Folks in the Field - Paul Fushille

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Folks in the Field - Paul Fushille

Paul Fushille's love for the region combined with his conservation and birding expertise made him a natural fit to be a part of the Dripping Springs Parks Commission as well as form and lead the Dripping Springs Birding Club. A native of El Paso Texas, Fushille has lived in Dripping Springs since 2008.

Destination Dripping Springs sat down with Paul to chat about birding and his conservation work.

Destination Dripping Springs: Hey Paul, thanks for meeting with us. Would you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Paul Fushille: I’ve been a DS resident since 2008 with my wife, daughter and son and been in the Austin area since 1986. I’m from El Paso and moved to Austin to attend UT. I received a B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Science at Texas A&M with an emphasis in Wildlife Ecology in 1994. In 1995, while considering pursuing a Master’s Degree, I took a seasonal job primarily working at Hamilton Pool Preserve, and basically never looked back!

One of my many duties, because of my interest and Wildlife degree, was doing biological surveys. Most critical for my career were endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler enumeration surveys. Fast forward a few years and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve was established in western Travis County and I secured a job as a Natural Resources Specialist (basically a biologist and land manager) and to this day, help manage portions of the over 30,000-acre Preserve. I partner with City of Austin biologists and other land managers (Travis Audubon, Nature Conservancy, LCRA and others) to protect this critically important Preserve. Among a slew of natural resource protection activities, I’m federally and state permitted to conduct surveys and management activities (like habitat restoration) for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, the now-delisted Black-capped Vireo and endangered cave invertebrates.

Since the early 2000s I’ve served as a member of the Travis Audubon Sanctuary Committee, serve as the Chair of the Westcave Conservation Committee, and I'm on the Board of Central Texas Tortoise Rescue. Side consulting work has taken me all over Texas, and as far as Guam and Japan – mostly focusing on avian-centered projects. Dripping Springs-specific – I’m currently a Commissioner on the DS Parks and Recreation Commission and was a DSYSA U10 Commissioner for several years. I’ve also, with a few friends, established the Dripping Springs Birding Club that now has over 500 members!

DDS: What made you decide to be a Dripping Springs Parks & Recreation Commissioner?

PF: I’ve always loved this part of Central Texas since first passing through it (both driving back and forth to visit my family in El Paso, and getting to/from Hamilton Pool Preserve) and Jackie and I were eager to get out of Austin and get into some country life as soon as we were able! I wanted to “do my part” so-to-speak, to keep this area as special as possible. That being said, I enjoy participating in volunteerism and I was offered an opportunity to join the Commission. Although we can’t stop the ever growing Central-Texas sprawl, we can at least assist our city council in helping their decisions on things such as land acquisitions and park and open-space planning improvements and utilization. The team has a feel of a group of locals trying their best to speak for the needs and wants of our fellow residents and I love that! As developments come in, we work with folks to ensure that open space is set aside and that, when plausible, fits into the greater Master Plan – such as trail connectivity and parkland for their new neighborhoods.

DDS: What’s your favorite park in the DS area and why?

PF: This is tough. OK…locally - as a DSP&R Commissioner and birder – I have to say Charro Ranch Park is an all-around solid choice. Easy to get to, great trails and bird observation blind….and a “preserve” feel. Our Ranch Park houses a spectacular bird blind (yes, I designed it and my uncle Juan Cotera drew up the architectural plans for!!). It was built by the awesome and dedicated Hays County Master Naturalists and other volunteers and funded primarily through them and the Dripping Springs Birding Club. It is unique in that it is the only area observation deck in our area that overlooks a body of water. That plus the feeding stations donated by our local Wild Birds Unlimited make it a good spot for bird watching.

Travis County’s Reimers Ranch Park has become a birding mecca and is massive. And of course, for just flat-out uniqueness and beauty – Hamilton Pool Preserve and Westcave Preserve are world-class. So, no, I can’t name just one!

DDS: What tips would you offer to someone who is getting into birdwatching?

PF: Here are some easy steps:

  1. Get a decent pair of binoculars. Although enjoying nature is as easy as opening your eyes and taking it in…getting really into birds requires binoculars. You can start in an affordable range and that is often all you need.
  2. Try identifying those common birds in your backyard. Figure out what your seeing….and build on those identification skills using the many “tools” available. Once you start getting those familiar birds….you’ll get hooked on doing the same at a friend’s yard, a park, on a trip to a far-off place, while you’re driving!
  3. Those “tools”. Get a field guide of birds. You can often get those that cover your particular area….like Sibley’s Guide to Eastern Birds of North America (for our area). Use an assortment of phone apps – like iBird or the Merlin app. Citizen science apps like eBird are used commonly. Bird identification has never been easier….but still super challenging!
  4. Join the Dripping Springs Birding Club and other online-centric clubs where you can see pictures, stories, get advice, go on field trips…..there are so many friendly sites from which to learn.

DDS: Is there a specific bird that tops the bucket list – one that everyone strives to see?

PF: So there are generally 3 categories here: birds that are usually here at some point of the year (residents/breeders/migrants), birds that usually are not here but hard to find, and ones that are not supposed to be here.

For our local birds, one is uber unique – the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. It breeds only in the Hill Country of Texas. Nowhere else. And in the Hill Country – it is limited even more so to the larger, contiguous Ashe-juniper/Oak woodlands that are becoming fewer and far between. Folks come from all over to see this Texas specialty. Other not-as-rare targets that we have come accustomed to include Painted Buntings, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers among other scores of species. Central Texas boasts a good number of birds – some off 400 species pass through at some point.

Then add those “accidentals” that pop up every so often. Those are that third category. Birds that crazed birders live for! Things like a White Wagtail that is way out of place and hanging out in Austin….or a southern/Mexican bird that pushes in on rare occasions – like a Rufous-capped Warbler – that I was fortunate to see at Westcave Preserve.

DDS: Thanks Paul for taking the time to chat with us and share your story. Paul will be hosting birding walks during the Festival of Flight on May 8th at Charro Ranch.
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