Texas: Lost Maples

Spring break is all about drinking, partying, and birding, right?

For months a group of friends and I planned a trip to Texas this spring to accomplish at least one of those things. Jen and I flew in a couple of days early to explore the Hill Country area of Texas two hours west of San Antonio that is home to the rare and endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler that only nests in juniper-oak woodlands of Central Texas.

The warbler has good taste. This is the prettiest part of Texas I’ve ever seen.

We stayed at Foxfire Cabins less than a mile from Lost Maples State Natural Area. What the cabins lacked in swankiness the property made up for with birds.

feeder titmouse

Inca Dove

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Carolina Chickadee

Boom. Just like that, four lifers. There was also a Yellow-throated Vireo sighting and a drive-by Ringed Kingfisher. Make that six lifers. Birding is so easy. Once the sun dipped below the hills we star-gazed enjoying the clear dark skies, then got up early in the morning to hike Lost Maples Park.

The chalkboard doesn’t lie.

We parked the car, started up the trail, and almost immediately heard the buzzy “ter-wih-zeee-e-e-e, chy” song I’d studied long before the trip. Incredible. It took much longer to get a visual on the warblers, but when we did it was even sweeter.

Yay! The extra time and effort was all worth it. Relaxed and happy, we soaked up other sights along the trail including Yellow-throated Warblers and White-eyed Vireos.

And a Black-chinned Hummingbird that stopped to take a drink from the stream.

Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soared higher in the sky as the wind picked up and we hiked up the hillside.

Black Vulture

Here we’d hoped for an early Black-capped Vireo, but came up with Black-crested Titmouse.

And Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Along the trail we were easily distracted by damselflies, butterflies and lizards.

And a Carolina Wren singing like crazy.

The wind picked up further as we hiked back to check the feeders near the trail entrance.

This turned up many birds including:

White-tipped Dove

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Three more lifebirds. Bam! What a gorgeous birdy place. I’m already dreaming of a return backpacking trip.

In the heat of the day we took a quick lunch break before heading north to Kerr Wildlife Management Area to try again for Black-capped Vireo. On the drive there we passed a Vesper Sparrow.

A Lark Sparrow.

A mystery snake that slivered quickly across the road.

And we passed a pile of vultures on the side of the road with a Crested Caracara in the mix!

New bird! I was surprised to learn they’re actually quite common in southern Texas. Here’s a picture from a later sighting:

Eventually we made it to Kerr WMA, and dipped again on vireos, but we found plenty more lifebirds for me including Vermilion Flycatchers.

A Field Sparrow.

And a wonderful surprise bird Jen spotted just as we were leaving the park, a Louisiana Waterthrush! Good spot.

We made it back to the cabins without running out of gas and prepared ourselves for an early departure the next morning. 18 new birds in less than two full days? Not a bad start!

Thanks Texas.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

Cabin Lake Bird Blinds

Not far from Fort Rock State Park there is yet another magical place.

Cabin Lake sign

I almost don’t want to blog about it (the secret’s out!). But someone told me and I’m grateful. Someone also told me to bring suet. Best advice ever.

Before the blinds though, the road from Fort Rock to Cabin Lake deserves mentioning. Cabin Lake Rd is nine miles of Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Brewer’s Sparrow, California Quail, Vesper Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Loggerhead Shrikes. We saw THREE shrikes in a matter of minutes.

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

California Quail

California Quail

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

And a coyote.

Coyote

It was kind of nuts. I didn’t want it to end. But the road leads to something even better.

Bird blind

Don’t be fooled. There are no cabins and there is no lake at “Cabin Lake,” but nestled inconspicuously behind a decommissioned guard station, on the border of pine forests and high desert, there are two bird blinds renovated by East Cascades Audubon Society and run by volunteers. They even have their own “Friends of Cabin Lake” Facebook page.

Cozy accommodations

Cozy accommodations

Both sites are equipped with suet feeders and a water source, a true oasis for wildlife in such a dry climate. I sat inside and peered out the portals.

Portal

It didn’t take long before the first birds showed up. Pinyon Jays, a lifebird!

Pinyon Jay

Dang they are a noisy bunch.

Pinyon Jay

Another noisy Corvid visitor was Clark’s Nutcracker.

Clark's Nutcracker

A couple of Brewer’s Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows showed up.

Brewer's Sparrow

drying its wings

drying its wings

A few woodpeckers came about too.

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

The blinds are a great place to study Cassin’s Finch.

Cassin's Finch

It was easy to observe the crisp, dark streaks on the female’s chests and see the bright raspberry-red crown on the males.

Cassin's Finch

Actually, it was pretty easy to observe all the birds. They come so close. I’m not used to photographing at such a close range and could have let up on the zoom.

