Big Bend Loop
Big Bend Loop map
- Brewster County Tourism Council, www.visitbigbend.com
- Presidio Visitor Convention Bureau, 432-299-3517, www.cityofpresidio.com
From FM 170 go 7 miles east of Presidio, turn north onto Casa Piedra Road. Go approximately 8 miles and bear right at the Y. Continue another 2 miles to the park entrance. Continue 17 miles east to the Sauceda Ranger Station. All roads are caliche or dirt after leaving FM 170.
Over 300 species of birds have been documented at Big Bend Ranch, more than any Texas state park. Common to abundant resident birds on this 300,000+ acre property include Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Crissal Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow and Pyrrhuloxia. In winter, visitors should look for various species of sparrow. Common spring and fall migrants include vireos, swallows, several western warblers, and tanagers. Common breeding species in summer include Zone-tailed Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Elf Owl, Bell's Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Varied and Painted Bunting, and Scott's Oriole.
GPS: 29° 33' 21.90" N, 104° 11' 23.62" W
Proceed southeast along FM 170 though the community of Redford, watching for raptors en route. About halfway to Lajitas, look for the Colorado Canyon takeout on your right or a little further to the Rancherias Canyon trailhead on your left. A composting toilet exists at the takeout but no other facilities are present.
Here the canyon of the Rio Grande narrows and steep volcanic walls replace the broad floodplain and associated agricultural fields. This is a good spot to look for migrants such as flycatchers, vireos, warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings, and orioles during migration. The rugged Rancherias Trail traverses a beautiful canyon that eventually contains permanent water if you hike far enough. Look for Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow along the route. BBRSP day use permits are required.
GPS: 29° 19' 59.74" N, 104° 3' 2.48" W
As the FM 170 heads south from Rancherias Canyon, it is separated from the Rio Grande by a long, thin mesa. Just ahead of you and on the right, watch out for the signs directing you to the Closed Canyon parking area, shade shelter and picnic table.
The canyon was formed long ago when a stream coming off the mountains to the north cut a deep path through the mesa to the river; now abandoned by that stream, what is left is the eroded slot of the mesa. Although, perhaps a less productive birding site, the hike down the vary narrow canyon will be worth the effort. Here is a place to escape the heat of the desert, as the canyon stays shaded throughout the day except when the sun is directly overhead. You will see many of the same species that occupy the nearby Rancherias Canyon.
GPS: 29° 19' 39.71" N, 104° 1' 41.07" W
About mile east of the "tepees" rest stop on FM 170, watch for signs directing you to Madera Canyon and Grassy Banks. Shade shelters and composting toilets are available here.
These campgrounds and river access allow access to mixed desert scrub and riparian zones. Both areas were flooded in 2008, which reduced the riparian vegetation. In winter, expected birds include sapsuckers, flycatchers (Dusky, Gray and Ash-throated), gnatcatchers, kinglets, Hermit Thrush, warblers, towhees, and sparrows. Thorn-scrub thickets between the open desert and stream-side woodlands present a very good location to search for the elusive Crissal Thrasher. Interesting breeding birds include Western Screech-Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Verdin, Cactus and Bewick's Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, and Scott’s Oriole. BBRSP day use permits required.
GPS: 29° 17' 33.76" N, 103° 55' 6.78" W
21 miles southwest of Terlingua on FM 170.
The resort has been labeled a “bird sanctuary” and many bird-attracting facilities exist within the development, including gardens and landscaping features, trails and Rio Grande stream-side access. At times, a large roost of Black Vultures can be found around the golf course; during spring, summer and fall, Turkey Vultures will become the “common” vulture. Resident species include House Finch, Pyrrhuloxia, Inca Dove, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Scaled Quail, a few Gambel’s Quail, and Greater Roadrunner.
GPS: 29° 15' 41.84" N, 103° 46' 33.18" W
The site is located 17 miles west of Study Butte/Terlingua along FM 170 or 1 mile east of the Lajitas Resort on FM 170.
The Desert Gardens exhibit at the center provides a collection of plants native to Big Bend. This microcosm of the desert environment acts as a natural attractor for a number of bird species. Additionally, the center's courtyard is the only area in Big Bend Ranch State Park that has approved bird feeders. The widest variety of species can be seen during the spring, although birding is available year-round. Resident species include House Finch, Pyrrhuloxia, Inca Dove, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Scaled Quail, a few Gamble’s Quail, and Greater Roadrunner. A common summer denizen is the Ash-throated Flycatcher. RV camping is available with reservation.
GPS: 29° 16' 13.53" N, 103° 45' 27.31" W
From the west park entrance travel 13 miles east and turn right onto the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the end at Santa Elena Canyon.
