White Rock Lake: A New Perspective

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4763acsKayaking, the day after Christmas. Who would have guessed?

Yet that’s the way I spent my holiday this year. Christmas with family in Dallas, Texas is a tradition. Spending time at White Rock Lake, walking and photographing the park and the wildlife there, is a tradition. Getting out on the water there – well, here’s to new traditions!

Last year I discovered two kayaks, hidden away behind my cousin Jensen’s house. I immediately began a subtle (ok, not so subtle) campaign to coax him into an excursion on White Rock Lake over the holidays. All we needed was warmth, sunshine and light winds, the last always essential on a big lake like White Rock.

The day was warm, but the sky was dark and moody, and we even had a brief shower. No matter. The morning was dead calm, the lake as smooth as glass. I was paddling, for gosh sakes, the day after Christmas. All was right with the world.

161226_tx-white-rock-lake-kayak_112937acsAfter years of exploring White Rock Lake from land, this was the perspective I had been itching to see – White Rock from the water.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4761acsMy cousin Jensen, lookin’ good.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4767acsCruising past the marina. Brightly colored kayaks rested among the sailboats, just waiting for someone to liberate them from their land-locked existence.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4771acsJensen knifed through the water so powerfully he threatened to paddle right out of my picture. One-handed, yet!

Elaborate mansions line the shores of the lake behind him, and beyond that, the Dallas skyline.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4777acsA wonderful pedestrian bridge arched over a narrow arm of the lake.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4795acsWe paddled under the Mockingbird Lane bridge, where Jensen tried his hand at a little fishing. The day after Christmas. Imagine that!

After this, my photography went south. To capture images in the darkness under the bridge, I needed to adjust the settings of my small waterproof point-and-shoot camera. I forgot to reset it afterward. Later I learned that this camera can’t handle those settings. Only a few images after that point were even usable, and they’re a little embarrassing.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4823acsHere’s one of them anyway, which I only share since it’s of my favorite White Rock bird, the American Coot.

Jensen and I paddled a short way up White Rock Creek. We could have explored a lot further up the waterway, but frankly, it got depressing.

Why? Trash. Plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups and other bits and pieces of detritus. Now, I’m used to Darby Creek at home, which draws its fair share of refuse. But not this bad.

img951911acThe scene inspired Jensen and his son Jake to do a little volunteer work a month later.

They spent a good three hours cleaning up trash from a 40-foot section of shoreline, filling two large Hefty bags in the process.

Here’s one of their finds. Way to go, guys! (Photo by Jensen Moock)

170101_tx-wrl-kayak-jensen-and-alex_950923acsSpeaking of family… Jensen’s daughter Alex had really wanted to go kayaking with us. Alas, we only had two kayaks. So she went with her dad a week or so later. As you can see, they had a much prettier day. And Jensen had prettier company. (Photo by Jensen Moock)

Notice the GoPro behind the seat. Alex, soon to graduate from high school, is a talented filmmaker. She starts at prestigious Belmont University in the fall. Can you tell I’m proud of her?

(That doesn’t get you off the hook, Alex – I still haven’t seen footage from your White Rock kayak experience. Or anything you shot from the drone.)

170101_tx-wrl-kayak-jensen-and-alex_9155acsA lake, a fishing rod and a sunset. Jensen, enjoying the serenity of a day with his daughter. (Photo by Alex Moock)

Back to my little White Rock adventure. After the paddle up the creek, Jensen and I returned to our exploration of the lake. He had no luck fishing, but we chatted with another boater who told us a few fish tales. I showed Jensen the dog park, and the arm of the lake I call “Cormorant Corner”, for all the Double-crested Cormorants that roost in the trees there. Funny to think that a lifelong Dallas resident needed to be shown around White Rock Lake by a part-time visitor.

161226_tx-white-rock-lake-kayak_122640acsHere’s a rarely seen sight – me, captured on camera.

On White Rock Lake.

The day after Christmas.

(Photo by Jensen Moock)

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4843acsDramatic clouds over the lake. They would part just as we were getting off the water, yielding to sunshine and blue skies.

