Big Bend Texas; a few birds

Texas is large and diverse. It isn’t all grassland and cattle. Much of it is dry and sparse; cattle aren’t happy in those places. In other spots it is rolling hills with evergreens and running water. The eastern side of this large state is either pine woods or coastal, with warm salt water. In still other places, like Big Bend NP in the southwestern corner, it is a mixed bag of rough habitats; rocks of volcanic origins, sedimentary rocks, deep layers of caliche, and great swaths of pyroclastic rock. The Big Bend NP has a wonderful, new and high tech, fossil exhibit displaying some of the large (really really large) creatures that were here about 65 million years ago, and were eliminated out during the great Cretaceous die-off.

In the previous two blog posts on Big Bend we looked at some of the geology both modern (gas and oil) ands ancient (sea floors and lava flows). In the following post we will begin to look at the wildlife of the area, birds to start.

There are migratory paths that cross west Texas, mostly north to south and then back. In the spring birds come up through Mexico and intoand impacted US territory by the millions. One of the (usually) non-migratory, and very common birds, is the Turkey Vulture. This is the “buzzard” to many people and is well known as a scavenger. They clean up our roadways and help molecules from the recently deceased back into circulation to aid in the metabolism of the still living. They perform an important job; as do bacteria, fungi, worms, and other recyclers.

In modern times (the last 250 years) the wildlife populations have been displaced by domestic animals in many instances and yet helped by the creation of water resources needed by the domestic animals. Things always change; but in Texas, adding water always enhances wildlife opportunities.

The lovely red bird above is the male Vermilion Flycatcher. The female likes him dressed like this though she prefers to wear a more drab gray hue. This is a rather common species of the west and they are quite common in the open vegetation, especially the low damper areas, at Big Bend.
The Bell’s Vireo is a smallish bird that sings all the time in April and May. Vireos have a small hook to the bill and they use that tool to harvest insects from the dense shrubbery that they prefer. The sexes are not dissimilar but it is the male’s song that gets the species into your frame of reference. The female is quieter and less “on top” of things as she nests and forages.
It is often presumed that dry land plants are lacking in fruits, seeds, flowers, and the related insects and birds – not true. The cacti, like this ocotillo, do make flowers as do the small hardy shrubs of Big Bend. Hummingbirds and orioles are well know as nectar-eaters and the Ocotillo and Scott’s Orioles are very happy with each other. The oriole feeds on the flowers and pollinates the cactii as it move from plant to plant.
The trees in BBNP are often Piñon Pine, various oaks, and junipers of several types. High elevations will have larger trees like aspens, maples, and Ponderosa Pine.
The small plants, what we would call shrubs, are Creosote Bush, Cenizos (a sage), Honey Mesquite, and Soapbush. The bird perched on the flowering Ocotillo cactus above is the flashy Scott’s Oriole. This is one of the birds that winters in Mexico and breeds (largely) in the US southwest.
Of course no visit to the west or southwest would be complete without a good look at the Greater Roadrunner. This large cuckoo eats whatever it can catch; from snakes to scorpions to lizards, to insects – even other birds. A pair will stay together and hold a specific territory for years if all goes well for them. The male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young and together they patrol and defend their territory. The GRRO is adapted to the dry side of things. Water is not important to their life style. They are slowly expanding their range to the north and east. Now found in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and east to Louisiana; the birds are doing quite well. The northern edge of the range touches Nevada, includes Oklahoma, and a bit of Colorado, Utah, and Kansas as well. Most of northern Mexico has roadrunners as well.

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