Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, May 9th - 15th 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


by Tyler Hicks
uplandsandpiper at hotmail.com

May 9: I left Mulvane, Kansas at 8 am and arrived in Pecos, Texas at around 7 pm just in time for a torrential hail storm with marble to golf ball sized hail. Not much to see along the way other than Mississippi Kites and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

May 10: Left Pecos, TX early and traveled to Lake Balmorhea. Highlights here included Clark's Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Greater Roadrunner (with lizard), Scaled Quail, and a Belted Kingfisher. Afterwards I went to Balmorhea State Park, a wonderful park for birding and snorkeling. Birding highlights were a Pied-billed Grebe (in the pool I was snorkeling in), Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Vermillion Flycatchers, Cave Swallows (nesting), and Bullock's and Orchard Orioles. I spent a couple of hours snorkeling in the large pool where I saw many species of fish (including the endangered Comanche Springs Pupfish, it looks similar to a greenish-yellow puffer fish) and softshell turtles.

Next I went to Davis Mountains State Park to set up camp for the night. I asked about Montezuma Quail at the front desk and I was told that they are very difficult to see. Well, duhhhh! Just after erecting the tent rain began to fall, followed by thunder and lightening. I looked at the Montezuma Quail sightings board and most sighting were coming from near the McDonald Observatory. I decided to make a run at it and drove to the observatory. I parked in the visitor's center parking lot near Smokey the Bear and walked down into the woods. Within a few minutes I spotted a pair of Montezuma Quail running around in the brush. I got incredible looks at a male and female. They are amazingly tame and allowed me to walk within a couple meters of them before running off to safety. As I returned to the car in the parking lot they began calling from down below. Montezuma Quail are truly eerie sounding birds.

I then began driving back towards Davis Mts SP on 118 and as the road leaves the mountain behind and levels out I saw two lumps on the side of the road. Suddenly I realized they were Montezuma Quail. I slammed on the brakes nearly giving the driver behind me a heart attack! I backed up right next to the quail who seemed completely oblivious to my presence. I was literally within feet of them. I took some great photos and drove off leaving them next to the road. I spent the evening birding Davis Mountains State Park where there are plenty of other birds to see. In the few hours before sunset I saw Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Cassin's Kingbird (everywhere), Bushtit, Black-crested Titmouse, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Scott's Oriole. I also heard Montezuma Quail calling on the hillside to the west above the primitive camping area. That night I fell asleep to rain, Elf Owls, and Common Poorwills.

May 11: That morning I decided to do some birding to let the tent dry out. I drove west on 118 to the Wilson Picnic Area. About 2 or 3 miles past the turnoff for the observatory I had a male Montezuma Quail run across the road and pose for me. I couldn't believe it! Another Montezuma Quail. At the Wilson Picnic Area I had Acorn Woodpecker, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Canyon Wren, and Western Bluebird. I then returned to Davis Mountains State Park and packed my things. In the office I was told of about the Common Black-Hawk nest along 118 a few miles east of the entrance to the park across from the crosses. I stopped and looked for the nest for half of an hour and saw no sign of a nest or a Common Black-Hawk. Afterwards I started towards Big Bend National Park. South of Alpine at a roadside rest stop I had a Bell's Vireo and a Black-crested Titmouse. Coming in on the west side of Big Bend I saw several Cactus Wrens, Pyrrhuloxia and Lark Sparrows. I set up camp in the Basin and spent the rest of the day birding the Window's Trail. Highlights along the trail included Elf Owl, Acorn Woodpecker, Plumbeous Vireo, Mexican Jay, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, Varied Bunting (above the sewer ponds), and Scott's Oriole.

May 12: Started out hiking up to Boot Springs via the Laguna Meadows trail. At the junctions of this trail with the Pinnacles or 'Emory Peak' Trail I had a singing Black-chinned Sparrow that offered great looks and responded well to pishing. About a 1/2 mile from the pass into Laguna Meadows I heard my first Colima Warbler. I imitated a Western Screech-owl and was soon surrounded by White-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, MacGillivary's Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Wilson's Warbler, and Spotted Towhee. Oh yeah and a Colima Warbler! In Laguna Meadows I saw several more Colima Warblers as well as a Broad-tailed Hummingbird and Hutton's Vireos. I set up at campsite Colima 3 and hiked down to Boot Springs. The creek was running wonderfully and the canyon is absolutely gorgeous. Highlights here included Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Acorn Woodpecker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Canyon Wren, Colima Warbler, Painted Redstart, and Hepatic Tanager. That evening while walking back up to my campsite several Whip-poor-wills began calling. Just after sunset a Flammulated Owl began calling near my camp. I was able to coax it in with ease for some fantastic looks. Later on in the night I heard Western Screech-Owl as well.

