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Where birding is also king

Along with the famous cattle, King Ranch is home to flocks of feathered Texas and those just visiting

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Tom Langschied scuttles out of the darkness of a small feeding enclosure he's constructed to attract and hold just a few of the more than 350 species of birds that call King Ranch home.

Before he's walked the 10 feet away from the center of the ring, birds and small mammals begin appearing.

"There's an olive sparrow," Langschied whispers to the visitors he's taking on a mini-version of the bird tours he helped establish on the ranch in the 1990s. "And here comes a curve-billed thrasher. See the brown markings on his chest."

It's just the beginning of a spectacular day of birding and animal watching on a tiny portion of the more than 800,000 acres of South Texas' iconic King Ranch. Langschied, who now works for Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute and Texas A&M-Kingsville, still teaches and tours the ranch and also helps promote the nature and historical tours that ranch officials have created. Those tours give visitors to the region a glimpse inside the workings of the monster cattle and hunting operation, as well a taste for the immensity of the ranch and the diversity of its wildlife.

As we drive through different parts of the ranch, Langschied maintains a running commentary about the area, as well as spotting different species of birds and then showing them to visitors. He even has an app on his cellphone that lets him play the calls of birds that sometimes lure them out of the thick brush and makes them visible.

"We're having quite an influx of western birds so far this year,"

Langschied says. "It's been quite amazing. We're having some changes in distribution of species, we assume because of the drought. One bird we're seeing a lot of right now is the northern flicker. I'm expecting an influx of ferruginous hawks this winter."

Already there are large number of red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, cara caras, white-tailed kites and, just recently, a bald eagle that was sighted. During the tour, Langschied points out great kiskadees, Say's phoebes, loggerhead shrikes, olive sparrows and avocets.

"There's a least grebe," he says as we stand overlooking Escondido Lake, the largest body of water on the ranch. "That's the smallest and rarest of all the grebes. This is the only place in the United States to see them."

Depending on where visitors or serious birders choose to visit, there are large populations of ferruginous pygmy owls, Rio Grande wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, alligators, exotic nilgai antelope, wild hogs and the ubiquitous javelinas. "Oh look," he shouts at one point. "There's a lark bunting, right there on that fence."

Wildlife tours are conducted at set times, October through March each year. Birding tours are conducted in fall, winter and spring and can be scheduled for full- and half-day periods. The ranch provides transportation from the visitor center and also will schedule private tours for wildlife, birds, plants, even dragonflies.

mleggett@statesman.com

King Ranch guided nature tours