It's a Great Day to Bird

Birding Far West Texas (Big Bend area)

January 25, 2017

After a long day’s drive we arrived at Davis Mountain State Park near Fort Davis, Texas.  This campground is known for the best little bird blind in Texas.  They actually have two bird blinds.  Of course as soon as we got to one of them this morning the park volunteer decided to refresh the feeders, although the only feeders needing food were the one’s they put peanut butter in the holes.  This volunteer was definitely not a birder.  The park is known for Montezuma Quail but we didn’t manage any of the trails to search for that elusive bird.  Our friend Bob said they used to come to the feeders.

When I went to sign in at the Interpretive Center the name immediately above mine (from  yesterday) was Cindy Mom who lives in Seldovia, Alaska.  Small world.  Cindy has been generous in painting several 6×6 inch canvases for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival the past two years.  Thank you Cindy.

We decided not to spend a second night at the campground as the winds were expected to increase in the afternoon – wind warnings of 25+ mph.  Little hard to cook dinner in those conditions, hike, or bird.  Good day for traveling.




Black-crested Titmouse at a water drip


White-winged Dove. This is the place to go in the winter time for these birds. They were everywhere.


Dark-eyed Junco


Chipping Sparrow


Bird Species Seen or Heard at Davis Mountain State Park

  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • White-winged Dove
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Western Bluebird
  • House Finch
  • Mourning Dove
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • House Sparrow

Off we went to Big Bend National Park, with a stop at the McDonald Observatory Visitor Center.  The Observatory is a short distance from Davis Mountain SP so if you are in to star programs they offer a daytime and evening program.  Jack explored the visitor center by himself (Jack says you have to like learning about spectrometry…).  I stayed in the car to read – hoping that a bird or two would fly by.  Nope.

For our travel route, we took a portion of a scenic loop hoping for birds, but other than birds of prey – hawks, harriers, and shrikes – we didn’t see any birds.  Did come across a family of Javalinas, including a small one.  So cute – at least I think so.

Finally made it to Big Bend around 3:00 pm, and our campground (Cottonwood) around 4:00 pm.  What a surprise in store for us – an almost full campground.  This campground is along the Rio Grande River – yes I can see Mexico from my window – and has 24 sites.  When we arrived there were only 4 sites left, and none of them that good unless you want to be able to spit at your neighbor.  Yes, very close together.  We chose site #1, which unfortunately was near the only drinking water source, the garbage cans, and the recycle station.  Oh, and the check-in kiosk.  But the best of the four sites.

We’ve stayed at this campground two previous times and at most we had 8 other campers, and the last time, maybe 3.  Not sure what the draw is this year.  And I don’t know if we will stay another night or not.  Decisions, decisions.

After getting our camp set up I did walk the campground loop, short as it is, in search of birds.  Only saw nine species (another two were seen on the way to the campground), but that is okay.  I guess there are two Great Horned Owls in the are, and I did spot one of them in the cottonwood tree just waiting until nightfall to pick off those birds hawking from the nearby trees (Yellow-rumped Warblers and Vermillion Flycatchers).  Or maybe it will find the rabbit I found hiding in the brush.









Vermillion Flycatcher – so brilliant in the afternoon sun.  We had two males at our campground


Saw this nest on the ground and noted there was plastic used in its construction


Desert Hare, I believe.  This little hare was in the trees hiding from predators

Bird Species Seen or Heard in Big Bend National Park

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Ladderback Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Crissel Thrasher
  • Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
  • Red-naped Sapsucker

January 26, 2017

After a late start (we had a guy from New Mexico stop to talk to us for about an hour – everyone is intrigued about AK) we decided to hike the Santa Elana Canyon Trail, located 8 miles from our campground.  We’ve hiked this trail before.  One needs to cross a shallow river (or what’s left of it) to reach the trail into the majestic slot canyon.  The trail parallels the Rio Grande, with the U.S. on one side and Mexico on the other – of course.  The canyon is 8 miles long.  Would love to float it someday.

We did see 11 different species along the trail, generally a mixed flock, composed primarily of  Yellow-rumped Warblers.   We did get several good views of Canyon Wrens, including one instance where a Canyon Wren chased off a Rock Wren.

After the hike we went back to the campground and just hung out for the remainder of the day.  Nice to just sit back and relax once in a while.  I know Jack appreciates it.  We did decide to stay here another night.  Tomorrow we will head to the Rio Village Campground on the other side of the park.  This campground is much bigger and being as it is a Friday, the campground will probably be busy.


A Javelina family came into the campground at least once each day. Liked the grass.


View from our campground


He’s back …


There were lots of Loggerhead Shrikes throughout the park. Killer bird.


