I have spent the last week securing the necessary permissions to organize this search. There is a very healthy population of the owls on the King Ranch, a HUGE private tract of land here in Southern Texas. If I remember the statistic correctly, the Ranch is ~1,300 square miles. To put this into perspective, Wikipedia reports that Rhode Island is 1,212 square miles! I was fortunate enough to visit the King Ranch when I was 15-16 years old. My mom has always been interested in horses, farms, and the such. As a result, she signed us both up for one of Victor Emanuel's King Ranch Weekends when I was in high school. This tour emphasized the history and workings of the ranch along with the birds found on it. It was on this trip that I got my lifer Ferruginous pygmy-owl (and Tropical parula and a host of others!). The only other run-in I have had with this species was at Bentsen SP in 2008. Unfortunately, the big flood of 2008 seems to have pushed the birds out of Bentsen. This means that essentially all the remaining birds are found on private lands such as the King Ranch.
The best time of year to see this diurnal owl is March through May when the birds are nesting. At these times, it's as simple as getting into a known territory and waiting for one of the birds to call or fly by. This is when most people look for this bird. However, at this time of year, the birds are relatively inactive and require a bit more effort to find. In fact, the folks at the King Ranch do not normally do pygmy-owl viewing at this time of year for this reason. Given my incredibly unique situation though, they made an exception for me. Today I was aided by ranch bird specialist Tom L. We met at 8:30am and headed off to a particularly productive area. It took about 5 minutes and one quick whack on the tape to find 2 owls! We actually heard a third one as well. Year bird #610 was one the books. Great scope views were had and decent photos were managed! They are really cute little guys.
Front view owl #1
Rear view owl #2
Me and Tom
With this bird ticked I now have even more time with which to play. I have decided to head to Brownsville for a few days of general/casual birding around Sabal Palms and Resaca de la Palma. There aren't any new species I expect to find, but I wanted to bird this area even though it will require a bit of backtracking from where I saw the owl. I haven't been to Brownsville since my 2008 South Texas trip. Like the rest of the LRGV, anything can show up at any time in Brownsville. These days will also help me fill up a few of the 9 days between now and when I need to be in Freeport to search for Yellow rail. I have the inside track on rails in this area and I feel very confident that I have a very good chance of seeing this species in the few days I spend in the area.
66 flat ones!
Wed 10th Ride 35 miles to and bird Brownsville (moderate east winds)
Thu 11th Bird Brownsville (moderate southeast winds)
Fri 12th Bird Brownsville morning, ride 50 miles north to Raymondville on SE winds in PM
Sat 13th Ride 75 miles north from Raymondville to Kingsville on SE winds
Sun 14th Ride 75 miles northeast to Rockport. Forecasted BIG SE winds might complicate this ride though. They might be too strong (20-30 MPH sustained) to ride safely since they'd be crosswinds blowing me into the traffic lanes
Mon 15th Ride 80 miles northeast to Palacios across light NW winds
Tue 16th Ride 70 miles northeast to Jackson/Freeport
You can see that this timetable still gives me a few days to spare. If I reach Freeport early, I can do a bit of casual birding on my own. If something really good appears in the LRGV while I am still down here, I can use these extra days to chase it before heading north.
Several people have asked if I would think about using these extra days to go back for Red-billed pigeon. I certainly thought about it but decided against it. The last report of the pigeon was on Nov 9 - a month ago. It would also require a 200-mile (100 out and back), dog and traffic light peppered backtrack. As badly as I want to add this bird, it just does not seem worth it right given the risks of traversing the traffic-laden LRGV again compared to the chances of finding the bird.
The other thing that has cropped up is a particularly interesting job opening. I only have until Dec 12 to apply, so some shorter days around Brownsville will leave me with time and energy to do this. I might even spend another full day in Brownville (the 12th) should I need extra time with the application. This is reminder that that return to real life is just around the corner!
Bonus shot of Eastern screech-owl from
Bentsen the other day.
So well camouflaged!