Small deer in the brush

You don’t have to be a member to register for an event. Members get early notice of upcoming events and the ability to register up to a week in advance of the general public. With COVID restrictions, we’ve had to limit the number of participants so the events fill up quickly.

We follow all federal, state and local guidelines regarding the wearing of masks and social distancing. Weather cancellations are sent to registered participants by 7:00 am on the morning of the event.

To register for an event, just select the event and click on register.

Upcoming events

    • Saturday, January 29, 2022
    • 7:00 AM - 5:00 PM
    • Doeskin Ranch, 9481 FM-1174, Bertram, Texas, 78605
    • 0

    The 18th Annual SparrowFest 

    January 29, 2022 @ Doeskin Ranch

    All Day: 7:00am - 5:00pm

    In-Person Sparrow Identification Workshop

    Hosted by the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands NWR

    Facilitated by Byron Stone, Bill Reiner, Randy Pinkston & Jeff Patterson

    The central Texas Hill Country is one of the best locations in the United States for the study of native sparrows in late winter. 

    This extended workshop will focus on field identification of the species of native sparrows that are regularly seen each winter in central Texas. Our talented leaders will take you to refuge tracts beyond the trails where 'little brown birds' play. 

    In-person participants will learn how to identify the subtle differences and behavior of Texas wintering sparrows.

    Note: For those unable to attend our limited capacity (Max: 18) in-person event, we will also host a SparrowFest Identification Webinar, led by Texas Nature Trackers Biologist Craig Hensley, free of charge. The webinar will also feature a “report from the field”.  Webinar Registration will be open to all.  Further details will be shared closer to the day of the event.

    What to Expect @ the In-Person Workshop        

    ·       Level of Physical Difficulty – Moderate

    ·       Level of Birding Difficulty - Moderate to Difficult

    ·       Level of Fun - EXTREME!

    Participants will be split into smaller groups to maximize opportunities for bird study and will visit a variety of habitats that provide the best opportunity to practice identification techniques and to maximize the chance to observe the large numbers and variety of sparrows present in the grasslands and scrub environments of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The instructors expect that workshop participants will have a good chance to see over 15 species of sparrows during the course of the day.

    The workshop leaders, Byron Stone, Bill Reiner, Randy Pinkston, and Jeff Patterson all have a great deal of experience with teaching and conducting field trips to observe sparrows and other specialty birds of central Texas.

    Participants should be prepared for a variety of weather conditions, ranging from mild to bitterly cold. Average highs in late January are in the low 60's; average lows are in the 40's. Chance of rain on any given day in late January is about 25%. 

    Sturdy footwear is also encouraged, since we will be walking in rocky, brushy terrain, often among prickly-pear cactus. Ideal footwear for this type of trip would be waterproof, leather hiking boots. We will spend several hours walking, although the pace will be slow, as we will (hopefully) be spending a fair amount of time observing flocks of winter sparrows and other birds. 

    Participants should bring binoculars and other appropriate birding gear. Each of the instructors will have a spotting scope and tripod, but workshop participants are encouraged to bring their own scopes if they wish. A water bottle and a small pack to carry snacks and gear are highly recommended.

    Registration includes a light breakfast, a hot lunch, afternoon snacks and a hot drink.  Participants are encouraged to bring their own reusable beverage containers.   

    Last Day for Cancellation is January 3, 2022.

    Health/Safety Requirements

    For the protection of all involved, we will require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for all in-person attendees at SparrowFest.  We ask that you provide your vaccination card or a photo of your vaccination card prior to the event to verify your vaccination status.  The event will be held outdoors and will be limited to 18 participants, allowing for social-distancing. 


    Changes to attendance prerequisites, procedures and other protective measures are subject to change, based on the public health recommendations at the time of the event.  Any updated protocols and/or changes to the event structure will be shared with participants via email closer to the event date.  We appreciate your compliance and understanding.

    • Saturday, January 29, 2022
    • 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM
    • Meet up at BCNWR Headquarters
    • 3
    Registration is closed

    Join us in exploring the Martin Tract!

    Grasshopper Sparrow courtesy of Melissa Cheatwood.

    Have you ever wanted to take a peek behind the curtains of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge? Most of the refuge is closed to the public to allow for restoration and habitat management but now you can see closed parts of the refuge though our new Guided Hike series!  

    Join an experienced guided hike leaders on a walk through time on the Martin tract of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy long ranging views, learn about how the refuge has changed over time and the conservation work done today to enhance habitats for native Texas Hill Country plants and wildlife.

