South Llano River State Park - Trip Report

 

I was on a business trip to Texas recently and I had the opportunity to spend the morning hours at South Llano River State Park in West Texas.  Located about 2 hours west of San Antonio, this park is located on the western edge of the Edwards Plateau just south of Junction.  The South Llano River winds through a floodplain dominated by pecan trees and riparian woodland and semi-arid grasslands and borders a substantial wildlife refuge to the east of the park proper.

 

I should note that I actually arrived the night before and went snake hunting on Juno road, another 2 hours west of my current location.  This was a life-long goal and dream to night-drive Juno road however the conditions were very poor with very low humidity and very high winds with gusts up to 50mph pretty much ruining any hopes of finding the myriad of species that can be found there.  I ended up missing one live snake that I believe was a Trans-Pecos Ratsnake and found one dead-on-road Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, that was with 5 hours of night-driving through prime territory.  Anyway, the night was less than productive but it was morning now and time to move on so after a few hours of sleep I was off to look around the area.

 

I arrived at the park entrance shortly after sunrise and stopped at the ranger station to pay my park entrance fee.  There were several hummingbird feeders and a nest box at the headquarters and several families of Barn Swallows busily attending their mud nests that adorned the sills and ledges of the building.  At least a dozen Black-chinned Hummingbirds and a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were battling for positions on the feeders and a lone Black-throated Sparrow was peering out of one of the entrances to the bird box as I self-registered and continued on into the park.

 

Black-chinned Hummingbird

 

Barn Swallow

 

My first new “lifer” bird landed a few feet in front of me on a bird bath and allowed me to take several close up shots.  This is a Black-crested Titmouse, which turned out to be extremely common throughout the park areas.

 

Black-crested Titmouse

 

I stopped at a picnic area parking lot and immediately saw a flash of red dart out from a low branch and head the familiar snapping sound of a flycatcher grabbing a meal in mid-air.  I immediately recognized the bird as a Vermilion Flycatcher, this one a mature female, busily hunting in the cool morning air.

 

 

Vermilion Flycatcher (female)

 

I headed down to the river parking area and walked along a trail that bordered the South Llano River.  I was alone in this section of the park and it was quite evident that the early morning activity was in full swing as a young White-tailed Deer was foraging along the bank and birds were in motion in every direction.

 

White-tailed Deer

 

Blue Grosbeak were singing loudly along the banks of the river with several pairs visible and many more heard, they were extremely common as I walked along the banks.

 

Blue Grosbeak

 

Overhead both Black and Turkey Vultures were scattered on the early morning thermals, trying to catch a free ride upward.  A fairly stiff breeze was blowing intermittently.  The previous evening was quite windy and the day would turn out to be quite blustery as well but at this point was a manageable breeze.

 

Turkey Vulture

 

I flushed a large bird along the shore, it must have been standing motionless as I approached as it startled me as much as I must of startled him as a large Great Blue Heron took off with mighty swooshing wing beats. 

 

Great Blue Heron

 

There were a few target species found in this area that I was hoping to find, the Titmouse mentioned earlier was one, the Green Kingfisher was a second (which I failed to find) and the third was the Golden-fronted Woodpecker.  I was fortunate to find a very cooperative individual that allowed close approach and was much more interested in his foraging activities than in my intrusive behavior.

 

 

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

 

I observed several small flycatchers flittering about along the banks of the river.  The only one that I was able to get a close view on however was this one that sat still just long enough for a few quick photos.  I believe this is a Willow Flycatcher.

 

Willow Flycatcher

 

The ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbirds were noisily communicating from within the reeds that occasionally lined the edges of the river shore.

 

Red-winged Blackbird

 

This one had me baffled for a few moments as it was definitely a finch but the solid black back made me wonder for a few moments until I consulted my handy eBird data base on my Palm Tungston and realized that it was the Black-backed variety of Lesser Goldfinch, found in Texas.

 

Lesser Goldfinch

 

I saw some activity coming from within a small stand of pecan trees and walked over to be greeted by a brilliantly colored male Vermilion Flycatcher.

