If you are ever in the El Paso area, I would highly recommend checking out Hueco Tanks State Park. This "island in the desert" is made up of massive piles of rocks, boulders and rock formations situated around the Chihuahuan Desert. The park has a rich historical background as it has been the home of many different cultural groups, some of which date back to over several thousands of years ago. The park contains several archaeological sites and numerous pictographs in various places throughout the park.
Birding, rock climbing, and hiking are the most popular activities at the park. The park implements stringent regulations as an effort to preserve and protect (and restore from overuse) the delicate cultural remnants of the park. Entrance to the park is tightly controlled (only a small number of people are let in each day) and reservations should be made well in advance. The park offers guided tours for all the activities, which allow access to a significantly larger portion of the park. The area known as "North Mountain" is the only portion open to those exploring on their own. This is the area we explored on our visit.
My husband, son, and I met up with a group of friends from home for a few days of bouldering (which is a form of rock climbing). I spent most of the time exploring with the tot, looking for birds. Hiking with the tot turned out to be a bit difficult due to the terrain, so I spent a lot of time looking for for birds in the trees along the bases of the rocks.
The park is known to be attractive to birds as it contains trees (oak-juniper woodlands), large rocks that provide shelter, and often times water that collects in the "huecos" (a spanish word meaning hollow) that have formed in the rocks. The park was heavily populated with feathered friends and there was always one species or another close by for me to observe. I was happy to have the opportunity to see many new western species (please feel free to let me know if I misidentified any of these:)
Kinglets were everywhere and seemed rather friendly. They frequently came within just a few feet of me and didn't seem bothered by my presence.
|Say's Phoebe (lifer)|
This Say's Phoebe was holding on tight to some sort of creature that it may have found swimming in a hueco.
|Chipping Sparrow (lifer)|
Sparrows were also everywhere. I'm not very good at identifying sparrows, but I believe most of the ones I saw were Chipping Sparrows.
I encountered this Scaled Quail meandering through the brush. I also saw a beautiful Gambel's Quail but was unable to get a photo of the loud, but elusive little fellow. Trying to find the boisterous quail brought back memories of playing Marco-Polo as a child.
|Scaled Quail (lifer)|
This small nest looked really interesting as it had the shed skin of a long snake woven through out it.
White-throated Swifts, one of the fast flying birds in North America, are commonly seen here.
|White-throated Swift (lifer)|
I saw a number of Canyon Towhees at the park as well. This one was hoping for a cool drink, or even just a drip.
|Canyon Towhee (lifer)|
Each afternoon I had a peaceful retreat to this boulder as the tired tot took his siesta.
As I sat motionless, enjoying the beautiful scenery, quite a few birds stopped by.
I've read that there are several different subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco and thought this may be a Pink-sided (it had pink sides)...
|Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided???) (lifer)|
Black-throated Sparrows are sharp looking birds with their distinctive black and white patterns.
|Black-throated Sparrow (lifer)|
Turns out I was sitting near one of the few huecos that contained a small amount of water.
Seemed fitting that Rock Wrens were a common sight on the rocks.
|Rock Wren (lifer)|
I think my favorite experience was hearing the song the Canyon Wren echoing through the rock canyons. On our first day, we heard this novel sound blasting from the enormous rock structures; I was eager to learn who sang this interesting song.
|Canyon Wren (lifer)|
The next day, as I sat in my quiet spot on the boulder, the now familiar song blared from a crevice directly behind me. I turned to find this small fellow singing his big song.
For more info on Hueco Tanks...check out http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/hueco-tanks
Next up, Franklin Mountain State Park!