Avid birdwatcher, Lora Reynolds, shares the common and rare bird-sightings she's experienced at Hardberger Park. The beautiful photos included were taken by Lora Render at PHP and surrounding areas.
By Lora Reynolds
All Photos were taken in or near Hardberger Park By Lora Render
Due to its diverse geographical features, including savannas, wooded areas and open fields, Hardberger Park is a great place for birdwatching.
Whether you are visiting a Hardberger Park playground, dog park or nature trail, birds are all around. The park is a great place to hone your birdwatching skills, as both resident and migratory birds can be found here. While at first you may not be able to identify birds by species or song, with some practice, you will be amazed at how quickly you learn.
Beginning birdwatchers are always advised to buy the best pair of binoculars they can afford, and those with an 8 x 42 field of view are ideal. A field guide is also helpful, and local birders recommend “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America” by David Allen Sibley and the “Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America” by Kenn Kaufman. Both guides feature range maps to show where in the U.S. each species is most likely to be found during migration and during breeding season.
More than 900 species of birds have been seen in the U.S. and two-thirds of them have been sighted in Texas. In Hardberger Park, close to 110 species have been recorded over the past few years during monthly surveys conducted by San Antonio Audubon Society members.
Let’s assume you recognize the following bird species common in the park and almost everywhere else in San Antonio: White-winged Dove, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, House Sparrow and Great-tailed Grackle. The Carolina Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse and Black-chinned Hummingbird are all common species that breed in the park.
But you may not know the name of a very small yellow bird that is easily seen all year in trees around the parking lot of both the Northwest Military Highway side of the park (West) and the Blanco Road side (East). The Lesser Goldfinch is just 4.5” long and has a high-pitched plaintive call. The males have black backs with white patches in their wings and tail, and bright yellow fronts. The females are more plain, with greenish backs and yellow fronts.
A very large bird frequently seen flying over the park, and nesting here, is the Crested Caracara, sometimes called the Mexican Eagle. The bird is 23” long and is mostly black with white on the chest, the tail tip and near the tip of each wing.
Another species of large bird often seen flying overhead is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. You typically hear them before you see them, as they are very vocal with squeaky flight calls and usually travel in groups. Their appearance is distinctive, too, with pink bills and pink feet.
In winter, if you hear fast chattering that sounds like a typewriter, keep your eyes open for the hyper little Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a 4” long bird with a white ring around the eye, greenish gray back, and light yellow breast. The male’s red crown feathers are only visible when he is agitated. The bird seldom holds still and flits quickly from branch to branch gleaning insects.
The Orange-crowned Warbler is often seen in the company of kinglets. This 5” long green bird is a winter resident of the park and is quite plain. Like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the orange crown feathers of the male are seldom visible.
During spring migration (from early April to mid-May), many species stop in San Antonio to rest during their flight from wintering grounds in Mexico and Central and South America to breeding areas north of Texas. Nashville Warblers are very common, sporting gray heads, dark green backs, white eyerings and bright yellow fronts. Yellow Warblers are common as well. This species is vivid yellow all over and the male has orange streaks on the breast.
If you see a large red bird that looks like a Northern Cardinal but has no crest, it’s a male Summer Tanager; the female is yellow.
Two rather rare species for this area have been exciting finds for avid birdwatchers in the park. The Green-tailed Towhee, normally found in areas west of San Antonio, visited the park for two or three days in the fall of 2011, taking advantage of a broken sprinkler head near the picnic area on the west side of the park. The Sage Thrasher, also a western species, has been seen briefly in both sides of the park on various occasions in the fall.
As development of the park continues and new features are added, the diversity of species in the park may increase. Keep your eyes and ears open—every day brings new possibilities!