Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trans-Pecos BBS Wrap-up 2015 / Trip Report

The following content was kindly approved for sharing by Stu Wilson, intrepid Breeding Bird Survey adventurer currently living in FL - he's done WTX BBS routes for many years and sent his end of route summary. This is shared with his permission, and with our gratitude for his efforts!

* Post Park was mistakenly listed as being south of Marfa, in Presidio County: it has been corrected to being south of Marathon, in Brewster County. Links were modified to be blog friendly.



I've put together a little wrap-up for my 4-11May2015 central Trans-Pecos BBS trip. Besides my three current BBS routes, I made a number of "general interest birding" stops, many of which I entered into eBird. The area continues to suffer from the effects of drought as well as the freeze and fire of 2011, but there were signs of recovery, e.g. good numbers of Scaled Quail and Greater Roadrunner. In general, neotropical migrants were in short supply anywhere I went.

El Paso Memorial Park (FWTX 9) 4May2015
One of the best opportunities to find migrants within the El Paso city limits is this urban park (El Paso County). However, I found very few- a Western Wood-Pewee, an Audubon's Yellow-rump, and several Wilson's Warbler- amongst 20 species total. eBird checklist here

McNary Reservoir 5May2015
Auduboners generally have permission to visit this water body located about 80 miles east of El Paso in Hudspeth County. I tallied 34 species in an hour including both Western and Clark's Grebes, as well as a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, possibly a new May record for the area. eBird checklist here

Marathon- Ft Pena Colorado Pk (The Post) (FWTX 28) 5May2015
This popular birding stop 5 miles south of Marathon in Brewster County was flush with water and yielded 26 species, but no rarities and just a couple of migrants. eBird checklist here

Alamito Creek Preserve 6May2015
This was my fourth visit to this cottonwood-lined riparian desert strip 35 miles south of Marfa in Presidio County. I started out the walk with Robert Potts, president of property owner Dixon Water Foundation, as well as Jay Pruett from Tulsa and Bob Ayres from Austin. Those three had to turn back mid-morning to tend to some business, but I walked the full 3.5-mile segment, and return, picking up 40 spp. Although there were some impressive numbers of individuals (52 House Finch, 60 Mourning Dove, 58 Northern Mockingbird, 42 Orchard Oriole, 45 Summer Tanager, and 46 Vermilion Flycatcher), and some good raptor activity (2 nesting pairs of Zone-tailed and 1 pair of Swainson's Hawk), migrants were few... only two species of warbler (Audubon's Yellow-rumped and Wilson's). eBird checklist here

Coyanda Draw BBS (Pecos Co 35 mi WSW of Ft Stockton) 7May2015 Habitat: dry and desolate Chihuahuan Desert scrub
I had to contend with only 2 vehicles the entire route! Veteran BBSers know what a luxury that is. The route produced 25 spp with Northern Mockingbird taking home the bacon at 61 and Scaled Quail trailing with 50.
* The Barn Owls at Stop 1 have apparently been evicted by a pair of Great Horned Owls
* 4 Lesser Nighthawks was very low
* Cassin's and Black-throated Sparrow made nice showings with 28 each
* Cactus Wren (avg 20+) has not rebounded on this route as I had only 2

Balmorhea- Sandia Wetlands (FWTX 20A) 7May2015
I had not previously visited this small facility east of Balmorhea in Reeves County, but was glad I did. I found 25 spp highlighted by Cinnamon Teal, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Baird's Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Bank Swallow, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. eBird checklist here

Balmorhea Lake - Sandia Wetlands (FWTX 20) 7May2015
I did a loop around the lake, but it was now late afternoon and there just wasn't much happening. I noted about 16 spp, including both Aechmophorus grebes and a couple late Eared Grebes. A lone Ruddy Duck also seemed late.

