Rita Blanca Loop
Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument
From Business I-40 and TX 136, take TX 136 north 26.4 miles, turn left on Cas Johnson Rd. and enter Bates Canyon. Continue on Cas Johnson Rd. through mesquite/yucca grassland.
During late spring, the roadside and surrounding slopes are carpeted in wildflowers. Watch for Bullock’s Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin’s and Lark Sparrows and an occasional Box Turtle. After 3.2 miles at the Y-intersection, take the right fork to the Alibates Flint Quarry and drive about 1.9 miles to the Visitor Center. This site provides guided tours of the ancient flint quarry that served as a major source of tool material for Native Americans over a period of several thousand years. If you continue past the Visitor Center building to the boat ramp, lakefront habitat that includes reeds and trees provides good cover for migrating and resident birds. In spring look for Brewer’s, Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows, as well as Lark Bunting. The reed beds and the salt cedars and willows adjacent to the boat ramp form a habitat that is very different from the surrounding rocky, juniper-covered slopes. Painted Bunting is a common nester here; Great Blue Heron, Mallard, American Crow and a variety of migrants may occur.
McBride Canyon is a great place to watch birds. To reach the canyon, instead of taking the right fork to the Flint Quarry and boat ramp, go left for 2.6 miles at which point the paved road becomes dirt, and a sign announces your arrival to this scenic and historic site. The avifauna of this site is quite different from what you’ll find elsewhere along the lakeshore. Red-headed Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Blue Jay, Yellow Warbler, Northern Flicker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bewick’s, House and Rock Wrens, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Blue Grosbeak and Northern Cardinal all occur here.
Call for Reservations
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
From Amarillo, take US 287 North 34 miles to FM 1913. Take a right on FM 1913 and continue 12.4 miles to Plum Creek Rd. Turn right and continue 5.5 miles to the entrance.
Lake Meredith is one the 3 major reservoirs along the stretch of the Canadian River that flows across northern Texas. Numerous access points provide opportunities to scan for grebes, ducks, geese and loons. The red rock descent to the lake’s surface is scenic and makes a good backdrop for photographers, especially during spring when yuccas and other wildflowers are in bloom. The stands of trees at Plum Creek by the boat launch provide habitat for songbirds during migrations, and the lake’s surface attracts waterbirds year round. The fringing reed beds also attract migrant birds.
Return to FM 1913 North for 2.8 miles and continue to the Blue West entrance. At the pier check the trees and juniper-studded cliff sides for woodpeckers, flycatchers and wrens. Unlike Plum Creek, the lake view at Blue West is expansive. Scan carefully for waterbirds, particularly during migration. Pied-billed and Horned Grebes, Common Merganser, Common Loon and Common Goldeneye are expected here in winter, and Mallards and lingering waterfowl during spring and summer. Return to FM 1913 and continue 5 miles to turn right on FM 3395 and continue 5.3 miles and turn right on FM 1319 1.5 miles to Sanford Dam and Spring Canyon below. Virginia Rail can be found along the edges of the reeds and in winter Marsh Wren and Song Sparrow are expected.
Lake Rita Blanca City Park
From US 54 and US 87 in Dalhart, head south on US 87 0.5 mile to E 7th St. Take a right and then an immediate left on FM 281/Tennessee Ave. Continue 1.4 miles to park on the right.
This is an excellent site that possesses a phenomenal Panhandle wintering waterfowl spectacle. Additionally, excellent hiking trails follow the perimeter of the lake, providing a quiet and enjoyable viewing experience. The dusk show of large numbers of geese returning for the evening and the large flocks moving back and forth across the lake are impressive viewing experiences. Scope the far end of the lake for ducks.
During spring, dozens of Spotted Sandpipers use the lake as a staging area and you may enjoy close looks at their attractive summer plumage. Black-crowned Night-Heron, Common Yellowthroat, Red-winged Blackbird and a few grackles nest in the surrounding vegetation. The vegetation, typical of much of the High Plains, is a native, short-grass prairie dominated by blue grama and buffalo grass. The park supports a wide variety of wildlife, including Scaled Quail, Northern Bobwhite, Bald Eagle, Chihuahuan Raven, Mule Deer and Swift, Gray and Red Foxes. Look for colorful dragonflies and damselflies along the lakeshore, including the turquoise Blue-eyed Darner, which has a limited range in Texas. Walk the trail along the lakeshore in summer for flycatchers, wrens, sparrows, buntings and views of different coves that may harbor herons or waterfowl.
Rita Blanca National Grassland
In Dalhart, take US 385 30.6 miles north to FM 296 West. Continue 17 miles to the intersection of FM 296 and Thompson Grove Road. Turn west for 0.5 mile to Thompson Grove.
The Rita Blanca grasslands are mainly viewed from the roadside along FM 296. Birdlife can be abundant, and the site’s northerly location makes it a venue for birds not normally venturing far into Texas. Species that thrive in cold weather such as Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks, Chihuahuan Raven and various longspurs may be common, and rarities such as American Tree Sparrow, Northern Shrike, Black-billed Magpie and Long-eared Owl could occur here. A raptor to watch for throughout the Panhandle during winter is Prairie Falcon. During summer, the grasslands present an entirely different aspect. Brown fields turn bright green with the new growth of prairie grasses and flowers. Pheasant, Scaled Quail and Northern Bobwhite call from thickets or from perches. Dickcissel, Lark Bunting, Grasshopper, Lark and Cassin’s Sparrows, Western Meadowlark and Western Kingbird line the roadsides. By late May, a new generation of prairie dog pups is exploring life above ground. Larger birds include Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks and Long-billed Curlew which nest here. Thompson Grove and other wooded sites may harbor nesting Blue Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole and lingering migrants such as Chipping Sparrow, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers and should be checked for Long-eared Owl.