Friday, May 13, 2016

West Texas, 5/5-8/16 Part 1

I had been thinking about making a run out to west Texas while spring migration was going on and finally got around to it.  I took off on May 5 leaving at 5 AM and made the long painful drive up along the Rio Grande through Laredo and Del Rio.  I reached Langtry in the early afternoon and made my first birding stop.  I stopped at the Judge Roy Bean visitor's center as I always do and was welcomed by a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds which is a pretty good bird for Val Verde County.

Texas birder Lee Hoy now runs the visitor's center and was kind enough to point out a unique Hooded Oriole nest on a light fixture in one of the out buildings.

Canyon Wren, Ash-throated Flycatcher and not a lot else were seen at this slow middle part of the day so I moved on towards Big Bend.  Resisting the urge to bird along the way I arrived at Persimmon Gap while the entrance booth was still open and paid my fee and proceeded into the park.  I didn't really feel like doing the death march to Boot Springs on this trip so I stopped at Panther Junction and reserved a primitive campsite on the road to Pine Canyon.  The Pine Canyon hike is pretty easy and has many of the Boot Canyon birds.

It was still early so I made a run up through Green Gulch towards the Basin.  It didn't take long to find  a Varied Bunting.

A strange call got my attention so I stopped and pished.  A Black-capped Vireo immediately popped up and started singing.

A little more pishing brought in Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-crested Titmice, Audubon's Warblers and another good vireo, Cassin's Vireo.

I stopped at the Lodge for dinner and had the chicken-fried steak as usual.  Years of experimenting has taught me it's the best thing on their menu (and also the cheapest.)  The sun sets late this time of year in west Texas so afterward I still had time to check out the Basin sewerage settling pond where a Flame-colored Tanager was recently seen.  The blooming tree tobacco attracted several Blue-throated Hummingbirds and a female Lucifer.

I could not find the tanager but saw several migrant Wilson's Warblers and a Scott's Oriole.

A small mixed flock of migrant sparrows consisted of Chipping, Clay-colored, Lark and White-crowned Sparrows and a Lark Bunting.  The Basin campground was pretty full and all of my favorite sites were taken so I was glad I had reserved a spot on the Pine Canyon Road.  I made to drive over from the Basin and up the rough road to Pine Canyon where I set up my tent.  I enjoyed a quiet night under a million stars.  

The park was much dried than I expected and the early morning hike up the canyon did not produce a lot of birds.  The usual Black-throated and Rufous-crowned Sparrows along with Blue Grosbeaks and Cactus Wrens called but not a lot else.  After hiking through the desert grasslands I reached the trees and found my first Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers and more titmice. A surprise was this singing Carolina Wren.  They occur up the rio Grande to Big Bend but it's pretty rare to get one away from the river.

At the pour off I ran into Houston area birder Joe Fischer who had spent the past week in the park.  We talked a bit and he told me he had also not seen much on his hike up the canyon.  The pouroff at the end of the canyon was completely dry.  I've been up this canyon a half dozen times and I've always seen at least a little water dropping from high above.  It was pretty birdless, not even the usual Blue-throated Hummingbird. I left Joe and started back down.  After a ways I whistled the call of the Mexican Pygmy-Owl hoping to get a response like last year but nothing responded from the pines above.  But I did hear a high pitched "hoo-heet" and a Cordilleran Flycatcher landed over my head along with a female Lucifer Hummingbird.

And then a Hutton's Vireo popped in.

I stopped and ate some lunch and Joe caught up with me and told me of he had just seen three bears at a seep in the canyon below the trail.  He was kind enough to take me back up to the spot where a side trail left the main trail led to where water was seeping from a crack in the rock.  And there were three baby bears and two medium bears and a large mama bear.  Holy smokes!  Six Bears!  We watched a few minutes and then the large mama started towards us and we quietly backtracked.

So I added a few year birds but nothing unusual (except for the wren and the bears) and I made my way back down the canyon.  Kind of a disappointment birdwise.  It had a been a few years since I had seen a Common Black Hawk so I figured I would head down to Rio Grande Village and check out the nest.  The hike up Lower Pine Canyon had been pleasant but I noticed the temperature rising as I drove to lower elevations.  In fact by the time I got to Rio Grande Village my car's thermometer read 102.  Ouch!  The Common Black Hawk was easy enough to find.

Walking along the park road in the shade of the cottonwoods I saw a few migrant passerines; Yellow, Nashville and Audubon's Warblers, Olive-sided Flycatchers and Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper and Lark Sparrows.  There were plenty of resident Vermillion Flycatchers and Bell's Vireos.

A check of the ponds turned up a Gray Hawk, Painted Bunting and Yellow-breasted Chats.  But it was so dang hot!  My original plan was to spend the night in Study Butte and then do Cottonwood Campground for Lucy's Warbler and check out Sam Nail Ranch.  But I had enough of this heat so I spent the night in Alpine and headed for the Davis Mountains in the morning where I knew it would be cooler.

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