Texas Travel DiaryPaintbrush & Bluebonnet (70617 bytes)

6 April 2003

Say what you like about Texas and Texans, it's a wonderful place to be in springtime.  Today I'm at Neal's Lodges, 75 miles west of San Antonio.  The drive here took me through the Hill Country at the peak flowering time for Indian Paintbrush and of course Bluebonnets.  Acres of them.  Miles and miles of them.
    When Neal's opened in 1926, cabins could be had for $2-5 per night.   The price has increased a bit since then.  Spread along the clear, spring-fed Frio River, Neal's is a great place for tubing down the river, horseback riding and of course birding. 



Here we find Southwestern "replacement" species for the familiar Eastern ones:  Curve-billed for Brown Thrasher, White-winged for Mourning Dove, Lesser for American Goldfinch.  The best place to see and photograph them is at bird sanctuaries (feeding Hooded-Oriole (59475 bytes)stations) maintained by spring resident ornithologist June Osborne, who has written an excellent book on finding birds of the area. 
    My favorite spot is the so-called Cattle Guard sanctuary, set on a hillside covered with flowering mesquite.  Sparrows and House Finches swarm around sunflower and cracked corn on the ground.  The sugar-water feeder, meant for Black-chinned Hummingbird, draws a Hooded Oriole, which of course is the replacement of our familiar Baltimore Oriole.
    So accommodating (or hungry) are the birds that I don't need a blind - I just sit quietly with the camera about 25 feet away, and the birds come in with little hesitation.



8 April 2003
A bird doesn't need gaudy colors to charm a bird photographer.  One of my favorites at the station is the Black-throated Sparrow.  I've admired them from a distance in the Arizona desert, but here they're very Black-throated Sparrow (28538 bytes)tame, flying down to within 10 feet of me to feed on the ground.  In fact this is quite a hangout for sparrows.  Along with Black-throated we have Field, Chipping, and Vesper Sparrows.  The Black-crested race of Tufted Titmouse is a regular, and Pyrrhuloxias as well as Northern Cardinals are drawn to the grain.   Occasionally a Sharp-shinned Hawk in turn is drawn to the birds, which of course breaks up the party.


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