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Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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Trans Pecos Birding Locations

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Trans Pecos Birding Locations
« on: March 07, 2007, 12:18:34 PM »


Amistad National Recreation Area

and Seminole Canyon State Park (Val Verde County)

Phone: 915/292-4464
Acreage: 2,172
Checklist: Weidenfeld 1989
Key Species: White-throated Swift

This large lake and park system is on the eastern edge of the Trans-Pecos. All of this lake is actually just east of the Pecos River, but is included here because of the habitat similarities to the Trans-Pecos and the large public access areas. The entire area is actually in a confluence of the Trans-Pecos, Edwards Plateau and South Texas Brushland ecological zones.

Amistad Lake is a large recreational lake not particularly well known for its birds. It does, however, contain birds such as the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Green Kingfisher and Great Kiskadee that are at the limit of their range from adjoining areas. On the lake, many ducks, cormorants and herons can be found during certain seasons. Around the perimeter of the lake is one of the better places to look for Golden-fronted Woodpecker and an occasional Harris’ Hawk.


Balmorhea State Park (Reeves County)

Phone: 915/375-2370
Acreage: 45
Checklist: Lockwood 1992
Key Species: Migrants, Marsh Species

Balmorhea State Park is located near the town of Balmorhea just north of the Davis Mountains. This small state park has a unique spring that is routed through the park making it good for birdwatching during most seasons. The park is very good for sparrows in the winter months. Painted Buntings and Lesser Goldfinches have been observed in the summer.


Big Bend National Park\Chisos Mountains (Brewster County)

Phone: (915)477-2251
Acreage: 801,000
Checklist: Park Service 1994
Key Species: Colima Warbler, Lucifer Hummingbird

This park has recorded more bird species (at least 460) than any other national park in the country. It has the only recorded nesting Colima Warblers found in the United States. A few species that are not found in other parts of Texas can, with some effort, be found here.

In summer, the lower elevations support Lucifer Hummingbirds, Elf Owls, Lucy’s Warblers, and Hooded Orioles. The Chisos Mountains harbor Band-tailed Pigeons, Mexican Jays, and Hepatic Tanagers. Varied Buntings are found in several areas. Gray and Black-capped vireos are uncommon but are seen with some regularity in spring and summer. Along the Rio Grande floodplain, irregular species like Thick-billed Kingbirds have nested in years past. Even some eastern migrants, such as the Black-throated Blue Warbler, have found their way to this remote area. Because of the proximity to Mexico, a North American rarity like the Tufted Flycatcher will occasionally pay a visit to the park.

There are several options for the birdwatcher at any time of year, but spring is undoubtedly the best window of time for birding in Big Bend. On a good spring weekend, the birding may be hot and exhausting, but it nearly always is rewarding.


Big Bend Ranch State Park (Presidio County)

Phone: 915/229-3416
Acreage: 268,495
Checklist: In Progress
Key Species: Riparian Species, Desert Shrub Species

The Big Bend Ranch State Park (referred to here as Big Bend Ranch) is a recent acquisition of desert property by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This area is so large that its acquisition nearly doubled the size of state-owned park property in Texas. Big Bend Ranch is only about an hour west of Big Bend National Park. It is dominated by Chihuahuan Desert grasslands over at least 75% of its acreage. Here, the canyons and arroyos support rich thickets of desert thornscrub. The scores of springs scattered over the Big Bend Ranch landscape support very local cottonwood gallery woodlands where the birdlife is correspondingly rich. Migrants such as Townsend’s Warbler and Western Tanager are seen with some frequency in this cottonwood grove habitat.

The birds along the Rio Grande corridor are especially diverse during migration as birds naturally funnel through here. Except during unusual weather circumstances, the Big Bend Ranch is nearly devoid of any montane avifauna. It is, however, one of the premier spots for observation of typical northern Chihuahuan Desert birds. Although not abundant, Varied Bunting is perhaps more common throughout this park than in other areas of the Trans-Pecos.

At present, access to Big Bend Ranch is by permit only. The road is unpaved and can be difficult in poor weather. A bus tour of the area can be arranged, but access to good birding spots would be somewhat limited under this condition. Other possibilities for access with cars (high-clearance vehicles are recommended) may be possible given enough notice and at certain times of the year. Contact the park for more details about special access or bus tours.


Chinati Mountain State Park (Presidio County)

Phone: None (Currently Not Open to Public)
Acreage: 40,000
Checklist: None
Key Species: Montane Species, Grassland Species

Located in western Presidio County. At this writing, the park is not open, and there is little information on its avifauna. This mountain area, however, has a broad range of elevation and may prove to be good habitat for a wide variety of birds.


