Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kerrville: Blooms, Birds and Bikes

We arrived at the Triple T RV Resort 320 later after leaving BPV. As noted by other who had departed BPV earlier, Texas roads north were festooned with wildflowers. A particularly great year for blooms according to many locals. Also, a change in elevation from BPV (94 feet above sea level) to the Triple T (1640 feet) put us in drier, cooler air.

Aside from the sheer beauty the Hill Country's profuse display of wildflowers, there were a couple of other incentives that drew us back to Kerrville. Two highly sought after bird species that nest in the area, plus, Tom had plans to participate in the Easter Hill Country (Bike) Tour (EHCT) with the added bonus of reuniting us with friends from Austin.
Black-capped Vireo
But first things first. The next morning we drove over to the Kerr Wildlife Management Area (KWMA), THE local hotspot for finding Black-capped Vireos. April is when they arrive from their wintering grounds in Mexico. As with finding most birds, singing birds are most always easier to find. And we were not disappointed spotting several vireos singing in multiple locations as they sought to establish breeding territories.

Historically KWMA has been a good spot for us to find Golden-cheeked Warblers although this year they were less cooperative than in past years. A disappointing quick glance at a couple of warblers during a quick fly-over meant we would have to try elsewhere.
Following a long overdue visit to a Culver's in Kerrville (yes, Culver's can be as tough to find as a rare bird in some states) we spent the rest of the day searching for wildflowers along backs roads near Fredericksburg where granitic soil favors Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Indian Blanket, Greenthread, Winecup, and Square-Bud Primrose. Granitic coils are also conducive to growing grapes. We wrapped up the day with a stop at the Enchanted Rock State Wildlife Area (ERSWA). In addition to the vireo we added 4 FOY (first of year) bird species: Blue Jay, Common Raven, Carolina Chickadee and Bushtit. Clearly we were out of the Rio Grande Valley.

Lost Maples State Park
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Tuesday morning we lit out for Lost Maples State Park where several reliable sightings of Golden-cheeked Warbler had been reported. On the way we stopped at the Cafe 16 in Medina and then a quick stop at the Medina Ace Hardware store. It's tough to pass up a great Ace or True Value Hardware store, specially one so rustic with squeaky hardwood floors and isles chock full of anything and everything you could want for. Even Carol found a few things but admittedly, it was definitely a "guy store" stop.

We were aware that fellow RVer Mary Russell was parked at Lost Maples but when we tried to rouse her from her rig there was no reply. We assumed that she was already out walking and that we would bump into her along one of the trails. Instead, we ran into Jim Bangma and his wife Niroo. Jim is another birding fixture at BPV who also volunteers at BRGVSP. Jim was kind enough to point out an active Hutton's Vireo nest. Besides the Hutton's we added 5 more FOY birds: Yellow-throated Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Canyon Wren, Hooded Warbler and yes, several Golden-cheeked Warblers.

South Llano River State Park
On Wednesday we elected to visit another state park we've never been to but had heard great things about: South Llano River. Located northwest of Kerrville by about 50 miles it was typically out of our way when we've been headed back to Wisconsin. We were so impressed with the park, however, that we have added it to our "someday" list of places to spend more time. While we added only 4 FOY birds (Bell's Vireo, Rock Wren, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Wild Turkey), the park had greater potential for more species during a longer stay. Also, the Wild Turkey we found was one of five subspecies that occur in the United States: the Rio Grande Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia). And it was the last of the five we needed for our ABA life list. You just never know when one of these subspecies might be lifted to full species status.

Thursday afternoon we stopped to register Tom for the bike ride. The EHCT isn't a bike tour in the traditional sense of riding a specific single route over a period of days. It's three consecutive days of choosing routes of varying lengths and difficulty around the Kerrvile area. After registration we stopped at the Kerrville-Schreiner City Park to catch up with our Austin friends, Kate and Dennis. Kate had yet to arrive from Austin as work had kept her busy but Dennis was already setup in their Airstream. It was decided that Dennis and Tom would ride on Friday but since Dennis and Kate had Friday dinner plans with friends, we would get together on Saturday night for drinks and dinner.

 Carol had not planned on riding in the EHCT so when good friends from California, Jennifer and Peggy, alerted us that they were flying into Texas to search for the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler, she was delighted to be able to guide them. After all, we had pretty much locked in on where to find both species. We met the girls later that evening for dinner where they mapped out a plan for birding on Friday.

