Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon
Undoubtedly there will be more temperature swings in March, but that won’t deter warblers arriving from Mexico and Central America. Many of our early March arrivals have plans to nest in Texas. As it gets later in the month and into April, numbers of those same species will swell as birds push north beyond Texas to breed. One exception is the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. All Golden-cheeks are native Texans; they breed nowhere else. It is a bird dependent on Hill Country topography and vegetation. It needs long strips of mature Ashe Juniper bark to make its nest. Three other native trees key to Golden-cheeks’ continued survival are the deciduous Texas Red Oak just leafing out now, Live Oak, and Cedar Elm. If you want to read more about the relationship between Golden-cheeked Warblers and the trees they feed on, see this information by entomologist Mike Quinn, who studied their foraging patterns for his Master’s thesis.
The Golden-cheeked Warbler males should be arriving any day now and the females will follow about a week later. If you live adjacent to one of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) tracts you may soon hear the male’s buzzy song, as he claims his territory and tries to attract a female. Later in the season, the song changes. Listen to the two song types here. If you would like to see or at least hear a Golden-cheeked Warbler, Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long Park has been reliable in the past. St. Edward’s Park in NW Austin is another place to check, as is Wild Basin. The Balcones Songbird Festival in late April has Golden-cheeked Warbler tours to Balcones Canyonlands National Refuge tracts that are normally closed to the public. Doeskin Ranch and Warbler Vista are a couple of locations at the refuge open to the public where these special warblers occur.
One identification challenge for bird watchers is to separate the Golden-cheeked Warbler from the Black-throated Green Warbler. The males both have black throats, but the male Golden-cheeked has a bright yellow cheek with a black line running through its eye to the nape and a black crown and back. The Black-throated Green has a green back, a yellow face with a greenish patch behind its eye, and a greenish head. The females present more of a challenge. Use the phone app Merlin to help you. There are other differences including their songs. Black-throated Greens don’t nest in Texas, and will continue to move through Texas into May. The later it gets in spring migration, the less likely you are to encounter a Golden-cheeked outside its expected habitat.
Other early warblers that will nest here in small numbers include Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Black-and-White Warbler, and the rare for Austin Yellow-throated Warbler. You can learn more about them at the Allaboutbirds.org website. They all have distinctive songs. Follow your ears and if you are lucky, you may see one. Northern Parulas favor Commons Ford Ranch Metro Park, Yellow-throated Warblers like cypress trees along the Colorado River, Black-and-White Warblers occur in Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat, and the Louisiana Waterthrush likes Hill Country streams. Like most birds, these warblers are sensitive to human disturbance, so enjoy them from a distance so their progeny will be here for our descendants to enjoy.
Wiggly Caterpillars are Pillars of the Songbird Community
The caterpillars that feed on oaks and other native trees are critical food for breeding and nestling birds. Some of those little caterpillars may dangle from trees on silken threads and crawl on you. Some of those are the caterpillar of the oakleaf roller moth. It’s slightly creepy, but they are great baby food that are easy on the young birds’ digestive tracts, and packed with protein and fat. No need to get out the pesticides. Just let nature takes its course. They are harmless, and the warblers and other songbirds feast on them during migration and nesting. Keep in mind that it takes 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to raise a brood of songbirds, so it is a small attitude-adjustment price to pay for the next generation of birds.
Hummingbirds Arriving Soon
The later it gets in March the more likely there will be a hummingbird checking out your neighborhood for food. Both Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the expected species, and both appreciate native plants that give them their nectar fix, and that support the insects like aphids and gnats they need for protein. Do yourself and hummingbirds a favor, and plant a native like Turk’s Cap. Don’t have a yard? Get permission and plant one in your local park or greenbelt. They are easy to grow, and easier than maintaining a feeder. Travis Audubon has a recommended hummingbird plant list.
March is brimming with birding activities: a monthly meeting, local bird walks, a book club meeting, and two youth birding activities.
Travis Audubon Monthly Meeting – Join us for the March 19th meeting featuring Romey Swanson, Director of Conservation Strategy for Audubon Texas. He will speak on “Bird Conservation along the Colorado River: From the Prairies to the Bay.” This talk will cover the many characteristics that make Texas so biologically rich – through a bird’s eye view. We’ll explore this diversity most deeply along the Colorado River – the liquid heart that connects otherwise disparate eco-regions and the bird guilds they support. Location: First Unitarian Universalist Church Sanctuary, 4700 Grover Ave, Austin, TX 78756 at 7:00 p.m.
Beginners’ Bird Walk at Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park – March 7th, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. 907 West Slaughter Lane, Austin, TX. The beginners’ bird walk is held on the first Saturday of each month and is open to birders of all levels and ages. It’s free. It’s fun. Memberships is not required. Registration is not required. Need binoculars? We’ve got loaners. Come birding with Travis Audubon volunteers at a sometimes very birdy park. It is nestled in a residential area of south Austin with an unassuming entrance off Slaughter Lane. Running through the 344 acre park is Slaughter Creek. With luck, we will see winter visitors like Orange-crowned Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings and a variety of sparrows. Meet at the covered picnic area which is at the far south end of park road. Park restrooms are available.
Birdability Walk at Richard Moya Park – March 21st, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. 10001 Burleson Rd, Austin, TX. Join Virginia Rose for a bird walk tailor-made for folks with mobility challenges. Learn more about Birdability here. Richard Moya is a wonderfully accessible park with great parking, wide sidewalks, and very reliable birds year-round. If it has rained a lot, the park may close. Check Virginia’s blog, birdability.com for any cancellations before you head out.
Hornsby Bend Monthly Bird Walk – March 21st, 7:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. 2210 FM973, Austin, TX. Hornsby is located just a little northeast of the airport off Hwy 71. Join us to explore Austin’s premier birding site. All levels of birders are welcome and no registration is required. Meet in front of the Center for Environmental Research. Wear closed toe shoes or boots and dress for the weather.
Blair Woods Family Nature Day – March 21st, 10:00 a.m. – noon. Join Travis Audubon for a morning of educational activities at Blair Woods Sanctuary, a natural oasis in east Austin! Parking for this event will be at Heritage Pointe Apartments (1950 Webberville Rd.). Once you enter the gate to the complex, continue driving left through the parking lot until you see a Travis Audubon sign, which is located next to a gate that leads to Blair Woods. You may use any visitor-assigned parking. Learn about native Texas wildlife, through guided walks and nature crafts. This event is free and open to the public. Direct any questions about this event to Caley Zuzula at email@example.com. It is weather dependent so check event status at web link if rain is forecast.
Compiled by Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer