Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Big Country Loop

Big Country Loop map

Big Country loop mapLake Fort Phantom HillFort Phantom HillWill Hair ParkAbilene Zoological Garden and Nelson ParkKirby LakeCedar Gap FarmPerini RanchAbilene State ParkLake Abilene

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More information:

  • Abilene CVB, 800-727-7704, www.abilenevisitors.com
  • Texas Forts Trail, 915-676-1762, www.texasfortstrail.com
  • Abilene COC, 915-677-7241, www.abilene.com/chamber

001.gif PHP 001 Lake Fort Phantom Hill

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open daily. Developed camping available.

In Abilene, at the intersection of I-20 West and TX 351 (Exit 288), go north on TX 351 for 0.5 mile to FM 2833 on the left. Follow FM 2833 north along the lake shore where it provides several points for birding and for closer access to the shoreline, 9.6 miles. Where it reaches FM 1082 turn left for 1.9 miles to boat ramp.

At the first boat ramp, look for gulls, terns, cormorants, and ducks during the winter. Look for Mountain Bluebird at the lakeside picnic areas. In spring, migrating songbirds can be seen in the thickets surrounding the lake’s edge, and the shoreline attracts migrating shorebirds. Summer nesting species include Curve-billed Thrasher. Be sure to check the area just above the dam for gulls and waterfowl. Ospreys feed along the dam. In spring, wildflowers attract nectar-seeking butterflies such as Variegated Fritillary and Red Admiral. Check the rocks along the waterline for Blue-fronted Dancer.

915-676-6217

002.gif PHP 002 Fort Phantom Hill

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open daily. Developed camping available.

From the second Boat Ramp return to FM 1082 left to FM 600. Turn north on FM 600 for 2.1 miles. Park is on the right.

The park is part of the Texas Forts Trail, a project linking and interpreting eight military outposts over 650 miles of former Texas frontier. This fort was one of the early outposts in Texas, and served as a supply link to other military outposts. Flocks of Lark Buntings and a variety of sparrows feed here in winter. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers occur here and Lark Sparrows and Bullock’s
Orioles nest here in summer.

Return to FM 600 and go south for 7.8 miles to Seabee Park. Painted Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, and Scissortail Flycatcher nest here in summer.

915-677-1309

003.gif PHP 003 Will Hair Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open daily. Developed camping available.

Continue straight on FM 600 (West Lake Road), cross I–20 and go south for 1.1 miles. Turn left at the t-intersection, TX 351/Ambler Avenue. Park is on the right at 0.1 mile.

This excellent 25-acre park produces good numbers and varieties of birds due to the creek that runs through it and the hardwoods that line the creek banks. In spring, check the mini fruiting mulberries in this riparian corridor. Harris’s, White-crowned, Song, White-throated, Field, Vesper, and Savannah Sparrows are easy finds in winter, and flocks of American Goldfinch and Clay-colored Sparrow are also here in early spring. During migrations, check the hardwoods for migrating songbirds.

004.gif PHP 004 Abilene Zoological Garden and Nelson Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open daily. Developed camping available. Fee charged.

Follow TX 351/Ambler Avenue east from Will Hair Park to I-20 East, exit Loop 322 South (Exit 390). Go 1.7 miles and exit at TX 36 West. Follow signs to the zoo.

The zoo contains a wetland and a small area planted to native grasses. Resident Black-bellied Whistling Ducks can be seen in relative proximity, and during spring migration the wetland attracts a variety of shorebirds. Check the two large ponds in Nelson Park for uncommon species among the Ring-billed Gulls and Forster’s Terns. Waterfowl also inhabit both ponds, and the cottonwoods that surround the edge of the second lake provide good cover for spring migrants, as well as nesting habitat for Bullock’s Oriole, woodpeckers, and flycatchers. Black-crowned Night-Herons nest in the willow and cottonwood groves along the edge. White-faced Ibis and Yellow-headed Blackbird have been recorded during migration. Surf Scoter and Peregrine Falcon, both rarities for Abilene, have occurred here. The vegetated margins around the ponds should be searched in warm weather for dragonflies such as Widow Skimmer, Roseate Skimmer, Variegated Meadowhawk, and Familiar Bluet.

915-676-6086

005.gif PHP 005 Kirby Lake

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open daily. Developed camping available.

From the zoo, return to Loop 322 South for about 3.5 miles and exit on Maple Street, turn left, and go for 0.9 mile to the entrance on your right. The sign is small and easily missed: watch for the ball fields on your right.

