Our move to Texas in 1987 offered as one amenity, local roadrunners.
Camp Wisdom road was mostly two lanes then — it’s six, now. Clark Road was two lanes. It’s expanded to six, with a direct link to the freeway Spur 408. Wheatland Road was two lanes. You guessed it: Six now.
Not sure about baseball fields any more, but with roads, if you build ‘em, people will come. The empty prairie and cedar forests favored by golden-cheeked warblers, and favorable to lizard-eating roadrunners, gave way to bulldozers putting up apartment complexes, strip shopping centers (still mostly vacant), self-storage businesses, and more roads. Roads bring automobiles, and autos provide collision courses for roadrunners.
In the summer, I used to see a roadrunner at least weekly at the intersection of Camp Wisdom and Clark; once watched one hunt down a very large Texas fence lizard and dash off with the lizard dangling from either side of its beak. In the era before electronic cameras.
All that development takes the habitat of roadrunners, and that is the slow death of much wildlife. Roadrunners dwindled down. About 2009 we discussed how rare they were. In 2011 Kathryn and I saw one lone roadrunner along Old Clark Road in Cedar Hill, precariously living in a 50-yard swath between two roads (which are slated to be widened), sharing a railroad track. Nothing since.
Mama roadrunner gives me the eyeball from the safety of the cedar tree, while the chick grooms. Is it safe to go out into the sun?
Until two weeks ago. Kathryn called me, excited that she’d seen a roadrunner crossing Mountain Creek Parkway, where Wheatland Road dead-ends into it. It’s good roadrunner weather. We were happy to know at least one survived.
Then, last Thursday I was driving along Old Clark Road. I brought along the Pentax K10D because I was hopeful of catching the hawk family living a block off of Wheatland and Cedar Ridge Roads. A roadrunner dashed across the road from a small ranchette into a “vacant” field of wild prairie grasses dotted with Ashe cedars. My experience is they are reclusive, and don’t like to be watched. I grabbed the camera and got a couple of shots of the bird, running under a tree and meeting up with another, smaller one — a chick!
I doubled back and u-turned, hoping they might at least dash. The larger one danced on the edge of the shadow of the tree for a minute, then uncharacteristically strutted out, hunting something to eat. She got something that looked like a lizard, or a fantastically large grasshopper, and a few other tidbits from the grass. She strutted around, and headed back to the shade, and to the younger one.
Mama Roadrunner flaps happily after ingesting a large something.
Roadrunners, the greater roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus (which means “Californian Earth-cuckoo,” a description of many politicians in the Golden State, perhaps).
I shot stills, with a 50-200 mm telephoto zoom, and I got a bunch of shots. I strung them together in Windows Moviemaker.
Are the roadrunners doing okay? Not really. They’re not gone, but much of their old habitat disappeared from this hill, the highest point in Texas between the Louisiana border and the Rockies — swallowed by human development, homes, suburban shopping, and the roads that go with that development.
How are roadrunners doing in your area? Got pictures? (Cindy Knoke has a longer telephoto than I’ve got, and photos to prove it; go see.)
Greater Roadrunner doing what roadrunners to, back to the shade of a cedar tree and her chick. It was 102 degrees F, after all.