Thursday, April 20, 2006

ENV: Kerr County Site and Bird Guide

A Quick Guide to the Special Birds of Kerr County, Texas

What's special about Kerr County?

The Texas Hill Country is an area of high endemism, meaning that species have evolved here in isolation from other species because of the unique environmental character of the ladnscape. Water is scarce, much of it isolated in springs and spring-fed rivers. Such isolation has led to the evolution of a dozen species of salamanders found in single springs and nowhere else in the world; one of those, an as yet unnamed new species, is found nowhere in the world but Kerr County; and another Hill Country endemic land salamander can be found here as well. Four turtles are found nowhere in the world but the Texas Hill Country and its river drainages, and three of those can be found in Kerr County -- Cagle's Map Turtle, Guadalupe Softshell and Texas Slider. A number of plants are found nowhere else in the world but the Texas Hill Country, including one of the world's rarest cacti, Tobusch's Fishhook Cactus, once thought extinct until rediscovered in the late 1980s. Perhaps best known to naturalists the world over are two special birds, one of which, the Golden-cheeked Warbler, nests nowhere in the world but the Hill Country, with perhaps its largest population in Kerr County. Why only here? Because it depends on another near-endemic plant, the Ashe Juniper (known colloquially as Mountain Cedar, or just plain Cedar to ranchers) for nest material. The other special bird is the Black-capped Vireo, which stretches only barely beyond the Hill Country for nesting, with a few pairs in Mexico and Oklahoma (and formerly in Kansas). It too is dependent on specialized habitat, patchy in nature, which limits its distribution. Certain grazing practices all but eliminate this bird, but it has been discovered that intense management for White-tailed Deer on ranches devoted to trophy hunting concurrently enhances the habitat for Black-capped Vireos. There are six very large and significant populations of this bird known at this time, two in Kerr County. The areas include Kickapoo Caverns State Natural Area (Kinney County), Devil's River State Natural Area (Val Verde County), Ft. Hood (Bell and Coryell Counties), Kerr Wildlife Management Area (Kerr County) and private ranches in Uvalde and Kerr Counties. Small but accessible populations are present on several other state parks as well, and Golden-cheeked Warblers can often be found in these same properties if canyons with proper vegetation and water are present.

The second aspect of Kerr County that makes it so rewarding as a wildlife paradise is that it forms a biological junction of east and west, and north and south. This is evident in all groups but is best demonstrated by birds. This short chart illustrates breeding and summering (some of them rare) species of related affinities from these faunas. A similar chart could be designed showing similar relationships in migrants and in wintering birds.

East and North -- South and West
Blue Jay -- Western Scrub-Jay
Carolina Wren -- Bewick's Wren
Chipping Sparrow -- Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Belted Kingfisher -- Green Kingfisher
Great Crested Flyctacher -- Ash-throated Flycatcher
Indigo Bunting -- Painted Bunting
Orchard Oriole -- Scott's Oriole
Common Grackle -- Great-tailed Grackle
Red-shouldered Hawk -- Zone-tailed Hawk

Third, Kerr County is on the frontier. The east end of the county lies close to the increasingly suburban areas of San Antonio, and the county seat, Kerrville, is the last truly large city (as defined by its array of fast food joints) going west until you reach the Pecos River and Fort Stockton, and from there it's all the way to El Paso before you reach another city of size. The east county, in the valley of the Guadalupe River, also is home to agriculture in the form of milo/sorghum, corn and hay farms. The west county is quite different. Providing the geological divide between the watersheds of the Guadalupe, Pedernales, Medina, Frio and Sabinal Rivers, the hills and ridges reach over 2100' in elevation. Ranching, on very large ranches, is the name of the game there, and the country is wild. Mountain Lions use the canyons for cover, and occasionally even venture into town. There are a couple of recent Black Bear records, likely juvenile males wandering out of the Sierra del Carmen and associated ranges in Mexico. Rattlesnakes can be common in some areas. All of which adds up to rough and scenic country good for wildlife, and good for those who respectfully want to see it.

