Birds of the Texas Hill Country.—Mark W. Lockwood. 2001. University of Texas Press, Austin. xi + 228 pp., 32 color photos, 16 black-and-white illustrations, 2 tables, 4 maps. ISBN 0-292-74726-8. $24.95 (paper). ISBN 0-292-74725-X. $60.00 (cloth).
State biologist Mark Lockwood has written about the approximately 420 species of birds that inhabit the vast 28 million-acre Edwards Plateau, or Texas Hill Country, the southern terminus of the Great Plains in Texas. This region has a unique combination of soils, climate, and vegetation that harbors a variety of bird communities. For example, riparian areas facilitate the spread of what we consider western birds, such as the Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), toward mesic woody growth in the east, and of several eastern birds, such as the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), into the more arid uplands of westerly counties. The north-south Central Flyway carries migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and other water birds from the Neotropics to the Nearctic and back again. On a more local level, Lockwood describes species from the Trans-Pecos and South Texas Brush Country that spill onto this predominantly dissected limestone plateau, as well as its own endangered specialists, such as the Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) and Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapilla). In sum, Lockwood characterizes the Texas Hill Country as a biological crossroads.
The author summarizes the works of early observers, ornithologists, foreign-born residents interested in natural history, and collectors, who established the occurrence and distribution of bird species in the region. He devotes more than half of this 228-page volume to an annotated bird list detailing the occurrence, distribution, seasonal abundance, and movements of birds throughout the Hill Country. Lockwood reports on 23 additional species for which better documentation is needed with regard to occurrence. He provides information on nine species that more avid birders may be especially interested in locating. Color photos of representative Hill Country habitats and the species found in them add an extra visual pleasure to this helpful text. The book concludes with a selection of references cited in the text and recommended for further reading, and a species index.
This is a well-written, concise, and useful book. My one caveat relates to the title. Local parlance restricts the Hill Country to the easternmost edge of the Edwards Plateau as it is defined by the Balcones Escarpment. But the reader needs to understand that Lockwood's Texas Hill Country includes a 26-county area with accessible birding areas (19 are mapped) as far flung as Lake Amistad on the Rio Grande to the west and Emma Long Park on the outskirts of Austin to the east. From the Rio Grande to the outskirts of Austin is a good four-hour drive, so birding the plateau is neither a quick nor easy undertaking. Also, travelers need to be aware about the likelihood of spring and early summer freshets, which cover low places on rural roads with swift water, making driving hazardous.
But as Lockwood suggests, the effort is well worth it. There are many birds to be seen, although introduced pasture grasses, brush clearing, and overgrazing by sheep and goats have modified their habitats. Lockwood notes this and directs readers to fish hatcheries, landfill sites, and other areas that entice opportunistic or adaptable species. An index of places he mentions would have been a useful addition for those wishing to venture into areas not on the maps of parks and natural areas. Instead, a less effective 30-page table summarizes what has already been covered in earlier accounts.
In general, Lockwood's treatment is succinct, accurate, informative, and well illustrated. Birders traveling to Texas are well advised to slip this slim volume into their luggage. Others interested in the basic geography and history of the Hill Country and its avifauna will learn a great deal from this elegant book.