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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 5:  South Llano River SP & Kerr WMA

And what a day it was!  My entomologist friends would have been ecstatic, as I woke up to find several huge Stink Beetles in my room (plus one giant cricket)!  (I shouldn’t have been surprised as there were tons of dead ones outside when I pulled up the day before, as though they had just finished spraying…) Opening the door was a trip as well: the asphalt was covered with them, and they all seemed to want to rush in the minute I opened the door!  The air was also full of moths of all sizes!  (I shot this giant moth, ID'd as a Five-spotted Hawk Moth by my lep friends, who decided it liked the "Outback" logo on Jip's rear...)  What was even more fascinating was the incessant chirping of bats feasting overhead!  Guess the place is so new that the wildlife still considers that spot their home... But it was certainly a test of overcoming my "fear" of butterflies and moths, as it was reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock with them fluttering all around your head!

Five-spotted Hawk Moth on "Jip"

Miraculously got on the road with only one "passenger" J and headed out to the state park to try and pick up some night birds.  Stopping along the stretch of highway just before the park bagged Great Horned Owl and Chuck-will's-widow, plus diurnal things that were tuning up already: Purple Martins, Turkeys, Cardinals, and Lark and Field Sparrows being the main performers (actually, I think the martins were feasting along with the bats at the motel...).  It was great fun road-birding pre-dawn: I filled up a whole page on my notepad with singers!  Besides the birds I had picked up the day before, added Vermilion Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Blue Grosbeak for the park.

  By the time I worked my way back to the river crossing it was light enough to hike, so I birded the little trail that goes along the river and joins the other day use area.  A Great Blue Heron was at the spillway, but the best bird was a Green Kingfisher giving his tapping call and wagging his tail from his rock post!  I needed a lozenge after that, only when I opened my bag I discovered a stowaway Stink Beetle!  Got rid of him post haste...

Where the South Llano River crosses the entrance road

The next stop was the blind by the old barn, where I picked up a singing Black-and-white Warbler for the trip.  White-crowned, Lincoln's, and Lark Sparrows hogged the feeders, and even a White-eyed Vireo came in for a bath!  A bathing Black-chinned Hummer was especially entertaining, as he'd get his belly wet while still whirring his wings!  A Scott's Oriole sang from a tree on the way back to the car, and a Yellow-breasted Chat actually showed himself!

                               

Old barn by one of the blinds, with Scott's Oriole and Yellow-breasted Chat

Stopped at headquarters to get my day pass and find out where fellow Texbirder Becky was camped out, then went to sit at the blind behind the headquarters for awhile.  Along the trail a Least Flycatcher sang, and later I caught him knocking the snot out of a bug.  The feeders had more of the same (the Painted Bunting is always nice, and the titmice are as cute as can be), so took a hike along the Fawn Trail to where it dumped out at the Buck WMA.  They have a convenient bench there where a Ladder-backed Woodpecker was tapping away, and a pair of Canyon Towhees said hello, along with an Orange-crowned Warbler.  The butterflies were starting to come out on the way back: many Sleepy Oranges bounced about, but the stars were two new skippers: one of them I'm pretty sure was a female Juvenal's Duskywing, but the other best matched the Orange-headed Roadside Skipper, but according to the map, they're not supposed to be here!  I sent out an SOS to the Texas Butterfly listserv, and the consensus was that it was the local race of Dun Skipper (one guy sent me his own picture, which matched my guy perfectly).

  

Barn Swallows at the headquarters building

   

Revisiting the blind behind headquarters...

             

L-R:  Lincoln's Sparrow, White-eyed Vireo, White-crowned Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee

  

Where the trail dumps out at Buck WMA

Butterflies on the way back...

          

L-R:  Painted Crescent, female Juvenal's Duskywing, and Lyside Sulphur

    

Dun Skipper—individuals in this part of the country can look very golden-headed, suggesting the Orange-headed Roadside Skipper!   

Headed over to the campground after that where I temporarily parked in an empty campsite in order to descend upon Harry and Becky’s camper.  A pretty Pipevine Swallowtail was feeding fairly close, so I was on my way to shoot it when this other couple stopped and wanted to chat.  About that time I saw Harry leave their RV, so I excused myself and went trotting over and introduced myself, and shortly Becky came waltzing over, also being waylaid by that first couple! So we all chatted for awhile, and she turned out to be a real nice gal; they’re from San Antonio and are new birders, so she’s very excited about her new hobby! About that time Harry noticed an RV leaving what was usually their favorite spot, so while they checked into that, I went ahead to the blind by the walk-in camping spot with plans to meet up later.

