Saturday, March 10, 2018

February 16 - Day 2 in Big Bend National Park - Birds, Wildflowers, and Mexican Trinkets

We decided to spend most of day 2 of our trip looking for birds. There's a nice nature trail leading from the Rio Grande Village campground, so we began there. The first part of the trail passes through a wetlands area that I assume is spring fed. The park had done a controlled burn a few days before we got there, so a lot of the area normally covered in reeds was charred nubs. There was still enough reed area to provide cover for some birds and we spotted what looked like a Swamp Sparrow and thought we heard a Marsh Wren. I didn't get pictures of either, but I did look down at the right time and spotted a Virginia Rail! This wasn't a new bird for either one of us, but it was a big surprise to see one here. It's not very common, but passes through the park during migration. My only other pictures of this bird are really bad, so I was happy to get better ones.

Virginia Rail
The trail leads out of the wetlands area and offers 2 choices - a loop trail that gains elevation and has views of the surrounding area, or an out and back down to the Rio Grande River. We chose the latter hoping more birds would be hanging out around the water. We struck out on the birds, but had a nice view of the river and saw a few wildflowers.

We had read in the park newspaper that we might come across home made items from the Mexicans in different area. Apparently they sneak across the river at night and set up the goods. The newspaper warns that it's illegal to buy these items, but I guess people do it anyway. We came across the first of several of these set ups very near the river and had no idea whether someone was keeping an eye on it or not.

River levels weren't very high and it would be very easy for someone to swim or wade across, but we never felt uneasy or really even gave it a second thought any time we were near the river. The river scene was nice, so we hung around a bit shooting the wildflowers we found. I was kind of surprised to find what looked like a lupine. After we got back I found out it's called Big Bend Bluebonnet (Lupinus havardii) and read that all species of Lupinus are considered the Texas state flower.

the Rio Grande River
Big Bend Bluebonnet (Lupinus havardii)

Big Bend Bluebonnet (Lupinus havardii)
Bicolor Fanmustard (Nerisyrenia camporum)

Purple Mat (Nama hispida)

We saved the loop part of the trail for another day and headed back to the campsite. On the way back I snagged another shot of a roadrunner. I kept the camera handy once we got back to the campsite and was glad I did. We had heard that the Vermilion Flycatchers frequented the campsite and one showed up while we were getting ready to head out again. We already had this bird, but not one this brightly colored!

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus)

Our next birding spot was a place called Dugout Wells. Cindy had read that this was a good birding spot - probably because it's a little desert oasis spot with a spring. The area was once a small community, but all that's left is a windmill. The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail is also at this spot. It's an easy 1/2 mile loop hike that gives you an excellent overview of life in this part of the desert. Plant life is abundant here, but most of them have sharp pointy things all over them and we really had to pay attention as we hike the trail. We got several new birds here including a Verdin, a Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, and a Pyrrhuloxia and saw quite a few more species of birds that we already had. We also spotted a Desert Cottontail Rabbit that was kind enough to sit still for a minute or two. Not all of the bird shots were good, but they were good enough to get ID's. We had really wanted the Pyrrhuloxia - a type of cardinal - so were pleased with that catch.

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)
Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)
Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
From here we headed up to the Panther Junction visitor center to see what they offered and to probably get some ice at the nearby little store before it closed. We averaged about a bag of ice a day due to some of the hot temps we encountered - especially at the lower elevations. It was in the low 90's several of the days we were there. I did manage to pick up another new bird while at the visitor center - a Curve-billed Thrasher - so I was now up to 9 new birds in 2 days! After this, we returned to the campsite and called it an evening. Tomorrow would be another scenery day.

Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating stuff! That Vermillion Flycatcher is a beauty. Very interesting about the lupines, although I'm not sure I want to give TX any credit for PEI lupines :-) Those wire and beaded birds / trinkets made across the border are really cool!