Just in time for spring migration, here are the 12 best bird watching spots in Central Texas – austin360

Proper earlier than 9 a.m. on March 6, 5 – 6 purple martins swooped acrobatically within the wind above the Austin Water Middle for Environmental Analysis at Hornsby Bend.

It was signal. The primary migratory birds of spring had begun to reach in Central Texas.

To organize for this annual feathery go to, which peaks in late April, I hit a number of the space’s prime birding spots on a number of mornings not lengthy after the winter storms.

Given the journey deficits imposed by the pandemic, this 12-day tour — really 15, however one was spent hopelessly misplaced and one other two had been harried by rain — felt like 12 liberating street journeys with a pure marvel ready at every vacation spot.

Though I visited Hays, Bastrop and Williamson counties throughout this tour, I spent most of my time in Travis County. All by itself, the county makes up an enormous stretch of ecologically different land. Birding in Large Webberville Park on the county’s japanese edge is like visiting Mississippi, whereas Milton Reimers Ranch Park in far western Travis County would possibly as nicely be New Mexico.

To inform the reality, on any given day, any piece of land within the Austin space with sufficient meals, water and native, brushy cowl can flip right into a birding scorching spot in a single day, as many residents found for the primary time in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, when distanced or yard birding became more and more widespread actions for the safety-minded.

Our cumulative species rely in or above our South Austin again backyard is 46. And that is utilizing probably the most conservative identification measures.

To search out out what’s scorching and when, observe numerous social media pages, together with Travis County Birds on Fb, which has attracted 1,300 followers with attractive reader-submitted images and well timed location ideas. Or go to eBird.org, considered one of a number of birding choices from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which relays a real-time file of what birders are seeing in your space.

Guided in spirit — or in individual — by Victor Emanuel (“One Extra Warbler,” Victor Emanuel Nature Excursions) and Jennifer Bristol (“Parking Lot Birding,” and the upcoming “Cemetery Birding”), I noticed just a few early migrants throughout my March tour. But I noticed or heard dozens of species, most of them year-round residents.

Some birders have expressed concern that the extreme winter storms may need destroyed a lot of our resident birds, together with a great deal of the meals upon which the migrants and nesting birds rely. So this could be a lighter birding season than normal. Time will inform.

Though a lifelong lover and watcher of our avian buddies, I’m nonetheless a “child birder.” Every morning journey this March, nonetheless, gave me extra confidence.

Typically you want a bit of confidence in a birding mecca like Austin that pulls so many consultants. Sooner or later final 12 months, early within the pandemic, I met up with Emanuel, one of many world’s prime birders, at Mills Pond, a scorching spot in Wells Department. The very subsequent day, I joined Bristol, who belongs to Texas birding and nature royalty, at Devine Lake Park in Leander. Every professional quietly referred to as out at the least a dozen species, some fully new to me, earlier than I had recognized my first new chook.

Blessedly, Bristol and Emanuel are enormously sort and beneficiant. They by no means made me really feel intimidated, however quite a part of the gang. They usually by no means outright corrected me; as an alternative, they requested mild, supportive questions on what I’d seen or heard. They expressed real pleasure every time I made a brand new discovery.

As I be taught extra, I hope to observe of their admirable footsteps by modeling good birding habits.

Discover Austin: This is how one can see Texas birds whereas staying house

Tips about birding in Central Texas

1. Plan your quick birding journey prematurely. Be sure you determine on a map the very best place to park, in any other case you would possibly find yourself with an extended hike than anticipated. Costume comfortably and journey evenly. The birding spots talked about on this story are public and simply accessed. Many are ADA compliant. Through the pandemic, state parks have required guests to order a day go prematurely, together with the same old entry charges. In any other case, each one of these really helpful birding spots are free to get pleasure from.

2. If potential, go earlier than 9 a.m. Most birds wake at daybreak and instantly search for meals and water, making all of them the extra seen to you. Nightfall can also be good time to catch each daytime and nighttime birds. Attempt to be among the many first to reach in a park, earlier than joggers, bikers, strollers, ballplayers and canine disturb the birds.

3. Deliver alongside a pair of binoculars or a digicam with a distance lens. As you decide to a lifetime of birding, improve these steadily. This may be costly. We now use a pair of Swift 8×42 Extremely Lite and a pair of Pentax 8×40 binoculars for extra critical birding, however we additionally scatter weaker, cheaper glasses close to home windows round our home for fast responses. Maintain your finest instruments.

4. Upon getting arrived at your chosen birding spot, stand, sit or stroll slowly and quietly. Don’t disturb different birders. On the identical time, when paths cross, strike up a pleasant trade, which could begin out: “What are you seeing?” If focused on that discover, observe up with “The place?” The following pointers might be essential.

