Dateline – December 31, 2019 – The Last Hike of the Year

My plan was to hike into the Trinity River valley, and setup in an out-of-the-way location overlooking what I hoped would be a prime spot for wildlife viewing. For this mission I brought with me my trusty–but rarely used–chair blind. On this cold morning I was going to sit and watch… I was going to let the wildlife come to me.

My chair blind looks and functions something like this one

This would be quite a departure from the way I normally do things. My preference has always been to wander and explore, allowing chance encounters to provide me with opportunities for photographs. My natural inclination is to keep on the move. I can’t help but to wonder what is around the next bend in the trail and that curiosity drives me on.

It’s a hard urge to resist, and I have to admit that even on this morning I had to remind myself multiple times to stay put and enjoy the peace, relaxation, and solitude. I’m glad I did–it’s a different kind of good.

The temperatures were in the low 30s as I left the car roughly 45 minutes before dawn. But the winds were calm and the sky was clear. There was the promise of a beautiful day just a few hours away.

The mid-weight jacket I was wearing and the vigorous hike in were enough to keep me warm on the trail all the way to my chosen spot. The trek was not difficult. In the predawn, there was more than enough ambient light to show the way.

I had picked a small borrow pit lake as the locale for this little project. I found a nice high spot on the east bank that would afford me a good view of the entire lake and surrounding woods. Once there, I quickly setup my chair blind and settled in for the long haul.

It was not long before I began to feel the cold in my hands, as my fingers gradually released their hold on any residual warmth. I tucked my hands under my arms and distracted myself from the chill by focusing on the deep winter silence and watching the landscape begin to glow with the coming of dawn. It was all quite magnificent.

The first sounds of wildlife to reach my ears were the prehistoric squawks of herons and egrets coming to the borrow pit lake to fish. Nearly a dozen arrived in short order, concentrating their activities in one particularly corner of the lake. The birds were feasting on Gizzard Shad. The fish had collected here in large numbers, making them easy pickings for the big wading birds.

A Great Egret coming to the lake at first light
Here, a pair of Great Egret approach the water
A Great Blue Heron was next to arrive
Landing
Note the concrete culvert.
Even in this remote location, signs of urbanization intrude.
Feeding on Gizzard Shad
The birds were able to catch shad seemingly without effort
Birds came and went all morning
A Double-crested Cormorant also taking advantage of the abundance of fish
There was enough for everyone
The action began to taper off as the sun rose higher in the sky

As dawn broke many of the big wading birds quit the water to roost and digest in the treeline on the opposite side of the lake. There, they would occasionally jostle with each other over prime perches, squawking loudly to encourage surrender or to express displeasure.

As the sun rose higher behind me, its golden rays began to illuminate the birds on the treeline across the way. My chair blind was also receiving its fair share of the abundant sunlight, and I noticed the warming effect almost immediately. It was nice to have a little relief from the cold. It occurred to me that this may explain the birds’ choice of roost. They surely knew the sun’s warming rays were coming to help with their digestion.

Beautiful sunlight on the far bank
A Great Blue Heron perched and sunning
A Great Egret on a popular branch
A few minutes later this Great Blue Herons took possession
An American Crow–this perch was in high demand
Female Red-winged Blackbird

It was around this time when I caught a glimpse of a lone Coyote making his way down the still shadowy treeline on the north side of the lake. Momentarily, I turned my attention to may camera to make a few quick adjustments to its settings. When I looked up again, the Coyote had already ditched backing into the woods. A missed opportunity, for sure.

Then there was another ruckus among the herons and egrets. This time a bold Osprey–the beautiful Fish Eagle–had arrived and was throwing his weight around. He chased a pair of Great Egrets away from the most choice perch, and took the spot for himself.

The grand Osprey!
One of the flushed egrets. She did not want to tangle with the mighty Osprey
Bird or Bully? Both!
Mission accomplished!

At this point, I was hopeful that I might get to see the Osprey at work. Watching one of these magnificent raptor fish is always a thrill. But it was not to be on this winter morning. Within minutes the big Fish Eagle had moved on to another part of the Trinity River bottoms. His objective in stopping by was only to disrupt and to bully, evidently.

Tall grass on the banks of the lake lit by golden sunlight
One lucky forest critter had fish for dinner
Soapberries… can be used like soap!
Chinaberries against a blue sky
Chinaberry Tree
Dried flowers on the winter prairie