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Big Week 2014

Part 4:  South Llano River State Park

            When I left the Best Western this morning, the first thing the lady said was, “Watch out for the deer today—the rain brings them out!”  Sure enough, a herd of ‘em bounced across the road in the pitch right in the middle of town!  I’m getting paranoid for sure…

            Made it to the park without incident, and was able to pick up the Chuck with no problem, but no other night birds made a peep or hoot; in fact, the songbirds were tuning up already, and there was still an hour to go before sunrise!  You could hear Purple Martins over the river, and the Cardinals were song battling.  Other pre-dawn musicians included Lark Sparrow, White-winged Dove, and Turkeys gobbling in the distance!

            The next stop added a Chat, Mourning Dove, Ash-throated Flycatcher, a Field Sparrow singing an interesting song, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers buzzing.  The next stop added Carolina Wren and Bell’s Vireo.  Once in the campground a single Golden-cheeked Warbler sang, and interestingly that was the only one all day!  Swinging around the other side added Carolina Chickadee singing its little four-noted song, a Pewee, Summer Tanager chuckling, and an Eastern Phoebe singing.  It was barely light enough to see by the time I got to the Day Use area, but the place was Yellow-throated Vireo heaven, and what would turn out to be Yellow-throated Warbler as well (I didn’t recognize the song at first).  Nashvilles were also singing their Tennessee-like song, and at the end of the road a Vermilion Flycatcher was singing.

Dawn chorus:  Cardinals are the loudest songsters, with the harsh song of a Yellow-breasted Chat competing.  A Mourning Dove sings its sad song, while a White-winged Dove gives its more syncopated song in the background.

Here an Ash-throated Flycatcher gives its soft dawn song with the ever-present Cardinals.  In the background are the sweet songs of Field Sparrows, while a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher starts buzzing.

Vermilion Flycatcher sings its own dawn song in the Day Use Area.

Competing with the flycatcher was this "Myrtle" Warbler.

The slow, deliberate song of this Yellow-throated Vireo contrasts with the bubbly song of a House Finch.

            My beeper went off on the way out (signaling sunrise), so I made my way back up to the top of the entrance hill to do the “daytime” BBS protocol, only because the road is so short I stop every three tenths of a mile instead of every half mile for this survey.  A Common Raven flew by at the start, and by now House Wrens and Mockingbirds had joined the chorus.  Down at the bottom a single Scissor-tailed Flycatcher “pupped”, and the Ash-throated Flycatcher showed himself nicely.  Clay-colored Sparrows were out the yin yang, buzzing away, and even a Cassin’s Sparrow sang in the distance!  But the piece de résistance was at the parking area for Lora’s Blind (I believe it is—the one by the old barn):  a Black-capped Vireo was singing!  After all that complaining on Texbirds that I had never seen one here, he makes a liar out of me! J Worse yet, he even let me take his picture!! J J  God was indeed good to give me this special gift after having made the decision to “put Bippy down” (and interestingly, most everyone is saying that’s probably the best:  lease a car, and see if they’ll give you anything at all for her)!

Foggy dawn view from the top of the entrance road.


The usually highly uncooperative Black-capped Vireo actually showing himself!  (In this recording, a Painted Bunting horns in near the end...)

            Stopped at headquarters to get my pass, and enjoyed the Black-chinned Hummers battling over the feeders!  The nice ranger gave me a list of recently seen birds, and also told me about a leucistic towhee that was hanging around, so that sounded pretty neat!


Black-chinned Hummingbirds (female left, male center and right).

Purple Martin checking things out near the martin house.

            The next stop was actually the blind over by the walk-in camping area, but as I approached the road, I couldn’t believe it:  yet another Blackcap was singing, and this one right next to the trail!  I snuck around so the sun was behind my back, and this little guy just bopped on up to the top of the tree and let me get stunning looks and photos (at least as good as you can through the leaves)!  I was high all day after that!  The blind had its moments as well, with lots of White-crowned Sparrows, a Hermit Thrush coming in to the water feature, and their white-faced towhee as well (along with normal types)!


Another unusually cooperative Black-capped Vireo in the walk-in campground!

The cute head-on look... 

In the blind, a Hermit Thrush takes a bath...

...along with a leucistic Spotted Towhee!

What they normally look like... (The single harsh call is the towhee's...)


Black-throated Sparrow


Northern Cardinal


Spotted Towhee poses in the sun.

            The second pass of the Day Use Area produced a group of Pine Siskins making their zhreeee calls, and more Chippies bathed in a rain puddle in the parking area for the River Trail.  I headed out, thrilled to hear my beloved Boo Jay across the way (but was disappointed to miss the Scrubbie; that was my last shot at that one)!  The river was beautiful as always, but didn’t produce any kingfishers this time; just got an Indigo Bunting singing in the tree across the way.  I took the River Trail to where you can cut up to the Acorn Blind, and that’s a lovely walk through the big trees!  Lots more Indigos were in here, but was thrilled to hear an Acadian Flycatcher by the pond doing his Whatz-up? song!  Red-eyed Vireos were in as well. 


Spizella community bath:  the Chipping Sparrows are showing the diagnostic rusty crown and gray rump, whereas the Clay-colored has a striped crown.


Bell's Vireo along the River Trail   


Acadian Flycatcher song and call

Red-eyed Vireo with a buzzy Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Here's a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by itself

A Summer Tanager gives an annoyed chuckle.

A Yellow-throated Warbler sings and calls (with an ever-present gnatcatcher in the background).

Buck Lake Trail

                Up at the blind a big group of people from San Antonio (I think they said) had the place staked out, so I stood behind the one open window, enjoying the siskins coming in to the water and more sparrows (including a nice Lincoln’s) to the seed!  As they discussed target birds I asked them if they had gotten their Black-capped Vireo yet, as I had that nice one at the walk-in camp, and that emptied the place! J  I claimed the seat by the open window and sat for another 15 minutes, at which time a lady and her husband who looked familiar came in and we exchanged comments as birders do (she said she would be happy if the cowbirds became extinct J), and as I left I asked her if she was from the Valley, and she said yes—it was Ellen from Falcon!  They decided to move up here, and she’s really enjoying herself! 


Pine Siskins at the Acorn Blind     


Lincoln's Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow    (with a Bell's Vireo in the background...)


Chipping Sparrow   


House Finches (above and below)



            Headed back to the car, scaring up some Blue-winged Teal in the pond and a brilliant Eastern Bluebird along the Buck Lake portion of the trail.  Some chattering turned out to be a pretty male Orchard Oriole, and back at the car had a Red-tailed Hawk and a dark morph Swainson’s circling overhead.  Gave the blind at the old barn about 15 minutes, where lots more sparrows came in (I think every blind had their own Black-throated Sparrow), and a group of Cedar Waxwings came in to drink!

Field Sparrow


Lark Sparrows


Black-throated Sparrows


Black-crested Titmice


Painted Bunting


A Cedar Waxwing thinks about leaving the shade of the tree to come down to the water feature...

...and finally do so!  (The name comes from the waxy red blobs on the wing feathers...)


Not all have the "wax wings"...

            Called it a day after that and headed towards Brenham through some pretty country, and realized I was passing through the area I had visited two Januaries ago!  (See that trip report here...)  Got into Brenham pretty late with no time to scout, so I tossed the idea of getting up there pre-dawn and will just shoot for sunrise to start the road-birding…

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