02 May 2010

A Plateau Named Edward

It was go time. I briskly walked from my class to the small, cell-like living space I call home. I scrambled to get my gear together, knowing that Kevin was not far away. I choked down a cheeseburger and some fries, grabbed my binoculars, camera and other gear and headed out the door. Kevin Morgan was ready and waiting, and we quickly grabbed Michael Hilferty and started heading west to the Ashe-Juniper Oak wonderland known as the Edward's Plateau.

On our way out, we stopped at many notable Louisiana locations to check for breeding birds and migrants. We briefly walked around Sherburne around noon and were regaled by Painted Buntings and the unending racous songs of Yellow-breasted Chats. We then headed further west and came upon Cameron Parish. We quickly diverted off the road, careful not too spend too much time at any one location due to our tight schedule. A brief drive through Cameron Prairie yielded the best looks I have ever had of a Sora and numerous shorebirds. We then continued on towards Peveto Woods, where we quickly scrambled through the brush after migrants. Though activity was down, many species were still present. A (presumed) Yellow-bellied Flycatcher flitted by, a couple Rose-breasted Grosbeaks hid in the woods, showy orioles bounded through the trees, and many other birds skulked in the woods. Michael was on fire in the woods, being able to find his lifer Ovenbird in the chenier scrub and locating his (and Kevin's) lifer Olive-sided Flycatcher. We soon piled back into the car again though and continued the impossibly long haul to Austin, Texas.

The next morning, we met Rebekah Rylander just outside of Austin to see the two birds our entire trip revolved around: the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo. Unfortunately, we had a few lock problems at first and had to walk in to get the combo and then retrace our steps to let the cars into the preserve. This unintentional walk became some of the best birding of the weekend though! As soon as we arrived at an open area, I spotted my first lifer of the trip: a singing Grasshopper Sparrow! We then began to walk around the house, and the lifers started to stack up. Kevin's first ever Clay-colored Sparrow rummaged through the low grass in Michael's lifer Lark Sparrow flock, and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker flew over us. As soon as Rebekah got the codes for the locks, I jogged back to the cars with her and began pulling in. A brief pause on the drive in granted me a surprise though: a Golden-cheeked Warbler! I watched the bird for a few seconds, and then continued on to meet the group. There were more further in, and it would be more fun to see these birds as a group.

We all piled into Rebekah's car and headed further into the woods. Spring migrants filled the junipers, with a flock of at least 50 Mississippi Kites streaming by, dozens of Chipping Sparrows flushing from the brush and a few Black-throated Green Warblers singing in the oaks. After searching unsuccessfully in the brush for Black-capped Vireos we decided to try a known Golden-cheeked spot that was disturbingly quiet. We all split up to cover more ground, and as I walked back by myself, I heard the distinctive buzzy song of our target bird. I quickly called Michael, and began to track the bird down. Little did I know that it was right on top of me! Amazingly, it came out in the open, and just by luck I snapped off a nice clear shot:

Golden-cheeked Warbler, Austin, Texas

Michael soon came crashing out of the brush from chasing Black-crested Titmice around, and I got him on the bird and ran back to grab Kevin. Unfortunately, when we returned it had moved off-trail and was a heard only bird for Kevin. By now it was about 11 o'clock and Rebekah needed to get going, so we began to drive out of the reserve. I had my window rolled down, and heard a slight buzzy note over the crunch of the car. "Black-capped Vireo!" We pulled over, and Rebekah asked me if I was sure, as this was not one of the staked out spots. In the brush a vireo gave a few chatter notes like a White-eyed, and then finally gave a distinctive Black-capped wheeze. We moved in slowly when suddenly, about fifty yards off, a male Black-capped Vireo hopped out in the open for a second! Victory was ours. We all managed to get equally quick looks at the bird and soon headed out of the park and southward towards Pedernales State Park.

At the state park, we continued to rack up western birds. (Woodhouse's) Western Scrub-Jay, Painted Buntings and other cool birds abounded, and we found three more Golden-cheeked Warblers (one of which Kevin got to see). It was after this that we began the long drive home, happy and tired from the amazing day of central Texas birding.

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