Central Texas is one of the country's best places to go birding. In the Spring and Fall, the area is host to an incredible amount of migratory birds funnelling through the Central Flyway. You can find lots of varied environments from woodlands to prairies along with several lakes and rivers.
If you are planning a trip or have lived in Central Texas for a while and are interested in birding, here are a few places to find excellent birds.
Hornsby Bend is the crown jewel of birding in Travis County. If you live in the area or are visiting at the right time, there are a few different monthly group bird walks you may be able to participate in.
Hornsby Bend is about 14 miles southeast or 20-30 minutes from downtown Austin. It's close to several major highways which makes it relatively convenient to travel to from most of Austin.
If you go to Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory via Google maps, you'll pass through a security booth to enter the treatment plant. They will need a photo ID but entrance is free. After that you'll drive a short bit of two track roads to get to a bird blind. There is limited parking once you're out near the ponds and you may need to park and walk some distance. If you visit and join a group walk, they will often carpool to make this easier.
Hornsby is, by far, the most productive area for Austin birding. There have been over 350 sightings on eBird, making Hornsby one of the top 20 best birding locations in the entire country. More species of birds have been found here than the famed Smith Oaks sanctuary on the Texas coast and it is just shy of many excellent south Texas locations.
You can find anything here, but you're definitely going to see lots of ducks, sandpipers, and other water birds. There is a good chance to see falcons and hawks. Rarities of all sorts are frequent here, especially during migration.
Situated next to the Colorado River, this is a water treatment plant. As such, there are several large ponds with some marshy areas in the middle of the area. There are also big drying beds that birds tend to forage from. Along the river, there are several trails that wind through relatively large trees. Plenty of brambly brush is near the river as well.
Hornsby is a very large area, so you will probably need to drive between spots or prepare for a long walk. The roads are not bad but there is limited parking inside the treatment area near the ponds. Trails are easy - they aren't paved, but they are relatively wide and mostly flat.
The only bathrooms here are at the Austin Water Center for Environmental Research building near the main entrance. The site itself is pretty close to Austin (not more than 5 minutes from gas or food) with good cell service.
You can also enter the via Hornsby Bend River Trail Platt Lane Trailhead to hike trails near the river. There's a decent parking lot here and no sign-in booth but you will need to hike a bit more to see the ponds.
If you're up for a little drive and/or a bigger hike, Doeskin Ranch is an excellent spot. You have access to several types of environments and the chance to see a good variety of birds.
Doeskin Ranch is about 45 miles northwest or on hour of downtown Austin. This is another planned day trip unless you live in North Austin.
Once you leave the freeway, the route is down windy country highways with a few small hills. The entrance is sort of easy to miss coming from Austin as it's shortly after a bend. The parking lot is paved and decent sized.
Doeskin Ranch has over 215 bird species on eBird. For summer birding, it's difficult to beat. Host to the two must-see Central Texas birds - the Black-Capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler - Doeskin Ranch is a good place to see all sorts of interesting birds. I have found Northern Bobwhites, Painted Buntings, Woodhouse's Scrub Jays, and Blue Grosbeaks here.
Trails near the parking lot provide easy access to a creek and some riparian area with decent tree coverage interspersed with open prairie. There is also an old stock pond a short walk from parking.
If you cross the creek, you'll go up a rocky slope through cedar trees to a bit of a plateau. You can continue from there to an Indiangrass prairie section. Birding an entire loop of the back part of the reserve is a pretty big hike that may take a few hours.
Trails near the lot are easy, flat and there is an improved, accessible, section.
The back portion of this reserve requires you to hike up a sizable unimproved hill that is pretty rocky. That section is at least medium difficulty. You'll need sturdy shoes and plenty of water.
There are no stores or gas stations in the immediate area, but it is not more than 15 or 20 minutes from them. It's likely you won't have cell service once you arrive. There are pit toilets near the parking lot.
