I’m on the road again, this time for my final spring blitz. My Big Year is officially over in two months and two days, so I’m getting ready for the grand finale. Spring migration is in full swing, and I am going to follow the birds north from the US/Mexico border all the way to the Arctic Circle over the next couple of months. I will also range as far east as Florida, and as far west as Gambell, AK (within sight of Siberia). It should be crazy, and I hope also great.
Right now I’m deep in the Heart of Texas. I’ve spent the past few days traveling through the Hill Country on the Edwards Plateau, north and west of San Antonio.
It is a beautiful area, full of spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife. I travelled out to this remote area to see two endangered species that only breed within a hundred miles or so of this spot: Golden-Cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo.
My first stop was the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, about an hour west of Kerrville. I arrived at dawn, only to find that the main road through the refuge was closed because they were holding a spring turkey hunt – for the next three days! My very carefully laid plans were foiled by a turkey shoot! There are other places to see these vireos, but this was the best and closest one, and I didn’t have a lot of extra time. I did discover that one of the side roads on the west edge of the refuge was going to be open, so I decided to give that area a go. Forty five minutes later, I was watching a male Black-capped Vireo singing away from the top of a small cedar tree. Success!
Driving on, I discovered another wrinkle in my plan. The narrow two-lane highway that I intended to take to my next destination was under construction. Seriously under construction. Like, “follow a pilot car for 15 miles along a dirt road at 10 mph” under construction.
I’m pretty sure my rental contract says I’m not supposed to drive off the pavement, so let’s keep this between you and me, ok? After a slight delay, I was back on track, and arrived at Lost Maples State Natural Area.
This park is absolutely gorgeous – one of my favorite places to visit in Texas. And it also hosts dozens of endangered Golden-cheeked Warblers, several of which obligingly popped into view during my hike along the East Trail.
Lost Maples is a stop of the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail, another example of the birding/nature trails I wrote about during my last visit to Texas.
I don’t have any pictures of the warbler or the vireo because they are hard to photograph, and I didn’t want to bother or harass them (they are endangered species, after all!). But I did manage to snap a quick picture of this cool Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but his tail is longer than his body (it’s right in front of the barbed wire).
My last stop in the Hill Country was at Neal’s Lodges in Concan, TX. The owners have done a terrific job making their property bird and wildlife-friendly. I was there in the heat of the day, so I didn’t see a ton of different species, but I did find a (previously reported) Tropical Parula, an very rare bird north of Mexico.
Tonight I went owling at Bentsen State Park. I got a tip from the rangers about the location of an Elf Owl roost. The owl sleeps inside an old woodpecker hole – the top hole in the middle (broken off) trunk in the picture below.
Elf Owls are the smallest owls in North America – a mere 5.5 inches long and an ounce and a half in weight. Three Elf Owls combined weigh less than a single iPhone. I watched the roost hole from about sunset to dusk (half an hour or so), and finally saw him peeking out to check things out. He stuck his head out several times, only to disappear again into the hole. Finally when it was almost dark, he launched himself out into the night. What a treat.
In my Texas travels, I have found many amazing sights. But I haven’t found Utopia yet. I think it might be just up the road, though.