May 13: Spent the morning birding Boot Springs with nothing much new. However I did find a Painted Redstart nest. I then began hiking back towards the Basin via the Pinnacles Trail. About a 1/2 miles from Boot Springs I had a pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers singing. I continued to encounter Colima Warblers all the way to the Emory Peak Trail. On the hike down I saw a few more Hutton's Vireo and heard one Colima Warbler singing. The real highlight was a Texas Alligator Lizard, a rare and docile lizard. After returning to the Basin I drove to the Rio Grande Village for a much needed shower. I stopped at Dugout Wells on the way where I saw Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Bullock's Oriole, and House Finches.

At RGV I stopped at the Common Black-Hawk nest grove east of the store. There didn't appear to much happening so I went down to the picnic area. There were many birds moving around here including: Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Summer Tanager, Painted Buntings, and Orchard Orioles. After lunch with a pair of Greater Roadrunners I went to shower. After a shower I walked around in the campground behind the store. I also checked out the boat ramp and the amphitheater. Some new species I found here included: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Ground-Doves, Brown-crested Flycatchers (singing), Verdin, Carolina Wren (rare in the park), and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. I then returned to the Common Black-Hawk nest where I waited for thirty minutes. As I was about to leave one began to scream and took flight, giving me great looks in flight! I then went to the nature trail on the far east end of the RGV. Here I saw a Black Vulture, Least Bittern, 'Mexican' Mallards, Black Phoebe, and had both Lesser and Common Nighthawks feeding over the marsh in the evening. On the drive back that night I saw a Coyote and several kangaroo rats. I swung through Dugout Wells and had great looks at a Common Poorwill feeding near the windmill.

May 14: Rose early and drove to the Blue Creek Canyon trailhead. I started the three-mile hike up to a patch of tobacco tree that was supposedly blooming and good for Lucifer Hummingbird. On the way I encountered Black-chinned Hummingbird, many empidonax flycatchers, Gray Vireo, Bell's Vireo (common), Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Swainson's Thrush, Pyrrhuloxia, and many Varied Buntings. After hiking over 3 miles I gave up on the Lucifer and returned to the car. I then went to Sam Neil Ranch where I had a Crissal Thrasher across the road from the parking area. From SNR I went to the Cottonwood Campground where I saw many of the same birds I had seen at RGV plus Inca Doves. I decided to make one more try at Lucifer Hummingbird. It was the middle of the day and luckily some heavy cloud cover rolled in to cool it off a little. I ended up hiking over 4 1/2 miles up into Blue Creek Canyon and never found any blooming tobacco tree. I did find some small clumps of bright red flowers. I spent time at several of these only to see Black-chinned Hummingbirds. I had hiked so far up I was back into Hutton's Vireos and Mexican Jays. I eventually gave up and started the long and hot hike out of the canyon. On the way back I entered a large open area just before the large rock formations begin and saw a hummingbird sitting on top of tree. It had a hunchback look to it, a decurved bill, and small narrow tail. LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD! I spent thirty minutes watching him feed on some red flower spikes. I got great looks at his gorget when he would turn to look at me. I ended seeing one more male also perched on top of tree about as 1/4 down the canyon. Victorious I returned to the car and drove to the Basin for good meal at the restaurant and a beer.

May 15: Left the Basin early for the long drive to Alabama. North of the park along 385 I saw several Swainson's and Red-tailed Hawks. My last new trip bird was a Prairie Falcon about 30 miles north of Panther Junction.

Species List:

