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Part 5:  Devil's River SNA  (7-8 APR)

It wasn’t even 10:00 by the time I wrapped up Seminole Canyon, so headed on up to Devil’s River SRA to scout it out.  I must have conveniently forgotten that, like Kickapoo, it’s only open Friday through Monday, but I was probably focusing more on the entrance road in my mind’s eye, because once you arrive at the park, there’s nowhere to drive anyway (but there are a few trails).  But the bad news was that the locked gate is about four miles up from the river itself, so there’s no way you’d even get a view! 

But the road in, called Dolan Creek, once again was more lush than I imagined it:  rolling hills covered with “Hill Country Chaparral”, with a few open grassy areas where you drive by various ranches.  In fact, parts of it kinda reminded me of Ruby Road in southeast Arizona (although the latter is much more scenic by far), and I wondered if this, too, might be a potential spot for Montezuma Quail!  None were singing today, but who knows what’ll be vocalizing first thing in the morning!  For the scouting trip, I just drove straight to the gate to get the mileage (18 miles to the park gate), and I only ran into three other vehicles the whole time I was on the road (the first encounter was with a big ol’ one ton while I was shooting a Lark Sparrow out the window and thought I had the whole road to myself…)!  But my comment about getting Gray Vireo at Kickapoo or not at all this trip was shot to heck as I picked up two birds along here, one very close to the road!  Further down was another Black-capped Vireo, and Bell’s were all over the place.  But could I see any??  Of course not!!  Other interesting (and heard-only) birds along this road that were new for the day included Bobwhite, House Wren, Olive Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Lesser Goldfinch (the hen Turkey actually catapulted across the road).  I checked every vulture for a possible Zonetail, but alas, all were either Turkeys or Blacks.  On the way out I noticed some butters flitting around a road kill – most were Red Admirals but there was one American Lady and a Reakirt’s Blue that landed on the snout of the skull!  It looked to be a small porcupine, based on the spines, but it had been pretty well picked over…

Black-throated Sparrow

       

Posing Lark Sparrow

Turkey Vultures

As close as you can get if the gate's locked...

Diggory at the gate, ready to head back...

Scenes along the road...

The weather the whole week was kinda overcast and misty...

These areas of scattered bushes (above and below) were the favored haunts of the Gray Vireo.

Three song samples of three different Gray Vireos along the road:

  a typical cadence

  one that's had a little too much caffeine (with a House Finch and a Verdin towards the end)

  one that definitely needs a shot of something...

A road-killed Porcupine provides a tasty meal for several butterflies!

   

Red Admiral

   

American Lady

   

This Reakirt's Blue apparently found something interesting on the thing's snout...

   

It's hard to gauge the grade of this hill from the photo, but the guy who put the sign up must have thought it was pretty serious!

Got back to Del Rio in record time; I had allowed a full hour and a half to get to Devil’s River, but I must have calculated the time from the hotel to the actual end of the road, because once on US 277 it took me less than an hour to get back to town!  Decided to try the KFC this time (and as I figured, getting three pieces of the grilled was not overdoing it, as the pieces were quite small), and enjoyed a cartoon showcasing the courtship dance of the Lawes’ Parotia which was kinda cute!

Got checked out the next morning, grabbed a banana on the fly, and headed up to Dolan Creek Road, where I arrived about a half hour before dawn.  This time I decided to keep an accurate count instead of just stopping at ten, and that was rather fun:  Cardinals definitely won the contest at a whopping 53 individuals, and what was even more surprising was that EBird didn’t question it! J  (Often on these BBS-style road-birding routes, I’d get a gazillion White-eyed Vireos, say, and I inevitably get flagged…)  I filled up a whole page while just waiting for sunrise (again, you’d never know it), the most exciting “early bird” being a Black-capped Vireo (I would log five along the course of the route)!  Bell’s were out the yin yang (sure aren’t endangered out here), and it was fun to hear the Turkeys gobbling! 

   

Two different Black-capped Vireos: leaded and unleaded versions...

More road scenes...

