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  • Monday, February 09, 2015 10:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    TEXBIRD repost by Byron Stone

    SF Team

    Hi Sparrowhawks,

    We held the 10th Anniversary edition of SparrowFest last weekend (Friday evening thru Sunday noon, Feb 6 - 8, 2015) and it seems to have been a smashing success! We had 34 participants on 12 different field trips (4 each half-day) and found 19 sparrow species and a number of other good birds. The only regularly-occurring central Texas winter sparrow we missed was Eastern Towhee, which is a shame because I photographed a handsome male near the Shin Oak Observation Deck last week, but the bird was MIA for the festival just 3 days later.

    Participants enjoyed the mild weather and abundant sunshine. In fact, Sparrowman could have complained that the weather was a bit too mild for optimal sparrow activity (but he didn't). The wind did kick up Saturday morning and afternoon, but most trips were still able to find good birds. The 3 "western specialty" sparrows were in rare form, and I think that almost all participants were able to get good looks at Canyon Towhees at the Flying X, Rufous-crowned Sparrows in multiple locations, and Black-throated Sparrows at Flying X and Peaceful Springs. Bill Reiner's Sunday trip to Eckhardt tract even found a Black-throated Sparrow there. Zonotrichias were also well-represented this year, as White-throated Sparrows were seen well by many trip participants in multiple locations, and Harris's Sparrows were downright common. We have missed each of those species at times in years past. Fox Sparrows were spotty (get it?), but seen by many participants. Dark-eyed Junco, which is present annually but with erratic distribution and abundance, was a near-miss, but was seen on 2 or 3 trips. Lark Sparrows were seen I think by all three trips to Peaceful Springs, and were also seen Sunday morning along Cow Creek Road.

    Ammodramus numbers seemed down a bit this year, but most participants were able to get decent looks at a few Grasshopper Sparrows. LeConte's Sparrows, one of our signature birds, were harder to find than usual, and almost half of participants did not get good looks at them on Saturday, so we changed the Sunday itinerary slightly and Sparrowman took an eager group of 8 participants to a refuge tract along Cow Creek Road and somehow managed to get everybody on a cooperative LeConte's Sparrow at close range within 5 minutes of leaving the vehicles.

    And of course, we spent a fair amount of time contrasting and comparing Vesper and Savannah Sparrows, and Lincoln's and Song Sparrows, although Melospiza numbers also seemed somewhat down compared to prior years (except for 2 years ago, when we completely missed Lincoln's Sparrows).

    For the 10th anniversary edition of SparrowFest, we returned to the all-weekend format, like we did the first year. Participants and instructors like this format, as it allows an extra morning of field trips (which netted lifer LeConte's Sparrows for several participants, and 17 sparrow species for Sparrowman), and because nobody has to make a long drive home Saturday evening after a long day of sparrow-watching. The accommodations at the Retreat at Balcones Springs were very nice and everyone raved about the food. But it does increase the cost significantly, so it is unclear whether we will be able to do the weekend format again next year. We are, after all, trying to raise money for Friends of Balcones NWR.

    As if 19 sparrow species, great weather and great food weren't enough, we saw a few other pretty good birds, too. We had several coveys of Northern Bobwhites at Flying X and Peaceful Springs. Several trips heard or saw American Woodcock. I flushed one during a brief scouting foray Friday evening at Eckhardt tract, and one of the trip participants at Eckhardt heard one shortly after we arrived there in the wee hours of Saturday morning. At least two of the Peaceful Springs trips flushed a woodcock from the area near the spring, and one trip there saw a woodcock in flight pre-dawn. And a Merlin was seen well by one of the Peaceful Springs trips. And it sure was nice to have Peaceful Springs back in the rotation again for SparrowFest. What a marvelous addition to the refuge. Many thanks to Karen Kilfeather for helping us out with trips there, and I'm sure she was pleased to see that property added to Balcones Canyonlands NWR. And we had 2 different Sage Thrashers on Sunday - 1 at Flying X and 1 at Eckhardt.

    We also had a couple of didactic sessions. Sparrowman did his "20-sparrow slide-show tour" Saturday after lunch. Participants also said they appreciated the Flickr album of central Texas sparrows that many of them studied before arrival. And Jeff Patterson did a terrific, thought-provoking presentation Saturday evening on bird vocalizations, with a special emphasis on sparrow songs and calls. Special thanks also to Randy Pinkston for arranging to bring study skins from the Texas Cooperative Collection.Having those study skins available for close inspection greatly augmented the learning experience for SparrowFest participants.

    In summary, we had great weather, spectacular scenery, pleasant company, sumptuous food, comfortable accommodations, and great birds. It was a great weekend to be a Sparrowhawk!

    I want to thank my co-leaders, Bill "Spizella" Reiner, Randy "Pink-note" Pinkston, and Jeff "Towhee-boy" Patterson. Each of them have special talents and abilities, but all are outstanding tour leaders and all really appreciate native sparrows. Thanks to assistant leader John Chenoweth, who was responsible for finding our two best birds Sunday morning at Eckhardt: the Black-throated Sparrow and the Sage Thrasher – as well as otherwise picking up my slack on those two field trips.I also want to thank refuge manager David Maple for coming out Friday evening to speak to our group and for allowing us access to otherwise-closed parts of the refuge during SparrowFest. And Kelly Smith, a Friends officer, for helping out all weekend in many ways. And special thanks to John and Cathy Harrington, who have supported the festival 100 percent since day one. John has done most of the cooking the last few years, but he helped lead field trips this year. Cathy has done the hard work of planning and organizing SparrowFest for 10 years. We couldn't do it without her.

