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.

Back from Davis Mountains


We have returned from our stay at Fort Davis in the Davis Mountains.  I must say it is one of our best trips there, although the thunderstorms and hail did make things interesting.  First though, before I get to my photographs, there was an “it’s a small world type of thing”.

We have some friends, Suzanne and Sid Johnson, that live in Eldorado, Texas which is about 40 miles south of where we live in San Angelo.  We see them occasionally through the year.  Suzanne recently retired and they bought an RV and have been traveling around the state.  Well, we were on our way the the Davis Mountains, as as we passed the Balmorhea State Park I noticed a Belted Kingfisher on the power line outside the park along the road.  We just happened to be near the entrance to the park.  As I was trying to photograph the kingfisher, a pickup pulling an RV pulled out of the entrance.  The lady in the truck waved to us and jumped from the vehicle.  She turned out to be Suzanne.  Co-incidentally they were heading for the Davis Mountains State Park to stay for a few nights.  We, of course, were heading to nearby Fort Davis to stay, so we were able to get together and go birding with them during our stay.  Much fun.

Now for the photos.  First we saw a total of 65 species during our trip.  Most from the Davis Mountains area, Davis Mountains State Park, Balmorhea State Park, and Lake Balmorhea.  Here is a sampling of those images.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Red-tailed Hawk atop a utility pole.

Red-tailed Hawk atop a utility pole.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

House Finch - female

House Finch – female

Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Davis Mountains State Park

Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Davis Mountains State Park

Clark's Grebes

Clark’s Grebes

Western Grebes

Western Grebes

An interested spectator.

An interested spectator.

Snowy Egret making a landing.

Snowy Egret making a landing.

Great Blue Heron catching a small snack.

Great Blue Heron catching a small snack.

Greater Roadrunner in a yucca plant.

Greater Roadrunner in a yucca plant.

White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail

Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jay

I think that is the most images that I have ever published in a single post.  I hope you enjoyed them.  Click on any image to see enlargements if you are reading this on a computer.

Happy Birding!!!

 

 

 

Last post for a few days……….


Once again, time has slipped up on me again.  The days are flying by and I get farther behind.  Here we are preparing to leave tomorrow morning to spend three three days in Fort Davis.  It is to belatedly celebrate my 81st birthday that was on October 2.  I felt that I should do one more post before we leave.  Before I go, here are a couple of my favorite shots from the past few days.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Sorry this is short.  I hope to have some great photos to show you when we return later in the week.  The migration is in full swing in the Davis Mountains area and I am anxious to see if I can add to my 2015 list which is sourly lacking.

So ya’ll have a great week.  We intend to. 🙂

 

Birding the Big Bend – Part I, Fort Davis


Over social media such as FaceBook I have seen comments from many people who have never visited the Big Bend area, wanting more information about birding, lodging, the national park, and other areas of interest.  So I have decided to do a couple of posts telling about our experiences and favorite stops.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon – Big Bend National Park

Ann and I have two main areas of interest when we visit the Big Bend area of west Texas.  One is the biggest area near the bend of the Rio Grande.  That includes Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Our other favorite area, that I will write about in this post, is Fort Davis. In the area there are the Davis Mountains, Davis Mountains State Park, McDonald Observatory and Balmorhea.  I should also include the actual Fort Davis, one of the best preserved frontier forts in the country._MG_1609 036-net-fort-davis-bsob-zeller

An ideal trip for Ann and I would be to leave from San Angelo, head south to Sonora, and take I-10 west until finding Hwy 17 that leads to Fort Davis.  Traveling on I-10 is typical as Interstate travel can be.  The fun starts when you make the turn off onto Hwy 17.  You will travel through Balmorhea, then head through the beautiful Davis Mountains into the city of Fort Davis.

There are several places to stay in Fort Davis.  At the Davis Mountains State Park there is the Indian Lodge.  Nearby is the Prude Ranch and Fort Davis Motor Inn.  Ann and I prefer to stay at the Davis Mountains Inn, a nice little bed and breakfast.

Davis Mountains Inn

Davis Mountains Inn

We like to eat at the historic Fort Davis Drugstore.  Great food, and upstairs is the Drugstore Art Gallery, where yours truly, (that’s me) has numerous prints for sale.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker – Davis Mountains State Park

Birding is great at the Davis Mountains State Park, about seven miles northwest of town on Hwy 118..  There are two recently renovated bird blinds and plenty of birds.  On occasion, if you are lucky, you might spot some Montezuma Quail.  That place is one of our favoite birding areas.  The blinds are very good at attracting birds.  You can elect to sit inside and observe through the windows, or sit in the convenient stools outside.

