The park has two hiking trails that are quite different from each other. The south trail takes me on a path uphill along a wooded creek, ending at a beautiful waterfall. Endangered Golden-cheeked Warblers, which were absent from the park for several years, have been observed here as recently as the spring of 2010. On the north trail, I wander through a 40-acre prairie that is to be restored soon to native grasses and wildflowers. I also walk past a former pecan orchard and along Lake Austin, looking for Yellow-throated Vireos and warblers in spring, sparrows and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in winter, and Wood Ducks and Belted Kingfishers at all times of the year.
Keep your eyes open, and expect the unexpected. — Laurie Foss
At a Glance
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A riparian corridor, pecan groves, a grassland, rocky hills, a wooded creek, and a waterfall.
North trail is flat, grassy, and smooth. South trail is steep and the footing is difficult.
201 species. All year: Wild Turkey, Wood Duck, Belted, Green (rare), and Ringed (occasional) Kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Greater Roadrunner. Spring: Mississippi Kite, Common Poorwill, Chuck-will’s-widow, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Gray Catbird, 11 species of warblers. Summer: Green Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Northern Parula, Rufous-crowned and Lark Sparrows, Painted Bunting. Fall and winter: Pied-billed Grebe, American Kestrel, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Cedar Waxwing, Spotted Towhee, and 20 species of sparrows.
When to go
Travis Audubon Society offers frequent field trips to the park. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for dates and times. Picnic tables and one picnic shelter available. Composting toilet on the north trail near the lake. The park’s ranch house has a restroom in the garage.
City park. No fees. Gate is open Tuesday through Sunday, 12-6, year-round. If you arrive at other hours, simply park at the entrance and walk in. Closed on Mondays.
Bring a spotting scope for birding the lake.
For more info
Commons Ford Ranch Park
Travis Audubon Society, (512) 300-2473.
Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization
Austin Parks Foundation, (512) 477-1566.
Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory
Hotspot Near You No. 10. Located 21 miles from the park at the intersection of Platt Lane and FM 973. More than 350 species make it Austin’s premier birding destination.
Pace Bend Park
45 minutes west of Austin. From the city, take Hwy. 71 to FM 2322 and turn north. Look for western species, such as Verdin, Cactus Wren, Bushtit, and Bell’s Vireo.