5. The place to look? With binoculars hanging down from my neck, I first scan the treetops, after which the brushy undergrowth simply above the bottom. If a water supply is a part of the panorama, I scan alongside the shores till I see motion or coloration. Periodically, I look down to keep away from snakes, poop or poison ivy. As soon as I spot a promising specimen, I hold my eyes on the chook and lift my glasses, already in my arms, to my eyes. In any other case, I’d be wagging these binoculars round looking for the already noticed chook.

Additionally, search for. Space birders have been rewarded for this perception just lately with magnificent views of migrating sandhill cranes. As soon as, we heard a kind of low honking, walked into the again backyard to search for and noticed wave after wave of sandhill cranes flying below low cloud cowl. 

6. Listening is a part of the method. Persons are first drawn to the colours and patterns of birds, however ultimately it’s faster and simpler to determine species by measurement, silhouette, motion, context and, particularly, habits, in addition to by their songs and calls. It turns into an enduring delight when your ears or your peripheral imaginative and prescient immediately pick an uncommon sound or motion. As an illustration, at Hornsby Bend, Bristol heard an enormous flock of northern shovelers making a clicking sound she’d by no means seen earlier than. At different stops, I witnessed very acquainted birds, similar to jays or cardinals, making sounds fully unfamiliar to me.

7. Use an internet site or app. Examples embody AllAboutBirds.org, eBird.org and iNaturalist.org. Or go old style and flip via a printed subject information. I take advantage of each device I can lay my arms on. Typically, I simply search on-line with a disconnected collection of phrases, similar to “medium striped chook brown beige,” then I select “pictures” and scroll down till I discover a good candidate. That’s how I recognized a few feminine red-winged blackbirds — that are neither red-winged nor black — at our backyard feeders. On social media, a birding veteran boosted my confidence: “These feminine red-wings are very arduous to determine.”

8. Don’t be pissed off by comparable wanting species. Even skilled birders group some hard-to-identify varieties as “LBBs,” for “little brown birds.”

9. Ask questions. Virtually to a one, birders are keen to assist. In the event you go too far out on a limb, they may gently reply with one thing like: “What satisfied you that it was a blue-footed booby?” Really, in 1995, a type of goofy-looking tropical sea birds with shiny blue toes wandered into Central Texas and may very well be seen on Lake LBJ and, later, Lake Bastrop. It brought on fairly a sensation.

10. As at all times, have enjoyable. This isn’t a chore or a take a look at. Get pleasure from your time with all of the birds, not simply the uncommon ones. Grackles and jays, whereas annoying, might be ferociously good-looking, for example. And watching one of many space’s frequent wrens, sparrows, chickadees or titmice of their elaborate rituals might be endlessly amusing.

In the meantime, soak in the remainder of nature if you are birding. Emanuel, one thing of a thinker on the topic, says that birders are extra related to nature than others outdoor as a result of they’re at all times wanting, listening and noting — even predicting — small however stimulating adjustments of their environment.

Here’s a breakdown of the 12 finest birding spots in Central Texas:

Hornsby Bend Fowl Observatory

The place: 2210 South FM 973

Information: hornsbybend.org

My journey at 8:48 a.m. March 6: “This can be a birder’s paradise,” Jennifer Bristol writes in “Parking Lot Birding.” “The extreme odor of waste-settling ponds retains all different outside fanatics at bay, so birds and the birders have all of it to themselves. By all accounts, this can be a birding scorching spot. The shallow ponds are surrounded by fields that drop off to the forested bottomlands alongside the Colorado River.”

The wind kicked in after I met Bristol on the Austin Water Middle for Environmental Analysis, and virtually instantly she noticed purple martins above us, among the many first of the spring. I adopted her automobile over the small levees accessed via an open gate straight behind the middle and deeper into the water therapy facility, which attracts waterfowl and shorebirds foremost.

It was not lengthy earlier than we beheld scores of northern shoveler geese dipping into one pond, together with a couple of ruddy geese and redheads. On the mud flats, least and pectoral sandpipers joined the acquainted killdeers unfold out of their numbers. Within the distance, turkey vultures sailed over the Colorado River tree line. In a single hour, Bristol recognized 20 species. As soon as spring arrives with its hordes of bugs, the place will probably be actually hopping. Hornsby Bend, which features a widespread chook blind, comes with a worldwide popularity for birding year-round.

