My wife, Erin, and I spent the full day out on trails birding and herping (looking for reptiles and amphibians) at Lost Maples State Natural Area on Saturday, 2 April 2016.
Below I’ll summarize our observations and include some details on interesting or exciting sightings. I am also including downloadable waypoints and GPS locations for a couple of Black-capped Vireo territories along the upland plateaus. Golden-cheeked Warblers, as will be noted, are abundant enough along the canyons that marking locations would have been time consuming.
If you are more into herps than birds, scroll down for info on our herp observations.
Erin and I birded along East Trail from east to west and finished our hike along West Trail. We began hiking at approximately 08:50 and finished at nearly 17:30. We began and finished the hike at the eastern trail head of the Day Use Area. Click here for a map of the park. We began the hike in the low 50’s and finished in the mid 70’s. Weather (wind and sky conditions) was nice throughout.
At the Day Use Area, we immediately picked up a singing Yellow-throated Warbler along the river and within the treetops of the picnic spots. A bright male Vermilion Flycatcher was a nice find. I can’t recall seeing the species in the valleys before.
Once we started the trail, we immediately picked up singing Black-and-White Warbler and Golden-Cheeked Warblers. These two species would remain neck and neck for the most abundant warbler species on our list. Golden-cheeked Warbler is abundant throughout Lost Maples and is easiest found along the diverse wooded canyons. They can be difficult to see, so it is important to recognize its songs. Click here for link to the Golden-cheeked’s page at The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds page, including songs (listen through to catch both song types).
Hutton’s Vireo is another good bird to find at Lost Maples SNA. They occur year round but are really easy to find during Spring and Summer due to there repetitive (some would say, annoying) call/song. They are found in the same wooded canyon habitat as the Golden-cheeked Warbler.
Yellow-throated Warblers are easy to find along gallery woodlands of the creeks and river. They like to sing from the canopy and are easiest to spot by recognizing the song (which can be a little confusing when compared to Louisiana Waterthrush, discussed later).
Erin and I were both excited to see a Zone-tailed Hawk overhead and then land on the hillside overlooking Monkey Rock (Point of Interest 1 on the Trail Map linked above). We watched as the Zone-tailed plucked a twig from the tree it was perched on and then fly, we expect, to a nesting site.
We spotted three Broad-winged Hawks soaring and calling (a neat, unique whistling call) about mid-way up the steep climb to the plateau.
Once on top, we entered Black-capped Vireo alley. Erin and I found two territories very near where the trail levels out from the east. Another territory at the popular overlook at the fenced bluff where literally ate lunch on a park bench while Black-capped Vireo bounced within the canopy of the small tree above us. A final territory was found a couple hours later near the restroom on top of West Trail. Click here for downloadable waypoints that can be used in Google Earth (including the Google Earth app). Note that only ATT gets decent coverage at Lost Maples and only at the higher elevations. However, you can load the aerial map in the app by using the wifi at the park entrance and just keeping the app open at a comfortable resolution. And please be respectful while viewing these birds!
I have usually found Louisiana Waterthrush along Can Creek and particularly on the run between the ponded areas (near campground C). I was discouraged to not find any there this year but that feeling was short-lived when we found a singing birds less than a half mile up trail.
The trail was quiet, with few notable observations beyond this point. We did bump into more warblers and vireos, including Nashville Warbler. We had hoped to see or hear the Great Kiskadee that had been reported over the weekend but didn’t (I haven’t seen an eBird record for it yet either). We were able to locate four separate White-tipped Doves. All of these individuals were calling from within the deeply wooded hillside that wraps from the Bird Blind to the Day Use Area. It is easy to overlook their distinct “blowing into a Coke bottle” calls.
Now to the Herping.
Most of the morning was slow. I was able to find a nice Western Slimy Salamander along the trail but that was about all there was until later into the day. We ended up with 7 observations of these salamanders by the end of the day.
On our way down the big hill towards Campground C, Erin and I cam across our first Texas Earless Lizard ,Cophasaurus texanus, of the day (about 4 in total).
We found a couple of Red-eared Sliders, Trachemys scripta, basking in the main pond at Campground C.
Around mid-day, I began to carefully check under rocks and leaf litter in Can Creek. Erin and I were able to locate Valdina Farms Spring Salamander, Eurycea troglodytes.
Later that afternoon, Erin and I began to notice some scurrying within the leaf litter by the trail. We were able to locate several Four-lined (Short-lined) Skinks, Plestiodon tetragrammus along a short stretch of trail, 3 total.
The show-stopper though, was when Erin and I found this gorgeous Broad-banded Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix.
An overall exhausting but also exhilarating experience, these many observations are part of what makes Lost Maples State Natural Area so great!
Romey Swanson is a professional wildlife biologist and naturalist active with several outdoor and conservation groups throughout Texas. Adventures with a Modern Texas Naturalist is a chronicle of his experiences and observations.
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