1. Pied-billed Grebe - one bird at Balmorhea State Park
2. Eared Grebe - several birds at Lake Balmorhea
3. Clark's Grebe - one at Lake Balmorhea
4. Least Bittern - one along the boardwalk at RGV
5. Great Blue Heron - several in the Balmorhea area
6. Snowy Egret - one Lake Balmorhea
7. Great Egret - several Lake Balmorhea
8. Little Blue Heron - one over Pecos
9. Green Heron - one Balmorhea State Park
10. White-faced Ibis - seven at Lake Balmorhea
11. Black Vulture - 2-3 RGV
12. Turkey Vulture - common throughout the Trans-Pecos
13. Wood Duck - 2 Lake Balmorhea
14. 'Mexican' Mallard - several Lake Balmorhea & along the nature trail at RGV
15. Mississippi Kite - two at Pecos
16. Cooper's Hawk - one at a roadside rest stop south of Balmorhea
17. Swainson's Hawk - common in most areas besides the Davis Mts. And Big Bend NP
18. Red-tailed Hawk - uncommon with widely scattered pairs, Chisos Basin is a good spot
19. Prairie Falcon - one 30 miles north of the park along Highway 385
20. Wild Turkey - a few birds in the Davis Mts feeding along roadside
21. Scaled Quail - common in lowland desert
22. Montezuma Quail - 2 in the woodland sw below the parking area at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mts., 2 east of the McDonald Observatory along 118 feeding across from several houses with green steel roofs, one 2 to 3 miles west of the McDonald Observatory along 118, 1 heard singing at Davis Mts. SP to the west above the primitive camping area.
23. American Coot - Lake Balmorhea, Balmorhea SP, & RGV nature trail
24. Killdeer - 1 Lake Balmorhea
25. Black Tern - 2 Lake Balmorhea
6. Rock Pigeon - urban areas
27. Eurasian Collared-Doves - common in most urban areas
28. White-winged Dove - common in lowlands up to Chisos Basin where they are tame
29. Mourning Dove - common in lowlands
30. Inca Dove - several at Cottonwood Campground
31. Common Ground-Dove - several near amphitheater RGV
32. Yellow-billed Cuckoo - a handful at RGV & Cottonwood
33. Greater Roadrunner - common in lowlands up to Chisos Basin, tame in RGV
34. Western Sreech-Owl - heard near Boot Spring
35. Flammulated Owl - heard and seen in Chisos near Boot Spring at Colima #3
36. Elf Owl - common at Davis Mts SP & in the Basin
37. Lesser Nighthawk - several at RGV
38. Common Nighthawk - heard and saw a few at RGV
39. Common Poorwill - heard at Davis Mts SP & seen at Dugout Wells
40. Whip-poor-will - several calling in Chisos Mts near Boot Springs
41. Chimney Swift - several at Pecos and Alpine
42. White-throated Swift - common in Chisos Mts., difficult to see from the Basin easier to see along the Pinnacles Trail
43. Blue-throated Hummingbird - 5 male "Peeping" along the stream at Boot Springs
44. Lucifer Hummingbird - 2 males Blue Creek Canyon trail after leaving large rock formations
45. Black-chinned Hummingbird - Davis Mts SP & Blue Creek Canyon
46. Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Davis Mts, the Basin, & Laguna Meadows
47. Belted Kingfisher - Balmorhea SP
48. Acorn Woodpecker - common in the Davis & Chisos Mts
49. Golden-fronted Woodpecker - common at RGV and Cottonwood
50. Ladder-backed Woodpecker - common in all areas with cavity trees
51. Western Wood-Pewee - several in the Davis Mts, a few in the Basin
52. Willow Flycatchers - assuming most here are Willows, a few at RGV and in Blue Creek Canyon
53. Hammond's Flycatcher - a possible bird in Blue Creek Canyon
54. Gray Flycatcher - Blue Creek Canyon, singing
55. Cordilleran Flycatcher - Wilson Picnic Area in Davis Mts & common near Boot Springs
56. Black Phoebe - RGV nature trail
57. Say's Phoebe - common throughout
58. Vermillion Flycatcher - common anywhere there are cottonwoods & water
59. Dusky-capped Flycatcher - 2 on the upper part of the Pinnacles Trail
60. Ash-throated Flycatcher - common in the Davis Mts and Big Bend
61. Brown-capped Flycatcher - 2 RGV singing near store
62. Cassin's Kingbird - most common kingbird in Davis Mts
63. Western Kingbird - common
64. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - a few scattered pairs along 118 and 385 north of Big Bend NP
65. Loggerhead Shrike - uncommon in lowlands of Big Bend
66. Bell's Vireo - nearly abundant in lowland of Big Bend esp. Blue Creek Canyon & RGV
67. Gray Vireo - 7 pairs in Blue Creek Canyon, most are high on the hillsides but I encountered a few pairs along the wash about 2 miles from the trailhead
68. Plumbeous Vireo - 1 bird along Window Trail
69. Hutton's Vireo - common in higher elevations of Chisos, Boot Springs, Laguna Meadows, upper Blue Creek Canyon
70. Western Scub-Jay - common at Davis Mts SP
71. Mexican Jay - common in the Basin and higher
72. Chihuahuan Raven - a few south of Pecos and in Big Bend
73. Common Raven - common in Davis Mts and Chisos Mts
74. Violet-green Swallow - common in highlands of Davis and Chisos Mts
75. Cliff Swallow - common
76. Cave Swallow - several nesting at Balmorhea SP
77. Barn Swallow - several scattered pairs along highways
78. Black-crested Titmouse - common in wooded areas from lowlands up to highlands in Davis Mt and Chisos Mts
79. Verdin - several in RGV mesquite
80. Bushtit - common in juniper/oak woodlands of Trans-Pecos with a few in the lowlands
81. White-breasted Nuthatch - oak woodlands of Davis Mts and Chisos Mts
82. Cactus Wren - a few at Davs Mts SP, common in lowlands & Basin in Big Bend
83. Canyon Wren - Wilson Picnic Area Davis Mts, common in Big Bend from lowlands to highlands
84. Carolina Wren - 1 at RGV near boat ramp, casual summer resident in park
85. Bewick's Wren - common in brush areas, especially mountains
86. Marsh Wren - 2 along the nature trail at RGV
87. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - common in Davis & Chisos Mts
88. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - common at RGV & Sam Neil Ranch
89. Western Bluebird - 2 at Wilson Picnic Area in Davis Mts
90. Swainson's Thrush - 2 Blue Creek Canyon
91. Hermit Thrush - 1 Laguna Meadows trail
92. Northern Mockingbird - annoyingly abundant
93. Crissal Thrasher - 1 at Sam Neil Ranch
94. European Starling - urban areas
95. Colima's Warbler - common along Laguna Meadows trail, Boot Springs, & upper Pinnacles trail
96. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) - common in Chisos Mts, a few at Dugout Wells and RGV
97. MacGillivary's Warbler - 1 Laguna Meadows Trail
98. Common Yellowthroat - Balmorhea SP, RGV, & Dugout Wells
99. Wilson's Warbler - Laguna Meadows Trail & Dugout Wells
100. Yellow-breasted Chat - common along Rio Grande river & Dugout Wells
101. Hepatic Tanager - 1 at Boot Springs
102. Summer Tanager - common at RGV & Cottonwood
103. Western Tanager - scattered birds at Davis Mts SP, the Basin, and Boot Springs
104. Spotted Towhee - common in Davis and Chisos Mts
105. Canyon Towhee - same as Spotted
106. Rufous-crowned Sparrow - in rocky wooded areas of Davis & Chisos Mts
107. Chipping Sparrow - 3 at McDonald Observatory, Davis Mts
108. Black-chinned Sparrow - 1 along Laguna Meadows trail
109. Lark Sparrow - common
110. Black-throated Sparrow - common in lowlands of Big Bend
111. Lark Bunting - 1 south of Pecos, late?
112. Northern Cardinal - common in Big Bend with a few in the Davis Mts
113. Pyrrhuloxia - common in lowlands of Big Bend, esp RGV
114. Black-headed Grosbeak - common in Davis & Chisos Mts
115. Blue Grosbeak - common in lowlands of Big Bend, RGV
116. Lazuli Bunting - one along Windows Trail in the Basin
117. Varied Bunting - one along Windows Trail above sewer ponds and common in Blue Creek Canyon
118. Painted Bunting - common in RGV and Cottonwood
119. Red-winged Blackbird - 1 Balmorhea SP
120. Western Meadowlark - a few south of Pecos
121. Great-tailed Grackle - common in lowlands
122. Common Grackle - one in RGV near store
123. Brown-headed Cowbird - common
124. Orchard Oriole - common in lowlands: Balmorhea SP, RGV, Cottonwood, Dugut Wells
125. Bullock's Oriole - RGV & Balmorhea SP
126. Scott's Oriole - common at Davis Mts SP & in the Basin
127. House Finch - Dugout Wells & Wilson Picnic Area, Davis Mts
128. Lesser Goldfinch - common at RGV (Black-backed) & Balmorhea SP (Green-backed) with a few widely scattered individual in lowlands
129. House Sparrow - urban


