Bird & Nature Guiding
Don't know where to look?

This highly-skilled expert might be able to help!

Lookin' in the trees

Big Baldcypress

This tree is so big, it's had Canyon Wren a couple of times!
I am sometimes available to help guide you in finding birds locally.

Send an e-mail with dates, type of party, number of people, and what you'd like to see (if you have any special preferences).

In general I recommend a walk at Lost Maples SNA to see the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. It is a long half-day, up to the ponds area and just beyond, as pretty and about as birdy a walk as you will have ever taken. The warbler is along canyon sides and floor, the vireo up on the bluffs atop canyon walls, roughly 3-400' uphill. The trail is an easy moderate for the warbler part up to and around ponds, which is a mile.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

The light was bad, but the bird was good.

But from there, the 1/3 mile trail with a 3-400 foot elevation gain to the bluff-tops where there are numbers of Black-capped Vireo is steep and really almost requires a hiking pole, most importantly for the way down. Lots of loose rocks, and steep, if you are a mountain goat, no worries, otherwise I use a pole. I'm old and slow but I get there. If you have physical limitations it might not be an option. Sometimes you get them low in canyon, rarely, or on the way up to the bluff tops if you get lucky.

Black-capped Vireo
Black-capped Vireo, male, pardon the fuzzy pixels

Also you/we can drive to Kerr WMA for the vireo (few or no warblers there at the main vireo spots) and not have any hike involved, just moderate walking. But the Shin Oak patches there are much larger and harder to see in to, the birds are much harder to see there. On the bluffs above pond at Lost Maples, the Shin Oak patches are 3' tall, the birds sometimes sing on top of them. Generally you will get much better views more easily if you can do the 3-400' climb a third-mile up a rocky trail. Sometimes you can get them just a quarter or half way up the trail as they cross it, but extended leisurely point-blank, crushing, stonking, mind-blowing views are usually much more easily had up on top of the ponds. And you might get to look down on a Zone-tailed Hawk if you are lucky.

My fee is $150 for 6 hours, which usually runs from 7-1. I give an hour of wiggle room in case we see too much and can't stop. Can start earlier if you like. I can meet you at Lost Maples HQ just inside entrance. If staying very local, I prefer to be picked up at my place a couple miles south of town, or to meet at the park on the river in town. Which is always worth a look (over 265 sps. on park list, probably including some things you'd have liked to have seen - ;)  ). Often we will check the park when done with Lost Maples, on return to Utopia if we finish early. You can then grab lunch in town.  Do bring snacks, munchies and drinks for the walk up the canyon for the warbler and vireo though, as it will take a few hours to get up the canyon and back to the car.

At 'lost marbles' there is a bird feeding station where we park for the walk, so at start before going up canyon, and at return, a bit of time may be spent there where often close views of all the local stuff can be had. It is one of the best spots for texana Scrub-Jay, great for Rufous-crowned Sparrow views, and some years in spring Varied Bunting, White-tipped Dove has been regular. Once a Rufous-capped Warbler was seen bathing at the solar powered water feature there.

One last thing since I just saw a big thread about it on the ABA blog, I do not expect a tip. They are gratefully accepted and greatly appreciated, but please know I don't expect one. Besides some crazy Californians (I'm one) that gave me a ridiculously large tip, the neatest one I ever got was a couple nice sharp ladies from Vermont that gave me a juglet of Maple Syrup from one of their trees! It's long gone and I am still thrilled and excited about it! But I do not expect anything whatsoever even if I get a warbler to sing on your shoulder and a vireo to dance on your shoes.  :)

I can also do a Uvalde County tour, which can be 8-10-12 hours depending how long and hard you want to go at it, for $200 and up. I prefer these start and finish at Utopia. We'll bird the brush country to Uvalde, where there are some great wet spots like Cook's Slough, the fish hatchery, Ft. Inge, a few Nueces River crossings, and perhaps Chalk Bluff Park or Concan, if you want to go all day. Many to most days of the year 100 species are doable in a day spent pillaging Uvalde County for birds.

~ ~ ~ a brief bio ~ ~ ~

A little about me.... please note I am not crazy about this part, but since there are some barely past beginner level "bird guides" locally, that I've yet to see actually out birding, I feel it important you understand something about the level of the guide you hire.

Unlike some of the "bird guides" locally, I study birds, write about birds, and go birding with my free time. I've been birding since I could walk, and published records of my rare bird finds date back to the late 1960's, photos to 70's. I can ID most calls and songs instantaneously, and do record a bit. If you want a guide you can discuss molt, ageing, early and late migration dates, Type B songs, feather tracts, county, state or continental status and distribution, that level of stuff with, there is only one serious birder locally. There is no other local guide that can ID silent migrant Empidonax flycatchers or nocturnal passerine flight calls. One for pay "bird guide" here I heard call a Cardinal to others "redbird", and another says "buzzard" when they see Turkey or Black Vulture.

I led Los Angeles Audubon field trips, and wrote the bird report column for Palos Verdes-South Bay Audubon for over a dozen years. I was a contributor the the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas in the 1980's, and the Los Angeles Co. BBA in the 1990's. I have been a participant on the San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Uvalde Christmas Bird Counts, and co-compiled a count in California (Palos Verdes Peninsula) for much of two decades. I published a (340+ sps.) bird list for a park in L.A., CA, that I was vice-chairman of the advisory board of for a dozen years, as well as a study "Avian uses of tule habitats during the nesting season at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, in L.A., CA." I was a California Fish & Game approved biological monitor, and helped advise them with wetland restoration projects. I worked for the City of Los Angeles and private firms in that capacity as well. At one time I held the precious U.S. F. & W. Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo endangered species research permits.

I was the first person to publish (web posting) about the Texas hill country Yellow-throated Warblers being vocally distinct (song) from all others in the U.S., and how to tell Turkey Vulture from Zone-tailed Hawk in spring and summer from long distance, using molt.

I found the first U.S. winter records of Philadelphia Vireo and Mourning Warbler in L.A., CA back in 78 and 80 respectively, ID'd in plumages not in the books. In 1991 I broke the 300 LA Co. year list record by over 10% and raised the bar to 340 species. In 1981 I was the discoverer of the L.A. River as a major shorebird site. From 1991-2003 I re-wrote the book on socal pelagic birding, running the first socal public trips to find Murphy's Petrel, Dark-rumped (Hawaiian) Petrel, Red-TAILED Tropicbird, Streaked Shearwater, and others.

Besides the birds which I know fairly inside out, I can ID over 200+ species of local wildflowers, all the trees, dragonflies, and the butterflies found locally, most insects to family if not genus on sight, as well as most of the fish down to and including native minnows, reptiles and amphibians, and even the occasional fungi. The real deal nature nerd.

I've received multiple awards from the California State Senate, and Assembly, the City of Los Angeles, and the Palos Verdes- South Bay Audubon Society for my volunteer conservation work.

I have birded Lost Maples over a hundred times dating to 1986. I probably have the highest bird list for Uvalde (350) and top 2 or 3 in Bandera (over 250+) Counties, and have seen 500 species each in Texas and California, and though I quit chasing birds about two decades ago, I've seen over 700 species in the lower 48, NIB (No Introduced Birds). I would be happy to teach you some techniques and show you some birds.

What you get with a good guide is unparalleled local knowledge, and though many can and prefer to find the birds without help, you would still likely see much more with a knowledgeable local crack expert. I don't think Richard Crossley would mind if I repeated what he wrote in a copy of his great "Crossley ID Guide" he gave me after a day of birding: "I learned a lot."

Mitch Heindel
beak geek, feather freak, and bird nerd

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