My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Looking for Rarities at King Ranch

I wanted to do a tour at King Ranch, so checked on the cost. It was within my budget If I could get several more friends. Eight of us arrived at the visitor center before 6:00 A.M. and boarded the van for a trip to the Norias Division, about an hour away.

Our first stop, a little after dawn where we saw Vermillion flycatchers, hooded orioles, and a barn owl

We arrived in fog and a misty rain but after about an hour, the weather improved and we had cloudy to partly sunny skies the rest of the day. Our guide, Tom was a master birder and could find birds even in the early dawn hours. He stopped soon after we started down the narrow, vegetation-lined road to show us a ferruginous pygmy owl. It was still too dark for pictures but we did get another one to let us photograph it. This owl is diurnal and will call in the day time. After it attracts birds to come mob it, it sometimes makes a meal of one of them.

The ferruginous pygmy owl has false eyes on the back of its head

And regular owl eyes in the front

We found hooded orioles and also one of their nests, which they build under and over reaching palm frond.

Hooded oriole - this was at Benton Rio Grande State Park two days earlier

Hooded oriole nest

The ranch has some exotic animals, including impala and nilgai.  We got a quick glimpse of a running nilgai but the three impala hung around and we saw them several times.


The area has been getting lots of rain all spring and is very lush.  We traveled over fields dotted with trees and down into a wonderful oak forest that grows over old sands. Northern Bobwhite called, ran along the road, and in the tracks we took across a grasslands area where we saw dicksessels and a great horned owl with three nestlings.  A few minutes later I saw a lifer, a Botteri's sparrow which was fiercely protecting its territory with its song.

One of dozens of northern bobwhite


Singing Botteri's sparrow

Flycatchers loved this habitat.  We had lots of couches kingbirds, a few tropical kingbirds, several brown-crested flycatchers, and near the end of the day had our only eastern kingbird. 

Brown-crested flycatcher

We saw or heard lots of these greater roadrunners

Wild turkeys were everywhere.  We saw them across fields, around the buildings, and out in the live oak forest.

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

A view into the live oak forest
The oak forest was an amazing place.  As the mesquite changed to oak, we saw lots of butterflies.  One of them was very special  and rare - an eastern Mexican white skipper, first seen in the United States in 2007.

That rare east Mexican white skipper


One of our target birds was a groove-billed ani.  As we entered an area with more trees, Tom told us to tell him if we saw any grackles because they would be anis.  Minutes later, Natalie called a grackle and Tom stopped and played the Ani call.  We had two anis come in and sit out in the open and pose.

We had enough light to see the gray edges to the ani's feathers

We spent the last part of the afternoon, in the oak forest area,  hunting that tiny, nondescript bird with the big call, the northern bearded tyrannulet, as well  the tropical parula. We were successful on the tropical parula but not the tyrannulet. Otherwise, we got all our target birds except for the white-tailed hawk, as well as a total of sixty-four species.

This tanager, Audubon's oriole, titmice, and a cardinal came in while calling the
northern bearded tyrannulet

The very happy tour group at the end of a wonderful day
Sorry for the late blog.  But I didn't have many good pictures from two days of birding - not many birds and really bad light. So I thought you would rather come along on this tour with me. Hope you are finding good birds where you live.