Spring in South Texas: Hill Country Extension Apr 10—13, 2012
Posted by Barry Zimmer
Within moments of exiting the van we heard the distinctive, buzzy song of a Golden-cheeked Warbler up the hillside behind us. Some quick scanning revealed the bird in a small juniper on the lip of the hill no more than 40 feet away. We enjoyed great views of this Hill Country specialty before it flew right at us and into a mostly bare maple over our heads. A second Golden-cheeked appeared and a territorial dispute played out 20 feet away. A Yellow-throated Vireo popped into the same tree, as did a Black-and-white Warbler, a Summer Tanager, and a pair of Black-crested Titmice.
Golden-cheeked Warbler— Photo: Barry Zimmer
With one regional specialty under our belts, we headed to a nearby private ranch to seek out the other, the Black-capped Vireo. On the drive in we encountered a flashy male Vermilion Flycatcher, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, and a locally rare Townsend's Solitaire among others. The vireo is generally skulky and difficult to see, but luck was on our side as we had excellent views within the first few minutes of searching. For the morning we would tally an impressive seven Black-capped Vireos and even have some brief scope views. Other ranch birds included a stunning male Indigo Bunting, several White-eyed Vireos, and more Golden-cheeked Warblers.
Neal's Lodge, where we stay, also offers up some superb birding. On the grounds the first afternoon, we encountered a very rare singing male Tropical Parula that gave us scope views from about 30 feet. Black Phoebe, Bell's Vireo, Carolina Wren, Bewick's Wren, Yellow-throated Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Canyon Towhee, and Field Sparrow were among the other highlights at Neal's. We also visited a nearby bat cave which hosts over ten million Mexican free-tailed bats that pour forth from the cave each evening. Not only did we get to witness this incredible natural history event, but we also added to our bird list with Canyon Wren almost in our laps, Rock Wren, Cactus Wren, Black-throated and Rufous-crowned sparrows, and Scott's Oriole. Nearby areas yielded Long-billed Thrasher, Verdin, superb views of the often skulky Yellow-breasted Chat, and Olive, Cassin's, Clay-colored, Brewer's (rare here), and Grasshopper sparrows.
Of course, not only did we enjoy the birds here, but also the magnificent wildflower displays. Each field seemed brighter and more spectacular than the last, with verbena, wine cups, coreopsis, prickly poppies, and many others all out in full force.
We tallied just over a hundred species on the extension, including 35 that were not seen on the main tour. Golden-cheeked Warblers, Black-capped Vireos, bats by the millions, and amazing wildflowers. What more could you ask for?