5 Tips for Comfortable Winter Hiking

Taking a hike might not seem like an appealing activity when it gets cold in Texas, but it can be a beautiful experience. With a little preparation you might be surprised at how comfortable it can be. Besides, there are no bugs and no crowds - what's not to enjoy?

Winter trail hikes offer different challenges than summer hikes. Here are some tips to help you enjoy a safe, winter hike:

  1. Check the weather forecast. Always check the weather before you leave, even up until the moment you walk out the door. Texas weather can be very unpredictable.
  2. Wear proper gear. The simple rule of winter hiking is to stay dry and warm. Always wear thick, winter-weight socks, since your toes are the first place you’ll feel cold. Choose clothing layers that wick moisture, dry quickly, insulate and are waterproof and breathable. By adjusting these layers, you can regulate the amount of warmth you need. 
  3. Start early. Be prepared for some early mornings. Don’t forget that the sun sets much earlier in the winter months. Plan to be off the trail before dark to avoid getting lost or having an accident.
  4. Stay hydrated. When you’re cold, it’s tempting to not drink as much, or only drink coffee and hot chocolate. But you’re still sweating under all those layers, and your body still needs water and electrolytes.
  5. Leave a trip plan. Let others know where you'll be, when you'll be there, when you'll return, vehicle information and names and contact number for participants in your group. 

Christmas Bird Count Success

  Before the sun was up on Saturday, December 17th, birders were meeting to start the annual Christmas Bird Count in the greater San Marcos area.  Although the forecast called for a chilly morning turning warm in the afternoon the drizzly rain was a surprise. This might put a damper on the birds but the binocular and scope group was ready to search.
 Texas State doctoral candidate, Rebekah Rylander, organized 42 birders into teams that would cover seven different areas of the Hill Country and Blackland Prairie landscapes. The 15-mile diameter circle with San Marcos at the center covers wooded, rocky hills, open fields and ponds, lakes and rivers was 
Birding at Dreamcatcher Ranch
expected to yield a variety of bird species.
  Colton Robbins led the birding group in section seven that covered the fields and large ponds south of San Marcos from the Blanco River to the outlet malls. "Our most interesting sighting was a tie between a pair of Great Kiskadees doing their loud squeaky call back and forth, and a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk also known as a Harlan's Hawk soaring over the Blanco River. Both are rare in Hays County and were exciting to see," Colton said.
Say's Phoebe
   He continued, "Other interesting observations from our group included Snow Geese, a pair of Northern Bobwhites, and a Barn Owl. Plus more ducks than you could shake your binoculars at."
  Jesse Huth led a group downtown San Marcos, all the river parks, the fish hatchery and several county roads. They counted a Summer Tanager, a Say's Phoebe, a Merlin sitting next to an American Kestrel, Couch's Kingbirds, Black-crowned Night Heron and Egyptian Geese. Jesse said, The female Summer Tanager was probably the best sighting, it is very late for one to still be here. She was feeding on a paper wasp nest."
 While this was an inaugural event for San Marcos, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a National Audubon Society citizen science involvement event in its 117th year. The count takes all day as some groups started in the dark listening for owls in Prospect and Ringtail natural areas. The day would end with dinner at Garcia's Restaurant in San Marcos.
 One of the rarities seen was a Pyrrhuloxia at the Geiger Ranch on Lime Kiln Road. Rebekah added, "We did have other 'rarities' including the female Summer Tanager, Great Kiskadees, and Red-breasted Merganser being the super highlights."
   Rebekah said, "I have compiled a PDF of all the species we saw on the 17th, totaling 124! Not a bad first year I would say! We also had 42 people participating in this count, which was incredibly awesome.Thank you so much for volunteering your time, energy, and birding skills. Please give yourselves a big pat on the back, we couldn't have done it without you!"
  Colton said, "I'm already excited about next year's count because this first time was sort of a test run and now we know where the good stuff is and I expect us to find even more species next year."
 Jesse added, "It was a really fun day to go birding, and got me out looking for new local places to bird. Hope to see more people out doing it next year." Jesse added, "It was a really fun day to go birding, and got me out looking for new local places to bird. I hope to see more people out doing it next year."

