Texas Hill Country
Text and Photography Copyright Bill Horn
One of Texas’ best-kept secrets may be its beautiful Hill Country. Located in the south-central portion of the state, it is bound by Austin on the east, San Antonio on the south, Llano County marks the northern edge, and Rocksprings on the west. Gentle rolling hills give way to fertile ranch lands dissected by numerous rivers and creeks. The climate is temperate year-round, and the flora and fauna is both unique and abundant.
I recently had the opportunity to spend two days in Kerrville, TX. Nestled on the banks of the Guadalupe River, Kerrville is deep in the heart of Hill Country. The area is a nature photographer’s dream. Whether your specialty is landscapes, flowers, butterflies, wildlife, or macro, it is here. My specialty is birds, particularly those found in Oklahoma, Texas’ neighbor to the north. I was seeking two bird species, both of which are rare in Oklahoma, yet relatively abundant near Kerrville: the Ladder-backed Woodpecker and the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler.
Day One: Skies were heavily overcast as I followed the North Fork of the Guadalupe River in a northwesterly direction from town that morning. Highway 39 crisscrosses the river frequently and I stopped often, looking for avian activity. Just outside of Hunt, I turned north on Farm Road 1340. Multicolored wildflowers covered the shoulder on each side of the road. Deer were plentiful, so plentiful they created a traffic hazard. Just two miles outside of town I saw a casualty, a car recently hit a young fawn. Always the opportunists, Turkey Buzzards were feeding on the still warm carcass. They fled only a few feet as I pulled the dead animal from the road and drove on.
A gentle rain began falling as I entered the 6,000-acre Kerr Wildlife Management Area. A ranger pointed me toward an area where the Golden-cheeks had been spotted by biologists the day before. I hiked a half-mile with my 40-lb. Nikon F5/600 rig. For the next 5 hours, I occasionally heard, but only once caught a glimpse of the warbler. No images!
Finally, the sky turned blue and the temperature rose above 90 degrees. I drove north to Enchanted Rock State Park. I had little luck there, as most birds stayed well hidden during the heat of the day. I did spot an Inca Dove foraging for food along a creek bed, but overall the day was somewhat disappointing, partly due to the weather, but mostly because I had really wanted to photograph the warblers.
Day Two: The weather was just as uncooperative the second day. Dark skies loomed and rained threatened as I explored the South Fork of the Guadalupe River west along Highway 39. Butterflies, by the thousands, hovered over wildflowers along the road. I stopped often along the river and listened for birds. Unfortunately, the light was too low to take images, even if I pushed my film, so I resolved to just enjoy the scenery.
The sun peeked through again in the afternoon, so I drove through Kerrville-Schreiner State Park just south of town. I circled the park three times before pulling over for a break. I rolled down the windows and was busy eating a sandwich when I heard drumming nearby. There he was! A Ladder-backed Woodpecker was feverishly pounding away at a tree some 20 feet to my left, signaling me - and all other males in the area - this was HIS territory. I aimed my car-mounted 600-w/1.4X converter at him and exposed an entire roll of Provia F before he flew. In most of the slides his head was a blur, due to the motion of his constant drumming. This image is the best from the roll.
I highly recommend The Texas Hill Country for nature photography and for family outdoor enjoyment. Kerrville is almost centrally located in Hill Country. You can get there by way of Interstate 35 to Austin, then east on U.S. Highway 290, and west on State Highway 16. You can also arrive via Interstate 10, which runs North-South West through Hill Country, and exit on State Highway 16 west to Kerrville. Camp sites and RV Hookups are available at Kerrville-Schreiner State Park, on the south side of Kerrville, as well as other State Parks in Hill Country. For more information about the Texas State Park System, visit their homepage.