The last few days have produced a decided autumn chill here in Austin, so the hubby and I took advantage of the drop in temperatures to explore the area's outdoor offerings.
For months we've seen the discreet signs for Wild Basin Preserve as we drove along Loop 360, west of the city in Travis County. In a state known for excess, these markers are so unobtrusive that you almost think they're trying to keep anyone from finding the place.
Luckily, despite the obscure signage, we did locate the exit and discovered a lovely 227-acre enclave that made us forget how close we were to houses, shopping centers and highways.
Although we've been in a drought for months, Bee Creek manages to maintain a small but steady flow through the preserve. We choose the aptly (and obviously) named Creek Trail so we could cross the water a couple of times. No fancy bridges or boardwalks here; just well-placed rocks and a rope rail at one crossover to guide you to the other side. It's not a move I'd recommend after a hard rain.
At the end of the trail we were treated to a lovely view of pool fed by a small waterfall. The gurgling water, clear air and chirping of winged residents bouncing around the adjacent trees was a perfect resting place before we started the uphill trek back.
Bird listening: We got a later-than-planned start (that seems to happen a lot ...), so we weren't surprised that we didn't encounter many birds. The old saying about the early bird also applies to early birdwatchers: You really do tend to see more when the day is young.
But we did hear the calls of catbirds and mockingbirds and some cardinals chipping.
A few small birds stayed tantalizing just out of sight behind leaves and branches, avoiding positive identification. We like to think that at least one of the darting creatures was a black capped vireo, one of the endangered species that calls Wild Basin and a few other select Central Texas sites home.
And we're very thankful that a group of forward-thinking folks who moved into the vireo's habitat went to the trouble to set aside at least a little bit of the land for winged neighbors. Thanks to them, one of the preserve's fund raising slogans is true. Such natural beauty is "Yes, in my back yard!"
You can enjoy a brief walk of Wild Basin yourself via this video created by Travis County Parks and Natural Resources office.
A closer encounter: While the birding was a bit sparse, we did get plenty of close looks at butterflies, lots and lots of butterflies. The annual monarch migration to Mexico gets most of the attention, but there are many others on the move.
In just two hours at Wild Basin, we saw around a dozen different kinds, from tiny pale yellow ones that looked like dead leaves when they landed and closed up their wings (great camouflage) to some three inches in diameter sporting vibrant yellow and black markings. This last weekend, in fact, was the annual Texas butterfly festival in Mission, where last year 106 species were spotted.
My closest Wild Basin encounter with a winged critter, though, was, I think, a grasshopper. We had just finished our hike and as I stepped up onto the visitors center porch, something flew smack into my face, landing briefly at the corner of my mouth.
I simultaneously swatted and let out a strangled yelp -- for once I was afraid to open my mouth wide, lest the creature moved that direction -- and it took off. Neither the hubby nor I got a good look as it flew into the scrubby woods, but based on its size, a flash of green and the "scratchy" feel of multiple appendages when it hit my face, we're pretty sure it was a grasshopper.
Ah nature! Sometimes more surprising than you really want.
Preserving preserves: Wild Basin Preserve is a 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions to such groups, regardless of whether they are designed to benefit environmental, educational or cultural programs, are tax deductible.
As the year winds down, charitable donations are one of the ways you reduce your upcoming tax bill. To count against your 2006 taxes, make sure you give by Dec. 31. A credit card charge by that date counts, even though you won't get the bill until January.
Reputable groups have no problem supplying information and documentation on their operations and tax status. You also can check out registered charities via the IRS' search engine (Publication 78) or independent companies such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator.