Feb 172015
 
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Last year, around mid-September, I began to pickup on chatter about Bald Eagle sightings at White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas. White Rock Lake is only a few miles from the downtown Dallas, and is about as urban as any lake in the area. The lake itself is ringed by narrow strip of parkland, but for miles around that it is residential and business developments that dominate the landscape. It is always exciting when unique or unusual wildlife shows up in such an unexpected place.

White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas

White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas

Now, Bald Eagles at White Rock Lake are not altogether an unusual occurrence. Eagles have been observed there on an annual basis pretty consistently for many years, but ordinarily there would be only one or two brief encounters reported every winter. At first I believed these sightings were just more of the same—a one time event that did not provide much promise for an observation of my own. I made a mental note of the news and planned to keep and eye on the situation to see how it developed.

Bald Eagle at White Rock Lake.  Photograph by Amol Khedgikar

Bald Eagle at White Rock Lake. Photograph by Amol Khedgikar

It did not take long for my initial impressions to be proven wrong. Sightings continued to come in all through the month of September, with three more reported observations before the month’s end. When the sightings of Bald Eagles at White Rock Lake continued on through October, I began to make plans to stop by and have a look for myself!

November 19, 2014

I made my first trip out to White Rock Lake on the chilly morning of November 19. Eagle sightings continued to be reported, but the frequency had dropped off significantly. I was afraid I may have missed my opportunity.

I started my morning at Dreyfuss Point. I arrived just before dawn, and was treated to a gorgeous sunrise over Dixon Branch. Many species of waterfowl call this part of the park home and listening to the lake come alive with their honks and squawks at daybreak was a real treat.

From Dreyfuss point I slowly made my way around to Dixon Branch, Sunset Bay, and Winfrey Point. Later I would drive down to the spillway to spend some time down by the dam. I wrapped up the morning with a slow and leisurely drive through the park along West Lawther on the off chance the eagle was spending time on that side of the lake.

Navigating White Rock Lake

Navigating White Rock Lake

But no eagles were seen on this first visit (or at least that is what I thought at the time), but White Rock Lake Park is beautiful in mid-autumn and there were plenty of other subjects to photograph.

The moon over White Rock Lake

The moon over White Rock Lake

Dawn breaks over Dixon Branch.

Dawn breaks over Dixon Branch.

Downtown Dallas as seen from Dreyfuss Point.

Downtown Dallas as seen from Dreyfuss Point.

The mouth of Dixon Branch.

The mouth of Dixon Branch.

The tops of the trees were illuminated first by the rising sun.

The tree tops are illuminated first by the rising sun.

A Red-shouldered Hawk perched below the spillway.

A Red-shouldered Hawk perched below the spillway.

A closer look at the appealing Red-shouldered Hawk.

A closer look at the appealing Red-shouldered Hawk.

European Starlings on a West Lawther traffic light.

European Starlings on a West Lawther traffic light.

What is this?  We will revisit this picture later in the post.

What is this? We will revisit this picture later in the post.

With no luck on my first outing, I made plans to return to the lake again a few more times before the end of November. Once I get an idea into my head I can be pretty determined to see it through. I was prepared to return again and again, if need be.

I spent a couple of long mornings at the lake in November and followed the same routine as before each time. Most of the reported sightings occurred at Sunset Bay or down near the spillway. Just like before I spent most of my time in these two spots before diving up the west side of the lake on my way home.

No eagles were seen on either of these outings, but I had a ball filling the time photographing the abundant urban wildlife that is always present at the lake.

November 28, 2014

Late autumn at White Rock Lake.

Late autumn at White Rock Lake.

Downtown Dallas as seen from Dreyfuss Point.

Downtown Dallas as seen from Dreyfuss Point.

By midmorning the warmth of the sun was helping to chase away the chill of the night.

By midmorning the warmth of the sun was helping to chase away the chill of the night.

The cottonwoods had just recently dropped their leaves.

The cottonwoods had just recently dropped their leaves.

There are some majestic trees  White Rock Lake Park.

