Naturalist Journeys, LLC - Small Group Birding and Natural History Tours

Birding and NatureTexas Hill Country
April 12-18, 2010

 

April in the Hill Country of Texas brings a magical time to experience incredible birding, and abundant wildflowers.  Two key species attract people to the Hill Country and Edwards Plateau: the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo.  We have several places to find them, as well as Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Kingfisher, Zone-tailed Hawk, and other regional specialties.

Green KingfisherThe Hill Country exhibits a fascinating convergence of ecosystems, a blend of eastern and western plants and animals.  Its limestone geology generates some of the clearest running streams and most beautiful rivers you will ever see.  April often provides a good wildflower display.  Our guide, Bob Behrstock, has as keen an eye for butterflies and dragonflies in addition to the region’s birds.  Sharing his expertise and sense of humor is a real treat.

Our week-long exploration is based out of just one hotel, the delightful, family-owned Neal’s Lodge, which offers fabulous birding, good home-cooking and beautiful scenery.  Residents invite us to watch birds at their feeders, and we hike and bird in several inspiring state parks.  A local biologist joins us to interpret the evening viewing of a ‘river’ of bats.

This delightful journey begins and ends in San Antonio, Texas.  You may wish to arrive early to take in the famous Riverwalk with its myriad shops and restaurants, or historic sites such as the Alamo.

 

ITINERARY

Crested CaracaraMon., April 12 San Antonio / Concan
Please arrive at the San Antonio International Airport (SAT) no later than 3:00 PM.  As San Antonio is a great city, you may wish to come in early over the weekend, then plan to meet the group back at the airport.  Once everyone is gathered, we’ll drive to Concan—a distance of about an hour and forty-five minutes. Our route winds into the Hill Country of the Edward's Plateau where gleaming limestone has been cut by crystal clear rivers such as the Guadalupe, Leona, Frio, Nueces, and Sabinal. In Spanish, Sabinal is a place where there are cypresses, and views of magnificent Bald Cypress trees will be a daily occurrence during the trip. Roadside birds may include Swainson’s Hawks, Crested Caracaras, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Neal’s Lodges, built along the scenic Frio River, will be our home for the week of the trip. So once we are unpacked, we can settle in and focus on nature all around us. With an avifauna that includes birds of the Eastern and Western U.S. as well as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Neal’s provides excellent birding on the grounds and has been a staple of naturalists for decades. We will arrive at Neal’s in time for dinner.
Accommodation at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (D)

Park Chalk BluffTues., April 13 Park Chalk Bluff and Uvalde
This morning we’ll head south to Uvalde then northwest to Park Chalk Bluff were Tamaulipan Scrub vegetation cloaks the hillsides along the Nueces River. Approaching the park, we’ll look for Harris’s Hawks, Eastern and Western kingbirds, Bell’s Vireos, Cassin’s and Field sparrows, Vermilion Flycatchers, Pyrrhuloxias, Bullock’s Orioles, and Dickcissels. Once at Park Chalk Bluff, we’ll bird several habitats including a stand of live oaks—home to Brown-crested Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireos, and Black-crested Titmice. Along the river, we’ll scan the cottonwoods, pecans, and mulberries, searching for birds such as Yellow-breasted Chats, Indigo and Painted buntings, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Orchard Orioles, and Blue Grosbeaks. Along the river, we’ll have another chance for the tiny Green Kingfisher, and less common species like Ringed Kingfisher, and Zone-tailed Hawk. Depending on weather, the pecan grove at the west end of the park can be attractive to migrants including Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and a variety of warblers. We’ll have a picnic lunch prepared by park staff then return to Uvalde.  Ice cream at Uvalde’s soda fountain is always a draw in the afternoon.  We’ll return to Neal's for dinner.
Accommodations at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (B,L,D)

Eastern Screech OwlWed. April 14 Fort Inge / Cook’s Slough / Fish Hatchery
After breakfast we’ll drive south and through Uvalde to the Fort Inge historic site. Although little remains of the frontier fort established there in 1849, the site protects 42 acres along the Leona River. At the north end of the park is a 140 foot-tall volcanic plug whose dry slopes attract species such as Cactus and Bewick’s wrens, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Pyrrhuloxia. Continuing down the entrance road, we reach the Leona River where we may encounter a variety of songbirds and perhaps a Mississippi Kite. Leaving Fort Inge, we’ll check the pond at Cook’s Slough for waterfowl then have lunch in town. Afterwards, a short drive west takes us to the Uvalde National Fish Hatchery. Depending on water levels, the ponds here can attract a variety of shorebirds. The largest pond has permanent blinds and usually hosts Black Phoebe, a few species of waterfowl such as Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Blue-winged Teal, and a variety of dragonflies.

Returning to Neal’s, we should have time to check one or more of the lodge’s feeding stations, watching for birds such as Clay-colored and Olive sparrows, Painted Buntings, Long-billed Thrashers, and Hooded Orioles.

