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2020-03-07: Bird Adventures In Big Bend

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis
Up-close and personal view. Because of the working well and wind pump at the site of the old Sam Nail Ranch homestead in Big Bend, it is a great place to meet a variety of birds.

Friday night I stayed in Alpine Texas behind Penny’s Diner. It was a 24 hour cafe, so I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and had an early breakfast, then I headed south into Big Bend National Park. I set my sights on the Sam Nail Ranch, one of the earliest homesteads in Big Bend. I finally reached my destination at about 9 a.m. and it didn’t take long for me to meet birds. Curve-Billed Thrashers, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and Rock Wrens found me before I reached the water source up the trail.

I’ve found I can make myself small in the field by sitting on a small folding stool that I can carry in a pouch which I sling over my shoulder while I hike. I carried my gear along the trail and found the water source that fed the old grove of pecans and where the birds gathered to drink. An old windmill left over from the time when this was an active homestead, still drew water from below ground when the wind blew hard enough to get the metal vanes turning sufficiently to lift the water to the surface. When it did, it would send a few pints of clear water from the outflow pipe into small puddles that the birds exploited to quench their thirst.

Inca Dove - Columbina inca
After spending most of the day in Big Bend National Park, I drove to Marathon Texas, where I discovered these Inca Doves at the Gage Gardens near the town center.

I only spent a couple of hours here, but I met plenty of the local avifauna. Dozens of mockingbirds dominated the little theater, and when they swarmed in, the other birds gave ground. Besides the Northern Mockingbirds, there were plenty of Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia and White-Crowned Sparrows. During my vigil I also met a Hermit Thrush, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a Spotted Towhee and a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

I learned that because it was Spring Break, all the camping spaces in the park were taken, and roadside overnight stays are not allowed in National Parks. I was on the fence about extending my visit here another day, but this information made the decision for me. So I drove north out of the park to Marathon Texas. On my drive north I stopped at one of the roadside pullouts marked “Exhibit”, and took a break from the road to fix myself a meal. While there, I noticed some sparrows (Black-Throated) and gnatcatchers (Black-Tailed and Blue-Gray) nearby, so I collected a few harshly lit images.

When I got to Marathon there was still plenty of good light, so I checked the resource literature I brought with me and found a reference to Gage Gardens. I found the location nearby. It was a well manicured park close to the town center, with trees, lawns, water features and …. BIRD FEEDERS! At first I walked through the park with only my binoculars, but when I found Inca Doves I went back to the RV for my camera gear. This was my first encounter with Inca Doves and I overdid it with images, though I won’t apologize for my enthusiasm. Besides these new friends, there were White-Winged Doves, House Sparrows, House Finches, White-Crowned Sparrows, Dark-Eyed (Gray-Headed) Juncos and Vermilion Flycatchers.

I learned the Oasis Cafe in Marathon would be open for breakfast on Sunday, so I found a spot on the side of the road going north out of town to stay for the night, and I worked on the images I collected during this long day. The cost of my enthusiasm during the day was the time I had to spend sorting through all the images separating the wheat from the chaff. But that’s why I set out on this expedition, so it’s all good.

As I send out this post I’m in Del Rio Texas, having driven most of the way from Marathon in a rain storm. Tomorrow I hope to explore some birding locations nearby. Stay tuned!

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