The last, off the wall, reason Kerr County is a wildlife paradise is that it is the world center of the exotic game industry. A drive in any backroads area of the county is likely to produce observations of a number of large mammal and bird species from around the globe. Ostensibly this all began through the efforts of the YO Ranch (second only to the King Ranch as a legendary big-time Texas ranch), and the King Ranch (of whom some heirs owned large portions of the county), both of which introduced large numbers of game animals for hunting purposes. The idea was to provide safari-style hunts without the expense, paperwork, and foreign danger of hunts abroad. This turned out to be a huge success, and the industry has now spread across Texas and other states. Kerr County remains the center though. In addition to hunting, some species were brought in in an attempt to look for new sources of domestic and feeder livestock. While those programs generally failed (the Emu is a classic, recent, example), there is one indirect exception. The large Axis Deer of India and southeast Asia (also known as the Chital) was brought in for hunting purposes but escaped in some numbers, and was so successful at large that it may rival the numbers of White-tailed Deer in the county. A whole industry has developed around commercial hunting operations harvesting these large deer from area ranches and selling the meat, reputed to be the tastiest of all venison, to upscale restaurants. Another offshoot of the exotic livestock industry is that a number of landowners, ranchers, and other individuals have taken to devoting their efforts to the collecting and conservation of rare species. Due to the efforts of the YO Ranch, among others, the populations of Blackbuck, Scimitar-horned Oryx, and Addax in Kerr County may exceed their populations in the wild in all of their natural range. Some of these animals are being used to restock revitalized native habitat. In addition, local ranchers are also raising groups of the rarest wild equids in the world in Kerr County. Present are small herds of Grevy's Zebra, Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, Onagers and Przewalski's Horse, in addition to the more common Grant's and Damara Zebras. You might also see numbers of exotic birds being raised by local collectors (a word of warning to birders). These include (but aren't by any means limited to): Canada Geese, Mallards, Whooper, Trumpeter, Black, Black-necked, Mute and Coscoroba Swans, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Egyptian Geese, Muscovy, Peafowl, Emu, Rheas and three races of Ostrich.

In some ways, Kerr County is a giant zoo, wildlife park and wilderness all rolled up into one. Please enjoy your visit, but respect the wildlife by respecting the landowners.


Black-capped Vireo, Vireo atricapillus

The Black-capped Vireo, a federally-listed endangered species, is in its peak range in Kerr County. Two of the world's six largest populations are in the county, and at least a half-dozen other sizable groups reside here as well. The largest accessible population is that found on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's Kerr Wildlife Management Area in the west-central part of the county. Only one other population is pseudo-accessible and well-known, that at Spicer Ranch. Several other populations are accessible per se, but will not be disclosed here to protect those populations whose existence may be tenuous if they become public.

The key to knowing where to find the bird to begin with is to be able to recognize habitat; then seeing the bird is dependent on a good ear, and much patience. Black-capped Vireos require dense shrubby vegetation, and there seems to be a correlation with vegetation growing in limestone outcrops. There are several keys to identifying the shrubbery they prefer. Foremost, it must have foliage to ground level. Any area that has been browsed by goats is likely to have had the leafy parts of the shrubs denuded near ground level and will not host these vireos. If you see goats you can be about 99% sure there are no Black-capped Vireos. Secondarily they prefer areas with openings and with some low to moderate grass cover.

Beyond that there is a fairly wide variation in what they choose. At Lost Maples SNA (in Bandera County) for example they are on moderately steep slopes in shrubbery that is mostly Mountain-Laurel. They also occupy some of this type of habitat at Spicer Ranch. At Kickapoo Caverns SNA (in Edwards and Kinney Counties) the shrub portion of their prime habitat is composed largely of Texas Persimmon. In the Kerr County populations however, the obvious habitat component is oak shinnery -- the knee-high sucker plants of the Scaly-bark or Bastard Oak. This seems to be Black-capped Vireo habitat at its finest as they seem to be densest in this type of vegetation. These shinneries grow outwards from single trees or pockets of small trees, and thus by default provide for the openings the birds prefer. Virtually all medium-sized and large populations of the bird in this county are in this habitat type.

Once you have located a likely area (try Rock Pasture and Bobcat Pasture at Kerr WMA), then you must attune your ear to the song of the bird. Sung almost all day long, but more emphatically and for longer sequences in the morning, the song is somewhat atypical for a vireo on two counts: the phrases are ever-changing; and the song can be a very long sequence of strung-together phrases. The voice does have the quality of a vireo. By that i mean you will probably not have trouble identifying it as a vireo when you first hear it, assuming you are familiar with other vireos. But it does not repeat the same, or a similar, phrase over and over as do Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireos (virtually the same phrase repeated), or White-eyed and Bell's Vireos (slight variation from phrase to phrase). Instead each phrase is noticeably different, so much so sometimes that you're not sure it's the same bird on each phrase. It also differs markedly from the other vireos in that you hardly notice the pause between phrases. When encountering other males, in fact, the song becomes more rapid and emphatic and the pauses are lost altogether. This is known as run-on song, and despite the vireo-like "quality" of the song is most un-vireo-like.

After locating a singing male, you'll have to stick with it, following it patiently until it exposes itself on the outside of a bush. They are notorious skulkers, moving very slowly, singing several phrases from an interior branch before making a slight move, always watchful for caterpillars, which are about the only things that interrupt their singing. Once a bush has been worked over well, you may see them flit or fly to another shrub, only to disappear into the depths of it. Occasionally however, a bird will move to the outside of a shrub, jump to a perch on top of one, or rarely fly up into a small oak, and sing from an exposed branch. Those are the moments you are waiting for. Be patient, it will happen. And if the one you're following decides to shut up for a while (likely because it's near the nest, or bringing food in) then you can always just move down the way and find the next one.

In 1988 I produced an audiotape for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department of the Voices of the Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler. I long ago gave away or sold all the extras i had of the production tape. I expect to release this in CD form soon.

Additional information on Black-capped Vireos can be found at these webpages:

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/endang/birds/bcv.htm

http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/SpeciesProfile?spcode=B07T

http://endangered.fws.gov/i/B6G.html



Golden-cheeked Warbler, Dendroica chrysoparia

Kerr County lies in the heart of Golden-cheeked Warbler territory. This bird, found nesting nowhere in the world but Texas (and is the only species of bird that nests wholly within the confines of one U.S. state), is a federally-listed endangered species. Finding them is much the same as finding Black-capped Vireos -- it's dependent on knowing the habitat and the song. Unlike the vireo however, once you've located the habitat and heard the song, seeing the birds is pretty easy, because they most often sing from the tip of the large cedar trees that are required features of their habitat.

The bird require several things for their habitat to be suitable. First, and foremost, is the presence of older, mature trees of Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei; also known as Mountain Cedar, Ash Cedar, That Damn Cedar, Aaaa-choo, and just Cedar). The bird has to have this tree because it uses strips of bark to build its nest (which also can contain lichens, grass and some other minor elements). This species of tree because it is the only juniper in which the bark comes off in strips; and this age of tree (around 30-years plus) because the younger trees' bark only comes off in large bulky strips, way too large for this tiny bird to deal with. The fact that this tree grows only in chalk limestone soils stretching from northern Mexico to Arkansas, and only in any abundance in the Edwards Plateau of Texas, means the bird is also limited to this area. Only in the deep hills country of central Texas are there any sizable populations of the bird, and Kerr and neighboring Real Counties are where the cedar is densest, and so are the birds.

Let us now completely dispel one grandiose myth about this species of cedar: that it is not native to the Hill Country. This is one of those things that got twisted by an amateur researcher and untrained biologist. It involves a semantic confusion. Pioneer settlers in this country, looking to describe their newfound territory to friends back in Europe, had a need to label many things that had never been described by science (at a time when even that concept was new). Seeing our junipers, they sensed a similarity to their cedars back home. Their old-country cedars were related, but the description of these trees as cedars led to the proclamation that they were brought from Europe, which is patently untrue. And it's a rural myth that is hard to stop. In fact, the Ashe Juniper occurs nowhere else in the world but here, and based on the local ranchers' hatred of it, we wouldn't wish it on anyone else. What has changed about the cedars is their massive encroachment on the uplands of our area. Until the late 1800s Ashe Juniper was a tree of the canyons where it grew on steep rocky soil that few other plants could get a toehold on and where water was deep and thus scarce. The Ashe Juniper adapted to living on bare rock and in sending out deep taproots in search of water, and became adept at making use of even tiny amounts of soil moisture. This adaptation allowed it to occupy the most barren of areas. Until sheep and goats were introduced to the range in the 1800s, the uplands were lush grasslands with scattered mottes of oaks. The grasses shaded out the sun from any oak and juniper seedlings that might try to grow from seeds dropped in the prairies by birds or other animals. Cedars in particular are sun-loving plants, and it doesn't take much to keep them from growing (this is a typical conifer scenario). When the prairies were grazed, and badly overgrazed, for decades, the bare, sun-beaten rocky soil provided an ideal growth medium for cedars. Before the grasses could regenerate (after the range became so sterile as to allow any grazing at all), the cedars took over. Because of that the uplands in our county are now mostly covered with what were once canyon-limited cedars. These cedars not only shaded out future growth of grasses and other plants, but they utilize almost all of the soil moisture that comes their way. They're just doing what they were adapted for.

Secondly, the Ashe Juniper, like other junipers, produces powerful chemicals in their bark, wood and leaves: turpins. This acts as a deterrent to insects and disease-causing organisms, making these very healthy trees. It's just another adaptation for surviving in a harsh environment. Junipers have long been rendered to produce Turpentine. You get the picture. It's also what results in Cedar Chests, known for their ability to naturally protect things from bugs. This chemical also makes its way into the soil through drippings from leaves and through the roots, and prevents the growth of other plants. And that just gives ranchers another reason to hate it. On another side, it is important to note that the pollen of this plant, released in huge explosions of the cones during dry, windy weather from mid-December through late February, is a notoriously virulent allergen, and produces the Hill Country disease known as Cedar Fever. Of all the natural dangers i have ever been around, this alone produces the most powerful illness: impossibly itchy throat, sever nausea, bronchitis, throat and lung lesions. It is horrible. This area has long been advertised as a healthy environment for retirees -- but they never mention Cedar Fever. It's one of the ugliest endangered species battles there is: a bird that has to have the tree to survive vs. a ground-encroaching, water-sucking, chemical-laden, sickness-inducing weed. It even has minimal economic value: non-rotting fenceposts, some rendering, cedar chips for gardens, etc. Rarely do ours get large enough anymore for using the wood for decorative reasons. Probably the greatest economic value is in its value to bulldozer operators and the local industry that produces "cedar-shoppers".

Back to the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Because cedars repel insects, the warblers must find food in other places, and thus the requirement for other types of vegetation in the habitat. Large trees that tower above the cedars are the usual other component of Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. Likely trees in Kerr County are Escarpment Black Cherry (an endemic race), Sycamore, Texas Oak (an endemic species; also known as Texas Red Oak or Turkey Oak), Chinkapin Oak, and Lacey Oak (an endemic species; also known as Blue Oak). Secondarily, but less important are elms, and Plateau Live Oak (an endemic species). When not singing the warblers are most often found in these trees foraging just inside the canopy and more likely near the top.

Lastly, Golden-cheeked Warblers need access to a flowing source of water, even if not located directly within a territory. Where you find Golden-cheeked Warblers you'll find springs, a stream, creek or river generally. I have seen the birds where it seems like the only water is that pooled in canyon bottoms, but even that has to be there season long. I suspect in areas where Golden-cheeked Warblers are present in some years but not others; that the difference is whether or not there is water in these ephemeral pools. Spring Trap Canyon at Kerr WMA is one of these places. Drought conditions have probably dimished their population there in the last couple of years.

The song of the Golden-cheeked Warbler is highly distinctive and very unlike anything else singing in Kerr County, with the possible exception of a few migrant Black-throated Green Warblers that might be singing. Although the song sounds very strong when close, it is of a quality that is quickly diminished over distance. In fact, some birds that appear quite close, may sound very distant. The song itself is best related as sounding like Lazy-Dazy with the long a sound stretched way out. I would render it as Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazzzzy-Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazzzzy. The two segments are about equal in length to our ears, and the whole song has a very buzzy quality to it -- which is probably what causes us to hear it as a hard Z sound. Up close, you may often hear a couple of preliminary notes that make the song sound more like Dee-Dee-Laaaazzy-Daaaazzy. The females, when not on the nest, may frequent the area where the male is singing and can be quite vocal, with flat chip notes and a chattering that has the same quality as the chips.

The males arrive in mid to late March and begin singing soon thereafter. Singing early in the season can be nearly day long, slowing only late in the afternoon, but by early to mid-April, after the arrival of the females, singing is reduced to the early morning hours. Singing generally quits by the time it gets really hot and, of course, as the season wears on, that heat hump occurs earlier and earlier in the day. By the first of May the birds usually quit singing by 8 or 8:30 in the morning. In late May, the birds may be silent by 7:30, in part at least because they are also involved in food-gathering for the young. The birds are present but not often detectable by song in June, and by late July, having begun wandering, storing fat for energy, they are most difficult. They begin heading south and are virtually gone by mid-August.

