27-29 May 2017
Big Bend National Park, Brewster Co.
**All italicized text copied from my field notebook. Bold text added to further discussion or add clarification. Underlined text is an active link**
Woke at Government Springs at 07:00. Erin isn’t feeling well and goes for a walk. Immediately finds a large Trans-Pecos Ratsnake (B. subocularis). ~58” snout to tail tip. Several photographs.
Break camp and prep for the high country backpack. At the trailhead 09:45, much later than planned. Hike up with ~50 lbs, strenuous but making good time. Hear first Colima Warbler on Pinnacles Trail (switchbacks) at first Big Tooth Maples Trees but don’t see it.
More Colima Warblers with accompanying American Redstart observed (song and sighted) along Boot Canyon Trail. Pleasantly surprised by a single Band-tailed Pigeon zipping by a short distance overhead.
Camping at site BC4 for two nights. Eat lunch and siesta at site. Short hike over to Boot Spring. Creek is flowing providing a beautiful falls and splashpool just above the spring. Absolutely beautiful! I have never seen this creek flowing. After finding a photographing H. arenicolor (Canyon Treefrog), I enjoy another nap and then a short dip in one of the deeper pools along the creek. The water is frigid and wonderful. Kayla, Lee, and I are wide awake after the refreshing chill. We enjoy the chipping calls of a pair of Blue-throated Hummingbirds before departing the springs about an hour before sunset.
Dinner at camp with a bottle of wine (Erin surprises us all!) and nips of Garrison Brothers whiskey from the flask (courtesy of Lee). Good cheer among us all. Through breaks in the canopy, we spot a single Zone-tailed Hawk soaring in the darkening sky. Shortly after, Mexican Whip-poor-wills begin to sound off. First one, then two, and finally three. Early plans the next morning. We’re all in bags by 22:30.
Wake at 05:00. Western Screech-Owls calling. Hike to South Rim. ~40 mins. Breakfast and coffee as the sun rises over the Sierra del Carmens. View is very hazy but still outstanding. Many photographs. Spend nearly two hours at South Rim before hiking back to camp.
Hike back takes 3 hours. Lee and I perform a survey of all birds observed along trail. We spend the majority of our time hiking along Boot Creek instead of the trail. The creek is flowing and forms many pools. We find multiple Mountain Lion tracks in addition to Javelina and Deer.
Recorded 27 species of bird. Highlights are:
- 10 Colima Warblers all along the trail
- 6 White-Throated Swift at South Rim
- Pair of Cordilleran Flycatchers just above Boot Spring
- 4 Painted Redstarts along lower half of trail
- Wilson’s Warbler (possibly 2) migrant
- 2 Rock Wrens along steep rocky bluff of creek
- 2 pairs of Blue-throated Hummingbirds
Nap back at camp. 3 and ½ hours. Began in deep shade but ending fully exposed to sun. Refilled camp water at Boot Spring. Took video of male Broad-tailed Hummingbird bathing at the falls.
Dinner at camp. Hike to Emory Peak for sunset. Erin, leading the pack, discovers an G. infernalis (Alligator Lizard) along the trail. Photograph. After ~1.5 hours and 2.5 miles, arrived at top just after the sun had set but still had amazing views of the western mesas. Strong winds.
Hear and record E. guttilatus (Spotted Chirping Frog) and H. arenicolor (Canyon Treefrog) on hike back. Erin photographs one of the chirping frogs.
Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis)!!!!! Photograph and video. Found by Lee at hairpen turn along Boot Canyon Trail. Back at camp at 23:00
More notes from the Spotted Skunk encounter:
“Hiking back to our Boot Canyon campsite from Emory Peak about 1.5 hrs after sunset. Lee pointed out a “Spotted Skunk!” from the lead position. I grabbed my camera and pursued into a dry drainage. Took several photographs of this unicorn. None great but several clearly show the species.”
“Habitat is a high country slight side-canyon off of Boot Canyon. Wooded with a mixture of oaks, pines, and juniper. Canopy heavy but not complete. The canyon is rocky with much leaf litter.”
“When pursued, the skunk calmly but, yet, anxiously scrambled into a tangle of dead wood and branches. Facing its pursuer, it seemed to gauge the level of threat we posed. It was never aggressive but possibly more inquisitive.”
“Finally, after many years of hoping, I finally have seen a real live spotted skunk. My only observation before this being a road killed animal in Burnet County which may have been the eastern variety, Spilogale putorius. This animal is noticeably smaller than the hog-nosed and striped skunks I see much more regularly throughout Texas.”
29 May 2017
We all sleep in wishing this particular morning would linger on. I am loathe to leave this place. I already resent the drive home and workaday routine that will follow. I am already missing the chill mountain air and the songs of West Texas’ nature. We agree to hike out along Laguna Meadows Trail to take in some new country, see some new sites. Packing is slow and lingers on longer than it should. A pair of Carmen Mountain Whitetail Deer casually browse through the edge of our camp allowing us all to steal a few more quiet moments of reflection.
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