Southwest of town on Hwy 118 is the Chihuahuan Nature Center and Botanical Gardens.  When we last visited it was literally humming with various species of Humming Birds.  There is also some very nice hiking trails.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - female

Black-chinned Hummingbird – female

One of our favorite things while in the area, is to take the Wildlife Viewing Loop.  It is a 75 mile drive heading northwest on Hwy 118, going by the McDonald Observatory high in the mountains.  A few miles later you will see a park on the left at Madera Canyon.  Pause there for awhile as it is a very good birding area. A Stellar’s Jay, was just seen there just a few days ago.  After that continue the loop, bearing left to Hwy 166, always looking out for the hawks and other birds and wildlife that inhabit the area.  You will end up back in Fort Davis, ready for a good meal at the Drugstore or a pizza from Murphy’s Pizza.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

After a good night’s sleep, a trip to Balmorhea sounds like a nice side journey.  The drive is north on Hwy 17 for about 40 miles.  We love that trip, because the drive itself is a great birding drive.  Hawks in abundance; Aoudads and Pronghorned Antelope line the mountain ridges.  And who can not stop to photograph Wild Rose Pass.

Wild Ross Pass

Wild Ross Pass

As you approach Balmorhea, you will see Balmorhea State Park.  It is small and it’s main feature is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.  But it also has a wetlands area where you can see some great birds.  East of town, is Lake Balmorhea, where during the colder months many species of water birds, ducks, egrets, herons, grebes, etc. can be found.  A Bald Eagle is usually seen hanging around, too.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Be sure to schedule your Balmorhea trip to include lunch at the Bear Den. It bills itself as “the cutest restaurant in town”.  Great Tex-Mex food and cold beer.

In the evening, you might be interested in driving south to Marfa, where you can see the famous “Marfa Lights”, that mysteriously glow after sundown in the direction of the Chinati Mountains.  We have see them every time that we have visited there.  Very strange, indeed.  They are just east of town on Hwy 90 where the Texas Highway Department has erected a special viewing area.

After a couple or three days here, we are ready to go south to the area of the Big Bend National Park.  That area will be the subject of Part II.

More updated images from Fort Davis


Before I get into this post, I was just perusing the comments on my About Me page and my Marfan Syndrome page.  I had forgotten that there were so many nice and caring people out there that follow my posts.  I hope you’all are still there.  I definitely appreciate you and it is you that keeps me interested in keeping up this blog.

Okay, as most of you know, Ann and I spent nearly a week in Fort Davis, Texas.  Fort Davis is named for a restored frontier fort of the same name.  A neat little town at the base of the Davis Mountains.  We love the area because of the potential for great wildlife photos, not to mention the great scenery at this altitude of about 5,000 feet.  Higher if you get up to the nearby McDonald Observatory.

In my recent post I described the local area, the Davis Mountains Inn, etc.  I won’t get into that again as I don’t want to repeat myself.  I will now get you up to date with some of the photos that I took while there.  Ann was a big help with her spotting.  I tend to try to drive safely, (yeah, right), and keep my eyes on the road so I depend on her to watch the trees, high wire lines, and fences.  As yet, I don’t have a bumper sticker that says, “I brake for birds”.  For the record, we recorded 62 different species of birds, 12 of them to be added to our 2015 Big Year list.

First, I must say that there are many Red-tailed Hawks in the area.

Red-tailed Hawk along the highway.

Red-tailed Hawk along the highway.

But we can’t ignore the other species.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

On Tuesday of our stay, we ventured over Wild Rose Pass and drove down to Balmorhea, Texas, a distance of 38 miles.  It wasn’t so much that we had a reason to visit that town, it was the journey that we loved.  Raptors appeared on posts and fences and hunted over the land.  Other wildlife could be seen, too.  Aoudads, (pictured below), Pronghorned Antelope, Bobcat, and Muledeer.

Aoudads, also know as Barbary Sheep, stand on a ridge near Wild Rose Pass.

Aoudads, also know as Barbary Sheep, stand on a ridge near Wild Rose Pass.

Did I say there were many Red-tailed Hawks?

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting – female

Just west of Balmorhea is the Balmorhea State Park.  They have some wonderful wetland areas to visit.  This is a rather small park so it is easy to get around.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

A Bufflehead enjoys splashing around.

A Bufflehead enjoys splashing around.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

A Canada Goose flies overhead.

