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Wildlife watch at Big Bend Ranch State Park

Lions, birds and bears! Oh, my!
Written by Amanda Ogle. Photographs by E. Dan Klepper.

With cooler temps, crisp air and beautiful colors, autumn is a great time to visit Big Bend Ranch State Park. It’s also a great time to watch for wildlife. More than 48 mammal species and more than 300 bird species have been spotted in the park. While some species migrate to the park during the autumn season, others are there year-round. Here, Park Superintendent Nathanael Gold gives us some insider tips on what to watch for in the park, along with some safety tips in case you run into a slightly feistier species.

Desert paradise

Discover desert paradise at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

TH: What types of birds can be seen more often in the fall at Big Bend Ranch State Park?

Gold: The peak of fall migration out here is from September 1 through October 15. More common migrants at Big Bend Ranch State Park include the Black-chinned and Rufous Hummingbird breeds. At higher elevations, the number of hummingbirds passing through the park can be astounding. The Sauceda Ranger Station (elevation 4,250 feet) is a great place to view the hummingbirds, as well as other areas in the interior northern portion of the park. Soon, there will be a wildlife viewing area constructed at Papalote Escondido, near the Sauceda Ranger Station. It is being constructed through cooperation with our friends group, the Compadres Del Rancho Grande, and we hope to have this complete by Christmas.

Other common migrant birds are Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky Flycatcher, various swallows, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet (which stay through the winter), Hermit Thrush (also present in the winter), various warblers (with Yellow, Nashville, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s and Wilson’s being the most common), Western Tanager, Orchard Oriole, and various sparrows.

TH: What types of mammals can be seen more often in the fall at the park?

Gold: All of the mammals are year-round residents, and none are migratory. But ones that you’re most likely to see in autumn are mule deer, bighorn sheep, javelina, grey foxes, coyotes, kangaroo rats, jackrabbits, desert cottontails, mountain lions and black bears.

TH: What do you do if you spot a mountain lion or a bear?

Gold: Pick up small children to prevent them from running and triggering a rush or attack. Stay calm, talk calmly and slowly back away, keeping eye contact with the mountain lion. DO NOT make eye contact with a bear. Do not run and turn your back. This can trigger a chase instinct. Do what you can to appear larger by raising your arms, backpack, or jacket. Wave a stick if you can. If the mountain lion or bear is aggressive, throw rocks or sticks, and speak firmly and loudly. Fight back if a mountain lion or bear attacks you. Mountain lions and bears can be driven off by fighting back. Do not play dead. Even children have driven off a mountain lion attack by fighting back. Let the lion or bear know that you are not easy prey. Always report all aggressive mountain lion and bear behavior. Hike with others, carry bear spray and a walking stick. Do not approach a mountain lion or bear to get a better view or picture.

TH: Are attacks from mountain lions common?

Gold: Attacks from mountain lions are rare. Less than 10 attacks on humans in Texas have been reported since 1980. Dogs kill 18-20 people per year, and inflict suture-requiring injuries on 200,000 residents per year.

TH: What about bear attacks?

Gold: Black Bears are not as dangerous as some people think. Up to 90 percent of a bear’s diet is vegetable material, which includes nuts, fruits, berries and plants. Most of the protein in a bear’s diet comes from insects like beetles, wasps, termites and ants. So they may pose less of a threat to livestock than some other predators. And like most animals, they will seldom approach people. With this being said, never approach a bear.

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