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Part 3:  Kickapoo Cavern SP  (5-6 APR)

It was time to head to Kickapoo after that for the scouting mission, and it really didn’t take me long to get there as I just continued up SR 55 and made a left on FM 334 to Brackettville, then headed north on FM 674.  A place is never what you envision in your mind’s eye:  for some reason I was expecting this park to be more of a desert scrub habitat, but the area was incredibly similar to Kerr WMA, right down to the narrow paved road going in (although Kerr isn’t hilly…)!  Since I was just scouting and measuring the mileage for a “bona fide” survey the next morning, I just drove straight through to the end of the road but yet listening for stuff.  A buzzy song made me slam on the brakes, back up, and turn off the motor, and sure enough, a Golden-cheeked Warbler was singing off to the side!  Bingo!

Golden-cheeked Warbler, an endangered specialty of the Hill Country

It was time for a sandwich about then, so I pulled into the picnic area and fixed said sandwich, spooking a flock of Lesser Goldfinches as I headed towards the table.  Some Chipping Sparrows came in to investigate, and Verdins were chiming all over.  Continuing on, a raven flew over that I’m assuming Common because of the size and habitat, but apparently Chihuahuans can show up here, too, so I may have to settle for “raven sp.” tomorrow if I see him again…

Picnic area

The road actually ends at the ranger residence, but it’s very well marked, warning you not to go any further, but at the same spot is a nice wide parking area for the Indigo Creek Connection Trail.  Since I had plenty of time (and needed the exercise J) I decided to do ten minutes’ worth, and I hadn’t gone far before I couldn’t believe my ears:  the coveted Gray Vireo was singing!  I was jazzed:  the Blackcap is possible at a couple of other spots this trip, but according to the literature (unless you’re heading to Big Bend, which I’m not), I get them here or not at all this trip!  Woo hoo!  He even outshined the Scott’s Oriole whistling in the distance!

Self-explanatory...

   

Black-throated Sparrow along the Indigo Creek Trail

Scenes along the trail

More scenes...

   

Red Satyr

The next trail was Vireo Vista, which was more of a workout than anything else, but I did manage to bag Scrub Jay on that one.  I needed to use the restroom, so headed straight for headquarters where I checked in, but as I was heading for the car I heard someone say “screech owl” and noticed four people with bins over by the other building, so I wandered over myself, and discovered that two of them were rangers and the other two guys were visitors from San Francisco!  The screech owl wasn’t visible, but we got into a conversation about target birds, and when I had mentioned that I got the Gray Vireo the two Californians were all ears!  The rangers also told us the best spot for the Montezuma Quail (although they admitted that’s a tough one), and then we got into a conversation about the plight of the Yellow-billed Magpies and Tricolored Blackbirds in California! 

Scenes along the Vireo Vista Trail

At the top of the hill

Rock with interesting fungus

We all finally broke up the party and I headed on to the restroom, then backtracked to the Pine Canyon Loop.  I hadn’t gone 30 feet into the trail, probably, when I almost fainted:  yet another Gray Vireo was singing, this one closer and more typical (the other one was just doing a few phrases here and there)!  It was a beautiful trail; at one point it forks to the left through what looks like old ranch wooden gate posts, so I took that down towards the creek where the trail crossed Indigo Creek Connection, swung to the right, and I couldn’t believe it:  yet another Gray Vireo was singing across the creek and up the limestone hill!  I was sure hoping the guys found that first one, but I was getting ready to give them directions should I run into them again!

Pine Canyon Trail

This is a prime area for Gray Vireo, a bird on many birders' Most Wanted List!  (The "outer spacey" sound is due to filtering out the hiss...)  The sweet song of a Field Sparrow is in the background.

Bluff across Indigo Creek from which another Gray Vireo was singing

Probable Bulia deducta

Backtracked again to the Barbado Ridge Trail, which is right across from the Vireo Vista and is the trail they recommended for Monty Quail.  I really didn’t expect to kick up any, and it was a bit of a workout being on an incline, but not only was there yet another Gray Vireo singing on this trail, but a Black-capped Vireo as well!  Another one was actually singing away back at the car, but wouldn’t come out naturally (I got to thinking that it’s a good thing I don’t have my heart set on seeing all these things, because about the only things I had actually seen in the park – besides the goldfinches and Chippies at lunch – were Black-throated Sparrows, Mockingbirds, and a stupid cowbird)!  Oh, and an interesting note on the cowbird:  in addition to its normal googalee song, this one on the Indigo Creek Connector was doing a pretty good shrike imitation!  (Made me wonder if he had been raised by shrikes…)

Self-explanatory...

