No. 16 Norias Division
It was oh-dark-thirty, so I could not yet make out the improbable oak trees dotting the South Texas brush. Still, as I piled into the van with a group of birding enthusiasts from as far away as Ontario and Boston, it did not escape my notice that our guide, a biologist named Tom Langschied, had already pulled on tall, snake-proof boots. Though Captain Richard King’s legacy rests on his having tamed an 825,000-acre spread, the legendary King Ranch remains in many ways untouched, sustaining a vast host of wildlife that includes more than 350 bird species. My fellow travelers and I had come, snakes notwithstanding, to catch the tail end of the spring migration; as we bounced across the Norias Division, we scoured the coastal prairie like pilgrims searching for the Holy Grail.
We did not have to look hard. Langschied, who has led the ranch’s ecotourism program since the late nineties, knew just where to point us, and soon we’d spied everything from three or four ferruginous pygmy owls to several tropical parula to small flocks of Botteri’s sparrows. Each new species sparked a small ovation. One man from Florida managed to add three or four to his life list in an hour; a woman celebrated reaching her target of six hundred birds, approximately two thirds of the entire species tally for North America. My own total was forty species for the day. We finished the trip elated, as if we’d shared in the riches of King himself.
Getting There: All King Ranch birding and nature tours begin at the visitors center. From downtown Kingsville, travel west on Texas Highway 141, then take a left onto King Ranch Road. For pricing, dates, and registration, visit king-ranch.com or contact the center (361-592-8055, [email protected]).