There are some majestic trees White Rock Lake Park.

I was a bit surprised to find this Green Anole out and about and seemingly immune to the chill in the air.

I was a bit surprised to find this Green Anole out and about and seemingly immune to the chill in the air.

This tree was the anole's home.

This tree was the anole’s home.

The woods near Dixon Branch.

The woods near Dixon Branch.

The view at Sunset Bay.

The view at Sunset Bay.

American Coots by the dozen.

American Coots by the dozen.

Great Egret

Great Egret

It was a beautiful day.

It was a beautiful day.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Hundreds of cormorants spooked by a low flying airplane.

Hundreds of cormorants spooked by a low flying airplane.

The view at the spillway.

The view at the spillway.

A channel of water flows into White Rock Creek just below the dam.

A channel of water flows into White Rock Creek just below the dam.

The woods near the dam.

The woods near the dam.

The spillway steps.

The spillway steps.

Basking Red-eared Sliders.

Basking Red-eared Sliders.

Foraging Least Sandpipers.

Foraging Least Sandpipers.

A strange, foamy muck.

A strange, foamy muck.

An adult Ring-billed Gull.

An adult Ring-billed Gull.

A juvenile Ring-billed Gull.

A juvenile Ring-billed Gull.

Fall foliage at White Rock Lake.

Fall foliage at White Rock Lake.

Vivid oranges...

Vivid autumn oranges…

...and reds.

…and gorgeous autumn reds.

American Crows

American Crows

A unique opportunity to observed Neotropic Cormorants and Double-crested Cormorants in close proximity.

A unique opportunity to observed Neotropic Cormorants and Double-crested Cormorants in close proximity.

Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants

Neotropic Cormorants

Neotropic Cormorants

November 29, 2014

A Mute Swan at Sunset Bay.

A Mute Swan at Sunset Bay.

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

A small part of a much larger Box Elder bug swarm.

A small part of a much larger swarm of Box Elder bugs.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

Walking along the White Rock Lake dam.

Walking along the White Rock Lake dam.

A Spotted Sandpiper on the  dam.

A Spotted Sandpiper on the dam.

Monk Parakeet

Monk Parakeet

I returned to the lake several more times during the month of December. The change of season was becoming more and more obvious. Cold temperatures and gray skies were the signature of these visits—as was a lot of shivering on my part!

December 2, 2014

Double-crested Cormorants streaming out of their namesake bay at dawn.

Double-crested Cormorants streaming out of their namesake bay at dawn.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans

Dozens of Double-crested Cormorants feeding at the mouth of White Rock Creek.

Dozens of Double-crested Cormorants feeding at the mouth of White Rock Creek.

Mallards

Mallards

Pied-billed Grebes

Pied-billed Grebes

December 6, 2014

The Mockingbird Lane bridge.

The Mockingbird Lane bridge.

A trio of American White Pelicans.

A trio of American White Pelicans.

On Christmas Day there was another great sighting of the Bald Eagle. Friend and fellow wildlife photographer, Amol Khedgikar, got some fantastics shots of the eagle flying with a captured fish in its talons. And then again later as the eagle was perched on a deadfall just off shore at Sunset Bay feeding on its recent catch.

Bald Eagle with fish.  Photograph by Amol Khedgikar

Bald Eagle with fish. Photograph by Amol Khedgikar

Bald Eagle feeding.  Photograph by Amol Khedgikar

Bald Eagle feeding. Photograph by Amol Khedgikar

Encouraged by Amol’s recent sighting, I took advantage of my holiday time off from work and headed back out to White Rock Lake a few more times before the year’s end. These were some of my most productive visits. I had great fun for an hour or so one midmorning attempting to photograph quick and darting Forster’s Terns as they fished for minnows in Sunset Bay.

There were also more pictures of our friends the Red-tailed and the Red-shouldered Hawks. And, finally, I was able to photograph another unexpected visitor to the lake—the diminutive Ross’s Goose. This appealing little goose is barely larger than an American Coot. Strangely out of place alone here at White Rock Lake, I usually see Ross’s Geeses mixed in large congregations of Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese. This little guys seems to be something of an outlier!

