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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 8:  Peach Loop

 

We definitely reached the point of diminishing returns the next day so far as the bird list went, but the scenery and butterflies made up for it!  Started at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg, which had a nice little nature trail (a couple, actually) that went along the creek and then climbed up into someone's campsite (surprised a cute little Cocker Spaniel) before turning right around into the woods again, where there's a bench and some feeders (although nothing was coming to them at the time).  A curious Carolina Wren came in while I was resting, though!  The trail heads back into the parking area where there's a small lake and dam; a Great Blue Heron was fishing here along with the domestic ducks.  I was a little dismayed at the fact that someone was putting out food for the feral cats there at the trailhead, though...

                          

Trail map of Lady Bird Johnson Park in Fredericksburg, and early morning scenes along the Nature Trail

    

View from the ridge as the sun comes out

          

A Great Blue Heron was near the dam back down at the bottom

 

Lake near the pavilion

From there headed down to Old Tunnel WMA, which literally is an old railroad tunnel where hundreds of bats of multiple species roost!  They have a nice half-mile nature trail, but don't let the length fool you: while the bulk of the trail is nice and flat (it follows the old rail line), you need to climb down some stairs to get to it, which means you have to climb back up!  But this was a lovely walk through the woods where I picked up a life butterfly: a Viola's Wood Satyr!  The trail also takes you down to the level of the tunnel, where if you look through the opening to the other end with your bins, you could see the bats flying around even in the daytime!  The most interesting bird was a Pine Siskin flying over.

   

Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area and Nature Trail

                        

The "Bat Cave", which is literally an old railroad tunnel!  Down at the bottom, the trail follows the old rail line.

         

Viola's Wood Satyr along the trail

                                      

Texan Crescent and Question Mark, which gets its name from the little white squiggle on the underside of its wing!

But the highlight of the day had to be Enchanted Rock SNA: WOW!!  It's a large domed rock out in the middle of noplace, and for being the middle of the week, I was surprised at how many people were there!  I didn't have the energy to climb to the top (although I'm sure I could have: the ascent was fairly gradual), but a lot of folks were doing just that!

We were back in Bell's Vireo country with a vengeance, and the butterfly-finding guide recommended taking the Creek Trail, which I did, and man what scenery!!  Not only were the rock formations grandiose, but the flower display was out of this world!  And the butterfly action certainly matched: Common Buckeyes were all over, along with Orange and Dainty Sulphurs, American Ladies, and Red Admirals.  What I thought was a hummingbird at first turned out to be a White-lined Sphinx; that was bizarre!  Down by the creek itself a lot of things were sipping at the mud, including a knockout Question Mark!  Picked up several skippers, which I sought confirmation on, and so far the consensus is that I correctly ID’d everything (except that my female Dun Skipper may actually be a Clouded; without being able to see the underside that’ll be a tough call)! I'm pretty sure I had at least a male Dun, Sachem, Nysa Roadside, and Orange and Southern Skipperlings.  A pretty Orchard Oriole was the token bird along this trail...

      

Entrance to the park and view from the parking area

    

Scenes along the Creek Trail

      

      

Down at Sandy Creek

Leps along the trail...

                  

Checkered White and White-lined Sphinx, which feeds like a hummingbird!

                                       

L-R:  This Red Admiral blends right in when he closes his wings!  Beat-up Monarch, and Common Buckeye

     

Like the Admiral, the Question Mark can turn into a "leaf"!

               

American Ladies

Confusing skippers...

                       

L-R:  Orange Skipperling, Southern Skipperling, and Dun Skippers (male left, female right)

                                                      

L-R:  White Checkered Skipper, Nysa Roadside Skipper, Sachem, and Orchard Oriole (token bird…)

Headed around to the other parking area and started on the Summit Trail, but there were a bunch of "side" trails that I ended up on and made a pretty decent loop!  Several Black Swallowtails made an appearance in addition to the other butters.  Both Painted Buntings and Rufous-crowned Sparrows were singing in here (along with Canyon Wrens), but the Mockingbirds were driving me nuts: I kept thinking I was hearing Rock Wrens and Bobwhites! 

     

Cactus patch along the Summit Trail

           

Rufous-crowned Sparrow in the dry stuff 

                                    

L-R:  Orange-patched Smoky Moth, Melipotes Moth, and Black Swallowtail

I was pretty shot after that, but I wanted to check out a little bit of the Loop Trail, so I poked along that for about ten minutes, probably making it more like 20 by chasing down Variegated Fritillaries (I thought for sure I had something different because they were smaller and flying differently, plus some I got a look at didn’t have the tell-tale "orange spot" at the "wrist", but there’s nothing else even remotely similar that’s supposed to show up in this area).  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo talked to me during all this, and a Scott's Oriole sang as well.  A colorful lizard ran across the trail that had me puzzled, but the best match was Texas Spotted Whiptail.  In the parking lot I was so focused on the flowers that I didn't notice the two Inca Doves I nearly stepped on!

       

Texas Spotted Whiptail and Orange Sulphur along the Loop Trail

Wanted to take the loop to Johnson City, but at the intersection of RR 965 and SR 16, the flower display was even more incredible!  I stopped for that one (as did another couple of ladies), but only picked up a cooperative Orange Sulphur.  I probably killed twice as many butters as I saw on the way to Johnson City; when I gassed up I popped the hood to see if anything had gotten stuck in there, and an in-tact Orange Sulphur was plastered on Jip's radiator! The guy at the motel recommended the Silver K Café, which on the outside looked like a storefront shack but was very nice on the inside; their salad and bread were scrumptious, but their salmon pasta was just so-so….

     

Flower show at a highway intersection!

   

       

Live Orange Sulphur (left) and one that had a confrontation with Jip's nose and lost...

    

Texas Spotted Whiptail at the gas station

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