By Jaya Ramanathan
Freeman Park is a community park in Round Rock, Texas and is also the trailhead for the Brushy Creek Trail System. We have seen this park being used by the community for roller skating, biking, jogging, dog walking, fishing, outing with children in strollers, or just for a leisurely stroll. Recently, we were delighted to realize it is also a birder’s gem.
During a winter visit to this park, we spotted on the main trail a Brown Creeper, a Red-bellied Woodpecker carrying a big acorn, and a huge flock of Common Grackle. During subsequent visits we enjoyed watching a Barred Owl calling to another in the distance, a Northern Mockingbird’s long serenade near the parking lot, and sights of Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbird, Summer Tanager, and White-Eyed Vireo. Another time, we enjoyed the solitude of walking on the dry creek bed with just birds keeping us company – a Rufus-crowned Sparrow peeked from the thicket, a Blue Jay pair stopped by, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker glided up a tree vertically before taking flight, and a Northern Cardinal hopped on sprawling roots debating whether to sip the creek water or not (it wisely chose otherwise).
Once, mid-way off the main trail, we took a right turn to the creek bank and spotted a Downy Woodpecker pair. The male flew away, and when the female first peered into and then disappeared into a hole on a tree branch, we realized with a thrill that it was a Downy nest. Papa had left to get food while Mama stayed with the babies. Later, we saw Papa peeking from the nest, so a change of guard had occurred. Fascinating how this nest was positioned safely away from the sight of raptors circling above. Subsequent visits to this park were fueled by our interest in observing this nesting, and we saw either Papa or Mama peeping out. Once I saw a little one fly out and we assumed fledging was complete. But during the Earth Day weekend we saw Papa arrive, look into, and disappear into the nest, and a little later Mama did the same but she left soon after. So the brood had not all fledged yet. Another day, we saw Mama peek into and tap from outside – maybe to encourage the babies to fledge? Soon we didn’t see them anymore. How fortunate to catch these Downys during the short time we spent there – it made me appreciate an ornithologist’s patience when researching birds!
Our Earth Day weekend visit was fulfilling – we counted 25 birds using BirdID, and saw ten of them, including an immature male Summer Tanager, a Barred Owl trying to sleep while other birds were calling incessantly, a Great Egret’s graceful flight at the creek, a Nashville Warbler, a Great-crested Flycatcher, and the Downy of course. Mother’s Day birding highlights included spotting a tiny Hummer high up on a tree and a fellow birder helping me spot a Magnolia Warbler.
I hope our experience and pictures inspire readers to try out birding in this park. We are so thankful it serves as a wonderful habitat that makes birding accessible to the public, and are happy it survived the recent tornado.
Featured Image: American Goldfinch by Jaya Ramanathan