Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Up, Then Down, Then Up Again

Big Bend Selfie, Myself, David Simpson, and Clay
We are up at 3 am and on our way up the mountain at 3:15 am. The plan is to be at Boot Springs for dawn chorus. We have about 2 hours and 45 minutes to make the 4.5 miles and climb about 1,300 feet. We’re hoping for some night birds on the way up the mountain. There was rain most of the night but it had stopped by 3 am as predicted and the trail presents no problem other than its dark, steep, and rocky. Hiking with a headlamp feels like walking through a tunnel. Since the plan is to be gone only about 6 hours we take just the minimum, water, snacks, and Cliff Bar’s for breakfast.

It’s completely overcast, we can’t see any stars or the moon. We hear nothing for the first 2.5 miles and 90 minutes. At the top of switch back 19 (did I mention there are 21 switch backs on the trail?) David and I hear a Mexican Whip-poor-will give a couple of calls for Year Bird 414 and then go quiet. Clay missed it unfortunately. After those calls it stays silent though. We finish the switch backs and cross below the Pinnacles and catch our breath. We see the edge of the clouds moving across the sky revealing stars as they go. In a few minutes the moon is out and the Mexican Whip-poor-Will’s start calling all around us. We can hear dozens. The trail levels out and we make quick time to Boot Springs and get there about 6:30 am.

For the first few minutes we only hear the whips. Some other birds are waking in though. We pick out Hammond’s Flycatcher for Year Bird 415, Cordilleran Flycatcher for Year Bird 416, Hutton’s Vireo for Year Bird 417, and Plumbeous Vireo for Year Bird 418. Nice but not the bird we came for. We heard a Western Tanager calling, and then one that sounded exactly like a Flame-colored Tanager. Unfortunately hybrid as well as pure Flame-colored Tanager have been reported here and we never see this bird.

We soon have a hummingbird zipping around with a district trill, Broad-tailed Hummingbird for Year Bird 419. Another giant bruiser of a hummingbird perches in view, Blue-throated Hummingbird for Year Bird 420.

"The Boot" Big Bend National Park
Finally we hear a Colima Warbler for year bird 421. A few minutes later I get some really good looks at this life bird. We spend a few more minutes at Boot Springs but since we have a long way to go today we headed down the mountain.

Right past the boot we hear a horse “hu whoo, hu whoo” call that at first I take for Great Horned Owl. Then we realize we’re hearing a calling Band-tailed Pigeon for Year Bird 422.

We keep an eye out for the Short-tailed Hawks that has been reported from the Pinnacles Trail. It turns out they had last been reported on May 10 and it was now May 12. Oh well we got the Northern Pygmy-Owl.

Almost at the bottom of the switch backs we get a glimpse of a thrush. We chase it down a couple of short switch backs and it turns out to be a Hermit Thrush, a thrush I had lost hope of getting in the Classic.

We get out of the Basin quickly once we get of the trail and head for Cottonwood Campground. The 45 MPH speed limit of the park it feels like a very long drive to Cottonwood, but we get there is good time. The curvy nature of the road make is hard to start at 45 MPG for very long anyway.

Even though it’s getting late in the morning Cottonwood is birdy and full of birders too. One helpful birder gets us on a roosting Great Horned owl that we were missing still for the Classic. Lots of kingbirds and we soon pick out Cassin’s Kingbird for Year Bird 423.  We start working the brush line at the edge of the campground and pick up Lucy’s Warbler for Year Bird 424.

All our target birds for Big Bend National Park are behind us so we head out. Our next stop is Carolyn Ohl’s Oasis in the Christmas Mountains. This is my first visit here even though I've tried to come a couple of times before but couldn't make it because of timing. Even though the Big Bend Country is as green as I've ever seen it the oasis stands out as a dark green lush spot in the hills. A few minutes after we get there Carolyn offers to take us to the favorite perch of a Lucifer Hummingbird up the arroyo a bit. A couple of minutes later he is there as promised on the perch, Lucifer Hummingbird as Year Bird 425.

We spend a few more minutes looking for MacGillivay’s Warbler under the shade of the oasis. We get great looks at Varied Bunting for Year Bird 426.

It would be easy to linger here for hours, but we have miles to go today. We push on to the Davis Mountains. On the drive in to Alpine from the south I watch the GPS and I’m struck by the altitude of the road, for a good distance it’s higher than most of the scenic loop in the Davis Mountains. I wonder why there isn't more birding on this road.

On to the mountains. We’re still missing Black-chinned Sparrow and we use the Birdseye App on my phone and see one reported recently from a picnic area right by the McDonald Observatory. We head there and not one minute out of the car we hear one singing. Birdseye comes through again.

Montezuma Quail at the Davis Mountain's State Park
We head on to Davis Mountains State Park hoping to snag a few goodies there before the sun sets. We head straight to the bird blind and as we approach a woman sticks her head out the door and in a loud stage whisper says “He’s here right now!”  Oh yes you most annoying of nemesis birds we know who she was talking about. Montezuma’s Quail poses for pictures as Year Bird 427.

There is a second bird blind at Davis Mountains State Park by the interpretive center. We go check that out and its hopping. A vireo comes in and it proves to be a Cassin’s Vireo for Year Bird 428.

We to the campground hoping to find a Western Screech-Owl that was reported the week before. We sit down to wait for sundown but the wind has really picked up. After about a 15 minute wait we decided to call it a day and try again tomorrow. Tomorrow is the last day and we have a long way to go!

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