Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guest Post - John Mariani (Davis Mts, Big Bend)

Post shared with permission:

This weekend I made a trip to the Davis Mountains. Originally I had planned on going from there to the Guadalupe Mountains,  but I got some of my target birds for the Guadalupes in the Davis Mountains, so I opted for Big Bend instead.
On Thursday, on my way to the Davis Mountains, I took a detour off I-10 onto 290, which makes a loop back to I-10 (I think this is all in Crockett Co.). Had Gray Vireo in the canyon below the picnic area about 9 miles from I-10. At Fort Lancaster Historic Site I had Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-throated and Lark Sparrows, and Orchard Oriole.

While driving along Limpia Creek between Balmorhea and Fort Davis I spotted a Common Black Hawk perched in a tall cottonwood. I stopped to check it out, and watched it fly to a nest in another cottonwood. There was at least one downy chick in the nest.

The bird blinds at Davis Mountains State Park were attracting a lot of birds. Montezuma Quail have been coming to the bird blind on the right, just before the campgrounds. According to the log there, they have been seen almost daily, usually in the morning or late in the evening. On Thursday evening they were a no-show. I stopped there again at 8:30 the next morning, and a pair of Montezuma Quail were already there. Some people approaching the blind scared them off, but they returned briefly at 9:14. Other birds coming to the feeders/running water at the blinds included Acorn and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Cassin’s Kingbirds, a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Canyon Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, and Black-throated Sparrows, and Scott’s Oriole. Only hummingbird species I saw at the feeders was Black-chinned.

Walking from the park entrance back through the campgrounds I saw Greater Roadrunner, LOTS more Cassin’s Kingbirds, Western Wood-Pewees, Say’s Phoebe, Western Scrub Jay, Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens, Summer Tanager, and more Blue Grosbeaks. At night it was really quiet in the park – didn’t hear Common Poorwill or any owls.

On the afternoon of 6/5 and early morning of 6/6 I birded the Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area. Birds seen there and at the beginning of the Madera Canyon Trail included Cooper’s Hawk on a nest, Gray Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin’s Kingbird, Plumbeous Vireo,  White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Grace’s Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Chipping Sparrow.

Driving 118 from Davis Mountains State Park toward Mt. Locke, where the road starts a winding ascend through patches of brush with flowering agaves, I had Scott’s Oriole and Rufous-crowned and Black-chinned Sparrows. Farther upslope, in a more wooded area, I saw a Hepatic Tanager singing alongside the road.

On the afternoon of 6/6 I hiked the Pinnacles Trail up to Boot Canyon in the Chisos. The ascent to the trail summit was a three-hour ordeal (not fun, felt like I was gonna have heat stroke). Did see Bushtit on the way up, and had a brief look at a Zone-tailed Hawk from the trail’s summit. Spent the night in Boot Canyon. Right at dusk the Mexican Whip-poor-wills started times there were 3 or 4 going simultaneously. Joined a group of birders from Kingsville for owling, and in about an hour and a half we managed to see Whip-poor-will, Western Screech-Owl, and Flammulated Owl. Later I heard a pair of Western Screech-Owls dueting near my campsite, and the Whips were still calling – sometimes sounding like they were only a stone’s throw from my tent - when I finally fell asleep.

On the morning of 6/7, after the Whips finally shut up, I hiked the Juniper Canyon Trail from Boot Springs to the South Rim. The very orange probable Hepatic x Western Tanager was singing right above Boot Springs, with a pair of Hepatic Tanagers nearby. Along the Juniper Canyon Trail I had 4 Band-tailed Pigeons, Blue-throated and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Cordilleran Flycatcher, about a half dozen Colima Warblers, and an adult Painted Redstart with 3-4 recently fledged young (saw another redstart at Boot Springs, and one was heard singing down by the campgrounds). Had a Crissal Thrasher where the Juniper Canyon Trail meets the South Rim Trail.

Returned to Chisos Basin via Laguna Meadows – another grueling ordeal, but at least this time it was mostly downhill. Had another Hepatic Tanager down the trail, which made a total of 8 or 8.5 Hepatics for the trip, depending on how you count that weird hybrid at Boot Springs.

The group from Kingsville told me that they had Lucifer and Blue-throated Hummingbirds the day before near the water treatment plant below the Chisos Basin Campground. After recovering from the the long hike down to the Chisos Basin I went to check it out. There is a little drainage lined with reeds below the water treatment plant, and I saw a male Black-chinned and female Lucifer coming to the yellow flowers of the tree tobacco growing along this drainage. Other birds I saw there included a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and male Indigo Bunting.

In the desert scrub around the ranger station at Panther Junction I had Verdins, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and Pyrrhuloxias.

On Highway 385, about 6.8 miles north of Marathon,  I found Susan Foster and her birding posse scoping a prairie dog town for Burrowing Owl. Lucky for me they were there when I drove by, because the approximate mileage I had to this site was incorrect - if I hadn’t seen them on the side of the road I would have driven right past the spot. Got to see the owl through their scope, and a little farther north, in the same prairie dog town, I had a pair of Scaled Quail. Farther north there were Cassin’s Sparrows singing in the grassland, and at about 22 miles from Marathon I saw a male Bronzed Cowbird on the roadside.

Special thanks to Sheridan Coffey for directions to some of my target birds, and to the birders from Kingsville (wish I could remember the names!) -

John Mariani
Lumberton, TX

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