Toyahvale BBS (Jeff Davis Co between Balmorhea and Ft Davis) 8May2015 Habitat: Davis Mtn foothills
This route was especially fire-ravaged in 2011. I turned up 32 spp with usual champ Northern Mockingbird taking top honors with 55 just overcoming a strong showing by resurging Scaled Quail at 50.
* The Elf Owl pair, present the last two years, could not be found
* Seven (7) Greater Roadrunner may be record for me for any route
* Twenty (20) Black-throated Sparrow was a strong showing
* No evidence of Cactus Wren recovery on this route (avg 16) as I had only 4
* 3 Painted Bunting and 1 Vermilion Flycatcher added some color to things

Bear Mountain BBS (Jeff Davis Co on the NW flanks of Davis Mountains) 9May2015 Habitat: Davis Mtn foothills (desert transitioning to oak/juniper)
This route has become my favorite for reasons I can't quite pinpoint. Only encountering five (5) vehicles on a route with a nicely paved road certainly helps. I tallied 34 spp with Northern Mockingbird achieving top dog at 27 individuals withstanding a strong challenge from Cactus Wren with 24. The Cactus Wren total is right at the historic average and suggests, on this route at least, the species is recovering.
* Cassin's Sparrow (avg 16) curiously absent from this route
* Six (6) Greater Roadrunner might be a record except for Toyahvale above
* Eighteen (18) Canyon Towhees might be a record for me for any route
* A Yellow-breasted Chat lustily singing in the wide open was a nice surprise

Madera Canyon Trail (FWTX 25) 9May2015
This 2.5-mile loop trail starts (and ends) at the south end of the Lawrence E Wood Picnic Area on TX 118 in Jeff Davis County. Most of the juniper trees are dead or dying lending a desolate air, but I nonetheless managed 17 spp including a rampaging young Cooper's Hawk and a Hepatic Tanager pair where the female was doing the singing. eBird checklist here

Big Bend NP- Chisos Basin 10May2015
I had run into some birders from Maryland at Davis Mountains SP who had just been to BBNP (Brewster County) and told me of the rarities lurking there: Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Flame-colored Tanager, and Evening Grosbeak. Given my limited time, I decided the latter three were out of reach, but I was on point for the STHA, which I thought I understood them to say was being seen (a dark morph and a light morph??) in the Chisos Basin from the lodge area. It didn't fill me with confidence when each of the five (5) rangers I quizzed indicated they were unaware of any rare hawks, and in the end I failed to turn one up. In the course of things, I did a long mid-day hike through the campgrounds, down to the sewage treatment plant, and out and back on the Window Trail, tallying about 17 species, but nothing unexpected. That evening I hiked up the Pinnacles Trail about a half-mile above the cottages and did a 7-9pm sentry duty listening for Mexican Whip-poor-will, but heard not a one. The mountain lion signs say "don't hike alone" and "don't hike at night" and I must confess this weighed on me as the day's light grew dim. My overnight accommodation was a room in the Emory Peak Lodge area but, despite leaving my windows open all night and doing a couple of short local hikes, I heard no owl nor nightjar at all.

Big Bend NP- Cottonwood Campground (FWTX 40) 11May2015
I got up early for the 38-mi drive to Cottonwood CG, arriving just after sunrise, and was promptly greeted by an Elf Owl. Other nuggets amongst 27 spp found were a Cassin's Vireo, a MacGillivray's Warbler, and several singing Yellow-breasted Chats. The prize, however, and the Bird of the Trip for me was a singing male Lucy's Warbler which I found just across the entrance road from the Amphitheater... my first new Texas bird (#489) since a Canada Warbler at Hornsby Bend in Austin on 19Sep2011. eBird checklist here




  1. For the last several weeks, the dark and light morph STHA have been seen (pictures posted to Facebook and elsewhere) by many.

  2. Aye, I'm not sure how Stu managed to avoid the eBird reports as well -- it's been seen by TBRC committee folks as well. It is REALLY distressing that apparently none of that news has trickled back to park staff, however, and if people aren't reporting to the visitor's center, the park won't have it on record (yes, actual paper rare bird sightings go in a binder at Panther Junction). Somehow the system is either broken or... maybe just needs an eBird kiosk. And by kiosk, I mean NOT an interactive one: too much bs ends up getting reported! Just recent eBird reports from folks already registered. It won't cut the misIDs, but it'll at least keep pranksters from entering strange stuff on a whim.