Davis Mountains and Davis Mountains State Park (Jeff Davis County)

Phone: 915/426-3337
Acreage: 2,677
Checklist: In Progress
Key Species: Montezuma Quail, Phainopepla

The state park, the town of Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains as a whole all lie within Jeff Davis County. The state park lies just north of the town of Fort Davis. Centrally located in the Trans-Pecos, this entire park is at an elevation that makes it unique within the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem. Both the park and the town of Fort Davis lie at about a 5,000 ft. elevation. The state park itself is largely a high-elevation grassland habitat with scattered oaks and junipers.

This park is the prime spot for viewing Montezuma Quail in the Trans-Pecos (and perhaps the U.S.). At certain seasons, there is a feeding station where the birds come to feed in morning and evening. This station is occasionally staffed by volunteers and usually offers very good looks at this hard-to-see species. Other species that frequent the park include nesting birds such as Phainopepla, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Cassin’s Kingbird, and permanent residents such as Acorn Woodpecker and Western Scrub-Jay. If one is lucky, the uncommon Black-chinned Sparrow can occasionally be found within the park boundary. In breeding season, Common Black-Hawks have nested in cottonwood trees just outside the park along Limpia Creek.

Beginning at about 6,000 ft. on the north side of the Davis Mountains and outside the state park is an evergreen forest ecosystem that includes Ponderosa Pine, Mexican Pinyon Pine, and, in the higher elevations, Limber Pine. This remnant coniferous forest is home to several bird species unique within the Trans-Pecos. The coniferous forest habitat in this mountain range, however, is largely on private property and has no public access. Several property owners have been helpful in recent research efforts, but a thorough understanding of the high-elevation Davis Mountains avifauna is not yet available. New ornithological discoveries will likely continue to come from that area.


Devils River State Natural Area (Val Verde County)

Phone: 210/395-2133
Acreage: 19,988
Checklist: In Progress
Key Species: Black-capped Vireo, Gray Vireo

Devils River is located north of the city of Del Rio. It is at the confluence of the Tamaulipan, Balconian and Chihuahuan biotic regions of Texas. Because of the habitat diversity, there is a corresponding richness of flora and fauna. Habitat varies from riparian woodlands of oak and pecan to intermittent drainages with sycamore galleries. Drier slopes support semidesert grasslands and where conditions are more severe, a xeric (dry) scrub. The mesa tops are a mosaic of grassland and shrubland habitats. There are isolated pinyon woodlands in the area, and occasionally Ashe Juniper can be found on favorable canyon slopes. The best areas for birding are along the permanent water courses especially where there remain gallery woodlands.

This area is known for species that most regularly occur east of the Trans-Pecos. Riparian areas in spring and summer have been known to harbor Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees. Drier areas are habitat for nesting Black-capped Vireos.


Franklin Mountains State Park (El Paso County)

Phone: 915/566-6441
Acreage: 23,810
Checklist: Zimmer 1996
Key Species: Gambel’s Quail, Crissal Thrasher

The Franklin Mountains State Park begins near downtown El Paso and runs northward to the Texas\-New Mexico border. The eastern face of the mountain range supports more vegetation than the drier, more exposed western face. The diversity of birds is correspondingly greater on the eastern slope.

Vegetation within the state park is typical of the Chihuahuan Desert with plant communities dominated by Creosote Bush, Lechuguilla and Four-wing Saltbush. In the high elevations, there are stands of oaks, hackberries and ash. The few springs found at the higher locations act as a magnet to resident and migrating birds. Resident species include Golden Eagle, Scaled Quail, White-throated Swift, Verdin, Canyon Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, and Pyrrhuloxia. Migration (April\-May and August\-October) may bring a variety of western migrants such as Hammond’s and Dusky flycatchers and Townsend’s, Hermit and Black-throated Gray warblers.


Guadalupe Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains National Park

(Culberson and Hudspeth Counties)

Phone: (915)828-3251
Acreage: 86,416
Checklist: Park Service 1997
Key Species: Juniper Titmouse, Virginia’s Warbler

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is on the northern edge of the Texas Trans-Pecos. Most access to the park is from the Culberson County side. In terms of its flora, this park may only partially fit into the Trans-Pecos Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem. The higher elevations of this park are at times more reminiscent of the southern Rocky Mountains or the Colorado Plateau than the Chihuahuan Desert. Because they share features with both of these ecosystems, the Guadalupe Mountains harbor an interesting variety of bird life.

This park appears to have the only stable population of Juniper Titmouse in the state of Texas. It is also the best place to look for Grace’s and Virginia’s warblers which nest in the higher canyons. In the very highest areas of pine forests (access is by hiking only) Flammulated Owl, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Tanager, and Red Crossbill all appear to be fairly common during the summer months. In contrast, the lowest elevations have produced winter records of Sage Sparrow and other desert species.

Vagrant species could also show up in this park given its location. Rocky Mountain birds like Clark’s Nutcracker and American Dipper, which are considered Texas rarities, would more than likely make a Trans-Pecos appearance in the Guadalupe Mountains. Unusual Texas residents like the Spotted Owl have also been recorded from this mountain range.