Dinner will be at Neal’s restaurant and on the way back to our cabins we may hear an Eastern Screech-Owl or Chuck-will’s-widow.
Accommodations at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (B,L,D)

Painted BuntingThur. April 15 Neal's Lodges / Rio Frio Bat Cave
After an early breakfast, we’ll bird the area around Neal’s. Permanent feeding stations provide seed and water for quite a variety of birds, and chairs for the bird watchers. Clay-colored Sparrows are often common at the “cattle guard feeder” often joined by Black-throated, Lark, White-crowned, and Chipping sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches and up to three species of orioles.

We continue to the Pecan Grove for more feeder watching in a completely different habitat. Here, we’ll look for Eastern Bluebirds, Indigo Buntings, Carolina Chickadees, Black-crested Titmices, and any migrants that happen to be in the vicinity.

The staff at Neal’s maintains hummingbird feeders at several sites. These attract numerous Black-chinned Hummingbirds, a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and the occasional Hooded Oriole.

Neal's Lodges Rio FrioFor lunch, we’ll visit the little barbeque stand in Concan for brisket and smoked turkey at their shaded picnic tables.

After resting through the heat of the day, we’ll reconvene for feeder watching before our early dinner. Afterwards, we’ll make a short drive to the Rio Frio Bat Cave on a ranch near Neal's. Each evening, approximately 10 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats exit this maternity cave to feed over the surrounding countryside. Typically, the emergence begins while it is still light. If you love natural history and have not experienced a bat cave emergence, you will be mesmerized as smoke-like river of wildlife emerges against the setting sun. Seating is provided near the cave entrance where bat biologist Bain Walker will join us as we are immersed in the sight, sound, and even smell of one of the largest gathering of mammals in North America. Red-tailed or Swainson’s hawks are likely to show up to nab a bat for dinner. Cave Swallows share the cave with the bats and we should see them as they return to roost for the evening
Accommodations at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (B,L,D)

HummingbirdFri. April 16 Lost Maples State Natural Area
After breakfast, we’ll depart for Lost Maples State Natural Area. Straddling the Sabinal River and protecting nearly 2200 acres, the park is perhaps most famous for its Golden-cheeked Warblers but is home to numerous other species of birds. As we enter, we’ll check the feeders at the park’s visitor center as they usually attract numerous Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and occasionally other species such as Indigo Bunting and Scott's Oriole.

Harris HawkAlong the Maple Trail, we’ll walk through a limestone canyon populated with oaks, sycamores, and a relict population of Bigtooth Maples. Here we’ll listen for the high-pitched, sweet, buzzing song of Golden-cheeked Warblers—nesting among Ashe Junipers. Other birds in the canyon may include Acadian Flycatchers, Yellow-throated and White-eyed vireos, and Black-and-white Warblers.

Lost Maples can be very good for butterflies, indeed the area around Concan hosts over 140 species of butterflies; our last trip recorded a variety of species including Nysa Roadside-Skipper, Red Admiral, Gulf Fritillary, and Pipevine, Spicebush and Giant swallowtails. After a picnic lunch, we’ll drive to another trailhead for an easy but longer hike along the river to ponds where we can scan the branches for an active Green Kingfisher-a delightful bird with little presence in the U.S.

As we return toward Concan, we’ll stop in Utopia for dinner at the Lost Maples Café, regionally famous for its pies.
Accommodations at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (B,L,D)

Texas poolsSat. April 17 Kerr Wildlife Management Area
After breakfast we’ll depart to the northeast, leaving the watershed of the Frio River and entering the basin of the Guadalupe River. Our drive will take us to Kerr Wildlife Management Area. The drive is approximately 90 minutes, but we may pause for a field full of Bluebonnets or Mealy Sage. Kerr WMA is home to a large population of Black-capped Vireos, an endangered specialty of central Texas, and a target species for visiting birders. Other species on the site include Wild Turkey, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Common Ground-Doves, Summer Tanagers, Field Sparrows, Blue Grosbeaks, and Painted Buntings.

After a picnic lunch at Kerr, we’ll return to Concan, perhaps making a stop or two along the Frio River en route. Dinner will be at Neal’s restaurant.
 Accommodations at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (B,L,D)

Sunday April 18 San Antonio /Departures
This morning we load the vans, with Blue Jays watching the action, and drive a little over an hour to the bustle of the city and its airport.  It's always hard to say good-bye to friends, but we're consoled by the strong likelihood of future travels together!  Now, as we return to our homes, the memories settle, certain bright ones glowing.  That Golden-cheeked Warbler really is a jewel…(B)

 

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Tour Cost and Travel Arrangements:
Cost of the journey is $1995.00; single supplement is $270.00.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.

Photo credits:
Green Kingfisher and Painted Bunting, VIREO; Harris Hawk, Dave Utterback; Neal's Lodges/Rio Frio, Coppery Dancer and Eastern Screech Owl, Bob Behrstock www.naturewideimages.com; all other photos by Peg Abbott.

 

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