A Canada Goose flies overhead.

A happy Western Meadowlark sings his song.

A happy Western Meadowlark sings his song.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Before returning back over the pass to Fort Davis and our room at the inn, we stopped at this great little restaurant in Balmorhea.  I forget the name, but the sign says it is the “Cutest Restaurant in Balmorhea”.  If you are in the area I recommend the food here.  We ate the traditional stacked enchiladas with hot sauce, topped with a fried egg.  Can’t wait to get back there.

And we will end this post with, you guessed it, another Red-tailed Hawk.

REd-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk.  This one seems to be saying, “If I stay behind this twig, I can’t be seen.”

Again, many thanks to all who follow this post.  Click on the photos to see enlargements.  If you like to comment, I sure would like to hear from you.  Since our return from our trek to the mountains, I have been busy trying to get some more local photographs for you.  I will post again in a few days.

Davis Mountains Vacation – Life Is Good


Disclaimer:  This post is best viewed on your computer where you can see all of the photographs, and click on them to see enlargements.

Life doesn’t get any better than this.  Ann and I had the most wonderful time in a long time, mostly because we were joined by our dearest friends from Tennessee.  We hadn’t seen them since 2008 but that seemed just like it was the day before yesterday.  It was wonderful getting caught up and reminiscing.  (gosh, I think I finally got that spelled right. )  We gave them a big Texas welcome and dragged them all over the place.

I had been invited to Fort Davis to be honored as a featured artist at the Art Gallery at the Drugstore.  Bill and Nancy Davis, who by the way, are also the innkeepers at the Davis Mountains Inn where we all stayed, also own the art gallery and the drugstore restaurant.  They, too, are wonderful people and we consider them among our best friends.  They had a reception for me on Saturday, where I sold some of my work, and signed my book, “Birds, Beasts, and Buttes”.  It was a huge success.

But it was small considering all that we did during the rest of the time, accompanied by our friends.  We took the 75-mile scenic wildlife loop tour;  Visited the McDonald’s Observatory; drove to Balmorhea State Park and Lake Balmorhea.  All in the name of birding, where we wanted to top off our 2014 list of birds.  We saw 54 different species during the trip.  One of those pushed us pass our goal of 200.  The Clark’s Grebe, mentioned later in this post gave us 201.  Oh, we also got a bunch of photographs.  I will show you them, in no particular order.  Remember to click on them to see great enlargements.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors seem to be everywhere.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Northern Harrier on the hunt for prey.

Northern Harrier on the hunt for prey.

The Northern Harrier was the most difficult hawk to photograph.  They are fast, flying close to the ground, and not stopping to perch.

I can’t forget the four-legged wildlife in the area.

Pronghorned Antelope

Pronghorned Antelope

Aoudad on mountain side.

Aoudad on mountain side.

Great scenic wonders abound, too, however I was more into the wildlife mode so I didn’t get too many landscapes.

 

Rocky Mountainside

Rocky Mountainside

Really, really, big rocks

Really, really, big rock

Of course, there are many smaller birds in abundance.

Whtei-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

On a quick trip to Balmorhea State Park, we spotted this Red-tailed Hawk on the way.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

I told you the raptors were everywhere.  After arriving at the state park, we saw numerous American Coots and this one pretty Lesser Scaup.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

When I first spotted it I hoped that it would have been a Greater Scaup, but after a closer look at the wings, I could see the white bar on the trailing wing didn’t extend to the wing tip as it would have on the Greater.  As you can see on the next photos that it indeed a Lesser Scaup.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Alas, on Sunday morning our dear friends had to return to their home in Tennessee.  We will greatly miss them until the next time we meet, hopefully some time in 2015.

On Monday morning, Ann and I decided to visit Lake Balmorhea.  We had never been to before, but we had heard about the great birding there.  We were not disappointed as there were many wintering birds there.  We only wish our friends could have spent another day as they would have loved this.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

An American Pelican comes in for a landing.

An American Pelican comes in for a landing.

Clark's Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

A pair of Clark's Grebes swim through the reeds.

A pair of Clark’s Grebes swim through the reeds.

The Clark’s Grebe was number 201 on our 2014 Big Year Birding list.  It was also a ‘lifer’, being number 288 on our Life List.  It made for a fun, and very enjoyable five days in the Davis Mountains area.  After returning home, I received word from the San Angelo Country Club that two of my golf course photographs had been sold.  So now Ann and I can eat for another week. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed the rather lengthy post.  Click on all of the photos to see some nice enlargements.  That’s all for this time.