Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Boot

My original plan was to head for Big Bend National Park last week, but the Crown Mountain Fire closed the trails in the Chisos Mountains and access to one of the two species you must get in Big Bend National Park. In Texas Mexican Jay is only present the Chisos Mountains, but they are resident. Colima Warbler is the other and they are present from maybe early April through August. Of course, you want them singing so May is the ideal time to go to Big Bend for a big year.

I left Houston Monday morning at 2 am headed west. I made good time and got to Panther Junction by 12:30 pm. As I was coming into the park there were warnings of full camp grounds, but I had no problem getting a site in Boot Canyon. My goal was to spend the night in Boot Canyon to maximize my chances at a Flammulated Owl.

Mexican Jay
First things first, I wanted to check out the water treatment plant for Blue-throated Hummingbirds. I headed down the service road and almost right away I had a troop of Mexican Jays for Year Bird 458. Hepatic Tanagers and Western Wood-Pewees were abundant. At the plant itself a beautiful Varied Bunting sang in the open for Year Bird 459. I found the tobacco plants where the Blue-throated Hummers where supposed to be. Not much activity, a Black-chinned Hummingbird was a good sign though. After waiting a while a Black-headed Grosbeak popped up and I did a few Western Screech-Owl toots to see if I could get it a little closer for a photo. Like rocket out of nowhere as make Blue-throated Hummingbird jetted in for Year Bird 460.

Ok time to get up the hill. It was three o’clock now and I got saddled up so to speak for my big hike. I got all loaded up and got about 200 feet down the trail and realized I didn’t have my permit on me, back to the car to get it. I then got about 300 feet down the trail and realized I forgot my flashlight and headlamp. Back again to the car for it. Ok this start was for real.

Varied Bunting
I made the Juniper Flats in good time, 50 minutes by my app for the first mile. Lots of Acrom Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays to entertain me while I pushed on with 40-50 pounds more than I was used to on my back. Two miles down and I was keeping under an hour per mile. I started into the switchbacks on the Pinnacles Trail. There are 21 switchbacks on the trail. Somewhere I got confused and wasn’t sure if my count was correct. On switchback 16 I head a call I was looking for, then a warbler landed in the tree in front of me. Colima Warbler sang for me for Year Bird 461.

Colima Warbler
Turns out my count was correct and at switch back 21 I topped the Pinnacles Trail at 3.8 miles and 6947 feet above sea level, and elevation change of 1600 feet from the parking lot. I stopped worrying about having to stop before I got there. I made good tome on the next mile was in Boot Canyon before I knew it. The spring and stream were flowing strong enough to hear.

By the time I made it to my site I had covered 5.25 miles in 4.5 hours. I felt pretty good about that, I even made the last mile in 30 minutes. It was now after 7:30 pm and I got right on pitching my tent and getting things in order since I was bushed, up since 1:45 and that hike and all. About 8 pm I was sitting on a log and realized I was hearing a familiar call. I checked a reference on my app and no doubt about it the long plaintive hweeew call I was hearing and so familiar with from Belize was a Dusky-capped Flycatcher for Year Bird 462. I had seen reports of one being heard on and off in the area. I finished my sandwich and it was still calling. Dang It, I guess I was going to have to try and get a photo or record it. Of course, by the time I got my gear together and made my legs work again it stopped.

Even though it wasn’t quite dark yet I crawled into my tent about 8:30 pm and listen to a podcast while I let my legs try and recover from the day. I was starting to doze about 9 pm as twilight was starting to fade and suddenly I could hear at least five of them calling. Mexican Whip-poor-will was Year Bird 463. The whips called all night long, they even seem to get a bit hoarse close to dawn.

An all-night serenade by Mexican Whip-poor-wills is nice, but the whole idea of camping was to get a shot at a Flammulated Owl. I woke at least a half dozen times during the night and listened with no luck on a Flammulated Owl.

Painted Redstart
I rose at 5:45 to whips still calling and got the tent packed and ready to break camp. A Plumbeous Vireo started calling over my head. I had the pack on my the time the sun was up and I realized I had been listening to warbler call nearby for about 5 minutes. I doubled check against my app and yes, Painted Redstart was Year Bird 464. After a few minutes it moved into a position I could even photograph it.

I only had one target left in the Chisos, Band-tailed Pigeon. I hung out until 8 am with no luck and started down. I did manage some good shots of Colima Warbler too. There were perhaps as many as eight present between by campsite and ranger cabin at the springs. I started down. On the Pinnacles switchbacks I had several more Colima Warblers. A little more than half way down I ran in John Yochum and Huck Hutchings from the RGV.

I made it down by 10:40 and enjoyed a cup of coffee from the Basin Store and sat in the shade enjoying the feel of no pack on my back. After my coffee I went to ask the ranger if the road might be open to Cottonwood Campground. It had been closed due to wash outs from the flash floods on Sunday and the daily report also said it was closed. I should ask when it might open I thought. The ranger was on the phone and I could hear the conversation “the daily report says its closed, but you’re saying its open now? All the way to Santa Elena Canyon? Just the overlook?” That sounds very promising. When she got off the phone she confirmed the road was now open to Cottonwood. Lucy’s Warbler here I come!

Lucy's Warbler
On my way I just let the call loop on my phone to tune my ears up. By the time I got there it was 12:30. I ate a sandwich and then started birding. I had not walked 100 yards and I heard it calling. At campsite 13 I found it above my head, Lucy’s Warbler was Year Bird 465. Not bad for almost 1 pm.

I headed over to Rio Grande Village for the end of the day and get a much-desired shower. I set up camp quickly and before my shower I scouted for Common Black-Hawk. No luck. The shower revitalized me and I took another look for the hawk. The wind was howling now no luck. Then I realized a bird I took for a Turkey Vulture wasn’t a Turkey Vulture. It circled in the wind over my head and zipped off down to the river. Common Black-Hawk was Year Bird 466.

With the wind still gusting to 20 mph I crawled into my tent, dreaming of what good birds I could find tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Felt like I was there with you. Can't wait to get back down there.