Archive for TX

Big Bend (Yes, Again…!)

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I know I’ve often written about Big Bend NP in Texas but I keep getting pulled back there.  Compelling landscape, good friends and wonderful birds:  what’s not to like?  This visit followed much the same pattern as the others except we had managed to secure coveted Stone Cottage 103.  Cottage 103 comes with a suite of guests; Mexican Jays, White-winged Doves, Green-tailed Towhee, Black-crested Titmice, Canyon Towhees and an extremely friendly Gray Fox.  He/she was obviously looking for a handout, which is against park rules for good reason.  We resisted the temptation to share our happy hour tidbits and the fox did not return, but for a magical hour or so, we had this gorgeous animal as our guest.  It first sat on the porch wall but then went and curled up like a cat beside the porch.  What a treat to be so close as to be able to scrutinize a fox from a distance of a few feet.  I know this ease with humans comes from others disregarding park rules and feeding it.  I can only hope such misplaced generosity doesn’t spell its eventual doom.

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Texas Birding Trip: Davis Mountains Highlights

For years my birding life list has been marred by the notation “BVD” beside the Phainopepla, a silky flycatcher that looks like a black Cardinal.  BVD (Better View Desired) is what I put beside a sighting when I only catch a glimpse, in the Phainopepla’s case, a fleeting look at one as it fled from a roadside fence post when we drove by at 80 mph.  In what has become an annual migration, we return to Big Bend National Park in the Texas Chihuahuan desert for birding with my good friend Carla.  This year we branched out to stay a few days in the Davis Mountains before traveling down to Big Bend. “Good chances for Phainopepla,” Carla assured me “plus we can see Montezuma Quail.”

On our first day at Davis Mountains State Park we got a permit to hike the “primitive area” where campsites have no amenities.  No sooner had we gotten out of the car when Carla spotted the Phainopepla, sitting on a nearby electric wire.  BVD, erased at last!  The bird not only stayed for several minutes but it was there the next day as we drove by.

Phainopepla, at last!

Phainopepla, at last!  Photo courtesy of George Van Der Aue

As to the Montezuma Quail, the park has a new bird blind where we had heard reports of a single quail foraging at various times over the day.  We stopped every time we passed the blind in hopes of seeing him, but after several tries, still no luck.  On our last night there we pulled up and heard someone call sotto voce, “Hurry up!  You’ll miss the quail!”  We rushed up to see him heading out, but suddenly he turned and came back.  We spent the next half hour with the camp hosts watching him scratch and dig around the area.  The more fitting French name for this bird translates as “Harlequin” and it is one of those birds whose plumage makes you smile in confirmation of Mother Nature’s sense of humor.

Montezuma Quail

Montezuma Quail.  Photo courtesy of George Van Der Aue

To crown our experience, the camp hosts mentioned an Elf Owl nest just a few hundred yards away.  We got there, watched the tiny owl in the gathering dusk for a few minutes before it flew from its nest hole, off into the dark to go about its business.

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Some Big Bend National Park Fauna

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)  They lack external ear openings to prevent sand from entering their ears.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus) They lack external ear openings to prevent sand from entering their ears.

Every time I visit Big Bend I am astounded by the diversity of  life that thrives in this harsh desert landscape.  I go to see the birds of course, but there are other very interesting creatures which a hiker encounters.   We encountered the Greater Earless Lizard at Burro Mesa Pouroff.  Another lizard we saw was the Big Bend Canyon Lizard (Sceloporus merriami annulatus) which is native to a narrow range in the Big Bend area.

We saw this Big Bend Canyon Lizard at Sam Nail Ranch.  They adjust their color to blend in with their surroundings.

We saw this Big Bend Canyon Lizard at Sam Nail Ranch. They adjust their color to blend in with their surroundings.

There were also a number of lovely butterflies.   I tried to photograph some, Pipevine Swallowtails and Banded Sisters but ended up with a number of photos of “the rock where the butterfly had been a moment before I clicked the shutter.”  I did manage to get a photo of the Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis).

Hackberry Emperor butterflies don't visit flowers but feed on sap, rotting fruit, carcasses and dung.  Hackberry Trees are their only host plant.

Hackberry Emperor butterflies don’t visit flowers but feed on sap, rotting fruit, carcasses and dung. Hackberry Trees are their only host plant.

There are also several attractive beetles we encountered.  These impressive ones, Black-striped Blister Beetles (Epicauda atrivittata) were on a bush on the way to Cattail Falls.  They were nearly 2″ long.  They can deliver a nasty bite.

Black-striped Blister Beetle

Black-striped Blister Beetle

On our way back to Midland for the flight home, we stopped at a Prairie Dog town to look for Burrowing Owls and I noticed this young Pronghorn Antelope.  I wonder if they are farmed as this one has a collar.

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Hiking in Big Bend National Park

The view from the Window was as expansive as I've ever seen it, the air was so clean.

The view from the Window was as expansive as I’ve ever seen it, the air was so clean.  It can be quite smoggy.

Yes, I know I’ve written about this before, but we’re just back from our sixth visit to this spectacular place and I want to share some of it with you.  This time I invited my close friends, the bird banding team from CT Audubon’s Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary to come with us and we were joined by my very good friend Carla from Texas (she of the excellent bird spotting eyes).  We spent a week hiking and birding and having fun.  The weather was spectacular.  We had to work a little harder to see the birds as there was more water in the park so the birds weren’t forced into the few waterholes.  The bonus for us was that the desert was blooming.

I’ve written about my very favorite spot  Cattail Falls before but this time the Falls had more water than we have ever seen and the little grotto has developed a defense mechanism in that the entrance is thick with poison oak.

I wonder why they call it Boot Canyon....   :)

I wonder why they call it Boot Canyon…. 🙂

We hiked to Boot Spring via the Pinnacles Trail through Boot Canyon and had a number of sightings of the Colima Warbler, a bird that breeds only in this spot in the United States.  This time we saw no bears but the mules had just brought up mulch for the composting outhouses and they were tethered near the spring.

The steep trails are easily negotiated by mules.

The steep trails are easily negotiated by mules.

One of the last hikes we took was to Burro Mesa Pouroff.  This easy hike is only a mile round trip and the box canyon is well worth visiting.

Burro Mesa Pour-off has been formed by the run-off of flash flood waters from Javelina Wash.   To me this spectacular site is more beautiful than any cathedral.  Our bonus was a sighting of the endangered Black-capped Vireo.

Burro Mesa Pour-off has been formed by the run-off of flash flood waters from Javelina Wash. To me this spectacular site is more beautiful than any cathedral. Our bonus was a sighting of the endangered Black-capped Vireo.

Next time I’ll post pictures of some of the birds and other fauna we encountered.

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