Meadow Lake

Introduction:

     Meadow Lake is a small lake next to my neighborhood in Round Rock, Texas.  There are many beautiful birds that visit the lake, including Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons.  To get to the lake, from IH 35 exit FM 3406 (Old Settlers Blvd) east and go about 2 miles to the 4-way stop at Sunrise and Old Settlers.  Go through the stop and take your next left onto Settlement.  The lake is just up the hill on your right.

Meadow Lake (aerial photograph)
or
USGS Round Rock Quadrangle showing Meadow Lake.

I have a new web site now for Meadow Lake (click here) with pictures and better bird records.

Things you can do to help keep your lakes and streams clean:

      If you want to help birds and make sure they have a good food supply (fish, crustaceans, etc.) from the lake environment, spread the word about alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers (excessive algae growth caused by fertilizers disrupts the natural balance in the lake, causing dangerously low oxygen levels to occur in the nighttime hours). Organic gardening is becoming very popular among nature lovers, and in Texas there are many alternative methods to control fire ants.  Please consider the extreme toxicity of Diazinon to birds and other wildlife before using it around the home or on your lawn.  A local expert biologist told me that he has found boiling water to be much more effective than pesticides for controlling fire ants.   In Texas, you can also join the Texas Watch Environmental Monitoring Program and begin monitoring things such as pH and dissolved oxygen in your local creeks and lakes.  Many other states have similar programs.  I will be monitoring Meadow Lake as soon as I receive a monitoring kit.  I have taken the Texas Watch class to become a monitor.

     I have started picking up trash at the lake because I have noticed a lot of trash coming from the storm drain system into the lake near Settlement Drive.  Rain washes a mix of pollutants off of our streets, parking lots, and neighborhood yards.  Pollutants such as soil, pet waste, motor oil, antifreeze, grass clippings, pesticides, and fertilizers wash into storm drains and eventually into the rivers and lakes without being treated at all.  This is in contrast to the wastewater system that takes waste from the drains inside your house to the City Treatment Plant before it enters the rivers and lakes.  This treated water is in many cases of higher quality than the water that is in the river already (untreated runoff carrying pollutants from neighborhoods, farms, etc.)  This polluted runoff kills wildlife and contaminates our waterways.

Easy ways to reduce pollution:
1.Keep all litter out of storm drains, and bring a trash bag with you on walks near streams and lakes to pick up trash (don't forget your gloves!).
2.Pick up pet waste. Wrap it tightly in a bag, and throw it in the garbage. Or flush it down the toilet.
3.Recycle used motor oil and antifreeze.
4.Learn about organic gardening, instead of resorting to pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
5.To minimize pest infestations, don't grow large areas of a single crop. (mix crops to create diversity like nature does)
5.Compost your grass clippings.
6.Take unwanted household chemicals, oil paints, and solvents to a hazardous household waste collection center.

     We as humans often restrict consumption of fish that contain harmful pesticides and chemicals, but waterbirds don't have a choice, since their full diet consists of fish and other creatures in our lakes and streams.  We also have the luxury of drinking treated water from our treatment plants, whereas birds and other wildlife must drink from the streams and lakes we have contaminated.  According to the U.S. EPA report, "In 1998, about 40% of U.S. streams, lakes and estuaries that were assessed were not clean enough to support uses such as fishing and swimming.  Recent water quality data finds that more than 291,000 miles of assessed rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards. Across all types of waterbodies, states, territories, tribes and other jurisdictions report that poor water quality affects aquatic life, fish consumption, swimming, and drinking water."   The more the public learns about these issues, the faster we can do something about it and put an end to the needless suffering experienced by wildlife.

The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road,
and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.
- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


Notes/observations at Meadow Lake:

3/11/01  Today it was rainy and pretty calm on the lake. Here is a picture of some of the things I removed from the lake.

3/7/01  Today I completed my Phase 3 training with Texas Watch, so I am now a certified Water Quality Monitor.  Once I receive a new set of chemicals for my kit, I will begin monitoring the lake once or twice a month and posting the results on this web site.  The results are also sent to the Brazos River Authority, which processes the results and forwards them on to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).  Today the dissolved oxygen level was 10 mg/L at a water depth of 1 foot (sampled from kayak near center of lake).  The total depth at that location was approximately 2.1 meters.

11/25/00  Lots of rain in the past few weeks.  Huge residential development underway just north of 1431.  The vegetation that got stuck on my paddle all summer was gone.  The lake water was really muddy.  A turtle came up for air right next to my kayak (it probably couldn't see me until it had already reached the surface.  I haven't been kayaking much lately because it's hunting season and I kept hearing shots nearby last time I went out. (when it was dove-hunting season)  It is still duck hunting season, but I didn't hear any shots today.  One of the great egrets I was watching today caught a huge fish and the fish was visible in it's throat for a long time.

06/25/00  Tall vegetation in lake has grown up to surface in almost all areas of the lake.  It gets stuck on my paddle while I'm kayaking.  I was worried that it could be hydrilla, which is a non-native species that is overtaking some of the other Austin Lakes.  I checked on the internet and found pictures of hydrilla, and luckily the pictures do NOT match the vegetation I've seen in Meadow Lake!  Thank goodness!  The water is still pretty clear, with a visibility of about 4 feet (just a rough guess).  I haven't been seeing many ducks lately besides some coots.

