There were too many people; it was spring break week and at times it seemed the whole world had descended on West Texas, normally a sparsely populated place. At Big Bend National Park, for example, usually a place of splendid isolation with its 1,252 square miles of desert and rugged mountains, we had to wait in a mile-long queue of automobiles for forty-five minutes just to get into the place. The ranger who checked us in remarked that spring-break is a four-letter word for the staff who work there. Americans of all colors, races, and creeds seemed intent on loving the great park to death. But though I saw people of many kinds, I didn't see so many birds. One covey of Scaled Quail, some Greater Roadrunners doing their thing on the roads, and an occasional sparrow or Northern Mockingbird - that was about it.
The wind was incessant. That's one reason why you see wind farms on top of so many buttes in the region. But the wind is not a friend of small birds or of people who are trying to take pictures of them.
Oh, well, I did my best. Here are a few of the pictures of which I am least ashamed.
I did most of my birding at Davis Mountains State Park and at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute's Nature Center. At both places, staff have helpfully installed bird blinds and feeders to make the quest of the poor birder easier. Finches of all kinds are drawn inexorably to these feeders. There were plenty of Pine Siskins, goldfinches, and House Finches at both places. But most plentiful of all was the Cassin's Finch which is identified by its bright red, slightly raised crown. This is a western bird that we don't get in Southeast Texas so I was very glad to see it.
Also at the feeders at the state park were a number of Lesser Goldfinches, the bright yellow and black fellow you see here feeding with Pine Siskins.
There were also lots of Dark-eyed Juncos about. Sweet little birds. Every winter I hope that some of them will make it down to my backyard and every winter except one I've been disappointed. But "hope is a thing with feathers" and springs eternal.
The juncos come in a variety of colors and subspecies.
This Cactus Wren was visiting the water feature at the nature center. A water source is always a very popular place in a desert and a good place to see birds.
The Black-throated Sparrow is just a gorgeous little bird and I was perhaps most disappointed that I was not able to get a really good picture of it. This doesn't do it justice.
Another iconic western bird is the Pyrrhuloxia. These birds seem to be expanding their range and, in recent years, some have turned up in my area in winter, but not in my backyard yet.
You can easily see the bird's close kinship to the Northern Cardinal, although the Pyrrhuloxia's crest is much more pointed.
The Western Scrub Jays were attracted to the suet feeder provided at the nature center blind. But then all jays are attracted by suet.
This is a female Ladder-backed Woodpecker. A staff member at the nature center told me she and her mate are getting their nest ready for a brood.
This lone Black-chinned Hummingbird was a frequent visitor to the feeder at the nature center blind while I was there.
This shy Swainson's Thrush stayed under cover for the most part but finally came out to get a drink and I was able to take this picture.
I love towhees. I saw four kinds on this trip but was only able to get a picture of the Spotted Towhee.
I was fascinated by the bird's bright red eyes. That seems to be a feature of many songbirds that have black heads. Something to do with genetics, no doubt.
And here's another example - the Phainopepla that I showed you on Saturday's post.
In addition to all the western birds, there were some familiar birds that I see every day present in these very different environments. Birds like the adaptable Northern Mockingbird.
The American Robin.
The White-winged Dove.
Even our winter visitor, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, here showing just a tiny bit of that ruby crown that I almost never see in birds at home.
I saw lots of that iconic western bird, the Greater Roadrunner, on this trip, but every one that I saw was - um - running across the road and I couldn't get pictures, so here's one that I took a few years ago on a previous trip to Big Bend. You'll just have to take my word that the ones I saw on this trip looked just like this.