Counting birds during lunch at Woodlawn Lake

Today’s lunchtime bird outing took me to Woodlawn Lake rather than my usual spot of Denman Park. I’ve been visiting Denman Park a lot recently and decided to change things up and look for another …

Woodlawn Lake Park lighthouse

Today’s lunchtime bird outing took me to Woodlawn Lake rather than my usual spot of Denman Park.

I’ve been visiting Denman Park a lot recently and decided to change things up and look for another nearby park to go birding at. Woodlawn Lake popped up as a nice destination only two miles away.

Here’s a bit of history about Woodlawn Lake Park:

Woodlawn Lake was the dream of real estate developers in the 1880s who wanted to build West End, a residential subdivision on San Antonio’s rural west side. It was George W. Russ, president of the Rhode Island-based West End Town Company, who saw great potential in the flat pasture on Alazan Creek and made the dream come true. To attract residents, the creek was dammed to create West End Lake, which some reports say was as large as 80 acres. (Today it is about 30 acres.)

Visitors traveled by street car to enjoy what was called “the finest artificial lake in the south.” Electric lights (still new at that time) illuminated the lake where visitors danced in an outdoor pavilion and rowed in small boats. In later years there were outdoor movies and vaudeville acts. The lake and surrounding land were privately owned until 1918 when they were deeded to the City. The name was changed to Woodlawn Lake and many improvements and additions were made to the 62-acre park in the next 79 years.

City of San Antonio

This park is very busy with ample parking and plenty of spaces for recreation. It includes a dock for fishing and many walking paths.

I walked down to the water’s edge and hoped to get a count of all the visible bird species. It was a cacophony of noise with birds swimming and flying all over the place. Some just enjoying the water, others diving for food and others eating handouts from park patrons.

With the unbearable noon sun beating down on me, making it difficult to see, I picked the first species to begin counting: the Northern Shoveler. The Northern Shoveler is a dabbling duck which means it uses its beak to sift the water for invertebrates and other food. Its bill has developed a comb-like structure along the edge that acts as a sieve allowing them to skim food from the water’s surface. This is a species I haven’t seen much at Denman park so I was eager to see how many hang out here. Just near the dock, I was able to pick out about 45 floating around in the water.

Mick Thompson

Next up was the American Coot. This small black bird was tricky to pick out of the masses from afar but with my binoculars it made it much more manageable. I counted around 15.

Amid the chaos, I managed to identify one Lone Ranger, a Lesser Scaup. He was inconspicuous among the other birds but he as lucky to swim close by so he caught my eye.

lesser scaup profile
Judy Gallagher

Mallards and Egyptian Geese were up next. I counted 18 and 13 respectively.

From the dock, I proceeded to walk along the banks away from all the chaos to a quieter part of the lake. This is when I was treated to a parade of birds floating down the river that feeds the lake.

A parade of birds

First up was a group of Northern Shovelers both genders. As they floated by, I counted them through the trees that lined the banks of the river. Another 23 for the list, bringing the total to 68 shovelers.

The next birds up were a cute surprise. Two adult Egyptian Geese led a line of five fluffy chicks. They stayed away from the other birds and quietly led the chicks along the banks toward the lake.

Egyptian Geese with five chicks swimming
Marco Hebing

Further up, I found ten more American Coots and a small group of nine Black-belled Whistling Ducks resting on the shore.

Counting birds can be very challenging when you find birds in large numbers. But by submitting counts with your eBird checklists it provides valuable data that can be used by scientists to create visualizations like the one below:

Here’s a full list of today’s birds:

Black-bellied Whistling Duck9
Egyptian Goose20
Northern Shoveler68
Lesser Scaup1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)15
White-winged Dove4
American Coot25
House Sparrow5
Great-tailed Grackle10
Total10 species / 175 birds

Featured image: jmvw12v

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