A wet and cold December bird walk

  Overnight there was thunder and lightning. The cold front pushed temperatures down and the forecast was for more of the same. So when Stephen Ramirez wanted to find a good location for the December 3rd bird walk the selection was geared to relatively dry pathways, shelter opportunities and, of course, good birding. We got all three at Spring Lake and the Meadows Center. 
  From the beginning we had fly-overs of Great Blue Heron, Cormorants and, of course, Vultures. Even the Osprey circled over the lake looking for a breakfast meal and flew overhead at least twice. A pair of ducks also flew the length of the lake while we viewed the morning activity from the newly repaired boardwalk. 
Viewing the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from the parking lot.
  While we scoped and glassed the different birds we we able to watch the Ospry devour a large bass (?) on a light standard and a Kingfisher devour something a little smaller. A little unusual were the pair of Killdeer on the the lily pads next to the boardwalk.
 The wooded area next to the boardwalk yielded the usual little guys like titmouse, goldfinches, wrens and chickadees. The grassland meadow that replaced the buildings that once was the Aquarena attraction was now home to sparrows, warblers, cardinals and others.
Colton Robbins and Romey Swanson endure the cold rain.
 Birding hikes are led by Stephen Ramirez and assisted by Colton Robbins who compiles the list of birds we see. Contact Stephen@BirdsIview.org to be added to the eMail list for January's birding hike in the San Marcos natural areas. 
  Next week the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance is sponsoring a "bug walk" at the same Meadows Center/Spring Lake location.  The hike will be led by Gabby Cole Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. More information is contained in an earlier LOOP post to this blog.

Aquarena Springs, Hays, Texas, US
Dec 3, 2016 7:35 AM - 9:08 AM

Protocol: Traveling
0.5 mile(s)
Comments:     San Marcos Monthly Bird Walk. 49 degrees, little to no wind, raining on and off.
31 species

Neotropic Cormorant  2
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  2
Black Vulture  24
Turkey Vulture  5
Osprey  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
Killdeer  2
Spotted Sandpiper  1
White-winged Dove  50
Belted Kingfisher  1
Green Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  1
Stephen Ramirez locates the birds.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Eastern Phoebe  2
Blue Jay  1
Carolina Chickadee  2
Black-crested Titmouse  1
House Wren  2
Carolina Wren  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  6
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Lincoln's Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  3
Great-tailed Grackle  2
American Goldfinch  8

View this checklist and previous bird walks online go to:



Announcing "Bug Walk" Saturday, December 10th

Gabby does a close-up
The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance is very pleased to sponsor a "Bug Walk" at 2 p.m. on December 10th at the Meadows Center.

Gabrielle Cole, who leads December's walk, graduates this December as an Associate Wildlife Biologist.

"I've taken various wildlife courses including one focused on Arthropods, and I'm a member of the Entomology Club at Texas State." Gabby continued, "My main knowledge base for arthropods comes from independent study; I've been pursuing a passion of learning insects for two years now." She continues her graduate work in the Spring 2017 semester at Texas State.

If the response is good and her schedule allows this will become a monthly event in the natural areas similar to the monthly bird walk led by Stephen Ramirez.

We are fortunate that students/graduates of the University want to share their knowledge and love of nature with our community. Look for additional posts on our facebook page.

Itchy Business, a book review by Dick McBride

“Itchy Business” is the title of a book and program about poison ivy presented at the annual state meeting of the Texas Master Naturalists. Author Amy Martin, a chronic sufferer from this dread affliction, wanted to find out about best practices in dealing with poison ivy and put together the book. Following is a brief description of her book.

Not everyone is sensitive to poison ivy. 15%-20% of the population is not sensitive but 25% are very sensitive with the rest having varying levels of sensitivity.

$11.95 at Amazon, currently not available at the San Marcos Library (ask for it!)
Poison Ivy is NOT a contact dermatitis. It is an immune reaction to the heavy oil Urushiol contained throughout the poison ivy plant. It attaches firmly to skin and initiates an extreme immune reaction if it reaches subcutaneous skin layers. Rubbing itchy skin with vigor helps Urushiol reach these lower levels.

Prevention is always the best treatment of course. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants. Be observant for PI plants. Don’t bathe before going out to work areas with PI; clean skin with our natural oils removed is more susceptible to Urushiol attachment. High temperatures and sweaty skin and clothes increase the problem as well. Ivy-X gel (by Coretex) is an effective barrier to put on before venturing out to potential PI sites.