So sad we have to have so many “DO NOT” … The National Park Service, in most instances, does not allow dogs on trail, including at Big Bend. Of course there are always a few people who feel the rules don’t apply to them and bring their dogs. While I love dogs, the rules are there for a reason.


The Rio Grande River


Say’s Phoebe. They look so much lighter here than in Arizona.


Santa Elana Canyon


Our trail into the canyon


Rock Wren


This Canyon Wren chased the Rock Wren away


Rio Grande from the Santa Elana trail. Mexico is on the right.


A view up the Canyon. The canyon walls were very tall.


The narrow trail in the canyon.


Cactus in Texas have much longer thorns


Rock Squirrel


I love the way it is holding its paws. Almost like “gee whiz, what is a squirrel to do. Should I run, should I hide.  Oh me, oh my …”



Me on the trail in Santa Elana Canyon


I am so glad this rock decided to stay in place. I wonder if one of these days it will topple.


Northern Rough-winged Swallow




This Greater Roadrunner was in the campground and allowed me to get quite close to take his photograph


Great Horned Owl in the campground looking annoyed at all the people taking its photograph, or maybe just sleepy

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Cottonwood Campground

  • Great Horned Owl
  • Ladderback Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Inca Dove
  • White-winged Dove
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black Phoebe

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Santa Elana Trail and Road to the Trail

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Gadwall
  • Black Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Verdin
  • Black-throated Sparrow (now my favorite all time sparrow)
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Canyon Wren
  • Rock Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Northern Mockingbird

January 27, 2017

Got an early start and headed to the Rio Grande Village Campground – it only took us around four hours to drive about 50 miles.  We did the touristy thing and stopped at the Sotol Vista, San Nail Ranch (for birds), and the Panther Visitor Center.

Yesterday I spoke with a woman who had stopped off at the Sam Nail Ranch to bird.  There is a windmill with a water spiket of sorts – where birds come from miles around to drink.  There is a lot of vegetation too, so good places for the birds to hide.  She said she saw a lot of species there including a Gray Catbird.  Today was a different story, although we went about the same time of day as she did.  We did see the Gray Catbird, but the only other species we observed were two Northern Mockingbirds and a Northern Cardinal.  I think the wind – gusting to 20+ miles per hour – had something to do with the lack of birds, and other birders present.

We got to the Rio Grande Village Campground around noon.  There weren’t too many open camping spots left.  There are sites in the open (most) or sites in the trees (few).  We chose a site in the trees for more privacy, plus you can see birds working the trees like Bewick’s Wren and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher or working under the trees like the White-winged Dove.

We had a relatively lazy afternoon.  Not too much fun trying to hike or bird in windy conditions.  I did the nature trail that leads from the campground.  There is a wetland along the trail, but the only species I observed was the Pied-billed Grebe.

Oh and we did see a Coyote alongside the road on the way to the campground.  I was surprised it was so close to the road.  Beautiful creature.

Not sure what we will do tomorrow – stay another day or move on.  Might depend in part on how windy it is outside.  Our next destination is about 200 miles away so if it is too windy again we may just move on.   Hate to waste a nice day traveling.


Northern Shrike


Sotol Vista view



Pond near the Rio Grande Village Campground – take the Nature Trail


Items for sale along the trail.  Of course it is illegal to purchase such items.


View from the trail looking into Mexico



A Mexican on his caballo herding goats



Rock Wren


Rock Wren

Bird Species Seen or Heard in Big Bend National Park this day

  • House Finch
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Ladderback Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-winged Dove
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Common Raven
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Inca Dove
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Rock Wren

January 28, 2017

Strong winds and light rains last night.  Shook our van pretty good several times.  So glad we are not in a tent.  Watched one couple try to put their tent up in the wind.  Not easy. But today, blue skies and light winds so we decided to stay another night at the Rio Grande Village campground.

Drove over to the general store, parked, and then birded the Group Campground.  Good birds, including Black-throated Gray Warblers – both the female and the male.  We then headed towards the Hot Springs trailhead and as we were driving down the road we spotted a Bobcat.  A ranger later stopped us to inform us about the Bobcat, so even after 30+ minutes the Bobcat was still in the general area.  Hope others had the opportunity to see the Bobcat too, although the speed some people drive the roads I doubt they see much.  Is it me or do Texas have a need for speed?

We ventured off  to Boquillas Canyon to hike the 1.4-mile trail to the mouth of the canyon.   Along the trail there were several opportunities to purchase Mexican made items.  Of course you don’t want to get caught having purchased such items unless you want to be arrested for possession of contraband.

