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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 9:  Pedernales Falls SP & Balcones NWR

Since Pedernales Falls SP was only nine miles away from the motel, I got there well before dawn and was able to pick up a couple of night birds: lots of Chucks were singing at several stops, and a Common Nighthawk beented overhead at one point.  I love road-birding pre-dawn because the dawn chorus is just magical: even though they were "old friends" by now, it was fun listening to Field and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, battling Black-crested Titmice with their monotone songs, Cardinals and Carolina Wrens sounding similar at times, Purple Martins gurgling overhead, and distant Bewick's Wrens fooling me into thinking I might have Golden-cheeked Warblers!  Interestingly, never did hear or see any this time; this place has been pretty reliable in the past, but then again, I only had time to road bird and check the blind real quick before making a quick stop at Balcones NWR and then heading on to Wichita Falls, which was a four-hour drive.  I really wished I had had time to hike at least one of the trails, but even listening at the trailheads was able to add lots of Painted Buntings, a singing Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a White-eyed Vireo tricking me into thinking I was hearing a Great Crested Flycatcher at first (heard a real one later), and wobbly-sounding Nashville Warblers. 

  The blind was new since I was there last, so I spent 15 minutes there, enjoying great looks at both Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummers (and they confirmed my suspicions: they do sound identical—even the chase notes!), a Cardinal that kept "climbing" the glass trying to drive away his reflection, and a cooperative Lincoln's Sparrow.  A new trip bird, a White-throated Sparrow, sang a wobbly "Poor Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody" from the brush along with the rrrRRRrrr of a Spotted Towhee.  Inside the blind, several Red Admirals were waiting for some warmth (in fact, I had no clue what they were until I "petted" them a little and got them to show me their upperside...)!  Outside the blind was another example of how easily one can be fooled: I heard a song that certainly did not match the classic Goldencheek song, but I had no clue what it was: it resembled the "Three Blind Mice" song of our Mountain Chickadees, but in between each high note was a buzz, so in essence it said, "SEE, bzzSEEE, bzzSEEE," each "see" descending in pitch.  When I finally found the culprit it was what I suspected, although I had never heard a recording of this particular song—it was a Carolina Chickadee!  Between him and the Bewick's Wrens that could sound awfully buzzy at times, I was sure on my toes!

Critters at the blind at Pedernales Falls...

                       

L-R:  Ruby-throated Hummingbird (fuzzy at left, but you can see the red), Lincoln's Sparrow, and Torpid Red Admiral

Headed up to Balcones NWR after that, primarily to look for butterflies, but it was surprisingly cool and a bit breezy, so by the time I got to the Shin Oak Overlook things were pretty quiet.  Joined a couple of other birders who were sharing their Texas adventures so far, and one of them just happened to be an ex San Diegan named John Kellam!  He hung out with (I think) Barbara Carlson and Christine Harvey and that crowd, so we had fun bantering a bit; I think we (myself and the guy from Georgia whose name I never got) sold him on Big Bend!  Birdwise there was nothing at the overlook except a skylarking chat, which was kinda neat (I doubt I would have heard much anyway with us all yapping…).

Shin Oak Overlook

I was in dire need of a restroom so I raced out to Doeskin Ranch, which was a lovely little area with three loop trails.  I only had time for one, so I took the Creek Trail, which was good for a few new day birds (Blue Grosbeak, both goldfinches, Bell's Vireo, Lark Sparrow, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, and Crow interestingly).  I took a little bit of the Pond and Prairie Trail because there was some butterfly activity, but all I could pin down was a couple of Gray Hairstreaks and a cooperative Variegated Fritillary (unlike the ones the day before).  Ran into John again at the parking area and told him about Kerr WMA (best Black-capped Vireo spot I personally know of), traded complaints about San Diego getting too big J (he moved to Florida), and headed our separate ways. 

      

Creek Trail at Doeskin Ranch

    

    

Butters on the Prairie Pond Trail...

                         

Gray Hairstreak and Variegated Fritillary

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