Willowbrook Reach: September 2015

Willowbrook Reach Grow Zone sign

Hang in there, little buddy. The neighbourhood has got your back.

This well fed anole lives at Willowbrook Reach, a neighbourhood wildlife habitat along a section of the Upper Boggy Creek in Austin.

willowbrook reach signAs recently as 1997, the creek banks were covered in turf grass and mowed on a regular basis. I found this dreary before picture at the Friends and Lovers of Willowbrook Reach

willowbrook1997-5What a difference a couple of decades can make. On the weekend I saw this splash of colour in the meadow. Could anyone seriously suggest a crunchy lawn is better?

wild petuniaHere’s a shot of the path that wanders beneath an old cedar elm.

cedar elmThe original red swing was installed thanks to The Red Swing Project. It has become an important landmark and meeting spot. A small thing but it draws people into the green space and helps build connections.

Willowbrook tree swingA random view of the creek bank hints at the transformation of the area. We now have a full leaf canopy over the water. Understory trees, shrubs and vines take up the middle ground. A variety of forbs grow at the soil level. The flood event this spring meant we lost a lot of the variety that started to take hold but I am hoping it also means we got a new silt deposit. That would be good news for the health of everything that survived.

random creek bankOnly a string of grass remains …

last bastion of turf grassFish, turtles and toads live here. Where the water flows freely it is clear. Where it slows it turns into a delicious protozoa soup.

protozoa soupThe usual gang hangs out in the green areas: more insects than I can name, all kinds of lizards, jays, grackles, squirrels. We also get random visitors like the odd coyote. The neighbourhood cat owners tend to freak out when that happens but I think it is a really good sign. It suggests some kind of green corridor still exists right through the middle of urban Austin.

tarantula wasp sept 2015The Lady Bird Wildflower Center recently sponsored a wildflower walk through the area. One of the audience members asked: “What was our vision? Which ecosystem were we trying to replicate here?” I don’t know if he knew that was kind of a loaded question.

I seriously doubt anyone had that kind of goal in mind when the project began. It was more intuitive or real than that — a spontaneous understanding that turf grass was inadequate and kind of soul sucking. And sure, mistakes were made. Lessons learned. Experts gathered along the way. But the results show the original impulse was sound. Lee Clippard, our guide for that walk, answered that he supposed Willowbrook Reach was turning into a riparian woodland but that it was kind of an evolving thing and really up for discussion by the neighbourhood.

I bit my tongue. People don’t have to be experts to know what is right or good for the land. Just look at the terrible results at the expensive and professionally managed Mueller Greenway just down the road. The two restoration projects are worlds apart in philosophy and results. Willowbrook Reach has no funding. Is pretty much run by volunteer labour. But it is loved and I believe the results speak for themselves. When decisions are based on a land ethic — an understanding that — “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community” even amateurs can’t really err. Everything will just naturally fall into its proper place.

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35 thoughts on “Willowbrook Reach: September 2015

  1. What a wonderful post.. so much in nature is sad these days, but this was uplifting.. If only we could all do a little and join up our littles into connected littles for wildlife… if only… Here we people come looking for a missing outdoor cat, I tell them.. We have fox and coyote here.. Michelle

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    1. Thanks, Michelle. I own a cat. I can imagine how sad it would be. But. They could keep their cats inside their houses. And those same people must realize that their outside cats do their own predation …. Plus, the local animal shelter says that cats are usually taken by owls rather than coyotes.

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      1. Outdoor cats is an emotional topic for many. My cats have always been indoor cats for their safety. It wasn’t until I started watching birds that I learned about the toll on wildlife cats have. My wildlife rehabber friend said that cats are a non-native species in the yard. My sister is a vet.. Outdoor cats live an average of three years and indoor cats for many years… But people get really upset about this topic.

