Native Plants Go the Extra Yard

While there is a positive movement towards the use of adapted and low-water use plants in our San Antonio landscapes, there are even more benefits to planting natives.

Native plants have a purpose in the yard. They provide food (seeds, nuts, leaves), shelter (nesting, protection, resting, perching), erosion control (protecting soil surface and root structure in soil), and enhanced diversity.

Native birds, bees, mammals, reptiles, native insects (yes, we want them too), etc. primarily require a native plant for their survival. The greater the selection and diversity of plants, the greater the diversity of fauna and fewer problems you will have with any single issue in your yard.

Plants that are native to Texas, and more desirably, native to our region of the state, are the recommended choices.

What do native landscapes require LESS of?

  1. Water – Native plants have evolved to be adaptive to our feast or famine weather patterns during the year and once they are well established, they will survive even if they’re not thriving.

  2. Pesticides – In a balanced landscape, there may always be some plant being munched on, but the insects in our yards are what feeds birds (90% of our bird species feed their young on insects – not bird seed or bread) and reptiles (think anoles or false chameleons). The decreased use of pesticide application in the landscape makes for a better world.

  3. Fertilizer – Native plants occur and thrive in nature without fertilizer, although they do get nutrients through leaf litter, compost, mulch, and rainwater. Addition of organic matter is another reason to mulch with organic materials instead of converting to gravel or rock mulch in the garden.

Ask a Naturalist: Bluebird boxes

Say, how about placing some blue bird boxes at various locations in the park?

The unfortunate truth is sometimes even when you build it, they don’t come. We witnessed this at Eisenhower Park, where there have been blue bird boxes for years but still no blue birds. With or without birds, the boxes require monitoring and cleaning on a regular basis. With 311 acres of park land to maintain, that is something that our staff does not have time to do. Finally, we also found in Eisenhower Park that the boxes attract predators (snakes, raccoons, etc), requiring the installation and maintenance of predator guards.

As much as we love birds, blue bird boxes just aren't suitable for Hardberger Park.

Ask a Naturalist: Ice Plant


What is this icy looking plant?

I spotted it in the Blanco side of the park when the temperatures were below freezing…

You were lucky to see Frostweed (Verbesina Virginica) in its “frosty” state. When temperatures drop below freezing, the dead stems of Frostweed exude liquid that freezes into icy formations. This native plant is a member of the Aster family and grows in rich loamy soils near creeks or under shade trees. Frostweed has straight, unbranched stems that grow about three to six feet tall. It is a perennial that blooms August through November.

Ask a Naturalist: Butterflies in San Antonio


What are the butterflies seen around San Antonio recently?

Snout Butterflies migrated through San Antonio recently. This common name comes from the butterfly’s elongated mouth-parts that form a prominent snout. While still caterpillars, they feed on Hackberry trees. As adults, Snout Butterflies are attracted to fermenting fruit and wildflowers.

The Snout Butterfly is also known by the scientific names of Libytheana bachmanii or Libytheana carinenta.

Photos taken by Donald Ewers. See more of his work at

Birdwatching in Hardberger Park

Yellow Warbler, San Antonio

Yellow Warbler, San Antonio

Avid birdwatcher, Lora Reynolds, shares the common and rare bird-sightings she's experienced at Hardberger Park. The beautiful photos included were taken by  Lora Render at PHP and surrounding areas.

By Lora Reynolds

All Photos were taken in or near Hardberger Park By Lora Render

Due to its diverse geographical features, including savannas, wooded areas and open fields, Hardberger Park is a great place for birdwatching.

Whether you are visiting a Hardberger Park playground, dog park or nature trail, birds are all around. The park is a great place to hone your birdwatching skills, as both resident and migratory birds can be found here. While at first you may not be able to identify birds by species or song, with some practice, you will be amazed at how quickly you learn.

Beginning birdwatchers are always advised to buy the best pair of binoculars they can afford, and those with an 8 x 42 field of view are ideal. A field guide is also helpful, and local birders recommend “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America” by David Allen Sibley and the “Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America” by Kenn Kaufman. Both guides feature range maps to show where in the U.S. each species is most likely to be found during migration and during breeding season.

Female Summer Tanager, San Antonio

Female Summer Tanager, San Antonio

More than 900 species of birds have been seen in the U.S. and two-thirds of them have been sighted in Texas. In Hardberger Park, close to 110 species have been recorded over the past few years during monthly surveys conducted by San Antonio Audubon Society members.

Let’s assume you recognize the following bird species common in the park and almost everywhere else in San Antonio: White-winged Dove, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, House Sparrow and Great-tailed Grackle. The Carolina Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse and Black-chinned Hummingbird are all common species that breed in the park.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

But you may not know the name of a very small yellow bird that is easily seen all year in trees around the parking lot of both the Northwest Military Highway side of the park (West) and the Blanco Road side (East). The Lesser Goldfinch is just 4.5” long and has a high-pitched plaintive call. The males have black backs with white patches in their wings and tail, and bright yellow fronts. The females are more plain, with greenish backs and yellow fronts.

A very large bird frequently seen flying over the park, and nesting here, is the Crested Caracara, sometimes called the Mexican Eagle. The bird is 23” long and is mostly black with white on the chest, the tail tip and near the tip of each wing.

Another species of large bird often seen flying overhead is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. You typically hear them before you see them, as they are very vocal with squeaky flight calls and usually travel in groups. Their appearance is distinctive, too, with pink bills and pink feet.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

In winter, if you hear fast chattering that sounds like a typewriter, keep your eyes open for the hyper little Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a 4” long bird with a white ring around the eye, greenish gray back, and light yellow breast. The male’s red crown feathers are only visible when he is agitated. The bird seldom holds still and flits quickly from branch to branch gleaning insects.

The Orange-crowned Warbler is often seen in the company of kinglets. This 5” long green bird is a winter resident of the park and is quite plain. Like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the orange crown feathers of the male are seldom visible.

During spring migration (from early April to mid-May), many species stop in San Antonio to rest during their flight from wintering grounds in Mexico and Central and South America to breeding areas north of Texas. Nashville Warblers are very common, sporting gray heads, dark green backs, white eyerings and bright yellow fronts. Yellow Warblers are common as well. This species is vivid yellow all over and the male has orange streaks on the breast.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick's Wren

If you see a large red bird that looks like a Northern Cardinal but has no crest, it’s a male Summer Tanager; the female is yellow.

Two rather rare species for this area have been exciting finds for avid birdwatchers in the park. The Green-tailed Towhee, normally found in areas west of San Antonio, visited the park for two or three days in the fall of 2011, taking advantage of a broken sprinkler head near the picnic area on the west side of the park. The Sage Thrasher, also a western species, has been seen briefly in both sides of the park on various occasions in the fall.

As development of the park continues and new features are added, the diversity of species in the park may increase. Keep your eyes and ears open—every day brings new possibilities!