Kelly and I have been excited to visit Big Bend National Park since we knew we were coming to Texas, and last weekend, we finally had the chance to go! Our friend Kirk came down and went with us, and we spent four days camping, hiking and birding around the park, including an inadvertent 18-mile hike in one day! (We had prepared for 10 miles up and down a mountain. We then decided to go on a "shorter" hike later that evening, but our path ended up winding around for another eight unexpected miles, and we had to book it in order to make it back before dark. Needless to say, we were completely exhausted.) Kelly was excited to see the Colima Warbler, whose only North American population is at the top of the Chisos Mountains (hence our original 10-mile hike). We also got to see a Lucifer Hummingbird, which is another Big Bend specialty. All in all, Kelly got more than 20 birds to add to his life list.
One of the best experiences all weekend was finding two owls on our last night in the park. We got so close to them that we were even able to snap a few photos! I think they were disoriented by our lights, so they just sat and stared at us for a few long minutes before we decided to stop bothering them.
The sparrow-sized Elf Owl is the world's smallest owl. It's only 5 3/4 inches long from head to tail! It was so cute and curious when we spotlighted it in this tree just a few feet from our tents.
This Western Screech Owl is also a little cutie. Every time this one or its mate let out a hoot, it's feathers would fluff up at its throat and its wings would flare out just a bit. We could barely tear our eyes from it.
This broad-banded copperhead was on the road at Fort Hood, where we went night driving for snakes before leaving on our trip. It's coloration is more reddish-orange overall than the gray and brown northern copperheads we're used to seeing in Indiana.
This young individual exhibits less orange coloration, and a brighter yellow tail tip that is typical in juvenile snakes in the genus Agkistrodon. They use it to lure potential prey.
Kelly was excited to see this Couch's spadefoot toad on the road on our way into the park.
Since it was about 100 degrees in Big Bend while we were there, and since we had gotten into the park so late the night before, I got sleepy after eating a peanut butter & jelly sandwich while waiting for pairs of Gray Hawks and Common Black Hawks to fly by (we had been tipped off by the park ranger that it was a consistent spot to see them). Anyway, I laid my head down on the picnic table for a few minutes, and I guess it was just long enough for the circling vultures to either think I looked tasty, or to think I wouldn't bother them if they tried to steal the rest of our food!
Our unexpectedly long hike after our mountain climb at least brought us to some gorgeous scenery. This is called "The Window," and we saw it just as the sun was setting behind the mountains...and then we had to race four miles back to camp before all our light was gone! :)