Birding the Big Bend National Park


We are back from a fun week birding and photographing in Big Bend National Park.  The weather was phenomenal for most of the week.  On Thursday the wind got up quite a bit and Friday we had blowing dust in the morning, otherwise it was mild and sunny.  We saw 46 different species during the trip, including an addition of the Gray Hawk to our life list.  When we weren’t birding, we were sitting on the porch of our little cabin, enjoying the desert view, and sipping refreshments.

We met new friends, including another excellent bird photographer.  What was amazing was that she has been photographing for only two years, but her work is outstanding.  Meet Sheen Watkins by clicking here.  Check out her website of beautiful photos of birds and wildlife.

When we stopped for a break at the store at Castelon, we met Ranger Ted Griffith, who happens to be another blogger and one of my readers.  What a small world it is.  It was early, and he was coming out of his office to raise the U.S. Flag on the nearby pole.  Click here to see his outstanding photos of the Big Bend.

I promised you new photos so let’s get started.  PLEASE click on the images to see some beautiful enlargements.

Sunrise in the desert of the Big Bend.

Sunrise in the desert of the Big Bend.

The above picture was taken early on our drive into Big Bend National Park.  The ocotillo’s red blossoms covered the desert.  All photos including this one, were taken with my Canon EOS 70D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk

We were at the Cottonwood Campground where the birding usually is very good.  In the campgrounds itself, there was a lot activity with the maintenance people working, plus many campers so birding was a bit difficult, although we did see many birds including several Vermilion Flycatchers.  However, when leaving the area, we saw this Gray Hawk atop a telephone pole.  What a sight!  We had never seen a Gray Hawk before so it was a treat to see him posing so nicely.

Scott's Oriole

Scott’s Oriole

Scott's Oriole

Scott’s Oriole

We were pulling into the parking lot at the Park Headquarters at Panther Junction, when we noticed two photographers out in the desert, with big lenses pointing at something.  After we stopped the car, we scoped out the situation with our binoculars and saw the Scott’s Oriole.  I took a few photos with the bird in the distance, then a few seconds later, it flew very close to us and perched in the ocotillo stem, where I got the above images.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

A few minutes later, I got this stunning photo of the Ash-throated Flycatcher near the same location.  There were several of these birds everywhere in the park.

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail

This pair of Scaled Quail, also know as Blue Quail, were photographed outside our cabin right at sunset.  I loved the warm glow of the light.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

The Barton Warnock Nature Center is located outside of Lajitas.  The nature trail and gardens usually have birds and various wildlife wandering around and this is where I photographed the above Rock Wren and the Curve-billed Thrasher.  We are never disappointed when we stop there.

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk

Another of our favorite bird areas is the campground area at Rio Grand Village.  It is on the far eastern side of the national park near Boquillas Canyon.  For the past few years there has been a pair of nesting of rare Common Black Hawks there.  There are signs restricting getting too close, but with my long lens, I was able to get this and a few other photographs of the birds.  Because of the dense trees, the lighting was a bit touchy, but I think this image portrays it nicely.

Lark Sparrow - juvenile

Lark Bunting – female

A Western Wood Pewee show us his backside.

A Western Wood Pewee show us his backside.

I hope you enjoyed these photos from our exciting trip to the desert.  We stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  We strongly recommend them if you are making a trip to the area.

Of the 46 species that we saw during the trip, the Gray Hawk was a lifer, plus eight of them were additions to our 2014 Texas Big Year list.  It is updated below, including with birds we saw before we left on the trip.

122.  Lesser Yellowlegs

123.  Cliff Swallow

124.  Lark Bunting

125.  Brown-headed Cowbird

126.  Cave Swallow

127.  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

128.  Gray Hawk

129.  Brown-crested Flycatcher

130.  Common Black Hawk

131.  Rock Wren

132.  Scott’s Oriole

133.  Purple Martin

134.  Phainopepla

135.  Bank Swallow

136.  Western Wood Pewee

137.  Green Heron.

A Hawk, a Woodpecker and an Owl


Friday we decided to make the rounds of some our favorite local spots again.   We saw around 30 species so the birding is getting back to normal, despite not having many duck species yet.  I did get some nice photos that I will post here for your enjoyment.

The Red-tailed Hawk was very co-0perative, probably had just eaten so he posed readily for me about 30 feet off the ground.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

This Ladder-backed Woodpecker, actually was hanging beneathe limb, but I decided to rotate it for better viewing.  It still looks very natural.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

This photo below is a young Great Horned Owl.  I was surprised that he was so wide awake and alert.  He was definitely staring me down.  Love those eyes.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

On another note, we heard that there was a Sora, a water bird, in a pond at San Angelo State Park.  We had been told that if we couldn’t see it in the reeds, we should clap our hands and it would answer.  So we decided to give it a shot and drove out there.  We didn’t see the bird, but decided to try the clapping thing.  Sure enough on about the third attempt, this loud clapping came from the reeds.  It was very unmistakable.  Here is a photo of a Sora that I took a couple of years ago at Big Bend National Park.

