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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 6:  Heart of the Hills Loop

 

After revisiting Kerr WMA, my revised plan was to visit Lost Maples and Garner SPs seeing as they were both recommended as good butterfly spots, but since the forecast called for severe storms all day, I figured butter-hunting was moot and reverted to my original plan, which was to concentrate on Kerr and then visit as many of the "Heart of the Hills Loop" spots as time permitted.  Thankfully, the "severe storms" wussed out, as there was only a gentle mist under heavily overcast skies when I left the motel, and by the time I got to the WMA it had pretty much let up!  A couple of times during the course of the day the mist turned to light rain, but that's as bad as it got.

Got to Kerr right about dawn (although you'd never know it) and basically birded the roads like a BBS, and had a very enjoyable time: titmice, Lark Sparrows, cardinals, gnatcatchers, and (interestingly) Black-capped Vireos all went over the top, and Summer Tanagers almost made it!  Other interesting birds along the route included Rufous-crowned, Clay-colored, and Vesper Sparrows (the latter was very wet and had a hard time convincing me he wasn't a Savannah, but the tail finally gave it away), Bobwhite, Canyon Wren, and a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Along the short Bobcat Meadows road I ran into a group from Seattle looking for the vireos, and sent them over to the main entrance (based on their surprised look they evidently made the same mistake I did years ago and thought Bobcat Meadows was all there was to it!).

  After that I checked out Mo Ranch, and that was a delightful place as well, with charming buildings and gorgeous views of the Guadeloupe River!  The place is a Presbyterian Conference center where you  need to sign in (and they give you a cute little bracelet so they know you're supposed to be there), and many of the folks had feeders out where both Ruby-throated and Black-chinned Hummers (mostly the latter) fought, and White-winged Doves bullied the cowbirds away from the seed.  The road out to the stables resembled Kerr WMA (no vireos, though), and the road up to the Chapel on the Hill hosts the cedars that the Golden-cheeked Warblers like (didn't get any, though).  Also in this area is the nature trail which goes through more cedar and other similar vegetation on the limestone (which was very slippery; at several points I actually had to sit down to negotiate the step-offs as I was sure I'd fall and bust my personality otherwise).  Down at the river there's an easy walk (which I didn't take as it was spitting) with a gorgeous view of the limestone cliffs where there were Canyon Wrens singing, and along the river picked up Moorhen for the trip, plus a Great Blue Heron who was oblivious to both me and another hiker!  Back near the entrance I added some color to the list by picking up Blue Grosbeak, Vermillion Flycatcher, and Bullock's Oriole.

     

Entrance and catwalk at Mo Ranch, a Presbyterian conference center

                   

Chapel on the Hill overlooking the Guadeloupe River

                               

Great Blue Heron and limestone hills at the river crossing

                 

Easy part of the Nature Trail (left) and dicey part of the Nature Trail...

From there the brochure suggests several spots along Highway 39, so I mainly ended up doing the BBS protocol on most of the road!  They recommend several of the gorgeous Guadeloupe River crossings; I couldn't find the rookery at "The Rookery", but a Black-and-white Warbler was good for the day!  The South Fork Marsh was quite interesting, and while the only "marshy" bird I picked up along here was a Song Sparrow, I did manage to add the Goldencheek for the day here.  At other stops along the river added Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher, and both Nashville and Yellow-throated Warblers.  A recommended picnic area that doubles as a canoe put-in spot had Cave Swallows nesting under the bridge, and Western Kingbirds fighting in the fields.  This was also a good butterfly stop (yes, despite the lousy weather they were flying profusely) with tons of Dainty Sulphurs and lesser numbers of Sleepy Oranges, Phaon and Vesta Crescents, Checkered Whites, and a pretty little Reakirt's Blue.

     

Typical habitat along the Guadeloupe River and SR 39, with Lynxhaven Crossing at right

        

South Fork Marsh

       

Canoe put-in spot where Cave Swallows were nesting

Butterflies in the area...

          

Reakirt's Blues

              

Gray Hairstreak and Phaon Crescent

  Once near Ingram I gave up road birding and decided to visit the Fisheries Center, where you also have to sign in.  I made the boo-boo of assuming you could drive the dikes like at our sewer ponds, but a guy on a little golf cart caught up to me and informed me otherwise (he was very nice about it, though...)!  So, red-faced, I parked once again and made a loop around one of the ponds (the wind was pretty fierce by now, but the sun was actually peeking out) and added Coot and Blue-winged Teal for the day, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole, and Bronzed Cowbird in the trees. 

Fisheries Center

  I really needed to head into Kerrville after that, but the hope of Red-spotted Purples at the Mountain Home Bridge drove me to at least check it out, and it was indeed a lovely little place with lots of butterflies!  Most of the dark ones appeared to be Pipevines, however (and the big field of flowers was on private land), but got nice studies of Varigated Frits (those buggers don't let you sneak up on 'em), both Painted and American Ladies, and another little Reakirt's Blue along with all the other common stuff.  Oh, and a small group of Canada Geese was along the road on the way there! Decided to have dinner at the Mexican restaurant next door, which surprisingly had a lot of German dishes as well, so I had the sausage and bratwurst plate which was scrumptious (had the leftovers for lunch the next day)!

                

Scenes around the bridge at Mountain Home

Butters at the Bridge...

                         

Two similar crescents: the Phaon (left) and a female Vesta (right)

         

American Ladies; note the tiny white spot on the forewing!

     

Beat-up Painted Lady, paler than the American

             

Variegated Fritillary, and a Zale Moth that blends right in with the tree!

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