2023-Early July At Kickapoo Caverns

As I write these notes, I have returned to my southern California homestead. The past three weeks have been so hectic, I have not had time to properly tell the stories of my stops along my way from Texas and beyond. Some of my visits, including the one below, lasted several days. Twice, I visited Kickapoo Caverns State Park. During my visits I met two new species. On this, my 3rd visit here, I finally captured images of the Black-Capped Vireo, and as a bonus, I enjoyed meeting Cave Swallows for the first time.

Black-Capped Vireo - Vireo atricapilla
On my 2023 tour of North America, I paid my third visit to Kickapoo Caverns State Park outside of Brackettville Texas. Unlike my first two visits, this time, there were plenty of birds to meet.

Cave Swallow - Petrochelidon fulva

Varied Bunting - Passerina versicolor

Field Sparrow - Spizella pusilla

Painted Bunting - Passerina ciris

On Tuesday, (2023-06-27) I drove away from High Island with a plan to cut the distance to my next stop in Brackettville. I made it to a rest area in Guadalupe County, some 40 miles east of Austin. It was a quiet night, and I finished my first round of culling to both my recent episodes. Then I completed embedding all the metadata in the image files for each set. Most of the stories about these episodes have been recorded in my journal. But refinements will surely be added as I compose the blogs. Soon, I should be camped at Fort Clark in Brackettville. There, I hope to have time to finish some of my backlogged blogs.

I find my only defense from the triple-digit heat here is to keep the generator running through the night to support the air conditioner. I am so glad I replaced the old loud and unreliable generator with the upgraded inverter-generator. The noise and vibration is no longer an issue, and does not keep me awake as the old one did. Now, the most noticeable sound at night is the air conditioner’s fan and compressor, and not the droning growl of the generator’s engine.

I have been giving thought to the possibility of joining the San Diego Natural History Museum’s science team in Ensenada (Mexico). But I am beginning to see that as an overwhelming hardship. I’d have to push very hard to get back in time. Including Arizona locations such as Portal, Sierra Vista, Patagonia, and other enticing locations would not be an option. Even if I could get home by July-10, when the team leaves, there would not be any time for recovery from the current road trip. And not to mention the things on the RV I want to investigate and/or fix. I had to reach out to my friend Scott and give him an update. I can only hope for another opportunity to join them on another expedition to their ongoing wetlands project.

2023-07-03 Monday

I haven’t recorded in my journal for the past few days. The highlights begin with finally arriving in Brackettville last Wednesday. I lied low until Friday, when Kickapoo Caverns opened. I spent all day there, but I cannot seem to catch a break. This was my third visit (or attempted visit). My first attempt was poorly timed for the mid-week. The park is only open from Friday through Monday. My second visit last year was too late in the season for meeting the Black-Capped Vireos this place is famous for. Further complicating things, the water feature at the photo blind was not pumping. The park staff got it going before I left, but unfortunately it took a while for the birds to discover its revival.

My arrival Friday was timed better for meeting vireos, but again, the water feature was down. I notified the staff, and this time the problem required several hours to restore the water flow. I spent the morning beating the bushes, and I met some nice birds, including the Black-Capped Vireo. Unfortunately, the meetings were less intimate than they would have been with a working water feature.

Believing the water flow might be restored, I took a mid-day break. Later, I stayed inside the blind for several hours, but no water flowed at the blind while I was there. Even if the water had started, I expect it would have taken a while, even days for the birds to discover it. So I drove away somewhat disappointed.

I reserved a spot at my Fort Clark camp, 22 miles away in Brackettville for four nights. Saturday night was my final night there. I thought I’d call the staff at Kickapoo for an update about the water system at the photo blind. Later, the site supervisor (Ken) called me back. He thanked me for letting them know about the water issue. He assured me it started flowing shortly after I left on Friday. We spoke for quite a while, and I enjoyed the conversation. I learned some interesting background information about the mission of the park. The Texas park system took control of the ranch, with protection of the Black-Capped Vireo as one of its objectives. The species was struggling at the time and was placed on a “protection” list. Apparently, the programs put in place have had a positive effect. Some researchers suggest the bird could be removed from its “protected” status. I tried to book a campsite in the park for Sunday night, but all their sites were spoken for. So I booked a day-pass and Sunday morning drove back out to the State Park. 

Did I mention I can’t seem to get a break? Saturday night it dumped about two inches of unexpected rain at the park. While the rain was much needed, it diminished the viability of the water at the photo blind for bringing in birds. Still, I was determined to explore my opportunities there. During my conversation with park superintendent Ken, he told me where Montezuma Quail and their babies had been seen three weeks earlier. The trail started very near the entrance to the park. So I parked the RV, intending to carry my gear down the trail.

Before I could start my trek, I noticed a swarm of swallows working over the ant hills near the highway. They looked like Cliff Swallows, but I knew that they might prove to be Cave Swallows. So I backed the RV into a position as close to the action as I could, and took a ton of shots of the still distant birds. Later, when I reviewed my images, I realized I’d met Cave Swallows for the first time. 

It was a warm and sunny morning and the night’s rain rose as steam in the air. There was no shortage of birds in the nearby shrubs and trees. But getting them to pose was no easy task. I heard way more than I saw. At the top of my list of ‘missed birds’ were the Yellow-Billed Cuckoos that occupied the territory. Even with these ‘misses’, it was an interesting tour.

I walked back to the RV and met some of the park staff on their side-by-side ATV headed out on some mission. They stopped to chat, and I assured them I had paid my park entry fee online, and would check in with the staff headquarters two miles away as soon as I got there. That satisfied their concerns, and I completed my walk back to the RV, then I spent the rest of my day at the photo blind and surrounding area.

Yes, my visit may not have been ideal, but it was my best visit to this iconic place. I hope it will not be the last.

When I left Kickapoo, I continued my way westward. I boondock camped for the night and awoke to a rainy Monday morning. The Davis Mountains loom large as a place I wanted to spend time. But I always like stopping at Langtry when I get an opportunity. I have not committed to a route home yet, and after some shopping errands in Del Rio, I will plot a track west.

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