But, in spite of these being great and fun days for wildlife photography, there was still no sign of the coveted Bald Eagle—I was beginning to feel a little desperate!

December 29, 2014

Morning Moon Viewed Through Branches

Morning Moon Viewed Through Branches

A Red-shouldered Hawk at the spillway.

A Red-shouldered Hawk at the spillway.

A Forster's Tern flying along the length of the dam.

A Forster’s Tern flying along the length of the dam.

A Channel Catfish stranded in the shallow water just below the dam.

A Channel Catfish stranded in the shallow water just below the dam.

A lone Ross's Goose at Sunset Bay.

A lone Ross’s Goose at Sunset Bay.

Ring-billed Gulls attempting to steal bread from an American Coot.

Ring-billed Gulls attempting to steal bread from an American Coot.

The Confrontation!

The Confrontation!

Double-crested Cormorants flying in past Winfrey Point.

Double-crested Cormorants flying in past Winfrey Point.

A Red-tailed Hawk hunting the margins near Sunset Bay.

A Red-tailed Hawk hunting the margins near Sunset Bay.

Notice the signature red tail.

Notice the signature red tail.

Sunset on December 29, 2014.

Sunset on December 29, 2014.

December 30, 2014

An American White Pelican coming in to land at Sunset Bay.

An American White Pelican coming in to land at Sunset Bay.

In Search of the White Rock Lake Bald Eagle

Pelicans at Altitude

Our friend the Ross's Goose.

Our friend the Ross’s Goose.

The Ross's Goose is just barely larger than  an American Coot.

The Ross’s Goose is just barely larger than an American Coot.

A Double-crested Cormorant carrying a branch or vine.

A Double-crested Cormorant carrying a branch or vine.

The aerobatic Forster's Tern.

The aerobatic Forster’s Tern.

What fun it was to watch these guys fish!

What fun it was to watch these guys fish!

No minnow this time!

No minnow this time!

These birds are incredibly acrobatic!

These birds are incredibly acrobatic!

Entering a dive.

Entering a dive.

Headlong toward the water!

Headlong toward the water!

Another near miss...

Another near miss…

...and then success!

…and then success!

January 5, 2015

On January 5, 2015 I decided to take a chance and head back out to the lake one more time. I would be visiting on my lunch hour, and allowing for time to drive to and from the lake, I would be left with only about 10 to 15 minutes of observing time. Not a lot, but better than nothing. It was a decided long shot, and I did not hold much hope of seeing the eagle this time either.

Arriving at Sunset Bay, I exited the car and walked to the water’s edge. All the usual suspect were present—gulls, cormorants, ducks, geese, coots, and pelicans—but no eagles. After about 10 minutes, I turned and began walking back to the car. I tarried a bit along the way, thinking this likely would be my last attempt of the winter—it was just time to move on to other projects.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of a large dark bird soaring high above the lake. I started to dismiss it at first as a vulture, but something about this bird struck me as a bit unusual. Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and even the cormorants can fool you if you observe them from a distance or coming at you head on. But the something—I’m not sure exactly what—encouraged me to give the bird a second look. I quickly parked my car and rushed again to the water’s edge.

A large, darkly colored bird flying high over White Rock Lake.

A large, darkly colored bird flying high over White Rock Lake.

Meanwhile the bird had dropped in altitude and was flying in an erratic manner that made it all but certain that this was not a vulture or a hawk. After two aborted attempts, the bird finally committed to a steep dive toward the lake’s surface. Pulling up hard at the last moment, the bird slapped the water with his feet and came away clutching a big fat fish in his talons.

No longer was there room for any doubt—this was definitely an eagle!

A 2nd or 3rd year juvenile Bald Eagle.

A 2nd or 3rd year juvenile Bald Eagle.

A fish has been spotted!

A fish has been spotted!

Winging over to swoop down on an unsuspecting fish.

Winging over to swoop down on an unsuspecting fish.

