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Part 6:  Caprock Canyons SP

Flew down the absolutely gorgeous SR 70 to Caprock Canyons (and praying well ahead of time that I wouldn’t hit any deer driving that thing in pitch next morning), and I was blown away!  The nice ranger told me about a new bird blind they had just installed, so I was anxious to try that out!  But the road is more than adequate for road-birding, with a handful of trails to try.  I was glad to have a second chance at photography the next day, seeing as most of my scenic shots were over-exposed (getting used to a new camera and all), and added Field Sparrow for the trip coming back, but they also have a Prairie Dog town (you really have to be careful that you don’t run over one) and a lake where the ranger said people were reporting Bald Eagles, so we’ll see!  When I finally found the bird blind, I was disappointed as they didn’t have any feed out (and they placed the feeder right where you have to walk to get in the blind), but you did get a great view of Dry Creek Lake, where I had some more Mallards, Gadwall, and a Solitary Sandpiper on a post (the little trail was actually more productive).  The battery in the Powershot was dying about then, so I took the EOS with me, and it was interesting to see the difference in quality in the two cameras (I shot the sandpiper with both; I forget how much I zoomed in with the PS, but it was definitely more than a 300mm equivalent, as that was the max on my SLR).  A little butter batted around that area that turned out to be a Phaon Crescent, and had a nice Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the way out.

Overlook from the Visitor's Center (complete with signature Bison)

I initially ID'd this as a Striped Slant-face Grasshopper, but I have my doubts; feedback welcome!

Typical habitat along the main road

(Note the Bison...)

Lake Theo from the main road

Jaw-dropping views along the main road

White-crowned Sparrow taking a bath at the entrance to the horse camp

More "wow" scenes...

Canyon Loop Trailhead

       

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (that you had to be careful not to run over...)

Cooperative Roadrunner

Dry Creek Lake from the new blind

Said blind from the little access trail

    

Solitary Sandpiper; the left shot was taken with the new Canon Powershot, and the right shot was taken with the old EOS Rebel

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the way out.

Finally headed out and back to the hotel, thinking that stretch of SR 70 would make a terrific birding road, as there was hardly any traffic at all!  The Lord has a sense of humor, though: I was just getting ready to take my shower when I realized I had left my notepad in the car, so I got dressed again and went and got that, and when I came back in the poor gal behind the desk was inundated with a bunch of high school/college kids who were apparently on a competitive “scavenger hunt” (they were all wearing school T-shirts), and when I walked in one of them blurted, “Can I have your autograph?!”  That’s when they explained what they were doing (and someone took a picture to document the whole thing) and then asked me if I knew a joke.  I was feeling like, “That’s enough,” but when the poor receptionist couldn’t come up with something (and the Lord kept punching me J), I finally told the “Diesel Fitter” story, which they all enjoyed (it had been awhile since I told that one)!

Was a little alarmed to see the fog the next morning, and heading south on 70, it truly was thick as soup in places!  (Forget the deer—I was afraid some yahoo would rear-end me even with my flashers going!)  But everyone I encountered as also taking it nice and slow, so I really don’t think I had anything to worry about.  But, boy, was I glad when it cleared; nothing makes you appreciate good visibility (even when it’s still dark) like pea-soup fog!

Even so, I got to the park at 8:01, which wasn’t bad!  Logged both meadowlarks and some crows at the entrance sign, and after getting my tag, I heard a Collared Dove singing from the maintenance area! J  Started the BBS protocol after that, and even so it was pretty quiet; White-crowned Sparrows ended up going over the top first, followed closely by Rock Wren (I had to lower my EBird count as it didn’t like it…).  Speaking of EBird, it can be really helpful regarding what’s expected and what isn’t:  some bluebirds “rubber banded” by on a couple of occasions that I would have unhesitatingly called Westerns in San Diego (granted, I was listening carefully trying to rule out Mountain, as sometimes they can be tricky), but they weren’t even listed in the Caprock Canyon EBird checklist, and sure enough, all the range maps show that they’re not supposed to show up here!  So I listed them as Mountain, but I can’t help but remember the last time I had Western Bluebirds “out here” and thought I was losing my mind when I discovered they weren’t supposed to be in the Hill Country, until I actually saw the culprit (and someone confirmed that they were starting to show up somewhat regularly in winter there)!  I just wish I had seen these, but not much showed itself in general.