Large Webberville Park

The place: 2305 Park Lane

Information: parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/webberville

My go to at 8:30 a.m. March 5: Don’t combine up Little Webberville and Large Webberville parks. The previous is positioned within the historic village of Webberville in far japanese Travis County. The latter is farther east on FM 969 — constructed on an previous Native American path that turned the primary principal street between Bastrop and Austin — and far bigger than its counterpart. The old-school coronary heart of the park comprises dozens of concrete picnic tables, excellent for household reunions, together with the annual ones organized by Austin’s Limón household, when Large Webberville quickly turns into Limón Park. The mowed fields and tall pecans right here had been filled with blackbirds, robins, larks and woodpeckers on this morning.

Go right through the parking space to the boat ramp in addition to the picnic trails proper alongside the decrease banks of the Colorado River. Right here, a household of bald eagles nests! I noticed, as an alternative, pine siskins, cardinals, blue jays, cormorants and different year-round residents, together with a red-bellied woodpecker. I didn’t spot the bald eagle brood on this specific journey, however exterior the park, I spent appreciable time observing a crested caracara, referred to as a Mexican eagle though it’s really a falcon.

Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park

The place: 614 N. Commons Ford Highway

Information: austintexas.gov/division/commons-ford-ranch

My go to at 7:58 March 3: The solar slanted down into the Colorado River canyon, turning the dewy tall-grass prairie right into a subject of diadems. You get every thing right here: meadows, brush, forests, a line of historical pecans on a low ridge, bluffs thick with cypress and juniper and, in fact, the normally easy water under. Teaming with Travis Audubon, the town of Austin has been in a position to flip this former ranch right into a pure and cultural wonderland that features a secluded chook blind and lots of benches. Heaven! Besides in the course of the warmth of the summer time, when rowdy youths gabble on the shore.

This morning, I noticed a Cooper’s hawk, yellow-rumped warbler, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, blue jay, mourning dove, white-wing dove, a small, incompletely recognized heron, and a homicide (flock) of crows. I heard a lot of woodpeckers drumming and squawking. That is additionally a favourite nesting website for painted buntings and summer time tanagers.

Information: What’s the distinction between grackles, ravens and crows?

Milton Reimers Ranch Park

The place: 23610 Hamilton Pool Highway, Dripping Springs

Information: parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/reimers-ranch

My journey at 8:45 a.m. March 12: It had been a few years since I final trundled down Hamilton Pool Highway to that priceless namesake sinkhole, again when it was on personal land. Dense suburban improvement and stop-and-start site visitors have changed the pure scene since then, however close to the tip of the street is a miraculous Travis County park above the Pedernales River.

After paying $3 for a “senior” entry — discounted from $5 — I adopted the primary street right down to a putting pavilion and parking space. Degree gravel paths via oak savannah led to low brush that was flush with birds. The primary species I locked into my sight had been unfamiliar to me. (See what a “child birder” I nonetheless am?) I used to be grateful for the sturdy, stone wall that protected us from the excessive cliffs right here. Behind the pavilion, I additionally adopted the Climber’s Canyon Path, which is way extra rugged and results in a distinctly completely different ecological zone.

Balcones Canyonlands Nationwide Wildlife Refuge

The place: Ranch Highway 1431 (a number of entrances west of Lago Vista)

Information: fws.gov/refuge/balcones_canyonlands

My go to at 8:23 a.m. March 11: I got here right here for one motive: the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. I had seen this emblematic chook solely as soon as earlier than at a feeder in Northwest Hills. Birding web sites, nonetheless, reported that the primary migrants had already arrived within the juniper brakes in these rugged canyons. I felt transported again to Boy Scout Summer time Camp at El Rancho Cima on the Satan’s Spine (quickly to be a Hays County park), though I used to be not a teen clambering from rock to rock like a mountain goat. Actually, I used to be nothing just like the jogger — she was the one individual I met on the path — who, seeming to be in her 30s, glided down the Cactus Rock Path as if it had been a stage college monitor.

Greater than anybody else, we are able to thank Jennifer Bristol’s mom, former Travis County Commissioner Valarie Bristol, for preserving the land for this nationwide wildlife refuge, which, with a bit of extra cohesion amongst its components, might have turn out to be a nationwide park. Useful rangers had marked and numbered probably birding spots alongside the Cactus Rock Path with painted rocks. It was an excellent morning with a light-weight, noisy wind dashing up the canyon ribs. Alas, no golden-cheeks. And, eerily, only a few chook songs or calls. I caught some small birds flitting within the shadows, like one thing out of Tolkien. But simply as fishing shouldn’t be solely in regards to the fish, birding is not only in regards to the birds.

Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park

The place: 400 Grove Blvd.

