In a previous blog, I covered those special places in the United States that are considered the best birding spots. Closer to my home, is a wonderful birding spot that is located just south of San Antonio at Mitchell Lake. In its less-than-glamorous past, the Lake was used by the City as a sewerage treatment facility for most of the 20th Century.
However, the lake’s unflattering function was all but ignored by the area’s avian inhabitants, who continued to frequent the shallow wetlands that had welcomed their ancestors for centuries. By the time discharge of raw or partially treated effluent was discontinued in 1987, Mitchell Lake was recognized as a world-class bird-watching site. The lake is positioned on a natural migratory bird route and serves as a resting point for tens of thousands of birds each year. Bird watchers come from all over the world to see the unique variety of birds that visit there. Among the more than 300 species observed are pelicans, egrets, spoonbills, ducks and hawks.
Once the lake was no longer used as treatment facility, the San Antonio Water System partnered with the National Audubon Society to manage the Mitchell Lake Wildlife Refuge as a public use and education facility. Much has been done to improve the Refuge since the partnership was initiated. A visitor’s center was created by restoring the Leeper House, a historic building relocated to the lake from the McNay Art Museum. It features a gift shop, a meeting room, testing lab, office and restrooms. It’s a good spot to begin your visit and question the Audubon representatives about the Refuge.
My reaction on my first visit to the Refuge was one of delightful surprise at what is located within 20 minutes of downtown. The Audubon Society is a world-class non-profit organization whose purpose is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, with a focus on birds and their habitats. SAWS and the Audubon Society are well along in the work at reclaiming Mitchell and making it a special place to watch and learn about birds.
I have to admit that I have a special place in my heart for the Mitchell Lake Audubon staff as they featured my Oscar the Osprey book at its booth at the annual book festival conducted in association with San Antonio Public Library. The event, attracting thousands of people, shuts down the streets in and around the downtown Library location for booksellers, story tellers, volunteers, art and food vendors, etcetera. The festival was a fine demonstration of the strong interest that many have in books and reading.
So keep on reading (about birds) and, if you are in the San Antonio area, make sure you visit the Mitchell Lake Refuge.
(Sources: San Antonio Waters System, Mitchell Lake Wildlife Refuge)