Birders and Wildlife Viewing

Papalote Escondido blind from the perspective of the water feature.

Blinds and Natural Water Features

Create Exceptional Bird and Wildlife Viewing

The Texas Big Bend region is home to over 400 species of birds, and Big Bend Ranch State Park is a superior area for viewing them.

The Park’s diverse eco system offers casual and competitive birders a mix of desert, riparian corridor, and secluded canyons with springs that make birding very rewarding.

Many bird species

A great variety of migratory songbirds pass through the wooded and moist canyons, including cuckoos, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, flycatchers and vireos, orioles and tanagers.

There may also be sparrows, buntings, cardinals, and the resident wrens, as well as several species of duck, water birds such as herons and egrets, and perhaps several kinds of shorebirds. Nocturnal birds include two species of nighthawk, common poorwill, western screech owl, great horned owl, barn owl and elf owl.

Natural springs and Tinajas provide fresh water oasis for resident and passing bird species.  Stock tanks from the old ranching days are great attractions, especially for water and shore birds.

Photos by Michael Gray

Wildlife viewing

The same exceptional features that make the State Park a unique birding site also provide outstanding viewing opportunities for other wildlife – large, small and in between.

Morning and evening, there’s a good chance of deer coming in for a drink. There are jackrabbits in the brush along with javelina. You might see a fox or a badger, or even a big horn sheep.

World class blinds with water features

The park has two world-class wildlife and bird viewing blinds developed and funded by the Friends of Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Park’s official 501(c)3 non-profit.

The two Park blinds are located off the main road into the interior.

The blinds are strategically located at two historic water features:

Papalote Escondido near the Saucedo Headquarters is built on the site of an historic ranching windmill or “papalote.” A solar-powered pump now draws water from the old well.

The blind is conveniently located a few hundred yards off the main road. It is also situated near many other birding and wildlife viewing locations, including Agua Adentro and Cinco Tinajas.

Papalote Econdido viewing area and water feature (photo taken before the new front wall was installed).

The Calera Spring blind is beautifully located at a natural spring a short walk from the road just inside the entrance to the park interior.

Calera Spring is an ancient spring site that has been visited by birds and wildlife for thousands of years. Enclosure fencing protects the site from livestock and encourages a natural ecosystem that is attractive to all the wild critters.

The water features have small pool depressions to photograph birds splashing and one even has a drip that attracts birds from long distance just by its sound. Both of the blinds have logs and other natural vegetative perches to attract birds. 

The roof goes on the Calera Spring blind during construction by Friends volunteers.

Bird and wildlife viewing and photography blinds

The two Park blinds are unique viewing structures in the area. Their historic water features have been prime attractions for birds and wildlife for a long time.

Water is the lifeblood of the desert and is critical to many species survival. Birds following ancient migratory paths depend on and create generational habits of passing through the same paths year after year.

Purpose-built as bird and wildlife blinds, the structures are specifically sited to optimize viewing opportunities. They are especially great for photography, with each is uniquely oriented so the sun rises or sets directly in back of the blind. Birds and wildlife are perfectly illuminated for outstanding photography.

To accommodate every skill level and camera lens, the blinds are set closer to the water feature than normal bird viewing blinds (usually 16 to 25 feet).

Papalote Escondido Bird Photography Blind (Morning):

Great for morning photography, Papalote Escondido blind is a six-person bird photography blind with six seated photography stations and a backbench for gear and observers. 

Papalote Escondido was built specifically as a morning blind.  The sun comes up behind the blind in a straight path to provide lighting that accentuates the subject without difficult shadows.

The photography blind has a roof to protect viewers from the sun and a covered front with six slots for cameras and tripods. Special curtains can be manipulated to camouflage photographer and equipment. 

The main attraction is a water feature repurposed from an old windmill well from the Park’s ranching era. The well is now fitted with a solar pump that delivers water to a concrete basin that holds a shallow depth of water where birds can splash and bath. It also has a small drip feature to attract birds by sound. 

Calera Spring Bird Photography Blind (Evening):

Calera Spring blind faces a natural spring that’s been flowing “forever” and providing generations of birds with water and refuge.

The blind is optimal for evening viewing and its built so the sun sets directly behind the blind to accentuate the best light and avoid shadows. It is an excellent multi-use site for photographers.

Calera Spring blind is a six person, roof-covered facility. A covered front has six cut slots to accommodate cameras and tripod. Each photography opening has its own custom curtain to camouflage photographer and equipment. There is additional seating in rear for stowing equipment and for additional spectators.

The bird photography blind is set about 25 feet from the natural Calera Spring, and the setting has lots of native vegetation and moveable log perches to help facilitate photo opportunities.

Birding seasons at Big Bend Ranch State Park

Exception bird viewing is an all year reality at the park with hundreds of resident species and many hundreds of others that are found seasonally. Many are just passing and others will nest and raise their young.

Consider planning your visit in terms of these seasons:

Winter birds – December/February

Spring arrivals – February/May

Fall return – August/December

Resources:

TPWD Birding list - https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_p4501_152h.pdf


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