Chuck & Jaye's Big Bend, Texas Trip
March 17 - 24, 2001

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Several years ago we had told Chuck's parents that we would take them to Big Bend National Park for their 60th wedding anniversery.  They had been there in May several years ago when it was already getting quite warm and they wanted to go back when it was cooler and more enjoyable.  We had never been to the Big Bend area and wanted to go.  We had been "close" at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park several years ago, so we sort of knew what to expect.

We knew that this would not be a "power birding" trip and we also knew that we would be too early for the Big Bend specialities such as Colima Warbler and Lucifer Hummingbird.  But we knew that even with casual birding we would see many good species.

Regardless of the birds, the trip is worth it for the fantastic scenery and geology that the area has to offer.  Southwest Texas, like much of the rest of the state, has suffered through five to six years of drought.  It's hard to think of a desert experiencing drought, but they had.  More normal winter precipitation occurred this winter and the desert was responding with abundant blooms!  Bob Gress had visited the area the week before we did and e-mailed me with the notice that, "the desert is in bloom!"  He was right and it was awesome!

Trip Details
We left Junction City, Kansas, on Saturday morning, March 17th.  We traveled south to Wichita, KS, then on to Oklahoma City, OK.  Then we angled over to Lawton OK after an all to brief stop at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.  It alone is worth a trip back to Oklahoma!  We had no concrete plans for the trip down, or back, so we pushed on into Texas at Wichita Falls and then into Abilene to spend the night.

We left Abilene in good season Sunday morning and headed cross country to Alpine by way of San Angelo and Fort Stockton.  Birding along the way was typical causal roadside birding.  Stops at picnic areas did net us several species such as Western Scrub Jay and Curve-billed Thrasher.  One power line laden stretch of road also gave us some good views of side by side Turkey and Black Vultures.  Chuck's mom is a birdwatcher but never had the opportunity to see these species together for definitive comparisons.  We arrived mid-afternoon in Alpine, checked into our motel and then visited the Big Bend Museum on the campus of Sul Ross State University.  After dinner the three birders (Chuck's dad is not a birder, but fortunately very tolerant) walked the campus at the quaint little University.  Chuck immediately obtained his only lifer for the trip, White-winged Dove.  Jaye already had this bird on her list, but Chuck needed it.  He got to see a lot of them!

We stayed in Alpine, Texas (a delightful little town - contact me for recommendations for lodging and eating establishments) and day tripped out for the four days we were in the area.  We spent two days doing the National Park, one day in the Davis Mountains and the last day doing the loop that included Big Bend Ranch State Park, Presidio and Marfa.  The first day we took the east entrance into the park and concentrated on the Rio Grande Village area.  The second day we hit the Chisos Basin area and then down the west side of the park to the Santa Elena Canyon area.  Wow, will be a sufficient adjective to describe this section of the park!

Wednesday we headed up to the Davis Mountains and intentionally kept this a shorter more casual day.  The Davis Mountains State Park was a wonderful area with a nice interpretative center.  Acorn Woodpeckers were in the poles nearby and Black-chinned Hummingbirds were visiting the feeders already.  About two weeks prior to our arrival the Montezuma Quail had literally disappeared from the area and were only occasionally/rarely being seen.  We didn't see them.  We continued exploring up Hiway 118 including stops at the McDonald Observatory (complete with picnic lunch with a flock of Bushtits) and picnic areas up and down the roadside.

Our last day in the area, we headed back to the river and drove through the valley at Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Birding was not the best this day, but again the scenery and history were great.  A stop for a picnic lunch at Fort Leaton State Historical Park did net us the only Inca Doves of the trip.  There was a dripping faucet next to our picnic table and the Inca Doves were wanting to come in for a drink.  They were quite bold and would walk to within a few feet of the picnic table.  Chuck's father (who has typical hearing loss for a retired farmer in his 80s) was quite started that such a little bird could make enough noise for even him to hear!)  Jaye and Chuck ended Thursday with a trip back to the Mysterious Marfa Lights viewing area.  There were about 20 other cars there and we saw some strange lights.  (Ask us for more details.)

We left for home on Friday and headed for the Panhandle area.  We passed through Odessa/Midland, Lubbock and Amarillo where we surprised Chuck's parents with a stop at Palo Dura Canyon. This is truly one of the hidden wonder of Texas!  Then we ran square into the teeth of a great thunderstorm before stopping for the night at Dumas, Texas.  Saturday the 24th brought us back into Kansas at Elkhart with brief stops at the Elkart Cemetery and Sewer Ponds.  A brief mid-afternoon stop at Cheyenne Bottoms added most of the waterfowl for the trip list.

We will return some year in May for more hard core birding and the Big Bend specialties.  Even our casual birding yielded 76 Texas species (adding 28 to our Texas Life Lists) and a total of 105 species for the entire trip.  I was somewhat surprised by the lack of sparrow species.  Sure, we had numerous Spotted and Canyon Towhees (yet missed Green-tailed).  We had many Black-throated Sparrows (one of Chuck's favorites) and a surprising number of White-crowned Sparrows.  Other than that we had fair numbers of Junco's (most of the Gray-headed variety) and then a couple of Chipping sparrows and a couple of flocks of Lark Buntings.  I'm sure that had we been able to start earlier in the day and walk more trails, we would have added quite a few more sparrows.

Vermilion Flycatchers were quite abundant in the Rio Grande Village area and were greatly appreciated.  Black Phoebe's were more abundant than we had suspected, much to Chuck's pleasure.  Pyrrhuloxias and Phainopeplas are always a delight as were the Verdins, Bushtits and all those other "common" southwestern species.

Two highlights come to mind.  The first was a flyover of a Common Black Hawk while we were picnicing at the Rio Grande Village.  It was a slow, low pass that we both first almost dismissed as a vulture.  The second highlight was with a very common species, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  We were on the starting stretch of the Laguna Meadow trail when noises in some trees stopped us.  We waited and pished and squeaked and soon had over 20 Ruby-crowned Kinglets milling all about us in the trees.  A few other species came in to inspect the commotion, but it was just plain fun to to have these little rascals dripping all about us!

Closing Thoughts
This is a brief synopsis of a great trip.  Feel free to contact us at for more details on anything.  The full state by state bird list can be found here.  I've also added a page of a few pictures (mainly flowers) that Chuck took in the Park.  If you've never been to Big Bend, start planning now!!!!!

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