Mill's pond is Austin's best urban migrant hub. There is a relatively large pond and a nice chunk of wetland forested area. You'll also likely encounter a handful of other birders to share your experience with.
Mill's Pond is about 15 miles north or 20-30 minutes from downtown Austin. It's a great spot to check regularly if you live in North Austin.
Arrive at the southeast side of the park and there is a small parking lot off Wells Port Dr just north of the Waterway Bend intersection. Alternatively, there is plenty of park-facing street parking on Mallard Green Ln on the opposite side of the park.
There have been ~220 species reported at Mill's Pond on ebird. During spring and fall migration, you can find a ton of migrating warblers, thrush, and more. There are usually a few ducks (including a resident wood duck), heron, and other water birds in and around the pond.
Mill's pond is, of course, mostly a pond. As this is an urban park, the trails are largely improved, it's well groomed in most places, and it's surrounded by suburban housing. The north section of the park is especially marshy with good tree cover, making it the best part of the park to spot warblers.
Most of the park's trails are improved and accessible for wheelchairs. It is very easy to stroll the entirety of this park.
There are public toilets on the south end of the park. Otherwise, this is very close to food and gas and has excellent cell service.
Go for a beach day and enjoy some birds to boot! Lake Travis has all kinds of excellent areas to enjoy, and Pace Bend is a favorite.
Pace Bend park is about 40 miles west or 45 minutes to an hour from downtown Austin. This is more of a planned day-trip than a casual outing.
Before you go, make sure you have cash! The park entrance fee is five dollars, and they only accept cash. Once you exit 71, it's a bit of a drive down 2322 to get to the main park.
On eBird, Pace Bend has almost 250 species. You should see some waterfowl - ducks, egrets, killdeer to name a few. Further inland, you have a chance to see plenty of warblers, flycatchers, and sparrows. More specifically, this is a pretty good place to find Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in the summer.
Pace Bend has a mix of cliff-faced shoreline and shore with large swaths of rocky grassland area. Both of which lead up to a hilly mix of cedar and oak forest in the middle of the peninsula.
Trails can vary in difficulty and are popular for mountain biking perhaps more than hiking. However, Pace Bend is a great place to sit in one spot and bird. There are lots of pull-off picnic areas in the day-use section where you can set up for the day and hang out.
The park is pretty big and has several pit toilets. The nearest gas station/camp store is 10 or 15 minutes away. The park is a drive from Austin proper so there aren't a whole lot of other services in the immediate area.
Saint Edwards Park
Saint Edwards Park is a medium sized park with very limited parking in northwest Austin. Bull creek runs through the middle and there is a sizable hill on the north side giving it a nice variety of environments.
St Edwards Park is about 14 miles northwest or 20-30 minutes from downtown Austin.
Parking is extremely limited compared to the traffic this park can get on the weekends. There is one medium sized lot and a few small pull-offs. On the weekend, that means you'll either need to get there really early in the morning or park on the road with potentially a bit of a walk to the trails.
With over 190 species on eBird, St Eds is a good staple any time of the year. You can see warblers, orioles, Cedar Waxwings, and thrushes depending on when you go. In the summer, there are also several Golden-Cheeked Warblers in the oak trees.
St Ed's park has a nice mix of open grasslands, cedar, and larger oak forest. It runs along a medium-sized part of Bull Creek, with a few larger, open sections of creek. You can cross the creek and venture up a big hill into a rocky cedar forest.
If you don't cross the river, the trails are easy. They are not improved and would be difficult with a wheelchair, but are not terribly strenuous for a casual hike. Crossing the river or entering the north side of the park requires going uphill. Depending on how you enter, it's either a very long gradual ascent or a quick, steep, rocky one. This side, in either case, is probably still approachable for relatively casual hiking but a step up from the rest of the park.
There are no services in the park - even trash is very limited. It is very close to town, just be sure to bring what you need.