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Part 6:  South Llano River SP  (9 APR)

Buck Lake

Really rushed through the morning routine in order to get to South Llano a full hour before sunrise, and I couldn’t believe it:  when I stepped out of the car, there wasn’t a Chuck to be heard!!  (Guess they hadn’t arrived yet…)  But the ironic thing was as I made my way to the day use area, not one, but two Poorwills were singing!  They’ve probably been here all along but were drowned out by the Chucks before…  As always, the gobbling Turkeys were fun, and the Cardinals were the first passerines to split the night.  Other pre-dawn songsters included White-winged and Mourning Doves, Field Sparrows, and at the turnaround in the day use area, the resident Vermilion Flycatchers.  Nature called me to the campground restroom where we picked up the first Bell’s Vireo and Titmouse of the day.

Starting back up at the top of the hill at sunrise (overcast yet again), added the day’s only Rufous-crowned Sparrow singing on the side of the hill across the highway.  A Belted Kingfisher rattled at the river crossing, and another fly-by Red-tailed Hawk showed up near the exotic game field, along with the park’s only Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  By the time I made it to the office they were open for business, so went in to get my pass, but not before bumping into a whole tree-full of Cedar Waxwings!  The hummers at the feeders were also distracting (was able to pick out a few for-sure Blackchins, but most of them I noted as Archilochus sp.).

One of several Cedar Waxwings at the headquarters building.

Next order of business was to crawl through the campground, where the host had a feeder up that was covered with Pine Siskins!  I was pretty excited about that, but little did I know (I was attempting to get a recording when the guy came up and thought I was trying to get a signal for my cell phone…)!  On the back side of the loop a Yellow-breasted Chat was singing right there, only my camera wouldn’t focus when he decided to come and sit right out in the open (for the briefest of moments, of course, before darting across the street…)!  Grrrrr…

Cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat in the campground

The day use area was now hopping with a singing Cassin’s Sparrow, and a nice-looking Myrtle Warbler was new for the trip!  Near the composting toilet what may have been the same Yellow-throated Warbler who had me fooled last year into thinking he was a Black-and-white was singing away again (and being pretty cooperative for views as well).  I did a little bit of the Nature Trail where a Summer Tanager came in and pick-a-chooed at me.  On the way back a Lark Sparrow sang nicely.

Day use area; I remember it being a lot more lush, but then again, I was usually here later in the month...

White-winged Dove


Yellow-throated Warbler   


Vermilion Flycatcher

...with breakfast...

Nature Trail

Calling Summer Tanager

The next trail was the Buck Lake Trail to the Acorn Blind, with a side trip next to the river.  No Green Kingfishers this time, but I did have a Mockingbird with quite the repertoire, including a Bell’s Vireo!  The only Canyon Wren of the day sang from the hillside along with a Common Yellowthroat from the river vegetation, and heading into the woodlands a nice Yellow-throated Vireo sang (but wouldn’t show himself naturally…).  Another Summer Tanager put on a concert, and once past Buck Lake and up that hill, a Red-eyed Vireo was singing amongst the competing songs!  (I had been pondering that I’m probably too early for a lot of the stuff I’ve had here in past years, including that Acadian Flycatcher that was putting on such a great show at this very spot…).  Also unlike past years, I had the whole blind to myself this time, and the place was crawling with siskins!!  The usual seedeaters were present (Chipping, Lark, Black-throated, and White-crowned Sparrows; House Finches, and even a lone American Goldfinch), but the real treat was a male Orchard Oriole that came in, looking like he really wanted to hit the water feature but just didn’t get up the nerve to do it (he sang nicely instead).

Northern Mockingbird incorporates a Bell's Vireo (near the beginning) and a Purple Martin (near the end) into his song!  A Cassin's Sparrow also adds his sweet melody to the concert. 

Yellow-throated Vireo 

Summer Tanager song


Pine Siskins at the Acorn Blind

Black-throated Sparrow


Scruffy Chipping Sparrow

Rock Squirrels in Texas show more black than those in Arizona.

"What're you staring at?!"  (Cardinal taking a bath...)


Orchard Oriole making his way down to the water feature


Female Summer Tanager

Returning on the Buck Lake Trail

Female Checkered White

The second hike was supposed to be up to the water storage tank (I had gotten Hutton’s Vireos up there in the past), but I got confused and ended up at the maintenance yard (got a nice Ruby-throated Hummer out of it anyway).  The "campground" blind had a bunch of happy people in it, so I decided to join the party; the one lady (who was a Winter Texan in the Valley) thought she had photographed a Wood Thrush the day before there.  Thankfully she had the photo on her camera, and the bird turned out to be a more expected Hermit Thrush, but she was still thrilled as that was a lifer as well!  More of the same showed up here, along with a Spotted Towhee and some Field Sparrows, as well as a pair of Scrub Jays, which was nice.

Black-crested Titmouse

Chipping Sparrow with a little nicer head pattern than the other one...

"Woodhouse's" Scrub Jay, a candidate for a split from the coastal forms.

