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327. South Llano River State Park, Kimble County, Texas

A great place in spring for Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler — two birds for your bucket list.

I first learned of South Llano River State Park when I heard a birder mention Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler in the same sentence. He had seen both of the much-sought species at the park, on the same visit, a possibility not known to many birders. Both species are endangered, both are locally common nesters in the oak-juniper habitat of Texas’s Hill Country, and my wife and I had not seen either species well in our many Texas birding travels. South Llano suddenly sounded quite enticing.

The park, stretching along the eponymous South Llano River, is a beautiful but underbirded 2,600-acre expanse best known regionally for its river access and extensive hiking trails. For those seeking the vireo and warbler on the same visit, timing is everything. Golden-cheekeds arrive by mid-March, and their buzzy Black-throated Green-like song is most readily heard in early morning as they establish territories. Black-cappeds arrive later in March and, uniquely, become most vocal later in the day, after most other species have gone silent.

On our visit in mid-April, we saw and heard Black-capped Vireos virtually everywhere in the park, but Golden-cheeked Warblers were much quieter by then, their nesting season well underway, and we saw only a few. The best strategy for both birds is to learn their songs well and hike the Mid-Canyon Trail early and often, all the way to the Primitive Camping area. Near there, at a wet area called Canyon Seep, we eventually saw both targets. Our total species count for five days was well over 60, including daily sightings of spectacular male Painted Buntings. This park should be on every birder’s Texas bucket list.

327. South Llano River State Park, Kimble County, Texas

Directions

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
30°26’44.96″N 99°48’14.65″W

Habitat

A pristine, spring-fed river rising to mature oak-juniper hillsides above brushy canyons.

Terrain

Twenty-two miles of trails ranging from flat to steep.

Birds

Over 250 species. Residents: Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Osprey, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Greater Roadrunner, Eastern and Western Screech-Owls, Green Kingfisher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Western Scrub-Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Rock, Canyon, Carolina, and Bewick’s Wrens, Canyon Towhee, Rufous-crowned, Field, and Lark Sparrows, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark. Spring-summer nesters: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Purple Martin, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, White-eyed, Bell’s, Black-capped, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed Vireos, Brown Thrasher, Black-and-white, Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-throated, and Golden-cheeked Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Orchard, Bullock’s, and Scott’s Orioles. Winter: Cedar Waxwing.

When to go

Year-round. March through June for diversity of nesting birds. Late March/early April for best chance of Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler.

Amenities

Visitor center with recent bird sightings. 58 campsites with water, electricity, and showers. Primitive campsites. Picnic area with tables and restrooms. Four photo blinds with water, provisioned daily with seed and suet.

Access

State park. Located 5 miles south of Junction, Texas, on Hwy. 377. Day use pass $5, Texas State Parks annual pass $70. Day users can self-pay if arriving before or after 8 a.m.-5 p.m. visitor center hours.

Tips

Bring water and sunscreen. No water available on trails. Sturdy hiking boots advised for unpaved trails. Be vigilant for rattlesnakes.

For more info

South Llano River State Park, (325) 446-3994.

 

 

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is an outdoor writer and photographer and the author of four books illustrated with his photos: A Beginner’s Field Guide to Phoenix Birds (Maricopa Audubon Society, 2004), North American Owls: Journey Through a Shadowed World (Willow Creek Press, 2004), Jim Burns’ Arizona Birds (University of Arizona Press, 2008), and Owls Rock (e-book, 2012). In the October 2016 issue of BirdWatching, he described a close encounter with an Elegant Trogon, and in our April 2017 issue, he wrote about toucans and barbets in Costa Rica.

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