South Texas Birdlife – USA – 2017


The lower Rio Grande valley runs along the border between Mexico and the southern corner of the state of Texas.  In recent years it has moved from being a mecca for birdwatchers to one for bird photographers too, offering as it does not only an amazing array of colourful species but ones that are unique to the US as well by virtue of its geography.  A number of exceptional photography hides based on some of the vast wild ranches that cover this part of the state have emerged and after visiting them in 2015 we simply had to put a trip together so exceptional were the opportunities.

This trip will take us to three of the top ranches in the region, well established, hugely popular but we will have exclusive access to the network of ground level, pool and raptor hides that they each have to offer.  The species list is almost endless but the raptor fans will love the striking Crested Caracara as well as Harris Hawk and the native Vulture species. Those who love showy birds will love the Cardinal, Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Painted Bunting, Green Jay, Pyrrhuloxia….the list goes on and with game birds including Northern Bobwhite and Wild Turkey this is a real bird photographers dream trip all wrapped in some good old southern ranch hospitality too.

Itinerary Open +Close -

Day 1: On arrival at McAllen airport in south Texas we will meet our local guide Ruth Hoyt, grab a quick bite to eat and transfer to the first of the three different ranches that we will be visiting during our time here, the Santa Clara for overnight accommodation and planning the next few days’ photography. We will be staying here for 2 nights.

Day 2: The Santa Clara Ranch was one of the first of the South Texas Ranches to build a number of hides (or blinds as they are called here) specifically for bird photography. The Rio Grande area where it is situated is a true bird haven with many species unique to the US found here by virtue of its location to Central America.  The blinds here and at all three of the ranches we will visit have been superbly constructed for the optimal photographic experiences – many are set into the ground making ground level photography easy, have pools for reflection shots and there is an array of options as far as dramatic and creative perches/settings which we will change on an ongoing basis.  Add elevated raptor blinds for Crested Caracara, Harris Hawk and Black Vultures into the mix and you can see why the 6 hides at this ranch alone, which we will full and exclusive access to throughout our time here, will give us an array of ongoing opportunities.  Our days here and at each of the ranches, will consist of an early start for sunrise and the best light, a break for lunch and rest in the middle part of the day when the light is at its harshest, and a later afternoon/evening session as the light once again improves in terms of quality.

Day 3: We will follow the same pattern today, with the chance to work across either new hides or keep working those that have been good to us on our first day here at Santa Clara before heading to the town of Edinburg in the evening for dinner and our motel style accommodation base for the next 3 nights.

Days 4-5: Considered by many US bird photographers one of the very best photographic hide setups in the country. A similar array of hide options including more raptor blinds (both morning and afternoon options here) and an array of ground level hides with colourful species like Golden-fronted woodpecker, Painted Bunting, Cardinal, Green Jay, Pyrrhuloxia, Long-Billed Thrasher, Black-Crested Titmouse, Great Kiskadee among the incredible variety of birds we will work with these will be another two jam packed days of photography, again involving early starts, a midday break for light lunch and then an afternoon/evening session before dinner back near our hotel.

Day 6: After a final morning session at Santa Clara Ranch and enjoying a light lunch en route we will head to the final of our three ranches for an afternoon’s photography there, the Jones Alta Vista Ranch. This is a relatively new setup but when we visited in 2015 the potential it has to offer in the mix of a trip like this was very clear.  A similar setup of hides (both ground and elevated raptor ones) are available to work from and other highlights in terms of a bird list that remains as extensive and colourful as our previous bases include Northern Bobwhite, Greater Roadrunner and Wild Turkey.

Day 7: A full day of photography at Jones Alta Vista Ranch which in addition to its bird photography offers a fantastic experience in terms of general setting an accommodation and a real taste of traditional south-western ranch life in very comfortable surroundings.

Day 8: With hopefully one last early morning photo session we’ll return to McAllen for our overnight flights back to the UK which will arriving early on the following morning (12th April).

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