Saturday, June 8, 2013

Birding El Paso

This year's spring break destination: El Paso. A group of our local friends make an annual trek to the most western part of Texas to spend time rock climbing at Hueco Tanks State Park. We decided to join them this year! My husband was excited about the amazing climbing and I was excited to search for new species of birds. Hueco Tanks is known to be a popular destination for both activities.

Hueco Tanks State Park is often referred to as an "island in the desert" as its massive piles of rocks, boulders and rock formations protrude from the floor of the Chihuahuan Desert. The park has a truly fascinating historical background. 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.

While the park does offer daily guided tours, we did all of our exploring on our own. The area known as "North Mountain" is the only portion open to those exploring on their own. There are many marked trails to hike on and, of course, lots of rocks to explore.

The park is especially attractive to birds as it contains a desirable mix of habitats and necessities, including various types of trees (oak-juniper woodlands), shrubs, and cacti, large rocks that provide shelter, and water. Typically, water, a hot commodity in this dry climate, collects in the "huecos" (a Spanish word meaning hollow) that have formed in the rocks.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Say's Phoebe
In addition to holding valuable drinking water, the "huecos" also sustain some small aquatic creatures, which some birds (such as the above Say's Phoebe) feed on.

Chipping Sparrow
In addition to looking in the trees and shrubs along the bases of the rocks, we also looked under the them. We located two species of quail, including a Gambel's Quail and a Scaled Quail.

Scaled Quail
Very few "huecos" contained water while we were there, as precipitation had been very limited.  As I made my way across a large boulder, I noticed several species coming and going from a large hueco.

Black-throated Sparrow
As I got closer I noticed the hueco held a small amount of water. As I sat motionless near the popular hueco, I was able to observe many species stopping by for a refreshing sip of cool water.

Dark-eyed Junco (pink sided)

Canyon Towhee
 The birds at the park appeared to be resourceful; they could be seen gathered around water spickets looking for drops of water.

Perhaps one of the most unforgettable experiences was that of hearing the song of the Canyon Wren reverberating through the large rock formations.

Canyon Wren
Given the plethora of rocks, it seemed fitting that we encountered several Rock Wrens.

Rock Wren
There are a quite a few signs throughout the park that warned visitors about the presence of rattle snakes. Luckily I didn't meet up with any snakes, but I did notice this interesting nest that had a long snake skin woven throughout it.

While in El Paso, we also visited Franklin Mountain State Park. There are multiple entrances to the park and we spent time hiking on trails near the Tom Mays entrance. There is a really cool adobe bird blind set up   near a water source and several well stocked feeders. This turned  out to be fun place to watch a variety of species.

Cactus Wren

Curve-billed Thrasher

House Finch

White-crowned Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

White-winged Dove
If you ever plan a trip to El Paso, these are two great places to see some birds! Reservations need to be made in advance for entrance into Hueco Tanks, as they only allow a small number of visitors per day.

Tammy Karr


  1. Great post, awesome birds and photos. I would love to see the Verdin!

    1. Thank you, Eileen! I was excited to come across a Verdin since its not a species found here in Florida.

  2. It sure looks like you spent a marvelous spring break in El Paso. I especially enjoyed reading this post, as you feature a wide variety of birds I have never seen before. Terrific photographs, Tammy!

    1. Thanks so much, Julie! It was a fun trip as I was excited to see many new birds!

  3. So glad you were able to come down and see some of our area birds:) Again, wonderful shots. Water this time of year is where you'll find all the critters. If there's a little pool somewhere, there will be someone taking a sip:)Hope you're having a nice weekend! Chris

    1. Thank you, Chris! You have some great birds in your area!

  4. Wooo! What a party spot for spring break.

    Seriously great photos Tammy, love em' and those birds.

    1. Thanks, Laurence! These sure were some fun birds to hang with:)

  5. Great post,Tammy! So many species I can only dream about seeing. Amazing photos!