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        1. So true. This is a real hot button for a lot of people. I have heard that well-fed pets don’t really pose much of a problem but that feral cats trying to survive tell another story. I do think it is fascinating that so many people can hold onto this double-standard when it comes to their pets. It is ok for the cat to kill a bird but not ok for a coyote to kill a cat …

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          1. It doesn’t matter how well fed a cat is. They are programmed to kill. Many times the bird or rabbit is killed and just left un eaten. Cat claws are curved to injure as are the teeth. Even an injured animal frequently dies from an infection. Rehabbers dread cat injuries because they are fatal unless treated quickly. People want to think of their loving kitty as just that. But that kitty is a killer, fed or not… This info is from my sister the vet and my late rehabber friend…

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  2. Especially wonderful photos this go-round and a great topic they illustrate so well.

    This project provides a delightful object lesson in where the “benign” comes into fore in the term “benign neglect”. What some see as “not intervening” others will appreciate as “allowing”. And oh my word I’m going to stop right now before I use up all the quotation marks in the universe. Great post!

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  3. That appears to be a successful project. Often, people need to get out of the way and let nature fill in the blanks. We know she will. It takes patience and offerings of opportunity.

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    1. People really do need to get out of the way. The area is officially managed by a city department called Austin Watershed Protection. Even the name shows a deep misunderstanding of the function of a creek. We don’t want to shed the water the way a cat sheds its fur. The purpose of a creek is water catchment.

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    1. To be fair I have seen some beautiful parks and gardens in my time. But I’ve seen -so- many. Tangled wild spaces –especially in urban areas — have become exceedingly rare.

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  4. Nature is amazing isn’t it? I love the idea of the red swing project and your wildlife looks fascinating too. This was a lovely post about Willowbrook Reach. I hope more communities let nature recolonise. Here in Lancashire UK some local councils only mow a strip of roadside grass verges which has allowed lots of wildflowers to reappear.

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  5. I like how this area is coming back with shade and the buzz of life – over the former crunchy lawn monoculture. Next Austin trip, I need to check this one out. Though I might miss the small patch of lawn!

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    1. Never rule out the power of St. Augustine. haha. Everything is tangled and random and wild. Very much an anti-park and maybe a kind of unknown to most people here who are familiar with parks, prairies and savannah. A woodland, even a tiny thing like this, reminds me of home.

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    1. Isn’t he adorable! It wasn’t easy for the people involved. It really required a lot of determination and negotiating skills over a long period of time.

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  6. Nature pretty much knows what to do. It is kind of funny that we think we need to ‘manage’ it. Unless we’re looking to remove native species, a freaking nightmare in my neck of the woods, it’s best to let her do her thing without our ‘help!’ :-) Willowbrook looks so natural and inviting. I read something recently about the ‘soul being in the eyes’ and when I saw your close-up of the anole, I thought she looked very soulful! You captured her beauty wonderfully!

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    1. I just love the blue eyeshadow of these anoles. That particular anole was awfully patient with me. Natural spaces look inviting to me but apparently a lot of people feel threatened by that kind of thing. If they only knew what they were missing.

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  7. Lovely post, Debra. t and many congratulations and thank yous for the volunteers who’ve helped this patch of land heal. As a community, we have a long way to go before we understand the difference between how the Mueller development is “managed” and the thoughtful intention that allowed Willowbrook Reach to evolve to its natural form. Btw, your new anole pic is adorable, as is the model.

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    1. Isn’t he beautiful! Anoles don’t ever have to do anything; they exude charm. I am so disgusted with Mueller right now. If I were to throw a hula hoop out anywhere on their ‘prairie’ to count the number of species contained in the ring I would see couch grass, Johnson grass and a whole lot of crisped up native plants. No food. No shelter for wildlife. The wildlife is pretty much gone except for what can hang on adjacent to the pond. Last year at this time there were false foxgloves, sunflowers, senna, sage, clover, asters, at least three types of native grass and well name it. I finally got an official reply from the development company which basically said they don’t grow the prairie for wildlife; it is really intended to be parkland. So one can only conclude that the signage everywhere about how wildlife friendly they are exists mainly to help them get/keep a lucrative City contract.

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  8. I agree things will naturally fall into place….I have found that in my garden. I was intrigued by this project and the Red Swing.

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