Previous Tours - TEXAS HILL COUNTRY on the EDWARDS PLATEAU
Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY:
24-29 April 2008
1) PAINTED BUNTING--many close looks at this spectacularly colored bird.
2) Scissor-tailed Flycatcher--flying, perching, courting, and feeding.
3) Golden-cheeked Warbler--numerous individuals, especially at Lost Maples Natural Area. This and the Black-capped Vireo are federally endangered species.
4) Black-capped Vireo--male and female attending a nest at Kerr Wildlife management Area. Great scope views, plus a few additional singing males.
5) Vermilion Flycatcher--males, females, and nestlings, all in the spotting scopes.
6) Tropical Parula--great looks at a very unusual singing male at Garner State Park.
7) Blue Grosbeak--several males, mostly at feeding stations.
8) Hooded Oriole--a true stunner. And they love grape jelly.
9) Long-billed Thrasher--this skulker is easy to see at Neal's feeding stations.
10) Lazuli Bunting--after nice looks at several females, we finally had two males in the same field of view.
TEXAS HILL COUNTY TOUR
April 24-29, 2008
Leaders: Bob Schutsky and Dan Heathcote
Trip Report by Dan
Spring brings a flood of birds to Texas and two of the most special are found in the Hill Country, west of San Antonio. Both Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler breed in the cedar and oak hills of this area. Their restricted breeding range and specific habitat requirements made these two species the target birds of this tour. After meeting in San Antonio, we drove west for our stay at Buchanan's Cabins at Neal's in Concan. Along the drive our first Scissor-tailed Flycatchers began to appear on the wires and fences in the ranching areas. A stop for some supplies added Eurasian Collard-Dove, Western Kingbird, and Purple Martin. Further along the first Crested Caracaras were seen. A nice flock of Swainson's Hawks was a good reason to stop and enjoy these beautiful raptors as they dived for insects in the fields. While we were enjoying the Swainson's Hawks, a scope view of a singing Dickcissel was a treat.
After checking in and getting settled at our lodge, we enjoyed the birds attracted to the feeders at Cabin 61. The Black-chinned Hummingbirds were busy at the hummingbird feeders. On the ground feeding on seeds were Lesser Goldfinch, Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, and Clay-colored Sparrows. On the feeding tray, White-winged Doves constantly jostled for space. White-winged Dove was among the most common species seen on this tour. The highlight of the feeder watching was the gaudy male Painted Buntings. Several of these stunning birds made regular appearances, much to our enjoyment. We completed the day with dinner at Neal's Café where we enjoyed their home cooked meals.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed to Lost Maples Natural Area. This is a prime location for breeding Golden-cheeked Warblers. Shortly after heading up the trail we heard the first Golden-cheeked sing. Within minutes we were studying a beautiful adult male Golden-cheeked Warbler from close range. The trail was busy with lots of birds and it made for a great morning. Warblers included Nashville, Black-and-white, Yellow-throated, and Louisiana Waterthrush. Acadian Flycatcher and Eastern Wood-Pewee put on nice shows and were quite vocal. The most difficult singer of the day was a Canyon Wren far up in a tree. It took several minutes with all eyes searching before Bob finally located this bird. Another surprise high in a tree over the trail was a Porcupine. We all enjoyed the good views in the scopes as it busily chewed on the new leaves. Further up the trail a pair of Black Phoebes was feeding their recently fledged brood.
We headed back down the trail and spent some time before lunch at the feeders by the trail parking area. Again the feeders were quite busy. Blue Grosbeaks, Painted and Lazuli Buntings, Inca Doves, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and many others vied for our attention. A picnic lunch was interrupted by the announcement of a nearby Great Horned Owl. A Common Raven's nest on the cliff held the nestling owl, nearly ready to fledge. We made another stop at the feeders and picked up Pine Siskin, Lark Sparrow, and a few others. Back at Neal's we visited the Cattle Guard feeders and found many interesting species such as Hooded Oriole, Canyon Towhee, Bronzed Cowbird, and Clay-colored, White-crowned, and Lincoln's Sparrows.
