Monday, July 23, 2012

Birding the Guads is Tough, But Worth It!

(BELATED) Along the Texas-New Mexico border, the Guadalupe Mountains tower over the Chihuahan Desert like giant sentinels. The pine tree forests and cooler climate are a stark contrast to the desert scrub below. There's lots of mystery in the mountains and the bird life is promising, but you have to make it there first.

Clark's Grebe
Brad and I had been talking about the mountains for several months. We planned to hike the Tejas Trail to Pine Top campground and stay two nights. Our main objective was to spend all day on Sunday hiking the Bowl Trail, which hosts target species such as Stellar's Jay, Pygmy Nuthatch and Grace's Warbler. Birds like these are located in only a handful of places in Texas where the habitat is just right for nesting.

Before traveling to the Guads, we stayed overnight at Balmorhea Lake and enjoyed a front row view to Clark's and Western Grebes. The chicks and juveniles were noisy. We even caught a glimpse of a chick catching a ride on its parent's back.

Western Grebe
Later in the afternoon we checked out Frijole Ranch, which was virtually quiet, but we managed to find some Violet Green Swallows and a Western Tanager behind Manzanita Spring. Another surprise really caught us off guard - a Black-tailed Rattlesnake! The rattler had just eaten dinner and wasn't warning us of its presence. It was probably for scared of us than we were of it. Glad Brad saw it before we got any closer. Brad wanted to put a sign up to warn anyone walking in the same area, but when he returned with a paper sign, the rattler had already vanished into the grass. Creepy...


Later that afternoon we made our way up the Tejas trail toward the towering peaks with more than 20 pounds of water and provisions for backcountry camping. The evening was nice and cool, but the approaching darkness caused us to rethink a 4-mile hike. After walking about a mile, Brad asked if I wanted to keep going and said we could get an early start the next day. But one thing I can't stand is doing something hard all over again when I don't have to, so, with a mix of stubbornness and determination, I told him I wanted to press on.

We slowly made our way up the trail. Brad is definitely more used to hiking and I'm only a casual hiker, so the loose rocks on the trail and the increasing darkness played a bigger toll on me. I took frequent breaks and Brad patiently obliged. But I had a mix of stubbornness and determination that helped me keep going one... step... at a time.

At about 9:30 p.m., we were near the end, but we had to turn on our head lamps to navigate the narrow, rocky trail in the darkness. I don't recommend night hiking for anyone because the darkness is very discouraging. Around 10:30 p.m., I became too tired and discouraged to go one and I admitted that I couldn't go on. Brad encouraged me and said we were literally just around the corner from the end. I was skeptical and decided to take a long break before moving on.

Brad went ahead to scout out the rest of the way and returned not even 10 minutes later to say we were only about 100 yards away. I couldn't believe the summit was just around the corner. This gave me a little encouragement but I was still exhausted.

What happened next was humbling and thought-provoking. Brad had left his bag at the top and grabbed my bag to carry it the rest of the way. My pride told me to not accept the help, but my spirit told me otherwise. I needed to learn this lesson: Sometimes we need help from others even when we're almost to where we want to be. Life is not just about us doing/accomplishing things on our own. As I've learned at my church, we are created for community and need each other. "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help the other up." (Proverbs 4:9-10) Thanks Brad for the help to get up.


There is a lot of mystery in the Guadalupe Mountains. Brad and I weren't sure what we would find in the Bowl, but we knew it would be rewarding. The all-day hike produced wonderful looks at some of our target birds, including Pygmy Nuthatch, Grace's Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker and several others. We were happy to find two Cordilleran flycatchers calling in a deep wooded area. I have seen this species in Colorado, but this was my first for Texas.

One of the main highlights toward the end of our hike was a male Calliope Hummingbird (lifer). The tiny hummer was resting on a shrub in Bear Canyon.

We missed a few target birds on the trip such as Flammulated Owl, but with all the birds we got to see, we couldn't complain. I think any trip to the Guadalupe Mountains will be fruitful and well worth the rigorous hike up the tallest mountain range in Texas.

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