Within the first 5 minutes: Gentle skin washing with water is helpful. Don’t rub the site too vigorously to avoid pushing Urushiol deeper. Be careful to not spread Urushiol around on your body and clothing. Nitrile gloves are the ONLY gloves that Urushiol cannot penetrate

Within the first hour: alcohol rubs (at least 70%) are helpful and a strong dishwashing detergent with lots of surfactants (Dawn is best) greatly aids Urushiol removal. Again be as gentle as possible rubbing the area

Within the first day: Commercial solvent-surfactant products such as Technu Outdoor Skin Cleaner (by Tec Labs) are very effective

See a doctor if:
  • you get a rash within a few hours or if the rash affects your eyes, ears, nose or mouth
  • the rash covers more than 10% of your body
  • you develop 100+ degree temperature, get nauseated, get sore joints or chills

After a day you will be in the relief stages: calming the rash, cooling the itch, constricting the blisters, analgesics, healing the skin. There are a number of effective commercial products out there available at pharmacies, outdoor stores and online.

The book is soft cover and relatively inexpensive. There is much more information on prevention, and relief measures. If you are one in the very sensitive population you might want to consider this book.

Ringtail Ridge adds a few trees

Saturday's trail crew planted two new Texas Mulberry trees to the 45-acre natural area. A lantana was also planted at the entrance although the deer quickly found the unprotected planting. The crew also lopped and string-trimmed around Tex's Trail. Todd began the job of hand-lettering the entrance sign with yellow paint.

Next Saturday's (11/19) crew will tackle similar chores at Prospect Park starting at 8 a.m. If time permits, we'll also be lopping volunteer mesquite in the meadow to control the number of trees that crowd-out the all-important grasses.  -LJ
The first of two Texas Mulberry trees is in the ground

Todd gives the sign stand-out colors

Al and Charlie clear the overhead of Tex's Trail

City Council hears presentation from TxDOT about IH-35 Improvements

City council heard a presentation about improvements to the IH-35 corridor through San Marcos during Tuesday night's (11/15/2016) regular meeting. Prior to the TxDOT presentation Sherwood Bishop presented the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance's proposed Cross Town trail connection.  The SMGA board authorized its president, Mark Taylor, to send the following correspondence to the Mayor, Council, City Manager and Planning Staff outlining a preferred 'connection' between our neighborhoods and promote travel, not just by automobile and motorized vehicle, but also pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

San Marcos River at Ramon Lucio Park would connect to the Eastside of the city.

November 14, 2016

Dear Mayor Guerrero and Council Members :

I am writing on behalf of the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance (SMGA) to express support for a bicycle-pedestrian trail connection under the IH-35 main lanes and access roads as part of TXDOT's planned improvements to the State Highway 123/IH-35 intersection area. SMGA understands that TXDOT's planning for this project may prioritize other aspects of the project at the expense of a properly located and well-designed trail connection.

The importance of this trail connection cannot be oversta ted. It is at the center of our community; it will serve to connect areas of the city that are otherwise separated by an extremely busy highway; without it, bicycle-pedestrian transit of the interstate will be funneled to busy overpasses where TXDOT is attempting to address motor vehicle congestion; the planned elevation of the access roads will allow this trail connection to be grade- separ ated from traffic both on IH-35 and the access roads.

This trail connection is shown on the trail system map being prepared as part of the Greenways Master Plan. SMGA anticipates this will be among the most heavily used sections of the city's trail system. SMGA regards this trail connection as critically important to connecting everyone in our community, strengthening neighborhoods and businesses, and drawing visitors and new residents. If properly located and designed, it will enhance our quality of life as San Marcos continues to grow.

We would like to express our appreciation to Jared Miller and Laurie Moyer for their assistance in providing input to TXDOT on the importance of this trail connection. We respectfully ask for your support for this effort.

Thank you for your consideration of SMGA's position.


Mark B. Taylor
San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, President

Cc: Jared Miller, Laurie Moyer, Rodney Cobb, Shannon Mattingly

Save the Date ... Annual Meeting February 12, 2017

The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance annual meeting is February 12, 2017, 3 p.m. at the San Marcos Recreation Center.

City of San Marcos Invites Public Comment at Transportation Plan Open House

Residents of San Marcos are invited to provide input on the draft Greenways Plan on Wednesday, November 9 from 5:00 to 8:30p.m at the San Marcos Activity Center. The come-and-go open house will feature exhibits of proposed plans for city thoroughfares, the priority corridor, bike routes, and the greenways and trails system. Attendees are encouraged to provide thoughts and comments on the plans.

The Greenways Plan will be included in the city's overall Transportation Master Plan to allow for proper planning of natural areas as elements of our transportation system. The plan can help secure greenway right-of-way for future property developments and can enhance the city’s ability to secure grant funding for developing an interconnected system of trails in our community.

