April 21,2016 – Day 2
I awoke before first light to a cool north breeze, which had me putting on my down vest and knit cap, before heating water for coffee on the camp stove. Coyotes near Banta Shut-in to the east eerily announced their presence as the first cup was poured. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience and time with no human sounds to interfere with those of nature around me, loving how my soul is energized by moments like this.
As the predawn light slowing started invading the night from the east, nearby day residents started making themselves known as songs and the sound of wings fluttered from bush to bush nearby drew my attention. A striking “char” “char” “char” “char” song gained volume from different locations around camp. A Cactus Wren flew in closer and landed on an opuntia pad, giving me a front row seat to the concert.
Here is a short video by Stoil Ivanov shot at Big Bend in 2014 for those interested in hearing the song of a Cactus Wren.
After stashing some of my gear in the bear box, every campsite in Big Bend has one, I loaded up and headed to Dugout Wells, a small oasis surrounded by desert, that draws wildlife to the water and shade. On previous visits, I spotted two new to me birds while hanging out there during the heat of the day. Once there, it was shocking to see to see how bad it looked. The windmill was no longer running and most of the larger trees were dying , hardly looking like it did in 2012.
It was disappointing on a number of levels. Why did the park service let it go? It’s very easy to get to for older folks and non hikers, and shaded, making it ideal for those that want to see birds without a lot of physical effort. Disappointment soured my interest in staying, so I headed down to the green belt between RGV and Daniels Ranch to see what was going on. I got a nice pic of a Vermilion Flycatcher. They love to use low hanging branches as a perch to make a quick flight to catch flying insects. Their behavior reminds me of the Eastern Phoebe that nests at the house each year.
I dropped by the porch at the Rio Grande Village store, to sit and listen to other visitor’s adventures, and use the WiFi to check weather. I met a couple that had just backpacked the rim in the upper Chisos. I asked about water in Boot Canyon. They were told by rangers there was none to be had and to carry all you need. I heard the same thing again a few minutes later from someone else. Based on that, I decided that my over-night backpack trip planned to photograph Colima Warblers would become a day hike instead. I didn’t want to carry over two gallons of water, camera gear, food, tent and other goodies to the rim, so I drove over to the nearby RGV Visitor Center and changed my itinerary. With cell service almost non existent in most of the park and my wife loving the idea of being able to communicate with me text wise in the evenings at K-Bar, I asked they just put me there the rest of my stay.
Towards evening on the greenbelt I saw the javelinas, roadrunners, and a few other birds.
But I really wanted something different, so I went easy on the camera batteries. Got my shower at the RGV store, then made the drive back to K-Bar. Once there I put up my tent, got out the camp chair and a beer, then enjoyed another beautiful, relaxing evening.
April 22,2016 – Day 3
Day 3 in my mind, at the time, was the make it – break it day of the trip. The peak of the bird migration was why I came at the end of April. And the main reason was to photograph a Colima Warbler, the holy grail of birding in the United States. I left camp around 7:00 am and headed to the basin. My Osprey Exos 46 weighed 20 lbs with snacks, 4 liters of water and camera gear.
I started the Ramblr hiking app on my phone at 7:55 am when I stepped onto the trail head leading to the Pinnacles Trail. From the basin trail head to the top of Pinnacles Trail is roughly a 3.5 mile hike with 1,600′ of elevation gain. I was really worried about what kind of shape I was in because of recent upper respiratory infection that kept me from working out for over a month.
I was in shade most of the hike up the mountain by starting that early. Near the top, it started getting slightly overcast and really cut down on water consumption. I stopped to take a pic of this agave bloom spike just below the bear boxes.
I made it to the Emory Peak bear boxes at 9:59. I dropped my pack, then pulled out the 150-600 mm lens and monopod and stuck the little landscape lens in the pack. There were 4 hikers sitting at the bear boxes eating snacks and being harassed by Mexican Jays demanding their fair share. The only place in Texas you have an opportunity to photograph a Mexican Jay in habitat is the Chisos Mountains.
I started a slow methodical hike from the bear boxes to the Boot Canyon Trail hoping to see or hear a warbler on the way to Boot Canyon. A few minutes later a birder showed up and told me about a report she had from the day before of Colima’s at Boot Canyon Spring and invited me to tag along. Once there at the spring below the two buildings, we both heard Colimas singing. Over the next 3 hours I saw a bird 8 times come through the area. Only twice did I hear it coming in. The other times I just spotted one in the tree. Overall I was happy to see a very rare bird, but very disappointed in getting any pics. They’re small, move fast, and tended to like the tree with the most foliage.
One bird in the area easily seen was the Acorn Woodpecker. They were noisier than the jays.
After 3 hours I started noticing it was getting cloudy. I wasn’t having much luck with the warbler, so I packed up and headed to the Colima Trail. About midway on the Colima, I could see dark clouds to the west. By the time I got to the Laguna Meadow Trail, I could see lightening and the thunder was loud. One thing I forgot to put in my pack was a rain cover for it and the thought of wet camera gear was becoming a concern. I wrapped my camera with an extra shirt, stored in the pack, and then set a fast pace down the mountain.
It sprinkled on me 3 different times down to the basin. About 100 yards from the trail head, I heard a roadrunner calling. OK, this is a bird I shoot at home all the time, but there is no such thing as too many roadrunner pics.
I pulled the camera out of my pack and took a few shots before heading to the Uplander.
To be continued….