Take it Like a Tourist: Tadpoles at Bull Creek Greenbelt

Although not all of ours were fully developed, we decided to release them all at the same time last year. See those teeny frogs on the rocks?

Take it Like a TouristAs you might have noticed, this summer we are running a few new regular features. On Wednesdays, we’ll be writing about taking on the city as tourists — even though we live here. So, we might write about packing up the family to check out a swimming hole, taking part in a tour or checking out a nearby resort for a staycation. Here’s to a summer full of exploring the best city around!


My kid loves animals. If it were up to him, we’d have a virtual zoo here at the house.

Luckily, we’ve been pretty lucky to see a lot of wildlife, pretty close to our house in north central Austin. We have spotted owls in our trees, we have armadillos who munch in our front yard and we even had a turtle amble across our backyard (on the day of my son’s birthday party — I couldn’t have planned it any better!)

Of course, with the exception of the dog months days of summer, one of the reasons we love our town is that we have so many opportunities to get outdoors and experience nature. Around this time of year, for the past few years, we have visited the Bull Creek Greenbelt, in search of tadpoles to rear into frogs. Yes, Bull Creek isn’t as popular as the Barton Creek Greenbelt, but it’s still a nice place to get out, splash around with your family and cool off. There are also several trails in the area. Admittedly, in parts of Bull Creek, the water can get a little stagnant, which makes water play a little iffy. But thanks to the recent rains (knock on wood!), and depending on where you go, you can see running water for a while yet in the Greenbelt.

bull creek
Bull Creek in late May 2013

Our point of entry is very close to the intersection of 360 and Spicewood Springs (close to where the trees get decorated around the holidays, and next to that huge hill). There is also Bull Creek District Park, which is downstream and also doubles as an on leash dog park. We’ve gone there to skip rocks and explore a bit, but we’ve never really gone in the water, partly because of the news about bacteria in that part of the Creek and because it used to be an off leash dog park and although we have a dog, I find it a little stressful to navigate kids and unknown-to-us dogs.

To get to our tadpole-finding spot, turn from Spicewood Springs onto Old Spicewood Springs Road (yes, that’s confusing!) inside of 360. It doesn’t take long to see a few small parking lots, and then the creek. We always park before going under the 360 overpass. There is even a restroom near one of the parking lots, although we have never checked it out.

In full disclosure, walking from the parking down to the Creek can be a little harrowing with kids. Cars go down the road faster than they should, and even with a shoulder, it seems narrow. It makes me nervous, even with a seven-year-old. Luckily, there is not too far to walk.

If you are walking towards the overpass, we find a place to enter on the left. The tadpoles can be found in the shallower water, and sometimes closer to the bank. I have caught them with a snack container, a net and this year, my son even caught one with his bare hands. The tadpoles we have found the past few years were about the size of the fingernail on my pinky finger, so not large. You might mistake them for a small rock until you get closer and see them wiggle. [Note: If you just don’t have any luck finding tadpoles at Bull Creek, we’ve also had luck at Reed Park.]
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Those little dark specs? Yep. Tadpoles.
Those little dark specs? Yep. Tadpoles.

I hang onto empty Costco containers of cashews, which seem to be a great size to fill with tadpoles, algae and other aquatic life. I also fill up a few containers of creek water to change out the water when it starts to get cloudy at home. This part of Bull Creek is perfect for wading and not super slippery, so it’s even good for littler kids (but keep a close eye on them, since there are some deeper parts). There is some shade, but be sure to bring water and slather on the sunscreen before you head out.

Once we have collected about 5-8 tadpoles and had a good time exploring around (last visit, we saw a turtle and a water snake!), we head home. If you can, try to get tadpoles that are the same size, so that they will mature in a similar timeframe. I usually keep the tadpoles in a clear container on the kitchen counter (this year, I found the Central Market spinach/salad containers worked well), so we all have a chance to watch them, and so it’s easier to feed them. We visited Petco and asked what tadpoles eat and the employee directed us to the frozen bloodworms. To feed the tadpoles, I put one of the cubes of bloodworms into a small container to partially defrost (this happens pretty quickly) and then I use a fork to drop a few bloodworms into the tadpoles’ container. It’s very cool to watch the tadpoles nibble on the bloodworms! Even though I do feed the tadpoles a few times a day, it takes a while to even use up a cube of bloodworms, so the package we bought a few years ago still has lasted for a few years now in the freezer.

Here's what our setup was like one year. The red things are bloodworms. Yummy!
Here’s what our setup was like one year. The red things are bloodworms. Yummy!

As is the case if you have a fish, after a few days the water gets cloudy. Bubbles appear on the surface. When this happens, I try to switch out the water. Since we have a fish, I borrow that net to fish the tadpoles out and put them into fresh water, but in the past I have also just poured about half of the water out and poured in some of my reserved creek water. This is when it’s very helpful to have an ample supply of water so you don’t have to go back to the creek to get more every few days!

As the tadpoles grow, you will notice their legs form. At that point, you will need to put a rock into the container that is tall enough to go outside of the water. As the tadpoles grow, they will spend more and more time on that rock and will eventually leave the water entirely. At this time, of course, you want to make sure you either have some kind of cover over your container, or you need to plan a quick outing to release them back by the creek. Once they are all grown, you can revisit the spot where you found them and release them. And while you are at it, you might as well pack the kids’ suits to splash around some more.

Although not all of ours were fully developed, we decided to release them all at the same time last year. See those teeny frogs on the rocks?
Although not all of ours were fully developed, we decided to release them all at the same time last year. See those teeny frogs on the rocks?

What’s your favorite greenbelt to explore around town? Where should we go next?

Disclosure: I am not a herpetologist. There are many pages on the web dedicated to more serious tadpole rearing, if you are ready for more than Tadpoles 101.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her newly-minted-7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]

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About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

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