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The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has many areas that are known for good winter activities, such as birding, photography, wildlife viewing, and hunting. I will focus this month on the Ray Roberts Lake area in Denton County.
The Ray Roberts Lake Public Hunting Area, or WMA, comprises 40,920 acres, with the lake itself comprising 29,000 acres of the total acreage. No public use permit is required for non-hunters. Waterfowl harvest in the winter months is among the highest in North Texas.
Detailed lake maps are available at the state park entrances (Isle du Bois and Johnson Branch) for about $5.00. A good roadmap is helpful in locating some areas.
Ducks and other waterfowl offer the best wildlife viewing opportunities. Neotropical migrants are present in the springtime. One of the best places to view waterfowl is from the wetlands located along Range Creek. Other areas for the best waterfowl viewing are on the west side of the lake. FM 922 offers a good wildlife viewing area where the Elm Fork of the Trinity River crosses east of Valley View.
Waterfowl watching is also good at a managed wetland area at the northeast corner of the WMA. To reach it, go north from Tioga on U.S. 377 about a mile to Shawnee Road. Turn right and go 0.4 mile to Airport Road; turn right and go 1.2 miles to Hart Lane. Turn left and drive 1.5 miles to the parking area. The wetlands lie east of the road, and were once a part of the WMA.
In early spring, white pelicans can be found on the lake and in some of the coves. If you're searching for songbirds, the Culp Branch Native Prairie is a possible destination, because of open space and brush. Blackland Prairie and Cross Timbers habitats are found there. Culp Branch Prairie is located on FM 455, approximately ½ miles west of the dam.
Another good birding area begins at the Hunsaker Road access point. To reach it, go to Tioga, then turn west off of U.S. 377 on Gene Autry Drive, across from Clark's Outpost restaurant (worth a visit). Cross over the railroad tracks and go 100 yards to North Texas Street. Turn left and follow the gravel road along the white board fence. Continue, following the bends in the road, through a residential area for a total of 1.2 miles from the highway.
For more information about the Ray Roberts Lake area, contact TPWD Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Barrow (940-627-5475). Her office is located in Decatur at the USDA LBJ/Caddo National Grasslands office.
Reference: Official Guide to Texas Wildlife Management Areas - Larry D. Hodge (2000)
One of our native plants rarely seen by the casual observer, known as Engelmann's Adder's Tongue (Ophioglossum engelmannii), begins to flower (or sporulate) starting as early as December, and ending around June. The genus Ophioglossum, in Greek, means "ophis" (snake) and "glossa" (tongue), in reference to the tips of the sporangia-bearing structure (spores). The Adder's Tongue is actually a member of the Fern family. It's small size, usually less that 10 inches tall, inconspicuous flower spikes and leaves, usually make it difficult to spot. They will produce spores, as with the rest of the ferns. But Adder's Tongue doesn't look like the typical ferns you are usually used to seeing. Plants put up a short stalk with a "spoon shaped" leaf. What follows is a spike with a flowering (sporulating) head. They are usually found on thin black soils on limestone or wooded slopes. Historically they were collected and known from Bell, Brown, Dallas, Denton, Grayson, Kaufman, Limestone, McLennan, Montague, and Tarrant counties.
I know of two locations in north Texas. One is at the Ft. Worth Nature Center; on the north end of the Oak Mott Trail. The other is in Montague county at Jeanne Erickson's place, known as Fossil Hill. She is a Cross Timbers Master Naturalist.