Thursday, October 25, 2012

Area Profile: Peña Blanca Lake

In an ongoing effort to get to know the Atascosa Highlands CBC circle better, Jake and I did a bit of exploring below the dam at Peña Blanca Lake yesterday (after twitching the continuing Philadelphia Vireo). The lake itself is already well known, perhaps the most birded location in the entire circle. But what lies beyond the dam is still unknown to most birders.

Reaching the dam via trail is easy, and the birding is good. We saw tons of Lincoln's Sparrows, a Blue Grosbeak, and a lot of migrating/staging Cassin's Kingbirds. But once you look over the edge of the spillway, you’ll be wondering how to get down into canyon and check the mouth-watering habitat below.

There’s actually a trail that drops down along the edge of the dam proper, and California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) was blooming all down the slope of the dam. Anna’s Hummingbirds were in attendance, but I doubt there’ll still be blooms 8 weeks and 3 days from now…any hummingbird is hard to get on this CBC. Maybe we should put up some feeders a week or two before the CBC. Hmmm…

In the concrete slab of the side of the dam was this gathering of Chestnut Paper Wasps, Polistes major castaneicolor.

The habitat in the canyon bottom is nice, even with some flowing water. Maybe some day it will have a Green Kingfisher or something else more exotic. It certainly looks good for Elegant Trogon and Painted Redstart. We did have a couple Black-throated Gray Warblers here.

It’s also a rather scenic stretch of canyon.

We reached a point where the hillsides opened up, and the canyon became drier. But on the more protected slopes was a good oak woodland where I predicted we might find wintering Hepatic Tanager. After a few minutes of pishing and owl imitations, Jake spotted a silent female right on cue. A couple of Lawrence’s Goldfinches also flew in, but not close enough to see well. I’ve had Whiskered Screech-Owl in such habitat respond vocally to my imitations during the daytime, something to keep in mind.

On the return, rather than taking the trail along the lakeshore, we took the circuitous road that leads from the dam to the upper slopes and in 1.3 miles back to the boat ramp parking area through the dredge spoils. It’s good for upland sparrows – we had Black-throated and Grasshopper Sparrows here, and I presume using playback in winter might yield Cassin’s Sparrow.

Jake spotted this Rainbow Grasshopper, Dactylotum bicolor on the road on our way back.

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