I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to join some friends on a trip to southeast Texas for some photography. There are several privately owned ranches in the Rio Grande Valley that have installed photography blinds as a way to attract birders and photographers to the area. The Rio Grande Valley is a bird mecca and an important point in the annual migrations of birds between North, Central and South America. These ranch owners have built these blinds in secluded areas of the ranch away from any consistent human or livestock activity. They provide automatic feeders for the birds, fresh water and plenty of habitat to make the area around the blinds very hospitable for birds. As a result, the photography opportunities in these blinds is outstanding. (Click the images to view larger).
When the previous opportunities to go to Texas for photography came up, I wasn’t able to work the dates into my schedule. The group brought back many wonderful images, so I’ve kept my eyes open for an opportunity to go there. This past March, the opportunity finally knocked. While at my office in Atlanta, the Human Resources department informed me that I had too many vacation days and that I needed to take some days soon. I already had a week’s vacation scheduled for May, but I needed to take another 2-3 days or I would lose those days. I didn’t want to just take a few Fridays and spend the days in and around Orlando, so I started looking for somewhere to go for a long weekend. The cherry blossom festival in Washington, DC has been on my list for years, but those dates didn’t work out. I tried some other destinations but they fell through for one reason or another as well. I then remembered the blinds in Texas, so I reached out to a couple of the ranch managers and was able to get a trip put together with Ruth Hoyt of Photo Bound Tours, LLC.
Ruth was very helpful and was able to schedule me with Jess Maw from Charlotte, NC for the first weekend in May. The plan was to spend a morning shooting raptors, an afternoon shooting hummingbirds and two full days at the Santa Clara Ranch shooting songbirds and anything else that came by. For me, that sounded great. I had no expectations for the trip since I had never been to the Rio Grande Valley before. Jeff had worked with Ruth previously, so he had a list of target birds that he wanted to see and photograph. That list looked pretty good to me, so I let the two of them decide the logistics such as when and where and I would tag along and just enjoy the experience.
To say that I enjoyed the experience would be the greatest understatement of all time. I loved every single minute of the trip. The days were hot, dusty and long with breakfast well before dawn and dinner well after dark, but I hardly noticed. By the time I unloaded my cards and charged my camera batteries each night, I was lucky to get 5 hours of sleep before we did it all over again. I slept the entire way home and struggled to stay awake for another 3-4 days after getting home, but it was well worth it. I took over 5000 images, added 23 life birds and had the opportunity to get great photographs of birds that I had previously seen but never quite got a decent photo. In other words, it was all worth it. Ruth and Jeff were great to spend the time with and I appreciate that they both put up with me and my sense of humor for 3 days.
As I have a lot of images to review and process, I’m going to split them up into a few blog posts. I have a handful of birds that I’m not 100% sure of the ID, so I may put together a post just on those and hope some of my friends with excellent bird identification skills will chime in with a definitive ID for me. I hope you enjoy the trip as much as I did.