There was another new birding family enjoying themselves in the blind, so I had fun teaching them sparrow identification! J A nice Nashville Warbler came in as well during that time.  A short hike along the other end of the Fawn Trail took me back into the WMA and up the road to the water tank where you got a tremendous view of the area!

Birds at the campground blind...

                           

Cardinal, Black-crested Titmice, and Spotted Towhee

       

View from the top of the hill

The Smiths were all settled by the time I was done with that, so Becky and I headed over to the day use area to hike the trail to Buck Lake from there.  She was mentioning that all the greenery and the flowers was due to the heavy rains they've been having; they had such a bad drought these last several years that there were no wildflowers to speak of before now!  We moseyed along enjoying point blank Summer Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos, and an Indigo Bunting sang for the trip.  At the blind we picked up a new trip bird: a brilliant American Goldfinch!  An Orchard Oriole also came in, as well as the usual suspects.  Becky enjoyed watching what I presume was a Fox Squirrel waiting for an opportune time to raid the feeders... 

      

Becky Smith poses along the trail to Buck Lake, where we had a Summer Tanager (center).

Birds at the "Acorn Blind"...

                                   

Painted Bunting and Lark Sparrow

      

American Goldfinches (female far right)

             

House Finch and Texas Spiny Lizard (token reptile)

We kissed goodbye (Harry had joined us in the meantime), and I headed back to the car, picking up a nice Giant Swallowtail on the way.  Decided to hike one last trail before taking off, so walked a bit of the Nature Trail near the restrooms at the end of the road, picking up Red-shouldered Hawk for the trip, and another cooperative Summer Tanager.  An Eastern Bluebird doo-dooed on the way back, and a Chipping Sparrow had a death wish by insisting on remaining on the road chasing bugs even as I rolled past!

                 

Chipping Sparrow on the road and Nature Trail

Birds and butters along the trail...

                 

L-R:  American Ladies, Dainty Sulphur, Common Buckeye, and Summer Tanager  

I was pretty beat after that, but I still wanted to reconnaissance Kerr WMA, so headed over there, and found the entrance I had mistakenly entered the first time several years ago, only this time it was paved!  Didn't go far before I heard that scoundrel Black-capped Vireo, either (I've heard dozens of them but had never actually seen one)!  He wouldn't come out naturally, so I continued on, adding birds to the Kerr County list (including Black Vulture for the trip).  Headed over to the main drive, and that was fabulous!  The nice ranger directed me to where they kept the checklists, and I just poked along the road, hearing several more BCVIs, but none would come out.  At what looked like a spillway I heard a buzzy warbler song, pulled over, jumped out, and walked over to see if this Golden-cheeked Warbler was as friendly as most of the others I've encountered, and he certainly was!  He came right out in the open and sang for me!  Down the road yet another BCVI sang near the edge, so I thought, "What the heck," and tried again, since he was right there.  And this time, I actually caught him move!  Then, miracle of miracles, he moved out in the open, long enough for me to see that black cap and white specs, and then he was gone!  Wow!  The Eastern Phoebe at the end of the road was anticlimactic after that!

       

Main drag at Kerr WMA with blooming grove and the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, a specialty bird of the area

The icing on the cake was several gorgeous Pipevine Swallowtails feeding on these purple flowers (which were probably Bluebonnets, according to my friends), allowing terrific photo ops!  My plan was to come back pre-dawn again the next day, but they were predicting severe thunderstorms (I figured I may be storm-chasing sooner than I thought), so I planned to play it by ear...  Got checked in in Kerrville, opened my other bag, and found another stowaway, this time letting me know why they're called Stink Beetles... L Checking the weather on my computer that night, I was surprised to see that we were actually under a tornado watch, so I turned on the Weather Channel (while enjoying a decadent Church’s Fried Chicken J) and listened as an official from Fort Worth was calling in a status report to the desk, and as he spoke you could hear the tornado sirens going off in the background! Spooky! They did indeed have a tornado touch down there, and evidently one also touched town in Eagle Pass, doing some major damage.

       

Pipevine Swallowtails (female left, male center)

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