Northern Cardinal Guadalupe River State Park

While they’re everywhere in San Antonio (everywhere!), cardinals are a welcome sight for a California birder

Birding San Antonio in June

More than two years after the pandemic began. I finally made it to San Antonio to visit relatives. June isn’t an ideal month to visit — migration has come and gone, and it’s 100 degrees every day — but it was long overdue and great to be around family.  The birding part of the trip started with an evening walk in Stone Oak Park, a big open space with scattered oak trees not far from my parents house. It’s my Dad’s regular haunt. We saw the familiar species like Northern Cardinal and Mockingbird, and Black Vultures and Black-crested Titmouse. I managed to pick a couple of Cave Swallows out from the swirling Barn Swallows. A Crested Caracara was on its usual snag perch. One delight of San Antonio in June is the presence of Painted Bunting. There were at least two vocal pairs in the park, and it is impossible to tire of seeing those insane rainbow males. On the way back to the parking lot, a trio of nighthawks appeared in the sky. I have little experience with these birds, so I couldn’t ID them as Common (more common) or Lesser (possible). A review of photos afterwards showed them to be the less common Lesser Nighthawk (Texas lifer!). Besides location of the white wing stripe, the number of primaries with white is a key “field” mark – here, you see the bird has white on 4 primaries, not 5, indicating Lesser Nighthawk.

The next day we took a trip north to Guadalupe River State Park, in the Texas Hill Country. Besides pleasant rolling hills and picturesque rivers, it’s  notable amongst birders as a breeding location for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. Our visit didn’t disappoint, as we got point blank views of multiple Golden-cheeked Warblers at the birding blind nearest the river.  The blind area was full of action. Painted Buntings, an Indigo Bunting, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Carolina Wrens, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds moved about alongside an endless supply of Northern Cardinal. A walk along the river found more birds, including Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler (Texas lifer!), Eastern Phoebe, Lark Sparrow, and Summer Tanager. 

An interlude on birding blinds. We don’t have them in California. But in Texas, they love themselves some birding blinds. Maybe it’s the oppressive heat that motivates the construction of a shelter. Or maybe the birding crowd skews older in Texas, leading to spots to sit. Whatever the reason, many state parks have birding blinds (it’s throughout the state: there was a great one at Franklin Mountains State Park outside El Paso, and blinds are everywhere in the Rio Grande Valley). And these aren’t half-assed jobs, or tiny hunting blinds. They’re big, sturdy, and elaborate. The birding blind at Guadalupe River State Park (below, left) has windows that you can flip open or closed.  Guides to common species are hanging from the wall. The blinds are full of feeders and water features, enticing hungry and thirsty birds. When you’re traveling with non-birder, or a budding birder, or just want to do some easy birding and get some wicked photos, bird blinds are fantastic. The birds are so many, and so close. You don’t even need binoculars to make out the birds. There’s a limit to what the blinds attract – some birds just don’t come to feeders (though they will come to water). And they don’t get the birder much exercise. But it would be great to see a few pop up at some California birding spots.

Our next birding adventure was to Crescent Bend Nature Park, on Cibolo Creek in the northeast part of San Antonio. The park was once a residential neighborhood, but frequent flooding from the creek led to the decision to tear down the homes and turn it into a park. The remains of a street grid, and a few out-of-place palm trees are remnants of the former community. It’s become a pretty good spot for birding. My Dad and I got in 90 minutes of birding before the heat caused both birds and birders to wilt. Green Herons and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons lurked along the creek. There were Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Western Kingbirds moving about. The bird blind (of course there was one) was oddly quiet, except for (of course) Northern Cardinal. Our best find was a flushed Green Kingfisher that we were unable to track down after it flew away from us. But it’s tiny size and dark back made me confident in the ID.

Painted Bunting Guadalupe River State Park

Female Painted Buntings remind me of lime otter pops

Before we drove back home, we stopped at Converse North Park, a vast flat area next to a lake. We added a couple more trip birds here, including Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Bronzed Cowbird, and a pair of Mute Swans (Texas lifer!) that have apparently set up shop on the lake. This isn’t great habitat or pleasant scenery. But I’ll take a sighting of the big-cheeked Bronzed Cowbird any chance I can get. 

Black-and-white Warbler and Northern Cardinal combo


It was a short trip, but a delightful one.