Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hill Country Trip: Day 2

We were up early on Sunday to make our 20+ mile drive to Concan. We'd heard that Bob Rasa, a well-known local birder, was going to be leading a birdwalk around Neal's Lodges at 8:00 a.m. and we were hoping to tag along.

Bob was there when we arrived and, while we waited to see if anyone else turned up, he pointed out a Yellow-throated Warbler in the trees right in front of Neal's store. The morning was too dark and gloomy for good photos but I rather like the one impressionistic shot I got of the Yellow-throated.

When it became clear that we were going to be the only participants in the morning's walk, Bob took us down to the feeders at Cabin 56 to see what was happening there. It was busy and got even busier over the next 30 minutes.

A succession of sparrows showed up: White-crowned, Chipping, Rufous-crowned, Clay-colored and Lincoln's.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Black-chinned Hummingbirds buzzed around while Northern Cardinals and a male House Finch competed to see who could best brighten up the morning.

Black-crested Titmice made constant trips to the platform feeder.


Then one of my favorite birds appeared: a Black-throated Sparrow. We'd seen these before, at Marathon on our visits to Big Bend, but we'd never had really good looks until now. A spectacular bird!

Bob was determined to take us to see the star bird of Neal's Lodges, the Golden-cheeked Warbler, and so he and I set off to look for it. Dee stayed behind because she wasn't dressed for scrambling across rough country.

On the way to the hill where Bob hoped to show me the Golden-cheeked, he drove me down to the bank of the Rio Frio. Northern Rough-winged Swallows were zooming overhead while Canyon Wrens were calling from both sides, their calls sometimes joined by those of a Belted Kingfisher. We passed a pair of Eastern Phoebes who had built a nest in a hole in a large boulder.

Feeders at a house on stilts were attracting lots of American and Lesser Goldfinch as well as several Pine Siskins. We looked for Green Kingfisher - a bird I desperately want to see - on the river bank but saw only a White-eyed Vireo.

Back in Bob's truck, we drove across the river to a hill on the other side. For the next hour we walked and scrambled around the places where Bob had most recently seen the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Bob kept hearing the bird's soft chipping call but all we saw was a Hutton's Vireo, a bird I hadn't seen since leaving California.

Then we got lucky and had a quick glimpse of a Golden-cheeked up in a tree. Another Golden-cheeked called from the next tree over. And this time it stayed visible long enough for me to take some photos. Not great pictures but good enough to show the bird's distinctive face markings.

By now it was 11:00 a.m. and I thanked Bob and headed back to find Dee. While she and I were waiting for lunch to be served at Neal's Dining Room, I walked back to the feeders at Cabin 56. Things had quietened down a little there but I noticed that a pair of Bewick's Wrens were nesting in a dead tree only feet from where people sit to watch the feeders.

At 11:30 we stopped birding to have (a very good) lunch a Neal's. It wasn't quite the end of our birding, though, because right outside the dining room I looked up to see a Golden-fronted Woodpecker climbing around in a tree.

The woodpecker was our final bird at Neal's. After lunch we set off on our drive back to San Antonio, where we were staying the night. However, we were hoping for some more good sightings on Monday morning, when we intended to visit Mitchell Lake before heading home.

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