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!!

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Davis Mountains, here we come…….again.


Here I am again, really late with another post.  I am not lazy, I just procrastinate a lot.  So…… again, time got away from me.  Of course at my age of 83, time really gets flying……a sign that I am going downhill, I guess.   So anyway, what have I been doing the past couple of weeks, you may ask.  Well, I have been out shooting almost every day.  The fall migration is getting started, the weather is beautiful, not as hot, and it is fun to be outside.  It keeps me young.  I need that.

As for the title of this post, Ann and I are leaving Monday, the 11th, for Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains.  We will be doing a lot of photography in the area from an altitude of 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet.  We will be staying at the beautiful Davis Mountains Inn near Fort Davis.  It is a nice comfortable Bed & Breakfast.  We will be returning on Friday the 15th, hopefully with a bunch of photographs for a future post.

I have mustered a good bunch of photos since the last post, of course.  I will present a few of them for you here.  Just scroll down, and if you get to the end, 🙂 , there is a link to my Photo Gallery.  Click on any of these to see enlargements.

Cooper’s Hawk.

Yellow Warbler

Red-tailed Hawk

Bell’s Vireo

Swainson’s Hawk

Curve-billed Thrasher

Ash-throataed Flycatacher

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Northern Cardinal, female

Least Flycatcher

Wilson’s Warbler

Great-crested Flycatcher

Red-tailed Hawk

Bewick’s Wren

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

I hope you have enjoyed this post and the photos.  To see more of my photographs, click this link to my on-line Photo Album.

Welcome to cold Fort Davis


Trying something new.  I am writing this post from my iPad, using my WordPress blogging app.

 Ann and I are visiting Fort Davis for a few days.  Our timing was not the best and we arrived Monday with great expectations for some beautiful days for birding.  Even though it was only about 40 degrees when we left San Angelo, by the time we crossed the Davis Mountains at Wild Rose Pass and entered Fort Davis the temperature 80 degrees.  We promptly checked into our room at the Davis Mountains Inn, a bed and breakfast.



Our gracious innkeepers are Bill and Nancy Davis.



The nice weather was short lived.  On Tuesday the forecast was for showers in the mountains, so we opted to take the scenic drive to Balmorhea.  The drive itself is more exciting than Balmorhea, as there are numerous wildlife photo opportunities along the highway.  We saw many Red-tailed Hawks, various small birds, and Aoudads, also known as Barbary sheep.

On Wednesday thunderstorm were forecast for the mountains, but we decided to chance it and take the 75 mile scenic loop through the Davis Mountains.  The temps were much cooler but the birds were active.  A couple that we met that were staying in the Davis Mountains State Park, Paul and Joan Von Hardeman, wanted to tag along in their car.  We were able to make it back to the inn just before a winter storm hit with rain and sleet.   We originally wanted to leave for home this morning, but because of the bad winter driving conditions we opted to stay an extra day.  We have been staying in our room today, finally venturing out for lunch after the ice melted.  We also met another couple that were staying here at the inn.  David and June Seaver, from Akron, Ohio, also waited a bit to leave for their next destination, Big Bend National Park.

Since my other bird and wildlife photos are still on my memory cards, I will have to wait to post them after we get home tomorrow.  I don’t have the means to get them onto my iPad.  By the way, since we left home on Monday morning, we have seen 57 species of birds so far. 

Well, Ann and I are going to drive into Fort Davis for supper at the historic Drugstore, now a great restaurant.  The Art Gallery is upstairs where I have several of my photographs on display and for sale. Bill and Nancy also own this establishment.

I will be posting photographs in a couple of days.

Re-visiting Fort Davis and Davis Mountains


For you that love to look at my photos, I have many in this post, so sit back and enjoy.

Back in September, Ann and I had visited the city of Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains State Park.  A few days ago, we decided to make a return trip and try to see more of the area than we did the first time.  I must say, there is so much to see there if you like the great outdoors; wildlife and great scenery.

