17 December 2015
*For a list of species observed, see this eBird link*
The Love Creek Preserve Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurs within western Bandera County. The count encompasses all participating lands within a large circle including The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve, Lost Maples State Natural Area (SNA), and thousands of acres of private ranches. Several unique habitat types occur throughout this area but the majority consists of steep undulating hills, rolling upland plateaus, and wooded creeks and ravines. The Sabinal River headwaters are included in the count circle as well as a small stretch of the Medina River; providing areas of bottomland habitat among the wider valleys. For more on the count details, see Martin Hagne’s (co-coordinator) previous TexBirds post.
The 2015 count was the third consecutive since the inaugural in 2013. As the count continues to grow, more and more landowners are participating which has, in turn, increased the need for volunteers to lead and count. Anybody interested in participating should contact Rebecca Flack (rflack@TNC.org) to be put on the mailing list. Fortunately, I have had a consistent postion as lead of the Lost Maples SNA section for each of the count’s three years. The park is one of my favorite places in all of the Hill Country because of the idealic views, diverse habitat, and well developed trail system through Hill Country cayonlands. Nonsuprisingly though, I also enjoy Lost Maples for it’s share of interesting and unique birds. The 2015 count didn’t fail.
My group’s size and composition has varied through the previous years but one mainstay has been my naturalist friend, Eric Lee. We were the only group members for the Lost Maples section this year. A detail that we don’t mind but reduces the amount of trail/acreage that would would be covered. We decided to focus on East Trail Loop which we have surveyed each of the past two years (previously, and with a larger group, we split up to also cover West Loop Trail).
Eric and I spent the first half of the day working the river above the park headquarters before taking on the East Loop Trail along Can Creek. Highlights at this area included an Olive Sparrow in the brushy edges of the river beneath the developed campground and a single calling Audubon’s Oriole hiding within the wooded slopes on the southern end of the Picnic Area. *See this map to locate the described areas in the park*
We stopped briefly for a late breakfast at the primary trailhead. This allowed us to watch and count birds from the bird blind where we added common visitors including Western Scrub-Jay, Rufous-Crowned Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Chickadees, and Titmouses. I worked the area around the feeding station, including the wooded area above the river, in hopes of adding previously reported White-tipped Dove and Rufous-capped Warbler but didn’t see nor hear either (I didn’t really expect them either since it had been a while since the previous positive reports had occurred). Eric and I eventually took to the trail ticking a few more expected species. We began to give special attention to all the Ruby-crowned Kinglet type birds to be sure we were not overlooking the fairly regular Hutton’s Vireos that occur in the area (we finished the count with 9 Hutton’s Vireos and a 3:8 HUVI to RCKI ratio, neat!). Our next highlight occured about a half mile down trail when we spottted a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring overhead. I was able to confirm the fairly distant ID with a poor but positive photograph.
We spent an hour or so working the ponds adjacent and upstream of Campgound C. This area is usually good for Common Yellowthroat, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Red-winged Blackbird. This year, unfortuneately, we were only able to confirm Marsh Wren and even then only after much effort. However, we recieved a nice surprise when we saw a Waterthrush emerge from the reeds and alight on a branch. It was obviously a Waterthrush; bobbing it’s tail steadily as it quickly walked up the branch just before darting back into the reeds. The problem though was which species, Northern or Louisiana. After more effort, we were finally able to get the bird back into the open where we noted the clean white throat that confirmed Louisianan Waterthrush, adding a first time species to the CBC list!
We didn’t end up hiking up the steep hill above Campground C and “the ponds” until well after lunch due to the pursuit of normally regular birds at the ponds and the excitement of the Waterthrush. After the slow, steep ascent, we took in some of the views overlooking the creek valley and monitored for activity along the high limestone rimrock. I keep hoping to find a Rock Wren or Thrasher up there but both species continue to allude me. The remainder of the upland ridge was extremely slow and we only added one species, Field Sparrow, along this stretch. My personal highlight of the ridge was taking communition with a Rock Squirrel during lunch.
We finished the last two daylight hours hiking down into the Sabinal Valley and working along the river and associated woodlands but didn’t add a single new species. Bird activity was limited and scattered but the scenery provided reflective opportunities as the light of the setting sun played upon the desiccated leaves of decidous trees and the exposed limestone of the canyon.
After spending 9 hours searching the park and treking a little over 7 miles, we finihed the day with a total of 38 species and more than enought highlights to feel contented.