Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tiny Little Nest

Teri and I visited the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute just outside of Fort Davis. We make it a point to visit this place each time we are in the area because they have wonderful gardens and hiking trails.

Say's Phoebe on Nest
They have a beautiful Visitor Center, and this Say's Phoebe had built a nest right on top of a Flicker nestbox under the eaves.

We hiked the Modesta Spring trail which leads you down into a small canyon. At the bottom of the canyon is (you guessed it!) Modesta Spring and some small pools. The area is cool and green, and truly an oasis in the middle of the desert. Just downstream of the spring we saw a female hummingbird fly out of a tree, and wondered if she had been sitting on a nest. Sure enough, we found her nest in a tree just above a pool.
Hummingbird Nest
We didn't see any little ones in the nest and didn't want to disturb it to see if she had eggs. So we settled for this close-up and then moved on.
Hummingbird Nest
As we continued down the canyon we came across a few more birds.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Rock Wren
Black-throated Sparrow
While we saw mostly birds, we did see this little Desert Cottontail working through the grass.
Desert Cottontail
Back at the Visitor Center we were treated to this Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding at a Cactus Blossom.
Black-chinned Hummingbird at Cactus Blossom
If you are ever in the Davis Mountains be sure to give this place a visit!


Monday, April 25, 2016

Davis Mountains State Park

We stopped in at Davis Mountains State Park this morning to check out their birding blinds. They have made significant improvements at both blinds since our last visit. A blind that was previously a few picnic tables under a shade is now the most amazing stucco bird blind that we've ever seen.
New Davis Mountains SP Bird Blind
The interior is just as nice, with tile floors and plenty of seats.
Bird Blind Interior
Water features were particularly popular, as I suppose is expected out here in the desert!
Cedar Waxwings
In addition to a big group of Ceder Waxwings, we saw an Acorn Woodpecker taking a drink as well.
Acorn Woodpecker
Ladderback Woodpeckers enjoyed peanut butter mixtures on log feeders and we saw a Western Scrub-Jay puzzling over an acorn.
Ladderback Woodpecker
Western Scrub-Jay
Once again there was no shortage of Bewick's Wrens singing their little hearts out.
Bewick's Wren
I felt lucky to get this picture of a Red-tailed Hawk that made a single low fly-by.
Red-tailed Hawk
We'll stay here another day or two and then head on over to New Mexico.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Davis Mountains

After waiting out storms in Central Texas, we've finally headed west on our (slow) journey toward Leadville, Colorado. Our first stop was to be Balmorhea State Park, so imagine our surprise when we pulled in and saw the "All Campgrounds Full" sign!  We've been there many times and have never seen more than a few campers. We continued on to Davis Mountains State Park and found that they were also full. Our third choice was the Historic Prude Ranch just down the road. We'd stayed there many years ago and were pleased to find that they still have RV sites and were almost empty.
Canyon Towhee
Canyon Towhees showed up immediately around and underneath the trailer. They are certainly friendly birds! Another common bird here is Ash-throated Flycatcher. Their referee whistle "tweet-tweet" makes them easy to find.
Ash-throated Flycatcher
This morning we hiked the Madera Canyon Trail on a Nature Conservancy property. We saw some beautiful Claret Cup Cactus blooming along the trail.
Claret Cup Cactus
Bewick's Wrens were singing from the tops of trees.
Bewick's Wren singing
We saw a few butterflies, including this tiny Reakirt's Blue. It is hard to get them sitting still long enough to get a picture.
Reakirt's Blue - female
The best find of the morning was this Gray Flycatcher. This plain little Empidonax flycatcher has a Texas range that is restricted only to the Davis Mountains. After chasing a couple around for a while this one was kind enough to perch right in front of us and call. Hearing the call was the clincher on the ID.
Gray Flycatcher
We'll stay in this area for a few more days before heading further west.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

April Showers...

