I had the chance to visit Buescher State Park just southeast of Austin Texas on February 23rd of this year. I was on a business trip to Austin and I had several hours in the afternoon before my 7:00 PM flight back to San Diego so I drove the 30 or so minutes south of the airport past Bastrop and to the state park entrance. The park itself is rather small, there is a small lake near the entrance to the park, several camp and picnic sites and some trails in the area which is comprised mostly of rolling wooded hills and riparian habitats. This was my first time here in the winter, the weather was pleasant with temps in the high sixties. The park was for the most part empty, I saw one other group of people in the three or so hours I was there and they were only there for a few minutes before heading to destinations unknown.
The first thing I noted was the tremendous amount of bird life in the area, in a short time I was able to count over 20 species without any trouble, taking opportunistic photos as I hiked around the area. I have been to this park on two other occasions, both times in the summer. There is much more water here in the summer time and the lake was about half as big as the last time I had visited here, also of note were that all of the streams in the area were dry. I walked down toward the lake from a picnic area where I had parked my rental car to see if I could spot anything interesting. I noticed two metal trash can lids in the brush to the side of the trail leading down to the lake, something to flip! I flipped the first one only to be greeting by thousands of fire ants, I hate those things with a passion! More on that later... I flipped the second lid and was surprised to see my first snake of 2006! A nice Western Ribbon Snake (Red-striped Gartersnake integrate I believe) coiled beneath the lid. I was able to grab him as he took off toward cover, he was definitely warm enough to be active as he started nipping me with all the vigor he could muster but he was much too small to do any damage and after several failed attempts to ward me off with his bites he calmed down and let me take some photos before I returned him to his cover.
Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus)
I spent the three or so hours I had walking around the lake and taking side trails into the brush, the Ribbon Snake was the only herp that I sighted and I flipped a good number of logs and debris without any further finds. I did however, get a chance to meet some more fire ants and to repeat, I hate them with a passion. Not only are they tremendously destructive to the environment but they have a very bad sting that at least, on me, leaves blisters and takes a long time to heal. Anyway, I was walking around the area and was absentmindedly carrying my lens cap in my hand, it slipped out of my hand and onto the ground and I immediately bent down to pick it up which I did without looking. I held it in my hand for a second or two before starting to feel stinging in my hand and I looked to see about a dozen fire ants having at it at my expense! An interesting thing about these little devils is that they not only sting, they bite, hold on and sting. I started systematically picking them off my hand as they stung away as shaking your hand does no good (see reason above). Anyway, I ended up with about 10 little blisters and one larger one which still hasn't completely healed from 10 days ago.
Anyway, there were tons of birds around the area, beside the ones photographed here I saw a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, Ladderback Woodpeckers, Red-tailed Hawks, and several other yet to be identified bird species. Here are the highlights from the afternoon:
Eastern Fox Squirrel
Great Blue Heron
Red-shouldered Hawk in flight
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (female)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Yes there really is such a thing and this was my first one!