The next day began with breakfast on the deck of the Café. We enjoyed the food and the wonderfully warm Texas morning. This day was dedicated to finding Black-capped Vireo at Kerr Wildlife Management Area. On the drive there we saw Wild Turkey along the road. Cattle Egrets were in several fields with the livestock. We arrived at Kerr and quickly made our way to the location where Bob and I had found Black-capped Vireos while scouting the area the day before the tour began. Only a short distance from where we parked the Black-capped Vireos were singing. This bird generally sings from within the bush instead of an exposed perch, which makes seeing it somewhat of a challenge. While we were intensely searching, a researcher stepped out from his blind to inform us we were within several feet of a Black-capped Vireo nest. We quickly moved away to allow the birds to tend to their eggs undisturbed. From this distance we were able to set up the scopes on the nest and everyone had nice views of the nesting birds. We then headed further down the trail and found several other singing Black-capped Vireos. By this time the wind really picked up and the temperatures were falling quickly. The once warm morning was now quite cool and very blustery. After heading back to the vans past the vireo nest, we stopped and set up the scopes for more views of this nest. By the time we stopped for lunch everyone was cold enough that we had our picnic in the vans! At least it was out of the cold wind.
After returning to our lodge and taking a short break, we spent time at the Pecan Grove feeders. Here we had great views of Painted and Indigo Buntings, Lark Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. While at dinner that night a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird visited the feeder right outside the window of the restaurant. We learned of a Tropical Parula, a rarity for the area, from another tour group and made plans to search for it in the morning.
The final full day in the Hill Country would be most rewarding. The group started birding along River Road and found many good birds. Striking Scissor-tailed Flycatchers put on quite a thrilling courtship display and that started the day off with a bang. Also exciting were the Green Kingfishers found along the Rio Frio. Warblers, flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and others added to the delightful morning birding. Finally we arrived at Garner State Park and our chance at finding the Tropical Parula that had been seen the day before. Garner State Park was quite busy with migrant warblers such as Nashville, Yellow-throated, Golden-cheeked, and others. Quite a bit of searching was finally rewarded as the entire tour group had great looks of the adult male Tropical Parula. First detected by its song, it was found high in the trees and eventually made an appearance in lower branches that afforded great looks. Barry was able to photograph this rarity. A picnic lunch near the river was attended by Summer Tanagers, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and a migrant Broad-winged Hawk.
We then headed back to our base for a short siesta before an early supper and an evening at the Frio Bat Cave. This maternal cave hosts a population of at least 12 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats. On the drive to the parking area near the cave, one of the vans saw a Greater Roadrunner on the side of the road. When we arrived at the cave, there were several hundred Cave Swallows gathering before returning to the cave to roost. With the sun still up, the first wave of Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerged from the cave. Within minutes the bats appeared in uncountable numbers. What a sight to witness. Being within feet of this spectacle is something none of us will forget. After a few minutes the bats had formed into tight clouds that attracted Swainson's and Red-tailed Hawks. The hawks dived into the mass of bats and eventually came away with their meal. It was a fascinating evening as the bats continued to emerge until it was dark. Just before dark a Great Horned Owl hooted from a nearby ridge and was seen in our scopes. As darkness enveloped the area, it was time to depart. On our way home we were able to spotlight a couple of Chuck-will's-widows as they fed on flying insects. With the thrill of the bat cave still in our minds, we drove back to the Pecan Grove feeders in hope of finding owls. A Barred Owl put on a great show for us. This very vocal bird was seen in our spotlights and enjoyed by all. This had been one great day.
Our final morning of the tour left us a little birding time around Neal's and our final new bird of the tour, a Hermit thrush. Then it was time to head to San Antonio for our flights home. The drive produced lots of Crested Caracaras and a flock of at least 200 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a farm field. The last of the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were seen a few short miles from the beltway around San Antonio. This was the end of five great days in the Texas Hill Country.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY:
25-29 April 2007
1) PAINTED BUNTING--we had many good looks, every day. This is one incredibly plumaged songbird.
2) Golden-cheeked Warbler--there were several of these endangered warblers at Lost Maples, then a male taking a bath at Neal's Lodges.
3) Wilson's Phalarope--a nice flock at the Uvalde fish hatchery entertained us with their spinning and feeding antics.
4) Green Kingfisher--beautiful views of this diminutive kingfisher at Garner State Park.
5) Scissor-tailed Flycatcher--this long-tailed beauty was as numerous as it was stunning.
