The only location in North America that one has a decent chance of hearing and hopefully seeing the fierce Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a diminutive (6″), diurnal hunter of small mammals and even larger southern invertebrates, is on the privately owned King Ranch at the bottom of Texas. The ranch is physically larger than Rhode Island and despite the fact that naturalists have staked out several nesting areas, success is never guaranteed.
The weather was not flight-friendly Friday night and I missed the last connection to my destination – Harlingen. I landed in Houston at 9:45pm with decisions to make. I absolutely had to be at the Norias Division gates at 6am Saturday or I would miss the special van tour I had reserved months ago. Renting a car and driving 300 miles was looking like my best option until a quick-minded United agent reserved the penultimate seat on a (thankfully) delayed 10:30pm flight to Brownsville. Brownsville is south of Harlingen and a two hour drive to my meeting spot; but at least I would have a chance to search for my “Nemesis” bird.
Of course, this revised itinerary assumed I could rent a car in Brownsville. My recently elevated status to “Hertz Gold” ensured the presence of a rental agent upon my post-closing hour arrival. However, neither Hertz nor its competitors had a single vehicle available to rent! While one side of my brain was rationalizing the expense of a two hour taxi ride, my emotional half took over and blurted out: “I am a professional wildlife photographer and I’ll lose my contract with the King Ranch if I fail to show up”. The sympathetic agent eyed the two carry-on bags weighing me down and promptly released a vehicle from the VIP secret stash.
I have REALLY wanted to see this incredibly difficult to find little owl since the early 1990’s. Many trips to Arizona and Texas produced scores of great birds and memories…but this elusive, dynamo stood out as the only North American owl missing from my life-list. UNTIL YESTERDAY…#697!!!