by Nick Mirro, from the magazine 75206, January 2007
I’ve lived here for 12 years. In fact, I’ve lived in the same building for 11 years. We’ve just recently moved to a larger 2 bedroom, but there was one thing Phoebe and I wouldn’t give up. The lake. That glorious lake! Every morning I wake up and draw our blinds and there it is. Every time it appears before me in its frame of delicate oak leaves I’m taken by a feeling of privilege. No three million dollar estate in University Park can hold a candle to this. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to think of how much money they spend desperately trying to bring this magic to their multimillion dollar ½ acre plot. Maybe they’d be better off putting their money into electronics and antique furniture. There really is nothing like the real thing. Not in my former Mount Desert Island in Maine or the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. Not at least from any window I’ve ever peered out of.
For a residential community smack in the middle of an urban metropolis, somehow natural wonders abound. It’s a tribute to the adaptability of wild creatures and the uniqueness of our Village home. There are two very good reasons that The Village property hosts enough wildlife to justify a dedicated column. The first is that we live in this incredible state of Texas, which has by far the greatest variety of all things wild. We have more diversity than most other states combined, including the most birds, wildflowers, reptiles and pretty much everything. For a quick example, of the 64 species of oaks in all of North America, 44 are native to Texas. The second reason The Village is an oasis is simple. There’s one thing about searching for natural beauty. If you’re near a water source, especially in Texas, you won’t have to look far.
So here’s what this is all about. You might consider me The Village naturalist, someone who loves watching, photographing and identifying wild things. I’m also someone who can to tell you just where you might look on your stroll around the lakes to take in some easily missed and pretty impressive wildlife. Each month, I’ll write about something different among the marvelous variety of living things found here. In the process, it would be a great benefit if you would help me. If you happen to snap a shot of some interesting critter or plant, please email it in. If you’ve sighted something, please describe it in a paragraph and send it too, so I can include it here.
Since this article will include lots of directions, we’ll need a frame of reference. Lets create one by coming up with long overdue names for our two beautiful and deserving lakes. If you’d like to make your own name suggestion, email it. For now, the west lake (nearer to the tennis courts) will be Cattail Pond (for obvious reasons) while the east lake will be Beaver Lake, named for the family of critters that were recently trapped there and escorted off of the property - to the relief of anyone who hoped The Village would remain green.
For this month, let me leave you with a quick sampling of some of The Village’s wild secrets. Lets start with something very easy to find. On the southern tip of Cattail Pond (Southwestern Blvd. is to the north) sits a not always noticed but highly enviable Trio Castle 24 room purple martin house. It is highly enviable not only because it is top of the line, but because it has for several years been a huge success in attracting breeding pairs of purple martins. They are the nightingales of North America with one of the most relaxing sounds you’ll ever hear. Putting up a martin house is no guarantee that any will ever show up and occupy it. Many fail in their efforts to attract our prized summer residents. This success bestows us with the responsibility of “purple martin landlords” according to the Purple Martin Society. The story behind this marvelous martin condo deserves an entire column and will be covered in a later issue, along with details of the purple martin mentoring program.
Speaking of birds, we have way more here than you might expect. Occasionally, spectacular and rare species grace our humble ponds such that birders (as they now prefer to be called) would on word come driving in for miles. Over the last several years more than 30 different species of waterfowl have dropped in for a dip in one of the lakes including some truly spectacular species. Winter is the best time for unusual bird sightings so this would be a good time to dust off your binoculars. On the subject of interesting bird sightings, The Village has its own resident red-tailed hawk that visits quite frequently to pluck up a pigeon or two. We also host screech owls that can be seen at night pretty regularly in the trees between the two lakes. Seeing one up close will take your breath away. Amazingly, they’re not at all afraid and don’t even seem to mind a flashlight aimed at them. Moving over to the reptile world, somewhere between 10 to 20 colorful, marvelous (non-poisonous) blotched water snakes live in our streams.
Finally, August and early September brings out our small population of bright-eyed gulf coast toads, which are easily encountered late night along the jogging path surrounding Beaver Lake. There are gads more creatures to talk about before ever mentioning The Villages trademark arboreal showcase. Yes we are probably most known for our magnificent trees. You might be happy to learn that there are more than 40 species of trees spread over our 337 acres. A complete species list and the story behind this priceless treasure will follow in another issue. For now, if you wouldn’t mind having your pics and descriptions of wildlife sightings, I’d like to include them in this column. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next month and happy viewing!