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© 2003 Helen Baines
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West Texas Birding Trip Report
Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park

2nd-18th April 2003

Text ~ Helen Baines
Photography ~ John & Helen Baines
We had been intending to go to Big Bend National Park, for some time, so when some friends retired to Fort Davis, we took the opportunity to visit them and then go on to BBNP the following week. We had recently bought ourselves an RV (motorhome), so we planned to take 3 days for the journey, dividing it up into 200 mile sections: Houston to San Antonio, San Antonio to Del Rio (Lake Amistad), Del Rio to Fort Davis.

Birding Texas, Roland Wauer & Mark Elwonger (a Falcon Guide)
Birds of the Trans Pecos, Jim Peterson & Barry Zimmer
Big Bend - the Official National Park Handbook (119)
NG Guide to Birds of North America
Kenn Kaufman's Bird's of North America

Big Bend:
Davis Mountains:
Wednesday, 2nd April
Journey to San Antonio  stay overnight at Blazing Star RV Park.
13 species of birds around the RV park: Lesser Goldfinch, Scrub Jay, House Finch, Inca Dove, White-winged Dove, Mockingbird, Chipping Sparrow, Purple Martin, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbird, House Sparrows and Starlings.

Thursday, 3rd April
Journey to Del Rio  stay overnight at Holiday Trav-L RV Park, Lake Amistad
Bird shores of Lake Amistad  only 9 species, as the lake is very low due to the ongoing drought in West Texas: Am. Coot, Black Phoebe, Solitary Sandpiper, Red-tailed Hawk, Double-crested, Cormorant, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cliff Swallows, Couch's Kingbird and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.
At the Holiday RV Park:  Vermilion Flycatchers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, White-winged Dove, Couch's Kingbird, Eurasian Collared-dove, Great-tailed Grackles and Lesser Nighthawk*.

Friday, 4th April
Journey via Hwy 90 to Alpine & 118 north to Fort Davis
En route:  Turkey Vultures, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Harrier, Common Raven, Cliff Swallows and a white dove. 
Lunch stop: Vermilion Flycatcher, female Cardinal, Wild Turkey.
Our friends' home in Fort Davis: Chihuahuan Raven*, Pine Siskins, White-winged Doves, Rufous Crowned Sparrows, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Spotted Towhee, Canyon Towhee, Northern Flicker, Northern Cardinal, Scrub Jay and Mourning Dove.

Saturday, 5th April
Breakfast in Alpine.
Drive to Marathon to visit The Post - a small park consisting of a spring fed riparian area with cottonwoods. The 5.2 mile access road turns south off US 90 on entering the town, opposite the Gage Hotel. Birds seen: a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, Black Phoebe, House Finches, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Barn Swallow, White-winged Doves, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-tailed Hawk (light phase), American Coots and Turkey Vultures.

The Prairie Dog Colony is 7 miles north of Marathon, along the east side of US 385, which turns off US 90 a little way out of town heading east.
We saw Scrub Jay, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Harriers, Turkey Vultures, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, Chihuahuan Raven, Lark Sparrows and Lark Buntings*.

Balmorhea State Park
We continued north on US 385 to Fort Stockton and then took Interstate 10 west. At Balmorhea, we took SH 17, driving southwest for about 4 miles. The State Park is on the left, by the small town of Toyaville.  We did not stop at Balmorhea Lake on this day - see Wednesday, 9th April.

The park is near the San Solomon Springs - a group of artesian and gravity fed springs which produce 80 million gallons of water per day. This area has been important to the native Indians, pioneers and ranchers for hundreds of years and today the springs supply a swimming pool in the State Park and also refresh Balmorhea Lake (about 600 acres) nearby. The lake has been formed by a dam on its southwest side and is used as a reservoir for nearby agricultural lands.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached the Balmorhea SP. The park has a restored 2-3 acre cienega (marsh habitat) to replace the one which was originally destroyed when the swimming pool was constructed 50 years ago. There is also a recreational camping area and the swimming pool, which is fed by the springs at a rate of 22-26 million gallons, daily. At the San Solomon Cienega we saw Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, White-crowned Sparrows, Green Heron, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinches, American Kestrel, Barn Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds. By the pool area: Great-tailed Grackles, more goldfinches, Black Phoebe and White-winged Doves; great looks at a Greater Roadrunner near the camping area. Also lots of House Sparrows around the buildings in the park.

Sunday, 6th April
Davis Mountains Scenic Loop Drive (approximately 70 miles):
From Fort Davis take SH 17 north and on the outskirts of town turn left onto SH 118. Follow Limpia Creek, past the Davis Mountains State Park and continue on past the MacDonald Observatory, and then back to Ft Davis via SH 166.

We started the drive from our friends' home near Limpia Creek and had a great start to the day with the sight of about 100 Pinyon Jays* working over the trees just across the road. Further along SH 118 we stopped near a windmill and stock tank and got good views of Western Bluebirds, Rufous-crowned Sparrows and a couple of Mourning Doves. At the Lawrence E. Woods Picnic Area we saw Say's Phoebes, Scrub Jay, Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The scenery was an interesting mix of live oak woodlands, rolling vistas of honey colored grasslands and sawtooth mountains.

We turned left on to SH 166 and stopped at an area where we could look down on to a water filled stock tank. Here we saw Phainopepla, House Finches, Black Phoebe and Violet-green Swallows. On the  drive we also got Turkey Vultures, Northern Harrier, Western Meadowlark and Loggerhead Shrikes. On the last leg of the drive through the lower ranchlands, we saw Loggerhead Shrikes and a falcon, which we were pleased to identify as a Prairie Falcon*.

