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Check out the natural serenity at Westbury’s Willow Waterhole Park

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 10/15/2020 By Gary Clark, Correspondent

A stroll around the ponds, grasslands and trees at Willow Waterhole greenway in Southwest Houston offers matchless serenity of nature.

Six separate detention ponds look like natural finger lakes sprawling over a landscape deliberately restored to replicate the once-vast Texas coastal prairie. Restoration came from the heroic work of citizens with the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy in concert with local, state and federal agencies.

And what a beautiful space! Trees such as sycamore, pine and oak line the ponds while native prairie vegetation rises from the grasslands. You’ll find bluestem, goldenrod and sunflowers.

Concrete walkways around the ponds allow easy viewing of waterbirds such as snowy egrets and roseate spoonbills as they prowl the shallows for fish, frogs and crawfish. Watch for mourning doves cooing in the meadows, while tufted titmice call from the trees.

The park will be a haven for birds such as blue-headed vireos, yellow-rumped warblers and hermit thrushes as they migrate to Houston for the winter. Not to mention migratory ducks such as buffleheads and green-winged teal settling on the ponds for a welcomed winter home. Black-bellied whistling ducks are at home in the park all year.

Sparrows migrate to the park’s grasslands from breeding grounds across the Great Plains. These include LeConte’s sparrows, which pop up on grass stems to show off their golden-colored heads. Field sparrows with bright pink beaks perch atop bushes.

The park also hosts Houston’s resident songbirds. Even now, northern mockingbirds sing from treetops before flying down to a feast on autumn’s ripened American beautyberries. Northern cardinals dart among trees and bushes to crunch on seeds and fruits. American robins patrol the grounds for worms.

Cooper’s hawks soon will be on the hunt for all the songbirds, including mourning doves in the meadows. Red-shouldered hawks will eye the fields for a meal of mice and snakes. Bald Eagles nesting around Houston during winter may soar over the ponds looking for fish and ducks.

Other predators include dragonflies such as black saddlebags with translucent wings covered by black patches near the thorax. They sit on grass stalks near the ponds before launching aerial raids to chow down on gnats and mosquitoes.

Autumn butterflies, such as the cloudless sulphur, sip nectar from flowering plants.

Everybody’s got to eat, even amid Willow Waterhole Park’s natural serenity.

Gary Clark is the author of “Book of Texas Birds,” wth photography by Kathy Adams Clark (Texas A&M University Press). Email him at Texasbirder@comcast.net.

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