 

Vermilion Flycatcher

 

Another flash or red lead to some great shots of a Summer Tanager as well.  The flycatcher and the Tanager actually competed for the same perch on several occasions.

 

Summer Tanager

 

After walking the rivers edge for a couple of hours I headed toward an oxbow lake, along the way I startled several more deer and a couple of hawks including a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk.

 

White-tailed Deer

 

The wind started to really pick up around 9:30 A.M. making the birding much more difficult.  A lone turtle was spotted swimming around in the middle of the lake.  I have not been able to identify this species yet, I believe however that it’s a Cooter…

 

Turtle

 

Walking back to my car I spotted another pair of Tanager’s in the lower branches of a tree.  I was able to get a few shots of a female Summer Tanager as well.

 

Summer Tanager (female)

 

I then moved over to the more arid, grassland portion of the park.  There was a bird blind set up there to cater to the various seed-eaters that grace the area.  On the way there I was surprised to see a familiar species that I often see in the desert areas in California, namely a Verdin.

 

Verdin

 

The feeder/blind was very busy with all the usual suspects including the following:

 

Brown-headed Cowbird

 

Northern Cardinal

 

House Finch

 


Lark Sparrow

 

 

Black-throated Sparrow

 

The last species that I was hoping to find was not present at first however it wasn’t too long before several pairs of one of the most striking birds found in the U.S. made itself known.  First a couple of females came in, I briefly mistook them for finches until closer observation and then the males came in making for easy positive identification as a small group of Painted Buntings started to feed.

 

Painted Bunting

 

Painted Bunting

 

Painted Bunting (female)

 

 

My flight back home was out of Austin and on the way back I had just enough time to make one quick stop for an hour at Pedernales Falls State Park in Blanco County Texas, about 40 miles outside of Austin.  It was quite hot by the time I got there in the early afternoon with temperatures reaching near 100.  There were several herps out and about (remarkably sparse for the trip however considering how many reptiles I typically see in Texas).

 

Southern Prairie Lizard

 

Greater Earless Lizard

 

Greater Earless Lizard

 

Texas Spotted Whiptail

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (from previous night on Juno Road)

 

I was also able to get a few shots of some fairly common Texas resident birds here as well including the always-present-in-summer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and the Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

 

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

 

That was it, another whirlwind trip, I put on 711 miles in driving in just over 24 hours, with 3 hours of sleep thrown in for good measure…  Here’s a list of the animals I saw during this short adventure.

 

 

Birds:

 

Great Blue Heron                     

Black Vulture                        

Turkey Vulture                        

Cooper's Hawk                        

Red-shouldered Hawk                  

Red-tailed Hawk                      

Wild Turkey                          

Rock Pigeon                          

Mourning Dove                        

White-winged Dove                    

Ruby-throated Hummingbird            

Black-chinned Hummingbird            

Golden-fronted Woodpecker            

Ladder-backed Woodpecker             

Northern Flicker                     

Willow Flycatcher                     

Eastern Wood-Pewee                   

Vermilion Flycatcher                 

Western Kingbird                     

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            

Bank Swallow                         

Northern Rough-winged Swallow        

Barn Swallow                          

Cliff Swallow                        

Northern Mockingbird                 

Brown Thrasher                       

Black-crested Titmouse               

Verdin                               

American Crow                         

Chihuahuan Raven                     

Common Raven                         

House Sparrow                        

House Finch                          

Lesser Goldfinch                     

Summer Tanager                       

Lark Sparrow                          

Black-throated Sparrow               

Northern Cardinal                    

Blue Grosbeak                        

Painted Bunting                      

Red-winged Blackbird                 

Great-tailed Grackle                 

Brown-headed Cowbird                 

 

Reptiles:

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (DOR)

Southern Prairie Lizard

Greater Earless Lizard

Texas Spotted Whiptail Lizard

 

Mammals:

 

White-tailed Deer

Northern Raccoon

Striped Skunk

Coyote

Banded Armadillo

 

 

 

 



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