06/26/00  Picked up trash today at one of the storm sewer outfalls adjacent Settlement Drive.  One bag of trash was collected, including items such as 6"x6" to 1'x1' pieces of styrofoam (and some much smaller pieces), styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, plastic bags and small to large pieces of plastic, rubber halloween mask, lid of milk container, and a small quantity of various paper products.

I was inspired to pick up trash after reading an article at the Environmental News Network (ENN) about a man in Florida that goes around in his canoe picking up trash he finds in the water.  Click here for the article about the man who calls himself the "eco-canoeist".
 
 

Birds I've seen at Meadow Lake:

Common Name  Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May June July
(no data)
August
Great Blue Heron 1 2 - - - - - - - adult&2-3imm.
Little Blue Heron - - - - - 1*Note6 - 1 - 1
Green-backed Heron - - - - - - 2*Note7 - - 2
Yellow-crowned
Night Heron
- - - - - - - 2*Note9 - adult&1-2imm.
Great Egret 6 17 - - 8 2 14 5 - 8adult&2-3imm.
Snowy Egret? - - - - 1 - - - - -
White Ibis - - - - - - - - - 1adult&1imm.*Note10
Greater Yellowlegs 1 - - - - - - - - -
American Coot many many many many many many many some - a few
Cormorants *Note1 40 - - many many - - - -
Meadowlarks - 6 - 4 - - - - - -
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 - - 1 - - 1 - 1-2
Gulls - many - - many - - - - -
Mallards many - 2 - many 4 8 - - -
Northern Shoveler 8 - - 2 8 2 2 - - -
Bufflehead 8 - - 2 pair many! - - - - -
Canvasback 2 - - - - - - - - -
Killdeer flock(50)*Note11 - - 3 many! 2 5 - - -
Loggerhead Shrike - - - - 1 - - - - -
Blue-winged teal - - - - 8 - 6 - - -
Chickadee - - - - 2*Note2 - - - - heard some
Red-bellied woodpecker - - - - 1*Note3 - 2*Note8 - - 2
Lesser Scaup - - - - 8 4 - - - -
Least Sandpiper - - - - 1*Note4 - - - - -
Ring-Necked Duck? - - - - 1 - - - - -
Ruddy Duck many(100+) - - - - - - - - -
Pied-Billed Grebe 4 - - - 6*Note5 2 - - - 1
Eared Grebe 1 - - - - - - - - -
Swallows - - - - many many many many - -
Red-winged Blackbird 3 - - - - 1 - - - -
Cardinal - - - - - - 1 1 - 1
Yellow Warbler - - - - - - - - - -
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - - - - - - - 4 - 4
Kingbirds - - - - - - - - - 2
Kinglet - - - - - - - - - 1
White Pelicans flying overhead
(seen also at Granger lake)
- many 1 - - - many - - -

1.  The cormorants were very entertaining today.  After fishing they would come back to the large trees next to the lake and land with webbed feet outstretched toward the big bare branches.  One bird landed heavily on a branch already occupied by another cormorant, and they almost fell off because the branch was so unstable.  Then another bird came to land and found that another bird was on its perch too, so it tried another one nearby, but missed and ended up grabbing the branch with its neck, looking as if it had hung itself.  Luckily it recovered and made it up onto the branch.  I really like to watch these birds stand in the sun with wings stretched out to dry.

2.  The chickadee pair was busy building a nest in a hole at the top of a tree.  They kept bringing more little mouthfuls of nest material into the hole.  It was really cute and fun to watch.  (about 5pm)

Chickadee
Photo Copyright 2000 by Jenny Rasmussen

3.  The red-bellied woodpecker was sitting in the hole that the chickadee pair had added grass to a few weeks ago.  Its head was out of the hole (with its body inside) and it was really still and looking down.  It flew out for a minute, but soon was back doing the same thing.  I wonder what it was doing. (sleeping or sitting on eggs?)  It was really interesting.

4. The least sandpiper was only about 5 feet away from me as I sat in my kayak near the shoreline.  My kayak was still because of the underwater plants and I just sat there watching for a long time since I didn't want to disturb her.  I thought it was a female since I read that females have longer bills.  It had yellow legs, distinguishing it from the western sandpiper.  A killdeer was walking along feeding right beside the sandpiper, so it was neat to see their relative sizes.  The killdeer was quite a bit bigger.

5.  I kept "chasing" the grebe trying to get a more close up view so I would be sure to identify it correctly.  This was difficult because they aren't above water very often and can come up far away from the last place they came up.  While I was watching the red-bellied woodpecker sitting in the nest, I got lucky and noticed a grebe only about 20 feet away. It was an awesome close up view next to the shore under the trees on the other side of the lake.  The black stripe on the bill and white eye ring were an easy thing to remember for identification.  Hopefully when they have babies this spring, I may see the babies riding on their parents backs.