6) Golden-fronted Woodpecker--there were daily sightings, with several excellent scope views.
7) Vermilion Flycatcher--the pair at the vollyball net outside of Neal's Cafe was a permanent fixture, and much admired.
8) Yellow-throated Warbler--we had many good looks along the cypress-lined rivers of the Hill Country.
9) Hooded Oriole--a male that came to Neal's feeding station was simply gorgeous.
10) White-winged Dove--this may be the prettiest dove in North America, and we had ample opportunity to study it at close range.
Our evening at the Frio Bat Cave was truly spectacular, as we watched 10 MILLION Mexican Free-tailed Bats leave the nursery cave late in the evening to hunt insects. Several raptors occasionally fed upon the bats, including Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson's Hawks, and a Cooper's Hawk. A locally uncommon Harris's Hawk was flying nearby. We also enjoyed seeing two Black-tailed Jackrabbits and a Rough Green Snake.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY:
14-18 May 2003
1) BLACK-CAPPED VIREO--great looks at a male in front of one of our cabins, JUST before the end of the tour!
2) Green Kingfisher--nice views on 3 consecutive days
3) Golden-cheeked Warbler--good looks at Lost Maples
4) Painted Bunting--scope views of singing males
5) Scissor-tailed Flycatcher--numerous, showy, and elegant
6) Long-billed Thrasher--prolonged looks at a family group
7) Hooded Oriole--interesting nest site inside a street lamp
8) Greater Roadrunner--Beep! Beep!
9) Dickcissel--male perched on a fence post at close range
10) Bronzed Cowbird--there's something about those red eyes...
Additional highlights included 12 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats departing their nursery cave for the night. We had Raccoons and White-tailed Deer visiting our feeding station, and several good looks at Armadillos. Ranger Rob at Lost Maples showed us a young Common Raven in a cliffside nest and a lofty Zone-tailed Hawk nest in a tree.
Texas Hill Country
14-18 May 2003
by Bob Schutsky, Tour Leader
The Texas Hill Country on the Edwards Plateau provides nesting habitat for two very rare North American birds. Mature junipers are a source of nesting material for Golden-cheeked Warblers. Black-capped Vireos nest in the thick understory of un-grazed oak thickets. Additional attractions include accessible Cave Swallow colonies, and a good chance of finding the diminutive Green Kingfisher, all in some of the most scenic areas of the entire state of Texas.
Our group gathered in San Antonio and we started our 75-mile drive to Concan in the Hill Country. Along the way we were entertained by the numerous Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that perched on wires and fences and fed over open fields. We had a couple of quick looks at Crested Caracaras as they flew past, found a Common Nighthawk that landed in an open pasture, and had our first glimpse of a Greater Roadrunner. We found a beautiful male Dickcissel, perched atop a fence post immediately beside the road. It gave us great views and a full rendition of its song.
Our home for the entire tour was Neal's/Buchanan Lodges in Concan, which is located on the Frio River. We unpacked and moved in, then gathered for the first of many pleasurable hours that we would spend watching the feeding area and water drip outside of cabin # 61. Many of the relatively common but sometimes elusive breeding birds make regular visits for food and water. There was a family group of Long-billed Thrashers, followed by a family of Olive Sparrows. There were great views of Bewick's Wren, Hooded Oriole, White-eyed Vireo, and the ever-present White-winged Doves. We could hear a Black-capped Vireo singing in the thick growth on the slope behind the feeder, but were unable to see it. Other hidden songsters included Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Bell's Vireo. We would see all of these birds later in the tour. We had regular nocturnal feeder visits from White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, and even an Armadillo. Last year a Bobcat came prancing down our driveway toward the cabin, proudly carrying a rat in its mouth!
A night spotlighting excursion at Neal's produced several Chuck-will's-widows and a surprise Canyon Towhee that we accidentally flushed from its night roost. We also saw a Striped Skunk, Armadillo, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, and an adult Dobsonfly. Our other evening adventure was to the Frio Bat Cave. This cave is the nursery roost of 10-12 MILLION Mexican Free-tailed Bats. Every evening they exit the cave to feed for the night--it is a spectacle that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. There is also a large Cave Swallow colony that uses the cave and can be observed at close range.
