On this tour, after our first night in San Antonio, we'll enjoy 4
consecutive nights at Neal's Lodges, located along the Rio Frio River in
Concan, Texas. We'll use this at a base for enjoying a pleasant
exploration of the Texas Hill Country, which is famous for its
Black-capped Vireos, and Cave Swallow colonies. While the focus will be on birds, we will also
take in the scenery, and look at the butterflies, wildflowers, and other
fauna and flora that capture our interest. On one evening, weather
permitting, we'll plan to drive to a private ranch that hosts the Frio Bat Cave, home of 12,000,000
Mexican Free-tailed Bats, where we'll witness the spectacle of the bats
leaving the nursery cave as they go out to hunt for the night.
Each day will have a major
destination and some minor stops, as we visit birding sites in
the area. There will be time allowed for stopping at any points of
interest that catch your eye, and we'll be sure to stop as needed for
food, and rest-stops. As usual, I will have a spotting scope, allowing for close
views, whenever possible.
This is a 6-day, 5-night tour in the Hill Country on April 8-13, with
arrival and departure from San Antonio. The tour is limited to 6
participants. Cost is $1,195.00 per person for 2-3 participants, which
drops to $1095.00 per person if there are at least 4 participants, all
based on double occupancy. Cost includes: full-sized car or van
rental and all fuel and tolls (and I will do all the driving, including
pick-up and drop-off at the airport), meals, lodging in cabins located along the
Rio Frio River in Concan, and guiding for birds and natural history. We
will be staying in San Antonio on our first night to allow flexibility for
flight arrival times. The
cost does not include your airfare. We will get packed lunches and have picnic
lunches every day. Dinners could be at the lodge restaurant, or possibly en
route back to the cabins from our day out.
Day 1. Arrival in San Antonio. You should plan to arrive in San Antonio
anytime on April 8. Most flights arrive late afternoon. Overnight in San Antonio.
Day 2. Drive to Neal's Lodges in Concan. En route to Concan we will
visit some birding hot spots such as the Sabinal Feedlot Road, where we'll
look for Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Hooded Oriole, Curve-billed Thrasher,
Greater Roadrunner, and Common Ground Dove. At Neal's, we'll settle into
our cabins and check to see if there are any rarities about before
exploring the grounds and surrounding nature trails. This area can be
quite productive, and possibilities include Bell's Vireo, Bushtit, Painted
Bunting, Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee and Vermillion Flycatcher.
The cabins are located next to the Rio Frio River, and here you can
sometimes find Green Kingfisher, Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Warbler,
and Canton Wren. In 2006 my tour-group saw a rare Rufous-capped Warbler
coming to a bird-bath at one of the cabins!
Day 3. After some brief morning birding around the lodges and
breakfast, we'll take an 80-mile long
scenic drive north to the Kerr Wildlife Management Area to look for
Black-capped Vireos. This has been one of the most reliable sites to
see the vireos in recent years. Along the way, we'll keep an eye peeled
for the scarce Zone-tailed Hawk, as well as other raptors such as
Swainson's Hawk and Crested Caracara. On our return drive, we'll stop at Garner
State Park. The clear, spring-fed
Frio River runs through this 1419-acre state park with its six miles of
hiking trails. Golden-cheeked Warblers can sometimes be found in the oak-juniper
woodlands on the hillsides in the park. Garner State Park is also the home
to many common nesters like Black Phoebe, Western Scrub-Jay, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Scott's Oriole. The streamside woodlands
harbor the greatest variety of birdlife including Yellow-throated Vireo,
Canyon Towhee, Green Kingfisher, and Hooded Oriole. Also possible are Wild
Turkey, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Vermilion Flycatcher. Belted and Ringed
Kingfishers have both been known to occur, making it possible to see three
Kingfisher species in this one park! The park's natural community
composition is strongly dominated by plants and animals found in northern
Mexico and Trans-Pecos Texas. This will be a long but enjoyable day. (Of
course, if we see Black-capped Vireos before we reach the Kerr Wildlife
Management Area, we won't need to drive all the way!)
