Where we Like to go Birding
BIG BEND Texas
by ANDREW SPENCER
You would think, given how I’ve spent a goodly portion of the past seven years birding in the tropics, that my favorite place to watch birds would be
Andean cloudforest mountainside.
perhaps some site high in the Andean páramo, Espeletia covered slopes frosty in an early morning chill. But no, I would have to say my favorite place to go birding is Big Bend National Park in western Texas. Don’t get me wrong, I love birding in the rain forest; and I do think that South America is the ultimate destination for bird watching in the world. But there’s something about standing in the desert early on a spring morning, the crisp, dry air, the smell of creosote bushes, the sounds of desert avifauna surrounding you that just leaves an indelible mark on me. The centerpiece of Big Bend is the Chisos Mountains, the easternmost of the “sky islands” in the US. Rising above the Chihuahuan Desert oor, these mountains harbor the only population of Colima Warbler in the United States. From The Basin, nestled in a bowl mid-way up the mountains, a series of trails cover a variety of habitats into the higher elevations. My favorite is the Boot Springs Trail, which climbs through the Laguna Meadows and then contours along in pine-oak forest, through to Boot Springs, before loop- ing back around along the base of Emory Peak back to The Basin. While a somewhat long hike, the scenery and variety of habitats that you pass through is unrivaled in the park. Birdlife along this loop is just as varied, starting out with dawn- singing Ash-throated Flycatchers, garishly colored Varied Buntings, and raucous Cactus Wrens down low; as the elevation increases a more mon- tane inuence appears with species such as“gigantic”Blue-throated Hum-
noisy Black-crested and rollicking Mexican
Jays. The real reason, though, that most birders would want to hike this trail, though, is of course the Colima Warber – nowhere else do you have a realistic chance of seeing this species in the US. Any trip to Big Bend shouldn’t neglect the desert that makes up the majority of the park though. The quality of the Chihuahuan Desert here is simply stunning; with a cactus density I haven’t seen anywhere else in the United States, and so much stark, gorgeous scenery that you’ll want to spend a week exploring the area. The best birding in the lower parts of the park is at a place called Blue Creek; and, in April at least, this is the place to see another of Big Bend’s agship species, Lucifer Hummingbird. The diversity of the national park includes more than just mountains and deserts. After birding the Chisos and Blue Creek I typically head over to the far eastern end of the road, to Rio Grande Village right on the banks of its namesake river. Here a riparian corridor hugs the murky waters, and provides a home to a whole new suite of birds. Golden-fronted Woodpeck- ers scream from the cottonwoods, Vermilion Flycatchers sally o of BBQ grates in the parking area, and, for the lucky, a stately Common Black-Hawk may soar overhead. The other reason I come to Big Bend, though, has nothing to do with birds. Ever since I started trying to see as many buttery species in the US as I could, a few years ago, I have stopped by this remote corner of Texas a number of times. At least four species that can be found at Big Bend are found nowhere else in the country (Chisos Metalmark, Skipperling, and
and and a
Bromeliad number of
covered in a myriad of buttery species, is simply sublime. Perhaps that word describes Big Bend better than any other: sublime. It has been far too long since I’ve visited this natural wonder, and as I sit here on another continent I nd myself wondering when it is I will get back. I can’t help but feel that it won’t be soon enough.
Our West Texas tour scheduled for 26 May - 4 June 2011 visits this magnificent birding site
mingbirds, gleaming Painted