I will confess that I didn’t come to Big Bend just for the scenery.
I also came to search for the Colima Warbler. There are about 52 regularly occurring species of wood warblers in the US and Canada (depending on how you count), and I have already seen 48 of them since June of 2012. The three hardest to get are the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (check), the south-of-the-border vagrant Rufous-capped Warbler (check), and the Colima. Colima Warblers are not endangered like Kirtland’s, but almost all of their natural range lies south of the Rio Grande. Perhaps a few dozen trickle across the border to breed in the high altitude mountains of Big Bend. In order to see a Colima, though, you need to hike up to where they live.
It’s not a trek for the faint of heart. The traditional spot to find Colimas is Boot Spring, about 9 miles roundtrip from the trailhead in the Chisos Basin. The hike starts at over a mile above sea level, and climbs another 1800 feet or so, mostly in the first 3 miles. Not being as physically fit as some hikers, I started before dawn so I could reach the Colima’s habitat while they would still be active and singing in the cool mid-morning hours.
I started up the Pinnacles Trail. The turnoff to Boot Spring is just past the junction with the Colima Trail.
On the way up I listened to many calling Gnatcatchers, and admired the blooming cacti.
The trail is well-maintained, although it is steep and rocky in places, and the switchbacks near the crest are tiring.
As I climbed, I could see out over the entire Chisos Basin area. The morning sun bathed everything in a golden glow.
I stopped to rest and eat a little trail mix, and a chummy group of Mexican Jays came down to request that I share some peanuts with them. They were not pleased when I refused.
Looking up, I could see the Pinnacles formation. The end of the strenuous climbing portion of my hike was in sight.
Near the top, I heard a warbler singing! It took me a few minutes to track it down, but then I saw it: a large brownish-gray warbler with orange undertail coverts.
That’s birder-speak for “it has an orange butt.” Going a little higher, I got a slightly better view of the rest of him while he was busy singing. Note the white eye-ring and the faint chestnut cap.
Yes, my point-and-shoot camera was not quite up to the job here, but I got a few ‘record shots.’
I climbed the rest of the way to the top, and ate a congratulatory granola bar while I enjoyed the view.
I hadn’t made it to Boot Spring yet, so I decided to keep going. The trail leveled out a bit here, so the hiking was much easier. And I could start to see the other side of the Chisos Mountains.
After another mile or so, I saw Boot Rock (in the foreground):
Boot Rock, of course, looks like an upside down cowboy boot – and gives its name to Boot Canyon and Boot Spring. Boot Rock is a hoodoo, a tall vertical rock formation left behind when the softer rock around it weathered and eroded away.
Near Boot Spring I found many of the expected high elevation birds: tanagers, flycatchers, and vireos – but no more Colima Warblers. It was later in the day by this point, so it’s possible they just weren’t singing as much anymore. I also found this guy lounging in my path. I believe it’s a Texas Alligator Lizard. It was quite large, and not very reluctant to get out of my way.
I didn’t make it all the way to the South Rim, but my various exploratory excursions and back-tracking amounted to at least 11 to 12 miles, by my rough estimation. My feet were killing me by the time I got back down, and I had managed to consume all 2.5 liters of water I brought with me. I took a short nap, and got up in time for a big dinner and one more classic Big Bend sunset.