Birding Davis Mountains and Jeff Davis County.


Getting started on Monday morning before leaving, I had a doctor’s appointment to get a bi-weekly injection for what ails me.  Nothing serious, just something that has to be done every two weeks.  So after getting that out of the way, we stopped at the Mesquite Bean Grill in the Cactus Hotel for a breakfast of their fantastic Mesquite Bean Tacos and coffee.  We knew that would last us quite awhile.  So we were finally on the road at about 9:30 AM.

Our destination was the west Texas village of Fort Davis, the site of the namesake fort, which is one of best preserved frontier posts in the country.  I hope the citizens aren’t offended that I call Fort Davis a village, rather than a city.  But in my book if there aren’t any traffic lights, it is a village.  And a quaint village Fort Davis is.  I want to live there when I grow up.

So anyway, we headed out US67 west from San Angelo.  We would go through other villages: Mertzon, Barnhart, Big Lake (there is no lake there), Rankin, and McCamey.  Oh, I can’t leave out Gervin, but it is only an intersection, so if you miss the sign, you have missed Gervin.  Then we hit Interstate 10 to go through Fort Stockton, a location of ruins of another defunct frontier fort.  Then we hit the turn-off for Balmorhea, (more about that later in this post) and head for Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains.  That final leg of the trip is our favorite as we are able to watch for birds, hawks, etc.

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Red-tailed Hawk

After about a four and a half hour drive we arrived in Fort Davis.  We had munched on some light snacks on the road so we weren’t in need of a huge lunch, so we stopped at Stone Village Market.  You can get made-to-order deli sandwiches.  We opted for a pastrami on sourdough bread with all the fixin’s.  We took them with us and headed for the Davis Mountains Inn where we were going to stay for four nights.  It turned out that we were the only guests that first night.  We were so tired that after unpacking, we decided that would just rest the balance of the day.

Tuesday dawned bright, and after eating breakfast we decided to travel west on Hwy 166 to the turn-off to Hwy 505.  It had been recommended to us that along that stretch of lonely highway, many raptors could be seen, including Golden Eagles.  Along the way we saw many birds and animals, including this Pronghorned Antelope.

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Pronghorn Antelope

At a roadside park on Hwy 166, where there is usually good birding, we saw this one Summer Tanager, a female I believe.

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Summer Tanager, female

Our target bird for this day was the Golden Eagle that frequents the wide open areas along Hwy 505.  We missed the eagle but saw many Red-tailed Hawks, and some Cassin’s Kingbirds.  We vowed to come back another day to hunt for the eagle.

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Cassin’s Kingbird

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Red-tailed Hawk

On Wednesday morning we headed up to Lake Balmorhea.  We always enjoyed the drive to get there.  Up through the Davis Mountains and over Wild Rose Pass.

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Star Mountain from Wild Rose Pass

At the lake, we discovered that one of our favorite roads around the intake end, was closed, due to vandalism.  However, we were able to drive over the dam and along one side of the lake.  Here are a few of our highlights.

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Osprey, near the dam on Lake Balmorhea

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Scaled Quail

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Red-tailed Hawk

On Thursday morning, which would be our last day before heading home, we decided to look for the Golden Eagle again.  We tried to leave earlier this time, and drove directly to the desired area on Hwy 505.  This time we were in luck.  About two miles from the turnoff from Hwy 166, we came up on the eagle feasting on road-kill.  He was as startled as we were.  He flew up onto a fence post.  After checking my mirrors for traffic, I stopped the car in the middle of the road, and grabbed my camera.  I was able to get about a dozen images has he posed for me.  As I checked my mirrors again for traffic, he flew, but I missed any chance for an in-flight shot.  However, I was thrilled that I got such an opportunity from only about thirty-five yards.

But there is bad news.  I had taken an earlier shot of a dark bird in deep shadows, and had boosted my exposure by a stop and two-thirds. For you non-photographers, that means I over-exposed.  Well, I made a rookie error and forgot to change the setting back, so when I grabbed the camera for the eagle shot,  I had no time to adjust.  Hence the eagle was horribly over-exposed.  I had to try to correct it in my post-processing.  So here is the result.  Not a pretty sight, but acceptable.  You can see that the yellow bill and yellow feet are pretty washed out.

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Golden Eagle

After that we continued along the highway for another few minutes.  I then caught a few more photos.

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Broad-winged Hawk

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White-tailed Kite

It was still early in the day, so we decided to visit a friend’s place up in the mountains.  He has a bird-watching setup, complete with portable blinds and a water drip.  It was a drive of only six miles from the road entrance on Hwy 166.  But it is a pretty rough road and it took us about 30 minutes to get there.  I set up my camera in one of the blinds and got comfortable.  Here are a few highlights.

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Western Wood-Pewee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

On Friday morning we head back to San Angelo, satisfied with a fun, successful birding and photography trip.  I hope you enjoy this post as well as I enjoyed writing it.  Comments are welcome.

Happy Birding!!

30 thoughts on “Birding Davis Mountains and Jeff Davis County.

  1. Glad you two have a great trip and got to see lots of birds and get some great shots as you always do. Another wonderful posting and glad you are home safe and sound. Thanks for sharing Bob.
    John and Janette.

  2. Bob this was so interesting!! My grandparents lived in Big Lake and I lived in Rankin at one time!! Brought back many memories!! Awesome photos!!!

  3. What an amazing set of shots, Bob! Glad to know you had a good trip. Colin would sympathise re. the golden eagle – in the days of film he shot off a whole reel on a white-tailed eagle off Skye. In those days (the 80s) they were pretty scarce in Scotland. He later found there was no film in the camera. He still remembers the feeling! But a great sighting all the same.

  4. Beautiful photos!! The first Red Tail Hawk and the Scaled Quails are first-class! It is sad the Golden Eagle did not work out as planned, but it is still beautiful in an abstract way! Glad you and Ann had such a good trip! hugs, Beth

  5. Beautiful work, Bob. What a variety of birds so well photographed! We’ve always enjoyed what the Davis Mountains have to offer. You and Ann are so fortunate to live close to Fort Davis.

  6. Bob, I also enjoy the same route, especially with the great recent road improvements between SA and Big Lake. Very enjoyable. Glad you had a great trip. You didn’t miss anything in SA: miserably hot and dry. I spent 3 weeks in the Davis Mountains in July& August:cool green and wet. Lovely!

  7. I believe your Wilson’s warbler is actually either a summer or Scarlet tanager female. The bill is the biggest sign it’s a tanager. Great pics, especially the scaled quail. Looks like a fun trip!

  8. I do like the Davis Mountains area a lot. Birding is not my thing but moseying around all over everywhere in detail is. Thanks for the reports.

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