Notes from Chaetura Canyon – January 2024

By Georgean and Paul Kyle
Sanctuary Stewards

Since the late 1980s we have started each month with an avian Point Count:  visiting five set points on the property for 10 minutes making notes of every bird we see and /or hear.  As the area around The Canyon has developed, numbers of species and individuals has diminished, and the Point Counts have added little if anything to daily observations.  Going forward we decided to take a different approach and keep a cumulative monthly record – noting first-of-the-season sightings.  January yielded just 20 species of birds with the usual suspects of year-round residents.  The few wintering species included Orange-crowned Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Chipping Sparrows.  We did record a Field Sparrow for the first time in many years.  They used to be regulars back in the 1980s and 90s.

This January could not have been more different than January 2023.  About this time last year, we were hit by an ice storm of epic proportions.  Although we did have some very cold days (17.5 degrees!) and more than 5” of rain, thankfully the two did not overlap.

Early January was relatively mild, and we were able to get back to work on habitat restoration – primarily cleaning up more of the storm damage from 2023.   At 70+ years we no longer climb ladders with a chain saw.  But thanks to some grant money released by the TAS office, we were able to hire two arborists and a laborer from Maas Verde Landscape Restoration for a day to help with the high canopy damage.  We can handle all the work ourselves with volunteers once the damaged materials are on the ground.

Mikael Behrens led one of his Birding by Ear classes for some hearty souls on January 20th just as we were coming out of the coldest part of the month (still a chilly 35 degrees that morning).  But we fired up the gas pit on the covered part of the deck which made it reasonably comfortable for the sitting portion.  The trip around the sanctuary trails was a bit quicker than usual, but everyone was in good spirits and seemed to have a great time.

By the end of the month, we had processed a good portion of the material downed by Maas Verde (cutting into 3’ – 4’ pieces and stacked in neat little piles) and were fortunate to have a great group of volunteers from the Hays County Master Naturalists and two of our docents (Hilary and Willow) join us for the haul out to the road for chipping on January 28th.  In addition to toting 800 cubic feet of Juniper slash uphill, the volunteers spread mulch on 1400’ of the Upper Canyon Trails.  By noon the trails through the wooded area and Chimney Swift Glade across the street from the residence looked as good or better than they did before the January 2023 ice storm.

With this work behind us, we will start moving down further into the Canyon to also get those trails ready for the spring and early summer events at the Canyon.  We expect to start hosting again in April with a Morning Canyon Crawl and Birdathon (with Mikael!).  Check the Travis Audubon calendar over the next months for a complete list of happenings at The Canyon.

Featured Image: The Hays County Master Naturalists.  Photo by Paul Kyle