Birding in Allandale

By Steve Oleson

I have always been fascinated with the flora and fauna of Texas. As a fifth generation Texan, I come from people who lived close to nature. As a kid, I could always count on my mother to answer my questions about the natural world. I would ask “What kind of tree is that?” or “What kind of bird is that?” She always knew the answer, because to her forebears, knowing about the natural world could make the difference between life and death. Her familiarity with wildlife was a boon to me. She helped me to understand how to care for my lizards, ground squirrels, and eventually my hawks. A good falconer must understand the relationship between raptors, their prey, their environment, and how the changing seasons affect everything. Walking down the street with my mom, I pointed out an anole in the ivy on the front of a neighbor’s house. She asked: “How did you see that?” I could only say: “I just did.”

Cooper’s Hawk. Photo by Steve Oleson.

Eventually, I became a professional photographer, which enhanced my sharp eye and awareness of my surroundings. I notice when White-winged Doves explode out of a tree, and look for the Cooper’s Hawk, which must surely follow. When a band of Blue Jays are raising a ruckus, I stop to see what they are warning the neighborhood about: a hawk, an owl, a cat or a mystery?

We moved from south Austin to Allandale in 1989. Being an avid bicyclist, I move slowly enough through the neighborhood and see a lot of wildlife. It is hard to miss the Red-shouldered Hawks. They make so much noise! They are avian exhibitionists!

It is fascinating how wildlife is learning to adapt to living alongside people. In the 1960s, Cooper’s Hawks were rarely seen. By the 1980s, their populations had recovered. Meanwhile, White-winged Doves had expanded their range and were found in great numbers in the city. Cooper’s Hawks exploited this resource and now nest in many Texas cities. I once saw a Cooper’s Hawk catch another newcomer to Austin: Monk Parakeet!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron juvenile. Photo by Steve Oleson.

Red-tailed Hawks have also moved into the city. They use MOPAC as a hunting ground. It is not unusual to see six of them in the five miles between Allandale and downtown Austin. They nest in trees and man-made structures. I know of three nests within one mile of my home in Allandale.

Living close to Shoal Creek, I frequently see egrets, herons and Wood Ducks. I monitored a small rookery of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons for a couple of years. They are very approachable and easily photographed.

I have become more aware of woodpeckers, recently. Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers nest near my home.

Screech Owls. Photo by Steve Oleson.

Allandale has Great-horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Screech Owls nesting in the neighborhood. Screech Owls are a favorite of mine. I really enjoy getting them to come to me when I mimic their call.

As you can tell, I get a lot of enjoyment from urban wildlife. As a longtime resident of Austin, I have seen the city grow and seen how the variety and numbers of wildlife change annually. This year, I am seeing more Western Kingbirds and Mockingbirds than usual. There are fewer Cliff Swallows. The Red-shouldered Hawks and Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons have moved their nests from previously favored trees. I do not know why they did, but I’ll keep looking, observing, and enjoying birding in Allandale.

Featured image above: Downy Woodpecker by Steve Oleson.