Wash

Aside from a singing Ground Dove and a couple of Roadrunners (one making that tenor “cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk” call that I’ve only heard a couple of times before), there was nothing along this road that I didn’t bag elsewhere, but it’s good to know that there’s another accessible place for Gray Vireo (I logged four along the route)!  Again, I actually saw very little but heard a lot of stuff; aside from the things that are normally front and center (like doves, raptors, mockers, cowbirds, and House Finches), the only things to really show themselves were the ever-cooperative Black-throated Sparrows, a Vermilion Flycatcher on a wire, a shrike on a post, a Turkey crossing the road, the occasional cooperative Cardinal, and a Pyrrhuloxia or two shooting across the road.  Not even the Roadrunners showed themselves!  But several species were pretty abundant simply based on what I was hearing at each stop, the more interesting being Black-crested Titmouse, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Verdin, and Bewick’s Wren.  In lesser numbers were Rufous-crowned, Cassin’s, Lincoln’s, Lark, and Olive Sparrows; Scott’s Oriole, Canyon and Spotted Towhees, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Bobwhite, White-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Scrub Jay, and Cactus and Canyon Wrens (and there were some nice little canyons along the road).  Singletons included Common Ground Dove (new for the trip), Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Field Sparrow, Black Vulture (hanging with the Turkey Vulture roost), a fly-by Red-tailed Hawk, Lesser Goldfinch, Scaled Quail, and a probable Cooper’s Hawk batting across the road on the way out. 

Turkey trying to escape behind the fence...

"Tree Farm", an open area that had shrikes and Vermilion Flycatchers.

Yellow-breasted Chat and Bell's Vireo along one of the canyons

Scaled Quail giving a sound bite that would do the old Peterson recordings proud:  several Quarks! followed by the covey call, and wrapping it all up with another Quark!

I knew Devil’s Sinkhole was definitely a “reservation only” place, but I was curious to see if the entrance roads might be decent, but apparently even those are locked up tight as well; there’s not even a sign to the place!  But the roads around there are gorgeous, and I did find a lovely but hair-raising road to Barksdale (FM 335) that hugs the Nueces River!  I wish I had the camera ready to take some “dash cam” shots, because the scenery was spectacular, and you really had to see some of these grades to believe them (it gave a whole new meaning to the term “Hill Country”)!  I honestly felt like I was on a roller coaster at times, because you’d come to the crest of a hill with a limestone cliff right next to you on the right, and a drop-off next to the other lane, and you’d suddenly be going straight down and straight up the next hill!  I had the window open and managed to add Yellow-throated Warbler on the fly, but this was a lush, wooded habitat with great promise (but not many places to pull over)!  When I came to FM 3235 (according to the Delorme Atlas – Google Maps says 2631 on the west end) I made a left, presuming it would connect to FM 336 and make a nice loop back up to SR 41, only after a couple of miles it stopped dead at a ranch gate!  But even with that it made for a nice 30-mile route (added Golden-cheeked Warbler for the day at the gate).  The only thing that put a damper on the drive was the fact that apparently sunscreen had yet again gotten into my eye (why is it always the left eye??) and it was killing me (and a burning eye is not the safest thing to be dealing with on a narrow, curvy road)!  That started a whole new thread on Texbirds about “stingless” sunscreen, BTW… J  But as I backtracked and headed up to Junction on US 377 (which is also a very scenic yet windy road), the more I thought about it, the more reticent I was to make the hour-long drive back down there in pitch (with the danger of more deer – I had already seen at least two deer kills along the road that brought back nightmares of last year), so decided to play it safe and go visit my old friend, South Llano River SP, tomorrow, and maybe hit Kerr WMA on Friday since I was staying in Junction two nights. (And driving an hour on the interstate to get to Kerr is a whole lot safer than driving that curvy two-lane highway in the dark!)

Thankfully the Best Western had some Murine for sale, but as providence would have it, my eye cleared up the minute I got in the room!  (Well, I was begging the Lord to heal it, but I couldn’t help but wonder if, since it always seemed to be the left eye that got hammered, it had more to do with dry eye and less to do with sunscreen, but the test will be to see if that happens when I’m not wearing it…)  The gas station had a Quizno’s, so I decided to be somewhat healthy and got a salad, but also their baked mac and cheese since it looked so good (there’s that marketing strategy again J, and it really wasn’t all that red hot), so once I was settled in and showered I checked out the Weather Channel while I ate – lots of storm-chasing potential going on in Missouri now, and north Texas may get hammered this weekend!

Click here to continue to South Llano River SP,

Click here to Return to Seminole Canyon State Park

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