Field Notes: Elevated hiking, unusual birds
Looking for elevated hiking? Trek River Place Nature Trail
If you're looking for an Austin trail with enough elevation gain to whip you in shape, check out the River Place Nature Trail in Northwest Austin.
Expect to huff and puff as you scamper up and down hundreds of steps and traipse along the mostly shady, hard-packed path along Panther Hollow Creek (now dry) and into an adjacent canyon. I strapped on a Nike+ SportWatch GPS for the walk. It showed 1,158 total feet of elevation gain during our out-and-back hike of the main trail. (You can add another mile and a few hundred more feet of elevation gain if you walk to the end of the Little Fern spur and back.)
Trail makers did a superb job, building steps from rocks and railroad ties, situating wooden benches along the way and posting mileage banners to track your distance.
Our 2-hour-and-20-minute tour of the place turned up plenty to see, from a wide-eyed rabbit to a few gorgeous Hill Country vistas. Trail runners apparently have discovered the place. We spotted several groups of fleet-footed runners sweating their way through a challenging workout. We also discovered a 2-foot coral snake slithering across the trail. Coral snakes, which are venomous, look very much like milk snakes, which are harmless. Need help differentiating? Just remember that old rhyme: "Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack."
A bite from a coral snake constitutes a medical emergency; the snake injects neurotoxin that paralyzes the breathing muscles.
The trailhead is located almost at the end of Big View Drive, south of River Place Drive.
— Pam LeBlanc
Area drought brings unusual birds out of the woodwork
As I got ready to go out to feed our birds last week, a bright orange fellow caught my eye.
It was a Baltimore oriole, not a common sighting around our house, but one in such bright plumage it almost hurt my eyes to look at him. This bird was just finishing a drink at one of the bird baths.
The neat thing about this sighting is that it's just the latest in a line of off-center bird sightings that are showing up all over Central Texas. And it's because of the drought that's hit us so hard that birds are going wherever they can just to find some food.
A friend of mine who has a functioning fountain in his yard has seen all kinds of birds he'd normally never spot. One of those recent sightings was an indigo bunting, one of our most beautiful birds.
Most of our goldfinches had packed up and moved, but now they're coming back. I'm filling finch feeders almost every day now. Our hummers fledged their chicks and took off some time ago, but now we're beginning to get some new migrants down from the north.
This should be a fun winter for birders in Central Texas. Food supplies are so scattered and hurt that I think backyard birders are going to have a great time.
— Mike Leggett