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Urban Birding

Houston’s urban jungle turns out to be a good place to spot hundreds of species of birds.
As Laurie Johnson reports — an area designed for flood retention is drawing birders from all around.


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The searing heat of a July mid-morning isn’t really the best time to tromp around looking for different  species of birds.

And a stormwater detention basin probably isn’t the first place people think of as a bird habitat. But Joy Hester says there are more birds to be found at the Willow Waterhole in south Houston than most people would guess.

image of Black-necked Stilt

“What we’re looking at is a very large detention basin with an island in the middle and trees planted all along, not completely because left space for grassy slopes, which is that’s where Pipits, which are an unusual bird for urban settings, have been seen. What we’ve got are some swallows flying over and we’ve got the Black-necked Stilt — it’s got long legs, it’s a wading bird and it looks like it’s got a tuxedo on.”

Hester is a longtime member of the Houston Audubon Society. She says birders started paying attention to this detention basin a few years ago, when they noticed uncommon species in the area.

“The reason we’ve got so many different kinds of birds, because that bird list now is at 120 species which is pretty amazing for such an urban setting really, is the variety of habitat. So we have habitat for woodland birds, we have wading water birds — ducks come here, we have ducks especially in the winter.”

The Willow Waterhole Basin is 280 acres of land intended to collect run-off from Brays Bayou.

image of American Pipits

The South Loop is maybe a mile up the road and the entire area is surrounded by busy streets.

Heather Saucier with the Harris County Flood Control District says they could have just dug a big hole to collect stormwater. Instead the basin doubles as a wildlife habitat and park.

“We knew that by planting wetlands plants and trees we would be attracting a certain number of wildlife species. We had no idea that 120 species of birds would have been identified at this site. That was very much a surprise to us, a very pleasant surprise.”

And it is a surprise…in the heart of Houston, an urban birder’s paradise.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

All picture are by Ben Hulsey.