Sora

Sora

Click on any photo to see an enlargement.

Big Bend Rafting and other stuff…..


As you all know, the Big Bend area of Texas is far and away one of Ann’s and my favorite places to spend time.  Last week we spent four days there again.  We again stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center, in Study Butte.  They are the best outfitters for the rafting, jeep tours, and other activities in the Big Bend.  Before I get into trouble, I want to emphasize that is just my own opinion.

View from porch of our cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center.

View from porch of our cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  Long lens used.

You already saw some of my images of some birds from the trip, but I also was able to get a few more landscape photos as well.  The area was as greenest as I have ever seen in the many years that we have visited.  The above photo was taken in the evening as the sun was setting from my far right.  It is a view from the porch of our Casita, albeit with a very long lens.

One photo that I left out yesterday I would like to insert here.  This man, Joseph, a park service employee, has the job of traveling around the Basin in the Chisos Mountains cleaning out the composting toilets.  The boxes on his pack horses have HUMANURE  painted on them.  A thankless but necessary job, I am sure.  I spotted him while I was scoping out some birds with my 500mm lens.  He was riding towards me about 200 yards away.

Joseph, collecting from the trail toilets.

Joseph, collecting from the trail toilets.

Here are a couple more of my favorite landscapes from our trip.

Sotol and Santiago Peak - Big Bend National Park

Sotol and Santiago Peak – Big Bend National Park

"Dawn Sun on Distant Mountain" - Big Bend National Park

“Dawn Sun on Distant Mountain” – Big Bend National Park

On Thursday morning, we decided to take a half-day rafting trip that Far Flung has as one of their scheduled activities.  We load up and head up-stream to a river put-in area called Grassy Banks.  It is about 10 miles west of Lajitas.  We launch there, then float back to Lajitas, where we are met by the Far Flung crew to load up for the trip back to Study Butte.

Tim, our guide getting the raft ready to launch.  Notice fast moving water of the Rio Grande.

Tim, our guide getting the raft ready to launch. Notice fast moving water of the Rio Grande.

Ann getting into her life jacket.

Ann getting into her life jacket.

Away we go!

Away we go!

The ride wasn’t as dangerous as some of the trips that go through the canyons, but nevertheless I had to hang on to my cameras, grab the side of the raft, and try to keep my balance.  I managed to get a few shots from the raft, though.  Even with the Image Stabilization feature of my Canon lenses, it still was difficult to keep some images in focus.

One view from the raft.

One view from the raft.

Goats high on a bluff on Mexican side of the river.

Goats high on a bluff on Mexican side of the river.

Turkey Vulture warming wings for morning flight.

Turkey Vulture warming wings for morning flight.

After the float trip, we were happy to spend the rest of the day on the porch of our canyon sipping refreshments and watching the surrounding scenery and seeing the quail, rabbits, birds that play around the cabins.  What a great time we had.  Be sure and click on the images to see some nice enlargements.

New photos of the Big Bend


Ann and I arrived home Friday afternoon after a very enjoyable to our favorite area, the Big Bend country of Texas.  We saw 55 species of birds, including a new lifer, the Crissal Thrasher.  We also took a break from birding, and took a raft trip on the Rio Grande which I will talk about in a future post.  Here are some of the bird images I manage to get.

Red-tailed Hawk - enjoying an early morning sunrise.

Peregrine Falcon – enjoying an early morning sunrise, Big Bend National Park.

Wilson's Warbler Trying to hide in the brush at Cottonwood Campground.

Wilson’s Warbler
Trying to hide in the brush at Cottonwood Campground, Big Bend National Park.

Vermilion Flycatcher - at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park

Vermilion Flycatcher – at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park.

Greater Roadrunner - on fence post near Marathon, Texas.

Greater Roadrunner – on fence post near Marathon, Texas.

Loggerhead Shrike - on ocotillo plant, Big Bend National Park.

Loggerhead Shrike – on ocotillo plant, Big Bend National Park.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - female- at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – female- at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren - at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren – at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren on Prickly Pear cactus, Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren on Prickly Pear cactus, Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

I hope you enjoyed the photos as much as I enjoyed obtainng them.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.  More photos coming in future posts.

