Monday, June 13, 2011

Texas - Big Bend National Park - Friday 3 June 2011

Our last morning in Big Bend dawned beautiful, again. We had decided to hike the trail up to the Oak forest in search of Colima Warblers. We had one significant challenge though, we had to check out by 11am so we set off promptly, stopping at various spots to photograph the rising sun against the stunning scenery:

This gap is the 'window':

You can see why it's called The Pinnacles trail:

We encountered very few humans on the way up, mostly birds and unexpected ones too, including a Spotted Towhee:

The thus-far-elusive Scott's Oriole:

Once they've seen you these birds don't hang around. I'd only managed to get one in the frame thus far, let alone get any in focus. This one was obviously still feeling a bit dozy so didn't disappear on sight, so I managed a couple of quick snaps before he followed form and flew off:

We picked-up a few new species on our ascent, including Rock Wren:

And Mexican Jay:

Together with the more familiar Black-headed Grosbeak:

We reckon we had climbed over 3 of the required 4.5 miles to get to the Colimas but we ran out of time and had to head back down the trail. We have to go back to Big Bend. It'll be an April when it's cooler and there are more birds going through on migration, however we really did enjoy our visit, it's a breathtakingly beautiful park, its remoteness helping it retain a level of ecological health unmatched in most of the other places we have visited.

On the way down the trail the sun was still rising:

We drove from Big Bend to a pit stop at Odessa, which is located in the middle of the oilfields. The smell of oil floats over the land, and it's really quite an unpleasant smell. The receptionist told us the highlights of Odessa were the occasional wildfires... she also told us when we called down to ask if they had problems with the hot water to run the taps for 20 minutes. 2o minutes and this is in an area struck by a major drought and water shortage! We showered cold. Saturday we managed to get to Dallas with a couple of hours to spare so fitted in some shopping before dropping the car off and heading home.

We ended up having driven over 2,700 miles in 7 days, seeing some 146 species of bird, of which 60 were additions to our USA list, and 54 of these were 'lifers', which was a great outcome from the week. Big Bend and indeed Texas will linger long in the memory!

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Texas - Big Bend National Park - Thursday 2 June 2011

Thursday promised to be one of the highlight birding days of the holiday. Having made it all the way to Big Bend we were determined to pick the best birding location and start at dawn, so we set out early.

On the road to Rio Grande village we saw both Common Nighthawk and Common Poorwill. Most of them survived the 4x4s that sped past us...

The sunrise was beautiful:

We parked-up full of anticipation. Just getting out of the car it was obvious we were in for a good morning. There were literally loads of birds and most of them new species, including Lark Sparrow:

Next an outstanding bird, the Vermilion Flycatcher:

We saw loads of these birds, which I had considered an unlikely target, male and indeed the drabber but still colourful female:

We also saw lots of Painted Buntings:

This was a major relief as we'd tried a few times on the holiday to see them and missed out, so this was great. Next up, Varied Bunting, only a few of these but also much hoped for:

Summer Tanager:

Helen's current favourite species, Greater Roadrunner:

Another Pyrrhuloxia:

Olive-sided Flycatcher:

I believe a Savannah Sparrow:

Another new species, Hepatic Tanager:

All of this in a small space by the edge of the river with some open grass and bushes and trees around. It was great. We spent a good hour just in that area before walking towards the camping area.This wild pig species (Javelina) has a reputation as a problem feeder in the area, regularly scouting out human food:

Others looking for a meal included the Turkey Vulture:

A soaring Black Vulture:

In the trees on the fringe of the camping/RV parking area, a Yellow-breasted Chat:

We got back in the car and headed further along the river to another parking area, watching Wile E Coyote mooching around warily:

In some grasslands, an area blocked off to protect nesting Common Black Hawk (which we dipped out on) we saw a female Orchard Oriole:

A little further along we were able to walk right down to the edge of the river, spotting an unlikely Townsend's Warbler in the reeds:

The views up and down the Rio Grande were impressive, and yes the other side is Mexico:

Helen snapped me photograhping the Townsend's Warbler:

Walking back Helen noticed a calling raptor - we located this Gray Hawk, a new species for us:

It took some remains of its prey to the nest:

Before heading out hunting again:

At the end of the road we climbed an overlook, I managed to get my revenge and photograph Helen, camera in hand, preparing to take some pictures of the local flora:

And here said images:

On the climb we added another species, Cassin's Kingbird:

Having completed the ascent and descent we drove to the store and bought some drinks to cool us down and some snack food for lunch and then headed out on the scenic drive toward Santa Elena canyon:

The canyon itself is searingly hot. The river has carved a deep channel in the rock, the tall side is mostly Mexico, the low side the USA. You can see the effect the river has on the vegetation:

The canyon walls tower above:

And you can see the dramatic impact the water has, when it's flowing after rainfall:

We managed good views of a skulking Blue Grosbeak at the base of the canyon:

Like him the heat was overwhelming us and I was knackered so we decided to head back for a siesta followed by another early dinner.

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