Hueco Tanks State Historical Park (El Paso County)

Phone: 915/857-1135
Acreage: 860
Checklist: Zimmer, 1996
Key Species: Crissal Thrasher, White-throated Swift

This park is only a half-hour east of El Paso, Texas. It lies in a dry desert shrub environment dominated by Creosote Bush. It is unique, however, in having a large outcrop of granitic rock with numerous small canyons and washes. Indian petroglyphs are found around the caves and crevices of this outcrop. There is usually some water at all seasons which makes it attractive to birds.

Hueco Tanks may be the most accessible place to look for White-throated Swift or Crissal Thrasher in Texas at any time of year. In migration, birds like the Dusky or Hammond’s flycatcher can be fairly common on one day, while the next day’s star attraction may be MacGillivray’s Warbler. Scaled Quail and Golden Eagle are frequent park visitors. If one is fortunate, Prairie Falcon may be seen. Winter generally brings good concentrations of sparrows including Brewer’s and occasionally Black-chinned. In some years, Eastern, Western, and Mountain bluebirds are all possible.


Lake Balmorhea (Reeves County)

(Not State-owned Property)

Lake Balmorhea is located just south of the town of Balmorhea. It should not be confused with Balmorhea State Park which is a few miles west of the lake. This recreational lake is a prime fishing location for many Texans. There is a general store near the dam where one must pay a small fee to birdwatch. Generally, this lake has been very good for birdwatching in winter, spring, and fall and has produced an inordinate number of bird rarities for Texas. On November 27, 1993, Red-throated Loon, Yellow-billed Loon, and Snow Bunting all made an appearance around the lake on the same day! Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe (and even some hybrids) can often be seen regularly from certain vantage points around the lake. Songbirds in the area can range from Sedge Wren to Pyrrhuloxia.

Lesser-known Birding Areas

The following list of lesser-known birding sites is not comprehensive but represents several unique areas that harbor a wide variety of birds. It should be noted, however, that state natural areas, wildlife management areas and Texas Nature Conservancy property generally require special permission before one can enter. Individuals should contact the appropriate agencies before the date of their arrival.

Furthermore, many reservoirs and parks have limited public access and most should be considered "remote" destinations. It is important for anyone travelling in the Trans-Pecos to have a clear understanding of property rights and road conditions before travelling in remote areas.


Chandler Independence Creek Preserve (Terrell County) - A Texas Nature Conservancy area located 22 miles south of Sheffield in northern Terrell County. The habitat here is a unique riparian habitat bordered by oaks, willows, mesquite, and junipers. Several species of vireos and other songbirds can be found on the property. Visitors must have permission from the Texas Nature Conservancy.


Fort Bliss Sewage Ponds (El Paso County) - Located northeast of the city of El Paso. Known for waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds, as well as migrant passerines. An astounding 302 species have been documented at this one location. Unusual records included Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Wigeon, White-winged and Surf scoters, Masked Duck, Red-necked Stint, Ruff, Red Phalarope, Western and Sabine's gulls, and Lawrence's Goldfinch. Gambel's Quail and Crissal Thrasher are regular breeders.


Fort Hancock Reservoir (Hudspeth County) - Located in southern Hudspeth County near the Rio Grande. Known for waterfowl, wading birds, and gulls. Nesting Neotropical Cormorants occur in spring and summer. Unusual site records include Brown Pelican, Tricolored Heron, Eurasian Wigeon, Black Scoter, and Mew and Thayer's gulls.


Imperial Reservoir (Pecos County) - Located on the northern edge of Pecos County. Known for waterfowl and wading birds. Unusual records have included Pacific Loon, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-legged Kittiwake, and nesting Snowy Plovers.


McNary Reservoir (Hudspeth County) - Located in southern Hudspeth County near the Rio Grande. Known for waterfowl, wading birds, and gulls. Both Western and Clark's grebes are present in numbers most winters, and occasionally in the summer as well. Unusual records include Pacific Loon, Eurasian Wigeon, Long-tailed Jaeger, Sabine's and California gulls, and nesting Great Egrets.


Red Bluff Reservoir (Reeves and Loving counties) - This lake is divided equally between both counties. Known for waterfowl and wading birds. Unusual species include Pacific Loon, Roseate Spoonbill, Parasitic Jaeger, and Black-legged Kittiwake.


Tornillo Reservoir (El Paso County) - Located in southeastern El Paso County near the Rio Grande. Known for waterfowl. Brown Pelican, Eurasian Wigeon, and Barrow's Goldeneye have been recorded at this reservoir.


Toyah Lake (Reeves County) - Located southeast of the city of Pecos. Known for waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds. Nesting Snowy Plovers have been observed on this lake.



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