Accessible, publishable locations that don't jeopardize the birds are few. The easiest places are at Spring Trap Canyon of the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, across the road from the river pullout at the Kerr WMA, at Skull Gulch, and in Johnson Canyon (where parking can be dangerous). You can also listen at various places that look good along Texas Highway 39 and FM 1341, but be judicious about letting anyone know what you are doing, such as saying the E-word (endangered), or mentioning Golden-cheeked Warbler as everyone here is tightly attuned to those words.

In 1988 I produced an audiotape for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department of the Voices of the Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler. I long ago gave away or sold all the extras i had of the production tape. However, i still have the master tape and would be happy to make copies for anyone interested in having one, for the cost of the tape and mailing. Check the Ordering GCW/BCV Audiotape page for more info.

Here are sites where you can get more information on Golden-cheeked Warblers:

http://www.nwf.org/wildalive/warbler/

http://www.cecer.army.mil/techreports/hay_warb/hay_warb-03.htm

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/endang/birds/gcw.htm

http://endangered.fws.gov/i/b6j.html

http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/SpeciesProfile?spcode=B07W

Wildlife Sites in Kerr County, Texas

Introduction
First, let me make it clear that this is a schematic map. Kerr County is not square. The distances, sizes of cities and relative locations are not to scale. And highway 83 runs north and south not east and west. This map, however, represents a "stretching" of the important areas so that i could show more sites in a smaller box. It is critical that you have at least a Texas road map to help you navigate this county. Better yet, by stopping at the Convention and Visitors Bureau or at many of the convenience stores in town you can pick up a copy of the Kerrville City map, which has an accurate county map on the back.

Eventually i hope to produce a series of tighter locality maps to help guide you to important spots within spots. You might also want to know that I prepared Kerr County location guides for Ted Eubanks' Fermata, Inc. who, along with Seth Davidson and Bob Behrstock, produced a Central Texas Wildlife Viewing Guide for the Texas Highway Department and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, along the lines of the Coastal Birding Trail maps previously produced for the Texas Coast. These should be available soon, and i will announce that when it occurs.



The Wildlife Sites [* Site designated on the Heart of Texas West Wildlife Trail]

*1] Heart of the Hills Fisheries Research Station, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and Sunset Cemetery, Johnson Fork Creek Road, Texas Highway 39

2) Old Mountain Home bridge, cutoff between Texas Highways 39 and 41 in Mountain Home

3] North Kerr County ranches, Texas Highway 41

*4] Spring Trap Pasture, Kerr Wildlife Management Area, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, FM 1340

Approaching Kerr WMA from the east, you will pass a small, narrow canyon/cut on the right, just before encountering the North Fork of the Guadalupe River again on the left. Watch for a tall gate on the right, with a small wooden sign that says Spring Trap Pasture. Pull in there and park, and then walk back east up the road to the canyon, watching carefully for traffic. The grass can be tall here so watch for snakes, and protect yourself against chiggers. After you reach the canyon area, stand on either side of the road, well off the road and listen for the distinctive song of the Golden-cheeked Warbler (see Golden-cheeked Warbler species account on the Birds page). The birds have territories on both sides of the road, and can often be seen singing from the tops of the tall cedars. The best time to look is from late March to mid-May, and early in the morning (also see account). Other birds easily seen here include Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-and-white Warbler, Red-eyed, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireo, Summer Tanager, Black-crested Titmouse and Canyon Wren. As you move westward in Texas and in this county you lose the eastern birds; in particular this is about the westernmost location where you'll encounter Carolina Chickadee and Carolina Wren in Kerr County.

If you fail to find Golden-cheeked Warblers in this method, drive on up to the main entrance of the Kerr Wildlife Management Area and check in at the office (M-F, 9-5) and ask, and they will guide you to interior access to the birds. Be prepared for driving on rocky roads.

*5] North Fork, Guadalupe River Access, Kerr Wildlife Management Area, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, FM 1340

Across from the Spring Trap Pasture gate there is a road that goes down to the North Fork. Either walk this or drive down into the parking area at the base. This is one of the better locations for Green Kingfisher. Scan the rocks jutting from the water, and the branches of trees overhanging the river. Listen carefully for the thin rattled ziiiiiiiit-ziit of the birds as they zoom like little jets a few inches above the water and close to the bank.

Year-round you might find Great Blue Heron and Wood Ducks here. In summer look for Green Heron, and in winter look for cormorants, Mallards, American Wigeon, Gadwall, and Ring-necked Duck. Green-winged Teal can be found here in spring. Watch the skies here for Northern Raven, Black Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk all year, and American Kestrel, and Golden and Bald Eagles in winter. In spring this is a good spot for catching a look at a Zone-tailed Hawk.

The slopes here often have singing Bewick's Wrens, Canyon Wrens and Northern Cardinals. In spring listen for White-eyed Vireo, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, and Painted Bunting. Golden-cheeked Warblers can sometimes be heard singing on the opposite side of the river, but views are usually distant.

*6] Rock Pasture, Kerr Wildlife Management Area, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, FM 1340

After checking in at the headquarters of the Kerr Wildlife Management Area (mailbox sign-in sheet; map available; access basically free, users should have a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Limited Public Use Permit; $15 and available at Wal-Mart and TP&WD offices), drive on down the main road until you encounter a small wooden sign that says Rock Pasture. This area (the WMAs recommended location) is in the midst of prime Black-capped Vireo habitat. Kerr WMA has one of the five or six largest concentrations of the bird in the world, at least a few hundred pair. You will have to know the song of this bird to find it. The bird is fairly tame and very vocal, but sticks to the interior of dense shrubbery. Even after you have located one by song it may take an hour or more to finally get a satisfying look. Patience is the key to finding it. Walking along the main road, and walking up the road that doubles back from the signed area will give you the best chance to see the bird in this area. The best time is from mid-April to mid-June. If you fail to find it here, check out Bobcat Pasture, where in my opinion the bird is more easily found. While you're here check out all the other birds in this area. It is a good place for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Bewick's Wren, Northern Cardinal, White-eyed Vireo, Greater Roadrunner, Western Scrub-Jay and Eastern Bluebird. It and Bobcat Pasture are the only places in the county where Varied Buntings have been found breeding, and one year Long-billed Thrashers and Brown-crested Flycatchers nested here too.

In winter, this is an excellent area for sparrows. Look for Savannah, Vesper, Lark, White-crowned, and Chipping Sparrows. Rufous-crowned and Field Sparrows are here year-round. Clay-colored Sparrows can be especially numerous here in April.

*7] Bobcat Pasture, Kerr Wildlife Management Area, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, FM 1340

This is the single best area in the county to find Black-capped Vireo in my opinion.

Off of FM 1340, continuing west from the Kerr WMA main entrance you will find the entrance marked by a wooden sign and a cattle guard on the right. Turn in here and drive down this rock road. You will notice and area on the left that has been burned and is now rich in grasses. Check this area in late spring and summer for Grasshopper Sparrow.

Moving on, as you come around a wide turn you will be in prime vireo habitat. Continue driving until you reach a tank and windmill, with an enclosure marked by a wooden sign that says Bobcat Pens. Pull in here out of the way, and prepare for a short walk. The usual snake and chigger warnings apply, and after walking this area you should be prepared to do tick checks.

First check out the area around the tank. There is water overflow here and the birds often come in large numbers to drink here. This area is the only reliable area in the county for Common Ground-Dove, though they are infrequent even here. In migration it is a good area for Yellow-headed Blackbird. Varied Bunting has nested here. It is also a good location for getting looks at Bushtits. Stepping out into an open area gives you a good view of the countryside for miles around. Scan the skies regularly in spring for Zone-tailed Hawk. All year long you might see Red-tailed Hawk, Common Raven and Black Vulture. Turkey Vultures are present except in winter. During the coldest months look for Golden and Bald Eagles. This area is an excellent area to just sit and watch. Once you have found the Black-capped Vireo, you might want to return and spend some time watching the water tank drainage area.

Now, walk back down the road you drove in on, carefully listening for the song of the Black-capped Vireo. Once you have located a song, patiently follow along until the bird shows itself. Be very careful walking out into the shinnery here. The rocks are uneven and wobbly, this is rattlesnake country, and there is a low, just-below-the-knees electric fence here for managing livestock.

In spring and early summer this area is alive with Field Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Blue Grosbeaks, Canyon Towhees, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, White-eyed Vireos, and Painted Buntings as well as the Black-capped Vireo. It is an enjoyable walk . . . until the heat sets in. Best to walk it early in the morning, although vireos will sing virtually all day long (slowing down some in the heat). This is a good spot for finding Western Scrub-Jay year-round.

In the winter this area is crawling with Spotted Towhees, and the usual run of Sparrows. Fox Sparrow, scarce in this county, has been seen here in the winter.

*8] Headwaters of the Guadalupe River, Stowers Ranch, and Boneyard Draw, FM 1340

At the high bridge (30 03'12"N 99 31'58"W) which arches over the dry North Fork of the Guadalupe River just above the headwaters is a magnificent location for viewing a number of special area birds. The area, part of what is popularly known as Boneyard Draw to locals, is just a few miles west of the Kerr Wildlife Management Area on FM 1340. At the site, identifiable by the tall cliffs on the south (left) side of the road, pull over onto one of the two ranch roads which end at locked barbed-wire fences, or simply pull well off the road. The highway has little traffic and it is safe to bird along the road here. Occasionally a rancher will approach and need access to a gate, but these are to back pastures and you seldom have to move your vehicle. In winter, the cliff face serves as a roosting spot for a substantial population of Bald and Golden Eagles, with occasionally as many as 15 to 20 being seen at one time on the cliff face and ledge. The Bald Eagles will outnumber Goldens about five to one here so don't be fooled by the immature Bald Eagles into thinking you have a Golden. It's a good place for studying the two together. American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, and Peregrine Falcons are often seen in the area, and may harass the eagles. In addition a pair of Northern Ravens nests on the cliff and they may also give chase to the other raptors. A pair of Chihuahuan Ravens once attempted to nest under the bridge in the struts, and among other raptors a Red-shouldered hawk pair uses the woodlands at the headwaters below the cliff (tehse woodlands can be seen -- and the birds heard -- but cannot be approached), and Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks are sometimes seen in winter, and frequently in migration. One of two known nesting pairs of Zone-tailed Hawks in Kerr County (and thus one of the easternmost nesting pairs in the U.S.) nests in elms, pecans, or sycamores in this vicinity, and can often be found soaring here with Turkey Vultures. You may hear them screaming in the spring, and you should search the trees near the cliff face for a look at one sitting. This is also a rich place for night birds. A Great Horned Owl resides in the area, likely nesting on the north side of the road, and can be heard in the early morning and well after dusk. Both Western Screech-Owls and Eastern Screech-Owls are in the cedar and oak thickets below the cliff (best heard from November to March), and Chuck-will's-widows and Common Poorwills call after sunset here (heard only after late April, though Poorwills winter here and can sometimes be seen on this road on warm January evenings). In the extensive woodlands along the headwaters roosts a rather large flock of turkeys. In the minutes after dawn or the minutes around dusk you may see literally hundreds of Wild Turkeys crossing the road here on the way to or from the roost. Arriving before dawn, if you hoot like a Barred Owl here, you'll usually get turkeys in response. The woods also host some interesting birds of eastern affinity at their westernmost in the county here, including Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos. White-eyed Vireos are common in the thickets near the fenceline on the south side; Bell's Vireos are sometimes found on the more xeric north side of the road. In winter this xeric thorn-scrub area on the north side, opposite the cliffs has produced Pyrrhuloxia, Verdin and Sage Thrasher.

Walking northwest across the bridge you will find a fair-sized pond on the north side of the road. A careful approach may net you Wood Ducks year round; in winter you're likely to find American Wigeon, Northern Shovelers or Gadwall here; and in migration it's likely to be Blue-winged Teal. Sometimes a Belted Kingfisher will be in the neighborhood, and this is one of only a couple of Kerr County locations where Black Phoebe has been found; the same is true for Rock Wren, which is a curiously scarce bird in this county. Cliff Swallows nest on the short cliffs above the eastern side of this pond, and in April and May you may see them flying down to gather mud at the edge of the pond for building their nests.

This is a really good spot also for those looking to see some exotic mammals. It is one of the few spots where i consistently have found Aoudad, which use the north slope of the cliffs here, and there is a small group of Sika that uses the pasture on the west side of the pond. Feral Hogs are often seen around the pond or on the gentle north slopes of the cliff area. As for natives, this is an excellent place to see Rock Squirrel, and a Porcupine for quite some time has slept in a shallow cave on the cliff face -- you'll have to scan well to find him, and know that the cliff is deceptively higher and further away than it seems.

