Lured by Texbirds reports of Wood Ducks and a Vermilion Flycatcher, I drove down to El Franco Lee Park. It was my first visit to this park, which is just south of Beltway 8 and only an hour from our house in Cypress.
At first glance the site looked like just another rather boring city park, with most of the space given over to sports fields. But then I saw there was a large wetlands area and some patches of woodland further back from the entrance. So I parked and walked past a short boardwalk to the path marked Nature Trail Two.
The air was filled with the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds and within minutes I came across a pair each of Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere, flitting around in the trees and by the water's edge.
The trees near the picnic table at the trailhead were full of Northern Cardinals. There were also numerous American Robins. Most flew off as soon as I approached ...
but one stayed a little longer.
The lake was busy with hundreds of American Coots and ducks. They were all too far away to photograph but even without a scope I was able to pick out Gadwalls, Mottled Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, and Blue- and Green-winged Teal.
To my surprise, the first 15 minutes of the trail had no wading birds. However, this changed as I neared the eastern corner of the water. Several Great Egrets looked majestic as they perched on snags or fished in the shallows.
The shallows also had groups of Snowy Egrets, distinctive with their yellow feet and hunched stance.
There were White Ibis, too, some in full adult plumage ...
and some still sporting their juvenile coloring.
Great Blue Herons flew off, protesting noisily, before I could photograph them but Tricolored Herons were less bothered by my presence.
When the trail left the water and looked to be heading over less interesting terrain, I decided to retrace my steps. It was a good decision. Almost immediately I saw my first new year bird, an Osprey flying high overhead.
Then another new bird, a Cave Swallow swooping over the water. Two minutes later, a third new species, my first Green Heron of 2010.
A pair of Swamp Sparrows came next, followed by a fourth new year bird, a Greater Yellowlegs.
A Red-shouldered Hawk caught my eye as it came down to settle in a distant tree. And then my final sighting, an American Kestrel, perched on a high branch.
I didn't get to see any Wood Ducks or the Vermilion Flycatcher, the main reasons for my visit. However, I wasn't at all disappointed and I would rank the short time I spent at the park among the most enjoyable birding I have ever done. Hardly a minute passed without something worth looking at - not surprising given that I saw 47 species in 90 minutes. I was pleased, too, to add four species to my year list, taking the latter to 120 species.
I'll certainly be returning to bird this park before the end of the winter and no doubt also later in the year.
The park is just south of Beltway 8 a little west of I-45. From 8 take the Blackhawk Blvd. exit south. Before you reach Blackhawk, you will see Hall Road on your right. Turn into the second entrance, which is clearly marked. (The first entrance is for the park's community center.) Then go right at the first Stop sign. Follow this road until it ends at a turnaround. The wetlands will be on your left and a clump of trees with a picnic table will be straight ahead. Nature Trail Two starts between the wetlands and the trees. Before you reach it, you will pass a short boardwalk with an observation deck.