    A partially-annotated birdlist follows. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions.
    Cumulative birdlist (with some comments and estimates of numbers of some species) for 2015 SparrowFest, Feb 6 - 8, 2015

    Wild Turkey - some at Cedar Stump Ranch
    Northern Bobwhite - 25 - multiple coveys at Flying X and Peaceful Springs
    Black Vulture
    Turkey Vulture
    Northern Harrier - several
    Sharp-shinned Hawk
    Cooper's Hawk (or accipiter sp.)
    Red-shouldered Hawk - a few, mainly along the Cow Creek drainage
    Red-tailed Hawk - several
    Crested Caracara - PS and / or Flying X
    American Kestrel
    Merlin - 1 - PS
    Killdeer - 1 at the resort, I believe
    American Woodcock - 2 - maybe even three, all in Burnet County
    White-winged Dove - a few
    Mourning Dove - 400+
    Common Ground-Dove - 1 at Flying X
    Greater Roadrunner - 2 - Flying X and Eckhardt
    Eastern Screech-Owl - 1
    Great Horned Owl - 1 - or 2
    Red-bellied Woodpecker - 2 - Cow Creek Rd & Cedar Stump Ranch
    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 2 - or 3
    Ladder-backed Woodpecker - several
    Northern Flicker - 2 - or more
    Eastern Phoebe
    Loggerhead Shrike - 2 - maybe a few more; 1 Eckhardt, 1 Flying X
    Blue-headed Vireo - 1 - Balcones Springs Resort
    Western Scrub-Jay - a few, multiple locations
    American Crow - 15 - or a few more
    Common Raven - 2 - Cow Creek Rd, and maybe other locations, but may all be the same pair
    Carolina Chickadee
    Black-crested Titmouse
    Verdin - I think one was seen at Peaceful Springs, but maybe that was pre-festival scouting
    Canyon Wren - 2 - 1 - Resort, 1 - Flying X
    Carolina Wren - a few
    Bewick's Wren - a bunch
    House Wren - a few
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    Eastern Bluebird
    Hermit Thrush
    American Robin
    Northern Mockingbird
    Sage Thrasher - 2 - 1 - X, 1 Eckhardt
    European Starling - I think we had a few flyovers
    Cedar Waxwing - a few small flocks
    Orange-crowned Warbler
    Yellow-rumped Warbler - 15 - more than usual for this area
    Spotted Towhee - 80 - common, but not abundant
    Canyon Towhee - 2 - Flying X, possibly a 3rd bird there, too
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow - 8 - multiple birds on Eckardt, PS, Cow Creek Rd, Eckhardt and Cedar Stump Ranch
    Chipping Sparrow - a few
    Field Sparrow - 125 - not as abundant as they often are here
    Vesper Sparrow - not as abundant as they often are here
    Lark Sparrow - 35 - flock of 25+ birds at PS, and flock of 8 or 10 birds on Cow Creek Rd
    Black-throated Sparrow - 5 - 3 locations, unusually numerous
    Savannah Sparrow - 60 - not as abundant as they often are here
    Grasshopper Sparrow - 10 - multiple locations
    Le Conte's Sparrow - 18 - not as abundant as they often are here
    Fox Sparrow - 15
    Song Sparrow - 40 - not as abundant as they often are here
    Lincoln's Sparrow - not as abundant as they often are here
    Swamp Sparrow - 1 - or 2, at Cedar Stump Ranch
    White-throated Sparrow - 10 - multiple locations, more numerous and widespread than usual
    Harris's Sparrow - 50 - multiple locations, more numerous and widespread than usual
    White-crowned Sparrow - 90
    Dark-eyed Junco - 8
    Northern Cardinal
    Red-winged Blackbird - a few
    Meadowlark sp. - I did not hear any songs or diagnostic calls, and we have both species in winter
    House Finch - a few
    Lesser Goldfinch - a few
    American Goldfinch - a few
    House Sparrow - only three locations

    Good birding ya'll,

    Byron Stone, Austin, Tx
  • Wednesday, October 15, 2014 10:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    repost by Shelia Hargis

    Hey Big Sitters!