6.  This was my first sighting of a Little Blue Heron.  I got up pretty close to it before some dogs swimming in the lake chased it away.  It had a purplish brown neck and head, gray body, and its beak was a light color with a black tip.  It was catching lots of small fish along the edge of the lake.  Too bad I didn't have my camera with me, because it would have been some great pictures of the cute little bird eating fish.

Little Blue Heron
Photo Copyright 2000 by Jenny Rasmussen

7.  May 20, 2000 This was my first sighting of a green-backed heron.  I spent at least an hour watching it fish.  It stood on a branch about a foot off the water and bent down with its head toward the water watching diligently for fish.  Its orange legs and feet were very striking.  It caught one pretty big fish, so it was fun to watch it eat that one.  There was also a green-backed heron on the other side of the lake nearest to my house.  I was surprised to see it there because there isn't much shelter on that side and kids were playing nearby.  Awesome day with my brand new kayak!  On May 23rd I saw 8 of them at the lake!  I guess they must usually be here but I just hadn't noticed them until now because they're so still and blend in with the surroundings.
Green-backed Heron
Green-backed Heron
(click on image for more pictures of the heron)
Photo Copyright 2000 by Jenny Rasmussen

8.  Two red-bellied woodpeckers spent several hours expanding a hole in a tree.
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
(click on image for more pictures of the woodpeckers at work)
Photo Copyright 2000 by Jenny Rasmussen

9. It was about 7pm on 06/26/00, and I had my first sighting of a night heron.  The bird had immature plumage (gray) and yellowish gray legs.  The first thing I noticed about it was that it had HUGE ORANGE eyes.  The eyes were a very striking orange color (much different and brighter than yellow eyes of some other herons) and they had a small black band around them and a black center.  It was awesome!  It was really neat when it would close its eyes because it looked like a shutter was opening and closing.  It stood still on a branch really close to me for a long time. It had pretty long legs and it's neck was medium sized in length.  A few minutes later it and another bird that looked similar in flight flew off together.  I'm not sure, but it looked like the other bird had black and white on its head, so it was probably the adult male Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

10.  August 7, 2000 - Tonight I got to see 2 White Ibis pretty close up!!  It was awesome!  I hadn't seen them before, so I was really excited.  My field notes say, "Beautiful white ibis - white with black wing tips, orange long downturned bill and long orange legs.  Brownish younger bird with long bill also curved down follows the adult.  It has a white rump and whitish color under its wings." (more field notes in red notebook - there were tons of young birds tonight)

11.  November 25, 2000 - It was neat to watch a flock of about 50 killdeer fly directly over my kayak.  They were all calling as they passed over.  I was near the middle of the lake.

Some of my Favorite Birding Books:

The Birds of Texas by John L. Tveten
Whenever I take a trip down to the Texas coast, or anywhere in Texas for that matter, I never leave home without this book.  On my last trip to the coast, I found many birds I'd never seen before, but I found nice big pictures of them in this book, so it was easy to tell what they were. One was a Purple Gallinule, which is a really unique looking shiny purplish brown bird with a light blue forehead, red and yellow beak, and big yellow legs and feet.  My friend in Arizona recently told me about the Lane/ABA Birdfinding Guides for Texas.  I will definitely have to check them out soon to add to my collection.

Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest by Dennis Paulson
I'm taking a Shorebird Identification class at the Travis County Audubon Society, and my teacher said this is his favorite shorebirds book.  I ordered it from Amazon.com and can't wait to get my copy.  I thumbed through his copy and it has wonderful photographs that will definitely help me learn to identify the various shorebirds.  He said that it's actually a great book for Texas because we have a lot of the same shorebirds as the ones shown in the book.

The Life of Birds
This book has taught me a lot about birds that I've never read in other birding books.  For example, I didn't know that hummingbirds have a barely detectable heart rate in the night.  And they're barely breathing too.  In the daytime they need to keep their muscles warm even when they're not in flight (since they need to fly off to get food so often), so their heart rate is really fast, but then at night they practically hibernate.
My husband bought the Life of Birds Video Series (5 tapes showing 10 episodes total) for me too.  I love it!

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
I just bought this book because it was recommended by my shorebird class teacher.  It doesn't have photographs, but the really nice thing about it is that it shows nice drawings of the winter (basic) plumage, the summer breeding (alternate) plumage, and the juvenile birds, so I think it is really useful.

A Nature Company Guide to Birding
My grandparents bought me this book for Christmas a few years ago. Each page has pictures and page-long descriptions of the birds, including field notes and additional sketches on each page.  My grandparents have been birding for many years and I'm so happy to have learned to love birds like they do.



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Pesticides in the News:
03/13/2001 - Campaign to increase awareness about dangers of pesticides to children
12/05/2000 - Diazinon being phased out by EPA (great news!)
10/11/2000 - Antibiotics upset nature's delicate balance
SABO News - One of world’s most toxic pesticides canceled
ENN article   - Pesticides kill birds of prey (through ingestion of pesticide resistant rats and mice)
BirdCast website - Diazinon Kills Birds even when used as directed!
                        (Diazinon is often used for fire-ant control in Texas)


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