I ate lunch in my bare feet. The day after Christmas.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Texas Travelogue

Critter Radio Logo v3Up North, the wind is howling and the snow falls by the foot. But here in the heart of Texas, the maelstrom is far away. The late afternoon sun shines warmly on the gently rippled lake as a flotilla of stately Pelicans sets sail for Sunset Bay. Refined dining awaits.

151223_TX White Rock Lake_4114acsHello. I’m Arthur Pelican, travel editor for KRTR, Critter Radio. I’ve come here to White Rock Lake to sample the amenities and meet the guests at one of the finest avian winter resorts in Dallas.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4521acsNestled amid grasslands, wetlands and woodlands, this 1,015-acre jewel is the perfect escape from the cold and snow for the discriminating critter.

151229_TX White Rock Lake_4951Amenities include endless opportunities for water recreation, numerous docks and piers for sunbathing, and a variety of fine cuisine.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4448acsIn addition, the Lake’s location northeast of Big D offers an abundance of urban culture and nightlife within easy proximity.

151223_TX White Rock Lake_4146acsWhite Rock Lake is fed by White Rock Creek, a 30-mile creek that joins the Trinity River south of the Lake. The Creek and the Lake get their name from the white Austin chalk that makes up the streambed and banks. Large rocks of weathered chalk pepper the shores of the Lake.

151229_TX White Rock Lake_4828acsA popular highlight of the Lake is a large water park called the Spillway.

151229_TX White Rock Lake_4968acsDrought can put a damper on recreation, but not this year. There is no shortage of water in which to play, thanks to recent drenching rains. The Spillway fairly gushes with the precious liquid.

151229_TX White Rock Lake_4948acsDown the wide shallows of the Upper Spillway and around an island, water then streams over the elaborate Stair Steps of the Lower Spillway. And on to the Trinity River, 8 miles downstream.151229_TX White Rock Lake_4820acs

151229_TX White Rock Lake_5243acs Some birds prefer their solitude; for them the quaint coves of White Rock Lake offer the serenity they seek.151229_TX White Rock Lake_5127acs

151229_TX White Rock Lake_5016acsBut for the many who enjoy the social whirlwind, there is no shortage of prominent points and expansive bays where the feathered flock can see and be seen.

151223_TX White Rock Lake_4203acsPosh clubs abound, where singles can mingle, and perhaps become pairs…

151229_TX White Rock Lake_5083acsOr trios…

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4757acsOr… Perhaps a gentleman simply wishes a hideaway to escape over-ardent suitors!

151229_TX White Rock Lake_5235acsWhatever their tastes in dining and entertainment, be it lively fellowship or peaceful seclusion, rest assured the cultured critter will find it here at White Rock Lake.

151223_TX White Rock Lake_4007acsJust tell them Arthur Pelican from KRTR Critter Radio sent you. Bon voyage!

The Clown Prince of White Rock

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4486acsConsider the Coot.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4406acsIn the pantheon of White Rock Lake, he is the court jester.

Black of body, red of eye, white of bill, the American Coot is a plain-looking water bird that can’t figure out where he belongs.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4503acsOn water he swims and dives like a duck; but he isn’t a duck.

Consider the Coot. On land he doesn’t waddle, but walks like a chicken. He’s sometimes called “Mud Hen” and his shape resembles a chicken; but he isn’t a chicken.

In the air he’s awkward – but first he has to get there, a challenge for the coot. He takes off by running for a long way across the water while flapping his wings, like a loon; but he isn’t a loon.

Other birds don’t think much of the Coot.

151223_TX White Rock Lake_4127acsDouble-crested Cormorants, undeniably snooty, look down their bills from lofty heights at the Coot.

151223_TX White Rock Lake_4158acsGreat-tailed Grackle struts, smug in the knowledge that he outshines the Coot.

151229_TX White Rock Lake_4853acsGreat Egret is studiously cool, ignoring the Coots.

151229_TX White Rock Lake_5177acsYes, the bird royalty treats the Coot with disdain. Not so the squirrels. They think the Coot’s a little nuts.

Perhaps this is why. What sensible bird would hurl himself at a wall of rushing water 5 times his height – for fun?!? Yet that is what the Coot does, over and over again. He walks up the face of the dam spillway until the water knocks him tail over teacups and washes him down the stream bed. Then he walks up and does it again. It’s whitewater kayaking, coot-style.