 

Bison in early morning light

   

White-crowned Sparrow

Take Two at the scenic shots!

But the mammal show was at the Honea Flat Camping Area: a whole herd of Bison was sauntering down the road!  That was really something!  The equestrians had all fled their campground, whereas yesterday the place was packed!  Tried both ends of the Canyon Loop Trail, where I shot an unknown lizard and a pretty Painted Lady at the trailhead, but while dragging myself up the hill a couple of skippers settled down; one was definitely an Orange Skipperling, but the other was a “shoot now, ask questions later” sort of deal as I knew it was something different!  Unfortunately I never got a look at the ventral, as the dorsal pattern fit two possibilities, but given the habitat, I feel comfortable calling it a Green, which would be a life bug!  At the resting spot on the first trail a cute little Rock Wren came to visit, but there was no place to rest on the second trail, really; I just enjoyed the scenery!  A Mockingbird serenaded me on the way back. 

Bison meandering down the road like they own the place (which they do)!

One of the crossings at Little Red River (I'm presuming from the map)

More scenes along the main drag

This may have been South Prong River, but the layers of quartz (?) are interesting!

Canyon Loop Trail, east entrance

Common Checkered Skipper

Orange Skipperling

Rock Wren

View from my turnaround point

This is the stuff that forms the pale lines in the cutaway rock faces; it looks like quartz, but I really don't know what it is.

Fantastic cliff viewable from one of the road stops.

   

Painted Lady at the Upper Canyon Trailhead

Side-blotched Lizard (?)

Scenes along the trail

   

Green Skipper

Mockingbird putting on a concert!

Crawled through the Prairie Dog town looking for Burrowing Owls, but what was even better was a rattlesnake crossing the road!  I should have just gotten out right then and shot him with the telephoto, as trying to sneak up on him was a lost cause…  Funny I should see one as the rangers were talking to a dad and his little boy about what to do if you’re bitten (they said they haven’t had a rattlesnake bite incident in ten years, and that one was because the kid was poking at the thing)!

Checked out Lake Theo next, which was pretty empty, but the woodland on both sides of the lake was lovely!  I almost passed up the picnic area because it was too close to my last stop, but the Lord kept bugging me J, so I stopped and found a sidewalk down to the lake, and that was just gorgeous!  However, it was pretty birdless except for some siskins, Butterbutts, and goldfinches (and the lake only had a Coot and Great Blue Heron).  Wheeling around to the other side, the light was much better, and using the setting I do with the birds for landscapes as well really worked out nicely!  A kingfisher rowed by while I was there, and heard a Butterbutt that sounded like it could have been a Myrtle, but I never saw it.  Continued on down to Dry Creek Lake. which still had the grebe but only a Ring-necked Duck in that department (trip bird—I’ll take it! J), but the historical marker there was interesting: they found remains of an extinct type of Bison and evidence that humans from 10,000 years ago were harvesting them even then!  The land used to be owned by Theodore Somebody-or-Other, hence the name of the lake.

Picnic area on the north side of Lake Theo

Lake Theo from the fishing pier

Marsh on the other side of the pier

Southern Dogface

View of aforementioned fishing pier from the south side (you can tell the lake's low...)

View from the historical marker

I was ready to call it quits after that, so used the restroom one last time, pulled out a Coke, and listened to Rush for the next couple of hours!  The Lord certainly protected me as there was this one intersection where even after looking, I didn’t see this guy coming (he must have been right in line with that spot where the windshield and passenger window meet), and he nearly “T-boned” me (I heard a guy on the radio use that term, so it must not have originated with my co-worker Mike! J)!  It looked as though Junction was going to be the logical stopping point, which was great, as it gave me an excuse to visit South Llano Grande SP, one of my favorites, the next morning!

Click here to continue to South Llano River SP,

here to return to McClellan Creek NG

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