Thursday, June 25, 2015

Birding Texas Hill Country: Visits to Kerr Wildlife Management Area & Ft. Stockton

We want to start out by saying that we don't make it a practice of "chasing" specific birds. We like to simply enjoy the birds we are fortunate enough to see at the locations we are visiting. That being said, we were hoping to visit the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, located in Marble Falls, Texas on our way back to New Mexico/ Arizona. We also thought it might be a wonderful place to volunteer at some future date.  This refuge is located just northwest of Austin, Texas. The primary purpose of the refuge is to protect the nesting habitat of the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, two highly endangered migratory birds that we have never seen.

During our last week in the Mission, Texas area, it was becoming clear that we would have to risk entering terrible tornado weather if we visited Balcones. Texas was experiencing unprecedented flooding, so we decided instead to head west and visit the refuge at another time.

Coincidentally, on one of our last birding days in south Texas we ran into fellow birders that had just visited the Kerr Wildlife Management Area and had great views of both the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo! It just so happens that Kerr Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located south of Junction, Texas, which was one of our planned stops along with Ft. Stockton on our travels westward.

The Kerr WMA is owned and operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is part of the ecologically rich Edwards Plateau. The WMA is located at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River and consists of approximately 6,500 acres representative of the Edwards Plateau habitat. The WMA serves as a site where research of wildlife populations and habitats can be conducted under controlled conditions and to provide public hunting.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's website indicates that only 500 people per year visit the area. This includes birders from all over the world that come to view two sought-after species: the endangered Black-capped Vireo  and Golden-cheeked Warbler. The WMA website provides excellent directions; as a result, most birders stand a good chance of viewing these two elusive species. 

We had a lovely spring weather on the day that we visited the Kerr WMA. We had the chance to park and hike into a few of the designated areas recommended to see the vireos and warblers.

This male Black-capped Vireo was very vocal and cooperative for viewing and photographing:-) Our bird book resources indicate that this is the smallest vireo to occur in the U.S. All I can say is that it has a big attitude! What a songster...apparently research indicates that they have a repertoire of songs 10 time larger than other vireos.

The Golden-cheeked Warblers were located in a different habitat a few miles down the road from the vireos. They nest exclusively in the juniper-oak woodlands of central Texas. We were so lucky because there are not nearly as many Golden-cheeked Warblers as there are Black-capped Vireos. This male was feeding and singing from the branches at eye level!!

The bird below is a first year male Summer Tanager. It is not a rarity so to speak but we think it is so lovely with its blend of peach and yellow colors.

We stayed at a RV park on the outskirts of Ft. Stockton. It was our last stop in Texas before coming into New Mexico. We found amazing bird life on a walk around the RV park in habitat that is basically desert.

This Barn Swallow was curious as to what I was doing. Barn Swallow nests are always cup shaped, typically located under an overhang.
This Bell's Vireo is the Texas subspecies and was full of spring songs the morning we saw it.

We have learned that the stunning Blue Grosbeak is a bird of the sage and desert habitat.
There is a female Bullock's Oriole on the nest in the photo below. You can just see her sticking her head out of the white and blue fuzz she used to create her special nest:-)
The male Bullock's Oriole is keeping a watchful eye out - protecting his mate and nest.
This Curve-billed Thrasher came out to see what was going on...
Flowers of the desert...
Different kinds of flowers of the desert- the male Painted Bunting and Bullock's Oriole provide quite the colorful kalaidascope of colors in the desert scene
Male Painted Bunting
This immature Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is learning to fly....

This blog completes our 2015 Spring Migration. We hope you have enjoyed our journey via the blog as much as we enjoyed the actual experience. 

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

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