Day 4. Lost Maples State Natural Area
The scenic beauty alone is worth a trip to Lost Maples. Located along the
Sabinal River its trails are mostly shaded, making the hikes very
comfortable. This area has long been known as one of the best spots to
find Golden-cheeked Warbler. This elusive species is often found when it
sits up high in a tree and sings. We may also find Verdin, Pyrrhuloxia,
Bell's Vireo, Cactus Wren, Scott's Oriole, and Lesser Goldfinch (even
Black-capped Vireo is possible). Nesting species include Zone-tailed Hawk,
Green Kingfisher, Acadian Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Ash-throated and
Great-crested Flycatchers, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-and-White and
Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Canyon Towhee, Painted
Bunting, and Orchard Oriole. The bigtooth maples are not really lost, just hiding in this charming high
limestone canyon, just as they do in several nearby Edwards Plateau
canyons southeast of their mountain stronghold.
Day 5. Park Chalk Bluff
The Nueces River, lined with sycamores, pecan, and bald cypress and sheer
limestone cliffs, provide the backdrop for Park Chalk Bluff. The park
winds along nearly two miles of the river, and here we can listen for the
trill of the Canyon Wren echoing down the sheer cliffs. We'll also look
for Hooded Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch, and Vermilion Flycatcher. Year-round
residents include Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Carolina,
Cactus, and Bewick's Wrens, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive and Rufous-crowned
Sparrows, and Pyrrhuloxia. Other less common species, are Black-tailed
Gnatcatcher, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-throated Sparrow, Yellow-headed
Blackbird, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Black Phoebe, and Ash-throated and
Brown-crested Flycatchers. Zone-tailed Hawks nest in the area and are
often seen in the vicinity. This is also a good place to observe
butterflies on warm days.
Day 6. Departure from Neal's Lodges.
Transfer to San Antonio airport. You should plan on booking your flight
for sometime after 2:00 p.m., which will allow plenty of time for
breakfast, check-out, and car-return. We will have time for a little
morning birding around the cabins before we leave.
Additional Natural History Information
The Texas Hill Country has an abundance of wildflowers in April, which is
the perfect time of year to see spring explode into a profusion of colors.
From the well known Bluebonnet, Indian Blanket, and Mexican Hat to the
exotically named Antelope Horns, Prairie Tea, or Old Plainsman the flowers
come in a vast array of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some species blanket
large fields while others may be a single plant that is much harder to
find. There are over 300 species of wildflowers blooming in April around
The Texas Hill Country is a melting pot of butterfly diversity. Its unique
blend of environments from the north, south, east, and west bring together
butterfly species normally found hundreds of miles apart. It is possible
to find a predominately Mexican species like the Crimson Patch flying
within a few miles of a northern butterfly like the Coral Hairstreak, or a
western species like the California Sister flying with an eastern species
like the Little Wood Satyr.
Information from the Texas Parks and Wildlife website
The Edwards Plateau region comprises an area of West Central Texas
commonly known as the "hill country." Elevations range from
slightly less than 100 feet to over 3,000 feet. Several river systems
dissect the surface, creating a rough and well-drained landscape. Average
annual rainfall increases from west to east, ranging from 15 to 33 inches.
Seasonal rainfall patterns peak in May/June and in September. Soils of the
Edwards Plateau are usually shallow with a variety of surface textures.
They are underlain by limestone. Man-made lakes, ranches, and farms are
scattered throughout the region.
Scrub forest is the most characteristic plant association of the area.
Ash, juniper, Texas oak, and stunted live oak are dominant in the more
dissected southern and eastern Canyonlands of the region. Mesquite occurs
throughout the Edwards Plateau; together with live oak, it dominates the
wood vegetation in the west. Some savanna type vegetation also occurs and
was formerly more widespread.