Roadrunner Breakfast | Beebower Productions

Rounding Up Wildlife Photography

If you build it, they will come.   With that thought, professional wildlife photography blinds began popping up at John and Audrey Martin’s ranch in South Texas.  Soon a watering hole made an appearance.  Then photographers, like my Dad, traveled great distances to capture the treasures of Martin Refuge with their cameras.

You might be surprised to learn that my Dad wasn’t visiting the ranch to shoot cowboy images since that’s one of his passions.  Rather he was after the marvelous array of birds and mammals that live on the land.

The Martins bought their land near Edinburg, Texas with the idea of conservation.  In 2003 John opened the ranch for wildlife photography.  He believed the income from the visiting photographers would not only allow ranchers to kept afloat financially (ranching’s a tough business), it would create a desire among the public to preserve the land and animals for future generations.  Did I mention John’s background in financial planning?  He had a great idea and soon other ranches began offering similar packages for photographers.


A Guided Adventure

Dad spent two days in March at the Refuge.  Patty Rainey, his guide for the day, met Dad at the ranch’s gate 7:30 a.m. sharp.  They immediately traveled to the morning blind where he spent half of the day photographing the antics of the Crested Caracara.

The Martins have scattered multiple wildlife photography blinds around the ranch.  Each location takes into account the sun’s location as well as the shooting backgrounds.  Some of the blinds are at ground level and others are sunken in the ground to put the photographer at eye level with his subjects.  The Martins’ attention to the key details of light and clean backgrounds make photographers happy.

Patty feeds the birds on a regular basis so they are used to the location as well as the click of cameras coming from the blinds.  She knows where to find specific birds and animals on the ranch.  If you have a wish list, she can definitely accommodate you.

Caracara Craziness | Beebower Productions

So back to Dad’s adventure.  The Crested Caracara can only be seen in South Texas, a slim part of southern Arizona and a smidgen of Florida.  Naturally Dad was hoping for a shot of these rare vulture-like birds.

As soon as Patty put out a tasty breakfast of chicken parts, the Caracaras swept in from all directions.  Dad estimates at least 20 birds converged on the meat.  He was ready with his Canon EOS-ID Mark IV camera, Canon EF 400mm/F5.6L USM lens.  With an ISO of 2000, he had enough shutter speed to handhold the camera.  His exposure was 1/5000 second at F9.  This shooting combo gave him such great success that Dad spent half of the day at the same spot.

Peeking Javelina | Beebower Productions

After a lunch break, Patty took Dad from the morning blind to the afternoon blind. Here he photographed a young javelina that wandered out of the trees looking for goodies, green jays and a pyrrhuloxia.  By this point, it was close to sunset.  He and Patty packed up their gear and agreed.  It had been a very successful day.

Great Horned Owl | Beebower Productions

The next morning a Great Horned Owl greeted the duo at the ranch’s gate promptly at 7:30 a.m.  It sat on the fence post next to the rain gage lounging in the cool morning quiet.  The big fellow slowly opened one eye to examine them.  Apparently he wasn’t too worried because Dad managed to get his Canon EOS-1D Mark III camera from the truck and snap a photo using his Canon 400mm /F2.8lens plus Canon EF 1.4X III extender all mounted on a Gitzo tripod with a Wimberley Gimbal head.  Shooting at ISO 1600 gave him an exposure of 1/5000 second at F5.

That early morning photo hinted at the blockbuster image coming a bit later.  Dad had seen several roadrunners the day before and they were definitely on his wish list.   So Patty took him to a sunken blind with major roadrunner action.  The Greater Roadrunner was zipping up and down limbs, stumps and the ground snapping up mealworms as fast as Patty could put them out.

Dad alternated between two camera rigs depending on the type of shot he wanted.  For really close up shots, he used the Canon EOS-1D Mark III camera with the Canon 400mm/F2.8 lens plus a Canon EF 1.4X III extender all mounted on a Gitzo tripod with a Wimberley Gimbal head.  For shots that required a little more breathing room, he used the Canon EOS-ID Mark IV camera with the Canon 400mm/F5.6 lens and hand-held it.  This worked really well and gave Dad more variety in his images.

Dad knew he had a good roadrunner shot, but it wasn’t until he looked at the image on his Mac that he saw the mealworm suspended in mid-air between the bird’s beak.  The speed of the camera and lightness of the Canon 400mm/F5.6 lens allowed him to follow the bird easily.

Mission Accomplished

After two days of shooting, Dad had captured some great images.  He was very pleased with the time and money spent at the ranch.  He said it was hard not to get a great image while shooting wildlife photography there.

So the next time you’re itching to get some stellar wildlife photography, head on over to the Martin Refuge.  You won’t be disappointed.   Visit the Refuge’s website at for prices, what to expect and other pertinent details.

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