A visit to Hornsby Bend requires a decision: Should you walk the ponds (ducks, waders, peeps), the River Trail (resident Ringed Kingfishers), Platt Lane (songbirds, especially sparrows), the Center for Environmental Research building (almost anything), or the Willow Trail (plenty of warblers during migration)?
In December and January, the waterfowl and wintering birds at the ponds make the decision simple. Last winter I was so smitten by afternoon walks there that I couldn’t wait to dash over after work. I made the pilgrimage so frequently that the birds I encountered started feeling like friends. The Loggerhead Shrike kept watch over the entrance. Across the road was the American Kestrel. Starting around the ponds, I visited with the two immature Vermilion Flycatchers that wintered there. By the bird blind, a pair of resident Mallards never disappointed, and the Least Grebes kept me guessing which pond I would find them on.
A free monthly birding fieldtrip is enough to make any birder want to know the birds there. It has always netted the promised 50 species minimum and usually far exceeds it.
It’s hard to find one location that provides habitats so varied and supports the wide variety of birdlife that Hornsby Bend does. It’s at the top of my list of birding locations in the Austin area. — Laurie Foss
Laurie Foss is a member of the Travis Audubon Society and a 2003 transplant to Austin. She has been birding since 1970, most actively for the past 10 years. Hornsby Bend is her primary focus of birding in the Austin area.
1,200 acres of ponds, woods, agricultural fields, untended fields, and 3.5 miles of the Colorado River.
Flat to very gently rolling. Ponds are accessible by car. The main road is paved; roads on dikes between ponds are hard-packed dirt. Shorter trails branch off three-mile-long River Trail.
356 species. Thousands of ducks and coots in winter. Migrating warblers in spring. Flycatchers (including Scissor-tailed), Painted Buntings, Purple Martins, and swallows in summer. Kinglets, sparrows, and titmice arrive in fall. 2005 rarities: 6-10 Least Grebes (winter), nesting Ringed Kingfishers, White-winged and Black Scoters (winter), and Brewer’s Blackbird.
When to go
Year-round. June is usually quietest. Numbers and varieties of migrating birds peak in March and April. The ponds host thousands of migrating waterfowl and wading birds in winter.
Bathrooms and water fountain during regular business hours in the Center for Environmental Research building. Hawkwatch is located between Pond 1 East and Pond 1 West. Bird blind is on Pond 2. Recent sightings are also posted on kiosks at the hawkwatch and the southeast corner of Pond 2. Bird surveys conducted on second Saturday of every month, free guided birdwalks on the third.
On the property of the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant operated by the city of Austin. Open from sunup to sundown; gates closed and locked at other times. Admission free. Plenty of parking but no public transportation to location.
Arrive early for songbirds. Binoculars are fine, but bring a scope for shorebirds and ducks. Bring water and a camp stool if you need to rest while walking the trails. Rattlesnakes can be active in spring, but bugs, though plentiful, are not usually of the biting variety.