Information: austinparks.org/roy-g-guerrero-metro-park

My go to at 7:16 a.m. March 8: Roy Guerrero is an enormous park at all times within the making. It’s the scale of Zilker Park and near downtown. But Guererro is relatively youthful and nonetheless evolving. The improved areas embody sports activities complexes on the west aspect (Krieg) and east aspect (Montopolis Youth Sports activities), in addition to play areas on either side, however watch your footing very rigorously. These zones are related by trails — one key bridge has been down for years — via brushy forests and ravines, a few of which lead right down to Secret Seashore on the Colorado River.

One just about operatic birding spot is positioned immediately reverse the primary entrance on Grove Boulevard alongside a slim path that results in a excessive cliff over a bend within the river. One is afforded views of shorebirds and waterfowl. On this overcast morning, red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, great-tailed grackles and American robins lined the fields; within the bushes, warblers, doves, crows, cardinals, wrens and chickadees; on the river, geese (at the least 4 varieties), killdeer, sandpipers and a small heron. Our resident warblers, yellow-rumped and orange-crowned, had been simply recognized.

West Bouldin Creek Greenbelt

The place: 1200 South Sixth St.

Information: austinparks.org/west-bouldin-creek-greenbelt

My go to at 8:14 March 9: A couple of years in the past, when Victor Emanuel first excitedly really helpful this spot, I believed he could be kidding. I had not seen many birds on canine hikes. But a migrating yellow warbler was ready for me as quickly as I crossed the stepping stones over West Bouldin Creek throughout my subsequent go to. I returned typically because the greenbelt is a brief stroll from our South Austin home. A big, correct map awaits the birder on the principal entrance, which is positioned close to the north finish of South Sixth Avenue, not removed from an energetic spring.

There are few meadows and even glens right here. In between the creek and the railroad tracks are historical riparian elms, oaks, junipers and pecans, all shrouded in underbrush. It was right here I lastly realized that cowl for birds means cowl for people, too. The entire place is a chook blind. On this morning, I noticed solely resident birds, which is paradise sufficient. Fifteen kinds of flycatchers and eight kinds of vireos have been recognized right here. This can be a excellent spot to see flycatchers and vireos in the course of the spring.

Mills Pond

The place: 15108 Wells Port Drive

Information: wellsbranchmud.com/parks-a-recreation/mills-pond-2

My go to at 8:24 a.m. March 4: Oh, pleased Wells Department! This suburban neighborhood, specified by the late Nineteen Eighties, consists of copious parks and greenbelts. Considered one of specific curiosity to birders is Mills Pond, created by impounding Wells Department, a tributary of Walnut Creek. Apart from the small lake, one finds wetlands, woods and brushy zones, particularly one with a low chook blind slightly below the dam.

On this morning, I parked by the pond, headed downstream to an open meadow with a humanmade colony for purple martins, then crossed the dam and made a circuit across the water. Instantly, an extravagantly hued wooden duck passed by. Hordes of American robins huddled near the bottom, as that they had throughout Austin this winter. I additionally noticed cormorants, yellow-rumped warblers, cardinals, blue jays, a hawk that obtained away, in addition to a cute downy woodpecker. That is “warbler central” in the course of the spring with greater than 30 warbler species being reported. Different pleasant birders will show you how to determine them.

The story continues under the map. If you can’t see the map under click on right here to see the spots. 

Berry Springs Park and Protect

The place: 1801 County Highway 152, Georgetown

Information: wilco.org/Departments/Parks-Recreation/County-Parks-Trails/Berry-Springs-Park

My go to at 8:30 a.m. March 15: I obtained misplaced the primary time I attempted to seek out this park reached via a slim county street. Google despatched me to the Berry Springs RV Park as an alternative (put the handle, not the identify of the park, right into a navigation system in the event you use one). Then I headed to the Berry Creek Park on the opposite aspect of the interstate. It seems that a “again door” to the Williamson County park leads into that RV park. Ah nicely. I returned on Jennifer Bristol’s sturdy recommendation.

After two wet days, it was a aid to wander round on a beautiful, cool, sunny morning in a well-designed park that’s bigger than it seems. Any person has been busy constructing trails — concrete, gravel, grass — that result in wetlands, creek, pond, a wildflower meadow, farmstead buildings, restored high-grass prairie, woodlands and picnic and play areas. I had probably the most birding luck — year-round residents apart from white-crowned sparrows — within the brushy uplands.

“I like that little park,” Bristol says. “The pecan bushes mild up with warblers in the course of the spring. I additionally love the country-lane entrance to the park, which makes it really feel distant and quaint. It is usually nesting place for painted buntings and summer time tanagers.”

