- Austin CVB , (800) 926-2282, www.austintexas.org
Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
From I-35, take Riverside Dr. west 0.8 mile to Congress Ave. and turn north. The bridge spans Lady Bird Lake. Parking is free, but limited, after 6 p.m. in the Austin American-Statesman's west parking lot.
Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge hosts the largest urban concentration of bats in North America, estimated at 1.5 million bats. It is also the site at which mother Mexican Free-tailed Bats raise an estimated 750,000 pups each year. The bridge became a bat nursery after bridge expansion work in the 1980s created deep concrete crevices that act as excellent roosts for bats raising their pups. The bridge is popular with tourists; summer nights have been known to attract as many as 2,000 bat watchers, where the nightly exodus is impressive to behold. Bats typically arrive at the bridge in mid-March and return to Mexico by early November.
Lady Bird Lake
From Mopac/Loop 1 take the exit for Cesar Chavez and head east. One of several parking areas around the lake will be 1 mile down Cesar Chavez on the right.
Lady Bird Lake is a 6-mile lake formed by Tom Miller and Longhorn dams. It runs through central downtown Austin and is one of the most popular places in Austin to run, bike, walk and kayak. Habitats include riparian woodlands, open fields, thickets and parkland. Monk Parakeets are commonly seen along the trail, and often nest in the tall light towers that illuminate the ball fields. Nesting birds include Summer Tanager, Wood Duck, Crested Caracara, Western Kingbird, Painted Bunting and Broad-winged Hawk. During the winter, look for Gadwall, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and Double-crested Cormorant.
Zilker Botanical Gardens/Austin Science and Nature Center
Zilker Botanical Gardens: From Mopac/Loop 1 take the exit for FM 2244 and head north on the frontage road which will turn into Barton Springs Rd. The botanical gardens entrance is 1 mile down on the left.
Austin Science and Nature Center: From the botanical gardens you can either walk to the nature center, which takes about ten minutes, or return east on Barton Springs Rd. and make the first left after leaving the gardens, on Stratford Dr. This leads to a large parking area underneath the freeway. The nature center entrance walk is directly across the street.
Amid the planted beds at the botanical gardens are a woodland escarpment trail and a pond system, both of which provide cover for migrating woodland birds. The nature center has feeders behind the large bird blind to the west of the meadow area before taking the steps to the buildings, as well as a pond and creek system that attracts ducks, cormorants and herons. The preserve trails provide a good place to observe wildlife, especially during spring.
Zilker Botanical Gardens: (512) 477-8672 www.zilkergarden.org
Austin Science and Nature Center: (512) 974-3888
Red Bud Isle Park
From Mopac/Loop 1, go west on Lake Austin Dr. 1.3 miles until its intersection with Red Bud Trail. Turn left on Redbud Trail and follow 0.3 mile to the park entrance.
This park, on the Colorado River just below Tom Miller Dam, is a good place to look for spring migrants. It is also an excellent spot to scope the river. Spring and summer are good times to see dragonflies such as Widow Skimmer, Eastern Ringtail, Eastern Pondhawk and Roseate Skimmer. The riparian woodlands offer shelter to nesting White-eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager. Belted Kingfisher is common and Ringed Kingfisher has been seen here as well. Look for ducks and Osprey during the winter.
(512) 974-6700 www.austinparks.org/our-parks.html?parkid=317
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
From Mopac/Loop 1 and FM 2244/Bee Caves Rd. head west on FM 2244 to Loop 360; turn right and travel 1.2 miles to entrance on right.
Wild Basin was founded in 1974 to protect 227 acres of Hill Country habitat and to provide nature education programs. Visitors enjoy 2.5 miles of hiking trails that pass through woodland, grassland and streamside habitats. Trail maps are located at the trailhead and an interpretive self-guided tour map of Wild Basin is available from the office. Follow the numbered posts along the 0.5-mile, easily accessible Arroyo Vista Trail or the lettered posts along the 1.5-mile loop down to the creek and back.
(512) 327-7622 www.wildbasin.org
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
From Loop 360 and Mopac/Loop 1, go south on Mopac 6.1 miles to La Crosse Ave. Turn left on
La Crosse Ave. for 0.4 mile to the gated entrance on the right.
This is a wonderful site for those interested in learning more about the native plants of Central Texas and how to garden for wildlife. Habitat at the Center includes juniper-oak woodland and grassland. Visitors can enjoy interpretive hiking trails, a 16-acre oak savanna and formal display gardens that attract a wide variety of butterflies and dragonflies. Birds such as Greater Roadrunner occur year-round, while Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Dickcissel, Lark Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher occur in the summer. Winter brings American Kestrel, American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing. The center offers nature educational programs, a store and a cafe.
(512) 232-0100 www.wildflower.org
Hamilton Pool Preserve
From the intersection of US 290 and TX 71 in Oak Hill (the _Y'), go west on TX 71 for 11.4 miles to FM 3238/Hamilton Pool Rd. Turn left and go 12.5 miles to the entrance on the right.
The preserve's pool and grotto were formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago. The pool is famed for its cool waters, spectacular falls, grotto and beautiful cypress trees that line the creek all the way to its confluence with the Pedernales River. Golden-cheeked Warbler, Bell's Vireo, Canyon Wren, Painted Bunting and Green Kingfisher can be seen here. Bald cypress trees, diverse plant communities and a variety of wildlife species occupy the grotto and downstream areas. The preserve is managed as a natural area with emphasis on habitat protection and restoration, environmental education and research. The preserve offers picnicking, hiking, swimming and nature study.
(512) 264-2740 https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool
Return to Hamilton Pool Rd./FM 3238, turn right and go 1 mile. The entrance is on the right, just past the Pedernales River crossing.
Westcave Preserve offers visitors a chance to experience and learn about the plants, wildlife and geology of Central Texas. The hiking trail begins in oak-juniper savannas, proceeding along creekside riparian woodlands and through a cool limestone canyon created over 100,000 years ago. Spring-fed waters tumble from 40 ft. above, glazing over travertine columns. Visitors can step into the grotto behind this waterfall and explore the travertine, stalagmite, shallow pool and other formations within the cave. Golden-cheeked Warbler, Painted Bunting, Canyon Wren, Lark and Field Sparrows, Summer Tanager and White-eyed Vireo nest here. Spicebush Swallowtail is abundant as its larval host plant, spicebush, grows prolifically beneath the cypress and elm trees.
(830) 825-3442 www.westcave.org
Dripping Springs Ranch Park
From US 290, turn north onto RR 12 in Dripping Springs. The park entrance is 1.8 miles north on
RR 12. Turn left at the light across from Dripping Springs Elementary School.
This 110-acre park is nestled amidst rolling hills and seasonal creeks and ponds with wide open spaces for numerous outdoor recreational opportunities. A segment of Little Barton Creek runs through the property, supporting an abundance of wildlife and native plants. More than 8 acres have been set aside as a wildlife preserve. The park's trail system is ideal for hiking and horse trail riding. There is a 0.75-mile, crushed granite ADA-accessible walking trail that winds around an approximately 3-acre pond and there are 2 miles of hiking/horse trails. Bird enthusiasts may also enjoy picnic tables, playgrounds, primitive camping and RV sites. Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Eastern Meadowlark, among others, are spotted around the pond area. Turkey Vulture, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's and Red-shouldered Hawks and American Kestrel are commonly spotted. Canyon, Bewick's and Carolina Wrens, Black-crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Mockingbird and Chipping, Grasshopper and Lark Sparrows are regular visitors. Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Summer Tanager, Painted Bunting, Lesser and American Goldfinch are several of the brightly colored visitors.