TEXAS !

Grandchildren. They may be the most powerful forces on the planet. We have two located in Houston, Texas. Recently, Gini and I drove 1,000 miles to see our granddaughter perform in a play. She and her younger brother held us captivated for several days before we were able to escape. Magic was surely involved.

Texas is big. Over 268,000 square miles (+696,000 sq. km). It’s almost twice as large as Germany and Japan. With that much territory, Texas has an incredibly diverse geography. Exploring is challenging and exciting.

While visiting with our grandkids (and their parents), we took some time to investigate a couple of nearby wildlife refuges. This entry is about our time at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour west of Houston.

This refuge was established specifically for attempting to replenish an almost extinct population of Attwater’s Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri), a subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken. About 100 years ago, there were over a million of these small grouse in the coastal plains of Texas and Louisiana. By the 1930’s, there were less than 9,000 birds in Texas and they have continued to decline since. Refuge personnel at Attwater refuge tracked only 29 individuals in mid-2017, most of which were hens. In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey wreaked incredible devastation across southeast Texas, mostly due to extensive flooding. Post-storm tracking could locate only five remaining birds within the refuge.

We felt quite privileged to observe a hen almost as soon as we entered the refuge property. Captive breeding is ongoing at two zoos and some local private landowners are helping out by allowing birds to be released on their land. We hope our sighting will one day be repeated by those grandchildren once they become adults.

The weather refused to cooperate during our foray into the prairie. We dodged rainstorms and the wind was fairly high all day. Despite adverse conditions, we found a wonderful array of birds, flowers and scenery. I complained about bad lighting as I happily accumulated several hundred images. (No, you don’t have to sit through them all!)

 

Typical coastal prairie habitat located at about the center of the refuge. Local ranchers are allowed to have cattle forage in the more than 10,000 acres of grassland. Grazing helps keep open pathways through the grass for young birds of several species.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Greater Prairie Chicken (Attwater’s). This hen surprised us by a sudden roadside appearance. She allowed a few photographs and took off toward the interior of the refuge in a straight flight just above the tops of the grass.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

An adult Killdeer tried to divert our attention, using the “broken wing” ruse. We soon saw why. Three very new chicks were feeding along the road.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

A creek crossing attracted about three dozen Cliff Swallows. Their pale forehead and dark throat helps to differentiate them from the similar Cave Swallow.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

A new bird for us! With spring migration still in progress we were surrounded by Dickcissels. The bright yellow chest with dark breast band gave an initial appearance of a miniature Meadowlark. The smaller size and thick beak helped identify them as members of the Bunting family.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

From a thorny perch, this White-crowned Sparrow carefully searched for seeds.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

A pair of Northern Bobwhite stealthily made their way through the grass. The female showed her crest and the male was striking with his black and white head pattern.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

The rain stopped for a bit and we were thrilled to have a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers spend some time just outside the car window. They likely had a nest nearby but we couldn’t locate it and they weren’t telling.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Although the Savannah Sparrow may be common, it is nonetheless a very attractive bird.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

At home, in Florida, we see Northern Grasshopper Sparrows like this once in awhile during migration. A subspecies, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, is quite rare and has become endangered.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

In this prairie habitat, myriad flowers bloom. We missed the “prime” spring bloom by a week or so, but were very pleased with those that were still showing off. Amazing diversity.

Evening Primrose

Houston

 

Texas Coneflower

Houston

 

Scarlet Pimpernel

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Prairie Rose-gentian

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Winecup

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Prairie Nymph

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Texas Bullnettle, Drummond’s Phlox

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Cherokee Rose

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

Perhaps a caterpillar of one of the Tiger Moth species?

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Imported Fire Ants are a huge problem. They were introduced to the United States in the early 1900’s from South America. They continue to spread throughout the east and south and cause damage to many crops and wildlife. If you’ve ever been bitten by one, you know what a painful experience it can be.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

A White-tailed Deer pauses from feeding to gaze across the prairie. We really enjoyed our time at the refuge.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

 

If you have a chance to visit Texas, do it! Whatever your destination within this huge state, you’re sure to find something to please your sense of adventure.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Categories: Birds, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “TEXAS !

  1. So many wonderful images. I am attracted to the White-crowned sparrow on the thorny perch…love that one. I have spent so much time on the long legged wading birds I do neglect the others.

    • I’m partial to that little sparrow as well. He was busy feeding down in the middle of that plant for the longest time and only remained exposed about 15 seconds. Fast on the trigger!

  2. Oh wow! I’m officially jealous. First my favorite was the Killdeer chicks. Then the Dickcissels. Then the Scissor-tails! Thanks for letting me travel vicariously with you 😉

    • Any day I can make Jess and “The Beast” jealous is a special day for me!

      Thank you very much for the nice comments. We had a lot of fun in the rain on the prairie.

  3. Wow, Wally, those photos are eye-popping! I especially loved the Dickcissels but then it woud be very difficult to pick a favorite among all the birds and flowers. BTW, the link to your comment on my blog led me to your google profile which does not have a link to this blog. I had to remember the name of your blog to google it and get here. Will subscribe so this does not happen again.

    • Thank you very much, Ken! Lots of fun exploring new places.
      Thanks for the heads up on the link. Now I’ll have to find a seven-year old to walk me through the technical part of fixing it! 🙂

  4. That was one helluva drive Wally. Worth it I know where family and grandkids are involved, but still quite an achievement to me at least. My new car from last April has just now clocked up 1,500 miles!

    You had some great birds too. All those Dickcissels along the wire there reminds me of our Linnet project. You didn’t say but probably don’t need to – the Greater Prairie Chicken- hunting?

    The Scissor-tailed are superb. Would love to see that one

    • Many thanks, Phil! We’ve tallied a LOT of miles on the car (bought in January 2017) but have had a lot of great experiences as a result.

      This sub-species of the Greater Prairie Chicken, once so prevalent in the coastal prairies of Louisiana and Texas, declined primarily due to habitat loss as well as hunting. Hunting was prohibited in 1937, but the conversion of the grasslands to agriculture sealed its fate.

      The showy Scissor-tails are one of our favorite species!

      We trust you’re having a great weekend!

  5. Hi Wally and Gini !! Lindsay and I have recently returned from a visit to the Outer Hebrides, where we had a great time. It was good to come back and find another blog post from yourself.

    Texas always has a stand at the International Birdfair, held each year at Rutland Water, just 50 miles from my home. The birds that they show images of there make it look like a very attractive destination, and your words and images reinforce that view.

    I’m delighted that you had a great time with family, but am sad to hear of the plight of the Attwater Prairie Chicken – fingers are crossed.

    My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

    • We’re excited at the prospect of hearing all about your trip and perhaps, if we’re fortunate, there may be an image or two to accompany your report!

      Thank you, Richard, for the positive comments. Texas has so much to offer, it’s hard to decide which direction to travel.

      After having been on the road off and on for almost two months, we’re looking forward to relaxing in the home territory for awhile.

      Our best to you and Lindsay!

  6. Unfortunately we are still losing species all around the world – and for remarkably similar reasons!! Queensland also has a fire ant problem that the government departments are still saying they are/will get on top of!! I hope so!! Beautiful prairie scenery and the birds and flowers are especially great.

    • Thanks, Mick, for the nice remarks. Hope you’re having a good weekend! Governments in charge of fire ant management may be worse than leaving the ants alone! 😦

  7. Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my.
    You have given me exotic wonders today.
    Huge thanks for the feathered and floral enchantment.

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