Scene from the trail

Black-capped Vireo singing back at the car...

Brown-headed Cowbird; the example on the left is the typical song, and the example on the right is the shrike-like song!

That changed a little (not seeing many birds) when I took the ranger’s recommendation and hiked a little of the Sergeant Memorial Trail (in honor of the rancher who owned the property previously).  Some Bewick’s Wrens actually showed themselves near the buildings, and a little up the trail a pair of Olive Sparrows allowed brief looks.  Back at the trailhead a Canyon Towhee flew into a tree, and back at the restrooms three Vermilion Flycatchers were having it out (the ranger mentioned that there was a young male there that was being a bully…)!

Homestead along the Sergeant Memorial Trail

Canyon Towhee

My feet were shot by that time, so called it a day and headed on in to Del Rio and checked into the Best Western.  Woke up pretty early, so decided to head out early (and the nice lady at the front desk had given me a free bottle of water and a chewy granola bar for being a Gold Club Elite member J, so that took care of breakfast).  I was tempted to stop somewhere on the way up to listen for Poorwill, but decided against it as I figured I had a better chance at Seminole Canyon.

Getting up into the hills it was evident that the fog was rolling in, and when I arrived it was pretty dusky, but Cardinals and Bewick’s Wrens were sounding off already, along with a Yellow-breasted Chat across the street and what I assumed was a Long-billed Thrasher doing its faaaa fuss, but when I got on EBird I saw they had both Brown and Long-billed listed, so a quick look at the TOS Handbook revealed that Browns do indeed migrate through here, whereas Longbills just squeak into Edwards County, so I’ll leave that one for the EBird editors to figure out…  I thought I had some swallows swooping around the tree and the little building there, but as I walked around to get a better view, I saw they were bats!  And I didn’t even have to go in the cave! J

In the pre-dawn I stopped every half mile and added the expected Rufous-crowned Sparrows, titmice, Black-throated and Olive Sparrows, Ash-throated Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, and even a pair of croaking Common Ravens (so I feel better about yesterday’s bird)!  A Spotted Towhee doing its rrreeerrrr call was new for the trip, and at one stop where a Scott’s Oriole was singing, one of the Hermit Thrushes was actually tuning up – that was pretty neat to hear that ethereal song!

At sunrise proper (you’d never know it as the place was nearly socked in) I zipped back to the start of the road and started again, this time stopping every .3 miles and only adding things that were obviously new during the 2.5 miles I was able to cover pre-dawn.  One of those newbies was a Hutton’s Vireo singing its monotonous and deliberate chree…..chree…..chree song, and two Golden-cheeked Warblers that were song-battling!  Further down the road I was thrilled to bag a Gray Vireo singing up on the hillside (I didn’t wanna have to cheat and enter the four I had yesterday into EBird, although I did cheat with the Scrub Jay and the Lesser Goldfinches as I didn’t have those today), and at another stop this funny little song had me stumped until I realized it was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet!  I was a little disheartened at the fact that I really wasn’t seeing much of anything due to the weather, but one spot gave me a fussing Rufous-crowned Sparrow close on the ground, which in turned got a pair of Canyon Towhees up.

Fussing Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Because of the wet I decided not to hike any of the trails, but instead waited and listened at the trailheads for 15 minutes each just to see what would vocalize (I was really hoping one of those Gray Vireos would come close).  At the Indigo Creek Connector the day’s only Lark Sparrow sang, and the only bird to show itself was a Mockingbird making like a stump and singing very softly at least until its mate came in!  At the Pine Canyon trailhead, I didn’t get a Gray, but both White-eyed and Black-capped Vireos were singing together!  An Orange-crowned Warbler showed itself (and its orange crown), and heading up this little road to a water tank I heard yet another Black-capped Vireo singing away, but he was being typical and refused to show himself, even though I felt like I was practically sitting on him!  A Spotted Towhee shot through, but that was the only visible bird…

The Bell’s Vireos were singing up a storm again near the headquarters building, and logged a Hooded Oriole, which I didn’t have yesterday.  At the Bat Cave Cutoff Trail I thought I was hearing some weird House Finches until it dawned on me that they were Cave Swallows!  On the way out at the entrance gate, a Bewick's Wren was making an unusual scold I had never heard before!

Bell's Vireo at the headquarters area; this one is doing the question/answer pattern!

Self-explanatory

Bewick's Wren (making an interesting scold)

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to hike any of the trails (not unless I wanted to get good and soaked, thank you very much), but that just gave me more time to scout Seminole Canyon SP! 

Click here to continue to Seminole Canyon State Park,

Click here to Return to Chalk Bluff Park

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