-Abundant Opportunity for West Texas Bird Species
Trail Length: Varies from .3 miles to 14.5 miles.
The basin in the Chisos Mountains is a high elevation depression surrounded by mountain peaks near the center of the mountain range. Not only is it a stunningly beautiful landscape, but it provides some of the most unique birding in Texas.
It offers a selection of hiking trails ranging from .3 miles in length up to 14.5 miles round trip.
Spring migration is generally the best time to bird the Chisos Mountains because bird activity is relatively high, plus migration is peaking so your list of potential species is at its highest. West Texas migration peaks the last week of April through the second week of May, just slightly later than the coastal migration peak.
The Chisos Mountain Basin is only one portion of Big Bend National Park, yet it would likely take 2-3 days of full day hikes to see and bird it all. Most people don’t have that much time, so here are the highlight spots:
Waste Water Treatment Plant (eBird)
This is a reliable source of water just down the hill from the Basin campground. Bird to look for here include Varied Bunting, Scott’s Oriole, Acorn Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Say’s Phoebe, and Blue Grosbeak.
To get here, drive and park at the back side of the campground. Make the .5 mile hike down by following the paved/gravel road to the small water treatment plant. The water spills out on the back side and flows downhill, which is where you’ll find the water and vegetation the birds love.
Pinnacles Trail (eBird)
Ever heard of the Colima death march? Well this is it. Its 3.5 miles of 1900 ft. elevation gain. This is the trail that leads up to most other mountain trails (Boot Canyon, Emory Peak, Colima, South Rim).
The key on this one is to start as early as possible to avoid the heat. Beginning your hike before sunrise with a flashlight is ideal. Pre-dawn hiking is a good chance to hear Western-screech Owl, Elf Owl, and Mexican Whip-poor-will. As you hike you’ll be rewarded with increasingly impressive views of the Basin and surrounding peaks. Bring plenty of drinking water and snacks to keep you going.
Families of Mexican Jay are common. Some will fly right up to you and beg for food, although feeding them is of course not recommended.
The upper end of the trail, especially at the water seeps where the vegetation is more lush, is a great spot to check for Colima Warbler, Painted Redstart, and seasonal migrants.
Boot Canyon (eBird)
This trail begins as you finish your steep hike up the Pinnacles Trail and is much more level and easy than Pinnacles. Boot Canyon is great because it’s 100% high elevation, Texas Sky Island habitat.
This is a good trail for White-throated Swift and Violet-green Swallow. It leads to Boot Spring which is good for Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hepatic Tanager, Painted Redstart, Townsend’s Warbler, and the famous Colima Warbler. Band-tailed Pigeons can occasionaly be found here as well.
Here’s a link to the official NPS Trail Map.
Interesting birds can be found on any of the other trails too (Lost Mine, Laguna Meadows, Window), but they’re not as well known to birders as “must do” hikes. The Window Trail can be very good for birding too, but for its length and elevation change, you may as way just go all out with the Pinnacles Trail if you have the time.