The catch!

The catch!

A successful catch!

A successful catch!

Immediately the big bird was set upon by two marauding Ring-billed gulls who were hoping to steal the eagle’s fresh catch. The eagle responded by beating a hasty retreat and soon disappeared behind the trees somewhere in the vicinity of Dreyfus Point. The whole episode lasted less than a minute.

Gaining altitude.

Gaining altitude.

The view from Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake.

The view from Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake.

A pair of gulls gave chase hoping to steal the eagle's catch.

A pair of gulls gave chase hoping to steal the eagle’s catch.

The eagle escaped by flying away in the direction of Dreyfuss Point.

The eagle escaped by flying away in the direction of Dreyfuss Point.

Interestingly, this was not the adult Bald Eagle that had been observed so frequently by others. This was a juvenile of approximately 2-3 years of age. At this stage in their development juvenile eagles still lack the signature white head and tail feathers of the mature adults.

So, it appears that there are at least two different Bald Eagles frequenting White Rock Lake—and maybe even more. Let’s take another look at that photograph from my first visit to the lake back in mid-November…

What is this?  We will revisit this picture later in the post.

The mystery bird from earlier in the post.

I was standing on the dam at the time this photograph was taken. The bird was flying over the Arboretum nearly a half mile away. Something about the bird caught my attention, but I only had time for this one picture before he flew out of sight. At this distance I could see very little detail through my camera’s viewfinder. All I could make out for certain is that the bird was uniformly dark in color, and since at that time I was expecting an adult Bald Eagle, I dismissed this bird as a vulture and promptly forgot about taking the picture.

I came across the photograph again a few days ago when I began prepping for this article, and decided to take a closer look. As I zoomed in on the image it soon became apparent that this too was a juvenile Bald Eagle—the overall brown coloration and the heavy yellow bill were sure giveaways. What’s more—though its hard to be sure from the lack of detail in the picture—this eagle appears to be a different juvenile than the one I photographed on January 5.

Another juvenile Bald Eagle, photographed November 19, 2014 at White Rock Lake.

Another juvenile Bald Eagle, photographed November 19, 2014 at White Rock Lake.

My guess is that this is a roughly one year old Bald Eagle. What that means is that there are likely at least three different eagles frequenting White Rock Lake from time to time—and maybe even more. How about that!

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  25 Responses to “In Search of the White Rock Lake Bald Eagle”

  1. Yet another AMAZING post! 🙂

    I especially love those pictures of the tern — really, really, REALLY great shots!

  2. Being a wildlife photographer, I very much like you pics. I have spent many hours trying to capture red tailed hawks in your neighboring Arkansas. I never dreamed of snapping shots of Bald Eagles until I moved to Iowa. Now I have more than I can count. Still no hawk, however.

    • Thanks for dropping in, Jeff! If you want Red-tailed Hawk pictures come on down to Dallas. We have lots and they will practically pose for you!

  3. Fantastic photos! I live on one of the streets on the east side that ends above the Bath House. There are quite a few wood ducks on White Rock Creek between Mockingbird and NW Highway. I’ve seen coyotes early in the field by the bat house and a neighbor got a photo of a bobcat at the tennis courts. Nice to see you ID’ed every critter… Even the Box Elders! Congrats on the eagle(s).

  4. Thank you for putting together this gorgeous photo montage!!!!!!
    The juvenile bald eagle has flown over my house several times. Such a majestic creature. I am so lucky to have a huge picture window in my home office; it was so beautiful to watch. Glad you followed your dream and captured such beautiful images.

    • We should trade offices, Krista! Ha! I’m jealous!

      • ..

        Chat Conversation Start

        8 minutes ago

        Dear Amol,
        You are a massively talented photographer. I found and absolutely love your presentation in DFW Wildlife, especially your photos of the bald eagle. Absolutely stunning. The juvenile had flown right over my house that day and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

        I would like to ask your permission to use your photo with your credit of the bald eagle and the pelicans on the cover of our neighborhood news letter. It is a perfect fit with the article I wrote to my neighbors. I am working hard to increase the environmental awareness of White Rock Lake and the Trinity River.