We left Sunday morning early to drop our dog, Suzie off at the sitter.  Then after some breakfast at the nearby “Golden Arches”, we were on our way.  Because of the dangerous traffic through the oil fields of west Texas, we opted to take Hwy 277 due south to connect with I-10 in Sonora.  We like that way, also, because we know where all of the rest stops are located.  Always good to know.

Of course, we always are in the birding mode so we are continually on the alert for any of the avian variety.  Of course, on the interstate highways it is nearly impossible to stop to get photos.  Along the way, we did see the usual variety of doves, grackles, and some un-identifiable sparrows, plus the occasional raven.

Common Raven

Common Raven

We arrived in Fort Stockton around noon and had lunch, at you can probably guess.  You got it — the McD’s again.  Hey, I like their quarter-pounders.  From there we traveled on then connected with Hwy 17 to go through Balmorhea and on to Fort Davis.  We arrived much to early to check in to our room so we decided to have a look at the bird blinds at Davis Mountains State Park, only a few miles away.

It was very warm, so there weren’t any birds to speak of at the first blind that we stopped at, but going to the second one about a quarter mile away, it was much more promising.  We saw several species, including a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal,Western Scrub Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a few miscellaneous sparrows, etc.

Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

After spending about an hour at the two blinds we headed to check into our room at the Davis Mountains Inn.  Click the link for photos of the inn and see information about their rates, etc.  The innkeepers are Bill and Nancy Davis.  They are wonderful people to meet.  We certainly have made great friends with them.  Together they also own properties in the city of Fort Davis.  One is the Drugstore and Art Gallery.

Speaking of the Drugstore, we ate two meals there during our stay and the food was magnificent.  We heartily recommend eating there if you visit the area.

While visiting with them, they came to admire my work, and asked me to be their featured artist at their gallery during the upcoming Fort Davis Frontier Christmas celebration.  I will be signing my book and selling it along with some of my work.  I was very honored that they asked me to do this.

On Monday morning, after a great breakfast at the inn cooked by Adrianna, we decided to return to the blinds at the Davis Mountains SP.  Both blinds were a flurry of activity.  We ended up spending most of the morning there.  We saw a total of sixteen different species.

But while at the blind, we were treated to a surprise of a different nature.  Seven Javelinas wandered in with three babies accompanying them.  What a neat thing to see.  However, I had my bird photography set-up with my 150-600mm zoom lens.  It proved to be almost too much lens for the occasion, as the Javelinas were only about twenty feet in front of me.  So the photos aren’t the greatest compositions.

adult Javelina

adult Javelina

Adult Javelina with two babies peeking.

Adult Javelina with two babies peeking.

Baby Javelinas are dwarfed by the adults.

Baby Javelinas are dwarfed by the adults.

During the afternoon we decided to make one of our favorite drives in the area.  We head south towards Marfa, Texas.  It is around a 20-mile drive on Hwy 17, but very very little traveled.  We love to take a slow leisurly drive, watching for birds along the fence lines and overhead wires.  We saw these tiny birds, plus several American Kestrels, Shrikes, etc.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

After returning, it was time for supper so we bought a pizza at Murphy’s Pizza in Fort Davis, and took it back to the inn where we enjoyed a cold refreshment along with it.  We were happy with our journey so far.

The following day, after a great breakfast of pancakes and sausage cooked by Bill Davis himself, we decided to make the scenic loop that begins going northwesterly towards the McDonald’s Observatory.  We stopped there at the domes atop Mt. Locke and saw some Eastern Bluebirds and House Finches up there.

After stopping at the visitor’s center and gift shop, to use the facility, we continued on, seeing several Western Scrub Jays along the way and numerous Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

This loop continues around and through the Davis Mountains.  I get so much into the wildlife mode that I forget about the beautiful scenery around me.

Sawtooth Mountain

Sawtooth Mountain

Mountains with Cholla in the foreground.

Mountains with Cholla in the foreground.

I think these boulders have been there longer than that metal gate and fence.

I think these boulders have been there longer than that metal gate and fence.

That drive is only about 60-70 miles but it took Ann and I about three and a half hours to complete it.  Too many opportunities for photos.  Obviously I am not going to post all of them here.  Besides a lot of them are throw-aways.

