The Martin Refuge (aka The Javelina)- The Origin of Nature Photography on Private Land

John and Audrey Martin are the pioneers of nature photography on private ranchland and through their vision; numerous landowners have opened up their ranches to photographers, for a fee of course. Still, there may be no better way to capitalize on the abundant species of birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles in South Texas than through access to private ranchland.

About 6+ years ago, John invited me to visit The Javelina, a 300-acre ranch located NW of Mission, Texas. John shared his vision of developing a professional photography tour similar to that of the PGA. Already the force behind the Valley Land Fund Photography Contest, John has realized his dream of a professional contest through his ICF Pro-Tour.

The Javelina has eight professionally designed photo blinds, each set back from small water holes and close to feeding areas. Three of the blinds have been sunken underground for photographing at eye level. For your safety and an enhanced photographic experience, your visit to the Javelina includes the services of a Certified Interpretive Guide who will meet you at the gate and spend the day helping you.

Compared to other private ranches, there a few amenities for the photographer. There is running water but no electricity and no lodge in which to escape the summertime heat. So this is something you will need to consider when planning your trip. If you are fine with the primitive accommodations, the photography is sure to be good.

Equipment: The ponds at the Javelina are closer to the blinds than others I have visited so a 400mm lens on a crop factor camera should be long enough at most of the blinds and in some cases, 300mm may suffice. As I have suggested before, a long telephoto (500-600mm) on one body and a high quality zoom on a second body is a good combination. You will need a long telephoto at the raptor blind as well as the windmill blind. I have one minor grievance with the windmill pond. It is too large and extends beyond the photographers shooting lane. The birds/mammals sometimes drink in an area that is not conducive to taking photos. On the positive side, there is one section at the windmill pond where pebbles have been placed in a shallow area and the songbirds enjoying bathing there. It’s a real sweet spot for photos. Take note, due to the size of the pond, 500mm is barely long enough for these shots. I had to keep a 1.4x converter on my 500 in order to get those pictures.

Below are a few photos taken from my one and only photo outing at The Javelina. Click on any of the images to see a higher resolution image.

For more information about shooting at The Javelina Ranch, you can contact Audrey or John Martin at 956-381-1264 or 956-330-2055 (cellular).

Blue Grosbeak. A summertime resident throughout Texas and other parts of the USA.

Painted Bunting. Summertime resident of Texas. The most striking colors you will ever see on a bird in the brush.

Javelina. Given the nickname "skunk pig" good whiff downwind and you'll know why.

Olive Sparrow. Known as the Texas sparrow, it is found only in the southernmost tip of the state and parts of coastal Mexico, drawing many birders/photographers to the area for a glimpse of one.

Painted Bunting. Those wet feathers remind me of an artist's brush.

Female Northern Cardinal.

Peek-a-boo. Unidentified snake that came in for a quick drink.

2 thoughts on “The Martin Refuge (aka The Javelina)- The Origin of Nature Photography on Private Land

  1. Kevin,

    I came across your blog earlier this morning and I have enjoyed looking through your images. I spent three years in the Valley while earning my MS in biology at UT-Pan Am (Studying Elf Owls under Tim Brush). Your images bring back some good memories. It isn’y easy to get out in those blinds in the heat, but your dedication is getting you some great results.

    • Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the post. You are right about the heat but is it ever productive around the ponds this time of year. If you are ever back down in the Valley, drop me a line and we can go for a shoot. I’m finishing up my PhD at UTPA and teaching statistics at the same time. I have about 1-2 years before dissertation is complete.

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