A diverse birdlife is still holed up among the tract houses of far western San Antonio
Welcome to Section 8 birding! Yep, we no longer try to shoot birds on Christmas Day as they did in the Dark Ages before 1900. Instead, the Christmas Bird Count is a survey of ALL the birds, year after year, a huge scavenger hunt where dozens of participants scour the southwestern portion of San Antonio to try to count, yes, every single bird within the count circle.
Section 8 “B” doesn’t have the Mitchell Lake wetlands to work with like some of the other local count areas on this special day, but we do have a section of the Medina River and plenty of scrubby fields and ranchlands west of San Antonio… along with water tanks, tract houses, trailer parks, and more.
This can be an extremely productive area, but as it is inevitably converted to suburban housing, it helps to know exactly where the remaining birdlife has holed up. Recent CBCs have found wood duck, least grebe, anhinga, dark-morph red-tail, osprey, bobwhite quail, roadrunner, collared dove, parakeet, ringed and green kingfisher, Say’s phoebe, kiskadee, scissortail, green jay, verdin, pyrrhuloxia and green-tailed towhee all still housed in Section 8. The following summary (from 2013) attempts to provide a rough idea of where to look.
Section 8B is enclosed by the center lines of US 90 (on the north), Loop 1604 (on the west), and Loop 410 (on the east.) Don’t bother counting north of 90, west of 1604, or east of 410; those areas are all covered by other counters during the CBC.
On the south, the area is bounded by the center line of Pearsall Road, west to the Medina River. The area east of Medina River, on both sides of Nelson Road, is within our count; feel free to bird both sides of Nelson Road (Route 2.)
The following schematics give an idea of how to split this 25-square mile area into easy pieces. For a quick 2-hour birding trip, pick one; for a productive morning, pick two.
What’s the deal with 8 “B”? Well, section 8 “A” is west of 1604 and north of US 90. Section 8 “C” is within the extremely limited access, military-only Medina Base. There isn’t always a count inside Medina Base, depending on current access and restrictions.
ROUTE 1: PUE ROAD (Rowe 7 AM)
Time: 1-2 hours
Directions: From US 90 eastbound access road, turn right on the one-way Pue Road. Park, and bird south to 1604.
To bird by shuttle, another car can be dropped at the cement parking plant, halfway down to 1604, and another at 1604; the first birders to reach their car will travel back around to pick up the birders on the north end.
Pue Road (sparrows, towhees, diverse passerines, roadrunner, caracara)
1604: Tank pond (diverse ducks; scissortails; bluebirds) east of 1604
1604: Medina River crossing / farm fields east of 1604 (meadowlarks)
No special access; bird from road; bird by walking on Pue Road. Parking available at bend and at cement plant.
This is a productive territory. Bird by foot and ear all the way from US 90 to the cement plant. Listen for ducks and kingfishers near the rancher’s tank at the northeast corner of Pue Road, after the S-curve. After the cement plant and south to 1604, watch for roadrunner.
After finishing Pue Road, proceed to the tank 1 mile south on 1604; parking available on west side of 1604; bring a scope for shorebirds and ducks. 20 minutes.
Sparrows, sparrows and sparrows; and some brush country birds; raptors; ducks.
Watch for roadrunner, scissortails, green tailed towhee, dark-morph red-tailed hawk; belted kingfisher at the rancher’s tank at the NE corner of Pue Road.
Proceed to: ROUTE 3 (Center)
ROUTE 2: NELSON ROAD/SALAS PARK (Patty & Greg 7 AM)
Area: SOUTHWEST (Nelson Road from Pearsall Road to Salas Park)
Time 1-2 hours
Nelson Road: pond @ Pearsall Road (snipe / ducks / etc.) Note, parking is difficult here.
Nelson Road: Salas Park (access $5)
Nelson Road: farm fields
Nelson Road: tank (east end of farm fields)
Nelson Road: Medina River train track crossing
Nelson Road: Salas Park (by $5 admission after 8AM.)
Aside from Salas Park, no special access is available; bird by foot around Salas Park and by roadside vehicle elsewhere.
This is a productive territory. Spend some time to bird Salas Park by foot along the creek (west side) and woods (east side.) Park at the south end of the big field. Pay special attention to the thickets at the far south end of the park, where Medina River heads toward Southwest High School.
Bird Nelson Road by foot between Salas Park and the train tracks. You can walk the train tracks to check out the tank ponds between Nelson Road and 1604, but remember the area south of the tracks is being counted by Section 7.
Spend 1/2 hour to bird Nelson Road by car from the train tracks to Pearsall Road. There are plenty of brushy fencelines to check, and abandoned buildings along Reliant (where barn owl may be expected but has never been found.)
Drive east across the farm fields to check out the tiny tank on the east end, adjacent the fenceline.
Riparian passerines; raptors; flyover cormorants and ducks; falcons; robins; thousands of sparrows; blackbirds.
