Texas, Here We Come

About two weeks ago, the family decided we would divide and conquer. Jackson and I would travel to Texas after his middle school graduation and Maura and Fiona would journey to Wyoming later in the year. Though this felt strange to not be together for these possibly momentous trips, it did make sense economically. Plus, Maura’s mother would have the chance to share her childhood home with Maura and Fiona.

Jackson had been talking about Big Bend National Park for months and I had listened to his grand ideas, not really thinking we would be going. So when I began working on the actual logistics, I discovered how far southwest it was. And when we landed in Houston yesterday morning, it really dawned on me how much driving there was going to be to even get to the birding spots.

Fortunately, I had looked at a few hot spots on the way. So about four hours into the drive, we were able to stop at the Crescent Bend Nature Park and stretch our legs. And just outside of the park, we began seeing more than vultures and grackles. On the same stretch of road, along the power lines, were Western Kingbirds and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers — two birds we were hoping to see.

But upon opening the doors, the air-conditioning was sucked out by the 96-degree heat. Donning our hats and gear, we leaned into it though. The signage for the park was minimal and we had no idea how much land it encompasses. In the end, we decided to go to the bird blinds last and followed some other trails.

The first thing to leap out at us, literally, were the locusts (or that’s what I think they were). Initially, we were excited by all of the bird activity. But in actuality, it was just giant locusts bouncing around in the dry, rustling grasses, whirring their calls like industrial sprinklers.

Finally, we found a stand of trees and new songs sprang out. Using the Bird.Net app, we were able to start making some guesses and then waited for further confirmation visually or additional research. Included in the birds in this one spot, were a Couch’s Kingbird, Black-Crested Titmouse, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and a Gold-Fronted Woodpecker. There may have also been a painted bunting, but we couldn’t confirm (though we would see one later).

As part of our confirmation process, we were scanning the trees with binoculars. At one point, Jackson and I caught movement. The next thing I knew, a large brown face was peering back at me. It seemed to have an eery intelligence to its eyes and startled me. All I could think of, at first, was ring-tail. But later in the evening, we discovered it must have been a Fox Squirrel, which can grow up to three feet long, from tail to nose.

After that bonanza, we entered the open field and the searing sun. It didn’t take long to become overwhelmed by the heat and mesmerized by the locusts. We became unfocused and had difficulty spending energy identifying birds. We did catch a photo of a dove on a wire, which upon lightening ended up being an Inca Dove — probably the one bird we were really hoping to find.DSC_0096 (2)

Acknowledging that we were overheated, we head back to the car to cool down in get more water. It seemed like a long trek back, but it only took 15 minutes.

After cooling off, we discovered how close the bird blind was to our car, as well as how shady and comfortable it was. Situated among a large crop of trees was a set of reclining outdoor chairs. It wasn’t really a blind but a place to relax and soak in the birds. The only bit of discomfort were the signs surrounding it, saying beware of venomous snakes. Still we sat down in the chairs, alongside an older gentleman and waited.

The Gold-Fronted Woodpecker could be heard occasionally, as well as cardinal. The man had told us a Summer Tanager had been there the day before. We had also noticed we had just missed an Indigo Bunting.

DSC_0119 (2)In one of the trees, I observed a pair of doves that I hoped would be Inca Doves. But as they finally moved into a good position, I saw the white on their wings and knew they were White-Winged Doves, a species we had gotten in Florida. Then we both heard the call of a hummingbird near I heads. Jackson began snapping pictures as fast as he could, trying to keep up with the bird’s darting. Then a second one came and landed on a branch. It was a Black-Chinned Hummingbird.

After a while, Jackson said that we should get going. We had about 5 more hours until we reached the hotel we would be staying at outside of Big Bend. I was reluctant to leave the comfort of those chairs and the birds, but he was right.

We said goodbye to our neighbor and walked back to the car, taking deep breaths of the cool air.

We had actually done pretty well, birdwise. Including the Common Nighthawk we saw on the highway, we have gotten nine new species, bringing us to 236, almost ensuring that we would smash our Family Big Year annual goal of 250 before the halfway mark.

We would just need to take it easy in the heat and be patient. For one thing we learned, the birds did hide well here in Texas.

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