After a dreary, cloudy, and cold January to mid-March, the weather gods released their grip on our weather and spring has quickly burst out all over the Hill Country. I sure hope none of my friends from the New England area read my “woe is me” beginning commentary – I would be laughed out of town. The problem is that we have been spoiled over the last decade when we have not really had any rough winter periods. When I lived in Colorado in my younger years, I had a hard time dealing with trees leafing out in May and June and losing their leaves in early September.
Spring is overwhelmingly my favorite season for many reasons. I love to see the light green curtain cover the countryside, wildflowers popping up everywhere, hear birds singing their favorite songs and enjoy temperatures in the moderate range. The migrating male birds are passing through our area in their most colorful plumages, a sharp contrast to the drab winter plumages some birds possess. I feed my American Goldfinches nice black-oil sunflower and nyjer seed for many months so I can enjoy their beautiful yellow, black and white summer suits for a few weeks before they return to their summer homes up north.
Many of you may remember the criteria I use to gauge whether spring has really sprung, or not. I am always pleased to see one of my favorite summer birds, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher arrive in the Hill Country. Another signal is when a graph of my sugar outlay almost takes an almost vertical slant upward in a one or two day period to feed the hungry elfin hummingbirds. Waking up in the morning to the gobbling sounds of hormone active Wild Turkey toms coming from my back yard is another clear signal of the arrival of spring.
Seeing bluebonnets turning the landscape from green to blue is a special time, followed by viewing a kaleidoscope of colors as spring turns to summer. Male birds are gamblers and willing to take chances in moving north ahead the pack in order to get the prized breeding territory. Sometimes they lose when winter has one last gasp of killing cold temperatures. If I were to gamble on a sign from nature that spring is here for sure, I would bet with the mesquite trees. These trees take few chances, but having stated that, a few got burned a few years ago by a late freeze. The mesquites are popping out all over.
I know that our two endangered species, the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo have returned to their summer homes. I saw my first Summer Tanager a few days ago; he adds a bright red plumage to rival our resident Northern Cardinals. One bird I have not seen is the Painted Bunting, normally a mid-April arrival here along with its cousins, the Indigo and Lazuli buntings. Another summer resident not yet present is the Chuck-Wills-Widow, a nightjar that is not commonly seen but often heard on late spring and summer nights.
Between now and very early May is the best time to go birding in the Hill Country if you are trying to pile up a large number of sightings. A few years ago I took a group of Houston Audubon Society members on a bird-a-thon count in the Junction area on May 1. To my complete surprise we found a grand total of 105 species with a excellent mix of winter and summer residents and a good sprinkling of migrants thrown in for good measure. On the Gulf Coast one does not have to work very hard to hit the century mark of species seen in one day, but such is not the case so far inland in the state as the Hill Country.
Now is the time to clean the lenses on your binoculars and scope and visit a few of the good birding venues in the Hill Country – Lost Maples State Natural Area, South Llano River State Park near Junction and Enchanted Rock. Have fun