See Painted Buntings, Dickcissels, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and other grassland birds at this rare tallgrass prairie northeast of Dallas.
By Matt White | Published: 8/19/2006
Paul Mathews Prairie is a rare remnant of unplowed Texas Blackland Prairie and one of my favorite places to study grassland birds. The reason, I suppose, is because it has remained unchanged for thousands of years and still erupts each year in a riot of colorful wildflowers as it has for centuries. Tall grasses once covered much of the Great Plains and hosted dozens of bird species that have declined dramatically following the destruction of the prairie after the Civil War. Today the tallgrass prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Only a few postage-stamp-size refuges remain.
I keep coming back to the Paul Mathews Prairie because it is a link to the birds that once inhabited that lost world. As I walk through the tall grass, I can’t help but think about how things used to be when prairie stretched in all directions, prairie-chickens danced on their leks, and buffaloes were followed by what could be called Brown-headed “Buffalobirds.” It may be missing a few elements, but it is all we have. It’ll have to do. For now. — Matt White
Matt White is the author of Birds of Northeast Texas and Prairie Time: A Blackland Portrait, both from Texas A&M University Press. He teaches U.S. and Texas history at Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
C.R. 1119 and C.R. 1116
Hunt County, Texas
Relatively flat, but small depressions known as hog wallows (scientific name gilgai) cover area. During wet weather, they can hold 6-18 inches of water. In summer they dry out and crack open. Walk with care.
Painted Buntings, Bell’s Vireos, and Dickcissels in summer. Also possible: Blue Grosbeaks in thickets, Cave Swallows overhead, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on barbed wire. In fall and winter, grassland sparrows such as Le Conte’s and Harris’s as well as Short-eared Owl and Sedge Wren. Both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks winter here, and red-backed Bewick’s Wren is fairly regular in small numbers. American Pipits, Lapland Longspurs, and Northern Flickers feed after late-winter prescribed burns.
When to go
Fall and winter for grassland sparrows, Short-eared Owl, and Sedge Wren, and after burns in spring.
Primitive. No parking lot, nature center, restrooms, or trails.
Private property. Admission free. An easement has been donated to the Nature Conservancy so it won’t be developed. Park far off road.
Bring binoculars, and wear long pants and boots, especially during wet weather. Spotting scopes generally get in the way.