Thursday, August 28, 2014

Davis Mountains State Park - My Introduction to West Texas

The intangible allure of Texas can be felt by nearly every American birder.  Each year, thousands of us brave the horrifying heat, Rick Perry, the Border Patrol, and copious amounts of fast food to enjoy what is arguably the best state in the country for birding.  With the cruise set on 90 mph just west of Odessa, however, I was doubting my decision to come here.  Surrounding I-20 was one of the most depressing landscapes I've ever seen - an endless expanse of flat, scrubby desert, interrupted by thousands of oil derricks.  It was the closest thing I've ever seen to a wasteland.  As we turned off the interstate and headed south, however, prospects began to look up.  The dust disappeared.  A few distant peaks materialized on the far on the horizon.  I was getting antsy.  I wanted birds.

A facemeltingly-cute Black-crested Titmouse, a Texas specialty.
Luckily, Davis Mountains State Park lived up to my high expectations.  It was my first real "birding destination" on the trip, and proved an excellent introduction to West Texas.  The first bird that caught my eye was the Black-crested Titmouse, birds very similar to the ubiquitous Tufted Titmouse I'm used to seeing back home.  I opted to hang out near the park's bird blind, an area with several feeders and water sources.  An adult male Calliope Hummingbird flew into investigate, as did several Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  I was especially excited when a Western Scrub-Jay appeared at the water source.  The Western Scrub-Jay complex may be split - soon, the real species name for this bird will likely be Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay.

"Woodhouse's" Scrub-Jay
Several other lifers made appearances at the feeder, including Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Canyon Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, and Bewick's Wren.  We hiked up a short trail in a futile attempt to spot a Montezuma Quail, the park's specialty bird.  A drive up the park road yielded nice looks at a few Cassin's Kingbirds as well as a Lark Sparrow.  I hadn't seen this many new birds since my pelagic trip back in June.

The highlight, however, came from a completely unexpected stroke of luck.  I decided to look around a small picnic area for passerines while my mom looked at the map back at the car.  I was about to turn back when I spotted two rotund objects scurrying along the dry stream bed.  My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw that they were Montezuma Quail, one of the most sought-after (and comical-looking) birds in the country. I ran back to nab my camera for a photo, but the quail had hunkered down by the time I got back.  At least I could leave the state park completely satisfied, with more than a few new lifers under my belt.  But the real highlight of my trip, Big Bend National Park, lay in waiting down the desert road.