Sunday, November 10, 2013

Birding Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

We visited our son and his family in the Texas Panhandle this past week. It was great seeing how much our five grandchildren have grown in our absence. On the first morning after our arrival our familes jumped into two cars and headed for nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the "Grand Canyon of Texas." 

Carved out of the colorful mudstone, sandstone and limestone formations by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, Palo Duro Canyon is 97 miles long and up to 20 miles wide and nearly 1,000 feet deep in places. It is the second largest canyon in the US, after the 277 mile long and 6,000 foot deep Grand Canyon. 

Palo Duro Canyon is noted for its many hoodoos, which are pillars of sedimentary rock topped by capstones of hard rock such as limestone. Erosion by wind and water removes the softer rock underneath, leaving the capstone to protect the pillar, usually tilting over until it eventually collapses. I mistook this hoodoo formation along Lighthouse Trail for "The Lighthouse" hoodoo (pictured in the above link), which is similar but much larger and can only be approached by way of back trails. Next to it is Castle Peak. 

Lighthouse Rock Trail hoodoo in Palo Duro Canyon 20131102

My favorite stop in Palo Duro is this blind (or hide, which is a much more appropriate descriptor) next to one of the shops. It provides excellent views of the shrubby habitat, and has interpretive information and photos on its walls.

Blind at Palo Duro State Park 20131102

A water feature and seed and suet feeders are positioned conveniently in view.

View from blind at Palo Duro State Park 20131102

I could not tarry for very long as the children were anxious to go hiking, making me recall my impatience with photographers during my many years as a non-photographer. While we did not see many species, there were fabulous photo opportunites at close range in the soft morning light.

White-crowned Sparrows were the most abundant birds.

White-crowned Sparrow 3-20131102

White-crowned Sparrow 2-20131102

They splashed in the little pool at the fountain.

White-crowned Sparrow bathing 20131102

A female Northern Cardinal arrived...   

Northern Cardinal female 20131102

...and waited patiently (?) for her bath.

Northern Cardinal female waiting for bath 20131102

A male cardinal took his turn.

Northern Cardinal 20131102

Northern Cardinal 2-20131102

An American Robin...

American Robin 2-20131102

...was joined by a male House Finch.

House Finch male with robin 20131102

A Spotted Towhee displaced them. 

Spotted Towhee 20131102

Spotted Towhee 2-20131102

Sometimes called a "Ground Robin," the towhee is actually a large sparrow. It scratches noisily with both feet as it forages on the ground.

Spotted Towhee 3-20131102

I was pleasantly surprised when a Brown Thrasher showed up at the seed feeder. These relatives of mockingbirds and catbirds are primarily insect-eaters, as evidenced by their long sharp bills.

Brown Thrasher 3-20131102

The thrasher has piercing yellow eyes.

Brown Thrasher 20131102

I almost missed seeing two male House Sparrows roosting quietly in a nearby shrub.

House Sparrows 20131102

Time was running short, and I hoped that a Black-crested Titmouse would show up. The range of this species is restricted to central Texas and northeastern Mexico, and it is found at feeders in residential areas and pockets of oak woodlands. Finally, two did appear.

Black-crested Titmouse 2-20131102

Black-crested Titmouse 3-20131102

Later, our three granddaughters explored a restored "cowboy hut."

Granddaughters in Palo Duro Canyon 20131102

At about 7:30 in the morning on November 4, just as we were departing from our motel in Canyon, Texas for our drive to Albuquerque, this roll cloud suddenly appeared on the northern horizon. This is the view to the east as it approached.

Roll Cloud over Canyon Texas 1-20131104

The sky was otherwise perfectly blue, and the cloud stretched as far as the eye could see to both the east and west horizon. 

Roll Cloud over Canyon Texas 2-20131104

It moved towards us remarkably fast, and passed directly over us, heading southward. This is the view to the west.

Roll Cloud over Canyon Texas 3-20131104

As we drove westward along I-40 about 30 minutes later we could still see it all the way across the sky, eventually joining the southern horizon and disappearing. We noted no unusual wind or temperature change, though there was already a brisk breeze from the north (as evidenced by the flags). There were no storms anywhere in sight, but our son, who is a meteorologist with the local National Weather Service, later said that a cold front had passed over at that time.

"A roll cloud is a low, horizontal, tube-shaped, and relatively rare type of arcus cloud. They differ from shelf clouds by being completely detached from other cloud features. Roll clouds usually appear to be "rolling" about a horizontal axis. They are a solitary wave called a soliton, which is a wave that has a single crest and moves without changing speed or shape. One of the most famous frequent occurrences is the Morning Glory cloud in Queensland, Australia, [caused by] mesoscale circulation associated with sea breezes that develop over the Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf of Carpentaria. However, similar features can be created by downdrafts from thunderstorms and are not exclusively associated with coastal regions."  Ref: Wikipedia 

Thanks for visiting! After working from our iPhones with limited connectivity, we will now start tackling our correspondence backlog. We prepared our last couple of blog posts in advance and put them on "automatic pilot," and missed visiting our many social sites. Hope to catch up in the coming week!   


  1. i love those cool 'fronts' rolling through. would LOVE to see a thrasher and towhee here! glad you had some great birding in w. texas.

  2. Beautiful pictures of the birds. The cloud pictures are wonderful. I have never seen that formation before. Thanks for the pictures.

  3. Terrific captures! That thrasher is so handsome, and I LOVE the little titmouse. Awesome cloud formation!

  4. Wonderful photos. I particularly liked the ones of the bathing birds. That's always fun to watch.

  5. Great collection of birds and photos. You have a lovely family, Ken! Great post, thanks for sharing your visit.

  6. Have never seen nor heard of a roll cloud -- quite impressive and a little eerie. Nice to see family and especially nice that your grandchildren a enjoy nature and hiking (they'll get to photography eventually I'm sure).

    You saw so many wonderful birds and I love the bathing shots. Didn't know the towhee was ever called 'ground robin' but once my neighbor called me over to see what she said was a "funny looking robin" ... and it was a towhee.

  7. Great scenery and beautiful birds - of course! - but for me the photos of the roll cloud are the best. It is a magnificent sight! Maybe someday I might even see the "morning glory" in north Queensland.

  8. Very beautiful and impressive photos.

  9. Your bird shots are beautiful! It's not fair to say favorite but the Towhee capture is remarkable.
    I've never seen a cloud roll except in photos. I can't imagine what that would be like to see in person.
    Your granddaughters are cuties!

  10. fabulous series and wonderful crisp photos; I especially liked seeing the r.c. sparrow

  11. Amazing set of pics, and also what a little pool of water can attract.
    All the best Gordon.

  12. Impatience
    A great selection of species at the bath \ feeders, especially well done with the pair of Titmouse, a nice trip tick for you.

  13. Gorgeous Photos! Makes me want to set up a blind (hide). Will have to find a good spot.

  14. Hi Kenneth. Great selections at the bird bath. tha storm looks a. Bit angry.


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