We've had more than showers here the past several days. We are still at our place in Medina (west of San Antonio), getting ready to head out for the summer. In the past several days we have had wave after wave of severe thunderstorms, resulting in more than 7" of rain.

Sunday night was the worst, with about 5" falling. We got up the next morning and went for a walk to survey the damage. The entrance to our park includes a section of road across a small dam. There is hardly ever any water behind the dam, so imagine our surprise when we saw this!!

Our road in (and out!!).

It turns out that a small dam upstream of our park failed and sent a wall of water, along with trees and debris down our way. The folks with homes closest to the drainage had water within just a few feet of their homes. Now they have a lovely lakeside view!

The drainage pipes under the drive were partially washed out, but there is enough road left to safely drive in and out.

The owner and managers here are great folks, and had the road cleared within an hour.

We will be heading west in a day or two to do some exploring in West Texas, New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona before we turn north toward Colorado. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wildflowers and Waxwings

We have visited the Hill Country State Natural Area twice in the past week. Once to hike with our friends Rick and Sharon, and again this past Sunday to participate in a Wildflower Walk. The weather was a little damp on Sunday and we were the only folks to show up for the walk. So Teri and I were led around by a very knowledgeable ranger and had a great time.

First the Cedar Waxwings. Look at the picture below and guess how many Waxwings are in that tree.
Cedar Waxwings in Tree
They blended in so well that they looked like leaves. It turns out that there are between 50 and 75 birds in that picture!

During the Wildflower Walk we saw all kinds of flowers. Big and small, showy and subdued. 
Antelope-Horns Milkweed
The Antelope-Horns Milkweed was big, but not particularly colorful. While the Ratany was tiny, but brightly colored. 
Winning the award for best camouflaged flower was the was Queen's Delight. That green spike is the flower. 
Queen's Delight
You can see where the Squarebud Primrose gets its name.
Squarebud Primrose
And Yellow Flax was putting on a nice display. 
Yellow Flax
We saw a plant with leaves that resembled a Bluebonnet, but the flower was different. It turned out to be the oddly named Scurf Pea.
Scurf Pea
Another (barely) blue flower was Blue-Star. 
Blue Star
We saw a lot of Indian Paintbrush up in the Inks Lake, but were pleased to find its larger cousin, the Prairie Paintbrush down in our neck of the hills. 
Prairie Paintbrush
Another wildflower that thrives in the rocky Texas Hill Country is the aptly named Limestone Guara. 
Limestone Guara
And finally, the Bushy Skullcap. On the ranger's checklist she had a hint beside this one that read "Bugs Bunny Teeth". Do you see them?? This is the kind of hint that will stick with me for years!
Bushy Skullcap
We saw many other varieties of wildflowers, but I'll spare you a dozen different DYC (Darned Yellow Composite) pictures. You can thank me later!


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spring in the Texas Hill Country

We finished our volunteer stint at Inks Lake State Park and are back at our little house in Medina, Texas for a couple of weeks.

Our friends Rick and Sharon came up from South Texas to visit for a few days, so we headed off to Lost Maples State Natural Area for a hike and some bird watching. It has been a wet year and it was great to see the springs and creeks flowing strongly and the fresh green leaves coming onto the trees.

It has been a banner year for wildflowers, and the Scarlet Penstemon were in full bloom along the trails.
Scarlet Penstemon
We walked right under this sleepy fellow, who had chosen a rather bare tree for his nap. He wasn't there when we returned later in the morning, so perhaps he found a more shaded spot.
We saw a couple of Golden-cheeked Warbler but I failed to get any pictures. I did get this picture of a beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler.
Yellow-throated Warbler
A park host was kind enough to point out the nest of a Yellow-throated Vireo. Can you see the lichen-covered nest?
Yellow-throated Vireo Nest
As we returned to the parking lot we heard a little racket down along a nearby stream. We found a pair of Green Kingfishers discussing the fishing in the area.
Green Kingfisher
We couldn't have asked for a nicer day for our hike. The Texas Hill Country on a cool spring morning is a pretty good place to be!