2023-July Texas Rest Area Birds

Pinto Creek to Marathon - Map
Route from Pinto Creek to Marathon TX.
Marathon Picnic Rest Stop - Scenery
Texas Roadside Rest, sometimes called ‘Picnic Areas’ can be worthwhile places to meet rural birds. I stayed at the Picnic Area 20 miles east of Marathon while traveling to the Davis Mountains. Skylarking Cassin’s Sparrows put on a show for me.

Gulf Fritillary - Agraulis vanillae

For many reasons I enjoy touring Texas. There is much I enjoy about Texan culture. One is their thoughtfully placed mini-oasis along their two-lane highways. Criss-crossing their vast remote landscapes, they are a welcome sight for weary travelers. These Texas Roadside Rest Areas, sometimes called ‘Picnic Areas’ or ‘Parking Areas’ can be worthwhile places to meet rural birds. Most of these locations have a pull-through driveway with a pair of covered picnic tables and benches. The tables are often placed 50 or 60 yards apart, at each end of the small lot. There is no water or bathrooms. But usually there are secure trash receptacles. The remoteness of these stops often means adjacent habitats are brush or grasslands. Their diminutive size and rural nature does not attract the hoards of travelers that I find along most interstate freeways. I have not seen such intimate offerings in other states. Some states, such as California, are even stingy with those large freeway rest stops.

When I left Kickapoo Caverns on Sunday, I drove 24 miles south back to Brackettville, then turned west toward Del Rio Texas. Only 7½ miles down US-90, I found a place to stop for the night at the Pinto Creek Picnic Area. During my stay, I met vireos, ravens, orioles, goldfinches, buntings, and flycatchers.

While holed up at Pinto Creek, I used my time to study my maps of the road ahead. Big Bend National Park is always a tempting destination, but often difficult to find overnight accommodations inside the park. I decided it wasn’t in the cards to drive those extra miles on this trip. The Davis Mountains loomed large as a place I wanted to spend time. So I settled on a route that would get me there with a minimal detour as I planned my Texas exit route into Arizona.

I’ve traveled along the US-90 route several times on past visits to Texas. Along the road is the small town of Langtry, where the notorious ‘Judge’ Roy Bean once settled and declared himself to be “The Law West of the Pecos”. The state of Texas has made a “Welcome Center” there, and they maintain a lovely cactus garden on the property. 

Monday morning, I continued driving west on US-90 from the Pinto Picnic Area. On my way I stopped in Del Rio for breakfast, groceries, fuel, and propane. I learned the new propane regulator installed only a month ago in Pennsylvania had failed. All the fuel had leaked from both tanks. I probably lost $45 worth of propane. Once I realized my problem, I shut the main valves on each tank. No sense wasting more fuel. Replacing the regulator would have to wait until I got home.

Triple-digit temperatures had been my companion all along my drive through Texas. My tour of Texas Hill Country, as they call this region, was no different. I left Del Rio, stopping later at Langtry to look for birds in the cactus garden. The birds showed more sense than me, and hid from the excessive heat of the day. After a brief walk through the garden, I resumed my trip toward the Davis Mountains.

I ended my Monday drive at another rest stop, 20 miles east of Marathon. I spent some of the afternoon with the birds and butterflies I found there. The most fun for me were skylarking Cassin’s Sparrows. Skylarking is what they call it when birds fly to heights of 30, 40, 50 feet or more, and sing as they flutter back to earth. I must have read about this practice, but forgotten. I’d not seen this behavior during any of my earlier meetings. It tricked me. I could hear the birds singing, but when I tried to spot a perching songster, I could not see any. After several minutes of confusion, I finally saw the airborne singers. For most of my vigil, the Cassin’s Sparrows kept their distance. So I enjoyed the mockingbirds and other sparrows who were more generous with their time. Cave Swallows buzzed by at high speed, but I knew better than to frustrate myself trying in vain to capture them in their high-speed flight. Later, I had a stroke of luck, when a pair of Cassin’s Sparrows landed near where I sat. They gave me the opportunity to capture better images than those I struggled with earlier.

Pipevine Swallowtail - Papilio troilus

The days in Texas have been very warm. Recent rain storms softened the torment somewhat, but added an element of humidity to the equation. My self-defense has been to run the generator all night, and use the air conditioner to keep cool. I am so grateful that the new inverter/generator I bought last fall is doing its job perfectly. It is quiet, so I easily sleep through the nights. The noise of the A/C fan is louder than the generator. Monday night, before hitting the sack, I noticed the outdoor temperature had dropped to 70°F, so I shut down the generator and turned on the ventilator fan. It was the quietest night I had in a while. I didn’t even hear any traffic go by as I slept.

Tuesday morning I booked two nights at the Davis Mountains State Park Campground. For $20 a night with electricity, it is a bargain. It should give me a chance to make progress on my blog backlog. I have been trying to work through the recent images, and much work has been accomplished. But High Island and all the stops since are awaiting publication.

I had breakfast at the Oasis Cafe in Marathon. There is a nearby location in town called Gage Gardens. I’ve enjoyed the times I spent there on past visits, and I spent a few hours on the grounds before continuing west. Only two hours away, my Davis Mountains camp awaits. But the telling of these stories will come later.

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