I’m also not used to sitting in one spot while birding or I would second-guess which blind the birds were at. It’s hard to pick one! A couple of times I got antsy and went walking around the forest. But the birds were either far away or all at one of the watering holes anyways so inevitably, I’d return, sit, and practice patience.

I was rewarded with Mountain Bluebirds.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

And a Green-tailed Towhee!

Green-tailed Towhee

Mourning Doves were the most skittish about coming close to the blinds.

Mourning Dove

While Yellow-rumped Warblers visited frequently.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Birds weren’t the only thirsty critters.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk (or Least?)

Yellow-pine Chipmunk (or Least?)

Golden-mantled ground squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

The blinds exceeded any expectations I had going in. And while I birded for hours on end, Tomas mountain biked for miles around the forest trails. Fun for everyone.

Tomas's bike

Camp

We camped nearby at the edge of the sagebrush sea. It was one of the most peaceful and fulfilling birdy trips we’ve taken. I would highly recommend checking it out and supporting East Cascades Audubon.

Bring suet.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Malheur Matters

I have been a busy birder this spring.

Two weeks ago, I joined Portland Audubon on a highly anticipated trip to Harney County to visit Malheur National Wildlife. It was my first time traveling to this part of southeastern Oregon, and the first time the area opened since the illegal occupation. I was so excited not just to see thousands of migrating birds, but to support Harney County, show love for public lands, and to be part of a positive influence in the area.

Map holding

Our fearless birdy leaders

We were greeted with mixed reviews from the locals. On one side was the biker gang yelling obscenities at us, and people in big, loud trucks passing aggressively and flipping us off.

Gate sign visible from public road. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.

Gate sign visible from public road. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.

But that was just the first day. On the other side were welcome signs, friendly hellos, and locals with an obvious sense of humor.

Welcome birders

Welcome

Humor

Thank you, good-humored landowner. (Black-necked Stilts behind the flamingos!)

Despite the local tension, we nature-lovers piled into two vans (that we named White-rumped Yeti and Bobwhite), traveled and explored Harney County over three days, spread the bird love and had an amazing time. I think we represented birders well. Here are some highlights:

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk. We saw two, and a nest!

Van-birding - something good on the right!

Van-birding – lean right! Photo by Linda “Zelda” Saari; Portland, Oregon.

Swainson's Hawk (dark morph), moments before was exchanged with a Rough-legged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk (dark morph) that had moments before swapped places with a Rough-legged Hawk.

Sage-birding

Sage-birding

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl (!)

Good Birders

Good Birders

Ross's Geese

50% of the world’s population of Ross’s Geese stop here.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlews on every corner

At one point, we watched two (amorous) American Avocets interact in a mating display. They washed each other’s head, swooping water up, then she shook her head “no-no-no”, and he hopped on top. Seconds later they divided and quickly went their separate ways.

American Avocet

Such a pretty bird

Such a pretty bird

It was almost as romantic as watching Sandhill Cranes dance. Almost. Spring love was clearly in the air. Or at least hormones were. One of the most magical moments of the trip was an evening spent watching two Great Horned Owls hoot, nod, and bow, courting each other under the moonlight. Now that’s romantic. Fun-filled video here.

Great Horned Owl

What an experience.

Birders at Buena Vista Ponds Overlook

Birders at Buena Vista Ponds Overlook

Malheur is a vital habitat area to birds and wildlife. Threatened in 1898 by ignorant plume hunters, its preservation importance was officially recognized in 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt gave the executive order, establishing Lake Malheur Reservation.

It’s part of an inland lake system on the Pacific Flyway called the SONEC (Southern Oregon-Northeastern California), and millions of birds stop here during migration, and many, including 20% of North America’s entire breeding population of Cinnamon Teal, use this wetland complex to nest and breed.

Today, collaborative groups work hard to manage this vast landscape for wildlife and visitor usage. [Learn more: watch Portland Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger’s presentation, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: Past, Present and Future.]

This trip was not just about seeing my first Black-crowned Night Heron or Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Not a plastic bag

But both of those things happened.

Forest-birding, Idlewild Campground

Forest-birding, Idlewild Campground

It wasn’t just about the bluebirds, pronghorn, or Say’s phoebe.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

This trip was about appreciating public lands. As much as the birds need this habitat to live, we need these lands to thrive too.

Birders

Happy travelers. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.

Since I first heard about Malheur (on day two of birding), and now that I’ve visited, I feel super protective of it. Protective of all our public lands. I’m incredibly thankful to those who have fought in the past, and to those who will continue to fight to keep these lands available to all of us.

Not taking anything for granted.

Photo from Audubon Society of Portland

Photo from Audubon Society of Portland

Malheur matters.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey