Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To and At Big Bend, Wednesday, July 24

Wednesday, July 24, I awoke at about 5:30 am at the rest area, much refreshed, brushed my teeth and headed west to Fort Stockton, where I stopped at a Flying J travel plaza to get some breakfast and cleanup a bit, before heading south to Big Bend NP.   Sunrise was at about 7:00 am.  Along TX 385 south, there seemed to be quite a bit of bird activity.  I stopped to look at a bird perched close to the road that disappeared after I stopped, but was apparently a male Painted Bunting, which I found nearby singing from a high perch.

There were nighthawks flying about along the road, mostly Common Nighthawks, but I didn’t stop due to the large number of trucks on this road and the high speed limit of 70 mph.  If I found more nighthawks flying and a convenient pull off spot, I would stop and look at the nighthawks.  I still need Lesser Nighthawk.  I stopped at the first Picnic Area south of Fort Stockton on the left had side of TX 385 but not because of nighthawks but because it looked like a good birding area and had a convenient and safe pull-off.  At this location, I found a cooperative Canyon Towhee (see photo below) and a beautiful male Scott’s Oriole with a female and at least one fledged young.  Both are new birds for the year.  I also saw Black-throated Sparrow and Cliff Swallows at this Picnic Area.  On my way to Big Bend NP, I also saw Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Western Kingbird and Greater Roadrunner along the road.  I stopped a few places before Marathon to look for birds and found Ash-throated Flycatcher, many Bell’s Vireos singing, a few seen, and more singing Painted Buntings.  I topped off my gas tank in the small village of Marathon, had lunch, stopped at a grocery store to buy a sandwich and additional food, just in case I need it, and headed south the last 69 miles to the entrance of Big Bend NP.  It’s a long way to the entrance to Big Bend, about 4.5 hours from San Antonio with continuous driving, according to Google Maps, no birding along the way.  When I arrived in Big Bend at Panther Junction, I registered and got my vehicle permit tag, free for me because I have a Senior Pass for all NWR’s and NP’s.  Then I drove to Chisos Basin and obtained a room for two nights, tonight and tomorrow night, and stopped by the Visitor Center to get some information.  I wondered if I needed to register that I was hiking up to Boot Springs just for personal safety, and also asked questions about birds recently in the park.  The NP employee was a lady with a name tag of Flippo, who is a birder.   I wonder if she is related to Mark Flippo, long-time naturalist at Big Bend and recently retired.  Perhaps she is his daughter or maybe his wife.  I forgot to ask.  She was helpful, and stated that she expected the Colima Warblers to still be singing, because they had been in the last week or so.  I had seen a report of this on Tex Birds dated Monday, July 15, of a singing Colima Warbler along the final set of switch backs just below Pinnacle Pass on July 9-11.  Also, I asked about the Common Black Hawks at Rio Grande Village, but the Common Black Hawk nest at Rio Grande Village had been abandoned because the nest had blown down.  However, she had seen a non-adult Common Black Hawk near the grocery store in Rio Grande Village within the past week or so.  By the time I had taken care of all these details, there was not time to hike up the Pinnacle Trail on Tuesday evening, July 23.  Consequently, I drove to Rio Grande Village to look for Vermillion Flycatcher, still needed for the year, and to see what else I could find.  I also planned to watch the flowering agaves for resident and migrating hummingbirds on the way to Rio Grande Village and back to Chisos Basin.  Back in the 1990's, Mark Flippo had advised me of this, which enabled me to get my lifer Lucifer Hummingbird.  This technique was also verified in 2007 when I went to Big Bend NP for the Fan-tailed Warbler. 
When I arrived at Rio Grande Village, I parked in the parking lot near the store and walked west past the RV Park and the specially designated grove (signs indicate to stay out) where the Common Black Hawk has nested.  The first bird seen in the area was a Vermillion Flycatcher, perched on a power line and then in the trees, another new bird for the year.   See photo below.  There was an immature Vermillion Flycatcher following the adult male.  Verdin, Bell’s Vireo and Summer Tanager were calling.  I found a perched hummingbird high on a dead branch of a cottonwood that resembled a female or immature Black-chinned Hummingbird, but it did not stay long enough for me to study it carefully.  I thought that I heard a gnatcatcher but could not find it.   I looked carefully for the Common Black Hawk and Gray Hawk which nest in this area, but without success.  When I walked back to the parking lot, there were at least five different Yellow-breasted Chats singing—“cuuuking” and making all those weird sounds that they do as well as a singing Painted Bunting (see photo below).  Before leaving to drive back to Chisos Basin, I drove to the campground to the east of the store to see what I could find.  There was only one recently arrived RV in the park that was still driving around looking for a suitable camp site.  I stopped to use the rest room, and noticed a large dark raptor sailing to the north just at or below treetop level still in the campground.  When I got on it with my binoculars, it was an adult Common Black-Hawk (see photo), a great new bird for the year, that was being chased and harassed by a Western Kingbird.  The Common Black-Hawk kept flying west toward the store, occasionally screaming and disappeared with the kingbird in hot pursuit.  That was really cool!  I had never heard a Common Black-Hawk vocalize, having seen only one previously near Fort Davis, Texas.  There were recently fledged Vermillion Flycatchers in this campground as well as Western Kingbirds.  I drove back to Chisos Basin, stopping frequently to enjoy the Black-throated Sparrows that were feeding along the road and the desert scrub near the road.  I stopped at the parking lot at Panther Junction and found a singing Curve-billed Thrasher (see photo below), more Black-throated Sparrows and a Cactus Wren.   As I continued to drive to the basin, I stopped to watch all of the blooming agaves that I had also checked on the way to Rio Grande Village.  I found a colorful Rufous Hummingbird, a male, according to Hummingbirds of North America by Sheri Williamson and new bird for the year, that chased another hummingbird away from the yellow agave flowers and then perched on one of the flower branches to protect his feeding location.  Near the high cliffs along the entry road to the basin, I also stopped to listen for Canyon Wrens, but none were singing or scolding as they frequently do at high cliffs.  Closer to the basin as I rounded a curve to the last uphill part of the road, I found Mexican Jays in a flock sitting on the road and flying into the pines and oaks to the left of the road.  At least one bird, maybe more, was a young bird of the year, perhaps a family flock.  Mexican Jay is new for the year.  Back at the basin, I walked the nearby short (0.4 mi) Windows View trail, and found a singing Rufous-crowned Sparrow, another new bird for the year.  See photos below.  Male Black-headed Grosbeak and Scott’s Oriole were singing and putting on a fine display.  See photos below.  It was getting closer to sunset, and my stomach needed food.  However, I forgot that the basin store and the restaurant close at 7:00 pm and it was nearly 8:00 pm.  Fortunately, I still had my sandwich and other food that I bought in Marathon just for such an emergency and managed to scrape together enough food to satisfy my hunger.  When I arrived at the basin earlier in the afternoon, I had also bought food to carry with me in the morning up the Pinnacles Trail, and did not eat that for dinner.  Tomorrow would be a high energy day to hike up the pinnacles trail.  After darkness, I listened outside my room and from the balcony for Common Poor-will, but did not hear any.  Perhaps the basin is the wrong location.
Canyon Towhee, Scott’s Oriole, Vermillion Flycatcher, Common Black Hawk, Rufous Hummingbird, Mexican Jay and Rufous-crowned Sparrow raise the total to 556.

Canyon Towhee, TX 385 picnic area
Vermillion Flycatcher, Rio Grande Village

Painted Bunting, singing, Rio Grande Village

Common Black Hawk, Rio Grande Village, east campground
Curve-billed Thrasher, Panther Juncture
Black-headed Grosbeak, Windows View Trail, Chisos Basin
Rufous-crowned Sparrow, singing, Windows View Trail

Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Here's looking at you!, Windows View Trail

Scott's Oriole, male, Windows View Trail

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