Spring in South Texas: Hill Country Extension Apr 12—16, 2014

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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The Texas Hill Country always provides a superb complement to our Spring in South Texas tour, and this year was no different. Nice scenery, cooler temperatures, and plenty of new birds combined to make the perfect ending to our visit to the Lone Star State.

We had great success with the two Texas Hill Country specialty birds. This male Golden-cheeked Warbler, one of about six we would see, was spectacular.

Golden-cheeked Warbler — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Of course, the two main targets of any trip to the Hill Country are the Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler, and we had excellent luck with both species. We saw seven different stunning Golden-cheekeds, many of them quite close. The Black-capped proved a little tougher, as it often does, but ultimately we enjoyed great looks at one in the top of a small oak. With the two main targets under our belt, we were able to enjoy the rest that the Hill Country had to offer. Highlights of our first day included scope studies of a singing Scott’s Oriole, brilliant Blue Grosbeaks, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow from about ten feet, Canyon Wren nearly in our laps, excellent views of Bell’s and Yellow-throated vireos, seven Yellow-headed Blackbirds in a newly irrigated field, and a field full of Swainson’s Hawks. Later that evening, we visited a nearby cave where millions of Mexican Free-tailed Bats poured from the cave entrance at dusk—truly one of the great natural history spectacles of the world! Superb views of Eastern Screech-Owl and Chuck-will’s-widow, as we left the cave, were the icing on the cake of a great day.

However, this sighting of a perched Ringed Kingfisher in the scope for several minutes was truly a trip highlight.

Ringed Kingfisher — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Day two started off at Park Chalk Bluff, where a Ringed Kingfisher posed for close scope views and photos. We had missed this species on the main tour for the first time ever, so we were relieved to get this one on the extension. Vermilion Flycatcher, Long-billed Thrasher, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Olive Sparrow also made appearances. The nearby Uvalde National Fish Hatchery produced several nice birds including a flock of 35 Franklin’s Gulls, gorgeous breeding-plumaged American Avocets, and a rare hybrid Gadwall x American Wigeon. The remainder of the day was spent birding the grounds of Neal’s Lodge. A female Green Kingfisher perched close by on the Frio River, while Black Phoebe, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated Warbler also made appearances.

On our final day we cruised back county roads in search of sparrows. We hit the jackpot with a wide variety of species including Grasshopper, skylarking Cassin’s, Clay-colored, Field, Lark, and Vesper among others. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were wonderfully plentiful. Harris’s Hawk, Crested Caracara, and Western Scrub-Jay were among the other species seen. With few targets left to look for, we decided to do a late morning search for Zone-tailed Hawk. While that effort failed, it did result in the discovery of a very rare, dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. This species is accidental in Texas, and was, in fact, only the second I had ever seen in the state!

We finished with a record-breaking 135 species on the extension alone, and a hefty 271 in combination with the main tour.