Reconnecting with Guadalupe River State Park and the Bird Blinds

I have warm memories and gratitude for my time spent volunteering at the Guadalupe River State Park (GRSP) bird blind with my daughter, Sara. This activity continued in various capacities until December 2019, deepening our appreciation for nature and our mother-daughter bond.

How It All Began

Our bird blind journey began shortly after I obtained my Texas Master Naturalist certification in April 2015, graduating with the Alamo Area Chapter, Class #36. Participating in activities like bird surveys and bird banding programs at Guadalupe River State Park allowed me to embrace my passion for birds and introduced me to the park’s bird blind. As I immersed myself in these volunteer activities, Sara often joined me on these adventures. Her enthusiasm for volunteer work, inspired in part by her experiences in the Girl Scouts, made her involvement seamless and enjoyable.

My work with GRSP’s Bird Blind Care Team began in May 2016 and quickly became a cherished part of my life. Rain or shine, from the vibrant bloom of spring to the calm chill of Christmas Eve, Sara and I dedicated a portion of nearly every Saturday to maintaining the bird blind. Over the course of our initial time with the team, we contributed approximately 60 volunteer days between May 2016 to June 2017. This schedule shifted when I took a role at a local environmental non-profit and stepped down from weekly duties.

As my schedule got busier, we continued to visit the park occasionally as substitute members of the Bird Blind Care Team, filling in when standing members were traveling or otherwise unavailable. Between August 2017 and June 2018, Sara and I made about 10 visits to the bird blind. In November and December 2019, we returned to substitute on several Saturdays, including Christmas Eve, adding another five days to our volunteer efforts. Now, in June 2024, I am elated to resume regular volunteer activities 2-3 times per month with Sara joining me when she is available.

Through the Years, in Photos:

And Then There Were TWO…Bird Blinds

The Woodland Blind, which we have the most experience tending, is the park’s longest-running and is situated in a wooded area near the popular Day Use Area on the Guadalupe River. Originally developed as an Eagle Scout project in 2009, the blind languished until 2015 when the park’s friends group adopted the blind as an ongoing project, with Texas Master Naturalists Linda Gindler and John Prentice serving as key facilitators, coordinating the efforts to revitalize the structure and establishing the volunteer program to maintain it.

The Woodland Blind features a constructed water feature designed to blend with the natural surroundings and various feeding stations (seed feeders, hummingbird feeder, and native plants and flowers, logs and other places for birds to perch, and a covered structure with seating and viewing windows for visitors to observe the birds. There is also a chalkboard for visitors to log the bird species they observe. The blind uses solar power and a rainwater catchment system to fill the water feature. 

The newer Savannah Blind, which we begin tending this month (June 2024), is located on the Painted Bunting Trail. It provides sweeping views of the park’s savannah and attracts different bird species due to its open grassland environment. Unlike the Woodland Blind, the Savannah Blind has a constructed water feature but no feeding stations, offering a unique experience for birds and bird watchers. Approved in 2019 after a couple of years of concerted planning, the Savannah Blind was built with help from volunteers from several area Texas Master Naturalist chapters (Alamo, Lindheimer, and Hill Country) and Boy Scout Troop 285 from north San Antonio. Despite COVID-19 delays, the blind was nearly complete by January 2022, with final trail work finished on April 23, 2022 by Troop 285.

Experiencing the Park’s Tranquility

One constant about visiting the park is the immediate sense of calm that washes over me as I leave the city behind and enter the park. The transition from San Antonio’s bustling activity to the serene pace of nature is always refreshing. In the spring and summer, wildflowers paint the landscape. Early winter mornings sometimes reveal frostweed’s natural ice sculptures. Each season brings its own unique beauty. While the park attracts many overnight campers and day visitors, the bird blinds are favorite spots for photographers, birders, and those seeking a few quiet moments with nature.

Volunteer Duties and Documentation

All bird blind volunteers handle routine chores such as monitoring and logging water level readings, noting issues, removing debris, refilling feeders, cleaning the blackboard, and tidying the area. Each day of the week also has special tasks to perform. Every aspect of the bird blinds’ operation and upkeep is meticulously documented, with detailed procedures and logs for tracking task completion. The level of care that goes into documenting the bird blinds has always impressed me, and is deeply satisfying as a risk management professional and former technical writer. 

Birdwatching Highlights

Sara releasing a banded N. cardinal (2015)

Guadalupe River State Park attracts nearly 250 bird species, including painted and indigo bunting, lesser goldfinch, black-crested titmouse, Northern cardinal, and the federally listed endangered golden-cheeked warbler. The golden-cheeked warblers are among the first spring migrants (early to mid-March), with the painted buntings typically arriving in mid-April. Winter Texans may observe cedar waxwings and American robins who are also winter visitors to the park.

One of my favorite aspects of serving as a park volunteer is experiencing the awe and excitement of children and families seeing birds up close for the first time. While the park no longer holds its popular public “Bird in Hand” bird banding events, children and families still have the opportunity to see birds up close thanks to the park’s bird blinds.

Another highlight of my volunteer visits to the park has been the opportunity to observe the golden-cheeked warbler up close at the bird blind. Golden-cheeked warblers nest only in Central Texas in mixed Ashe juniper (mountain cedar) and oak woodlands. I first observed this beautiful species while participating in one of the park’s bird surveys of the species as a newly-minted Texas Master Naturalist.

Returning to a Cherished Sanctuary

Guadalupe River State Park has long held a special place in my heart. It is where we first camped as a family, where I have solo camped, hiked, mountain biked, and rehabbed my knee after ACL reconstruction. Volunteering at the park has always given me a deep sense of purpose and connection to nature. Although I had not visited the park since the pandemic, it remained a sanctuary in my memories. Over the years, I have navigated significant life changes such as divorce, job transitions, my mother’s death, and the end of a significant relationship. The opportunity to return to the Bird Blind Care Team in 2024 feels perfectly timed as I continue to heal and grow, especially with the chance to build new memories with Sara as she heads into her senior year of high school.

The gratitude I feel for the park, my fellow volunteers, and the chance to volunteer again is beyond words. Meeting with Linda and John this past Sunday (June 9) to get reacquainted with the park’s current needs was a delightful reminder of why I always enjoyed volunteering there. Guadalupe River State Park is a beautiful, diverse, and special place that gives back as much as one gives to it, if not more. I am truly thankful for this ongoing journey and look forward to many more seasons of giving back to this beautiful sanctuary, creating even more experiences and memories to cherish. Nature, in its often quiet and unassuming way, has a profound impact on our lives. Returning to Guadalupe River State Park feels like coming home.

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