Bob’s Best of the Big Bend


When I noticed that Far Flung Family Center was asking for people to submit favorite photos of the Big Bend for their Facebook page, I thought I’d post a few of my own favorite images from my past visits to that magnificent area.  This place is dear to Ann’s and my own heart.  We visit there around twice a year, and always find new thrills.  These photos are not of birds, but some of my own favorite images from Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Above is one of my favorite images in Big Bend National Park.  We were on the Ross Maxwell Highway heading down towards the eastern entrance to Santa Elena Canyon.  Aproximately five miles before reaching the canyon proper, the Rio Grande makes a bend towards the highway.  I used a wide angle setting on my 24-105mm zoom that was attached to my Canon EOS 7D.  With that, I was able to compose the picture to include the canyon in the background in the upper right.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

This is the eastern delta of Santa Elena Canyon.  The Rio Grande comes out of the canyon here on it’s journey to the Gulf coast.  As you can see in the picture, the water is running pretty shallow at the time of this photo.  You can see some canoers  getting ready to paddle upstream into the canyon.  The walls soar upwards to 1,500 feet, and you might see Peregrine Falcons flying overhead, as they nest in these cliffs.

Indian Paintbrush

Mountain Paintbrush

One of the wildflowers that you might see in the Big Bend is this Mountain Paintbrush.  I love the vibrant, glowing reds of the blossoms.  Mountain Bluebonnets are plentiful here in the spring, also.

Desert Storm

Desert Storm

A desert rainstorm can pop up anytime, with cooling rains.  Those tall desert plants in the foreground are Ocotillo.  They are tall with glowing, fiery red blossoms on the tips of the stalks.  We have two in our yard at home that are about 18 feet tall.

Mountains in the Mist

Mountains in the Mist

This is an image that was taken on a really, really wet day, early in the year.  Heavy, water laden clouds were everywhere.  The mountains of the Chisos range were peeking about the lower clouds.  I was having difficulty keeping my cameras dry, so I was photographing from the car window.  That is not a difficult task, however.  Fortunately, traffic was very light, mostly because of the obvious bad weather.

Desert Butte

Desert Butte

On drier days, this is a very familiar sight in Big Bend National Park.  Great vistas of mountains and buttes.  In such an environment a person has trouble in deciding which way to aim the camera.

Bobcat photographed near Rio Grande Village Campground.

Bobcat photographed near Rio Grande Village Campground.

Wildlife abounds Big Bend National Park.  High in the Chisos are approximately thirty black bears.  Throughout the rest of the park are bobcat, deer, rabbit, birds, hawks, small varmints, not to mention about two dozen or more mountain lions roam.  Recently, desert long-horned goats have been introduced to the area.

I was fortunate to photograph the Bobcat near the Rio Grand Village Campground in the eastern part of the park, near Boquillas Canyon.  As I drove through the deserted campground, he, or she, leaped from the brush and promptly sat down near a tree.  I used my 100-400mm lens from the car for the photo, before it loped off, nearly in the path of a hunting coyote.

Mule Ears Peak at dusk.

Mule Ears Peak at dusk.

Another of my favorite images from the park, is the photo of the Mule Ears Peaks, taken near dusk.

I hope you have enjoyed this pictures and narratives.  Prints are available for sale if you are interested.  Just contact me for particulars.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Part II – Birding in the Big Bend


I believe that I was telling you about our Wednesday adventures at the end of Part I of our Big Bend adventure.  Well, Wednesday evening after another fun day, we decided to go to Long Draw Pizza.  A hearty meal and cold beer was a great way to end the day.

Ann at the Sotol Vista overlook high in the Chisos Mountains.

Ann at the Sotol Vista overlook high in the Chisos Mountains.

On Thursday morning after breakfast at Big Bend Cafe in Study Butte, we headed to the old Sam Nail Ranch.  There are only a few ruins of some adobe walls there, and a windmill that the National Park Service has kept working to pump a bit of water. It provides moisture to this oasis-like setting among large cottonwood and mesquite trees, and other brush.  Many birds frequent this area.  Here I was able to photograph a Yellow-breasted Chat.  Click on it, and all other photos to see enlargements.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

After spending a couple of hours there, we left and headed farther south down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Cottonwood Campground, another hot birding spot.  There we saw several Painted Buntings, Yellow-rumped Warblers. and several species of flycatchers.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

We also saw a Swainson’s Thrush, one more for my life list.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Here is another shot of that Scaled Quail that I showed you in the previous post.  In this pose he is calling for his mate.

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail

After a really fun four days we finally left for home, but not resisting one final shot of this Swainson’s Hawk, sitting on a fence post as we left the park.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

For the week, we saw an astounding 66 species of birds.  For animal life, we saw 11 Pronghorn Antelope, 2 jackrabbits, 8 cottontail rabbits, 1 muledeer, 2 javelinas and a partridge in a pear tree.