    Thank you so much for participating in this year's Big Sit! at the Refuge. Our official total was 44 species. We didn't win any contests with that number but I hope you enjoyed spending some time at a beautiful place on our amazing Refuge with some "old" and new birding friends. My list of species with some notes is below. I have shared the eBird checklist with a few of you. If anyone else wants it, just let me know.
    A special thanks goes to John Harrington for making sure we had the canopies to keep us dry!
    Let's do it again next year!
    Balcones Canyonlands NWR--Doeskin Ranch, Burnet, US-TX
    Oct 12, 2014 6:15 AM - 5:00 PM
    Protocol: Stationary
    Comments: Big Sit! 19 participants throughout the day. John Harrington heard a Great Horned Owl at 6:25a, but he wasn't in the count circle at the time. No one else heard the bird. Later as John was leaving the Refuge, he saw an Eastern Screech Owl, but again, no one from the circle saw the bird. Neither owl was counted in our Big Sit results.
    Wood Duck 3 7:31a: all three flew by pretty low.
    Northern Bobwhite 2 11:50a: heard several times earlier in the morning but couldn't tell for sure if it was this species or the very vocal mockingbirds. At this time, two were heard in two different locations. Later one was flushed from the trail.
    Black Vulture 3 1:10p: several birds seen throughout the remainder of the day but all were seen in the same general area. They did not appear to be migrating birds.
    Turkey Vulture 12 11:09a: numerous birds seen throughout the remainder of the day. Some appeared to be migrating. Others were flying very low and did not appear to be migrating.
    Northern Harrier 1 1:52p: flying high for a harrier. Believed to be migrating.
    Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 2:47p: perched in tree briefly and then flew away. Appeared to be hunting.
    Cooper's Hawk 2 12:01p: seen at different times. Assumed to be migrating birds.
    Accipiter sp. 1 Between 12:15p - 1:15p: flew low along the creek and then out of sight. Appeared to be hunting.
    Red-tailed Hawk 1 2:23p: seen across FM 1174 on far hillside. Hovering and kiting. Appeared to be hunting.
    Killdeer 1 6:30a: first bird heard.
    Common Ground-Dove 2 8:54a: first bird seen. Later two seen together. At least one stayed in the area most of the day.
    White-winged Dove 3 8:05a
    Mourning Dove 5 8:05a
    Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird 1 Between 1:15p - 2:15p: seen by Karen McBride only.
    Golden-fronted/Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 7:53a: flew overhead and couldn't distinguish between Golden-fronted and Red-bellied Woodpecker.
    Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2 8:56a: seen and heard throughout the day.
    Northern Flicker 4 11:08a: 3 Yellow-shafted birds flew by in a group.
    American Kestrel 3 9:19a: one male seen at this time and then disappeared. Later, the two adult males were seen chasing each other for a short time in the same area as the first bird.
    Peregrine Falcon 2 11:52a: first bird seen at this time. Second one seen later in the day. Both assumed to be migrating.
    Eastern Phoebe 3 7:59a: birds heard and seen throughout the day. Very vocal all day.
    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 20 8:38a: first group consisted of about 5 or 6 birds. Later a large group of about 20 flew past in a loose flock.
    Western Scrub-Jay 2 7:39a: one bird heard at this time. Later two were seen perched in tree on hillside.
    American Crow 2 7:24a: two birds seen at this time. Others seen later in the day but assumed to be the same birds.
    Common Raven 3 9:42a: all three seen together. Other birds seen later in the day but assumed to be the same birds.
    Purple Martin 1 2:26p: nearly directly overhead; large swallow with swept back, pointed wings, dark above, gray underneath. Observers: Hargis, Laurie Foss, Chuck Sexton, Karen McBride, others.
    Barn Swallow 48 8:47a: small groups of 8 - 12 birds seen throughout the day. All assumed to be migrating.
    Cliff/Cave Swallow 3 3:05p
    Carolina Chickadee 2 8:22a: part of a small feeding flock that came and went throughout the day.
    Black-crested Titmouse 2 9:04a: part of a small feeding flock that came and went throughout the day.
    Carolina Wren 2 7:12a: came and went throughout the day.
    Bewick's Wren 1 7:42a: came and went throughout the day.
    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 2:30p: part of a small feeding flock but only seen briefly one time.
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3 10:54a: part of a small feeding flock that came and went throughout the day.
    Eastern Bluebird 6 8:38a: one bird heard initially. Later all individuals seen flying around together. Assumed to be local birds.
    Northern Mockingbird 3 7:09a: very vocal all day. Assumed to be local birds.
    Orange-crowned Warbler 3 8:58a: part of a small feeding flock that came and went throughout the day.
    Nashville Warbler 2 8:54a: part of a small feeding flock that came and went throughout the day.
    Spotted Towhee 2 9:04a: initially one heard. Later two heard vocalizing from two different locations.
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow 1 7:11a: heard and seen throughout the day. Believed to be local resident.
    Clay-colored Sparrow 8 3:10p: one small flock that flew in and stayed very briefly and then left.
    Lark Sparrow 2 8:48a: one seen initially. Later two seen in tree together. Assumed to be local birds.
    Lincoln's Sparrow 1 9:17a: heard only for a short time in the morning.
    Northern Cardinal 6 7:05a: two birds heard initially. Later, up to six individuals seen together throughout the day.
    House Finch 6 8:01a: one bird seen initially. Later several seen perched in tree or flying in small group together.
    Lesser Goldfinch 8 7:57a: first bird heard. Others seen and heard throughout the day.
  • Thursday, October 09, 2014 9:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Doeskin Ranch, Balcones Canyonlands NWR

    Refuge WeekTHANKS FOR JOINING US! What a beautiful day, with awesome weather and a lot of fun; yet educational, things to do! (See the slide show for more images!) We had nearly 300 visitors, tagged 21 monarchs and found 12 species of dragonflies (or was it 20?). The biggest attraction for the kids was catching butterflies. We began with just 6 very cold inert butterflies but by the end of the day the tent was teeming with fluttering insects. Coco Brennan and Lee Decker manned the tent with Coco tagging the monarchs. Such excitement! The next biggest attraction for adults as well as kids was Robert Lindsay and his reptiles closely followed by Tish Corvidae and her owl, Luna.

    Everyone seemed to enjoy the talks on landscaping by Diane Sherrill, bees by Billy Hutson, and monarch butterflys by Sondra Fox. Karin Kilfeather’s conducted a photography workshop and following it the photographers were asking for a longer session next year.

    Those more athletic attendees participated in walks to examine ancient seabeds with Beth Wesley and native landscapes with Diane Sherill. Dr.John Abbott and his wife, Kendra, did insect and dragonfly walks. Bill Reiner was there to do his renowned native grass walk assisted by Diane Sherrill and Jean Nance pointed out “Useful Plants”.All the walks were well attended.