My little Powershot was dying, so it was time to switch to Old Faithful (the EOS) as we headed next to the Aguilera (sp?) Blind behind the headquarters building and along the Fawn Trail.  Like the others, the place was crawling with siskins, and several sparrow species gave good looks.  The folks who were in there had just had a male Painted Bunting, but it never showed while I was there… L  Those folks left, and shortly the same lady that was in the other blind came in with a different birding couple plus somebody’s father, I presume, and they were all excited about seeing a Brown-crested Flycatcher!  Truthfully, the photo looked more like an Ash-throated (which is more expected, anyway), and the thing hadn’t vocalized, so who knows what it really was (the WT lady was jokingly warning them about showing me pictures of what they think is a so-and-so… J)  After awhile we got to talking Black-capped Vireo stories, and I mentioned that I had heard one right outside the blind just before they arrived (as they had, and were hoping it would come in for a drink)!  It never did, so I went on, and they told me to yell if I saw one (they had all gotten views, but I think the hubby wanted to try for a good shot).  I rolled my eyes, knowing how often I actually see the things compared to how often I hear them, but as I headed down the Fawn Trail, what should be singing right out in the open right on top of a leafless tree but that bugger of a Blackcap! J  After a  gazillion belly shots he flew down into a bush at eye level, but like the chat, he was only in the open for a second, and I wasn’t fast enough with the manual focus to catch him! L  I went back to the blind, but the crew had left, so I sat for another 15 minutes, surprised to hear a Lincoln’s Sparrow actually singing (or trying to) off to the side!

Male American Goldfinch starting to attain some breeding yellow. 

Lark Sparrow   

Chipping Sparrow

Pine Siskin

Field Sparrow   

Spotted Towhee

Poppa Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at the nest (they use tree bark to make it blend in)!


The normally "I'll-let-you-hear-me-but-not-see-me!" Black-capped Vireo, here just singing his little heart out at the top of a tree along the Fawn Trail!   

Back at the blind, a sleepy Field Sparrow comes in for a snack...

...while a Black-chinned Hummingbird takes a sip!

Here one of the wintering Lincoln's Sparrows is tuning up his burry song, while Pine Siskins and House Finches chatter in the background.

Last was the blind by the barn, and a guy from Dallas had also cottoned onto the idea of bringing a stool so you can set up shop in the open window for photography!  He had just gotten himself a fancy Canon with the 100-400 zoom lens and a “bipod”, and said he was tired of taking pictures of the Mockingbirds in his backyard and wanted something different! J  He was a new birder, so was in the “shoot now and look it up later” phase, but was delighted with everything (even the silly House Finches), as everything was new!  So we talked cameras for a bit, and he even offered to switch places for a while so I could shoot, but nothing new was coming in so I passed.  But after I said my goodbyes, what may have been the same Black-capped Vireo from last year started singing back at the parking lot, and he even gave brief views!  But what was more interesting was that a second vireo was interacting with him in the bush, but not aggressively, and the singing vireo was doing a little “whisper talk” before he took off again!  I suspect it was a mated pair, and indeed, the pictures I got of the one who came out in the open may be a female, as the cap isn’t quite as jet black and contrasting as the males I’ve seen. 


Yet another cooperative Black-capped Vireo; I suspect this is a female due to the duller nape.

As I was putting away my gear, a vaguely familiar song sang in the distance, and it dawned on me that it was a Painted Bunting, so I got to log it after all!  Interestingly, however, EBird didn’t even have it listed (yet), but it did have Varied Bunting listed, and they do indeed get into this part of Kimble County, so now I’m wondering if that’s what it could have been (in fact, at the time I thought it had some harsh elements, but I brushed it off, assuming it had to be a Painted)!  Probably should have tried to track that one down…

I was pretty shot after that, but needed to use the restroom again so headed back into the campground, where I ran into the wife of the guy who thought he had the BCFL J, so I told her about the vireos on the Fawn Trail (in case he wanted to try for a picture), and she mentioned that they knew the bird I was talking about!  Turns out they’re WTs, too, and spend the winter in Weslaco right next to Estero!  (We were comparing state parks to rave about… J)  They’re staying a few more days so he has plenty of time to try for the vireo again; I just hope they don’t get slammed by that storm system coming over the weekend (there had been a storm last night that I didn’t even hear, but the guy from Dallas said he was lying on his back with his feet up trying to keep his tent upright)!

After wrapping that up I decided to check out the sewer ponds in Junction to pad the list a little, and that was pretty productive with some Cattle Egrets, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, a single female Ring-necked Duck and male Blue-winged Teal, but the real star was a female Canvasback!  A guy was mowing so I didn’t go down the side road, but rather headed over to the county park which was also by the river, which had a dirt road that actually went through some pretty nice habitat before ending at the bridge where some swallows were nesting, but I couldn’t tell if they were Cliffs or Caves (too far away and moving too fast).  I didn’t linger as there were a couple of guys down there, or so I thought—turned out to be a young couple just wanting some privacy!  The rest of the place was typical city park, and only added Purple Martins, a Redwing, Starlings, and a phoebe for the day.  But the sewer ponds sure bolstered both the day and the trip list, giving me 72 species for the day and 116 so far for the trip!

Lesser Scaup (and a female Ring-necked Duck, second from left) at the Junction Wastewater Ponds.

Female Canvasback

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