Vision San Marcos: A River Runs Through Us, the city's comprehensive master plan, calls for the creation and implementation of a Greenways Master Plan and describes the multi-faceted benefits of greenways in the context of several goals and objectives:

Paul Murray highlights a portion of the pathways.
  • Transportation: Provide alternatives to the use of motor vehicles 
  • Public Safety: Enhance watershed protection to mitigate flood impacts
  • Tourism & Economic Development: Draw visitors to the city; encourage trail-related business opportunities
  • Health: Promote outdoor exercise through hiking, mountain biking, dog walking and just being outside
  • Environment: Protect natural resources, enhance water quality and wildlife habitat as development happens
  • Recreation: Provide connections between parks, natural areas, activity nodes and employment centers as a means to get outside in nature with family, friends and team mates

Full page and larger versions at Nov. 9 meeting
The Preferred Scenario Map (pictured right) in the comprehensive plan includes a framework for greenway locations throughout our community – some follow creeks and rivers, others parallel existing and planned roadways, or traverse parks and natural areas. These locations can be refined as work progresses and community input is provided on the Greenways Plan. In addition, the Greenways Plan will analyze right-of-way needs and provide trail categories and standards.

SMGA is the city’s partner in the construction and maintenance of trails in our wonderful system of parks and natural areas. We envision a system of greenways and trails that connect everyone in our community, strengthen neighborhoods and businesses, and draw visitors and new residents. Our goal is to help develop a greenways system that sets San Marcos apart from other central Texas communities. SMGA strongly believes that the Greenways Master Plan will be a key to enhancing our quality of life as San Marcos continues to grow!

Trail markers help avoid getting lost ...

...or maybe that's your intention. Getting outside for a few hours without a care about school or work. Being outside and exercising is a great stress reliever, but we digress. 

Roadrunner trail marker sports R2
If you've been in Spring Lake Natural Area lately you might have noticed the metal discs attached to trees along the trail.  They were put there by the park rangers to assist in locating injured or lost trail users. The markers are color-coded and each is numbered to pinpoint the location. 

Another aid are the large posts that tell you which trail you're currently on and often mark the intersection with another trail. These markers are set in the ground or, when it's just too rocky, caged in a wire basket with large rocks. 

As an aside, if you see someone removing the marker or destroying it, please notify the San Marcos Park Rangers by phone at 512-735-2108 or by email at parkranger@sanmarcostx.gov.   

Trail marker at an intersection of 3 trails
If you would like to volunteer, we do so much more than trail work. There's always a need for many different skills. Our Outreach, Stewardship, Conservation and Fundraising committees are all in need of dedicated volunteers. 

We are currently working with the City of San Marcos in developing the Transportation Master Plan for the next 20 years (see separate article). TxDOT is planning on major overhaul of the IH-35 corridor through the city and will open opportunities to connect the East and West sides of the city for pedestrians and bikers, in addition to vehicles.

We'd love to hear from you! Contact us at smgreenbelt@gmail.com
Map used by park rangers and emergency services  (CoSM GIS)

The Meadows Center Reopens the Wetlands Boardwalk

On Saturday, November 5 the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment reopened the Wetlands Boardwalk to visitors. The boardwalk was closed due to the extreme flood damage brought on by the Halloween Floods in San Marcos on October 2015. The repairs have been completed and it is ready to be enjoyed by our community again. If you haven't visited it yet, the Wetlands Boardwalk allows visitors to walk through a self-guided trail that offers a close up view of the abundant plant and animal life that thrive here. 

Handing down appreciation for getting outside

Jakob and Aviel Moths work with their grandfather, Charlie O'Neil doing tread work on a new trail in Lower Purgatory.

"Walking is probably the easiest thing you can do to stay healthy -- and it's free! (CityWalk, KCET)

Birding in Schulle Canyon Natural Area

November's bird walk welcomed 10 hikers on an unusually late and quiet morning at Schulle Canyon Natural Area. A soundless Hermit Thrush was spotted and tracked down by many eager eyes which uncovered a second individual. These thrush are often found scraping through leaf litter and perching on low hanging branches of the understory. Their colors resemble the year-round wrens but are larger in size, have a speckled breast and noticeable eye ring.
Three Hermit Thrushes are sighted in the woods.  -LJ

The birds were quiet for the majority of the hike but a spurt of activity towards the end produced our winter warblers, the Yellow-rumped and the Orange-crowned Warblers. Also singing was a shy Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

Hunting season is upon us and the sounds of rifles were heard in the distance throughout the hike. One large buck and 4 small doe were seen finding sanctuary in the natural area.  -- Stephen Ramirez

Schulle Canyon Natural Area
12 species total
Inca Dove
White-winged Dove
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow