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20 New birds on an overnight trip to Choke Canyon State Park (Three Rivers, TX area) - plus Cemetery Birding! (1 Viewer)

Over the weekend I visited Choke Canyon State Park, located about 1.5 hours south of where I live in San Antonio. It was a quick trip - I left around 1 PM on Sunday and was home by 4 PM the next day. The park is a known location for Green Jays, Roadrunners, and Olive Sparrows - all of which are new to me. On the way down, I stopped at Braunig Lake Park because it was right off the freeway and is a hotspot: Braunig Lake (HOTE 101), Bexar, Texas, United States - eBird Hotspot

The park is mainly a stretch along the shore a mile up and down the entry gates, with pavilions/picnic tables for camping and fishing. They really should rename the park to Grackle Lake because those loud creatures were everywhere and screaming nonstop. Not that I'm not used to them - they're in every parking lot in Texas it seems. Most of what I initially saw were waterfowl that I've spotted before - Great and Snowy Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, even invasive Egyptian Geese. Purple Martins in the trees, an absolute mob of Black Vultures near the fish cleaning station, several Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, etc.

I saw three new birds in total out of 20 species. One was a Bullock's Oriole, which I watched fly into a tree to its nest. I caught a glimpse of another one as well. I also saw several Killdeer, common to Texas but new to me. I observed one sitting on its nest right in the middle of a flat area off the road in a bunch of rocks, which I guess they nest on just about any open part of the ground. Lastly was a Green Heron I saw in a tree near the shoreline but couldn't get much closer.

I also walked a short trail loop (I spent most of the time watching from the car as I drove up and down the park) but didn't spot anything other than giant grasshoppers. It was very hot and I was sweating my bug spray off!

Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S177716660

After a few hours I got back on the freeway and headed to Three Rivers, TX - the gateway to the state park. It's a town of about 1,800 people with a HUGE Valero refinery looming just outside the town. I checked into my hotel and was thwarted by visiting the park - it was after office hours and they only take cash/check payment after hours. I resolved to visit first thing the next day and decided to check out the Three Rivers Cemetery - an idea that was suggested to me by a fellow birder on the local Facebook group.

Well, that turned out to be a great spot! I saw five new birds: Vermilion Flycatcher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Couch's Kingbird, and a Western Kingbird. All in all, 16 total species. I was surprised at how active it was. I suppose it makes sense: plentiful birdbaths, lots of trees, rows of graves to perch on, etc. Cemetery birding might become a new thing for me.

Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S177717515

It was a satisfying start to the short trip - 8 new birds and I hadn't even visited the state park yet! Write-up of the following day in the next post.
The next day I made sure to get to the park early because I was under the impression that the bird feeders were filled right at open. However once I went to the bird blind, I was informed by another birder who was there with his sun that they stopped filling the feeders back in March. I always love coming across other birders in the field; we sat and talked for a good 20-25 minutes before they took off. During that time, I did finally get to see a Green Jay, a White-tipped Dove, a Bronzed Cowbird, and a Gray Catbird - all new to me (and the Catbird is supposedly rare for the location). Saw several others but those were the new ones. I walked down to the nearby water and saw some Stilts and Killdeer but nothing new. Merlin did however pick up a Sora and a Groove-billed Ani, but I didn't see either of them.

Another portion of the park was built around a smaller 75 acre lake. Here were hundreds of Common Gallinules, a new species for me. Also saw a Tricolored Heron, a White Ibis and my first Roadrunner. Four more new birds! Egrets, cormorants, whistling ducks, etc were also present. I then walked a trail on foot for quite some time but only picked up Olive Sparrows, though again Merlin teased me with a Great Kiskadee detection.

I visited the blind one more time before I left and caught the barest glimpse of a Northern Bobwhite lurking in the brush and was able to confirm the call via Merlin. I left the main part of the park after that and visited the south unit where the boat ramp is. Added two more birds here: a White-rumped Sandpiper and dozens of Cliff Swallows.

All in all, 20 new species isn't too bad for a one night/one day trip! Highlight was probably the Green Jay and Roadrunner. Also really liked seeing the Oriole. Will definitely visit in the winter when the Jays are more abundant.

Hotspot info: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L284174

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