The Most Important Place on Earth (even if just passing through)
April 25, 2014 | By Shoal Creek Conservancy
This blog post was written by Ted Lee Eubanks. To learn more about the author, please visit this site.
The nights have been seasonably cool, perfect for open doors and windows. Around 4 am the white-winged doves begin to call. For a couple of hours before sunlight, my yard resonates with “who cooks for you?, who cooks for you?”. By dawn, the dove chorus is deafening. No alarm is needed to waken us. The doves will carry that load for most of the spring.
Northern cardinals, Carolina wrens, lesser goldfinches, and house finches will join the chorus as the morning wears on. Cardinals are active from “kin to kaint.” The nests are constructed in the deepest recesses of the mountain laurels in my front yard.
Cardinals suffer from the “curse of the common.” A male cardinal is as dramatically adorned as any bird, but since we see them so commonly we rarely consider their beauty. There is rarely a day when I do not see them in my yard and along the creek. My sunflower seed feeder always attracts cardinals, particularly in the late evening.
Cardinals have adapted well to man, although our outside and feral cats do damage. We could easily remedy this by keeping our cats indoors and reducing the numbers of feral cats around the city. I admit that I rarely see feral cats along our creek; perhaps the hawks and owls help keep them at bay.
House finches are at their peak form right now as well. I am seeing young birds at the feeders with their parents, evidencing just how early in the spring these birds begin to nest. In fact, many of our local resident birds (such as the tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, and red-bellied woodpecker) begin nesting in late winter. We see young birds at about the time birds from more northerly climates are just beginning to migrate through.
And, migration is most certainly underway. In fact, the next three weeks are the absolute peak of the spring flights. I am recovering from knee surgery (traded the old one in for a new one), and I have been sitting outside with my laptop to both work and watch. Late last week, as I pecked away at an overdue report, I heard what I thought were gulls overhead. The only gull I regularly see here are the ring-billed gulls that winter here. Yet, again and again I heard the calls of gulls, unlikely as they might be.
After a minute or two, I looked overhead and directly into a funnel of over 200 Franklin’s gulls! This gull is a prairie gull, nesting in the prairie pothole region of the northern Great Plains. In fall, the gull migrates south to the Pacific coast of South Amerca where it spends the winter. The birds over my Shoal Creek yard were headed back north to nest.
Franklin’s gulls migrate thousands of miles each year between the northern Great Plains and the Pacific coast of South America. Only briefly do they pass through Austin, yet with a little luck you can see flocks stopping over at Lady Bird Lake before heading north again. I suspect that my birds were using the drafts that come up from Pease Park to help them soar above the city.
Shoal Creek may be important to a particular bird only for an hour or two each year. A migrant warbler, for example, only may need to stop and rest for the briefest moment before continuing on their migratory way. Yet, for that briefest of moments, Shoal Creek is the most important place on earth. We, at the Shoal Creek Conservancy, are working to make sure that our creek continues to serve as a resting and refueling stop for the millions of migrant birds that pass through each year. With your help, we can do this.
I have included images of several bird species that I photographed this week while recuperating from surgery. My home overlooks Pease Park and Shoal Creek, and is well within the watershed.