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Lower Panhandle

Part 3:  Buffalo Lake NWR

Made a sandwich and headed up to Buffalo Lake after that, and wound up talking to my boss Joanne as she was having some questions about some of my tasks that she had inherited while I was gone, and after straightening that out she said, “Take lots of pictures!”  Like you really have to tell me to do that… J

Upon arrival at the refuge, all I had was a 20, so I wheeled in the headquarters building to use the potty and get change.  Not being able to give me said change, the ranger cheerfully gave me a freebie for the afternoon! J  She also ID’d the frogs in the pond outside the building as Plains Leopard Frogs, but she had no clue about the grasshoppers, except that different kinds seemed to be there different times of the year!


Plains Leopard Frogs

I didn’t really do any birding, as I just wanted to scout the route, but found that they had a nice little trail to the lake with a blind (that was full of wasps), but I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes!  It wasn’t supposed to get that hot! L  So in came the Off when we got to the Best Western…  But that little place was hopping with Song, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows, and there were several ducks in the lake, but the only things I could make out were Shovelers.  Closer to shore were what looked like eclipsed Blue-winged Teal and a single Pied-billed Grebe, and a Red-tailed Hawk had one of those high-tension towers staked out.  There’s a neat little birding trail along the canyon that I was anxious to try the next day (saw a creepy guy in the campground, and by the time I got to the trailhead his pickup was parked there…).  Going in and out put about 14 miles on the route, so I headed south on FM 168, which wound through the canyon and offered additional roadside accesses into the refuge.  But in general there are very few places to pull off there; it runs into a little county road that took us up to 25 miles, so that constituted the route the next morning (and good thing sunrise is at eight, because that’s when they open the gate!).

Auto tour road


Trail to lake

Buffalo Lake


White-crowned Sparrows (adults left, immature right)

Alarm call of immature (Also audible are the barks of a Song Sparrow, another rattling Red-winged Grasshopper, and a distant train!)

Diggory guards the trailhead...

Differential Grasshopper

Fuzzy Olive-green Grasshopper (yes, that's really its name...)


Probably some kind of spur-throated grasshopper; feedback welcome!

Headed out the next morning, arriving (as expected) before the gate opened, but stopping just past the entrance I was greeted by a pair of Great Blue Herons!  Once past the gate, if anyone had to see a Western Meadowlark or they were gonna die, this was the place to come:  they were literally all over, and the cacophony was even better than at Muleshoe!  Some odd sounds near some trees turned out to be Starlings, which were scattered by a classic Sharp-shinned Hawk (which later called, which was handy)!  Actually, the birdlife was rather sparse expect for the meadowlarks; things really didn’t pick up until the lake itself (and even that early and that cool, the mosquitoes were still vicious).  Managed to pick out a few ducks for the day (Green-winged Teal was new), and some sandpipers winged back and forth that I suspected were Baird’s, but I just couldn’t get a definitive look.  But the highlights were the land birds:  a cooperative Marsh Wren popped up, a shiny Common Grackle gave his grating call and then sat out in the sun, and a young sapsucker whanged on a tree; according to the checklist, both are equally likely, but Sibley shows Red-naped as “rare” in the Panhandle, so given that Yellow-bellied is really more likely (and the bird looked paler overall to me, although he wasn’t in the best of light), that’s what I’m going with.  Audubon’s Butterbutts came in to pishing, and some American Goldfinches bounced overhead, and yet another Sprague’s Pipit piked overhead (EBird didn’t like that one, either).  Back at the car a huge Plains Lubber Grasshopper was sitting on the sidewalk; funny I had just been thinking about whether I might see one! J

Sunrise on the refuge

Hazy morning on the tour road


"Glory" scene

The Dawn Chorus here consists almost exclusively of Western Meadowlarks (and a distant train)!


Back at the lake, a Marsh Wren pops out in the open (a rare sight indeed)!


A Common Grackle comes out for a look; this is the "Bronzed" type (well-named, too).


Immature sapsucker (I'm presuming Yellow-bellied unless proven otherwise...) 


The huge Plains Lubber grasshopper

Things started picking up a little on the drive out:  a few Savannah Sparrows hopped up on the fence, and a stop at the end of the campground yielded a “plague of locusts” in the Environmental Group Area; I spent an inordinate amount of time kicking them up and photographing them (hey, when the birding’s slow and the butters are non-existent, the grasshoppers are pretty striking if you look at them closely)!  I figured I was gonna be up all night with the book (which the lady ranger wanted a copy of)!


Savannah Sparrow

The Environmental Area was alive with grasshoppers; most of these are best guesses based on the only field guide available!


The pattern best fits Red-shanked Grasshopper, only it didn't have a red shank (two different bugs)!

Another presumed Red-shanked Grasshopper


Handsome Grasshopper (female left, male right)


Cudweed Grasshoppers

Four-spotted Grasshopper

Obscure Grasshopper

Lively Mermiria

Mystery grasshopper, but with the mask, I'm assuming some kind of spurthroat...

Stopped at the Canyon Birding Trail, where a Blue Jay flew into one of the trees!  This was a beautiful trail, but not terribly birdy, although I added Ladder-backed Woodpecker to the day list and Rock Wren and Robin to the trip!  But a couple of ravens called that I would certainly call Commons anywhere else, although they’re not supposed to be here; I got a distant recording, so we’ll see if anyone’s interested.  I listened to the Arizona CD recordings of both Common and Chihuahuan, and the Common does match what I heard.

Canyon Birding Trail

Rock Wren habitat

Into the woods...

Scene from my turnaround point...

Distant ravens croaking; only Chihauhuans supposedly occur here, but they sound more like Commons to welcome!

Huge Wolf Spider


Painted Lady (check out that face!)

Made it as far as the Prairie Dog Trail (at the pulloff at the creek along FM 168 I took a wide angle and telephoto shot of a crag a Redtail was sitting on, just to show off the camera), where I could find no Burrowing Owls but shot more pretty grasshoppers, then called it quits and headed to Palo Duro Canyon (after getting turned around in Canyon, but by doing so I saw some really pretty neighborhoods, complete with brick roads)!  As an aside, that night, a big flock of Canada Geese flew over the hotel just feet from my window!  That was extra special, especially since I saw no others on the trip!


Just so you can appreciate the zoom on this thing:  the Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the bush in the left hand shot is sitting on the left-most rock outcropping in the wide-angle shot above!

Another scene along FM 168

"Big Sky" scene along the Prairie Dog Trail


Say's Grasshopper

Click here to continue to Palo Duro Canyon SP,

here to return to Muleshoe NWR.

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