No day along Shoal Creek passes without birds. You may miss a mammal, reptile, or two, but birds are guaranteed. Birds are ubiquitous, noisy, accessible, colorful, and gregarious. Birds lend themselves to being seen and enjoyed.
If you live along the creek and feed birds, you see birds your every waking moment. But what are their names? Where do they come from? Why are they here?
Wooldridge Square is on life support. Then again, Wooldridge is still waiting to be admitted to the ER; for the moment, the square is road kill. The square didn’t begin this way. No, in the beginning the city used the site for a garbage dump.
Wooldridge is one of the four original squares delineated in Judge Edwin Waller’s 1839 design for Austin. For seventy years the square served as a trash heap, presumably because of its concave topography. The cleanup of the square began in 1909 when Mayor A.P. Wooldridge decided that a downtown dump didn’t reflect well on the city. Wooldridge constructed a pond system along the brook that ran through the park. According to an Austin American-Stateman article from that year, the ponds were created using a series of dams from honeycomb rock, with “pretty ferns and lilies.” The park was formally opened in a ceremony on June 18, 1909.
Austin began with a bang. In 1839 Republic of Texas President-elect Mirabeau Lamar accepted an invitation from his friend, Jacob Harrell, to hunt in Central Texas. Harrell had established a trading post, Waterloo, on the Colorado River between Shoal and Waller creeks. Legend says that Lamar shot a buffalo at the corner of Congress Avenue and 8th Street. Lamar slayed more than the bison. Later during this trip Lamar remarked that “this should be the seat of future government.” With those words Lamar ended President Sam Houston’s hope of the capital remaining in his namesake.
Walking Shoal Creek in spring has its hazards. The trails can be crowded, a mishmash of bikers, walkers, and runners. Poison ivy is snaking out into the trails. Mulberries are leaving their telltale stains on cars, sidewalks, and the unsuspecting.
There are two types of mulberry along Shoal Creek, red mulberry (Morus rubra) and white mulberry (Morus alba). The white mulberry is from northern China, first introduced in the United States in hopes of supporting a silk industry. The leaves of the white mulberry are the preferred food of the silkworm. The silk industry never took hold, but the white mulberry has now spread throughout the eastern U.S. and in many places hybridizes with the native red mulberry.