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

Texas Hill Country Birding and Nature Tour
Birding and Nature Tours with Naturalist Journeys
April 14-19, 2013

 

“Excellent birding, beautiful scenery and the wonder of bats! What fun! Can hardly wait to go again!” - Rolla Wagner

Coppery Dancer Dragonfly

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 Golden-cheeked WarblerEdwards 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.

The 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 as he does for the region’s birds.  Sharing his expertise and sense of humor is a real treat.

Painted BuntingOur exploration is based out of just one hotel, the delightful, family-owned Neal’s Lodges, 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

Sun., April 14 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, and 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 Crested Caracaraminutes. Our route winds into the Hill Country of the Edwards 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)

Mon., April 15 Park Chalk Bluff  / Uvalde / Ft. Inge / Fish Hatchery
This morning we’ll head south to Uvalde then northwest to Park Chalk Bluff where Tamaulipan Scrub vegetation cloaks the hillsides along the Nueces River. Approaching Green Kingfisherthe 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 Park Chalk BluffGrosbeaks and a variety of warblers. We’ll have a picnic lunch prepared by park staff and then return to Uvalde.  Ice cream at Uvalde’s soda fountain is always a draw in the afternoon. 

While in the area, we also visit Fort Inge Historical Park. 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 Flycatchers, and Pyrrhuloxias. Continuing down the entrance road, we reach the Leona River where we may encounter a variety of songbirds and perhaps a Mississippi Kite. 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 Phoebes, a few species of waterfowl such as Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Blue-winged Teals, and a variety of dragonflies.
We’ll return to Neal's for dinner.
Accommodations at Neal’s Lodges, Concan, TX (B,L,D)

Yellow PoppyTues., April 16 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 Titmice, 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 gatherings 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)

HummingbirdWed., April 17 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;  they usually attract numerous Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and occasionally other species such as Indigo Bunting and Scott's Oriole.

Along 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.

Harris HawkLost 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)

Black-capped VireoThurs., April 18 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 Turkeys, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Common Ground-Doves, Summer Tanagers, Field Sparrows, Blue Grosbeaks, and Painted Buntings.

Texas poolsAfter 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)

Fri.., April 19 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.  Plan on departures after 10:00 AM, or if going on, a connecting flight to El Paso late morning. It's always hard to say good-bye to friends, but we're consoled by the strong likelihood of future travels together! 

In fact, those continuing on to our BIG BEND JOURNEY can look forward to more great birds, amazing scenery and West Texas hospitality. It’s a short flight between San Antonio and El Paso, where you greet some new traveling companions and continue on. (B)

Golden-cheeked Warbler singing

Eastern Screech Owl

Penstemon

Maples Trail

Blue bonnets

 

PLAN AHEAD!
Protect yourself with Allianz Travel Insurance (formerly Access America).

Offset your Carbon Footprint. Show us the receipt and we'll take 50% - up to $50.00 - of your carbon offset fee off your final payment.

COST OF THE JOURNEY
The cost of this journey is $1895.00 from San Antonio, TX.  This cost is based on double occupancy and includes all accommodations; meals as specified in the itinerary, group airport transfers, professional guide services, local park and other area entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.  The cost is based on a minimum number of 6 participants, with fewer a small group surcharge (typically $100-$300) may apply.

The cost does not include transportation to or from your home to San Antonio, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, porterage, maid gratuities or beverages from the bar.  Single supplement (as available) is $225.00.

This journey can be combined with our Big Bend Journey April 20-28, 2013. A discount of $200.00 per person will apply if both journeys are booked at the same time. An estimate of airfare between San Antonio and El Paso is one-way, approx. $200.00 and $260.00 if round trip. Southwest has the only direct or same plane with one-stop flight; other airlines hub typically through Dallas.

TRAVEL INFORMATION
A good number of airlines service San Antonio, including Southwest Airlines. Plan to arrive in San Antonio no later than 2:00 PM. on April 14th. As it’s a fun city with a lot of historical interest and the Riverwalk, we have planned the journey so you can enjoy a weekend there either before or after as part of your vacation as you wish. Plan to depart after NOON on April 19th.

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:
Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler singing, Tom Dove; Green Kingfisher and Painted Bunting, VIREO; Harris Hawk, Dave Utterback; Neal's Lodges/Rio Frio, Yellow Poppy, Penstemon, Maples Trail, Coppery Dancer and Eastern Screech Owl, Bob Behrstock www.naturewideimages.com; all other photos by Peg Abbott.

 

Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.