Monday, May 17, 2010

King Ranch

One of the big excursions that we planned during our Texas vacation was a day long birding tour of the world famous King Ranch located outside of Kingsville. Since our tour was scheduled to begin early in the morning we drove up to Kingsville the day before and spent the night at a local hotel. It was a good thing that we decided to stay close because it took us a little while to find the ranch visitors center where we had to meet for the tour.
The history of the King Ranch began back in the mid 1830's with young Richard King. At the age of 11 Richard was indentured to a New York City jeweler by his destitute family. The jeweler was a cruel man and so young Richard ran off, stowing away on a ship that was heading south. He spent the rest of his youth working the steam boat lines in Alabama and Florida where he eventually made his way up to becoming a steamboat captain. He then moved to Texas where he started his own steam boat business ferrying goods up and down the Rio Grand. In the mid 19th century, on a visit to Corpus Christi, he traveled the Wild Horse Desert and came across Santa Gertrudis Creek and realizing the possibilities purchased 15,500 acres to begin the King Ranch.
The King Ranch continued to prosper and grow even after the death of Richard King in 1885. King's descendants continued to manage the ranch. In 1934 King's daughter Alice King Kleberg consolidated the King holdings into a corporation and made her children the stockholders. The 1930's also brought a long term lease with Humble Oil, now ExxonMobile, for oil and gas rights on the 1.15 million acres of King property. With the oil and gas revenue the King ranch was able to expand it's holdings purchasing land in other states and countries. Much of this land is used to breed and raise their world famous quarter horses and Santa Gertrudis cattle. The Santa Gertrudis are a crossbreed between Brahman bulls, from India, and British Shorthorn and they are the first American breed of beef cattle.
All of the ranch history was interesting but we were at the King Ranch to check out the birds. The ranch does offer a history tour, which our guide told us is actually quite a bit more popular, as well as their nature tours. Portions of the ranch were tilled for agricultural use this made for perfect habitat for birds such as horned larks or Sprague's pipit.
Most of the rest of the ranch was open pastured used for horse or cattle grazing. In this habitat we found quite a variety of different types of sparrows including the olive sparrow, south Texas is the only place in the US where you can typically find the olive sparrow.
Not all of the birds that we saw were unusual. In many of the wooded areas around the ranch we spotted some of the birds that we have back at home. This included the northern cardinal which are common in Minnesota all year round, although our guide claimed that cardinals in Texas are a brighter red then cardinals elsewhere.
One of our target birds for our Texas trip was the northern caracara. On our past trip to Texas, in 2005, we only saw caracara from a distance and we were not able to get any good pics. This trip, with luck and planning, we spotted carcara at several different locations that we visited including this adult that we photographed at the King Ranch.
Caracara are considered members of the falcon family. They are opportunistic feeders eating mainly carrion. They will however, occasionally eat small rodents like this wood rat that we saw feasting on seeds that had fallen from one of the many bird feeders around the ranch.


Sylvia K said...

What a marvelous and interesting post! And, of course, I always love your photos! Being originally from Texas, I'm familiar with the King Ranch, although not all of its history and I really enjoyed this. The birds are beautiful! Hope you have a great week!


Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Great tour! We were there (way too many) years ago -- before blogging and sadly even without a camera. Many thanks for sharing -- and for the memories. You saw a lot of great birds.

KaHolly said...

So glad you enjoyed your birding tour of the King Ranch! When I was a new birder just a few years back, I had the opportunity to take the last tour of the season. We saw our target birds right off the bat, and so, so many others! What a fun day we had. Thanks for sharing the history of the King Ranch. It's quite the place. ~karen

Lara Neusiedler said...

thanks for this amazing view into your world!

noel said...


i'm enjoying what you are posting today from your world, love the story of the ranch and your bird photos.

thanks for sharing this and have a great week!

Mary Howell Cromer said...

What a slendid day you must have had at the famous King Ranch. I am glad you landed the Northern Caracara, what a marvelous bird. I must giggle a bit over what the guide said about the Cardinal...bty our state bird. They are absolutely brilliant red males, no matter where you travel...flew for Braniff International Airlines and was married in Dallas, and the Cardinals I saw, looked just like ours and yours, oh well, he may not have realized. Thanks for the share~

Jossie said...

Great post and pictures. I like to read about the history of places. Your pictures of birds are always amazing!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I really enjoyed this blog
and the great photos. Hope I can
get there some day. However, I
believe the olive colored bird on
that fence wire is an Orange-
crowned Warbler. What do you
Hap in New Hope