs, he will respond that this might harm the birds, and he will try to reassure us that the birds will not be in any way be adversely affected by the recent disturbances.

Message to be sent:
Dear ----------,

Thank you for helping us organize a meeting tomorrow about the rookery. Representatives of the Heron and Egret Society, Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and Audubon will be in attendance. About 12 individuals have already indicated that they will attend. The actual number might be higher, but probably not more than 25.
In the interest of time, we would like to have the following items to be placed high on the agenda?

(1) An introduction of ourselves and expertise.
(2) A determination of past and future university policy about the rookery.
(3) A discussion on the actions to be taken to repair the recent damage to the rookery and prevent further damage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming Meeting with UTSW Physical Plant VP

Please note that there will be a meeting about the rookery this Thursday (12 March) from noon to 1:00 p.m., at the UTSW Physical Plant Building 2nd-Floor Conference Room (Room P2.100). 

This meeting has been organized so that parties interested in the welfare of the rookery (including The Heron and Egret Society and Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation) may meet with Kirby Vahle, the UT Southwestern VP for the Physical Plant.

Please make every effort to attend.

It will be important to use this opportunity productively and not waste an hour
listening to lectures, excuses, etc.

It might be helpful to think of the egrets as the part of us that flies and
approach the meeting with the following aims, i.e. to:
  1. Introduce ourselves and get recognized as a source of expertise about the
    egrets and rookery right here on the campus.
  2. Determine university policy about the rookery and what might be good or
    lacking about it.
  3. Make proposals on how to handle the recent damage and come to some agreement
    with the Physical Plant on the actions to be taken.
Please send suggestions. I will make certain to keep open all lines of communication
between us open right up to the meeting.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Management" of "Nuisance" Heronries

The good news

Some support is coming in for the birds. For example, Audubon Dallas has stepped in with a report about the rookery.

The bad news

The expert who is advising the university is a retired biologist who wrote about "Nuisance Heronries in Texas" and how to "manage" them. Beware! In parlance about wildlife, "manage" usually means destroy.

If you don't have time to read this article, here is a snippet:

"Nuisance conditions — where removal of birds might be considered — are subject to federal permit requirements and procedures. The Texas Wildlife Damage Management Service (TWDMS) is the state agency that can assist the public with the proper procedures to apply for a federal permit. After the breeding season, when the birds have left the nesting area, the nests that remain are still under federal protection. To remove these nests, or to modify nesting habitat, you must first apply for a federal permit. If you believe that you may have a nuisance heronry, or would like to modify a site containing nests, contact TWDMS at (210) 472-5451."

So it appears that somebody screwed up by bringing in the chainsaws while there were birds nesting. Is destruction of the rookery in the planning stages? If so, you are doing a great service. An infuriated wildlife rehabilitator, and more recently, somebody from Audubon told me that this sort of chainsawing operation beneath sitting birds is done to drive the birds away with the clear message that their world will be chopped away from beneath them. Indeed, there are downed nests near the memorial garden, below where birds were actually sitting.

Interestingly, this expert is knowledgeable about Texas plants, as I am. One of his sites describes the great value of hackberries and red mulberries.

Most of the hackberries and all of the red mulberries of the rookery were savaged last week. The destruction was so systematic as to make one wonder whether they had been targeted for destruction. These are natives trees of small stature, tough as nails, and long lived. They provide great cover for birds, protection from erosion, and even food for the songbirds. Some of the trees destroyed were quite mature. See the attached photo and count the rings. Another photo shows the depth of the "perimeter" removal.

What the Society can do

Please keep on keepin' on. Our Society is awfully good, though we don't waste time on meetings and other nonsense. We do not have to leave the final word on the rookery to the university's expert.  I expect that I am as knowledgeable about Texas birds and plants but infinitely more caring. I am also not retired. There are others in our group who are knowledgeable about ornithology and ecology. All of us in the Society have direct experience of this specific rookery and its birds. He does not; he is based quite far away. Your suggestions on the rookery matter more.

Please keep up the pressure in every way you can so that the recent damage is repaired. One approach is contact everybody you know who cares about wildlife and ask them to make their opinions on this known. Public disapproval is the major thing shielding the birds and their rookery.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Chainsaw Massacre Coming to Channel 8 TV

News of the rookery disturbances will appear at 5:00 p.m. on Channel 8. WFAA will be reporting live from the Rookery.  St. James is a real pro and very dogged about this story. She was here yesterday afternoon when some of the excised underbrush and stumps were still on the ground, and back again this morning for some interviews. Everything happened rather quickly this morning. I tried to contact as many of you as I could but managed to reach only a few.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part II

We walked the perimeter of the rookery this afternoon and were shocked by what we saw. So far, we had only seen the damage from our car as we drove to and fro. Please take a walk there as soon as you can: tomorrow if possible. It is important that we all see this.

Many thanks to those of you who contacted Salazar and took other measures to ensure the birds' well being. Some of you are encouraged by Salazar's quick reply that he is "committed to the safety and success of the bird sanctuary". Others are quite skeptical. Our reactions and responses do not have to be the same. The important thing is that we have put on notice those directly responsible for the recent cuttings and prunings.

A Game Warden from TX Parks and Wildlife will be here next week to examine the damage.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

If you wandered by the rookery recently, you probably noticed that all the underbrush was cleared, and many trees cut down or pruned. All of this happened since this Monday, while over 150 birds were in place on their nests. Though it is certainly true that the weather is ideal for removing dying trees that the spring winds would probably knock down, it is actually illegal for a rookery to be disturbed while it is active. Last year, some trees and shrubbery were also pruned around the same time but only on the rookery's perimeter. This year, the pruning is more intrusive, the entire rookery is affected, and the birds appear to be quite upset by this.

It is time to let the UTSW grounds people know that we are disturbed by these recent activities, or at the least, that we are watching them. If you agree, please write a polite note stating your concerns to Mr. Orlando Salazar, the Grounds Maintenance Supervisor for the Physical Plant. I have spoken to Mr. Salazar in the past and found him to be receptive to comments about the rookery. For example, he has been very good about letting us set up water troughs around the rookery and leaving them alone. On the other hand, we cannot know what pressures are on him.

You might be surprised to learn this, but there are some who would like to see the rookery replaced by new facilities for people. The rookery was expected to kill itself many years ago, as many rookeries do, especially with a little nudge here and there. Instead, it has survived some quite damaging human disturbances, such as interference with a brook that ran through it, removal of numerous trees to construct tennis courts, etc. But I digress, and that was long ago. 

We must not allow damage to happen on our watch. You might start your message to Mr. Salazar by thanking him for his help to (or noninterference with) the Heron and Egret Society and then go on to state your concern about the recent prunings and, if you wish to be firmer about this, about the fact that an illegal activity took place. He needs to hear from us now and then, and not just from those who wish the birds were gone and call him to complain about the smells.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Welcome back from the winter! I hope you are all well and happy.

The egrets began gliding into the rookery last Friday, right on schedule for Valentine's. About 150 birds are here: all great egrets. More coming all the time. The first arrivals get the best nests. They are fortunately those near the memorial garden, where one can sit and leisurely observe the most masterful curtsiers in their full mating plumage. Great show! This is also where, in about two months, the first hatchlings will be bobbing their spiky little white heads and kwak-kwaking.