While in west Texas this past weekend to run (2) Breeding Bird Survey Routes, we spent the night at Van Horn on Saturday, May 17th. Van Horn is located on IH 10 west between El Paso and Fort Stockton. This small town is primarily a way station for travelers on IH 10 but it does have some history and one of the neatest hotels in the state, the Hotel El Capitan.
Birder Gil Eckrich told me about Gambel’s Quail at the Van Horn Cemetery (click on name for Google Map) on the west side of town so after checking into our room we headed for the cemetery. I was very surprised at both the size and layout of the cemetery which is large and very well done. There are two entrances and one is closed (Bell St) and one is open (9th st). We found this out because, of course, we tried the Bell St. entrance first. We did find a Black-tailed Jackrabbit grazing near the entrance.
The cemetery has a berm around the outer fence and Gil said the birds would be found on this berm. It was a Saturday evening so a few people were at the cemetery tending to plots and many plots had plantings that held birds. We drove to the northwest corner of the cemetery where we were immediately greeted by a pair of Scaled Quail. I always enjoy Scaled Quail but we had come specifically looking for Gambel’s Quail which would be a new species for Mel and one I had not seen in Texas. While watching the Scaled Quail, I heard a pair of Gambel’s Quail on the berm just as Gil had said we would find them. Eventually, we saw several pair all feeding in the cemetery and provided quite a few photographic opportunities.
While photographing the quail, I was very surprised to find a nice male Northern Parula and Common Yellowthroat in rose bushes. Another nice surprise was an albeit very scraggly looking American Robin feeding on a grassy plot.
And this Eurasian Collared-Dove posed in nice light.
If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend birding the Van Horn Cemetery and then driving out along FM 2185 as we saw more quail of both species, Lesser Nighthawks, Blue Grosbeaks, Black-throated Sparrow, and many other birds. However, we ran out of time as we had to be up very early for the 60 mile drive to the starting point of our BBS route. But, we still managed to eat at Chuy’s Restaurant which was made famous by John Madden who always stopped at the restaurant when his bus drove down IH 10 on his way to call NFL games. John had a fear of flying and road in a bus instead. The restaurant is filled with sports memorabilia and even has “John’s” chair.
If you are heading west out IH 10, you might want to swing through the cemetery for a chance to see some neat birds!