12 March 2016
Trip Summary to Palmetto State Park, Gonzales County, TX.
Four of us took a half day to explore the Ottine Swamps of Palmetto State Park located in northern Gonzales County. The group included Erin (my wife), Cullen Hanks (TPWD biologist with Texas Nature Trackers), and our new friend Toma. We covered roughly 4 miles on and off trail. We were hoping to find any relict stands of Dixie Iris (Iris hexagona), evidence of the River Otters (Lontra canadensis) that I found last year (2015), and Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed in any of these targets but did manage to put together a decent list of observations.
We finished the day with 25 species of bird and 12 species of herps (1 salamander, 7 frog, 2 lizard, and 2 snake). All observations were entered into eBird (birds) or iNaturalist (herps) and are linked to this note (above).
The swamps were brimming full and forest floor moist throughout the wooded areas. The morning temperature was in the upper-50’s but warmed nicely through the morning reaching the lows 70’s around midday.
The upward trilling song of Northern Parula announced their return from Central American. Although I didn’t keep notes on numbers of individuals, I would estimate 6-10 calling Parulas within the area that we covered. Northern Parula can be found throughout the park where woodland canopy is relatively high; the parking area at the Refectory is easily the best spot to see one flitting around in the canopy. White-eyed Vireo, another migratory species which over-winters at the park in low densities, was also abundant and vocal. I didn’t notice any other spring migrants.
The remainder of the birding list was composed of year-round residents and over-wintering species. Palmetto State Park is a great place to hear a variety of woodpeckers, including Pileated Woodpecker, and Barn Owls. Pileated Woodpecker is usually difficult to see but are very vocal; I recommend San Marcos River Trail as a starting point to look for them. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were practicing their breeding song before the migratory push north whereas the many Yellow-rumped Warblers remained silent while enjoying the newly greened canopy of their winter range.
We had an excellent morning of herping too:
Small-mouthed Salamander, Ambystoma texanum (2) – found separately beneath moist rotting logs
Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Acris blanchardi (common) – observed throughout
Spotted Chorus Frog, Pseudacris clarkii (1- heard only) – heard distinct ripple call from direction of adjacent open pasture to the south of Ottine Swamps
Green Treefrog, Hyla cinera (2) – observed on fronds of Dwarf Palmettos, Sabal minor
Gulf Coast Toad, Incilius nebulifer (2) – found separately beneath moist logs
Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbiana (1) – observed floating within small pool of the swamps
Southern Leopard Frog, Lithobates sphenocephala (1) – active, found along edge of swamp
Western Narrow-mouthed Toad (not a true toad), Gastrophryne olivacea (1) – beneath moist log
Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis (>20) – everywhere, more active as morning progressed
Little Brown Skink, Scincella lateralis (3) – woodland floor, active during late morning
Broad-banded Watersnake, Nerodia fasciata (2-3) – 2 found basking on emergent limbs within small swamp of Palmetto Interpretive trail (near eastern loop entrance)
Red-striped Ribbonsnake, Thamnophis proximus (1) – found after leaving the park on unpaved county road