The Texas Hill Country lies deep in the heart of Texas—and deep in the hearts of Texans and visitors alike. It is arguably the loveliest part of the state, especially in spring when its rugged hills are cloaked with a profusion of wildflowers.
The Hill Country is the spring and summer home to two endangered bird species. The jewel-like golden-cheeked warbler nests in the juniper-and-Spanish oak-clad canyons of the Edwards Plateau and nowhere else. The black-capped vireo is perhaps the snappiest of a subtly plumaged group. It plays hide-and-seek in scrubby thickets on the dry slopes, ridges, and rocky uplands, and sings its complex jumble of notes interminably—even through the heat of the afternoon. The birdlife here is an East meets West mix, blue jays and scrub jays are on residential yard lists, and Carolina and Bewick’s wren songs compete for airtime. It is difficult to withdraw your binoculars from fiery vermilion flycatchers even when painted buntings pop into view.
Austin, the gateway to the Hill Country, has become world famous for its music, food, and nightlife—almost too famous, as skyscrapers crowd the downtown area, and traffic has become legendary. But there is a small community west of the city that reminds the long-time residents of the laid-back Austin they remember. Dripping Springs—“Drippin’” as the local residents call it—will be our home base for discovering the natural and musical gifts the area has to offer. We’ll dip into Austin for an urban foray that will include a couple of hours with local musicians walking us through the process of recording a song, and then witnessing an emergence of Mexican free-tailed bats. We’ll visit a winery, a sotol (a spirit much like tequila) distillery, and interesting geologic features.
Our hosts in Austin will be Field Guides Incorporated. Field Guides runs 130+ birding tours worldwide from its Austin base, where the business was born more than 30 years ago. Our local guides are excited about sharing their little piece of heaven with you. Field Guides’ owners and staff guides will be cycling in and out during the four days of activities and will be joined by local experts in birds, music, geology, and bats! BWD staff Raymond VanBuskirk and Emily Jones will round out the crew ensuring a great experience for all!
We may have to change the order of activities to accommodate the unpredictable Texas weather, and change some of the birding venues depending upon up-to- date intel. There is so much to do and see in Austin that you may wish to add some time for individual exploration before or after the Rendezvous. The Field Guides office staff will be happy to assist you.
Birding, music, gastronomic, and botanical highlights will include:
- Wine tasting and dinner at Trattoria Lisina in Driftwood
- Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP)
- Travis Audubon’s Baker Woods Sanctuary
- Sotol tasting at Desert Door Distillery
- Recording session in a studio with local Austin musician Dave Madden
- Visit to Jacob’s Well for a talk about the unique geology and hydrogeology of the Texas Hill Country
- Wildflower/birding/BBQ excursion to Llano
- A dip into the clear waters of Barton Springs Pool
- Colorado River sunset dinner cruise and viewing of bat emergence
Monday, April 22, Day 1: Arrive in Austin by 2 p.m.; meet at airport. We’ve set the early arrival in an attempt to avoid Austin’s legendary traffic. If you need to arrive later you can arrange a transfer with Uber, Lyft or Ride Share Austin (a local company that assures drivers are fairly compensated and offers reasonable rates). The transfer to Dripping Springs should take about 45 minutes. We will depart from the hotel at 6 p.m. for a little bit of Italy in Central Texas. The drive to Driftwood is lovely and we will no doubt see our first scissor-tailed flycatchers, western kingbirds, and Texas bluebonnets. We will enjoy a wine tasting, followed by dinner at Trattoria Lisina. We may stop for a try for chuck-wills-widows and eastern screech-owls on the way back to our hotel.
Tuesday, April 23, Day 2: Early departure for Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and the Travis Audubon Baker Woods Sanctuary in far northwest Austin. We will depart early (about 6 a.m.) and make a breakfast stop before beginning our search for golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos. We will have a picnic lunch in the field and return to Dripping by about 4 p.m. This evening’s festivities begin with sotol tasting and craft cocktails at the Desert Door Distillery. Sotol, an evergreen rosette plant with long spine-clad leaves, is native to the Southwest and northern Mexico and. It was an important food staple for the native peoples in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands and western Edwards Plateau, and was also used for weaving mats and baskets. The liquor distilled from the plant is smoky and smooth. We will dine in Dripping Springs.
Wednesday, April 24, Day 3: We will visit Charro Park very near Dripping for our only birding of the day. We often see painted buntings, migrating Nashville warblers, and Lincoln’s sparrows. After traffic disperses we will head to the recording studio. Local Austin musician Dave Madden will take us through the process of writing and recording a song. We will experience Tex-Mex Austin-style food for lunch.
We will spend the afternoon at Barton Springs pool. This iconic, spring-fed swimming hole is truly the soul of Austin. The crystal clear, 70-degree water will literally take your breath away! There is a bathhouse with showers for changing into swimsuits. We won’t return to our hotel before the evening festivities, so pack a bag with your swimming needs, plus clothes for the evening. You may wish to catch a nap in the shade of a pecan tree. Feeling laidback after our Springs fix, we will board a boat and cruise down the Colorado River to the Congress Avenue bridge and wait for the emergence of bats from the largest urban bat colony in the world. A local expert from Bat Conservation International will answer all our questions and give us some insight into the lives of the Mexican free-tailed bat. We will have dinner on board the boat.
Thursday, April 25, Day 4: We will have a more leisurely start to the day today as we won’t have to drive far for an exploration of Jacob’s Well Natural Area. We have arranged a talk by a local hydrogeologist and aquifer expert. We will try to pay attention as vermillion flycatchers and migrating warblers distract us. From there we will drive to Llano (about an hour) for legendary Texas BBQ at Cooper’s. We will make frequent wildflower stops on the way back to Dripping. Typically, late April is a bit past the peak for Texas bluebonnets but it is prime time for Mexican blanket, Indian paintbrush, and a profusion of yellow wildflowers. Dinner will be in Dripping Springs.
Friday, April 26, Day 5: Depart Austin; transfer to the airport for flights after 11 a.m. Those with flights earlier or much later (who want to sleep in) should arrange transport accordingly.
Transportation & Mobility
We will be renting two 15-passenger vans for this tour. We have limited the trip to 18 participants so that each participant will have a window seat!
Participants should be able to walk two miles or so on gentle hills at a birder’s pace. Birding will be mostly from the roadside or on well-developed trails.