 Come Friday morning Carol dropped Tom off at Dennis and Kate's site then headed off to meet up with Jennifer and Peggy. Due to some minor aches and pains from a fall earlier in the week, Kate had elected not to do any extensive riding. So Tom and Dennis chose to do the 55 mile loop. A little intimidating because, what....Tom's ridden a total of only 30 miles in the past three years? Not that a lack of butt/leg miles would ever stand in the way of Tom making a questionable decision about trying to ride 55 miles...

 And Boy Howdy, they don't call it the HILL Country for nuthin! Right out of the chute the route that took them out of town wound up through hilly residential Kerrville neighborhoods that wouldn't be any fun at all to drive if ice covered. Fat chance of ice in April, especially when the ride temperature started out in the mid 60's. With a clear sky.
The first 35 miles of the ride listed elevation changes of +2102/-2079 feet. Lots of riders - just over 1,000 were registered and the event was well organized. Rest stops were staffed by very friendly folks, many of them wearing fuzzy bunny ears. Hey. After all, it was Easter Weekend.

 Lots of drawn-out ascents followed by quick descents. It came back to Tom pretty quickly to pedal down hill in order to maintain a certain amount of momentum going up the next hill. Simple Physics, really, but, the practical matter was that Tom lacked the legs to keep the momentum going up the hills with any real speed. The first chink in his overly ambitious quest? Oh, well. It wasn't a race.
Following a particularly steep, awkward ascent (should have known that when a sign stating "Hill" appeared that it would be a hill of note in an otherwise area saturated with hills) and a fast, dangerous descent, they stopped in the town of Medina (hey - this place looked familiar...) for a piece of pie at the "Apple Store". No computers were involved and yes, as Dennis had promised, the pie was delicious.

However, by now Tom was having doubts about his ability to complete the full 55 miles. His shoulders and arms were aching (surprisingly his butt was fine). His legs? Starting to feel kinda rubbery. Fortunately, there was a shortcut opportunity that would shave a few miles off the total.
The shortcut turned out to have more long uphills but now included a bit of a tailwind. It was also starting to get hot. And Tom's shoulders were still giving him more grief. So Tom pulled over at a shady spot on a level stretch and waited for Dennis to catch up. Tom suggested to Dennis that he might now use his phone to call his wife Kate to come with the truck and retrieve them. Dennis, who's knees were fighting each mile more and more, readily agreed. Hey. They may have their pride but they know when enough is enough. That's when Dennis discovered the battery on his phone had died.
They looked toward the next hill and watched cars disappear over the crest. At least there would be another down hill coast. And, coincidentally, the shortcut would take them past the RV park where Tom was staying. Regardless, without a phone to call for help that had no choice but to continue.

Five more miles later (two hills up and three hills down - yes, they were counting) Tom's RV park came into view. Oh joy! Carol's was no where to be seen. She was probably still out birding with Jennifer and Peggy. But no matter. They plugged the phone into a charger in Tom's RV which allowed Dennis to phone Kate who came to collect him.
So. All in all they managed 43 miles. Not 55. But hey. It was a challenging 43 miles. And they did it (discounting two rest stops and a stop for pie) in under 4 hours. Top descent was 38mph. Tom wouldn't go into his average speed going up hill but recalled looking at his bike computer while walking up a very steep hill. It read 2mph. Cycling shoes with cleats don't make for very efficient walking, either up or down hill. They decided to ride again on Saturday but neither opted for the 103 miles century ride.

Tom, Dennis and Kate
After a fitful night's rest due to sore shoulders, Tom decided to fore-go another ride. With age comes sore joints...but also wisdom. Instead of Tom grinding away on a bicycle we chose to revisit a couple of area birding spots. By late afternoon we were back at Dennis and Kate's site where we royally dined on grilled fresh caught salmon, fresh garden green beans and Kate's homemade lemon bars using lemons from their yard. A nice way to wrap up our week in Kerrville.
By the way, Carol's daylong birding adventure with Jennifer and Peggy went very well. Both life target birds were logged along with adding several FOY bird species. It turned out that they too had stopped at the Apple Store in Medina but had arrived only to find the store closed. Instead they found fresh peach cobbler at another shop. A fair exchange it was deemed. Plus, Carol brought home a piece of peach cobbler for tom! Double yum!
Sunday morning found us packed up and headed toward the Texas coast and Goose Island State Park with thoughts of adding FOY migrants to our annual list.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Tom, we were so impressed with you riding 55 miles, but 43 is pretty darn good considering you haven't been training. You guys would really enjoy spending more time at South Llano River SP. We had such a relaxing week there.
    Enjoy the coast.