Devine Lake Park

The place: 1807 Waterfall Ave., Leander

Information: leandertx.gov/parksrec/web page/devine-lake-park

My go to at 9:12 a.m. March 16: I ponder if the designers of this small park round a soil conservation district lake knew they had been guaranteeing an excellent place to chook. I hold a comfortable spot in my coronary heart for this park. I noticed my first summer time tanager right here and heard my first bluebird. It was right here that Jennifer Bristol demonstrated “car parking zone birding,” which does not imply simply sitting in your parked automobile, though you possibly can try this. It additionally means slowly shifting via accessible spots with plentiful meals, water and canopy for birds in addition to quick, straightforward trails together with lookouts and chook blinds.

This morning, I used to be just about alone because the early fog and drizzle lifted. Instantly I heard mourning doves. It is good to discover a place the place the white-wings haven’t elbowed out the mourning and Inca doves. The lake appeared empty, however a more in-depth look revealed households of white-marked bufflehead geese in addition to sandpipers of assorted sizes. As I rounded within the round path via oaks, meadows, brushy forest and wetlands, I came across bushes filled with wintering warblers and cedar waxwings. Though not meant for that function, the excessive piles of tree limbs pruned from the winter freezes would make wonderful chook magnets.

Woman Fowl Johnson Wildflower Middle

The place: 4801 La Crosse Ave.

Information: wildflower.org

My go to at 8:12 a.m. March 2: I pulled into the almost empty car parking zone on a gorgeously sunny, chilly day. I used to be greeted by a refrain of chook songs and calls, a few of them unfamiliar, at all times a welcome signal. Then I adopted the paths that fall under the elevated principal buildings earlier than heading into the Zachry Texas Arboretum and farther alongside some analysis trails — all broad, easy and lined with crushed granite — past that.

These trails gave me entry to broad meadows, oak-studded forests and brushy verges. I noticed one rarity, a purple finch, seen from a modernist viewing blind on the prairie. (And eBird confirmed that different purple finches, which usually winter north of right here, had been seen within the space.) In any other case, it was acquainted Austin buddies — wrens, titmice, chickadees, sparrows and a solitary, hovering black vulture. The large get: a pair of majestic roadrunners, who didn’t dart off after I interrupted their morning searching and sunning.

McKinney Falls State Park

The place: 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway

Information: tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls

My go to: 8:15 a.m. March 10: Barton Creek will get all of the press, however Onion Creek to the south is longer, passes via extra ecological zones and is kind of beautiful at many spots, together with this widespread state park. Now that the realm alongside McKinney Falls Parkway is being developed into extra suburbia, the customer is all of the extra grateful for the inexperienced areas alongside the creek, some created after floods devastated the shores.

After I paid the $6 day payment, the ranger pointed me within the course of a protracted, slim picnic space close to the higher falls. Bingo! Brushy woods and reedy shorelines bracket short- and tall-grass meadows. Quiet at first, I startled some nonbreeding mallard geese, then briefly order noticed an japanese towhee, japanese phoebe, chipping sparrow and red-shouldered hawk, who allowed me to gawk for complete minutes. A number of robins and yellow-rumps, too, which appear to have been in every single place this Austin winter.

Michael Barnes writes in regards to the individuals, locations, tradition and historical past of Austin and Texas. You possibly can attain him at mbarnes@statesman.com. 

Further migration information from Travis Audubon

2021 Lights Out for the Birds

April 19-Could 7: Every spring, almost 2 billion birds migrate via Texas in one of many planet’s nice wildlife spectacles. Sadly, since migratory birds typically journey at evening, synthetic lighting may cause them to be disoriented and collide with buildings and houses. These avoidable collisions are answerable for killing as much as 1 billion birds yearly. The excellent news is that everybody may also help. Merely flip off all nonessential indoor and outside lighting from 11 p.m. to six a.m., particularly throughout peak spring migration, April 19-Could 7. Extra data: travisaudubon.org.

2021 Birdathon

By way of Could 10: Birdathon 2021 is a good alternative to securely get pleasure from spring migration whereas fundraising for Travis Audubon (minimal donation: $25). Birdathon makes use of “dispersed flock” groups to compete remotely with birding buddies, or to compete on a workforce of your individual. By creating such a workforce, you and your chosen workforce members can chook individually and compile your lists of noticed birds into one workforce checklist. Extra data: travisaudubon.org.

Calling all birders

Did we miss a chief birding scorching spot? Electronic mail mbarnes@statesman.com to tell us.

Information: Fowl-watching soars amid COVID-19 as People head outdoor

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