Also learned that if you were to wade across the Rio Grande – a little deep right now – and then came back into the U.S. you have entered the U.S. illegally, regardless of whether you are American and have a passport with you.  The fine is up to $5,000 and one year in jail.  That applies too if you are in a raft and you exit the raft on the Mexican side.  You can only do this in an emergency.  I wonder if a potty break is considered an emergency?  Would be for me.

Did see a flycatcher that I wasn’t able to quite identify.  I think it could be an Ash-throated, Dusky-capped, or Brown-crested Flycatcher.  I hate flycatchers.   I do think they are harder to id than sparrows and I find some sparrows difficult.  Give me a shorebird any day.

Made a stop at the Hot Spring.  Jack remembers our last visit and soaking in his feet in the warm water after a hot, 2.8-mile one-way, hike to the springs.


Brown Thrasher in the campground – notice his face. He has some kind of infection.


Brown Thrasher (again notice the face)


Black-throated Gray Warbler


This bird was very accommodating while I photographed it





Unfortunately no Common Black Hawk sightings





Heron or Egret?



View from the Hot Spring trail parking lot



Rainbow Cactus


More Roadrunners


Flycatcher – could be one of three: Ash-throated, Dusky-capped, or Brown-crested.  Any idea?




More items for sale. I like the plea for education funds


Boquillos Canyon


Another one of those hard to id Flycatchers. I think this one is a Dusky-capped Flycatcher? Anyone know for sure?


Same bird, different lighting. Unfortunately the bird didn’t really show its breast.




We were wondering it this particular nest belonged to a hummingbird.  The nest was quite small.



Flowers of a Soaptree Yucca. So beautiful. I understand they are edible.



HIllside on the way into the hot springs


Love the geology here


Bird Species Seen or Heard around Rio Grande Village (general area)

  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Inca Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Canyon Wren
  • Verdin
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • House Finch
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker (red-sharfted)
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Black Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • American Pipit
  • Black Vulture
  • Common Raven
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Rock Wren
  • White-winged Dove

Tomorrow we will be a long day of driving so not much birding along the way.

January 29, 2017

Almost hated to leave Big Bend National Park, although I prefer the Cottonwood Campground to the Rio Village Campground.  Fewer people.

We stopped at the Dugout Wells to check for birds, especially Scaled Quail.  They are supposed to be common in the park, but alas no sightings during our stay.  We did, however, see several Scaled Quail near our campground at Amistad National Recreational Area (NRA) – Governor’s Landing Campground.  Woohoo!!!  Of course whenever I tried to get close for a photo, off they went.  Camera shy I guess.

The drive to Amistad NRA was long and through high desert, with not much wildlife.  Birds observed along the way were primarily Loggerhead Shrike and Northern Mockingbirds.  Both are hard to miss in the desert.

We stopped for lunch in Marathon, Texas.  This is a small town with only a few places to eat.  At the Oasis Café we were told there would be a 40-minute wait for food (small grill, busy place).  Too long for my growling stomach.  This popular restaurant served burgers and Mexican Food.  So off down the road we went – oh about 1/8 miles – to V6 a café serving breakfast and lunch.  Unfortunately, they don’t serve breakfast all day.  We had a nice lunch.  The food was good.  No hamburgers here.  Healthy food (except for the potato chips).  This place looked like something you would find in a big city, not a small town of maybe, and I mean maybe, 1.000 people.  The decor reminded me of New York, San Francisco, or Seattle.  I was surprised  also to find at least two different art galleries here.

Our campsite for the night – Governor’s Landing, Amistad NRA – is just off the highway so there is a lot of highway noise.  This small, 15-site campground, in the past, has generally been at least half full.  Today only one other camper – at least so far (as of 6:30 pm).


Big Bend NP but reminds  me  of the Painted Hills in Oregon



Chisos Mountains



White-crowned Sparrow


There was an interpretive trail at Dugout Wells. Lots of great cactus species present, but not all of them named – like this one.


Purple-tinted Prickly Pear Cactus


Blind Prickly Pear Cactus – they only have very small thorns



Engelmann’s Prickly Pear Cactus






Black-throated Sparrow


Cactus skeleton


These are like daggers


Great-tailed Grackles


Not another NOMO (Northern Mockingbird). We got to the point we kept saying No More or No Mas


View of Amistad Reservoir from our picnic shelter campsite


Another view of the reservoir


Cactus Wren in the evening light



This Northern Mockingbird was preening

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Armistad NR.

  • Great Egret
  • Common Loon
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • American Coot
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Cactus Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Scaled Quail
  • Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow we head on down the road to Falcon State Park.  We will be here for several days, birding the area.  Hope to see some good birds.  I will keep you posted in a future blog.

Until then …



1 Comment

  1. Nina Faust

    I take it you did not go into the high country at Big bend?



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