On our return to the Limpia Creek subdivision, we saw Brown-crested and Ash-throated Flycatchers*, the latter being another lifer.

Monday, 7th April
Today I birded the local neighborhood of Limpia Crossing, while my husband did some maintenance on the RV!  In a very bird friendly yard, next door to our friends' home, I saw the following birds:
White-crowned, Song and Chipping Sparrows, Pine Siskins, a pair of Pyrrhuloxia, Northern Cardinal, Scrub Jays, Black-crested Titmouse, Black-chinned Hummingbird, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, Spotted Towhees, Bewick's Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mourning and White-winged Doves.

Tuesday, 8th April
The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute is located on SH 17, a few miles south of Fort Davis. We enjoyed a pleasant walk and nice views, but the area wasn't very birdy! We took the Modesta Canyon Trail, seeing Western Scrub-Jay, Chipping Sparrows, White-winged Doves, Turkey Vultures, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Rock and Canyon Wrens and lastly, Bushtit in the junipers above the canyon.  In the arboretum area there was a Say's Phoebe flycatching, more Chipping Sparrows and Scrub Jays, and a Spotted Towhee.

After lunch, we went to the Davis Mountains State Park, where we saw more of the same birds seen in the morning, plus a nice look at a pair of Black-throated Sparrows and a Canyon Towhee, from the Historical Fort site overlook.  Before leaving the park, we checked on the times that the Montezuma Quail were being seen at the quail feeding site, and planned a return visit for early Thursday morning.

Wednesday, 9th April
Today, we drove back to the Balmorhea area, so that we could do the Lake. Taking SH 17 out of Fort Davis, we first stopped on SH 118 near the junction with SH 17, in order to look for the Black Hawks which nest here in the cottonwoods by Limpia Creek. Unfortunately, did not spot any  possibly we were too early in the season, however we did see the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet for the trip, plus Hermit Thrush and a Northern Cardinal singing. After turning left onto SH 17, we stopped again to check out some soaring raptors and were pleased to identify a Zone-tailed Hawk and a Gray Hawk, both lifers, amongst the Turkey Vultures. This was about 2.25 miles from Fort Davis, and  a quarter of a mile past the Nut Farm.

Aguja Canyon
About 27 miles out of Fort Davis, we took a detour left onto RR 1832, to and the Buffalo Trail Boy Scout Ranch. Sighted along the road through open desert scrub, were Red-tailed Hawk. Loggerhead Shrike, Say's Phoebe, Pyrrhuloxia, Northern Mockingbird, Lesser Goldfinches, Yellow-rumped Warbler, House Finches, House Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Wild Turkey and the amusing sight of 2 Chihuahuan Ravens staring out a Cooper's Hawk on the same branch. While watching a Phainopepla, we also spotted a gray looking flycatcher, which was flicking its tail like a phoebe. On checking the photos later, we confirmed this as a Gray Flycatcher*, giving us our 3rd lifer fro the day. At the Boy Scout Ranch we saw White-winged Doves, Canyon Wren and Northern Cardinal, both singing loudly!

Balmorhea State Park and Balmorhea Lake
Backtracking to SH 17, we made our way to Toyavale, turning right towards the town of Balmorhea, and turned into the State Park on the right. On talking to one of the rangers about the White-throated Swifts we had hoped to see, it was confirmed that we were about 2 weeks too early! In the park we saw all the birds we'd seen on our previous visit, except the roadrunner, but in addition spotted a Vermilion Flycatcher and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker entering a nesthole in a snag, with a mouthful of food. We also got some lovely photos of the Barn Swallows building a nest under the roof of the walkway between the dressing rooms and the swimming pool.

The 600 acre Balmorhea Lake is located to the south of town via Houston Street. As we entered the lake area, we saw several signs notifying us of a day use fee, applicable to anyone fishing, sightseeing or birding. It was about $4, payable at the store. This could have been a really beautiful area, but we were disappointed to find a lot of trash about and some very run down shacks along the shoreline, one with very scruffy looking dog tied up in the yard. The birding was good, though, and we had some great looks at a couple of Osprey fishing. Also seen  about 30 White-faced Ibis, Forster's Tern, American Coots, Mexican Mallards, American Wigeon, Northern Shovelers, Bufflehead, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Least Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Black-necked Stilts, Snipe, Killdeer, American White Pelicans, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Pipit, Lark Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Great-tailed Grackles.

Thursday, 10th April
Davis Mountain State Park
The quail viewing and feeding area is located near the front of the park, right by the park hosts' camping site. We arrived at 8am, but had to wait till 9:15am before the pair of Montezuma Quail* arrived. However, there were lots of other birds visiting the feeding area in that first hour and we were very pleased to get another lifer for the trip  a
Townsend's Solitaire*.
Also seen: Acorn Woodpecker, Black-crested Titmouse, Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinch, Back-chinned Hummingbirds, Canyon Towhee, Turkey Vultures, Mourning and White-winged Doves.

The Montezuma Quail are beautiful little birds and we had been told that this was a very good spot to see them. The Park Host told us that there had been two pairs coming to the feeding station, but one pair had disappeared recently. We were pleased to see that Texas Parks and Wildlife had banned the hunting of these quail.

On returning to our friends' home we spotted a beautiful Scott's Oriole* in their backyard - our third lifer for the day, and a nice way to end our stay in the Davis Mountains.

This page was last updated on: March 19, 2005

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© 2003 Helen Baines
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