Monday, May 13, 2013

Birding Big Bend in Late April

Avie and I have wanted to revisit Big Bend National Park since the Southwest Boogie we took a few years ago. This year it seemed like we had the time and, with our newer Toyota Highlander, the clearance for a visit which would allow us access without endangering our car or our heads. 

We invited our friend Mark along, made reservations at the Big Bend Resort and Adventures in nearby Terlingua (the Chisos Lodge in the park was booked up), and headed off to Big Bend on Friday morning, arriving in the early afternoon.

Driving into the park we were greeted by a desert in bloom. There were flowers of all different colors at all different heights. Quite a change from the last time we were there.

I had used A Field Guide to Birds of the Big Bend by Roland Wauer as a directional beacon for this enormous park. It was a good guide to the optimal birding spots. This was especially important because our time was short, amounting to only two days (an afternoon, a full day, and a morning).

We spent most of our birding time around the Rio Grande Village, nearby Daniels' Ranch, up around the Chisos Mountain Lodge, Cottonwood Campground, and Sam Nail Ranch. The first afternoon we made the mistake of taking the "Nature Trail" by the Rio Grande Village. I really should have known better. However, even though we saw few birds, there were still interesting things to be seen.

The first was a Ground Squirrel busily digging its burrow right off the trail.

 The second was a couple of unattended "shops" set up along the trail. They consisted of a few craft items, a small sign with prices on it, and a jar for the money. There are signs in the park warning you it's illegal to purchase items from vendors who illegally cross over to the U.S. side from Mexico. I imagine this is the vendors' way around the system. You aren't actually purchasing FROM them, since they aren't around. You're simply putting money into a jar in exchange for some found items.

At the Daniels' Ranch area we were forced to contend with a large number of sparrows in the grass. We forged ahead, naming as many as we could and taking photos (albeit not very good ones) of others, which we later worked on over lunch or dinner. I think we got most of them and they're in the trip list at the end of this post.

Of course, there were many birds which were much easier to identify.

Greater Roadrunner

Female Vermilion Flycatcher on Nest

Gray Hawk

Cactus Wren (above) and Lark Bunting (lower right)
Vermilion Flycatcher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Say's Phoebe Nest by Chisos Mt. Lodge
Wilson's Warbler
Here's a photo of Avie and Mark. We must have just seen a good bird because they're looking awfully happy!

Below is a photo of a Cactus Wren's nest up by the Chisos Mt. Lodge. They're a rather messy affair. However, they must serve their purpose since we saw several of the Wrens around the park.

Of all the blooms in the desert, I think my favorite were the flowers on the Ocotillos. They're a brilliant orange-red and they tower above the rest of the plants, swaying in the wind.

Our best stop of the trip was at the Sam Nail Ranch, where there's a watermill supplying a water drip to the birds. Water in the desert (or anywhere, for that matter) is always a draw for birds. We had heard the birding there was quite active and there was at least one Varied Bunting there.

The first time we stopped up there a birding tour group had just seen the Bunting and, rather than leave the area quietly and celebrate once they were out of range, they were all giving high fives, sharing their photos, and talking loudly. Needless to say, we saw no birds that particular time.

We returned the next day. It was much quieter and the birds were active. In addition to great looks at Varied Bunting, and we think there were two, we also saw Green-tailed Towhee. Two lifers in an hour isn't too shabby.

Here we are after that successful stop.

Saturday night we went into Terlingua Ghost Town for dinner at the Starlight Restaurant and Theatre. On the way we stopped at the old cemetery. Many of the people there had died during the influenza epidemic during 1919-1920's.

The restaurant was crowded with locals and tourists. The food was quite good and the band was great.

Now for a few filler photos of some interesting and/or beautiful things I was able to photograph.

What's left of the front end of a Scorpion

Unidentified desert blooms

Cholla in bloom
If you want to bird Big Bend (and we WILL be back), I do have some important advice to offer.

  • Always be aware of how much gasoline you have in your tank. Distances in the park are great and the availability of gasoline is sparse.
  • Carry more water than you think you'll need and drink it. You're sweating in the desert, but it's evaporating before you feel it. It's very easy to become dehydrated.
  • Don't count on your cell phone. We had little to no reception in the park and spotty reception elsewhere.
  • Sunscreen! Even better, cover up with long sleeves, light pants, and a hat.
  • Bring layers. The desert might be hot, but up in the mountains it can be quite cool.

Now I leave you with something outside Big Bend. This is a photo of part of a Prairie Dog town just outside Marathon, TX. If you're driving out of Big Bend north, it's on the right side of the road.

And now, The List:

Scaled Quail
Pied-billed Grebe
Turkey Vulture
Mississippi Kite
Cooper's Hawk
Common Black-Hawk
Gray Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Inca Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Nighthawk sp.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Bell's Vireo
Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cactus Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Curve-billed Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
Northern Parula
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Summer Tanager
Green-tailed Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Varied Bunting
Painted Bunting
Orchard Oriole
Bullock's Oriole

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyable read! We just returned from a 4day trip to Big Bend and Terlingua and really enjoyed the hiking. Took several photos of various birds including a canyon wren - a lifer; and a bonus pic,,,, a black bear w her two cubs. I agreed w all of your recommendations and would add one,... Don't go aft May 15th. It was so hot!
    Happy Birding!
    Oscar Gomez