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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 4:  Junction Area

The real birding started Sunday afternoon as I got into Junction early, got checked in at the brand new Best Western, and decided to explore some of the places listed in the Texas Wildlife Trail.  Actually, the birding started before that when I made a potty stop at Ozona and the requisite "Ozona Overpass" to check off nesting Cave Swallows!  But the flowers were awesome, so I couldn't help chasing butterflies while I was there: tons of Checkered Whites, a few Gray Hairstreaks, a nice Red Admiral, and a skipper that I'm guessing Green on (I need to send the pic to a lep expert…).  Also in the avian department added Rufous-crowned Sparrow and House Wren to the trip list there.

Butters at a potty stop in Ozona...

                              

Possible Green Skipper (left) and Checkered Whites

                            

Gray Hairstreaks and Red Admirals

Anyway, the flower show was outstanding all the way to Junction, and once there, even the Best Western was birdy with both Bullock's and Orchard Orioles, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebird, and Cassin's, Savannah, and Lark Sparrows (plus a nice Orange Sulphur in the butter department).  After dropping my stuff off, started at the first spot on the list, which was the sewer ponds.  Surprisingly the place was open (I had heard you had to call ahead to get permission to go in), so I poked in, padding the bird list with Ring-necked and Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Avocets, Cattle Egrets, and Baird's and Spotted Sandpipers.  A very cooperative Bell's Vireo posed for pictures (I can't get over how green they are here compared to ours in San Diego), and added both Lincoln's and tons of singing Clay-colored Sparrows to the list.  Grasshopper Sparrows were singing as well, and one actually flushed and landed on a shrub near the fence for nice looks!  A flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds went sailing past the car, and chased more butterflies, the most interesting being a couple of male Checkered Whites going after this poor beat-up female (even a Lyside Sulphur got into the act)...

                           

Lark Sparrows and an Orange Sulphur

           

Wildlife at the Junction Sewer Ponds includes Cattle Egret and Bell's Vireo

          

Checkered Whites (male left, females center and right)

           

Gray Hairstreaks

        

This lady Checkered White apparently isn’t too beat up to attract a male!

                            

Male #1 is just starting to make headway when a rival shows up, who is driven away in short order!    Then, peace at last!

The next spot was Schreiner City Park, and since it was being heavily used this Sunday afternoon I didn't spend too much time there, but did add Purple Martin and Great Blue Heron to the trip list.  Even though it was one of those "call ahead" places, I went ahead and took a peek at Texas Tech University, and the road to the place was worth it in and of itself, especially at the river crossing where I picked up a very cooperative Yellow-throated Vireo (and to think those things never came out for me for years) and heard battling Painted Buntings that didn't want to show.  A Golden-fronted Woodpecker bounced in, and just before I left a Yellow-billed Cuckoo let loose!  Down by the entrance to the university there again was a marvelous flower display, where I picked up another life butterfly: a Variegated Fritillary!  Bird-wise the main actors here were Bewick's Wrens and Verdins.

   

Spillway at Schreiner City Park with Purple Martin house (with a couple of freeloading House Sparrows)

        

Crossings at the Llano River

     

Entrance to Texas Tech University

Headed on down to South Llano River State Park after that, where I planned to spend the whole day if necessary on Monday, but even in late afternoon the place was hopping!  I stopped periodically along the entrance road, and flowers just covered the place!  Added American Lady to the list here, and bird-wise added Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Eastern Pewee, and Great Crested Flycatcher.  At the first parking area was a short trail along the river where a knockout Red Admiral posed for pictures!  A nice ranger stopped by and told me about a field full of verbena down the road; he wasn't kidding!

Entrance road to South Llano River State Park

                                 

Female Checkered White and American Ladies

       

South Llano River and typical park trail habitat

        

Red Admiral and Gray Hairstreak

     

Riot of flowers; evidently there had been a drought for several years previously…

      

Swung into the headquarters to wave my pass and get a checklist and map, where there were also several hummer feeders; all I saw at the time were Blackchins, but later a closer look at one of the photos revealed a Rubythroat!  The nice lady pointed me to one of their blinds behind headquarters, so I headed over there, again being attacked by a pair of Bell's Vireos, and shooting lots of what I thought were Vesta Crescents (and there were some of those), but later discovered I was also looking at Elada Checkerspots!  (I thought they looked awfully tiny...)  A closer look at some of the photos (both here and at other locations) revealed that some of my "Vesta/Phaon" Crescents were actually Painted Crescents!  A beautiful lizard posed which turned out to be a Texas Spotted Whiptail, and what I thought was a Cardinal singing at first turned out to be a Carolina Wren!  The blind was incredible: fellow Texbirder Gus (I found out later) was already there taking pictures along with another couple, and the first thing to greet me in the fountain was a Nashville Warbler (they had had a chat earlier, which I did pick up along the road, along with a singing Carolina Chickadee)!  Settling down for the show, quickly added (and shot) Field, Lark, White-crowned, Black-throated, and Clay-colored Sparrows, Pine Siskin, "Black-backed" Goldfinches, Painted Buntings, Cardinals, Black-crested Titmice, and to top it off, a huge Tom Turkey (plus a hen)!  A cute Mexican Ground Squirrel represented the Mammal Department.

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the headquarter's feeders

                

Butterflies along the trail to the blind...

                                

Phaon Crescents, and a pair of the similar Painted Crescents mating!

          

The similar but much smaller Elada Checkerspot (mating at right)

                        

Texas Spotted Whiptail and territorial Bell’s Vireo

Birds at the feeders and bath...

               

Nashville Warblers and Northern Cardinal (male left, female right)

                 

Painted Bunting and Black-crested Titmouse

     

    A variety of sparrows come in (Lark left, Clay-colored right)...

     

More Lark Sparrows

                                 

Black-throated Sparrow (left) and Clay-colored Sparrows

                        

L-R:  White-crowned Sparrow, Field Sparrow, White-winged Dove, and Inca Dove

            

Even Turkeys get into the act!  (Males left and center; female right)

     

Mexican Ground Squirrel (token mammal)

Finally tore myself away from there and crawled around the campground looking for Becky Smith, another Texbirder I was hoping to connect with.  Couldn't find her (there was a new camp host there who directed me back to headquarters for that information), but while cruising the roads picked up White-eyed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, and possibly a Golden-cheeked Warbler, but the buzzy song I heard didn't match anything I was familiar with, so I let that one go.  (Talking to Becky later, it probably was the warbler, as someone else had reported one at about that same spot…) At another trailhead heard a Red-eyed Vireo and shot a lovely Sleepy Orange.

                       

Sleepy Oranges and beat-up Monarch

I needed to get back after that (it was already past my bedtime by the time I finished the report), but made plans to try to get in before dawn the next day to see if I could pick up any night birds.

Go back to Balmorhea State Park

Continue to South Llano River SP

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