Unfortunately all good trips must come to an end.  But – the fun is not necessarily over.  We left for home on Wednesday morning.  We take Hwy 17 north and the vista from Wild Rose Pass always blows my socks off.  That is Star Mountain that is in the distance.

Star Mountain from Wild Rose Pass

Star Mountain from Wild Rose Pass

Continuing on we come to Balmorhea State Park.  We decided to take some time there.  There are some wetlands that are always promising.  It didn’t fail us.  I got these amazing photos there.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

American Coot

American Cooot

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

What a great way to finish our trip.  We continued on home from here having had a wonderful four days.

During our stay we observed 42 different species, 16 of them at the bird blinds at the Davis Mountains State Park, and the rest in the surrounding areas.

We added two more to our 2014 Big Year list, the Black Phoebe and the American Pipit, bring our current total to 196.  Only four more to go to get tour target of 200.

Click on any photo to see great enlargements.

Ft. Davis and Davis Mountains Revisited


Well, after our aborted trip last month, we finally got it right this time.  We arrived at our destination, the Davis Mountains Inn Bed and Breakfast around 1:30 on Monday afternoon.  That’s our room behind the french doors on the right.

Davis Mountains Inn

Davis Mountains Inn

Since we had a couple of hours to kill before checking in, we decided to visit the Davis Mountains State Park, and have a look at the bird viewing center.  Within a short time we caught glimpses of the following.

Summer Tanager - female

Summer Tanager – female

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jay

While all of that was going on, this squirrel decided to have a look, too.

Squirrel

Squirrel

After spending about an hour and a half there, it was time to go check in at the inn.  We had a nice room, with a king-sized bed.  It also had a jacuzzi which we didn’t use, mainly because of a previous experience with one, that we had at another place.  But that’s another funny story, for another time.  Remind me to tell you all it about sometime.

Because of a family emergency with the owners of the inn, they were unable to cook breakfast for us the following morning.  However, they also own the Fort Davis Drug Store in Fort Davis.  It doubles as a restaurant, so they paid for our meal there.

Following breakfast we decided to take the scenic loop that goes northwest towards the heart of the Davis Mountains, then circles south of them and eventually returns to the city of Fort Davis.  This loop goes to the McDonald Observatory atop Mt. Locke, elevation 6,791 feet, and about a mile above the desert below.

Approaching Mt. Locke and the McDonald Observatory

Approaching Mt. Locke and the McDonald Observatory

Atop Mt. Locke

Atop Mt. Locke

View from Mt. Locke

View from Mt. Locke

McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory

The last time we had visited the observatory a few years ago, we were accosted by a wintery blast as a blue norther blew in as we were atop the mountain.  We hastily made for the visitors center where we were forced to buy some warm jackets.  This time it was cool, but comfortable.

As we continued around the drive heading back towards to Fort Davis, we saw several birds, and added to our 2014 Big Year List, a Canyon Wren, Wilson’s Warbler, and the Acorn Woodpecker, bringing our current total to 185.  Another 15 to go, and we still have three months left.

We also saw this peculiar collection of boulders.  You have to use your imagination to wonder how these ended up in this position.  They are about 15 feet tall.  I wish I had posed Ann in the photo so you could see the size.

Boulders

Boulders

After getting back to the inn, we decided to take a well-deserved nap. Following that, we then went into Fort Davis, which was only a half mile away, and ate a patty melt at the drugstore slash restaurant.  Another filling meal, then relaxed on the patio before turning in for the evening.

On Wednesday, after a scrumptious breakfast of poached eggs and sausage, we went back to the Davis Mountains SP.  Here are a few of the highlights of that visit.

Lesser Goldfinch - juvenile male

Lesser Goldfinch – juvenile male

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

We then made a short trip to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and it was humming with hummingbirds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird or possibly a Black-chinned.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird or possibly a Black-chinned.

female Rufous Hummingbird

female Rufous Hummingbird

On Thursday morning, it was time to say goodbye to the Davis Mountains.  I am sure we will return soon.   In all we saw a grand total of 45 different species at various times of our journey.