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Lower Panhandle

Part 4:  Palo Duro Canyon SP

They were doing construction on a couple of bridges in the park, but you could still pass through, and it turned out to be a great birding road with lots of pull-offs, scenic views, and hiking trails, so I planned to survey the park by itself without including any outside roads.  The bird blind was fabulous, being visited by tons of House Finches, along with several White-crowned Sparrows and Cardinals!  I was thrilled to see a White-throated Sparrow, and even a young Mockingbird came to visit!  A Spotted Towhee called from the side, and after awhile a titmouse came in and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker called.  After poking down every road I possibly could, I returned to the blind where in addition to the previous visitors, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Brown Thrasher also came in!  The scenery all along the road was spectacular, of course, and I took as many pictures as I could seeing as the forecast called for rain the next day…

Scene from the overlook near the Visitor's Center

Birds at the blind...


House Finches (female left, male right)

Cassin's Finches had been reported, and this very rosy male House Finch got the juices going at first!


Northern Cardinal (young male left and center, female right)

Immature White-crowned Sparrow


This one's joined by an adult.


His close cousin the White-throated Sparrow (above and below) 


A young Mockingbird comes to visit!

Brown Thrasher


"So how's the water?"  (Female House Finch and Black-crested Titmouse)

Scolding of the Black-crested Titmouse

Continuing to scout the road...

Fall colors at one of the picnic areas

A bit of the "Big Canyon" effect...

Typical habitat on the canyon floor

When I got back to the hotel I noticed that Cameron Carver had gone to Palo Duro the day before, and had seen not one, but several Cassin’s Finches!  I determined to take a closer look the next day! J  But “tomorrow” didn’t start out all that red hot:  walked out the front door to a steady rain! L  My “rule” when I had plenty of time to explore an area was to hole up in the hotel until it quit, but I really didn’t have that luxury on this trip, so I made a run for it (I was glad the Lord suggested packing the cameras in the “coffee bag” ahead of time), and headed out without my lights on until I noticed that I couldn’t see the road very well! L  (The dash still lit up, which I think is what fooled me; that could be dangerous!)

Made it to the park without incident, but just as I pulled up my boss called with another crisis, so I helped defuse that while waiting for the guy to unlock the gate (he was sitting in his truck waiting for 8:00 to roll around...)!  I think the garbage truck pulling up behind me inspired the guy to finally saunter out to unlock the gate (looked like he had the wrong key and had to get it from the office), so after having them swipe my card I headed on and did the BBS protocol, rain or no rain.  I really thought it was gonna be a bust, and almost decided right then and there (after several more stops) not to even bother with an EBird report (I had a grand total of one Flicker and one White-crowned Sparrow by that point), but at a couple of places where I could park next to some habitat I did manage to pick up House Finch, Cardinal, and a smacking Lincoln’s Sparrow.  I was a little worried about those “real” water crossings (they’re building bridges over the first two; maybe they’re planning on doing that for all of them), but by the time I got to the first one, the level wasn’t even up to the bottom of the flood gauge, so over we went!  The second one was a little more turbulent, but still not up to the bottom of the gauge, but the third one had a good-sized branch in the middle of it, and it was up about half a foot, so I decided to turn around at that point and listen at the trailhead.  About that time I heard some scraping and grinding and engine roaring behind me, and thought that someone was trying to cross and not making it!  Just before I was getting ready to turn around and see, a ranger truck went by, so I figured he could help whoever it was, only when I did turn around to look, no one was there!  So I guess all the noise was coming from further down the road…

Back at the Visitor's Center overlook, it's a bit more socked in than yesterday!

Ethereal scene at the bottom of the canyon

Sunflower Trail, which never got hiked (none of them did...)

Creek Crossing #5, where I decided to turn around...

Swung into the Mesquite Campground on the way back, and the rain was letting up enough that simply crawling through was very productive:  first to greet me was a flashback from 20 years ago—four Turkeys!  I tried to get a movie of them (with a Carolina Wren calling in the background), and while I enjoyed them both Rock and Canyon Wrens called/sang from the cliff faces!  I thought I heard the see-see-see of a Golden-crowned Kinglet, but then the titmice started coming in, so I let that one go (and good that I did, as that’s a write-up bird according to EBird).  At the other end of the campground I heard all this burbling that turned out to be a bunch of Robins!  A little pishing got them all excited, along with a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Bewick’s Wren, a Spotted Towhee, an Orange-crowned Warbler, a pair of White-throated Sparrows, a couple of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, a Brown Thrasher, and of course more titmice!

Habitat around the Mesquite Campground

I was thrilled to find Turkeys here!



A lady Golden-fronted Woodpecker tries to hide from the rain; this is about as far north as they get!

Robins don't mind a little rain!

Listen carefully for the soft chatter of the Robin flock; in the foreground is the double-chuck of the Golden-fronted Woodpecker, then later the laugh of a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.

The rain is lifting a little, but not the fog!

It was still dripping when I got to the Trading Post, and I almost made a run for the blind when it did let up for a second, but it quickly started up again. L  So I poked up the road and sat for a few at the Group Pavilion parking area, and doggone it if another Common Raven didn’t call!  The rain finally quit enough to hit the blind, so hit it I did, spooking a couple of White-winged Doves on the way in!  The place had a lot of House Finches, and interestingly at least two of the males were quite rosy-looking that had me going for a minute, but the bill was all wrong, the tail was too long, the streaking way too heavy, and they were making “House Finchy” type calls, so that clinched it.  The usual Cardinals and titmice also came in, along with a Spotted Towhee and an Audubon’s Butterbutt.

Back at the Trading Post, a Spotted Towhee raids the bowl...


The rosy House Finches are back (note the orange one on the left)!

Made a couple of stops on the way up that bagged me a cute little Canyon Wren beeping, and a flock of uncooperative Juncos for the trip, then stopped at the Visitor’s Center to take care of things and browse their gift shop.  Afterwards I made a sandwich and headed for McClellan Creek NG; on the way, taking a back Farm Road to avoid Amarillo, the road crossed a nifty little wetland that added Blue-winged Teal, Shoveler, Avocet, and Greater Yellowlegs to the day list, and three Snipe to the trip list!  What I thought was a large hawk turned out to be yet another raven (and a rather long-nosed one at that), but I made the mistake of trying to get a picture rather than a recording, because he gave a nice, deep “honk” as he left his post!  Oh, well…

Heading back up the mountain...

Looking down on Mack Dick Pavilion (from where I heard the Raven)

A Canyon Wren way down the road from where I stopped (was amazed the camera picked it up so well)!

"Beeping" call note


Avocets in a surprise wetland along FM 1151

Click here to continue to McClellan Creek NG,

here to return to Buffalo Lake NWR

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