Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Up to 175!

Thanks mostly to my recent Big Bend trip, I am now at a grand total of 175. I got up to 172 from Big Bend and then back here in Houston, I saw Cliff Swallow, Monk Parakeet and Cattle Egret at different locations while not birding. It is just going to get even more exciting from here on in; spring migration is upon us! Stay posted

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Adventures in Big Bend: Part 2

There are several factors that make Big Bend such a holy grail for birders. Factor number 1? The fact that the park offers the easternmost limit for many western species and the westernmost limit for many eastern species of birds. Factor number 2? The park is located on a major migratory flyway and is an important stop-off for many bird species. And factor number 3? Located close to Mexico, the park has many southern specialty birds that can't otherwise be seen in the U.S. (such as Lucifer Hummingbird and Colima Warbler). The facts didn't change anything for us though; we were having a blast and seeing many great birds in the process!
Dawn of our second day saw me up bright and early, as the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm (actually, it should be more like: 'the early birdwatcher gets to watch the bird getting the worm'). Anyway, no matter how the saying goes, I was awake before the sun peered over the hills. I headed down to the feeders, spotting a Bewick's Wren on my way down. Down at the feeders, I saw no new species but all the same, it was very exciting.

A Curve-billed Thrasher trying to figure out just how to get down on the bird feeder.
I did also manage to spot a Ladder-backed Woodpecker slightly closer than before and managed to get a half-decent shot in the dim light.
We didn't spend too long at the feeders though as we had decided that today was the day to challenge ourselves. I mean really challenge ourselves. We had decided to hike the Emory peak, the tallest mountain in the park at 7,825 feet high. It is a strenuous hike and the roundtrip is... 10.5 tough miles. We started our climb at about 11am, with the temperature slowly starting to rise. Starting our climb, we were treated to the sounds of several Bewick's Wrens singing as well as a Crissal Thrasher. While we climbed higher and higher, we started to hear the noise of several Mexican Jays and soon came across a flock of 8.
We were sweating now, hardly even half way up, yet we carried on. As we neared the top of the peak, our effort was payed off. The view was breathtaking.
As we reached the summit we watched nearly 100 White-throated Swifts swirling and diving through the air. Occasionally, as they passed closely by us, we could hear the wind rushing through their wings.
After enjoying the breath-taking scenery for a little longer, we began the long hike back down. Through our exhaustion, we even managed to find two Black-crested Titmice calling from the steep slopes.y the time we reached the bottom of the mountain, thoroughly worn out and incredibly sore, we decided unanimously to call it a day. When we reached our campground, we saw a Common Poorwill (a relative of the nighthawk), perched on the road and darting up into the air every couple of seconds to catch insects. The best part of the day though? Seeing countless stars in the night sky back at the camp. My photo does not even come close to doing the stars justice.
The next morning, due to our serious state of exhaustion, we woke up very late. Upon coming to the decision that it had been fun, but that it was now time to slowly head for home (we were very tired!) we did just that. Heading home slowly meant frequent stops to admire scenery, nature and whatever else we might see. By the time the sun was setting, we had reached Kerrville (about halfway home) and decided to stop for the night. As we reviewed all the excitement of the last several days, we realised the star of the show was still missing. The one bird you always expect to see out west. The bird that is famous worldwide. We hadn't yet seen a Roadrunner!!!
Upon doing some quick research, we found a state park in Kerrville that might just yield us a Greater Roadrunner. To make a long story short, we spent the following morning looking for a Roadrunner without success. Just as we were beginning to despair, my dad suggested taking one last 5 minute spin around the road. No sooner had we started that 5 minute spin when... There it was! Greater Roadrunner!

Not quite where you would expect to see a roadrunner- in the woods!
We were happy- we had seen our Roadrunner. It was now time to head home.
Big Bend is a great park to visit, especially if you like birds!  I would highly recommend visiting it- just be warned, summer temperatures can get up to 49 degrees celsius. Though we barely scratched the surface of this great area, I'm already looking forward to going back-whenever that might be!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Adventures in Big Bend: Part 1

Great scenery, pristine skies, rugged wilderness, abundant wildlife, all of this found in Texas- add these all up and what do you get??? The answer- Big Bend National Park in west Texas.

Spanning a huge 801,163 acres, Big Bend is the 14th largest national park in the U.S. and covers 3 different environments; mountain, desert and river. This huge area  attracts about 350,000 visitors each year and is immensely popular, with spring break being the most popular time to visit the park. This year, my family and I went to find out why the park is as popular as it is.

We left Houston early in the morning in preparation for the 11 hour drive that lay ahead of us. For  a good 5 hours of the trip, we drove through heavy rain and saw no break in the clouds. Once we arrived at our campground however, about 20 miles out of the park, we stepped out of the car beneath cloudless skies and almost immediately saw several bird feeders. Right after we found the bird feeders, we found the birds. Suddenly, we were surrounded by at least a dozen birds; Cactus Wren! Curve-billed Thrasher! Black-throated Sparrow! Pyrrhuloxia! Ladder-backed Woodpecker! House Finch! White-winged Dove! The birds were everywhere!
Black-throated Sparrow; a common yet beautiful sparrow of the southwestern U.S.
A conspicuous looking (and sounding) wren of southwestern deserts, the Cactus Wren is also the largest species of wren
Pyrrhuloxia, a distinctive songbird related to the cardinal

We soon had to leave the feeders though to pitch our tent as darkness was settling fast over the desert. As we set up our tent underneath the setting sun, I couldn't help but feel excited for what I might see in the morning.

After spending a somewhat chilly night in our tent, beneath countless stars, we awoke to the beautiful sound of a singing Pyrrhuloxia, which bears a striking resemblance (both in looks and sound) to a Cardinal. We headed to the nearby bird feeders to see what was about, and nearly immediately ran into a huge surprise- a covey of 35 Scaled Quail, dashing here and there.

We continued birding around the feeders and a small water dish, finding a Sage Thrasher, a single Lark Bunting, a Rock Wren and a pair of Canyon Towhees.
By late morning, we decided to head to the Chisos Basin, a small valley surrounded by mountains, to do a little hiking. While hiking down into a valley on the Window trail, we were happy to see White-throated Swift, Pygmy Nuthatch, Spotted Towhee and Mexican Jay. This national park was really starting to amaze us by the sheer beauty of it all, nature and scenery standing out above the rest. Upon finishing the hot hike, we made a quick decision to check out the Rio Grande Village after getting a tip that a Common Black-Hawk, a rare bird in the U.S. but one that has nested here for several years, might be hanging around.
Unfortunately, no hawk for us. We were treated to fantastic views of several species though; Vermilion Flycatcher, Western Bluebird, Brewer's Sparrow and Marsh Wren, all while being merely 50 feet away from the border with Mexico (which, by the way, several Common Ravens flew across without any security checks!).

After birding the Rio Grande Village, we brought an end to our fun-filled (and bird-filled) day and headed back to the campground beneath a beautiful setting sun. We were already looking forward to Day 2!

Part 2 of our Adventures in Big Bend coming up tomorrow!