9] Temple Ranch area, FM 1340

10] YO Ranch, and ranches in the vicinity, Texas Highway 41

11] Ranch at corner of Texas Highway 39 and FM 187

12] South Fork Ranch and neighboring ranches, Texas Highway 39

*13] Lynxhaven Lodge and Skull Gulch Ranch Canyon (The Rookery), Texas Highway 39

Get to this spot by passing a series of low water crossings (which can all be checked for Green Kingfisher if water flow is good) and then Lynxhaven Lodge (formerly a birder's B&B) if coming from the west, and by passing the Skull Gulch Ranch entrance gate if coming from the east. There is no easy parking here; simply pull off the side of the road as best you can, watch out in wet weather, and check for snakes before stepping out of your car (which is actually good advice anywhere in this county). This is a pretty special strip of canyon between Lynxhaven and Skull Gulch Ranch with a number of things best found here than most anywhere else accessible in the county. Start by birding up at the crossing by Lynxhaven. Look upriver (the South Fork of the Guadalupe) and scan for waterfowl, cormorants, herons and egrets, kingfishers, and flycatchers, depending on the season. A group of about five pairs of Great Blue Herons nested down creek a couple of hundred yards for several years, but recently have moved their colony to sycamores overhanging the ponded area across from the lodge. Scan carefully for those nests and the birds. The nice pecan grove across the road from the Lynxhaven entrance is one of the best places to get good looks at Yellow-throated Vireo, and Black-and-white Warblers frequent this stand. It can also be good here in migration. As you walk, or drive down and park, along the road to the place where th road ascends the hill to Skull Gulch look for woodland and thicket birds. Northern Cardinals, Blue Grosbeaks, Painted and Indigo Buntings Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Carolina Wrens and Chipping Sparrows all nest in the riparian woodland and thickets here and easy to locate. On the cedar clad slope on the opposite side of the road can be found nesting Bewick's and Canyon Wrens, Field and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Canyon Towhee, and Black-and-white Warblers. In the winter this is a good location for looking for House and Winter Wrens and a variety of eastern sparrows including Lincoln's, Song and White-throated. Armadillos and Raccoons are frequently seen in the marshy riverside areas and the plowings of feral hogs are often quite evident here. At the Lynxhaven Crossing, scan the water for looks at the Texas State Fish, the Guadalupe Bass, named after this river and endemic to only a handful of Hill Country rivers. It is found nowhere else in the world.

14] South Fork Marsh on Texas Highway 39

15] Hunt, Texas and Hunt School, Honey Creek Crossing on FM 1340

16] Hunt Crossing, Texas Highway 39

17] Schumacher Crossing, Texas Highway 39

18] Camp Rio Vista crossing, Cade Loop off of Texas Highway 39, and Waltonia Crossing, off of Texas Highway 39

*19] Ingram Dam Lake, west of Ingram, Texas Highway 39

20] Cypress Park Boat Ramp, just south of Arcadia Loop, and Knapp Park, next to Chili's, both off of Texas Highway 27

21] UGRA Lake, off of XXXXXXXXXX, off of Texas Highway 27 from the Sports Center

22] Kirk Ranch, and Turkey Run Ranch, off of Harper Road, FM 479

*23] Sycamore and Third Creek Canyons, Cypress Creek Road, FM 1341, off of Loop 534

24] Johnson Canyon and Medina Canyon, both slopes of Medina Mountain, off of Texas Highway 16

25] Prison Canyon Ranch, and neighboring ranches, on Prison Canyon Road, out of Camp Verde, off of Texas Highway 173

26] Camp Verde ponds, off of Texas Highway 173, north of Camp Verde

27] Eagle Mountain Road, off of Texas Highway 173, north of Camp Verde

*28] Flat Rock Lake, and Kerrville-Schreiner State Park, Kerr County and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, both sides of the Guadalupe River, between Texas Highway 16 and Texas Highway 173, southeast of Loop 534

29] Louise Hays Park and Sheppard-Rees Road

30] Agricultural fields between Center Point and Comfort, off of Texas Highway 27

31] Kerrville Municipal Airport, offof Texas Highway 27

32] Spicer Ranch, Dewberry Hollow, Lacey Ranch, off of Spicer Ranch Road, off of Texas Highway 16

33] Bear Creek Road and Freedom Trail to Indian Creek Crossing, from Arcadia Loop or Sheppard-Rees Road

34] Bear Creek Crossing, off of Arcadia Loop, off of Texas Highway 27

35] Whiskey Canyon Ranch, from Interstate 10

36] Whiskey Canyon Ranch, from Texas Highway 16

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home