Lost Maples State Natural Area is a one-hour drive north from Concan. We made two visits during our visit to the Hill Country. On our first visit part of the group had a short but good look at a male Golden-cheeked Warbler, but it flew before everyone saw it. On our next visit we changed our strategy a bit, birded a different area earlier in the day, and gave everyone nice scope views of a singing male. We were still looking for the secretive Black-capped Vireo. Several of us had a convincing look at a female, but again, half of the group did not see it. We would have to wait until we were just about to leave Neal's on the last day and make the drive to San Antonio for our flights home. Howard was waiting for me to make the rounds and pick up the luggage when he found a male Black-capped Vireo, right outside of his cabin. We gathered the group and we all had stunning views as it fed and sang from a hedgerow. It quickly was voted the number one bird of the tour! Phew!! That's cutting it close.
Other nice birds back at Lost Maples included several looks at a Green Kingfisher as it perched and flew up and down the creek. One of the rangers led us to a Common Raven nest that contained a fully-grown chick. Then he began a half-mile hike toward an active Zone-tailed Hawk nest. One of our people was having trouble making the walk, so the ranger took her in his 4-wheel all-terrain vehicle. It was incredibly nice of him to do this, and the lady greatly appreciated it.
Garner State Park gave us our first really good looks at Golden-fronted Woodpecker. We watched a pair as they busily went back and forth feeding young in a nesting cavity. We found another Green Kingfisher, a flock of Bushtits, and several migrant Wilson's Warblers. Elsewhere we had great looks at male Painted Buntings, Indigo Buntings, Summer Tanager, and Blue Grosbeaks. Lark Sparrow and Black-throated Sparrow are always big favorites and male Bronzed Cowbirds were a very popular item with all of the tour participants. And the Hooded Oriole nest that was inside a big outdoor lamp, right next to the bulb, astounded everyone. A pair of Hooded Orioles has nested in this spot for at least three consecutive years.
Next year's tour is scheduled for the exact same dates, 14-18 May 2004. We will also visit this area on our Grand Rio Grande Tour, 23 April to 8 May 2004.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY:
13-17 May 2000
1) BLACK-CAPPED VIREO
2) Hooded Oriole
3) Long-billed Thrasher
4) Golden-cheeked Warbler
5) Painted Bunting
6) Ringed Kingfisher
7) Yellow-throated Warbler
8) Cave Swallow
9) Vermilion Flycatcher
10) Golden-fronted Woodpecker
We all watched in awe for more than an hour as 30,000,000 Mexican Free-tailed Bats exited their nursery cave at dusk to feed.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY: THE EDWARDS PLATEAU:
16-19 May 1999
1) Green Kingfisher
2) Golden-cheeked Warbler
3) Black-capped Vireo
5) Cave Swallow
6) Painted Bunting
7) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
8) Canyon Wren
9) Vermilion Flycatcher
10) Long-billed Thrasher
The experience of watching 30 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats exit Frio Cave at sunset was incredible.
BIG BEND, DAVIS MOUNTAINS
and the TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
Big Bend is the home of the Colima Warbler, its only nesting locale north of the Rio Grande. They were a bit tough to find this year due to the on-going drought, but we managed excellent looks at a singing male. The Elf Owls responded to my mouse squeak and came in for incredible scope views. For two or three days Lucifer Hummingbird eluded us, then we hit the jackpot: half a dozen males and females coming to a single feeder. A few of the showier raptors included two late Mississippi Kites, several Common Black-Hawks, a pair of Gray Hawks, and nice looks at Zone-tailed Hawk. The Montezuma Quail performed beautifully at Davis Mountains State Park, as did the Common Poorwill that landed at our feet, quite vociferously. Lake Balmorhea was once again full of birds, including multiple Snowy Plovers, an American White Pelican, and an elegant Long-billed Curlew. Our extension to the Edwards Plateau added many new birds including Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black-capped Vireo, numerous Green Kingfishers, singing Dickcissels, several Black-bellied Whistling- Ducks, a Crested Caracara, and a flock of 200 Cave Swallows circling endlessly around our heads. As the Cave Swallows went to roost for the night they were replaced by 30,000,000 Mexican Free- tailed Bats emerging from their nursery cave at dusk. This is a spectacle that everyone who is interested in the outdoors should witness: it is incredible. Big Bend is scheduled for May 6-14, 2000, with an extension to the Texas Hill Country May 14-17.