The birds, the butterflies, and The Gage

From back home in Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes:  West Texas is big country.  As a teenaged birder, hitch-hiking across the southern tier of states, I crossed Texas many times, and in the western part of the state I always looked around in fascination at the rugged, beautiful Chihuahuan desert and at the angular hills ringing the horizon.  I always appreciated the fact that Western Kingbirds, which had been my favorite birds in my early teens, were common along the highways out there.  But it seemed I was always in a hurry to go somewhere else (if hitch-hikers could be said to be hurrying), so I never really spent the time necessary to explore this region.

Western Kingbird: a classic roadside bird of western Texas.
Because of my long-standing curiosity about this region, I was especially pleased when two sharp young naturalists, Matthew York and Heidi Trudell, moved to the town of Marathon in west Texas and starting blogging about it.  Their regular posts in Big Bend - Texas Nature were certainly enticing. So when Kimberly and I were invited to come out for a brand-new nature festival based in Marathon, no one had to twist our arms.

As it turned out, we were incredibly busy in July, moving to a new house in the midst of our usual hectic schedule. Even so, we took an extra day on either side of the festival to have more time to look around in west Texas.  The festival was wonderful, and so were the birds and butterflies that we saw in the area. 

This male Painted Bunting was a roadside bird just south of Marathon, Texas.
A Greater Roadrunner attempts to hide in a yucca plant near Marathon.
A Fiery Skipper pauses for nectar at the Gage Gardens
Closeup of a Sleepy Orange at the Gage Gardens (with a couple more in the background)
A delightful surprise for us was the center of the event, the Gage Hotel and Gage Gardens.  The hotel is a building with true southwestern elegance and a remarkable history.  Its owner, J.P. Bryan, is an individual with a deep interest in history; he bought the hotel after it had fallen on hard times, and made a project of restoring it.  Some information on its history is here.

The courtyard at The Gage

In the lobby of The Gage: birding and butterflying info was featured

J.P. Bryan, the owner of The Gage, also established the Gage Gardens in Marathon, a beautiful spot where we found a great diversity of butterflies on one of the festival field trips, and the Las Maravillas Ranch, a remote and beautiful area where we saw Peregrine Falcons, Wild Turkeys, Zone-tailed Hawks, Vermilion Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and many other birds. 

For Kimberly and me, half the fun was getting to connect with lots of old friends and new friends from all over Texas and beyond.  Heidi Trudell and Matt York helped to organize the festival, and because they are so widely respected, they were able to bring in an impressive roster of bird experts from around the state.  Steve Gross, president of the Texas Ornithological Society, came out from Houston.  So did Gary Clark, who writes a very popular nature column for the Houston and San Antonio newspapers, and his wife Kathy Adams Clark, a leading nature photographer. Hummingbird expert Kelly Bryan came to do a banding demonstration, sharp young birder Cameron Carver came down from Lubbock to lead field trips, and veteran Big Bend naturalist Mark Flippo was there to share his extensive knowledge.  Our good friend Clay Taylor came to the festival to demonstrate a brand-new Swarovski telescope (more on that in another blog post!). And many other birders and naturalists, from beginners to experts, were there as well. 

The staff at The Gage is now assessing this year's event and discussing plans for next year.  We hope we can return for the festival next year, but in the meantime, here's a recommendation: if you're traveling through west Texas, plan your trip so that you can stay overnight at The Gage.  It's a beautiful hotel and a bird-friendly place; every morning there we walked out of our room to see Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, White-winged Doves, Cave Swallows, and many other birds right on the grounds and on the main street of Marathon.  We'll leave you with a photo from inside the courtyard at The Gage, with nestling Western Kingbirds waiting for their parents to come back to their nest on a cottonwood branch right over the path.
In the courtyard at The Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas, baby Western Kingbirds wait in the nest for their parents to come and feed them. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.


  1. The painted bunting is really gorgeous.

  2. Wow! Sounds (and looks) like this really was a great get-together for the people the birds and the bugs. Sorry I missed it this year, but you've sold me on a trip to the Gage at when it's possible!

    Thanks for sharing.


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