Javelinas - many in the Basin camping area, 1 with 2 piglets north of park along 385
Kangaroo rats - Big Bend lowlands
Coyote - RGV
Rock Squirrels - several in lowlands and highlands
Ground-squirrels - Balmorhea SP
Bat sp. - in several location
Pronghorn - several south of Alpine
White-tailed Deer - common


Mountain Patchnose Snake - west side of park on road
Greater Earless Lizard - common in lowlands of Big Bend
Round-tailed Horned Lizard - south of Alpine
Desert Spiny Lizard - RGV
Crevice Spiny Lizard - common in Boot Springs
Checkered Whiptail - common
Spotted Whiptail - common
Texas Alligator Lizard - one along the Pinnacles trail
Canyon Treefrog - Boot Springs
Bullfrog - RGV (introduced)
Texas Spiny Softshell Turtle - Balmorhea SP & RGV
Big Bend Slider - RGV
Red-ear Slider - RGV
Plain-bellied Watersnake - Balmorhea State Park


Tarantulas - Davis Mts SP & Big Bend roads
Millipedes - thousands crossing Big Bend roads
Fish species - Channel catfish, Mexican tetra, Comanche Springs Pupfish, and several other fish sp. at Balmorhea SP

Advice for birders in the Big Bend area: Bring lots of water, try camping at Boot Springs instead of just hiking in & out in one day, bring a healthy supply of cash into Big Bend NP as there are no ATMs & no other way to get cash (you will need the change to take a shower at RGV if you are camping so bring a roll of quarters), and enjoy the desert.