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: