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Spring Blitz

Part 4:  Seminole Canyon SP  (6-7 APR)

Picked up a Turkey for the day heading down FM 674, and it was pretty yucky all the way in to Brackettville!  Although it was still overcast, the mist let up through Del Rio, but just past Amistad it started up again, and I had visions of no hikes at all today L, but thankfully there was one pocket of sunshine, and that was right over the park!

I had stopped here for an exercise walk on the way to somewhere-or-other several years ago, so I never really explored the place, but I remembered being thrilled at picking up an old San Diego friend, the White-throated Swift, by the headquarters building!  They didn’t disappoint:  they were still there, swooping and twirling and even spinning in a ball of feathers!  (I didn’t get a good look, but I assumed they were mating…)  A Pyrrhuloxia was chattering in the parking lot, and as I crawled along the road, the flower display was just out of this world!  (No wonder there was a pollen alert out… J)  Cassin’s Sparrows were out the yin yang, and since they were doing some kind of construction up in the campground, I couldn’t hear much of anything, but some Chipping Sparrows did come in to say hello.  Down in the overflow lot a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher showed off.  A gnatcatcher belted past that I suspect was Black-tailed, but never got a good look, and even stranger was hearing something I could have sworn was a sapsucker!  But I got distracted and neglected to try and track that one down… L

Flower show heading into the park

Picnic area

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Decided to take what time I had left before I had to head back to Del Rio to hike as much of the Rio Grande Trail as possible, and while it was still breezy, the sun was coming in and out, so it was quite comfortable.  The sparrow show was quite impressive: the first thing to pop up looked like a Savannah Sparrow on steroids, but then it dawned on me that it was a female Lark Bunting!  (It was facing me; otherwise the pale wing panel woulda been a dead giveaway…)  The little buggers were obstinate, bouncing from bush to bush and only periodically allowing a decent look (except for the Blackthroats – they’re always cooperative J), but during the course of the mile-plus hike managed to log White-crowned, Chipping, Vesper, and Clay-colored, in addition to the ubiquitous Cassin’s.  But I kept hearing these buzzy-chattering songs that sounded kinda like Brewer’s Sparrows trying desperately to get in voice, and one finally allowed me to get a visual!  That was neat to see, not having had any since moving from San Diego! 

Scenes along the Rio Grande Trail

A small part of the flower display


Female Lark Bunting

White-crowned Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Peek-a-boo Cassin's Sparrow 


Black-throated Sparrow

Brewer's Sparrows trying to tune up before hitting the breeding grounds!

There were several tourists on the trail enjoying the hike (and conveniently flushing some Scaled Quail for me J), and one couple had been spending the winter in Santee, near where I was from in San Diego (their daughter lived in Clairemont)!  Talk about a small world!  While everyone was raving about the flowers, the wind kept most of the butters down; most obvious were Dainty Sulphurs and Sleepy Oranges, but I think I had an Orange Skipperling (or maybe it was a Whirlabout – never got a look at the ventral), and while recording one of the Scaled Quail a hairstreak landed on a bush in front of me that I think was just a beat-up Gray (at least you hope so).  A Reakirt’s Blue found a pile of scat, and some big black guys batted by, but I couldn’t get an ID on ‘em…

More scenes along the trail...

Looking back towards the trailhead (that shelter is at about the one-mile mark)


Opinions as to what these are range from Burn Nettles to Ground Cherries (even a Google image search couldn't come up with an exact match...)

Was pretty shot after that, so headed back to Del Rio, reasoning that the areas just past the Amistad Bridge might be good places to stop and listen for Poorwill tomorrow.  Caved and got a Church’s, and again wished I had stuck with the noodles… L

Woke up early again, so did the routine and headed out.  As planned, stopped at a couple of places west of the Amistad Bridge, but surprisingly there was too much traffic even at that hour, so I didn’t hear much of anything (I did startle a group of deer at the first overlook).  But having seen the road to Box Canyon coming back yesterday, I went about a mile down that road when I got to it, and hit pay dirt:  way in the distance was a singing Poorwill!  I was so happy to get that nemesis bird for Texas (had ‘em practically in my backyard in San Diego…)!

Headed on in to Seminole Canyon, actually arriving almost exactly a half hour before dawn, and I needn’t have worried:  in amongst the morning cacophony of Cassin’s, Lark, and Black-throated Sparrows were two more Poorwills!  Good to know you can get them here, and not necessarily at oh dark hundred!  Like yesterday, the Purple Martins were gurgling pre-dawn, but that was the only time I encountered them.

This road was even shorter than Kickapoo’s (only two miles long), so I stopped every .3 miles (had to move beyond the squeaky windmill a bit… J).  One of the better stops was the picnic area right next to the Headquarters building, where you could hear both Rock and Canyon Wrens singing from Seminole Canyon itself!  Got up to the campground before the construction crew arrived, so after using the restroom (and discovering that both Barn and Cave Swallows were using the structure to nest in), I made a break for the Birding Trail, where even before starting out added Lincoln’s Sparrow and Hooded Oriole to the list.  The trail isn’t very long and has a couple of benches at the end, so I sat for five and enjoyed listening to the Bell’s Vireo singing (but didn’t enjoy the female cowbird who looked like she was looking for an “in”…).  Some gnatcatchers buzzed but wouldn’t allow a visual; they sounded more like Blue-gray to me, as the buzz sounded thinner and more two-toned than the Blacktails I’m familiar with back in California (not to mention that distinctive pish-like song).  Alas, that was a big miss this trip; I was hoping to bag that one as they seemed pretty common that time I stopped for the aforementioned exercise walk.  On the way back I heard a Green-tailed Towhee mewing, so that was a great tick!

Start of the Birding Trail


Both Barn and Cave Swallows were breeding under the eaves of the restroom; in the left-hand recording the Barns are dominant, while in the right one the Caves are dominant.

Here the Cactus Wren that was singing in the background of the swallow recordings above is joined by a chirping House Sparrow, a cooing Eurasian Collared Dove, and occasionally the wheep of a Hooded Oriole in the background.

Scene along the Birding Trail

The workers showed up right at eight, so I headed back to headquarters to get my pass, but asked the ranger if I could hike the Windmill Trail first, then pick up the pass on the way back to the car.  She was fine with that, so I headed down the steps (the good news was that they were smooth and easy to negotiate), and was surprised to hear a Killdeer (although maybe I shouldn’t have been; there was water down there after all)!  More desert sparrows chattered and sang (including more Brewer’s), and was tickled to hear a Say’s Phoebe give its mournful whistle from somewhere!  The Windmill Trail goes left where the guided tour begins, so I headed along the ridge (nice and flat), and was surprised to hear yet another Black-capped Vireo!  (Again, maybe I shouldn’t have been, as they occur as far west as Big Bend and in similar habitat…)  There’s a nice little rock bench before long, and that was a great place to rest and enjoy the canyon wall and the Canyon Wren that was hopping along and singing away!  A Cardinal singing down in the canyon was echoing so much I thought it was a Carolina Wren at first until I got a better “listen”!  On the way back a Canyon Towhee allowed close approach (although still hidden in the bush).

Heading down the "stairs" to the Windmill Trail

Two views of Seminole Canyon in the fog


Canyon Towhee    (call)

Along the Windmill Trail

The trees mark the pre-fab gawking spot


Two examples of the Canyon Wren's song (an Ash-throated Flycatcher makes a brief call in the background of the second recording)

After that hike I decided to “BBS” the road again now that it was past sunrise, taking care only to add things that were obviously new since my pre-dawn pass.  At one stop I heard something that absolutely stumped me: it was a slow, descending, low whistle of about six notes (about half the speed and two octaves lower than a Canyon Wren)!  It was pretty distant, but I did try to record it, and threw it out to Texbirds for feedback.  Several people (including Brush Freeman) suggested Montezuma Quail, and although the timbre was right, the cadence was too slow (you could have described it as a Monty singing at three quarters speed but at the same pitch), plus the fact that they weren’t supposed to be there raised questions in my mind.  But one guy wrote me back and was absolutely ecstatic:  he started his e-mail with, “Holy Smokes!!  That’s a female Montezuma Quail!!”  He directed me to a barely audible recording on Xeno-Canto that did match my bird, and I later went back and really worked on the recording, editing out the competing Pyrrhuloxia, running a noise-reduction filter, and amplifying it a couple of times, so you could hear the subject much better.  Later Mary asked for a copy and asked if she could forward it to this guy who did research in that area; she mentioned that the quail are apparently abundant right across the border there in Mexico, but for whatever reason have never been recorded in that area of Texas!  So I was pleased as punch to be used to further ornithological knowledge for that little corner! [Ed. note: had I perused the Sibley in the first place, I would have read this entry under "Voice" for the Montezuma Quail:  "...assembly call a low, whistled series of six to nine notes descending in pitch."  Duh...]

Possibly the first record of Montezuma Quail for the park, this "mystery vocalization" was first ID'd as a female, then further research suggests it may be an "assembly call."  (Apologies for the lousy recording:  distance, wind, and competing songbirds made it difficult to isolate and enhance the subject sound!)

About that time the fog rolled in and it started misting just like it had at Kickapoo the day before, so I forewent hiking the Rio Grande Trail and instead drove to the end of the primitive camping area just to listen for a couple of minutes.  The highlight there was a pair of Scaled Quail talking to each other practically at my feet (but invisible of course)!


Scaled Quail; recording on the left is the "song", and on the right is the covey call.

Click here to continue to Devil's River SNA,

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