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Friday, October 2, 2015

Daniels Ranch Highlights: Inca Dove, Gray Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher and Northern Parula

[Big Bend National Park. April 2015]

Pioneer farming in the early 1800's transformed not only the economy of America but also irreversibly altered the natural ecosystems of the land. Evidence of pioneering can be found across the country, including in Big Bend National Park where the remains of Daniels Ranch can still be seen; especially the adobe farm house built in 1918 that still stands today.

The history of Daniels Ranch offers a fascinating retrospective into the life in early America: Swedish immigrant John Wedin, who bought the land from Jesus Estrada in 1918, was the first farmer of the area to introduce pump-based irrigation farming; heretofore, the Hispanic farmers of the area had practiced flood-plain subsistence farming. Wedin grew crops such as wheat and alfalfa and eventually, the farm was sold to other buyers including John Daniels who occupied the farm until it was incorporated into Big Bend National Park in 1944. 

Since then, in ample testament to the restorative powers of nature, Daniels Ranch has melted away into the landscape and is now one of the most birding-productive areas of the Park -- with the following species observed in a Spring visit earlier this year:
  • Inca Dove
  • Grey Hawk
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Summer Tanager
  • Northern Parula
  • Audubon's Warbler
  • Wilson's Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Greater Roadrunner

Inca Dove: this is a tiny dove with a uniquely scaly look. At Big Bend this distinctive columbid can be found nesting in tree branches:

Grey Hawk: this raptor is widely found in tropical America but in the US, it has an extremely limited range in Texas and SE Arizona.

Vermilion Flycatcher: proving that not all flycatchers are identification conundrums; the Vermilion is a standout tyrant flycatcher that ranges all the way south to Argentina.

Ash-throated Flycatcher: a common flycatcher of the Southwest:

Golden-fronted Woodpecker: another tropical American species that reaches the US only in the states of Texas and Oklahoma.

Summer Tanager: a bright strawberry-red songbird, the Summer Tanagers were conspicuous and loud at Daniels Ranch in Spring:

Northern Parula: in addition to the above species that are breeders, there were also a handful of migrating warblers, such as this dazzling Northern Parula:

Audubon's Warbler:

and, Wilson's Warbler:

Common Yellowthroat, on the other hand, is a breeder here in the Park -- the race found here shows much more yellow than what is observed farther North in places like Michigan:

Our final songbird is the incomparable Yellow-breasted Chat:

and, in ending, what symbolizes the West better than our very own ground-cuckoo -- the Greater Roadrunner:

The establishment of our National Parks has been vital in preserving precious ecosystems for our wildlife; and, Big Bend conserves the largest area of Chihuahuan Desert habitat where 450 species of birds can be found. And, while the old adobe farm-house from Daniels Ranch still stands, it is more a testament to the resilience of native wildlife as much as it is to the pioneer farmers of the early 1900's.


Bob Pelkey said...

Your photograph of the Greater Roadrunner is my favorite in this article, Hemant. The flight shot of the Gray Hawk comes in a close second. The anticipation is building for visits to these highly rewarding venues you routinely report about. I think I was temporarily blinded by the Vermilion Flycatcher images.

Digital Plume Hunter said...

LoL, Bob! -- the Vermilion Flycatcher is a real dazzler. I was fortunate to catch the Roadrunner just as the sun was setting right from my vehicle ...