Minor, January 2014

As a life long resident of Austin, Texas, I always took pride in knowing about the local parks and various nature preserves in the area. Recently, I moved out of far south Austin and into the East Riverside neighborhood, not realizing how close I would be moving to the lake and various parks in the area. Needless to say, I have a very different perspective on this part of town than most people. I went to middle school not far from where I’m currently living and have witnessed first hand how much east Austin has changed in the last ten years alone due to the spike in population growth, and ultimately, the intense gentrification of the area. Not long after moving into my apartment in August of 2013, my roommate and I went on a little excursion and discovered the hidden trail and creek that are a part of the Roy G. Guerrero Disc Golf Course. This little slice of nature rests not far from downtown Austin, and is nestled in the heart of a bustling neighborhood.

The entrance to the trail is rather misleading, as it appears as though you are walking up to a dead end street between two apartment complexes. I chose to take observations around sunset each evening, as I figured this would be a good time to spot some wildlife. This blog entry will focus primarily on my last visit.

Below is a map of the location. For reference, you may notice the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve near St. Edward’s University is in the bottom left-hand corner. The yellow star marks the disc golf course and trail where my observations were taken.
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As I walked up to the trail head, I was greeted by (I kid you not) a hawk sitting on a railing of a small foot bridge. Unfortunately, the bird flew away before I could snap a picture. I was astonished to even find the raptor in this area, especially considering that there is usually so much foot traffic.

I took a reading of the temperature in my zip code at the beginning of my walk around 5:41 pm as sunset began.
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So began my walk. I walked a ways into the trail, nearing Kreig Field on the shores of the lake. As I walked, I listened and watched for birds, hoping to snap a photograph of them. Sadly, the managed to outrun me each time. I saw a total of nine cardinals, five of which were male (as noted by their red feathers). I also saw a mockingbird and two very small green finches. The green finches surprised me the most, as I had never seen said birds in nature, let alone in around Austin. In the past, I have even witnessed five or six white tailed deer grazing here. This past visit I wasn’t as lucky.

I took several photos of the path along the way for reference in terms of locations and noting the state of the vegetation after these extremely strange weather patterns we’ve been experiencing. You may also note the photograph of the bamboo. I felt that it was important to document the prevalence of the plant as it is a pretty common invasive species around the Austin area.

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An important thing to note about the disc golf course is that while an abundance of wildlife can be witnessed, so can a great deal of trash and litter. I found this to be disconcerting and disappointing, especially in a city like Austin that prides itself on protecting the integrity of our green spaces. Most of the trash and debris seemed to be closest to the creek that flowed through the area, which got me wondering about what toll that takes on the water quality. Through my walk I also noticed about six or seven pairs of shoes tossed into the trees above.

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As the sun sank further into the horizon, I snapped a few more photos of the silhouettes of the trees, took a final measure of the temperature, and headed back for the comfort of my warm apartment on what was becoming a very chilly night.

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I enjoyed taking my walks and making my observations at the Roy G. Guerrero Disc Golf Course. I was thoroughly surprised by the diversity of bird species I witnessed, but was even more surprised and saddened to find so much litter in the area. I wondered if the growth of Austin in the last few years may have a positive correlation to the amount of litter along the creek bed. I still question why little has been done to help alleviate this issue in this particular green space.

Despite all this, I found myself at peace on the trail, especially with the soundtrack of bird calls hear and there. It was fascinating to hear all the variation and repetition prevalent in their voices. I was reminded of the harmonious splendor that is the natural world, and of a particular quote from page 20 of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac:

One is apt to impute a disconsolate tone to [the geese] honkings, and to jump to the conclusion that they are broken-hearted widowers, or mothers hunting lost children. The seasoned ornithologist knows, however, that such subjective interpretation of bird behavior is risky. I long tried to keep an open mind on the question.

I shared similar sentiments on my visits to the trail, especially in the evenings when bird activity could be more readily noticed. Regardless, I’m excited to see where next month’s observations may take me.

Maria D. Minor
ENSP 2324.02, Spring 2014
Dr. Michael Wasserman

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