Specialty Birds of the San Antonio Area
by Steve Hawkins
The birds that we are most often asked about by visiting birders are the Golden-cheeked Warbler, the Black-capped Vireo, and the Cave Swallow. The information below should be helpful in locating these birds.
Friedrich Wilderness Park is the best local place to find the Golden-cheeked Warbler (GCWA) within Bexar County, TX. With work you can find 6-10 GCWA territories there. The highest concentration of Golden-cheeks is in a north-facing valley canyon called Fern Dell at the north end of the park. It is a fairly strenuous hike to the top of the ridge that you then have to drop down into to get to the GCWA population. After you get to the bottom of Fern Dell, the trail climbs up the western arm of the Fern Dell canyon. There are probably more GCWAs found on this east facing arm than on the one you just dropped down into.
I have seen GCWAs both north and south of the spine of the ridge where you start to drop down into Fern Dell. Look and listen both directions.
The less strenuous route that our San Antonio Audubon Society field trips usually takes gets you to GCWAs more quickly than going directly to Fern Dell. You do not see them as concentrated as in Fern Dell, though. The field trips go the main trail system from the parking lot. We head towards the south end of the park, looking and listening for GCWAs. I have seen GCWAs between the along the front part of the park and the hikers' shelter at the end of the ridge that points east from the main ridge.
When you get to the hikers' shelter toward the south end of the park, make a right (west) and follow the trail uphill. You should be able to find GCWAs between this shelter and the shelter just before the crest of the ridge. I have heard three males countersinging at the upper hikers' shelter. The birds between the upper hikers' shelter and where the trail gets to the top of the ridge have been quite cooperative.
From there you can follow the trail along the front of the ridge northward to the Fern Dell trail junction. I have seen GCWAs along the front of the ridge. You pass a major trail juction, one arm of which goes to the west side of the ridge. I have seen GCWAs near a 3rd hikers' shelter on the west side of the ridge. Another alternative is a marked shortcut from the front side of the ridge to the west side of the ridge. This shortcut heads westward about half way to the north end of the park.
This bird is no longer easy to find within San Antonio or Bexar County. Four locations that are good for finding the Black-capped Vireo around San Antonio are: (1) Lost Maples State Natural Area (2) Kickapoo Caverns State Natural Area, (3) The Kerr Wildlife Management Area, and (4) Govenrment Canyon State Natural Area. (5) South Llano River State Park. (2-4) are currently opened with restricted access. In good years, Kickapoo Caverns SNA has the highest concentration of Black-capped Vireos in the United States. So, generally, they are relatively easy to find there.
Cave Swallows are fairly easy to find in San Antonio and Bexar County. These birds are expanding their range steadily. We expect to see Cave Swallows on our San Antonio Christmas Bird Count every year. Look especially on the south side of the county. Cliff Swallows and Barn Swallows used to monopolize the expressway bridges. In recent years, there has been evidence that Cave Swallows have been using the Moursund Road overpass, exit 46, as you are leaving Mitchell Lake. I would not be surprised to find Cave Swallows taking over the old Cliff Swallow colony sites under the expressway overpasses.
Failing expressway overpasses, especially out of downtown San Antonio, I would head to the south part of Bexar County. Check square-cornered concrete culverts that are six feet tall or less that go under lesser-travelled highways. Those were the criteria that Sumner Dana and I used to use when I helped him band Cave Swallows several years ago.