October 23 and 24, 2015 -- Driving out of Big Bend and into the Guadalupe Mountains

    My plan was to stay in a motel in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Friday night the 23, then drive to Tucson, Arizona the next morning.  I didn't make it to Las Cruces.  The lure of the Guadalupe Mountains drew me in. 

    After you go past the Visitor Center and turn right on the road north towards Marathon, you have a long, mostly straight stretch of driving with a 45 mph speed limit.  It is very hard to go that slow, but you have to do it.  It protects the wild life and gives them a chance to get out of the way.  If I had been going faster, I might have hit one of the Javelinas that bolted across the road.  Also it protects your wallet.  A guy who passed me doing about eighty got stopped.  That's going to be a big ticket.

    Anyway, poking along this stretch, I saw a beautiful sunrise on the mountains and desert.  I was gifted with a very intense Loggerhead Shrike.  Not long after that, I saw one of the biggest Ravens that I've ever seen.  Ravens weigh about 2.6 pounds, which makes them heavier than the Mexican Eagles, still not close to the Bald Eagles though.  This Raven had a good perch on a piece of cactus and just stared me down until I drove off.

 

 

The Marathon Basin on the northern edge of Big Bend National Park, October, 2015

 

 

Loggerhead Shrike, northern edge of Big Bend National Park, October, 2015

 

 

Common Raven, northern edge of Big Bend National Park, October, 2015

 

 

    Along the western edge of Texas, near the place on the map where the southeast corner of New Mexico pokes into Texas, there is a chain of mountains rising out from the desert called the Guadalupe Mountains.  In a Nat Geo book of birding hotspots that I have been carrying around, the Guadalupe Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is mentioned as one of the hotspots.  It also mentions nearby Carlsbad Caverns NWR in New Mexico as the place to see Cave Swallows and other cool birds.   I wanted to go to both spots, but doing that and getting to Las Cruces in one day wasn't going to happen.  Then I checked out camping in the Guadalupe Mountains NWR and got a spot.  I canceled the Las Cruces reservation, no charge.  Problem solved.

    In the evening, I went to the Kendrick Canyon hiking trail and did part of that.  No birds on the trail itself, but around the trailhead Visitor Center there is a Nature Walk trail where I saw three interesting birds.  One looked like a Bluebird, so it was probably a Western Bluebird, but there are several other possibilities that I'll research when I get home (maybe).  Another was very glossy black with white wing patches on the backs of its wings when it flew.  That turned out to be an Acorn Woodpecker.  Pretty cool.  The third was another woodpecker.  It is clearly a Flicker and has a clear Red "V" on the back of its neck.  That makes it a Yellow-shafted variety, which is found in the east and not supposed to be at this site.  Well it looks like someone should tell that bird to get out of this canyon. 

    It won't be me, because in the morning I got up early, drove to Rattlesnake Springs in the southern part of the Carlsbad Caverns NWR.  I timed the trip to be there just around sunup, but got screwed up on the time zones.  I sat in pitch dark for an hour, until two flocks of Wild Turkeys gave me something to look at.  In one group the big birds were actually running about in circles playing.  It looked ridiculous and fun.

 

 

Guadalupe Mountains, northwest Texas, October, 2015