Roseate Spoonbills, photo by Ben Sandifer

Nature

Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

A close encounter with a skunk

I was ready for a good long walk at the end of last week. When the president announced he was going to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), it was the latest in a series of heart-wrenching blows to the immigrants we serve. It just seemed mean. Perhaps this motivates you to do something. North Texas Giving Day is this Thursday, and there are many local groups you could financially assist, including the Human Rights Initiative.

I know people who are getting discouraged and deterred, but for me, I am increasingly motivated to fight for our clients. Still, I need to get out, remove myself from the stress of the work, and there is no better way than a walk in nature with my amigos Ben and Scott.

So I suggested to Ben and his girlfriend Carrie that we head back to the vicinity of Lemmon Lake and see if there were still some migratory waterfowl. I woke up early, about 5:30, brewed a pot of fine Cultivar coffee, and ate a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries, sitting on the deck. The air was cool, and I was thankful we’ve survived another Dallas summer. Venus, the morning star, shone bright in the eastern sky.

A word about hiking attire. Because of the presence of many thorny plants and ubiquitous poison ivy, I always hike in long pants and long sleeve shirts. REI and other stores have great hiking attire. It is, however, expensive, so I favor the dress shirts and pants that are my work attire. I’m usually in a pretty worn pair of dress slacks. I have never been known for my sense of fashion. That would be my boy Fred, who D Magazine recently named as one of the 10 most stylish people in Dallas. Needless to say, he did not get his sense of fashion from me.

We met at the River Oaks parking lot. It’s a nice park, filled with native Post Oaks. There we met Scott, and our friend Elizabeth. We headed down the paved trail, mindful of the occasional Copperhead we sometimes see on the pavement. We walked briskly, enjoying the cool morning. This is an easy access to the Trinity Forest, especially for the uninitiated, as it is a paved trail, which you can follow all the way to Trinity River Audubon Center. Our goal was more off of the beaten path. We followed the paved trail until it took a hard left and ran all the way over to the Trinity River. There it ends at a pretty overlook, with nice views up and down the river.

We took an old dirt road through a grove of Pecans and then took a side trail over the levee and made our way toward an area that Carrie has begun to call Feather Lake, for reasons I didn’t actually hear. (Too much rock and roll earlier in life. Kids, pay attention to your ears.) We followed the contour of a swale, a large area that holds overflow from the Trinity during floods. Thus, in a rainy year, it still holds water and provides excellent habitat for wading birds that favor shallower water where they can fish. We continued to walk briskly. Carrie lingered behind, as she was watching some small birds. She and Ben are both Master Naturalists and Master Birders, and their knowledge of birds far exceeds mine. My knowledge of IPAs is vastly superior, though. We paused for a moment and watched as Carrie sprinted out of the tall grass, arms waving as she ran. We wondered what was up, and she yelled, “Skunk!” Ben helpfully suggested that if she’d been sprayed, we’d pitch in for bus fare home.

We followed the swale, hearing dueling Pileated Woodpeckers call in the distance. We made it to where the swale held water, spying a Great Blue Heron in the distance. As we got closer, we could see Sandpipers and Black Legged Stilts. Then, shining bright pink in the early morning light, the stunning plumage of Roseate Spoonbills. I get a kick out of seeing these birds every time. It seemed so unlikely that we’d see these beautiful and exotic birds here. People always ask, “You saw these in Dallas?” Yep, about 10 minutes by car from the Convention Center. We spent a long time walking around the edge of the pond and watching these unique birds as they fished. I sat down at one spot and watched a White Ibis fishing. We heard and then saw Whistling Ducks soar over. This is a splendid spot. It feels remote, and it is. I don’t know anyone else who has ever walked here.

Ben, Scott, and I made our way over the levee and into the woods, hoping to spy the Wood Storks we observed a few weeks ago. We walked into a really nice bottomland woods, along the banks of an old course of the Trinity. We watched Ibis, Black Crowned Night Herons, and Snowy Egrets. We walked in the refreshing shade of Hackberry, Cottonwood, Ash, and Elm, and I saw one of the largest Native Pecans I can recall. We made our way back across the forest and into the open swale, where we rejoined Carrie and Elizabeth, who were watching Spoonbills.

We returned by the same route. I spied our buddy Pepe Le Pew, who we wished to avoid, and I watched as he made his way out of sight. Then we headed back to the car.

I’m thankful we have local nature areas, and I have good companions to explore them with. Life is hard these days. It talks all my energy every day to fight for justice, and with a little help from my friends, a cold beer now and then, and some Spoonbills to watch, I think I’m up for another year.

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