Posts Tagged With: killdeer

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

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – 1

Beginning a trip in darkness stimulates my feelings of anticipation and excitement. What will this day offer? As the morning sky begins to lighten, familiar shapes are mere shadows and it seems as if anything spoken should be in a whisper.

For some reason (deep, dark, repressed, psychological reasons, I’m sure), I have difficulty retrieving detailed memories of some childhood events. (Okay, to be fair, it was a LONNNNNG time ago!) One thing I recall in delicious, granular fashion is fishing. The announcement on Friday that we would be getting up early the next morning to go to Lake Panasoffkee ensured that I would not sleep one minute that night. Hitching up the boat, checking the tackle, pulling out of the driveway in the dark, arriving at the boat ramp before sunrise, a layer of mist on the water.

Some things don’t change much. Gini and I had mentioned more than once during the winter that we need to visit the east coast while migration was still in full swing. Thus, we set our sights on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for a day trip. One sleepless night, coming right up.

The actual drive is not all that bad. Yes, we had to negotiate the hazards of the interstate highway through the Orlando/Disney megalopolis. Accomplishing this feat at 5:00 a.m. is much more acceptable than about an hour later. Also, once past the city center, the denser traffic was on the other side, heading west toward waiting jobs. The sky in the east was beginning to glow.

Turning onto Black Point Wildlife Drive resulted in audible sighs from both of us. Tension was released and we felt that moment of comfortable relaxation which being surrounded by the natural world produces. Sounds and sights of birds preparing to survive a new day promised adventure! We were not to be disappointed.

The refuge was established in 1963 as part of the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of more than 140,000 acres, the area contains coastal dunes, salt and fresh water marshes, scrub, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks. Located on the Atlantic Ocean and offering protection from adverse weather makes the refuge a prime target for migrating waterfowl and other bird species. The diverse habitat also is home to a wonderful variety of other flora and fauna.

Gini, as usual, thoughtfully prepared a light breakfast and picnic lunch so we wouldn’t have to interrupt our exploration by having to forage for food in the nearby “civilized” jungle. Munching a sandwich while watching alligators and egrets is highly preferable to clinking plates and noisy diners – in our opinion.

This post covers the first half of the day. After lunch will have to wait until next time.

 

Dawn. Always a special time. Within a vast marsh, even more so.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Ducks and wading birds begin their routine of searching for food. Light fog hugs the surface of the world.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A Green Heron perches atop a mangrove tree, knowing the intricate root system harbors an amazing array of life in the shallow water.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Blue-winged Teal are by far the most numerous duck species within the refuge today. Most of the tens of thousands of feeding ducks remained out of camera range but included: American Widgeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser (and possibly Greater) Scaup.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Break(fast) dancing performed by a Tricolored Heron.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Flocks of Glossy Ibis were active throughout the day moving from one area to another.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Killdeer seem to always have something to shout about. Usually, it’s me.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Patience is the key to a meal. Here it’s put into practice by a Little Blue Heron.

 

Merritt Island NWR

 

We saw dozens of Lesser Yellowlegs during the day and a couple of their bigger brothers, the Greater Yellowlegs. This Lesser showed off its namesake.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The feathered breakfast hunters needed to be wary of another breakfast hunter. American Alligator.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The Osprey uses keen eyes and altitude to locate a finny feast in the shallow salt water. This bird disappeared in a huge splash, surfaced with a large fish, struggled to get airborne, but ultimately had to release his catch. I’m familiar with that problem: “Eyes too big for stomach.”

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Following the example of the ducks, most of the thousands of shorebirds in the refuge today preferred to stay out of range of the camera. A few strayed to within a couple of miles. This Sanderling will maintain its light non-breeding plumage for another couple of months.

Merritt Island NWR

 

 

Our day began in darkness then exploded with light as blue sky and clear water were filled with birds of infinite color and beauty! A delicious picnic, a short rest – time to race the sun and pack each minute with new discoveries!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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