Tom Johnson is an international birding tour leader, guiding binocular-strapped groups everywhere from Arizona to Australia.
Among the spots he visits is Big Bend National Park. The park encompasses an area over 1,000 square miles, including the entirety of the Chisos Mountains. It is a sanctuary for plant and animal species alike, hosting the largest bird list in the U.S., with nearly 450 different species recorded there.
“What really gets me about Big Bend is that you’re away from everything that’s developed about the world, out there walking in beautiful oak, maple and juniper canyons,” Johnson says.
Among so many species, Johnson says the Colima Warbler is unique because Big Bend is the only place you can hear its little trills in the United States. Johnson describes it as “a bird only a birder can love” with a brown washed gray color and a call you’re guaranteed to hear if you stick around the park long enough.
However, Johnson’s favorite species of the park is the Elf Owl, the world’s smallest owl. The Elf Owl is smaller than an American Robin, with tiny cackles and whistles you can catch down by the river.
“I get to go to places with people who are really excited to be there and help them get the most out of their travel, sort of through the prism of birds and the natural world,” Johnson says.
Listen to the audio player above to hear the calls of these beautiful species and more from Tom Johnson.
Bird sounds courtesy James L. Gulledge, Robert C. Stein/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.