2022-10-04 Davis Mountains

White-Winged Dove - Zenaida asiatica
White-Winged Doves were plentiful here at Davis Mountains State Park, and seemed well-fed from the seeds offered at the feeding stations.
Collared Peccary - Pecari tajacu
As I was leaving the McDonald Observatory, I spotted a family of Collared Peccaries, and I could not resist spending some time with them.
Western Tanager - Piranga ludoviciana
This Western Tanager was probably raised here at Davis Mountains State Park, or nearby. It will soon leave to spend the winter in Mexico.

Davis Mountains State Park has its origins in the 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps project to help lift the broken economy out of the depression. Miles of trails were constructed across the 2,709 acres of this property, along with a sixteen room lodge. In 1967, 101 campsites were added, including many with full or partial RV hookups.

Two bird blinds have been established where seed and water is provided to attract the local birds and Rock Squirrels. The first blind the visitors encounter is centrally located on the western side of the campground. Both blinds feature an indoor large glass window with chairs to enjoy the birds that come in for food and drink, and both have an outdoor section with portholes in a wall for views unobstructed by children’s hand smears on glass. These structures were built by the CCC with the primary focus on keeping the architecture in harmony with the 1930s adobe-style. Unfortunately, the somewhat small portholes through the 8-10 inch thick walls at the west blind make for some difficult angles to view and photograph the subjects coming in from all angles. When they constructed the second blind on the east side of the compound, they used wooden boards to make the outdoor blind. And while the portholes are slightly on the small side, the wall-thickness is only two inches, and the conditions for outdoor viewing are eminently better.

I’m sure some of the visiting campers come to spend time with friends and family in larger groups, and the campsites are arranged to accommodate these parties. But there are many sites provided where those seeking a measure of solitude can find more isolation. I fall into this second category, and in space #48, I was several hundred feet from my nearest neighbor.

Tuesday morning, after spending some time with the birds at the west blind, I drove up Skyline Drive to explore and enjoy the scenery from the ridges east of camp. From on high, the looks of the hillsides gave me the impression that fire had visited this region within the past few years. While there were still juniper or cedar stands scattered, most of the landscape I could see from my drive was covered in tall grass. Small birds were difficult to find and impossible to photograph. Other than the flyovers by ravens and vultures, I only saw a single Lark Sparrow and a Canyon Towhee on my drive.

When I finished my Skyline Drive tour, I explored the rest of the property. At the farthest point from the entrance, is the site where the lodge structures are located. I parked the RV there, and explored the surrounding hillsides. To my delight, I found four species I hadn’t seen from the valley floor. These were the Black-Crested Titmouse, Cassin’s Kingbird, Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, and Western Tanager.

This was the fifth time I’ve passed through the Davis mountains region. I enjoy following state route 118, and I’ve always stopped at a rest area on the Fort Davis side of the summit, where I’ve enjoyed the scenic view and meeting birds at a picnic area there. On this visit things were pretty quiet, but my ears told me that the Rock Wren that I’ve met on every occasion here was still happy to sing me a song. The only other bird nearby that I could detect was a foraging Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, whose tap tap tapping on a nearby oak tree betrayed its presence.

There was one more meaningful stop before leaving the Davis Mountains, and that was at the McDonald Observatory. I drove up to the highest reaches the road allowed, where I caught fleeting glimpses of finch-like birds dashing over the highest oak canopy, but they disappeared before I could get an ID, let alone get my camera ready. But when I descended to the lower levels, nearer the Visitor Center, I found a family group of Collared Peccaries. As I was photographing this multi-generational group, I noticed small passerines foraging on the lawns and flying up to the pines and junipers that grew on the grounds. After finishing with the peccaries, I gathered my gear and creeped out to meet them.

I found these birds to be exceptionally shy. They allowed me to approach only so far before moving off, beyond reasonable camera distance. I barely got close enough to identify the species, and most of the pictures I got were substandard. I could clearly identify Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays, Western Bluebirds, House Finches, and Lark Sparrows. I’m pretty sure I saw a Brewer’s Sparrow amongst the Lark Sparrows, but I could not capture any images.

When I drove away from the observatory, I had two more stops in mind, but the skies closed in and provided enough thunder, lightning, and rain, to convince me it was time to come down from the mountain and drive away from this special place. So I made tracks toward El Paso.

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