Birding Location Review – Van Horn, Texas Cemetery

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.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit Van Horn Cemetery

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Van Horn Cemetery

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.

Gambel's Quail (Male) Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel’s Quail (Male)
Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel's Quail (Female) Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel’s Quail (Female)
Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel's Quail (Male) Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel’s Quail (Male)
Van Horn Cemetery

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.

American Robin Van Horn Cemetery

American Robin
Van Horn Cemetery

And this Eurasian Collared-Dove posed in nice light.

Eurasian Collared-Dove Van Horn Cemetery

Eurasian Collared-Dove
Van Horn Cemetery

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!


Breeding Bird Surveys – Culberson County, TX

This past weekend my wife and I conducted a couple of Breeding Bird Surveys for the USGS in Culberson County, Texas.  We were privileged to have one route run right alongside Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  While running the route and surveying for birds, I tried out the iPhone 5 panoramic camera for a few shots and overall was pretty pleased with the quality of panoramic shots it produced.  Here are a couple and one is a complete 180º degree view.  The large mountain peak at the front is called El Capitan and is visible from many miles away.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park 180º View

When running the route, you don’t have time to photograph birds but on the first day we traveled from home to the Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area which is a part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  A very rare Streak-backed Oriole had been seen for quite some time at the location and although we spent about four hours birding and photographing here, we were unable to locate the Oriole.  If you are traveling through the area, it is a very relaxing place to spend some time whether you are a birder or not.  The area is very dry but one small spot on the west side of the springs attracted a few nice birds such as Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon), Painted Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak and Wilson’s Warblers.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area

Knowing we had an early morning start for the Delaware Creek route (starting point was 17 miles west of Orla, TX – yea, you will have to google that!), we headed to Carlsbad for the night.  We stayed at the Motel 6 and while I usually am just fine staying at a Motel 6, this one was way overpriced due to oil worker demand for rooms.  Having stayed in Carlsbad several times, I knew we needed to eat at a local restaurant called Danny’s Place.  I got the Flip which is a flour tortilla grilled with hamburger patties, green chilis, cheese, spice salsa and grilled onions.  The BBQ is also good.

While running the Delaware Creek route, we had a few surprises such as a female Yellow-headed Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and a flock of Northern Shoveler’s and Blue-winged Teal in flight.  After finishing the route, we headed to Frijole Ranch (Click the name to go to Ebird website for Frijole Ranch) at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The spring has created an oasis in this park and birdwatchers are never disappointed and there are picnic tables for those just wishing to enjoy the peace and solitude.  We ended up visiting with travelers as much as birding but did manage a few nice shots while sitting at the picnic tables.

Ash-throated Flycatcher Frijole Ranch

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Frijole Ranch

Townsend's Solitaire Frijole Ranch

Townsend’s Solitaire
Frijole Ranch

We ran down to park headquarters and Mel checked out the displays since she had never been to the park.  When then ran down US 180/SH 54 to check out the starting point for the next day’s route, Salt Flat.  When we got to the spot, a nice Swainson’s Hawk fly directly overhead allowing a few shots.

Swainson's Hawk Salt Flat on US 180

Swainson’s Hawk
Salt Flat on US 180

Our lodging for the night would be Motel 6 in Van Horn and I will post tomorrow about your time in Van Horn.