Spring in South Texas: Hill Country Extension Apr 13—16, 2013

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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As midday approached, we had already had a very successful morning birding the Texas Hill Country. Eight brilliant Golden-cheeked Warblers, a species which breeds nowhere else in the world, had been tallied. A locally rare pair of Audubon’s Orioles had been found on the private ranch we were birding. Other highlights of the morning included scope views of singing Yellow-throated Vireo, a displaying male Vermilion Flycatcher, an early singing male Blue Grosbeak,  stunning Summer Tanagers, and numerous Yellow-throated Warblers. The one target we were still missing, however, was the Black-capped Vireo. Along with the Golden-cheeked Warbler, this species is one of the main Hill Country prizes. We had heard three or four during the morning, but none had shown themselves well. Somewhat discouraged, we were about to head back for lunch, but decided to spend fifteen more minutes checking an area a short distance beyond where we had already birded. Suddenly, a male Black-capped Vireo appeared from the right and sat up in a relatively bare bush and sang. Within moments, everyone in the group had great views—the velvety-black cap, improbable white goggles, red eyes, and olive upperparts visible for all to see. Elated, we headed back to the ranch house and enjoyed our lunch.

The Hill Country Extension to the Spring in South Texas tour offers three days of birding from Laredo to San Antonio. We stay in a wonderful lodge in the Hill Country which has great birding right on the grounds. In addition to the aforementioned highlights, we also had a very rare male Tropical Parula (about a quarter-mile from our rooms!), crippling views of Canyon Wren, a Field Sparrow about fifteen feet away from the group, wonderful nighttime studies of Eastern Screech-Owl, and a fly-by Green Kingfisher among others.

Perhaps even surpassing our great birding was witnessing the flight of an estimated ten million Mexican Free-tailed Bats departing their cave at dusk. This spectacle is one of the most fantastic natural history sights in the world. A river of bats poured forth from the cave entrance for nearly an hour, as Red-tailed Hawks waited outside and repeatedly dived through the masses of bats for their dinner! This was a sight no one will ever forget.

In all we totaled over 100 species for this short extension and had incredible views of the two Texas Hill Country specialties, the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. In combination with the Spring in South Texas tour, our list reached an impressive 265 birds!