        Please let me know if you agree. Thank you so much!!!!

        Krista de la Harpe

  5. Thanks so much for the beautiful pictures and comments. I have lived near the lake for over 20 years and lived 20 years on Northlake where the hawks would sometimes fly over.

  6. Great post, great story! And amazing pictures! My absolute favorites are the tern pictures,

    • Thanks, Annika! My favorite of the tern pictures is the one where he is shaking off the water from his last dive. I had to look at that picture over and over again to figure out which way is up on that bird!

  7. Great article and awesome pictures! I commute daily along the White Rock creek trail and have run across the usual skunks, armadillos and possums but occasionally get to see coyotes and bobcats. My highlight, though, was seeing a river otter waddling down the trail until it realized I was closing in and it took off towards the creek.

  8. I’ve always wondered about the difference between a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk…your pictures have helped!

    If what I picked up on is correct, the Red-shouldered seems to have the prominent red feathers across its upper chest. While the Red-tailed Hawk in contrast is white across the chest with the red turning up at the tail. Did I get that right?

    Thanks again! Great post!

    V

    • Hi Virginia!

      There are several signature traits specific to each of these hawks, and you have picked up on two very important ones. You have it right!

  9. Great photos! Very educational, too. I have seen most of those birds at White Rock but had not seen the Sandpipers, or the Red Shouldered Hawk, and certainly not the Bald Eagle! Amazing! Thanks for all the great information.

  10. Hi, today April 15, I saw what I am sure was a bald eagle fly over my apartment complex. I live in White Rock Lake Villas. This guy definitely had the trademark white head and was huge! Was so excited and your article proved to me that I wasn’t seeing things! Thanks for the great article and all the wildlife I can look forward to hopefully seeing!

  11. Great Article! Great Photos too!!! I live a few blocks from the WRL in Casa Linda, Have been using this lake since I was a kid in the early 70’s, there is so much wildlife at the lake we need to preserve and maintain. Please don’t let the City of Dallas/ Dallas Arboretum or any other businesses encroach on any more portions of our beloved lake!
    I have a family of Red Tailed Hawks that nest in my back yard, they are beautiful and fun to observe.
    Thanks again for the wonderful pictures!
    Myles

    • Hi Myles,

      I wish there was more I could do to prevent the commercial development of White Rock Lake by myself. Fortunately, the community out there really comes together and stands up to the city whenever there is a threat in the wind. They know that White Rock Lake Park is like a line of dominos waiting to be knocked over… if you let one parcel of land fall to commercial development, the whole park will be gone before anyone knows what happened or can appreciate what was lost.

      I don’t know what the political answer is. Maybe an automatically renewing ordinance that puts the park off limits to commercial development for some number of years, or something like that. The real answer is probably for the City to develop a real appreciation for the intrinsic value of the park as it is. Many people–including myself–see it as the crown jewel of Dallas, Texas.

      In the meanwhile, more folks documenting the beauty and uniqueness of the park in photographs can’t hurt! I’ll continue to stop by every so often and share what I find on the pages of this blog! Thanks for stopping by!

      -Chris

  12. I really enjoyed your captivating bald eagle story. We live in Keller,Tx. The last week we’ve encountered juvenile bald Eagles as well, flying over the house trying to catch some lunch. I ran around the neighborhood trying to get photographs. They are so incredible to watch. The next day there were 4 flying together hunting. I was excited to see the one the day before. This was a true blessing!
    Thank you for sharing your story. Sheila

  13. This is amazing stuff, its like a full photographers guide to White Rock Lake! I am new to Dallas, so this sure inspired me to go to WRL.

  14. Over the pasr month my wife and I saw both a single and a pair of adult bald eagles near I-20 in Fort Worth. They were probably 100 feet over the trees. May have been just passing through, but it was interesting that we had never seen them here before, then saw these on two seperate occasions. Didn’t have enough time between “Look at this!” and “click”. What a treat!

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