Plan Your Own Safari While the ranches listed here offer the opportunity for great mammal, bird, reptile and insect photography, there are species unique to each area that you should consider. It’s easy to set up your trip. Each group listed here has websites with details and species information, as well as contacts and people who will be happy to answer your questions and help you to arrange your visit to a specific ranch, including hotel reservations and restaurant recommendations. They also can help you with flight information and recommend airports if you wish to fly, though you should consider taking your own vehicle for flexibility. (ABOVE: Altamira Oriole)
Texas Hill Country Ranches The endangered golden-cheeked warbler visits the Hill Country, its only U.S. location, in March and early April to breed. Loss of habitat limits the warbler to very few locations, including some of the photography-oriented Hill Country ranches where you have a good chance to photograph it. The endangered black-capped vireo, another Hill Country resident, is almost impossible to photograph on its federal- and state-protected habitats. The interesting (and somewhat scary) Texas giant centipede is found on several of the ranches and makes a great photo subject (from a distance, as it has a very powerful, venomous bite).
Rio Grande Valley Ranches Buff-bellied hummingbirds, Altamira orioles, great kiskadees, white-tailed hawks and brown and green jays are brilliantly colored birds found only in the Rio Grande Valley in the U.S. and are present on many of the ranches. The threatened Texas indigo snake and northern cat-eyed snake, the Texas horned lizard and Ruthven’s whip snake are Valley reptile specialties. Mammals, including white-tailed deer, bobcat, coyote, armadillo and javelina, are found on most of the Valley ranches.
The Mexico Ranches Several northeastern Mexico ranches offer unparalleled wildlife photography. They have ocelot, jaguarundi and occasional anteater sightings. I’ve photographed red-bellied squirrels, coatis, rose-throated becards, elegant trogons, squirrel cuckoos, lineated woodpeckers, white-tailed hawks, common black hawks, Aplomado falcons and more. You easily can set up a visit to these ranches if you have four to eight people. The ranch owner will assist you with reservations. Transportation is easy through Charlie Vieh of Vieh’s Bed & Breakfast in San Benito, Texas. I suggest staying overnight at the B&B since you leave very early in the morning for the ranches. There are also numerous bird photo ops at the B&B. Transportation is in a 10-passenger van over paved roads to the ranch and takes about four to five hours. You’ll need a Mexican Tourist Card, which you can order online (www.mexicoadvisoryservices.com).