Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Bowl

Tejas Trail Panorama
There it was, the last big birding hike I had never done. The Bowl, a reputed Shangi-La of hard to find montane species in Texas. Trouble is getting there. The Bowl is 2,300 - 2,500 feet above the Pine Springs Campground depending on which National Park Service webpage you land on. There are two routes to get there. You can take the 2 mile mostly straight up route through Bear Canyon (see my attempt at that route in January) or the kinder, gentler route of the Tejas Trail. Finding a good estimate of the distance is hard, but average estimates are 3.1 miles with plenty of switchbacks. We were two guys in their 50's who don't get enough exercise, We opted for the Tejas Trail.

We were a little lazy and started out about 6:30 am  mountain time on the trail. The trail is good enough that you could do a lot of it in the dark if you wanted. I took a GPS reading as we left and it showed the elevation as 5,811 feet. That's about 400 feet higher that the Chisos Basin in Big Bend.

6,500 feet on the Tejas Trail looking
back at Pine Springs Campground
The Tejas Trail is pretty open and its all creosote and sotol with and occasional madron or juniper tree. We tallied 14 species on the trail, all expected open semi-desert species. At 6500 feet it felt like we were getting close. Actually we were just getting into the switchbacks.

Over all the trail isn't bad, I don't think the hike is as hard as the Boot Springs Trail in Big Bend. The views are much more spectacular too because you can see so far.

Halfway up the Tejas Trail, note the trail in
front we still had to go, 6,965 feet
We rounded a ridge feeling like we really were about there and saw how much trail was in front of us. At 6,965 feet at 9:40 am we really were at about the halfway mark.

Selfie at the top of the trail
We chugged along making the rest of the trail in about 90 minutes. As we climbed on to the plateau that is The Bowl habitat we suddenly were in pines and oak trees. I took a GPS reading, 7,899 feet. Emory Peak in Big Bend is 7,825 feet and Mount Livermore in the Davis Mountains is 8,375 feet. We were still well below Guadalupe Peak at 8,751, but we were now birding the "Roof of Texas" (eBird checklist for the Tejas Trail)

Down to business, the reason we made this trek was to find Pygmy Nuthatch. We started working our way to the Bowl Loop proper through pines and oaks. White-breasted Nuthatches seemed to be everywhere. Lots and lots of Bushtits. Dave spied a yellow warbler that turned out to be an immature Wilson's Warbler. The next mixed flock yielded Townsend's Warbler for Year Bird 454.

On the Bowl Loop proper we heard some high pitched nuthatches off trail. Like a bloodhound on the trail I went after them, Dave followed. Finally Dave spotted one at the top of a dead pine. Pygmy Nuthatch was Year Bird 455. (ebird checklist for The Bowl)

We finished the loop, 4.7 miles according to one website I consulted. As we were about to start our decent the outflow from a thunderstorm reached us, the wind picking up and dropping the temperature at least 10 degrees in a flash. That was good because we didn't have a lot of water left. Speaking of water, while we passed only a few people on the trail, it seemed I was the only one who didn't have a Camelbak hydration pack on. It looked really convenient to just sip from a tube instead of getting a bottle out every time. I think I'm going to get something like the Camelbak Rim Runner 22 for my next long hot hike.

We made it down to camp in less than 2 hours. Actually I found the scramble down more treacherous than the trip up just because of all the loose rock and gravel. The camp was wet but everything dried in a short time in the West Texas low humidity.

Black-throated Gray Warbler stares me
down at the Frijole Ranch, GMNP
We slept in the next morning all the way to 7 am! After striking camp we headed over to the Frijole Ranch to make another try at Juniper Titmouse. We worked the area for 45 minutes with not a whole lot moving. The gully right by the ranch house proved again to be the hot spot. We decided to check it again before leaving and Dave pulled a new one for me out of the ether, Black-throated Gray Warbler for Year Bird 456. (eBird checklist for Frijole Ranch)

So I dipped on the Juniper Titmouse. I will have to make it up when I try to make up Sagebrush Sparrow. Once winter gets here. Winter is going to be crazy. I've now birded Guadalupe Mountains National Park three times this year and I see a forth time in my future.

We discussed diverting to Granger Lake to search for the Sabine's Gull reported there but the reports appeared that it had already moved on, so we headed home while I plotted the end of year route through west Texas that seems inevitable.


  1. I love my Camelback. I have one a little smaller than that but you will want to have room for more stuff. I use it for hiking, paddling, and biking. Just be sure you also add the turn off valve just before the mouthpiece. Think that is an added piece.

  2. Cannot help but note that your selfie at the top of the trail has a thinner face than the Blog thumbprint photo of you. Hiking + Birding = good health! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  3. Enjoyed reading and seeing the pics. Thanks for taking the time to post. My wife and I bike a lot and believe in Camelbaks. Osprey makes good hydration packs as well.

  4. David, I'm wondering if a lot of these high elevation birds can get gotten by driving up to Dog Canyon? Might save a lot of hiking??

    1. Mary Beth, the eBird list for Dog Canyon lists many of them, but not Pygmy Nuthatch. Since Dog Canyon is a jumping off point to the higher elevations I'm not sure if some of the high elevation species reported there are actually further up the trail. I may give it a try though since it looks like a good site for Juniper Titmouse