Golden-cheeked Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler

In a Lacey Oak, one of its favorite trees.

This is a page about one of my favorite birds, and one of the neatest warblers IMHO, the Golden-cheeked. It is the only bird species whose entire known breeding range lies within Texas. It is one of the most restriced-range species in North America. It is a beautiful and fascinating warbler that is only present in the U.S. on the Edwards Plateau from early March to early August, but is harder to find by early or mid- July, and actually can start getting dicey by later June. Though present 120 days or so, you have a roughly 90 day window when it is pretty sure and easy, and a couple or few weeks past that it is usually gettable with more effort, but harder, and not a sure thing. Some years they almost all depart early (in drought) and other years a fair number are around still in July (wet spring-early summers).

Golden-cheeked Warbler
First summer male Golden-cheeked Warbler.

The species has "threatened" status, one click below endangered. I have heard population estimates of ten thousand individuals. Which may sound like a lot, but is not. Billions of Passenger Pigeons, and many millions of Eskimo Curlew were extinguished in only a few years. Watching the population at Lost Maples closely for the last 15 years I see for instance this year (2018) a) fewer birds, and b) several to many prime territories occupied by first spring males, where that has never occurred before. It is likely not a good sign.

As an example, when West Nile Virus came through the U.S., many states lost most of their Chickadees, or Blue Jays and other Corvids, most Yellow-billed Magpie in Calif., and various other species in other states. It took out birds by the millions in a few years. Something as simple as that can take out ten thousand birds in a year or two, easy. So don't think it is a lot of birds.

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Fledgling Golden-cheeked Warbler, not so fancy at first.

The key to the 'why here?' question is Ashe Juniper. The female Golden-cheeked Warbler makes the nest almost entirely out of the peeling bark of the Ashe Juniper. This requires old mature trees. It is the most beautiful round cedar chest of bark strips you ever saw. My guess is that it would have great insecticidal (or miticidal) qualities for the nestlings. I have seen them flying with over foot-long strips of the thin peeled bark strips. They use the bark, though I have never seen a nest in a juniper. The nest is often hidden in, next to, or between a clump of ball moss in a Lacey Oak here. Nearish the top or high on sides of tree, just in from the tips, often under overhanging clump of leaves.

The breeding range of the warbler matches the range of Ashe Juniper. Edwards Plateau only in the U.S. Certainly the warblers spend lots of time feeding in the junipers. Around here, the four trees they are most in are Buckley (Spanish) Oaks, Lacey Oak, Plateau Live-Oak, and Ashe Juniper. Then at Lost Maples they do like the Rocky Mountain Bigtooth Maples quite a bit too. Though I would not suggest searching for them there, I have seen them perch and actually sally from a powerline, and on an old-fashioned TV antenna. In both cases they seemed to find the artificial perches extremely distasteful to the feet.

Golden-cheeked Warbler, first spring male.

Hundreds of people a year spend thousands of dollars to come to the Edwards Plateau to see this very special bird. And it is worth it. I could not say that it was not a factor in me living here. It is really a very neat, very unique warbler. For me, being able to see and watch it over and over, to get to start to really actually KNOW it, has been a dream. Like Janovy said in his book Yellowlegs, get to know one bird species intimately, and you will see every bird differently.

I am sometimes available to guide individuals or groups in seeing this very special warbler. If you desire expert level professional bird guiding services, send an e-mail. I am intimately familiar with its every chip note.   :):)

Besides next two pictures below that I didn't take, here are some mostly poor pictures of a good bird ... a couple accidently were OK. These first two great ones you can tell can not possibly be mine.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

The above picture was digi-scoped (digital camera up to telescope) by Kelli Levinson and used with permission. All rights reserved.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

This great photo of blooming live-oaks, oh, and a male Golden-cheeked Warbler was taken by Dianne Papet, April 2015, at one of my favorite roadside stops a few miles from Utopia. Knowing where to stop can come in handy.   ;)

Golden-cheeked Warbler

In an Ashe Juniper, the peeling bark of which the female makes the nest from.

Ashe Juniper

Only old trees have the peeling bark the female makes the nest from.
They make a cedar chest cup with it, I presume keeps the bugs off young.
I have seen them flying with foot-long strips of the bark. The nest
is often placed in a cluster of ball moss in a Lacey Oak.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

The cheek is so bright it is easy to have it get blown out
in overexposure in full sun at the wrong angle. The green in
the back and pale in chin indicate a first spring male, as do
worn brown primaries.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

The easiest, prettiest place to see them is at Lost Maples State Natural Area. Walk the Can Creek trail to the ponds area and just beyond, and you should hear many and see some mid-March to mid-June. I have seen them as late as early August there, rarely. Many have left by later June, and mid to late July are usually when the last few seen. Do not play birdsong tapes in Texas State Parks, or for endangered (or threatened) species anytime anywhere.

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Singing "she says I'm so laaaaa-zzzeee"
In a Buckley (aka Spanish and Red) Oak, another favored tree.

The next group of photos were all taken post-breeding, late June to early August, mostly in July, of birds in our former front yard on Thunder Creek Road, where they don't breed. The numbers seen at this non-descript non-breeding site during the 6 weeks after breeding and before migrating out of the country (over 20 birds in 6 weeks) were pleasantly surprising.

Note how green the back might appear, and none of these show the juvenile females back well. They are as green as a Black-throated Green Warbler but a darker shade, less yellow-olive toned, more of a forest green per crayola crayons. All the field guides depict *first winter* birds for immatures in which the back is much blacker than juveniles we see here. Odd since the first winter plumage they show is not really seen in the U.S., and what is, is not shown.   sheesh ... experts.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler Golden-cheeked Warbler

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Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler male feeding fledgling in June (taken through telescope from safe distance)

Golden-cheeked Warbler
At first while being fed still they can have a lemony cast on breast (May).

Golden-cheeked Warbler
They're on their own as their back turns green from the initial gray.
(leaf cutting off face)
Golden-cheeked Warbler   Golden-cheeked Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler (juvenile)
At first they don't even have a golden cheek this juvenile is about half way there.

Golden-cheeked Warbler
If they see a camera, they will only stop with a twig across their cheek.
Those are Maple flowers (mid-March).

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Just point a camera at them if you want to see them dart away.

Golden-cheeked Warbler
This is what 'dripping with birds' means.
Here is one dripping off the branch now.
Cheezit, it's the guy with the camera again!

Golden-cheeked Warbler
This was just as sun got in the canyon, so, sorry...
This male was feeding a juvenile. The white dots just left of center
are the juvies wingbars, back and back of head above that, facing away.

This is the Edwards Plateau's flagship endemic warbler.
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler - note entire posterior abdomen below is
pure snow white: flanks, around legs and vent area, everything.
Black-throated Green always shows olive or yellow tints in this area.
The worn pointed rectrices (tail feathers) and worn brown primaries
(wing feathers (as backlit tip of right wing)) mean first summer bird.
It was prepping a morsel for consumption. This can be a very dangerous
risky angle for attempting bird photography.

One last spring male shot.
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler, the Edwards Plateau's most endemic
bird species, it breeds nowhere else.

Now you have virtually seen a Golden-cheeked Warbler!

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