[Tweeters] Deep in the Heart of Texas

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Fri May 10 20:58:33 PDT 2013

On May 2nd I strapped my elderly parents, my daughter, and myself, to some sort of Boeing product aimed at San Antonio Texas. Commonly referred to as 'flying' ( I never saw the jet flap once) it always seems to me to be more like being on a guided missile with brakes and landing gear. Well, our bullet hit Texas all right-; of course it is big and kinda hard to miss.

The reason for the trip was the 90th birthday of my dear Aunt Vera . We got off the jet and my cousin drove us North and a bit West to Boerne Tx. That's up in the Texas Hill Country where Vera, her sons, and grand-kids live. I hadn't been there in 41 years, and that was Christmastime - so this was my first spring trip to Texas. On my bucket list was; seeing a big snake, an Armadillo, a Texas thunderstorm, several particular birds, and hearing some crickets. All my wishes pretty much came true, but I missed the thunderstorm.

This being a five day family visit I figured I wouldn't get too much nature time, but I did pretty well thanks to my cousin Ray, who loaned me his truck a few times and also drove me to some good spots. The Edwards Plateau is a natural history paradise of rolling Live-oak/ Juniper savannah, with clear streams flowing through limestone 'karst' topography (lots of caves in the area). Many of the streams are lined with big Baldcypress trees - a touch of the South. The general area is a real biological crossroads, where East West South and North all meet. Amazing plant diversity. Ditto with butterflies, dragonflies, bugs in general, herps and, of course birds.

Golden- cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo were on my bucket list, being well known Hill Country 'specialties. Luckily my cousin Ray hauled me over to Lost Maples State Park , West of Boerne, where I had leisurely looks at a male Golden-cheek, and hit a motherlode of the funny little (they are tiny) Vireo's busy singing all over in one spot on the canyon rim. I saw my 'big snake' there too; a pair of big Diamondback Water Snakes down in the clear waters of the Sabinal River. Lost Maples is an incredible spot for a botanist, birder, or just general nature nut like me.

Another good spot is Enchanted Rock State Park north of Fredericksburg. The rock itself is a big dome of pink granite that burped up in this generally limestone area. A bit drier than other spots I was in, it had it's own set of birds. And again, lots of wildflowers and plant diversity.

One of my favorite things about Texas is it's chief domestic product. I'm not talking about oil (a big fracking boom going on down there now), or bar-b-que. I'm talking about Texas Bullshit. Not the kind that come's out of Longhorn cattle, but the human-generated variety. Texans are proud of their BS, and rightly so- they've elevated it to about the art-form level. It can really bring a smile to your face. Yep, it's the land of BS and like most places, has it's own mythologies.

One of these myths, is the 'Cedar Story', which I heard over and over during my brief visit. It basically goes like this: "now ,that cedar isn't native to Texas- it was brought here from England. Now it's taking over the whole state! It ruins everything and folks have bad allergies to it!" You may have even heard of George W. Bush removing cedar from his ranch. Cedar removal is a big business in the Texas Hill Country. Locals are heavily invested in this myth. Cedar is the enemy. When my cousin and I got back from our Golden-cheeked Warbler trip, my dear ol' aunt Vera said " isn't that the bird that likes cedar?", as if it might be some sort of subversive. It is true that the warbler likes cedar.

I'm not sure why England got blamed for this problem (rather than them 'damn Yankee's') but the tree, actually the Ashe Juniper, is a native plant. The reason for it's spread is due to overgrazing and fire suppression- historically , grass fires cleared out the brush in the oak savannah, and cattle don't eat juniper. I guess it's no different than our local yokels here blaming Cormorant's, Tern's, Seals, and the Indians, etc., for our declining fisheries. Of course we all know that we have nothing to do with the environment. Problems ain't our fault!

Anyway, I highly recommend a trip to the Texas Hill Country, a great place for birds. Coming home to Everett, it seems pretty quiet (except for Caspian Terns) because Texas was full of loud birds! Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Wrens, and many others filled the airwaves. New birds for me were; Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Caracara, Black-capped Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Summer Tanager (the male of which even surpasses a Cardinal in brilliance, if you can believe that), and the Texas version of Lesser Goldfinch, with it's black back contrasting remarkably with the yellow underparts. And is there anything more colorful than a Painted Bunting? I hope not, I don't think my eyes could take it.

Jeff Gibson

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