    This 2.8 mile hike will be along an old 2-track ranch road that has 377 feet of elevation gains. The loose rocks combined with short steep slopes make this mostly unshaded trail a moderately difficult 2.5 hour hike. 

    Registration is required. Total hike participants is limited due to COVID-19 guidelines. Masks are required on all federal lands when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. 

    Please note that restrooms and drinking water are not available at this hike location. 

    • Saturday, January 29, 2022
    • 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
    Registration is closed

    Once again, we are hosting a SparrowFest webinar for those of us not able to tromp through the cold at 7:00 a.m. with Dr. Birdy and his team.  We've invited Craig Hensley, Texas Nature Trackers Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. to share his love of these amazing birds.

    Black-throated Sparrow courtesy of Melissa CheatwoodTexas is home to a host of native sparrows, many of whom are found in the state only during the winter months. Identifying them is one of the greatest challenges for birders of all skill levels. Join Texas Nature Trackers Biologist Craig Hensley for a look at these remarkable, uniquely beautiful birds. Come learn identification pointers based on Craig’s lifelong love of these birds, and through their feathers, flight and behavior. You’ll develop a better appreciation for their subtle beauty, as well as insight into the conservation issues they face. We'll finish up with a fun quiz.

    Craig’s presentation will be live online followed by a Q&A session with the attendees.

    To close out the program, Byron Stone (Sparrowman” or Dr. Birdy”) will call in with a report from the field with the morning sparrow and bird counts, and answer any questions.

    The link to the Zoom meeting will be sent in the event reminder you will receive a few days before the event. Last year, we had over 200 folks sign up!

    Resources to help you get ready to celebrate these lovely, brown birds:

    Bio for Craig Hensley

    Craig Hensley has worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the past 12 years, first as a Park Interpreter and Resource Specialist at Guadalupe River State Park/Honey Creek State Natural Area, and for the past three two and a half years as one of two Texas Nature Trackers Biologists with the Wildlife Diversity team. Craig has a Master’s in Zoology from the University of Arkansas where he studied the breeding biology and nestling diet of Eastern Bluebirds and Red-winged Blackbirds before, during, and after an emergence of periodical cicadas in northwest Arkansas and a B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Mgmt. from Arkansas Tech University. Craig is a native of Atlantic, Iowa and has worked for nature centers and other nature-based organizations from Minnesota and Nebraska to Missouri and Kansas. He is a licensed bird bander and absolutely loves the challenges that sparrow identification bring whether in the hand or through binoculars. 

    • Saturday, February 05, 2022
    • 7:30 AM - 9:30 AM
    • Doeskin Ranch Trailhead
    • 0
    Join waitlist
    Join the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands for a photo hike!

    Nature Photography 101, led by Claire Hassler and Brad James, will cover nature photography for beginners and will provide an opportunity for creative collaboration with other passionate nature lovers.

    This hike will focus on storytelling, composition and some technique, so all cameras are welcome. (Ex. Smartphone, point & shoot, DSLR, etc.)

    Registration is required and will be capped at 10 participants.

    See you out at the Refuge!

    • Sunday, February 06, 2022
    • 1:00 PM - 3:30 PM
    • Meet up at the Quarry Canyon trailhead at Warbler Vista, just west of Lago Vista on 1431.
    • 13

    Come explore the trails of Warbler Vista and find out what makes it so very special. (Note the new winter start time for the hike.)

    In the spring and summer, this is prime golden-cheeked warbler territory. In the fall and winter, there's still lots to see.  On the hike, you will pass moss-covered seeps that feed the Colorado River watershed, wander through the forested hillside, see huge limestone boulders and canyons, and learn about unique Texas plants and animals that call the refuge home. Plus you may spot some of the  more than twenty species of sparrows along with countless other winter birds that come here to escape the snow.

    Meet at the Quarry Canyon parking lot near the trailhead. This is a moderately difficult hike through a beautiful oak-juniper forest. This 2.1 mile hike will meander up the steep new Quarry Canyon trail, then over to Vista Knoll and Cactus Rocks before descending on the Boulder trail.

    As always, wear appropriate shoes, bring plenty of water, bug spray, and sunscreen.

    NOTE:  As of January 28, Travis County is at COVID stage 5.  Stage 5 guidelines recommend masking in all situations, even when gathering outdoors.  High risk individuals are discouraged from gathering with people outside their household. You should make your decision regarding this hike based on your personal situation.

    In the event we need to cancel due to weather or other circumstances, you will be notified by 7:00 on the morning of the hike.

    If you can no longer participate, log in to your profile on the Friends website and use the my event registration link to cancel your registration.  This will allow folks on the wait list the opportunity to hike in your place.


