Springtime at Baker Sanctuary

Spring feels like a far off dream during these dog days of summer. The birds who headed north March – May are already starting to head back south. Chris Murray looks back and recaps the eventful spring migration season at Baker Sanctuary:

The spring is always a busy time at Baker. Between education and outreach programs, Golden-cheeked Warbler monitoring, and habitat management and restoration there is little time to rest!
Golden-cheeked Warbler (GCWA) monitoring began in earnest in early March when the males began to arrive and set up territories. To gain a more comprehensive understanding on how the GCWA utilize the sanctuary, monitoring efforts this year shifted to a 75-acre tract in the northeast sanctuary. Five males were banded and the following 12 weeks were spent mapping territories and searching for fledglings. The data is still being analyzed, but it seems seven males established territories in the study plot with all but one attracting a mate. One surprising observation was that several males had territories which spanned Lime Creek Road; in the past it had been assumed that the road would act as a natural territory boundary. It seems that is not always the case!

When April rolled around, a sanctuary-wide point count effort was undertaken for GCWA to gather data on their distribution and abundance throughout Baker. During the point count, which ran for the entire month of April, 50 stations spaced 250 meters apart were visited and all GCWA present were duly noted. Once again, the data still needs to be analyzed but I can say that 56 individual males were detected for a 72% occupancy rate. As more point count data is collected it will provide valuable insight with regard to population trends and help inform management decisions.

On the education and outreach front, a few tried and true programs saw continued success and one new program made its debut. The sixth annual Youth Nature Camp took place on a sunny April weekend and was well attended by students from a handful of LISD schools. Participants searched for GCWA on a three-mile hike and later retired to the education pavilion to learn about Neotropical migration and GCWA natural history. Through immersive games, participants role-played and learned firsthand the many challenges faced by birds.

The annual Baker Open House, recently renamed Baker Nature Day, took place in early May and was attended by over 200 community members. Many folks went on guided bird hikes but equally popular were the spider hikes led by Austin’s Spider Joe and Alysa Joaquin’s amazing insect display! The Jackie Arnold Education Center hosted many crafts for kids (and some adults). The highlight was probably the raptor show put on by Sky Kings Falconry, a nonprofit whose mission is to rehabilitate raptors and to educate. While Sky Kings had several impressive raptors from around the world, the show stealer may have been Grimley the surprisingly agile Black Vulture. Grimley can no longer fly due to a powerline mishap but he can run with the best of them. Many thanks once again to the volunteers who made the day possible!

In an effort to further spread the word about Golden-cheeked Warblers, a new hike series was launched this spring whose target audience was students of all ages (and hopefully their parents) from Leander and Cedar Park schools. Six hikes offered over the course of two months taught folks about GCWA natural history and habitat. Seventeen students and seventeen adults from six LISD schools partook in the hikes and most at least got a glimpse of the sometimes elusive warbler. In future years we hope to increase participation from students in middle and high school. Many thanks to TAS volunteer hike leaders Linda Lippe and Charlie Ciernia whose enthusiasm for hiking and educating never waned!

Written by Chris Murray, Travis Audubon Land Manager and Educator

Baker Sanctuary will be holding a restoration day to remove invasive plants and maintain trails on August 26. Sign up here!

To visit the sanctuary during fall migration, become a member and start receiving the monthly gate code.