2022-10-01 Kickapoo Caverns

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis
It was no surprise to find Northern Cardinals during my October 2022 visit to Kickapoo Caverns State Park.

I spent two nights at Fort Clark in Brackettville Texas. It was my base camp during my tour of Kickapoo Caverns State Park, about 30 miles away. In the spring of 2021, I tried visiting Kickapoo Caverns on my way out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but my timing was bad. My visit was on a Wednesday, but I learned they only open for operations on a Friday-Monday schedule. Had I known how nice the RV park at Fort Clark was, I’d have doubled back and stayed a couple of days, and returned to enjoy the State Park… Ah well! You know what they say about hind-sight.

I paid two visits to Kickapoo Caverns State Park; first on Friday afternoon and again at dawn on Saturday morning. After checking into my space at the Fort Clark RV Park at about noon, I drove the thirty-odd miles to Kickapoo Caverns. I’d heard glowing reports about the bird blind located near the visitor center. Kickapoo is well known as a reliable location to meet Black-Capped Vireos and Golden-Cheeked Warblers, but I’d spent the past two months in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which were some of the most promising weeks for finding these specialties here, so my expectations of finding them were tempered. 

I’d heard glowing reports about the bird blind here in the park, but when I arrived Friday afternoon, I found the water feature that attracts the birds was down for maintenance. A staff volunteer stopped by and I mentioned the issue to him. He’d only started his tenure here a day earlier, and he didn’t know how to get the water pumping. But he left to find someone who knew how to sort out the problem. Fifteen minutes later, they returned and revived the water flow. With the pump now working, I hoped birds might begin to trickle in. But the only birds that made an appearance was a pair of Bewick’s Wrens, and these stayed in the tangle of leaves and branches that surrounded the water feature. I took a few shots, but later rejected them as substandard. 

Orange-Crowned Warbler - Leiothlypis celata
Orange-Crowned Warblers are year-round residents near my southern California home. They were the only warbler species I found on my visit.
Olive Sparrow - Arremonops rufivirgatus
Olive Sparrows were one of the two sparrow species I found on this October visit.

I returned to the bird blind at dawn on Saturday morning, knowing the water would have been running through the night. I still held out on the faint hope that I might meet vireos and warblers. And meet them, I did! Just not the ones I was hoping for. The first birds to approach were Olive Sparrows. Of all the birds I met here, these were the most generous. There were a couple of mini rush hours, blended with longer lulls in the action. For most of the morning, I had the blind to myself, but later, after most of the action had diminished, another young birder arrived to enjoy her opportunity to meet the birds in this pine-juniper canyon community. She’d spent the early morning meeting the bats that spend their days in the caves and caverns that Kickapoo is known for. She mentioned a plan about returning early Sunday morning to try for the early birds, just as I had done on this Saturday morning.

Before I wrapped up my time at the bird blind, I’d met Bewick’s Wrens, Hutton’s Vireos, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Olive Sparrows, Orange-Crowned Warblers, and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets. While I didn’t capture their photos, I heard Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers and saw a Black-Crested Titmouse. Given it was now mid-day, and the birds seemed to have taken off to spend their ‘siesta’ time, I gathered up my gear and drove back to my space at the RV park.

Fort Clark is no longer a military property. It is owned and operated by a homeowners association whose agenda seems to preserve the history of the old fort. Most of the buildings are constructed of large limestone blocks, quarried from the surrounding region. Many of the residents of the base owned their abodes. Some lived in the old barracks, which had been converted to small dwellings. Some lived in other quarters, while others bought parcels and lived in mobile homes or housing developments. The property covers 88 acres, and still has quite a bit of thorn forest land with a creek. Roaming the property, is a herd of Axis Deer, or Chital, as they are sometimes called. These animals are native to the Indian subcontinent, but in the 1930s, they were brought to Texas to enhance the ‘hunting’ experience here, and they still draw in ‘hunters’ who will pay up to $2500 to kill one of these deer.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts about my love of visits to mom-and-pop breakfast cafes as I travel. I consider it part of my creative process, and I use the time to compose many of the stories I like to share. Today’s stop in Brackettville was full of unexpected drama. No sooner had I sat down, when the gentleman at the next table, who’d seen me drive up and park, began asking about the van. Only a minute or two into our conversation, when an excited uproar across the small room drowned out both our voices. One of the patrons there suffered a seizure, and her loved ones understandably went into panic mode. Everyone in the restaurant, including the dozen patrons and the three or four folks on staff, stopped all their activities and stood aside while everyone tried to plan the next move. A few minutes after a call to emergency services, paramedics arrived and began doing their jobs. About a half-hour later, the patient was wheeled out to the ambulance and everyone concerned headed to the hospital. I waited another 20 minutes before the waitress remembered I needed to order. She apologized, and confessed she’d recently lost her aunt, and the whole episode brought back a flood of disturbing memories. I usually enjoy interacting with locals in the rural diners as I travel. Today, I got more than I bargained for. I, like everyone else here this morning, hope the family makes a full recovery.

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