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West Texas Adventure

Part 3:  Davis Mountains to Big Bend

Took off well before dawn the next morning with a possible free second night (the computer didn’t charge me for the second night, so they’re gonna check my points, and if I have enough for two nights, all the better)!  The Barn Swallows were at it again, and stopped at that same picnic area mainly to get my muffin that I forgot to take out before, but it was a beautiful, still morning, with fireflies and a Great Horned Owl!

Unfortunately that was the extent of the night birds:  at the state park the Cassin’s Kingbirds were going at it already along with the White-winged Doves, so I eventually parked myself at the feeding station and waited.  The hummers came in long before dawn, and I shortly did hear the quail churring from behind me; I snuck over to the other feeding area to see if I could pinpoint the location, but nada.  Before long another couple joined me, along with a mom and daughter, and I’ll give them credit:  they hung in there!  But they all eventually left and I won the prize for endurance, with still no quail (except for a couple of more churrs that I pointed out to the couple).  We did have plenty of Whitewings (the host thinks they’re keeping the quail away), and several things tried to squeeze more PB out of that particular feeder, including a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Bewick’s Wren, and Black-headed Grosbeak.  Canyon Towhees came in close for pictures as well.

  Dawn song of the Cassin's Kingbird      Normal vocalizations later in the morning

  Canyon Wrens singing from the hillside

Back at the feeders...


Left:  White-winged Dove (the fuzziness of the wing is due to him flipping it when the flash went off...    Right:  Bewick's Wren


Ladder-backed Woodpecker


Black-headed Grosbeaks (male left, female right—note the yellow “wingpit”!)


Canyon Towhees      (recording made at Big Bend NP)

  Pre-dawn Mourning Dove singing at the feeder area

Hillside from which the Montezuma Quail enticingly called!

I gave up at nine and thanked the lady (they’re evidently Christians based on the little symbol over their door), then decided to head on to Big Bend.  But first I thought we’d take one more crack at the Black Hawk, seeing as they were supposed to be nesting in the Trash Barrel Tree where a semi was parked the day before, but no hawk.  So we headed on down 118, deciding not to take the detour around downtown Alpine that I had religiously taken previously (it was a nice bypass) because I noticed it was actually just for trucks, but it was pretty dicey where they were putting in a pipe or something!  Both Alpine and Fort Davis were cute little old west type towns; kinda wish I had more time to explore them!

The ABA Guide didn’t give any specifics about SR 118 except that it was “interesting birding”, so I decided to stop every ten miles and see what was singing, plus stop at any picnic areas we encountered.  That was a great plan, as we picked up the regular grassland species (Cassin’s, Rufous-crowned, and Black-throated Sparrows), and in the first picnic area we hit pay dirt with a cooperative Bell’s Vireo and Painted Bunting, plus a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers!  The next picnic area was quiet by comparison, but as we got lower into the desert, one stop was very productive with a pair of calling Chihuahuan Ravens and an upset Black-tailed Gnatcatcher!  A Suicide Roadrunner didn’t make it, however…

Scenes on the way to Big Bend

Coming down SR 118...

Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail

One of the picnic areas (with "Bippy")


Bell's Vireo


Painted Bunting (left and center) and hiding Vermilion Flycatcher


Getting into the desert


Black-tailed Gnatcatchers    (Song and scold)      (With Chihuahuan Raven in background)  Compare with excited calls of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   


Chihuahuan Raven with scenes of developing monsoons.

Continuing on...

We arrived at the park, continuing to stop to take pictures (especially of this one monster monsoon), and dutifully went to Panther Junction for maps, and was shocked that I was the only one there!!  Last time the place was packed, and I never did get a ranger’s attention!  Anyway, after paying my fee I got a more detailed map of the Chisos Basin area, and added a mom Curve-billed Thrasher to the list.  A Black Witch was batting around outside as well.

Coming in to Big Bend

Massive monsoon

Passing by the Chisos Mountains on the way to Panther Junction


Black Witch Moth (left) hanging out at the Panther Junction Visitor's Center


Curve-billed Thrasher

The butterfly book said to check out Green Gulch (the road to Chisos Basin), so I stopped every half mile, and the birding was definitely better than the lepping; it really reminded me of Madera Canyon in Arizona!  We added Varied Bunting (by default; Painted wouldn’t be up in that juniper stuff), Black-chinned Sparrow (first of many), Mexican Jay, and more Scott’s Orioles, as well as tons of Blue Grosbeaks.  Once at the lodge I went ahead and got checked in, dumped off the stuff, and went to check out some of the trails.  I was indeed right at the start of the big hike (as Dan Jones warned me), so I didn’t have to go far!


Heading up Green Gulch


More scenes...


Looking back into the lowlands


I meandered down to where the multiple trailheads were and did a little of the Window Trail, as that was recommended for Gray Vireo.  Didn’t get very far:  it was rough and downhill, so I just went ten minutes in.  It was a gorgeous view, though!  Back at the top I decided to take the nice and easy Window View Trail (more my speed) and ran into Raptor Dave from the Bentsen Hawk Watch!  (Didn’t know it was him—we got to chatting and one thing led to another…)  They had just taken the Big Hike that day and went up Pinnacles, and he said they were fine so long as they went slow, and they did get the warbler.  On the way back got a little more lep action with what I think is the West Texas form of the Northern Cloudywing, and a Marine Blue trying to lay her eggs!  Also had a Gray Hairstreak sunning, and these cool bugs that were all over the place mating, and they were actually in the Kaufman guide:  they’re called Conchuelas!  Also saw an outlandish grasshopper with red antennae, but unfortunately the one photo I got before he left was fuzzy…  Got ice and water after that, and found out those huge bottles of Dasani water fit in my fanny pack!  So I planned on just taking those with me, along with a couple of PBJ bagels. 

The part of the Window Trail that was relatively easy...

The Window


Mournful Duskywing (left) and Common Buckeye (right)


Marine Blues


Northern Cloudywings


Gray Hairstreaks


A couple of mystery grasshoppers (left and center) and mating Conchuela Bugs (right)

After that I wanted to try just the first ten minutes of the Death Hike, and it was indeed very steep, but after ten minutes there was a perfect set of rocks at the switchback where things went nuts when I started pishing:  I think a pair of Rufous-crowned Sparrows had a nest because they were all upset to begin with, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Western Tanager, several titmice, an Ash-throated Flycatcher (with food), and a Scott’s Oriole all came in!  But the best bird was singing in the background of a young grosbeak doing its Cockatiel call:  a singing Gray Vireo!  Boy, was I jazzed to get that one!

Birds along the Pinnacles Trail...


Rufous-crowned Sparrows   


Black-crested Titmice; in this area they sing a funny Morse-code sort of song I've not heard elsewhere   


Western Tanager (against the sky) and Robber Fly (token bug)

Found out after the fact that I took the wrong trail:  there was another smaller trail going off to the right and downhill, and I assumed that was the one going to the lodge, but that’s actually the one I was supposed to take if I wanted to do Laguna Meadows!  I had inadvertently taken the Pinnacles Trail!  Yes, it certainly was steep and slippery!

Took a shower and got caught up, hoping the neighbors weren’t gonna party all night!  (Oh, well; if I’m getting up early, and the walls are thin, they’ll be up with me…)

  Click here to continue to the Colima Death March, or here to return to the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop

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