    The watershed demonstration was a new event for the Refuge Week Celebration. Sharon Drake and Jo Ellen Cashion were showing how pollution affects a watershed. Lynette Holtz organized games for the children and helped them dissect owl pellets. She also hosted Tish Corvidae and her beautiful owl.Bill Hutson presented a program on bees and Sondra Fox a program on monarch butterflies. Fred Zagst and Gary Cayler did herculean stints at the pond helping the children discover all sorts of aquatic life. Kay Zagst worked her bunions off helping with parking, running and fetching wherever she was needed.

    Thank you to all the volunteers!! You made it all possible.

  • Tuesday, February 11, 2014 12:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Post  by Byron Stone

    Hi All,

    The 9th Annual SparrowFest was held Saturday February 8, 2013 at Balcones Canyonlands NWR in Burnet and Travis Counties northwest of Austin. We dodged a couple of weather bullets - too cold and windy the day before, and too warm the day after - and had pretty good weather the day of the festival. It was chilly to start (mid-30's) but not much wind and it warmed up to mid-60's by mid-afternoon.

    We had 18 species of sparrows for the festival (19 if we count the Canyon Towhee reported as heard-only by one festival participant). Of the 20 regularly-occurring winter sparrows of central Texas, we missed only Eastern Towhee, +/- Canyon Towhee. Area-wide, Eastern Towhee is the least common of the regularly-occurring winter sparrows, and Canyon Towhee is regular only in the western part of the area, on the Edwards Plateau, and is uncommon and local there. A pair of Canyon Towhees had been hanging around the rock wall near the Flying X barn in the fall and up through the CBC in mid-December, but hadn't been seen since then and I'm not convinced they are still around, as none of the tour leaders found them over three calendars of intensive looking. I had 17 sparrow species for the day, tying my third-best sparrow day ever, missing only Eastern Towhee, Canyon Towhee and Black-throated Sparrow (which was seen by most tour participants on the Simons and on the Flying X tours).

    LeConte's sparrows are back in good numbers, and I believe that all festival participants had great looks at this handsome bird that is often hard to see well. Every tour on Eckhardt, Simons and Flying X had great looks at LeConte's Sparrow. Only the Cow Creek tour in the afternoon did not feature LeConte's, but all had seen it on their morning trips. Numbers of these birds are still not quite back to pre-drought levels, but it is nice to have them widespread and fairly common again. They are common on several refuge tracts because these tracts have a lot of native bunch grasses in prairie restoration areas, and have not recently been mowed or grazed to a fare-thee-well.

    Grasshopper Sparrow numbers were almost as good as those of LeConte's, and most festival participants had good looks at this bird as well. I heard a number of Grasshopper Sparrows vocalizing, but not singing. They nest on the refuge, and they sometimes start singing by early February, but don't really seem to have gotten started yet this year.

    Black-throated Sparrows have made a bit of a comeback in the past couple of years, and a pair or perhaps more are present pretty regularly at the Flying X and two or more pairs are present on Simons for the past couple of years. Sparrowman didn't do tours on those properties this year, but tried hard to find them at the Flying X late in the day without success. It is possible that the BTSP rebound is related to the severe drought of the last 3 years, as this species is a denizen of the desert southwest and is able to survive without surface water. It is regular in the Austin checklist area only in the most western portions, in parts of Burnet, Llano and Blanco Counties. There may also be a small remnant population in western Travis County.

    Vesper Sparrows are present in good numbers again this year, and even though Savannah Sparrow numbers seem down area-wide we still encountered them in fairly good numbers in open grassland habitats on all tours.

    Field Sparrows numbers are up again. The Balcones Canyonlands CBC often leads the nation in numbers of this baby-faced Spizella, and numbers at the X both mornings I was there were almost mind-boggling. We had a few Chipping Sparrows on most tours, with a few good-sized flocks near live oaks with open understory.

    Two tours (Cow Creek and the afternoon Simons tour) found Lark Sparrows, which are permanent residents here, but their numbers dip and they get more localized from early December to about mid-February. We also lucked into a good flock of Dark-eyed Juncos on the Cow Creek trip, which I believe were missed otherwise except by the tour leader for the morning Flying X trip, in a location where a single bird had been spotted on scouting the day before.

    It was a good year for Zonotrichias. We often miss either Harris's or White-throated Sparrows, and both were present in fairly good numbers this year. Bill Reiner found a large flock of White-crowned and Harris's Sparrows at the intersection of FM 1869 and FM 1174 early in the week, and good numbers of HASP were present at that location all week, at least until noon Saturday, when two tours stopped there and dipped completely. Fortunately, the Flying X had a small group of Harris's Sparrows hanging around all day, and both Flying X trips had good looks at them. The Cow Creek tour stopped late in the day at the 1869 x 1174 intersection, and pulled out two first-winter Harris's Sparrows there. White-throated Sparrows were found on Eckhardt in the morning and Cow Creek in the afternoon, and maybe one of the Simons tours.

    As usual, the Flying X was hopping most of the day, featuring LeConte's, Grasshopper, and Black-throated Sparrows, tons of Field and Vesper Sparrows, and one or two pairs of Rufous-crowned Sparrows along the rock walls on either side of the entry road. Eckhardt was good in the morning, with killer looks at several LeConte's Sparrows, tons of Spotted Towhees and Vespers, good numbers of Savannah and Field Sparrows, a few Fox Sparrows, a couple of White-throated Sparrows, a heard-only Swamp Sparrow in the same spot where I had one on the CBC in December, and a last chance Grasshopper Sparrow that Sparrowman magically pulled out of his hat just before the group got back in their vehicles to head back to HQ. Simons was good both morning and afternoon with Black-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows and the afternoon Lark Sparrows.

    I want to thank my SparrowFest co-leaders, Jeff Patterson, Randy Pinkston and Bill Reiner (who has been part of SparrowFest since its inception). They continue to impress with their birding, leadership and educational skills. I heard many compliments about tour leadership from trip participants.
    Thanks also to Refuge Manager Deborah Holle and the refuge staff for allowing us to conduct this yearly celebration of winter sparrow abundance and diversity. They put up with many odd requests with good humor and enthusiasm. Many thanks also to the Friends of Balcones volunteers who help make this happen, especially John Harrington and his "kitchen crew" who cooked wonderful meals for breakfast, lunch and even dinner (although he said it was just hors d'oeuvre - fried coconut shrimp with fixin's). And most especially, many, many thanks to Cathy Harrington for her people management and organizational skills. I can safely say that SparrowFest would not happen without Cathy's continuing dedication.

    There has been talk about returning next year to a whole weekend format for the 10th Anniversary SparrowFest, perhaps even holding it at a retreat or resort like we did the first year. The leaders and volunteers seem to be on board with this idea, so stay tuned for further details (check the Friends of Balcones website at <>).

    At days end, some of the leaders were talking about SparrowFest, expressing surprise that it has continued for nine years. But not SparrowMan, he always knew that it would be a success.

    An annotated birdlist is appended below. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions.

    Birdlist for SparrowFest, Saturday Feb 8, 2013:

    Black Vulture - yes, several in multiple locations
    Turkey Vulture - yes, a few
    Northern Harrier - 1 - Flying X, and perhaps Simons also
    Red-tailed Hawk - several. Adult hanging out at Flying X. Adult at Eckhardt.
    American Kestrel - several
    Merlin - 1 - Flying X, morning. Present about every other year.
    Eurasian Collared-Dove - Zero, none!
    Mourning Dove - Common on most tracts.
    Eastern Screech-Owl - 1 - Cow Creek afternoon.
    Great Horned Owl - 2 - At least two counter-calling at Flying X the morning after; not sure if they were heard the day of festival.
    Ladder-backed Woodpecker - 1 (at least)
    Northern Flicker - 1 - Cow Creek afternoon, probably other trips, too.
    Eastern Phoebe - 3 - Cow Creek, Eckhardt, Flying X, probably others.
    Loggerhead Shrike - 2 - Eckhardt, Flying X, probably Simons
    Blue Jay - 1 - Seems like I heard or saw one somewhere.
    American Crow - 3 - Three or more on Eckhardt and / or Flying X. This is about as far west as crows occur regularly in the Austin area. They are regular in eastern Burnet County, but are rare or non-existent in Llano County to the west.
    Common Raven - 1
    Carolina Chickadee
    Black-crested Titmouse - No Tufted Titmice here.
    Canyon Wren - 1 - Flying X, singing near house and barn morning after.
    Carolina Wren - several
    Bewick's Wren - quite a few, and they are singing vigorously in early morning.
    House Wren - 1 - Cow Creek, afternoon.
    Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1 - Flying X or Simons
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    Eastern Bluebird - Several
    Hermit Thrush - a few
    American Robin - About 30 flew over Flying X in the morning.
    Northern Mockingbird - Most trips had a few
    Orange-crowned Warbler - a handful
    Yellow-rumped Warbler - a few; never real numerous on the refuge in winter.
    Spotted Towhee - Common and widespread.
    Canyon Towhee - 1 - Possible heard-only near the barn at Flying X, but I am skeptical as neither I nor any of the other tour leaders found it despite intensive searching, and this bird is usually pretty obvious when present.
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow - 5 - One or two pairs at Flying X, and several on the morning Simons tour.
    Chipping Sparrow - a few in scattered locations, and a couple of modest-sized flocks.
    Field Sparrow - 200 - Abundant again this year, especially on the Flying X, where multiple large flocks in the mornings were a sight to behold.
    Vesper Sparrow - 200 - Abundant and widespread.
    Lark Sparrow - 22 - Or more, 19 on Cow Creek in the afternoon, and several also found on the afternoon Simons trip.
    Black-throated Sparrow - 5 - Two on Flying X and two or more on Simons.
    Savannah Sparrow - 100 - Common and fairly widespread.
    Grasshopper Sparrow - 10 - One on Eckhardt, 4 or more on Flying X and also on Simons.
    Le Conte's Sparrow - 15 - Or more, seen by all festival participants and tour leaders, and on all trips except Cow Creek.
    Fox Sparrow - Several. May have been seen on all trips this year, which is a bit unusual.
    Song Sparrow - Fairly common and widespread.
    Lincoln's Sparrow - Less common than SOSP, but at least they are back (we missed them completely two years ago).
    Swamp Sparrow - 1 - 1 heard-only on Eckhardt in morning. 
    White-throated Sparrow - 5 - At least 5 between Eckhardt and Cow Creek, and perhaps seen on Simons.
    Harris's Sparrow - 7 - Five or more on Flying X, and 2 still at Hwy 1869 x 1174 intersection late in day.
    White-crowned Sparrow - 150 - Fairly widespread and common this year.
    Dark-eyed Junco - 20+ - 1 on Flying X in the morning, a heard-only flock on Eckhardt and finally a good flock seen on Cow Creek in afternoon.
    Northern Cardinal - Common, and they are singing quite a bit now.
    Eastern Meadowlark - 1 - At least 1 singing at Eckhardt, and probably at other locations, too.
    Western Meadowlark - 1 - At least 1 singing at Eckhardt, and probably at other locations, too.
    Great-tailed Grackle - Zero. None!
    House Finch - 5 - Small numbers Flying X and Cow Creek.
    Lesser Goldfinch - 1 - Female or young male on Cow Creek. Not real common here in winter.
    American Goldfinch - A few in multiple locations.
    House Sparrow - Zero. None!

    It was a good day to be a Sparrowhawk!
    Good birding ya'll,
    Byron Stone, Austin

  • Tuesday, October 08, 2013 5:13 PM | Anonymous
    A lively and incredibly intelligent group from the TAS Trees and Shrubs for Birders class took their first field trip to Doeskin Ranch on Saturday, Sept. 28th. We soon realized how lucky we were, since the government shutdown would have prevented this trip if we had tried to take it the next week! But the heavens smiled on us, in more ways than one, and we enjoyed the beauty and the extraordinary plant diversity of this fabulous Balcones tract. We couldn't stick just to trees and shrubs, of course, :-), but the ones we saw that were on our "target list" for the class were Live Oak, Juniper, Bumelia, Sycamore, Toothache tree, Escarpment black cherry, Wafer ash, Possumhaw holly, Walnut, Texas kidneywood, Elbow bush, Red oak. Plant nerds, get thee to Doeskin! Um, when it's open again....
  • Sunday, May 12, 2013 9:24 PM | Anonymous member
    On Sunday, May 12th, 15 of us went out to bird the Simons Tract on the Balcones Canyonlands NWR. It was a good day, if a little breezy. We had some nice birds with the highlights being the Orchard Orioles attending a nest where we parked to carpool at Doeskin and the Great-horned Owl nestlings on Simons - very appropriate for Mother's Day!

    1 Eastern Bluebird
    4 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    1 Brown-headed Cowbird
    2 Lark Sparrow
    2 Orchard Orioles

    Simons Tract:
    1 Northern Bobwhite
    1 Great Blue Heron
    8 Turkey Vulture
    1 Crested Caracara
    2 Killdeer
    7 Mourning Dove
    1 Inca Dove
    1 Common Ground-Dove
    2 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
    1 Greater Roadrunner
    3 Great Horned Owl
    2 Black-chinned Hummingbird
    1 Eastern Phoebe
    5 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    2 Western Kingbird
    1 White-eyed Vireo
    1 Common Raven
    3 Carolina Chickadee
    1 Black-crested Titmouse
    2 Bewick's Wren
    2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
    4 Northern Mockingbird
    7 Clay-colored Sparrow
    1 Field Sparrow
    12 Lark Sparrow
    2 Grasshopper Sparrow
    2 White-crowned Sparrow
    2 Summer Tanager
    5 Northern Cardinal
    2 Blue Grosbeak
    8 Painted Bunting
    50 Dickcissel
    2 House Finch
    4 Lesser Goldfinch
  • Wednesday, April 24, 2013 8:38 PM | Anonymous member

    Eleven birders came out to walk the diverse Gainer tract on the Refuge. We were able to get a couple of life birds for some of the participants and a good time was had by all.

    Balcones Canyonlands NWR Gainer Tract, Burnet, US-TX
    Apr 14, 2013 7:30 AM - 11:30 AM
    Protocol: Traveling
    3.0 mile(s)
    34 species (+1 other taxa)

    Northern Bobwhite 1 heard only
    Great Blue Heron 1
    Black Vulture 2
    Turkey Vulture 8
    Swainson's Hawk 3
    Red-tailed Hawk 1
    White-winged Dove 5
    Mourning Dove 15
    hummingbird sp. 2
    Eastern Phoebe 1
    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 2
    White-eyed Vireo 6
    American Crow 2
    Carolina Chickadee 2
    Black-crested Titmouse 3
    Bewick's Wren 1
    Carolina Wren 1
    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
    Northern Mockingbird 3
    Cedar Waxwing 6
    Orange-crowned Warbler 1
    Yellow-rumped Warbler 4
    Golden-cheeked Warbler 3 heard only
    Yellow-breasted Chat 1 heard only
    Spotted Towhee 3
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow 1
    Chipping Sparrow 8
    Field Sparrow 2
    Lark Sparrow 10
    Lincoln's Sparrow 3
    White-crowned Sparrow 10
    Northern Cardinal 12
    Brown-headed Cowbird 8
    Lesser Goldfinch 2

    View this checklist online at

  • Saturday, February 16, 2013 7:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    re-post from Byron!

    Hi All,
    We conducted our 8th annual SparrowFest on Saturday February 2 on various portions of the Balcones Canyonlands NWR and nearby environs.
    The weather was unseasonably warm, with afternoon highs in the mid-70's, but we were able to find some good birds.
    We found 17 species of native sparrows (18 if you count the single Harris's Sparrow reported by a single participant on the morning trip to the Eckhardt tract). This is slightly below average in terms of the number of sparrow species we typically encounter. Our best years have produced 20 sparrow species for the day; our worst, I believe, was 16 sparrow species for the day. We usually find 18 or 19 for the day.

    It is not unusual for some participants and leaders to see 17 or 18 sparrow species for the day (this does not include House Sparrows or longspurs, neither of which are typically encountered on SparrowFest). My personal best day was 19 sparrow species. I had 16 on the day of the festival this year. I tell sparrow class participants that on any given day in "sparrow season" in the Austin checklist area we have 20 native sparrow species in the area. Some years we get "bonus birds," including Lark Bunting and Green-tailed Towhee, both of which we had on Saturday the 2nd.

