Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Roof of Texas

Western Tanager
The Bowl, I'll call it the Roof of Texas. All but one of the top 10 highest peaks in Texas are in the Guadalupe Mountains. When you reach the top of the Tejas Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park Park you are at 7900 feet and some change. Only Baldy Peak on Mount Livermore is higher than this outside of the Guadalupe Mountains. Most of the tails in The Bowl keeps you above 7800 feet. Its open year round. If you want to bird the High County of Texas this is where you should go.

That said its one of the least explored Hotspots in Texas according to eBird. Just 84 checklists have been turned in and only one eBirder accounts for almost 25% of those checklists. There are finds to be made here. My checklist was the first since March. Grace's Warbler and Audubon's (Yellow-rumped) Warbler are abundant. Hairy Woodpecker is common. Its one of two places to see Steller's Jay and Mountain Chickadee in Texas. Its the only place to see Pygmy Nuthatch. That's why I went.

El Capitan at Dawn
My original plan was too camp at Pine Springs and get an early start. Thirty mile per hour gusts made me wuss out and get a room in Van Horn 60 miles away. Just get up an hour earlier right? I overslept by 90 minutes and barely got on the road before 6:30 am. By the time I got on the trail it was 7:40 am CDT. The Tejas Trail is about 4.25 miles long and climbs a little over 2000 feet from the trail head. My plan was to blast up so I could have the max time at the high elevations.

It took about 1.5 miles to make it into the sunlight. As soon as sunlight hit the sides of the mountain the Black-chinned Sparrows came out. Not soon afterward I had one of those magic moments that happen every couple of years when you're birding. At first two Violet-green Swallows appears. then suddenly a flock of about twenty-five. A sparrow popped up close and I pished to try for a picture. The swallows appears to respond to the pishing and suddenly the whole flock was swirling around me. Those that passed lower than me appeared as emerald steaks. The flock moved off. I pished again and the flock came back. After about five minutes of swirling they vanish, not a swallow in the sky. Magic,

At about 7500 feet on the trail I spotted a hummingbird and it came in closer and I saw it was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird for Year Bird 449. Onward, I had 400 feet to go. Near the top of the trail I got a brief look at a Western Tanager for Year Bird 450.

Selfie at the top of the Trail
7919 Feet
I made it to the Bowl Trail in 3 hours and covered 4.4 miles and climbed 2000 feet. Not bad I thought for a 54 year old who's only exercise is none stop birding. From the overlook near the top of the trail you can get a cell signal and I sent my wife a selfie to let her know I made it safely. Time to find me some birds.

A bit down the trail I heard a few chip notes and tried my Western Pygmy-Owl imitation. The force was strong with my toots today and I had a good flock going in no time. At first I just saw Audubon's Warblers. You know, Audubon's Warbler in breeding plumage is a knock out warbler. Then I noted a few Grace's Warbler's for Year Bird 451. A white-breasted Nuthatch joined the party.

The owl call was working for me and I stuck with that winning strategy. The next flock produced Plumbeous Vireo and a Western Tanager. Then I heard a low pitched noise behind me that I had never heard before. It was a Broad-tailed Humming bird displaying.

A few clocks later I got a few Chipping Sparrows, Then another White-breasted Nuthatch appears. then I heard a pip almost right above me and I found my main target, A Pygmy Nuthatch for Year Bird 452 and it was camera close. Before I brought the camera to bear it was gone. I had only been in the bowl an hour and I had to decide to continue or head back down. I opted to continue.

About 30 minutes later I finally found a Cassin's Vireo for Year Bird 453. By now I was at the junction of the Juniper and Bowl Trails. What to do? In my hast to leave I had not picked up a trail map, Was the Juniper Tail a short cut? it seemed to head the correct direction. I opted to take it,

Plumbeous Vireo
Don't ever do this, don't take a trail in a wilderness area you don't know where it goes. I invested about three-quarters of a mile in this trail and I got to a gap where I could see Guadalupe Peak. The trail was not going in the correct directions. It might double back or it could go much longer. I decided to opt for back tracking the now 2.5 miles the way I came. After looking at the map later I determined it would have worked out fine and I was really about the halfway point. I do think it was better to turn back and not take the risk though.

On the backtrack I ran into a flock of about ten Western Tanager. I've never seen anything like it. I had no idea they were ever social like this. They all joined in to scold my owl whistle alone with a couple more Plumbeos Vireos.

I made time getting back down. Making it to the car by 5:15 pm. 13.25 miles, 9:43 minutes of hiking. 2741 feet of elevation gain. My legs were like noodles. It was a good day. Check the links below for the birds I saw:

My list for the Tejas Trail

My list for the Bowl

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