Birding it up in the wild west of the Pecos.
Have you ever wanted to find yourself eye-to-eye with a smart-looking Black-capped Vireo, or soak in the sight of a sharply dressed Golden-cheeked Warbler? The majestic mountains and desert grandeur of West Texas offer up these “most-wanteds” and more. Although these birds may be your prime reason for coming, there is a host of cool birds and interesting habitats to sample in this corner of Texas. Chihuahuan desert, juniper hills, montane pine forest, and eastern sycamore groves are just some of the varied environments we’ll visit, all of which combine to produce some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and sunsets.
West Texas birding consists of a boggling blend of familiar US species intermixed with birds more typically found south of the border. Species like Colima Warbler, Zone-tailed Hawk, Olive Sparrow, and Ringed and Green Kingfishers add some Mexican spice to the tour. Simply put, West Texas is a must-see and must-bird destination.
Day 1: San Antonio to Kerrville. The tour starts this afternoon in the San Antonio airport, and we’ll drive to Kerrville for the night.
Days 2 – 3: The Edwards Plateau. We’ll spend two days on the plateau searching for the immaculate Golden-cheeked Warbler and the striking Black-capped Vireo. In this part of Texas, the avifauna consists of an interesting mix of eastern, western, and Mexican birds. Eastern representatives should include chatty Carolina Chickadees, dapper Yellow-throated Warblers, subtle Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees, and vociferous Carolina Wrens, while Western species may include Western Scrub-Jay, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Bushtit. We’ll spend these nights in Uvalde.
Day 4: The Davis Mountains. The tour’s next stop is the Davis Mountains, a unique “sky island” in the heart of West Texas. A stop at the state park may yield Common Black-Hawk and the handsome Montezuma Quail.
Day 5: The Davis Mountains. Today we’ll visit the Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountains Preserve. Special arrangements allow us access to this fascinating area, where we’ll target the extremely localized Buff-breasted Flycatcher, a few pairs of which have set up breeding territories here in recent years. Part of the notoriously confusing Empidonax flycatcher group, this is one of the more distinctive members. Nearby, we’ll have excellent opportunities to study many of the more tricky species, with Dusky, Cordilleran, Gray, Least, and Hammond’s Flycatchers all possible in the area. If these spirited “Empids” don’t get you going, there are plenty of other more colorful birds to go after. Not least among these are bright scarlet-and-yellow Western Tanagers and raucous, azure-blue Steller’s Jays. Other montane birds may include Cassin’s Kingbird, Red Crossbill, Band-tailed Pigeon, and Western Bluebird, here met by more southerly species like Grace’s Warbler and Magnificent Hummingbird. In the evening we’ll travel south, climbing out of the Chihuahuan Desert and arriving at the basin of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend NP, our base for the next few days.
Days 6-8: Big Bend NP. Big Bend is a legendary birding site and true rarity hotspot. We’ll start birding right around our cabins at daybreak, where cerulean-colored Mexican Jays, plain yet perky Canyon Towhees, crimson-red Summer Tanagers, and fidgety Say’s Phoebes often abound.
The Chisos Mountains are famous among birders as the only reliable place for Colima Warbler north of the Mexican border. We’ll take a long hike up into the mountains to look for this delightful, localized wood warbler, a major target of the tour. The upper reaches of the trail are home to Hepatic Tanager, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Black-headed Grosbeak, and there is always a chance of coming across a black bear. Checking the mountain meadows may bring us face-to-face with a vocal Bewick’s Wren or the scarce Black-chinned Sparrow, while a stop at Boot Spring Canyon may add some color with a handsome Painted Redstart, or a busy Blue-throated Hummingbird working the blooms. Aside from this more regular fare, Big Bend rightly has a reputation for pulling in rarities, and such stunners as Flame-colored Tanager, Red-faced Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Rufous-capped Warbler, Rufous-breasted Robin, Aztec Thrush, and Berylline and White-eared Hummingbirds have all been recorded on this 9-mile hike. It’s a longish trek, but we’ll take it slow and enjoy everything we see along the way.
Aside from the hike, we’ll visit a number of bird-rich areas at lower elevations. On a foray into the riparian scrub flanking the Rio Grande, we should find some hot birds like Golden-fronted Woodpecker, the technicolored Painted Bunting, and the more subdued Lucy’s Warbler. We will also check the drier desert foothills for Varied Bunting, Crissal Thrasher, Verdin, Greater Roadrunner, Cactus Wren, Gray Vireo, the oddly named Pyrrhuloxia, and the vivid-red Vermilion Flycatcher. One of Big Bend’s star birds is the tiny Lucifer Hummingbird, and we’ll check any flowering agaves for this top target. These same blooms are also a good place to pick up other nectar feeders like Scott’s Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, and Black-chinned Hummingbird. We’ll make a night excursion into the desert to try for the diminutive and adorable Elf Owl.
Day 9: Big Bend to Midland-Odessa. After a final morning at the Big Bend, we head north to Midland-Odessa for a celebratory farewell dinner.
Day 10: Midland-Odessa. The tour ends after breakfast with a morning transfer to the airport.