    Since we had 2 bonus birds, but only had 18 sparrow species for the day, we must have missed some of the "regulars."
    One of our misses this year was White-throated Sparrow, which is never numerous or widespread in the locales we visit on SparrowFest.
    I am sometimes able to find a few of these along Cow Creek Road, but not this year.
    Another of our misses was Swamp Sparrow, which is one of the hardest regularly-occurring native sparrows to find on the refuge.
    We sometimes get this bird along the creek on the Eckhardt tract, but we missed it there and elsewhere this year.
    Another miss was Canyon Towhee. There once was a resident pair at the Flying X Ranch, but they have been gone for about 5 years.
    Peaceful Springs, a private property near the Flying X, has a couple of pairs of Canyon Towhees, but we are no longer able to visit this property for the festival. There are one or two other refuge tracts that have resident Canyon Towhees, but they weren't part of the itinerary this year, and visiting those locations might mean missing out on something else.
    Our most flagrant miss this year was Dark-eyed Junco. We often have pretty good numbers of this bird on several different refuge tracts, but they can be spotty, and I don't think this is the first year we have missed it. It seems to me that DEJU numbers are down area-wide this year, perhaps because of the mild winter and relative absence of snow cover in areas to our north.

    Some of the good news is that Lincoln's Sparrows were back this winter in fairly good numbers, though still slightly below average in my estimation.
    We completely missed LISP last year, which was an absolute shocker to me. I think that most trips this year had good looks at Lincoln's Sparrows and opportunities to compare to its Melospiza congener, Song Sparrow. We had a very good batch of Song Sparrows this year, with lots of opportunities to study it on every trip I think.
    Another bit of good news is that one of the real stars of the sparrow world, LeConte's Sparrow, was back in pretty good numbers after being very scarce last year. It appears that all SparrowFest participants had good looks at LeConte's Sparrows, which is one of the things we pride ourselves on.
    Interestingly, Zonotrichia numbers appear down area-wide. It's not too surprising that we missed White-throated Sparrow and almost completely missed Harris's Sparrow (which is present in small numbers most years). But the paucity of sightings of White-crowned Sparrows was surprising. I think we had one or more trips that completely missed WCSP, which is very unusual. I believe the mild winter may have something to do with this, too, but I can't prove it.
    One other interesting phenomenon this year was the low number of Savannah Sparrows in most areas visited. Vesper Sparrows far outnumbered Savannahs this year, and it is usually the other way around. I don't think this phenomenon is true area-wide, as it seems to me that Savannah Sparrow numbers east of the Edwards Plateau are about normal this year.
    The refuge and other nearby areas are still suffering from the multi-year drought, but not as bad as last year.
    We do still need rain, so keep that in your prayers.

    It takes a village to do SparrowFest.
    I will append a species list for the day at the end of the note, but I first want to thank some of the many people who help make SparrowFest possible.
    First, I want to thank my co-leaders, beginning with Bill "Mr. Spizella" Reiner, who has been with me for all 8 SparrowFests.
    Bill always finds some great birds, and this year was no different. He found a couple of Lark Buntings on the day of SparrowFest, and I believe that all of his trip participants were able to see at least one of these "bonus" birds. He also found a singing Black-throated Sparrow at the Flying X after lunch while leading his "grass walk," and all participants on the grass walk were able to see this handsome specialty bird (all this while Randy and I were tromping around nearby trying to find exactly that bird). Bill also located our other bonus bird, Green-tailed Towhee, on the Flying X during a scouting trip a week or so before the festival. The bird was relocated on the day of the festival, and was a new addition to our cumulative SparrowFest list.
    Bill is also an outstanding teacher, and people are always excited about what they have learned on an outing with Bill.

    Thanks also to Jeff "Pretty Boy" Patterson (or is it "Towhee Boy?"). Jeff relocated Bill's Green-tailed Towhee (in a different location from where Bill originally found it) during a scouting trip on Friday, then helped me find it Friday afternoon, then found it again for his Flying X trip on Saturday morning. Way to go Jeff! Efforts like this are part of what make SparrowFest special. Jeff teaches a class on bird vocalizations for Travis Audubon, and his presence adds a special dimension to SparrowFest.

    Many thanks also to Randy "pink-note" Pinkston of Temple. Randy's knowledge of birds is encyclopedic, his enthusiasm for sparrows rivals my own, and he is one of the best field birders in the state, so I feel privileged to have him with us at SparrowFest. Randy accompanied me much of the day, and it was a real pleasure to have his expertise available for our trip participants.

    Thanks also to the refuge manager Deborah Holle for allowing us access to so many parts of the refuge, and to all of the refuge staff who help us in many different ways. Special thanks to the fire crews for NOT starting any prescribed burns during any of our SparrowFest trips. That's one of many reasons that it's good to coordinate these things with the refuge office and management.

    Thanks also to the Friends of Balcones Refuge, including Sandi Gilchrist and President Dub Lyon and all of the other volunteers who help cook, clean and coordinate. Special thanks to Cathy Harrington, who brings her husband John to run the kitchen, and who does so many things to make SparrowFest run efficiently that I can't even begin to list them all. Suffice it to say that without Cathy we would have trouble making SparrowFest the success that it is.

    Now for the birds.

    In addition to the sparrows mentioned above, some of the other interesting finds were 3 Sage Thrashers on Jeff's trip to the Simons Tract, a Merlin which Randy identified as it flew off a perch over the Flying X entry road, and a flock of Brewer's Blackbirds on Bill's trip to Simons.