This site offers scenic views of the Rio Grande through limestone bluffs. The canyon hike is spectacular and, when shaded, offers a respite from the desert. Birds include: Rock and Canyon Wren, Say’s and Black Phoebe, and Cliff Swallow (in summer). Outside of the escarpment/river the habitat changes. During migration, search for flycatchers, vireos, warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings, and orioles. In winter, birds include sapsuckers, flycatcher (Dusky, Gray and Ash-throated), gnatcatchers, kinglets, Hermit Thrush, warblers, towhees and sparrows. Breeding birds include Lesser Nighthawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Verdin, Cactus and Bewick’s Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat, Peregrine Falcons, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, and Scott’s Oriole.
GPS: 29° 10' 1.86" N, 103° 36' 37.87" W (trailhead)
Located .5 miles west of Castolon on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
Along this road in the mesquite woodlands by the campground are the best locations in Texas to find Lucy’s Warbler in summer. Listen for their sweet song in the woodland. With patience, it is not difficult to get good looks at this species, whose range in Texas is very limited. Cottonwood Campground is famous for an array of breeding birds that are concentrated in this one location, attracted by tall cottonwoods. This list includes Gray Hawk, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatcher, Tropical, Cassin’s and Western Kingbird, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, Orchard, Hooded and Bullock’s Oriole, and Lesser Goldfinch. In winter, expected birds include sapsuckers, flycatchers (Dusky, Gray and Ash-throated), gnatcatchers, kinglets, Hermit Thrush, warblers, towhees and sparrows.
GPS: 29° 8' 19.06" N, 103° 31' 24.41" W
As you head out of Castolon, proceed northeast via paved road though some of the most scenic areas of the park.
Along this road are several good birding spots including Sotol Vista, Blue Creek Canyon, and Sam Nail Ranch. Species include Lucifer Hummingbird, Gray and Black-Capped Vireo, Crissal Thrasher, and Varied Bunting. Sam Nail Ranch contains a working windmill and remnant woodland that is a hot spot for birds especially during migration. It is also just a short walk from the parking area along the highway. This is a good place to go during the hotter times of the day, as bird activity can be quite intense during non-rainy periods. A majority of the species will be vireos, wrens, thrushes, thrashers, warblers, tanagers, towhees, sparrows, grosbeaks, buntings and orioles.
GPS: 29° 19' 17.30" N, 103° 23' 0.29" W
(start of drive as described)
Located 10 miles west and south of Panther Junction in the Chisos Mountains Basin.There are a number of birding locales within the Chisos that vary from easy to very difficult. The road passes through Green Gulch, tops out near the Lost Mine Trail, and then descends into the Basin. Locate and become familiar with the following venues: Lost Mine Trail, Oak Creek Canyon and the sewer lagoons, Window Trail, Laguna Meadow Trail, Juniper Flat, Pinnacles Trail, Casa Grande Peak, Emory Peak, Boot Canyon and Spring, East Rim and South Rim. One of the most sought-after species in Texas occurs primarily in Boot Canyon: the Colima Warbler. Other montane specialties that occur here include Band-tailed Pigeon, Flammulated Owl, Whip-poor-will, Blue-throated, Magnificent and Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hutton’s Vireo, Mexican Jay, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Painted Redstart.
GPS: 29° 19' 17.30" N, 103° 23' 0.29" W (trailhead)
Heading east from Panther Junction, the adventurous birder may want to include a side trip to Pine Canyon. Turn right on Glenn Springs Road and then right again on the Pine Canyon Road. This route is definitely a high clearance road and at times requires four-wheel drive. The parking area is in the desert flats and access to the canyon requires a walk of almost 2 miles.
Upon entering the canyon, the habitat changes and vegetation grows thicker as you approach the pour off. Components of the woodland found above here occur in the upper portions of the canyon as well. This location is visited by hardy birders. The habitat found in the canyon is especially productive during migration. Rarities such as Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher and Flame-colored Tanager have been found here. Post-breeding Colima Warblers are usually present.
GPS: 29° 16' 1.51"N, 103° 13' 41.27" W (trailhead)
20 miles east from Panther Junction headquarters. About one-third of the way, you will find Dugout Wells which is worth a stop.
The campground nature trail has a boardwalk over a spring-fed lagoon. The location is small but the tall trees and water found are irresistible to birds. Look for grebes, herons, egrets, bitterns, night-herons, rails, swallows, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and Swamp Sparrow and kingfishers. Carolina Wrens, an eastern species, have taken up residence. Vermilion Flycatchers are easy to observe at the lagoon and in the campground. Several rare to accidental birds have been observed at this location including Ruddy Ground-Dove, Tufted Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Thick-billed Kingbird, Rufous-backed Robin, Tropical Parula and Black-vented Oriole. In years past, Gray Hawk and Common Black-Hawk have nested along the main road. First to appear in the evening are abundant Lesser Nighthawks, then Common Poor-wills followed by Western Screech-Owl and Elf Owl.
GPS: 29° 10' 50.63" N, 102° 57' 27.01" W