Watching Shorebirds in the Desert? Boardwalk Popular with Birders Reopens in Big Bend National Park

This boardwalk across the beaver pond along the Rio Grand Village nature trail was lost in the floods of 2008, and has now been reconstructed. NPS photo by Raymond Skiles.

Birdwatchers in search of herons, bitterns, ducks, and kingfishers could consider a beaver pond to be promising territory, but they might not expect to find either the birds or the pond in the West Texas desert.

Big Bend National Park offers all that and more for visitors with the reopening a boardwalk across a beaver pond on the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail.

The trail, located near the Rio Grande River, is an easy three-quarter-mile hike, but according to the park staff, the riparian corridor found at Rio Grande Village offers some of the best birding in the park year-round. The boardwalk across the beaver pond is a key part of the trail, but the structure was lost during a major flood in the fall of 2008.

Replacement of the boardwalk was a long-term project, and was delayed while park crews handled post-flood clean-up and repairs to numerous other facilities in the area. A birding platform along the trail was reopened in December 2009, but the boardwalk across the beaver pond was a key component for visitor use of the entire trail.

That work is now complete, and the new boardwalk is even better than its predecessor. The new facility includes three floating docks, anchors which will allow it to rise with future flood waters, and benches for wildlife and bird viewing. It's constructed of sustainable materials that should provide for a long lifespan.

A ribbon cutting for the new facility is scheduled for Tuesday, November 30 at 10:30 a.m. on the boardwalk platforms. A short ceremony, refreshments, and photo opportunities of the boardwalk will be offered. The visiting public and local community is invited and encouraged to attend.

“We are very pleased to be able to provide the new boardwalk and benches for visitors to enjoy and to provide the best access to the nature trail and riparian habitats of the beaver pond,” said Big Bend National Park Superintendent William Wellman. "We invite you to stop by to help us celebrate the opening of the new boardwalk.”

The trail, which is described by a self-guiding leaflet, begins behind site #18 in the Rio Grande Village campground. A park publication notes, "After crossing the boardwalk through a spring-fed wetland, the trail gradually ascends a small limestone hill. A side trail leads to the banks of the Rio Grande. From trail's end, hikers are rewarded by a magnificent panorama of the Sierra del Carmen, the river floodplain, Boquillas, Hot Springs Canyon, and the Chisos Mountains. This is probably the best sunset view in the entire park."

At an elevation of 1,850 feet, the Rio Grande Village area is the hub of winter activity at Big Bend, and it's a popular site for birders. In addition to the shorebirds attracted by the lure of water in the desert, white-winged, mourning and Inca doves, yellow-billed cuckoos, both Say’s & black phoebes, verdin, summer tanagers, painted buntings, northern cardinals, and orchard oriole are regularly seen in the area.

The sprawling park, with its wide variety of habitats, offers plenty of other fine birding opportunities.
Winter can be a fine time to enjoy the lower elevation portions of Big Bend, but keep in mind that makes it a popular destination, especially during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period, so plan ahead. It's a very long drive to alternative destinations if you need a campsite or indoor lodging and arrive to find those facilities at Big Bend are full. You'll find information to help plan a visit on the park website.