Here is a complete list of our 66 species seen from the time we left home until we arrived back in San Angelo.

  1. Northern Bobwhite
  2. Whitewinged Dove
  3. Mourning Dove
  4. Inca Dove
  5. House Sparrow
  6. Northern Mockingbird
  7. European Starling
  8. Great-tailed Grackle
  9. Turkey Vulture
  10. Barn Swallow
  11. Swainson’s Hawk
  12. Chichuahuan Raven
  13. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  14. Red-tailed Hawk
  15. Blue Grosbeak
  16. Scott’s Oriole
  17. Eurasian Collared Dove
  18. Lark Sparrow
  19. Brown-crested Flycatcher
  20. Western Meadowlark
  21. Scaled Quail
  22. Western Kingbird
  23. Chipping Sparrow
  24. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  25. Bronzed Cowbird
  26. Wilson’s Warbler
  27. Vermilion Flycatcher
  28. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  29. Spotted Sandpiper
  30. American Coot
  31. Red-winged Blackbird
  32. Cactus Wren
  33. Greater Roadrunner
  34. Pyrrhuloxia
  35. Canyon Towhee
  36. Summer Tanager
  37. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  38. Mexican Jay
  39. Curve-billed Thrasher
  40. Black-throated Sparrow
  41. Northern Cardinal
  42. Savannah Sparrow
  43. Black-crowned Night Heron
  44. Green Heron
  45. Western Wood-Pewee
  46. Lesser Goldfinch
  47. Pied-billed Grebe
  48. White-crowned Sparrow
  49. Eastern Phoebe
  50. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  51. Common Blackhawk
  52. Brown-headed Cowbird
  53. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  54. Painted Bunting
  55. Orange-crowned Warbler
  56. House Finch
  57. Yellow-breasted Chat
  58. Clay-colored Sparrow
  59. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  60. Mallard
  61. Common Nighthawk
  62. Brewer’s Blackbird
  63. Wild Turkey
  64. Common Raven
  65. Swainson’s Thrush
  66. Common Raven

Birding in the Big Bend


Ann and I are back after spending a delightful four days in the Big Bend area of west Texas.  The weather was great, actually better than normal, as the temps barely reached the 100 degree mark in the afternoon.  Cool nights made the sleeping easy.

On Monday afternoon, after arriving in Marathon, Texas, to stay the night, we decided to go to the nearby Post Park, a very nice birding area.  We saw several species there and also met another friendly birder, Dean Hansen, who was helpful in identifying some of the birds.  It was there that we picked another one for the life list.  A Red-breasted Nuthatch.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo to show you.  By the way, it does not have a red breast, instead it was more yellow.

Yours Truly

Yours Truly

Cholla Blossoms

Cholla Blossoms

We stayed Monday night at the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, then Tuesday morning took the 75 mile trek south into the Big Bend National Park.  After stopping at the park headquarters at Panther Junction we made the drive up in to the heart of the Chisos Mountains to where the Basin Lodge is located.  We didn’t intend to stay there, but the trails leading from there make for great scenics and birding.  There was a black bear alert for a mother and four cubs that had been seen nearby, but as luck would have it, we didn’t get to see them.

Cactus Wren - singing a welcome song at the Panther Junction park headquarters.

Cactus Wren – singing a welcome song at the Panther Junction park headquarters.

Later that afternoon, we headed out of the west side of the park into Study Butte, where we had reservations at one of the little ‘casitas’ at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  That was to be our home for the next three nights.  After unloading our luggage and settling in, we headed to the La Kiva restaurant.  Happy hour at 5:00 featuring one dollar margaritas.  We shared a 12 ounce T-bone and were back at the cabin by 7:00 to sit on the porch and enjoy the desert evening.

Scaled Quail, also known as Blue Quail.

Scaled Quail, also known as Blue Quail.

Wednesday morning we were ready to head to Rio Grande Village RV Campground on the far east side of Big Bend NP.  It is one of the prime birding areas of the park, and it did not disappoint.  We saw several birds to add to our burgeoning list of birds we’ve seen in the park.  We learned of a rare nesting pair of Common Blackhawks that were nearby.  The area is roped off by the National Park Service in deference to a possibility of some newborns.  One of the below photos is of one of the hawks eating a lunch, while the other adult in the second image is watching over the nest.  We believe that there may already be eggs there, or will be soon.

Common Blackhawk - eating lunch

Common Blackhawk – eating lunch

Common Blackhawk - watching over nest in lower left of photo.

Common Blackhawk – watching over nest in lower left of photo.

That is all for this post.  In a few days I will tell you about the rest of the trip and another lifer.  Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.