If you are a regular reader of the Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club columns, you read a recap of my bucket list trip to Big Bend National Park in west Texas to see the Colima warbler. This Mexican species of warbler has a small breeding population in the Chisos Mountains within the park, the only place they occur within the United States. Five intrepid North Dakota birders hiked more than 10 miles round trip to climb up into Boot Springs Canyon to observe the little gem with success.
This was not the highlight of the hike however! When plans were made, and accommodations booked during the icy cover of February snowdrifts, our plan was pretty straightforward. Hike a combination of the Pinnacles trail, and Boot Springs Canyon trail from the picturesque Chisos Basin lodge surrounded on all sides by rocky craggy mountain peaks.
It is now mid-May and we are experiencing typical hot Texas summer heat. The group was standing in the dark oak forests of Boot Springs Canyon feeling great joy and relief in observing our target bird, the Colima Warbler. A pair of birds had just passed through the thick oak canopy gleaning insects as they searched about, before disappearing from view.
We continued down the trail, passing a tiny cedar-colored rustic cabin, and then cut through a very narrow passage. Granite walls towered high on both sides, and a small creek trickled through as it trickled across the trail. The intersection of Juniper and Boot Springs trail was the location we were after to search for an ultra-rare bird that had shown up a few weeks before.
The five of us split up as we searched for the hidden gem. Given the time of day, there was very little activity or singing. A confusing empidonax flycatcher distracted us a bit, and a blue-throated hummingbird sat giving us good views. This hummingbird is quite uncommon for the U.S. so was a nice sighting to add to the list.
For a while I was all alone, not knowing where the others wandered off too. It wasn’t too long before there was yelling in the distance, and one of my fellow birders passed quickly by, catching my attention. A pair of birders heard the brilliant slate-colored warbler farther up the canyon, and soon tracked it down for good views before it slipped into the forest. It wasn’t long before all of us got killer views of this slate-throated redstart as it returned to the location!
Sporting a dark charcoal head, wings, back and tail, the bird is brilliantly accented with scarlet red on the cap and entire underside. The bird was very active as it snatched insects from the air with ease, staying in low to the ground making observation easier for us. This is the one we were praying to see, and there it was before our eyes. Later reports revealed this bird was part of a pair that attempted to nest. We will see what happens in the coming weeks. This species is a very rare visitor to southeast Arizona and south Texas, so an excellent check mark on our life bird list.
This bucket list trip of mine was beyond my wildest dreams and will definitely provide a lifetime of memories. Thank you for following along the journey.