Green Jay with a Mouth Full of Seeds
Bird Photography,  Travel

Up Close and Personal: Bird Photography at La Lomita Wildlife Ranch

Texas is a great location for birdwatching and bird photography due to its location and diverse habitats. Texas ranks as one of the top U.S. States for the total number of bird species observed.

South Texas, in particular, is a bird photographer’s paradise, offering a wide variety of bird species and habitats to explore.  There are several well-known bird photography ranches in south Texas. 

The problem with some of these ranches is they are very remote, they are a 4 hour drive from the nearest major airport. They can also be quite far away from lodging and dining.  This makes for a long day if you are photographing early in the morning and in the late afternoon / evening.

La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch

La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch near Uvalde, Texas is only a 1.5 hour drive from San Antonio International airport, so there is no need to fly into a small airport and risk having to gate check your photography gear.  La Lomita Ranch is also only 10 – 15 minutes from most lodging and dining options in the town of Uvalde.

The ranch also gets a variety of birds.  I photographed 26 species of birds at La Lomita Ranch in 2 days, and that doesn’t count birds that were seen or heard and not photographed.

Northern Cardinal Take Off
Northern Cardinal Take Off

Accommodations and Dining

Uvalde has a variety of hotels and Air B&Bs available. I will say the downside here is the noise.  Most of the hotels are located right on US 90.  US 90 is the main truck route between San

Antonio and Del Rio.  If you are a light sleeper, you may want to request a room away from the road.

Uvalde has a variety of Mexican, BBQ, and fast food restaurants.  Since we photographed until sunset each day with a couple hour break at mid-day, I found that lunch was the main sit down meal.  I usually grabbed fast food after the evening photo shoot so I could get back to the hotel and backup photos and charge batteries.

One other thing to get used to in Uvalde is the amount of law enforcement officials.  This is due to the immigration from the Mexican border.  There were typically 4 State Highway Patrol vehicles parked at my hotel each day.

Pond Set Up at La Lomita Ranch
Pond Set Up at La Lomita Ranch

What to Expect at La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch

Pliny, the person who manages the ranch and leads the photography sessions, has 4 blinds set up on the 240 acre ranch.  Each blind has a pond with a water drip and several perches and bushes set up with clean backgrounds for great bird photography shots.  He also has specific blinds set up for the morning and evening shoots.  Most of the perches are around 20 – 30 feet from the blind.

Each day is divided into a morning and evening session. For me, the morning session started around 8:30am since sunrise was around 7:50am.  This gave the sun time to clear the trees in the morning.  We typically shot until noon and then broke for lunch.  Pliny joined me at lunch and had good recommendations on where to dine in Uvalde.  We had good conversations about bird photography, Texas, and life in general.

La Lomita Ranch Photography Blind
La Lomita Ranch Photography Blind

Pliny has a terrific knowledge of the local and migrant birds, their behavior, and bird photography in general.  He is very helpful on what to expect and techniques to photograph birds.

Pliny will also put down seed and put suet on the perches to attract the birds.

The afternoon session started around 2:30pm and we typically photographed until about 15 minutes before sunset.

The price for a private session is a reasonable $250 / day.  The price lowers to $189 / person for groups of 2 or more photographers.  I’d recommend booking 2 days just in case there is bad weather on one day.  Also, on the second day, I found myself focusing on specific bird behaviors and species rather than trying to photograph everything.

There are no restroom facilities on the ranch.

Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

Bird Species Photographed at La Lomita Ranch

As I mentioned above, I photographed 26 bird species at close range in two days.  This does not count birds we saw and didn’t photograph or birds we heard calling. Several of these species are only found in south Texas or northern Mexico.  Here are the species that I photographed:

  1. Olive Sparrow
  2. Green Jay
  3. White-crowned Sparrow
  4. White-throated Sparrow
  5. Lincoln Sparrow
  6. Northern Mockingbird
  7. Hermit’s Thrush
  8. Long-billed Thrasher
  9. Northern Cardinal
  10. Bewick’s Wren
  11. Common Ground Dove
  12. Verdin
  13. Black and White Warbler
  14. Black-crested Titmouse
  15. Eastern Screech Owl
  16. Orange Crowned Warbler
  17. Cowbird
  18. Spotted Towhee
  19. Lesser Goldfinch
  20. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  21. Nashville Warbler
  22. House Finch
  23. Vermillion Flycatcher
  24. Ladder back woodpecker
  25. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  26. Clay-colored Sparrow

This was 3 weeks before the peak bird migration.  I expect you’d see many more species during the migration.

What Photography Gear to Bring

The birds are typically between 20-40 feet, so you don’t need really long lenses.  Most of my photographs were taken with an Olympus 300mm f/4 lens (600mm full frame equivalent).  There were times when this lens was too long for the shot.  I had a second body with an Olympus 100-400 mm lens that I used on these occasions.

I handheld my micro four thirds photography gear while Pliny used a tripod.  Using a tripod is more of a personal preference and your ability to hold and lift your gear all day long.

Make sure to bring plenty of memory cards and extra batteries as there will be plenty of bird photography opportunities at the ranch.

Olive Sparrow Taking a Bath
Olive Sparrow Taking a Bath

Photographing Bird Behaviors

On the first day at the ranch, I mainly focused on getting good shots of the birds that I’ve never photographed before.  On the second day, I focused more on photographing action shots and bird behaviors.  Photographing at a bird photography ranch is a great place to watch and capture bird behaviors.

Here are some of the techniques / behaviors that I focused on during day 2 at the La Lomita Ranch:

  • Bird Take Offs and Landings.  After a while, you learned where the birds would land prior to flying in to get food or water.  You could then focus on photographing their takeoffs and landings.
  • Aggressive behavior.  Birds can be aggressive when there is food involved, chasing each other off the perch that contained the food.
  • There are ponds set up at each hide.  The birds will take their baths just 20 feet in front of you.  Use a high shutter speed and enjoy the results.
  • Each pond is also set up with a water drip. Birds love to drink from the drip.  My favorite “drip shot” was a Black-throated Hummingbird hovering and drinking from the drip.

La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch is an excellent place for bird photography.  It’s easy to get to, has a wide variety of birds, and is reasonably priced. 

Written by Martin Belan

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