South Texas Bird Photo Safari Right after Summit in March
Rio Grande Valley Photo Safari on Award-Winning Private RanchesDates: Mar 13, 2011 - Mar 16, 2011
Maximum 8 photographers (starts immediately following NANPA Summit, 3 spots remaining)
Based on the continued success of the Lens and Land ranches in the Rio Grande Valley and the great trip we all had this year and last year (a sold out safari with a full set of satisfied participants), I'm pleased to announce that I'll be leading another photo safari to the South Texas ranches next March in conjunction with the NANPA Summit which will be right in McAllen. We'll have 4 full days of private shooting at the premier award winning Dos Venadas and Campos Viejos ranches which are only open to guided groups. Hardy Jackson, our co-host, won the most recent Valley Land Fund photo contest on his ranch, Campos Viejos so you'll have every chance to take similar award winning images.
Normally I lead this safari in April, but because the NANPA Summit is in McAllen in March we'll be running it immediately after NANPA.
South Texas is a unique location and the best place I've ever found to photograph those elusive North American woodland bird and raptor species that have eluded your "life photo" list.
The safari fee of $1395 (all Summit attendees receive a 15% discount!) includes all ranch fees (these are private properties which the owners have put a tremendous amount of effort into making bird photography paradise, so shooting on them is not inexpensive), guide fees and photo instruction, both in the field and workshop sessions on digital workflow and image editing as well as lunch for the four days we'll be shooting. For those interested we are also providing accomodations at a nearby luxury game lodge for an additional room & board fee. Or you can stay in nearby Rio Grande City and drive up to the ranches each day. If you can only spend 3 days with us due to schedule conflicts we can offer you a reduced rate of $1170 ($995 after the Summit discount).
Trip Background: Wherever you've photographed before in the US, you'll be awed by South Texas. With a density and diversity of bird species matched only by a couple remote areas of Africa, the four counties making up "The Valley" as south Texas along the Rio Grande is called offer over 600 species of birds including 30 endemic species. Better yet, many of these birds are colorful and spectacular to look at.
By itself the presence of birds is not enough to create a photographic opportunity. We've all been to "birdy" locations where the birds were heard and not seen, or seen only through a scope. But fortunately for bird photographers, several of the ranch owners in southern Texas have created photo paradises within their ranches by adding feeders, watering holes and photographer friendy blinds. The most well known of these groups is Texas Lens & Land, the brainchild of long-time photographers and conservationist John Martin as well as Steve Bentsen, who now manages the loosely organized group.
Moose Peterson and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days shooting on the Lens & Land ranches in 2006, including the Martin's properties and Steve's ranch. In my case I was looking for new destinations for my photo safaris as well as great images of hard to get species for my own files and after a week there I was totally sold. The species diversity combined with the improvements made for photographers and the local hospitality make the location a no-brainer winner. In a few days of shooting we got stunning images and captured commercial quality images of 39 species of woodland birds. This year I brought a group of participants back for another exciting week. Texas had more rain this year so in addition to the birds we were treated to a stunning display of blooming cactus flowers.
At all the ranches the feeding and watering stations were well designed with attractive backgrounds. In a semi-desert area like southern Texas water in particular is an incredible bird magnet. Birds you could spend days trying to find in the open will flock to a drip watering station. This enabled us to get nearly non-stop action most of the time. Several ranches also put out carrion at feeding stations designed to bring in raptors including the unique and colorful Crested Caracara and the hard to find Harris's Hawk.
Green-tailed TowheeNikon D2H, 200-400f/4 Local specialties include Green Jays, Painted and Indigo Buntings, Curved-bill and Long-billed Thrashers, a variety of Sparrows and Orioles as well as the beautiful Great Kiskadee, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and many others. Between sessions photographing birds we were also treated to views of mammals including Coyotes and Javelina.
I'm always sceptical about photo blinds. There are so many ways to build them wrong that they can often be more trouble than they are worth. But the blinds on the Lens & Land properties are a joy to use. They are comfortable, with chairs and even outdoor carpeting in some. And using the blinds allowed us to be quite close to the action at the carefully situated feeders and watering holes. That not only allowed us to photograph some species which might not have approached if we were out in the open but allowed me to be very effective with my 200-400mm lenses--while allowing those participants with 500's or 600's plenty of room to work.
The Lens and Land ranches are one of the best places to photograph Painted Buntings, one of North America's most colorful birds.
If you have it, make sure to bring your macro gear as well. Cactus flowers will be in bloom and make for some great "flower portraits". Plus there are all sorts of little creatures if you're interested in photographing them.
Day 0 (March 12): Arrive at McAllen airport or finish NANPA Summit in McAllen. Head out to the lodge for a welcome dinner.
Day 1-4: 4 days of shooting on private ranches inter-mixed with some workshop sessions on digital workflow and image editing--along with plenty of great home-cooked food along with the ever popular "happy hour" each evening.
Last Day: Transfer back to McAllen airport or we have lots of other good ideas for bird photo destinations in the Rio Grande Valley you're of course welcome to explore.