A favorite birding spot in the Abilene area, Kirby Lake provides habitat for a variety of birds and for occasional rarities such as Long-tailed Jaeger, Red Knot, and Red Phalarope. During winter a good day can produce seven or eight species of sparrow, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Pyrrhuloxia. Spring migration fills the mesquite brush that surrounds the lake with passerines, and the shallow lake itself hosts migrants such as Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Franklin’s Gull. Eared Grebes in breeding plumage also occur here in spring. Scope the cattails that border the lake for Yellow-headed Black-bird, which migrates through this region in dense flocks. Snowy Plover, and less commonly, Black-bellied Plover, can be seen at the lake during migration. Bell’s Vireo and Verdin nest here, and Merlin are occasionally seen.

915-676-6217

006.gif PHP 006 Cedar Gap Farm

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site access restricted. Call ahead. Fee charged.

Return north to Loop 322. Turn left and go 1 mile to Highway 83-84. Go 9.2 miles south of Abilene on Highway 83-84, turn left/east on CR 150, pass the Cedar Gap Cemetery, at 0.5 mile, turn left/north on County Road 563 for 0.25 mile, then turn right/east into Cedar Gap Farm.

Cedar Gap Farm, operated by the Hutto Family, has a hummingbird viewing house from which visitors can get intimate views of large numbers of Black-chinned Hummingbirds; on an average spring day the swarms will drink up to three gallons of nectar from the various feeders. Songbirds also show up at the other feeders placed around the viewing area, and large brush piles as you enter the property are typically alive with juncos and a variety of sparrows.

The Farm also provides drinks and light snacks, as well as a variety of interpretive material for people interested in hummingbirds. Landscaping around the viewing area includes native plants favored by hummingbirds and butterflies. A 0.5-mile nature trail winds through the juniper and oak woods, which provide habitat for migrating warblers, vireos, and flycatchers.

915-572-4738

007.gif PHP 007 Perini Ranch

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site access restricted. Call ahead. Fee charged.

From Cedar Gap Farm return to CR 150, follow across US 83/84 for 3.7 miles to CR151. Turn right and follow 1.5 miles into Buffalo Gap. At FM 613 turn right 0.3 mile to FM 89 and turn left before the First Baptist Church in Buffalo Gap. Turn right at the sign for the Perini Ranch after 0.7 mile.

Perini Ranch plans to have nature trails that will allow visitors to walk through stands of oak, viewing White-tailed Deer, Wild Turkey, Northern Bobwhite, Armadillos, Raccoons, and migrating songbirds in spring. Wildflowers in the open fields attract an impressive diversity of butterflies. Be sure to check the pincushion daisy in spring for Checkered White and Orange Sulphur and enjoy the beautiful pink blooms of lace cactus which dot the hillsides. The agricultural fields that border the ranch attract migrating Swainson’s Hawks, which feed on small rodents and insects in the fields. Canyon Towhee is one of the more interesting western birds that reside here. Several small ponds on the property provide good viewing opportunities for wildlife in general and odonates in particular. The ranch also runs a steakhouse, which is open to the public.

915-572-3339, www.periniranch.com

008.gif PHP 008 Abilene State Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only. Fee charged.

Return to FM 89 South for 3.2 miles. Park entrance is on the left. Abilene State Park marks a point where the grasses and mesquite of the Rolling Plains meet the oak and juniper characteristic of the Edwards Plateau, resulting in a diverse mix of habitats and wildlife. Plant and bird species of xeric western ecosystems integrate with those that occur more commonly in mesic eastern communities. Elm Creek adds a riparian pecan-elm-black willow mix, as well as the wetland features normally associated with a stream.

Mississippi Kite, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and three species of wren—Cactus, Carolina, and Bewick’s—commonly nest here during summer, as do Painted Bunting and Summer Tanager. Reptiles at the park include Red-eared Slider, Texas Earless Lizard, Texas Spotted Whiptail, and Great Plains Rat Snake. Amphibians such as Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Eastern Green Toad, Texas Toad, and Plains Leopard Frog occur here as well. The park offers wildlife observation and photography opportunities for White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, Armadillos, Foxes, Squirrels, Cottontail Rabbits, and a large variety of birds.

915-572-3204, Abilene SP

009.gif PHP 009 Lake Abilene

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only. Fee charged.

Return to FM 89 South for 1.1 miles. Lake is on the right. Lake edges are productive habitat for migrating shorebirds such as American Avocet, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, and the Great Blue Herons. The lake’s appeal to migrant waterbirds depends on water levels—the lower the water levels, the greater the area’s appeal. Dowitchers and sandpipers begin showing up as early as late February.

Once across the dike, there is a nice pullout from which you can set up a spotting scope. Farther along the road there are numerous places to stop, get out, and walk closer to the edge of the lake for better viewing. The hills that surround the lake contain dense, mature stands of juniper, providing good habitat for woodland birds. All three bluebirds—Eastern, Western, and Mountain—have been seen here. Common and Hooded Merganser winter here and Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak nest here in summer. Lake Abilene provides an excellent opportunity to see both woodland species and shorebirds that are attracted to the wetland. Waterfowl can also be seen here throughout the winter.


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