Coot Collage 2

Click for full-size image

FUN FACT: The American Coot is most comfortable on the water, but his feet aren’t webbed like a duck’s. Instead they have long toes with lobes of skin that propel him through the water. The same lobes keep him from sinking into mud when he’s on shore leave.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4696acsLook out, here come the Coots!

White Rock Lake is a large park in a highly urban area. Lots of folks come down to the shore with bags of bread for the “ducks.” What they get is Coots.

Consider the Coot. The Coot is a rail; rails are usually known for their secretiveness. But he’s a noisy gregarious bird that hangs out in large flocks in the open.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4727aWhich squabble over every bit of junk food tossed their way.

Other birds think this behavior unseemly. Little do they know how magical, how wondrous, it is!

An audience of young urban children is enthralled with his comedy routine. They giggle at his antics, and shriek with delight. For many of them, the park is a rare escape from the noise, the congestion and the concrete of their neighborhoods. The Coot is their first connection with wildlife.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4722acsIf even a few of these children grow to love and defend wild animals and wild lands, it will have started here. In this urban park, in the heart of Dallas, on the wild edge between man and nature.

The promise of the future rests on the wings of the clown prince of White Rock, the American Coot.

151225_TX White Rock Lake_4492acsAll hail the Coot!

Reflections of White Rock Lake

TX White Rock Lake_7280acs Mirror, Mirror, on the wall

Is there a haven in the Dallas sprawl?

Perhaps a park like White Rock Lake,

A place to watch the morning break?

TX White Rock Lake_7398ACSMirror, Mirror, I do insist,

Show me White Rock in the mist

TX White Rock Lake Pelican_7241aTX White Rock Lake_7404A

Mirror, Mirror, hear my words

Who’s the fairest of the birds?TX White Rock Lake Yellowlegs_7780aLesser Yellowlegs certainly seems enamored of his own reflection…

TX White Rock Lake Cormorant_7805aTX White Rock Lake Coot_6951a

While Double-crested Cormorant (left) is primping for her photo op, and American Coot (right) is working it for the camera.

TX White Rock Lake Geese_6971acs Not all the birds in White Rock Lake Park are native, or even wild. A number of domestic geese and ducks prowl the shores. This is a White Chinese Goose.

TX White Rock Lake Duck Domestic_7652aMore domestics: Black Swedish Ducks in front and the Crested Pekin Duck. And yes, there is no “g” in “Pekin”, despite the insistence of the spell-checker.

TX White Rock Lake Gadwall_7939a Ah, here are we are back to the wild critters. These Gadwalls are looking especially natty.

TX White Rock Lake Kestrel_7025acsAmerican Kestrels perch in trees on the edge of a meadow, looking for mice and voles to eat.

TX White Rock Lake Red-bellied Woodpecker_7816a Red-bellied Woodpecker, also looking for good things to eat, much prefers insects. Despite the moniker, the belly is only marginally reddish. The red on its head would seem a better inspiration for a name, but “Red-headed Woodpecker” was already taken.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Loch

Who’s the fairest on White Rock?

TX White Rock Lake Pelican_6995aThat’s an easy one! American White Pelicans are the stars of the show at White Rock Lake in winter. These HUGE birds roost and preen on logs near the lake shore. They look like they’re too big to get off the ground, but in fact they are graceful and powerful fliers. Watching them skim the lake’s surface is an impressive sight. Not one I’ve captured to my satisfaction yet, though.

TX White Rock Lake Pelican_6931aFUN FACT: How huge are White Pelicans? From beak tip to tail tip they are about 5’2”, nearly as tall as I am. Their wingspans are about 9 feet long. The pouch in their bills can hold 3 gallons of water. Take a look at a gallon of water in the supermarket, and then imagine holding three of them in your mouth! Ouch!

They catch fish by dipping their heads underwater, like bobbing for apples. Sometimes several Pelicans will get together and herd fish together to make them easier to catch.

TX White Rock Lake_7979ac no s  Mirror, Mirror, tell one, tell all

There’s a special place in the Dallas sprawl

Where humans gather, yet young birds fledge

It’s truly a park on the Wild EdgeTX White Rock Lake Pelican_6983a