In partnership with the refuge, we also host three major events each year.



Typically scheduled in February, this event celebrates the little brown birds that flock to our feeders in the winter. More than 20 species spend their winters here. Guided by experienced birding guides, local bird lovers flock to the refuge to see how many different sparrows they can spot and celebrate the diversity of the little bird.

Songbird on a branch

songbird festival

Typically scheduled in April, we celebrate the return of many neotropical songbirds who come to nest on the refuge. The Balcones Canyonlands Songbird Festival is a celebration of nature through a collection of interpretive events designed to help you experience both bird species and their habitat. Experienced guides host bird walks on closed portions of the refuge and help birds from around the world add to their life list.

Child and man with a hose

refuge week

A free event, it is typically scheduled in October. The refuge and the friends group host a myriad of activities celebrating the wildlife, the habitat and the people that live in the Canyonlands. It’s timed with the migration of hawks, many of whom head to South America for the winter. Lots of activities for both children and adults, including being part of the fire crew or working as a game warden, hiking ancient seabeds, nature photography, archery, native plants, habitat restoration, birds of prey, reptiles, and more.

BAlcones Christmas Bird Count

Every December, birders from around the area gather to count birds and document the species count. This is part of the citizen-science projects program. This is the longest running wildlife census in the world and provides critical data on bird populations and movements. You don't need to tramp through the wild, although that is lots of fun.  You can also contribute by monitoring the visitors to your feeders. In 2020, we counted 13,804 birds, 106 different species. The invitation to join is typically published in early November. Come be a part of this worldwide effort!


Here’s some examples from previous events.  

Keep an eye on the calendar as many of these previous events and activities were so popular that we will be scheduling them again!

Opt Outside Hike: Where would you rather be on Black Friday, fighting the crowds or enjoying the peace and quiet of nature on a lovely guided hike. We started with an easy-to-moderate hike through grasslands, and along the north end of the creek. We saw lots of diverse habitat and plants, and heard lots of birds. Then we continued the hike along the creek, up the hill, circled the ridge along the Rim Rock Trail for some amazing, long-range views. A much better place to be on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Native Plants: Are you ready to go native? What makes a plant a “native”? Why should we care? If I buy Lantana at a box store, isn’t it a native? If I want to attract birds, bees and butterflies, what should I plant? Are cedars and mesquite native? Are their good and bad natives? What's wrong with St. Augustine? Presenters from the Native Plant Society of Texas, Linda O’Nan and Jan Warren, answered these questions and so many more. Their talk was followed by a plant walk along two of our most popular tails.
Reptiles: Daniel Carter talked about native reptiles. A great activity for kids. Daniel shared some of his turtles, snakes, salamanders and lizards, and discussed their unique characteristics and explained their importance to our habitat.
Science Mill: From their bio lab to exploring the human body, a slice at a time, from the story of water to the mystery of fractals in nature, our tour guide helped us experience how nature, science and art intersect to create a world of curiosity and beauty in their creative and interactive exhibits. By igniting the curiosity of students, it inspires them to pursue post-secondary education, the Science Mill experience starts students on the path to a life-long career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Olive Oil: We took a field trip to the Texas Hill Country Olive Company is family-owned and they are passionate about what they do, and the most awarded olive oil company in Texas, located in the beautiful and beloved "Texas Hill Country" of Dripping Springs Texas. Since day one the focus has been on preserving the natural beauty of the area while providing fresh locally produced extra virgin olive oil and other premium quality products. We had a private tour in the olive grove and went into the Mill to see (and taste) some of their award-winning olive oils. It was a fascinating education on olive tree growing and producing extra virgin olive oil with a wide range of flavors.

Suggest an event!

Inquiring minds want to know… We’d love your input on topics you’d like to see, hear, and experience at the Refuge. Do you have an interesting speaker that you think our visitors would enjoy? Do you have a topic you’d be willing to share? Let us know what you think.


About Us

The Friends of Balcones Canyonlands NWR is a 501(c)(3) organization whose primary purpose is to support the mission of the Refuge in restoring and protecting the habitat. The Friends are committed to building a diverse, vibrant community that appreciates, supports, and connects with nature in a meaningful way.

Become a Member

Join the Friends in protecting the wildlife and habitat, and supporting the mission of the Refuge. Start by taking a hike or  attending an event, by watching the seasons change through what’s blooming, or by just watching a hawk soar, or even just sitting still and listening to the songbirds sing. You can have a positive impact. Come find your refuge at the Refuge and join the fun!

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