Rio Diablo Youth Birding Camp
May 29, 2021 @ 8:00 am - June 5, 2021 @ 5:00 pm EDT
Rio Diablo Birding Camp, hosted by Birding with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, welcomes birders aged 14 to 18 to experience the southwest region of Texas. From the sky islands of the Chisos and Davis Mountains, to the gracefully rolling hills of the Edwards Plateau, to the harsh yet beautiful brush country, participants should expect to enjoy a fascinating diversity of classic southwest Texas ecosystems.
The rich, exciting bird life of this region will never leave us with a dull moment. However, campers will experience and learn about more than just birds! Afternoon talks and workshops from camp leaders and guest speakers will range from topics like astronomy, geology, and ancient peoples to conservation and careers in wildlife. Structured downtime will allow for independent exploration as well as group bonding. As this camp is organized and run by native Texans, we know that the heat can get brutal quickly this time of year. Therefore, our afternoons are planned to be spent at a relaxed pace with breaks in air conditioning, and opportunities to cool off by jumping into a pool, river, or lake almost every day.
The city of Del Rio is situated along the Rio Grande river and is a cultural and ecological blending of Mexico and Texas. It is here that we will greet arriving campers and begin the first stage of camp. The first official night together will be spent in scenic and wild Big Bend National Park, the home to more recorded species of bird than any other U.S. national park. The large mountains here rise out of the surrounding desert, offering an assemblage of unique habitats that attract many species found nowhere else in the country. The following day will begin early with a rigorous hike up the Chisos Mountains followed by excursions to other key spots in the park. After all too short of a visit, we must continue on north to Fort Davis, where we will enjoy some casual birding at Davis Mountains State Park. We will then be treated to an evening under the legendary dark skies on a local ranch. The next day will find us exploring the high elevations on local private properties, then eventually heading back east. After a stop along the way in Balmorhea, we will finally reach the McKenna Ranch on the Dry Devils River just north of Del Rio.
The McKenna Ranch will serve as home for the next few nights as we explore the rich biodiversity along the Devils River – one of the most pristine and untouched rivers in Texas. During our time in this area, campers will explore not only the river, but also shelters occupied by people 12,000 years ago and filled with 7,000-year-old rock art, as well as the Pecos River and Lake Amistad. Our relaxed pace during these days will allow for extensive educational programming, community service, and plenty of time for campers to explore, learn, and pursue their interests.
The following two days will be spent traveling further southeast towards the western reaches of the Hill Country on the Edwards Plateau as well as the Tamaulipan thornscrub that characterizes the south Texas brush country. Where these two ecoregions intersect, wildlife diversity peaks. First, access to a private ranch in Edwards County north of Brackettville provides us with an opportunity to explore landscapes visiting birders do not often have. The hills here have been well maintained and preserved for generations, and the landowners are ambassadors for wildlife preservation. After an evening of wildlife watching, we will spend the night in Kinney County and the following morning exploring the riparian corridors of Fort Clark Springs – an oasis amongst the surrounding arid brush country. In the afternoon, another private ranch will host us, with opportunities for time in their photography blinds.
The last morning of the camp will be spent back in Val Verde County visiting one more private property along a dammed creek. The large ponds and flowing water here should provide us with a last shot at species we might have missed earlier in the camp as well as a beautiful location to round out our time in southwest Texas.
At the end of the week, campers can expect to have seen many iconic species of the desert southwest and Texas, including golden-cheeked warbler, black-capped and gray vireos, tropical parula, colima warbler, green jay, great kiskadee, elf owl, varied bunting, painted bunting, black-tailed gnatcatcher, common black hawk, ringed and green kingfishers, Rivoli’s and Lucifer Hummingbirds, and so many more. Beyond just the birds, other wildlife we hope to see include millions of Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from a natural cave, black bear, white-tailed deer, javelina, Texas and crevice spiny lizards, many species of snake, 50+ species of butterfly, and so much more!