The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Springtime Birding
Bill Lindemann, Fredericksburg Standard/Radio Post, Kerrville Daily Times, March 2003, © 2003

Enthusiastic birders anticipate spring more than any other time of the year. The northward migration of Neotropic birds from Central and South America makes up the main event during the time period from February to May. An extra bonus for birders is the change in plumage of our wintering birds from the drab non-breeding colors to the more colorful breeding plumages. While we enjoy the change of our weather to warmer days, the change is not critical to our enjoyment of the migration parade.

The first of the migrants to arrive in Central Texas are generally the Purple Martins; the first arrivals this year I know of came on January 15 to houses managed by Glenn Thompson of Fredericksburg. He told me that these early birds survived our very cold mid-February weather period. The martins and their cousins, the Cliff and Barn swallows are presently streaming into our area by the thousands. Check local bridges, buildings and cliff faces for these swallows.

Another early migrant is the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. They, like the Purple Martins, come early and leave early, usually by mid-July to early August. I do not know of active nesting sites in Gillespie County, but golden cheeks are known to nest in deep wet canyons in Kerr and Bandera counties that feature a mixture of old juniper trees and oaks. Try Lost Maples State Recreation Area near Vanderpool for these warblers.

The bird I most eagerly anticipate each spring is the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Late March and early April is their expected arrival time. Along with them come their flycatcher relatives, the Ash-throated Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds. Look for yellow plumages on these gray flycatchers, while the scissortails will flash their reddish orange under wing colors. Flycatchers are noisy creatures, so you might hear them before you see them.

Hummingbirds are other spring migrants welcomed by all of those folks who diligently feed them during the summer months. The Black-chinned males have been here for about a week now and soon their mates will be arriving. Also look for the spectacular red- throated hummingbirds - the Ruby-throated and Broad-tailed hummingbirds. The latter is identified by a high pitched whistle emitted by the male's wing feathers. If you haven't put your feeders out, please do so asap.

I mentioned the winter residents changing their plumage colors; the American Goldfinch is my favorite of this group. I justify my winter feeding bill by hoping they will stay around long enough to change from their olive drab winter plumage to their bright yellow, black and white breeding plumage. The common Yellow-rumped Warbler also changes from drab colors to dark contrasting yellow, black and white colors and patterns.

The ducks, hawks and sparrows will soon be leaving, but they overlap sufficiently long to be included in spring birding trip counts. Be sure to check flocks of Sandhill Cranes for any white companions - they could be Whooping Cranes. It is that marvelous time when both the expected and unexpected birds might appear. Be vigilant.

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