Monday, May 4, 2009

King Ranch

I've had a great time at the tail end of the American Birding Association convention - the bit I got to attend. Today, we went to the famous King Ranch, an iconic spot for Texas birders. This massive ranch sprawls over 825,000 acres and is chock full of wildlife. We saw Collared Peccaries, lots of White-tailed Deer, Armadillo, and of scores of birds, of course.

In the photo above, we're out scanning one of the wetlands on the ranch, and it was packed with birds. In all we saw about 105 species today, and many in good numbers. Our guides were Tom Langscheid and Steve Shunk, and they were extraordinary. Tom was instrumental in setting up guided ecotours through the diverse habitats of the King Ranch, and many birders now pass annually through the gates seeking rare species such as Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

The King Ranch's wetlands were a feast for the eyes, and I could have spent all day perusing them. In the foreground are a half-dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, and many more than that at the top of the photo. A Roseate Spoonbill looms large, and there is a Black-necked Stilt at the bottom right. Olive Sparrows and Bullock's Orioles serenaded the group from surrounding shrublands, and the cast of avian characters dropping into the water changed continuously.

A subadult Swainson's Hawk drifts overhead. Note the really long wings, suitable for carrying the bird on its annual peregrinations between the Great Plains and Argentinian wintering grounds. We also saw the Fuertes subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, several White-tailed Hawks, and insane numbers of Crested Caracaras.

It would pay to look twice before dipping one's foot in the water. Many an American Alligator was loafing about, sizing up the prey.

I'm now down in Harlingen, Texas, in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, and looking forward to some essentially Mexican birding. There's been a Blue Bunting and Crimson-collared Grosbeak hanging around the Frontera Audubon Center and I'll try for those tomorrow. Those two are major rarities, and would be new U.S. birds for me. Get 'em or not, I'll surely see lots of interesting things down here.

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