Birding Escapes: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
By Bobby Harrison
January 15, 2014
One of the great surprises while driving the Caprock Escarpment of the Texas Panhandle is the sudden appearance of Palo Duro Canyon. At 120 miles in length, 20 miles wide, and almost 900 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States and is dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas.”
In 1934 Palo Duro Canyon State Park was established on the canyon’s northern end to preserve more than 29,000 acres of Palo Duro’s unique landscape, flora, and fauna. A 10-mile auto route descends from the canyon’s rim through diverse habitats of juniper and mesquite trees, grassy prairies, and riparian vegetation at the canyon’s floor. In addition to the auto route, more than 36 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails traverse the park.
As in most birding locations, spring and fall are the best time to visit Palo Duro, but specialties such as the Greater Roadrunner, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Lark Sparrow, Ashthroated Flycatcher, Mountain Bluebird, and Pine Siskin can be seen anytime. Seasonal specialties include Black-headed Grosbeak, Prairie Falcon, Say’s Phoebe, and Townsend’s Solitaire. All in all, more than 240 species of birds have been seen in the park.
For both birders and photographers, a photo blind (wheelchair accessible) behind the trading post provides an unparalleled opportunity to see many of the park’s species in a single location. Bird feeders and a natural-looking birdbath attract resident birds and migrants throughout the year. Birding at the blind is great in the early morning and late afternoon, but because the blind faces east, photography is best in the afternoon.
Only 30 minutes from Amarillo, two hours from Lubbock, and four-and-a-half hours from Oklahoma City, Palo Duro State Park is a perfect birding escape.