Watch for snipe (at Nelson Road pond) longspurs and Brewer’s blackbird (in Nelson Road fields); robin, warblers, kiskadee, green jay, and green and ringed kingfisher (at Salas Park.)
ROUTE 3: COVEL ROAD/ Covel Road Landfill and Ponds (Rowe 10 AM)
Time: 1 1/2 hours
Covel Road: farm fields
Covel Road: Little John’s pond (diverse migratory birds and shorebirds are attracted to this pond)
Covel Road: wetland ponds (sandpipers, ducks, parrots)
Covel Road: dump entrance (bronzed cowbird, cowbirds, bluebirds)
Covel Road: Medio creek crossing (wood duck?)
Covel Road: SAWS ponds (least grebe?)
Access by roadside shoulder parking throughout. No special access available.
Birding is primarily by roadside, where possible along this busy road. Parking is difficult especially when wet. There is no access. Pay special attention to the four water features: 1. the tank across from the dump; 2. the wetland ponds at the dump; 3. the Medio Creek crossing; and 4. the ponds on the SAWS property at the northern end. Parking is possible along the east shoulder around the SAWS property, but expect some difficulty to reach the pond by various overgrown footpaths.
Passerines of open country; ducks; raptors. The farmer’s pond under the pecans toward the southeast corner of Covel Road attracts a lot of surprises including, in years past, green heron (in winter!) Say’s phoebe, warblers, and many ducks.
Watch for: various raptors over the dump; sandpipers and least grebes at SAWS pond; and various thrashers.
ROUTE 4: VALLEY HI (Juan 7 AM)
Area: Northeast quadrant
Time 1-2 hours. By car and with minimal walking, and using some efficient sampling, this can be covered fairly quickly.
Strategies: Parking available throughout. The fields, parks and drainage on the north end are productive. The neighborhoods are easily counted by drive-point-and-count.
SW Loop 410 @ Crooked Trail: pond
Ray Ellison BLVD @ Lake Vista: fields and drainage
Valley Hi including Moon Valley feeding station @ Medina Base Road
410 FROM US 90 TO Ray Ellison Blvd (hawks)
Access by road is easy throughout. Crooked Trail has parking available on the park.
The fields, parks and drainage on the north end are especially productive and should be checked by foot if possible. The neighborhoods are easily counted by drive-point-and-count.
1. Check the fields in the area between Ray Ellison, Crooked Trail and Lake Vista.
2. Bird the pond trail around the park and the drainage area from the park to Ray Ellison Drive.
3. Birding by ear while driving is an effective way to quickly assess the basic suburban birdlife of Valley Hi: doves, blue jays, phoebes, warblers, and house sparrows, with the occasional red shouldered hawk. Bird the street grid south to Ray Ellison Drive. Note, there are various feeders at the houses on the corner of Moon Valley and Medina Base Road, below the library.
Raptors on towers, pigeons, doves, phoebes, jays, house sparrows; flocks of blackbirds.
Watch for: pied billed grebes; inca dove; collared dove; shrike; warblers in Valley Hi; hummingbirds (at house on Moon Valley next to library.)
ROUTE 5: SOLANA RIDGE (Brad 7 AM)
Area: Southeast quadrant
Time: 1-2 hours. Some sampling helps with the suburban area. The ponds and fields at the SE corner of Sol Ridge can be somewhat longish, but rewarding.
Like Valley Hi, this is mostly quick drive-and-count territory, except for the ponds at the southeast corner, which generally require some muddy footwork but are worth checking for curve billed thrasher, wood duck, and shorebirds.
Sol Trace (Solana Ridge) including a pond at the SE corner of Sol Trace and adjacent fields and woods
Trailer park (accessed from 410): has a pond with shorebirds.
Access by road throughout, and by foot into the pond area. Sol Ridge has a security guard but no gatehouse.
Sparrows and brush birds + subdivision birds + ducks and grebes.
Watch for: great blue heron; sparrows; curve billed thrasher; and brush country birds, especially around the Sol Vista tanks at dawn. Snipe and other shorebirds may be expected in the trailer park pond.
Proceed to: Route 6 (Medina River)
ROUTE 6: MEDINA RIVER Brad 9AM?
Area: Southwest boundary
Time: 2 hours. Expect some extra time investment depending on the shuttle strategy.
Directions: 1604 to Nelson Road.
Access by boat from put-ins at 1604 and at Nelson Road. No foot access.
By kayak and a shuttle between 1604 and Salas Park. Anhinga, sandpipers, and various kingfishers are generally present on the first lake; other surprises may lie in between the lake and Nelson Road. The distance between the first pond and Nelson Road should be covered fairly quickly. Stop counting at Nelson Road. Leave a shuttle at Salas Park.
Watch for: zone tailed hawk; anhinga; common yellowthroat; sandpipers; green kingfisher; kiskadee; riparian passerines.