    An annotated birdlist follows:

    American Wigeon - 12 - Cow Creek
    Great Blue Heron - 1
    Black Vulture
    Turkey Vulture
    Northern Harrier - 4 - Unusual to have this many.
    Red-shouldered Hawk
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Crested Caracara
    American Kestrel
    Merlin - 1 - perched briefly in tree along entry road to Flying X
    Sandhill Crane - 32 - soaring over Flying X Friday afternoon
    Eurasian Collared-Dove
    Mourning Dove
    Greater Roadrunner - 1 - Flying X
    Great Horned Owl
    Red-bellied Woodpecker
    Ladder-backed Woodpecker
    Northern Flicker
    Eastern Phoebe
    Loggerhead Shrike
    Western Scrub-Jay - Cow Creek
    American Crow - Eckhardt
    Common Raven
    Carolina Chickadee
    Black-crested Titmouse
    Canyon Wren
    Carolina Wren
    Bewick's Wren
    House Wren
    Winter Wren - 1 - Cow Creek during a Friday afternoon scouting session
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    Eastern Bluebird
    American Robin
    Northern Mockingbird
    Sage Thrasher - 3 - Simons tract
    Cedar Waxwing
    Orange-crowned Warbler
    Yellow-rumped Warbler
    Green-tailed Towhee - 1 - fairly cooperative bird on Flying X
    Spotted Towhee - modest numbers in multiple locations
    Eastern Towhee - 1 - Cooperative female on Cow Creek
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow - multiple trips
    Chipping Sparrow - fewer than usual
    Field Sparrow - many, but lower numbers than usual
    Vesper Sparrow - everywhere
    Lark Sparrow - Cow Creek and Simons
    Black-throated Sparrow - 4 - 3 on Simons and 1 at Flying X
    Lark Bunting - 2 - Flying X
    Savannah Sparrow - far fewer than usual
    Grasshopper Sparrow - good numbers multiple locations
    Le Conte's Sparrow - everyone had good looks at this handsome SparrowFest specialty
    Fox Sparrow - Simons and Cow Creek
    Song Sparrow - good numbers
    Lincoln's Sparrow - fair numbers, but at least they are back this year
    Harris's Sparrow - 1 - seen by one participant on Eckhardt
    White-crowned Sparrow - lower numbers than usual
    Northern Cardinal
    Red-winged Blackbird
    Western Meadowlark
    Brewer's Blackbird - Simons tract
    House Finch
    Pine Siskin
    Lesser Goldfinch
    American Goldfinch

    65 species, if I count correctly.

    It was a good day to be a Sparrowhawk!

    If you are interested in signing up for SparrowFest next year, the best thing to do probably is join Friends of Balcones NWR.
    By doing so, you will help the refuge, and you will get the earliest notice possible of next year's SparrowFest (in addition to all the other good stuff that the Friends organize on and for the refuge). Only about 60% of land authorized for the refuge has actually been purchased or placed into conservation easements, so the refuge and Friends still need our help to complete originally planned acquisitions.
    Cathy will probably send out notices in early December, and we will do SparrowFest again in late January or early February of next year.

    Until then, good birding ya'll,
    Byron Stone, Austin
  • Wednesday, February 13, 2013 1:50 PM | Anonymous member

    Craig Rasmussen led 15 birders in exploring the Eckhardt tract of the Refuge. It was a lovely Sunday morning and a good time was had by all. We had great looks and time to study Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers. We had a grasshopper Sparrow sit up in bush for almost 10 minutes and it was a lifer for some. The Gadwall and Lesser Scaup on the pond were also a treat.

    Lesser Scaup
    Turkey Vulture
    Northern Harrier
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Mourning Dove
    Ladder-backed Woodpecker
    Downy Woodpecker
    Northern Flicker
    Crested Caracara
    American Kestrel
    Loggerhead Shrike
    American Crow
    Carolina Chickadee
    Black-crested Titmouse
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    Northern Mockingbird
    Cedar Waxwing
    Yellow-rumped Warbler
    Spotted Towhee
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow
    Field Sparrow
    Vesper Sparrow
    Savannah Sparrow
    Grasshopper Sparrow
    Song Sparrow
    Lincoln's Sparrow
    White-crowned Sparrow
    Northern Cardinal

  • Friday, November 30, 2012 3:01 PM | Anonymous

    A full contingent of cheerful and enthusiastic birders met at Refuge HQ on November 18, 2012 to enjoy good birding on a most beautiful fall day in central Texas. We checked out the pecan grove and the bird blind before moving into non-public access territory, and then down along Post Oak Creek. Much of the creek was dry, but a little water in the pond afforded a look at a pied-billed grebe and a Scaup (probably Lesser) Other highlights were excellent looks at a Hermit Thrush, finding 6 Sparrow species, and hearing the elusive Golden-crowned kinglets on a couple of occasions. In all, 38 species were counted.

    Scaup spp

    Pied billed grebe

    Red-shouldered hawk

    Turkey vulture

    Black vulture

    Sharp-shinned hawk

    Cooper’s hawk

    American kestrel

    Great egret

    White-winged dove

    Inca Dove

    Golden-fronted woodpecker

    Ladder-backed woodpecker

    Eastern Phoebe

    American Robin

    Hermit Thrush

    Northern Mockingbird

    Western Scrub Jay

    Carolina Chickadee

    Black-crested Titmouse

    Brown Creeper

    House Wren

    Carolina Wren

    Bewick’s Wren

    Ruby-crowned kinglet

    Golden-crowned kinglet

    Yellow-rumped warbler

    Meadowlark spp

    Spotted Towhee

    Song sparrow

    Lincoln’s sparrow

    Rufous-crowned sparrow

    Chipping sparrow

    Vesper sparrow

    House finch

    American goldfinch

    Lesser goldfinch

    Northern Cardinal

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