Posts Tagged With: savannah sparrow

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

“Not Much To See In This Park”

Marsh Wrens are small. About 4-5 inches long (10-14 cm). Their brown, black and white plumage helps them hide perfectly among the reeds and rushes of a wetland. I love their pugnacious attitude, typical of the wrens. In our area, we only get to enjoy them during migration and I find it a challenge to produce a decent photograph of the little beauties. So I was happy that Gini spotted one and even happier as it flew to the base of an Alligator Lily less than 50 feet away. I could see the stems of the plant moving as the wren moved around nabbing insects non-stop. Double-checked the camera settings, focused on the moving stems – now, if she’ll just hop up a little bit …

I heard the crunching gravel as he pulled the car to my side of the road. He approached to within a few feet of where I stood (camera poised), got out, closed the car door – the pretty Marsh Wren flew to Argentina – “Hey! How’s it going?”

Gini says I was rude. I think she was being sarcastic but she isn’t familiar with that mode of expression so I’m not sure. The camera with that big lens was getting heavy anyhow so I was relieved to be able to finally drop it to my side. (See? Subtle sarcasm. It’s a gift.) “What a beautiful day”, I offered in what I thought was a pleasant chamber-of-commerce tone.

“Yessir, a nice day. But there’s not much to see in this park,” said the stranger. This, I think, is where my bride might have construed rudeness on my part, but, honestly, I was just attempting (admittedly, with difficulty) to be civil. “It depends on what you’re looking for”, I suggested. “Oh, I’m just here for the deer. But not many around. Only saw a few a long way off.”

“Well, good luck to you”. As we drove away, the clueless gentleman peered intently into the weeds trying to fathom what I might have seen in there, his camera at the ready in case, no doubt, a deer should suddenly spring from the muck.

Despite this brief encounter, our day was filled with enjoyment. Bright blue skies, clear air, cool temperatures and an amazing amount of nature activity. Flocks of dozens of American Goldfinch were feeding in the fields and a few Pine Warblers were mixed in with them. Killdeer and Common Ground Dove greeted us at the entrance gate. Red-shouldered Hawks and an American Kestrel performed sentry duty along the park road. Wintering Savannah and Chipping Sparrows hopped through areas of short grass rounding up herds of bugs. Blue-headed Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers scoured tree limbs and the underside of leaves for juicy morsels. Wading birds, woodpeckers, soaring vultures – sights and sounds to delight anyone who loves the natural world.

We even had cameo appearances of turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, bugs, hairy things and (shhh – don’t say anything to “you-know-who”) — d-e-e-r!

Today’s excursion was to a familiar spot not far from the house, Colt Creek State Park. We keep finding new areas to explore within the park.

It was the kind of day that as we drove past the ranger station and headed home we both exhaled deeply and in unison. This. This is why we keep coming back.

 

A few images can’t do justice to what we experienced, but we’ll include them just the same. No, there is no photograph of a Marsh Wren anywhere to be found here. How rude of you to even ask.

 

A Red-shouldered Hawk spotted movement at the base of his perch tree. Evidently, it wasn’t something he wanted as he resumed staring at me urging me to be on my way.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Just past the entrance gate, a Killdeer darted through the weeds snapping up anything that moved.

Colt Creek State Park

 

At the edge of a swampy area, a Gray Squirrel found a cypress knee makes a nice dry spot to munch a mushroom.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The frilly white flowers of this bush identify it as a Groundsel Tree (Baccharis halimifolia). A pretty spot for a pretty Palm Warbler to perch.

Colt Creek State Park

 

It was a chilly morning (for Florida) and a little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fluffed his feathers to the maximum in an effort to increase insulation.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were very active throughout the park. They seem to never stand still. Another species we only see in winter.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Yet another migratory visitor, the Eastern Phoebe had just dove into the weeds, caught a beetle and swallowed it before I could raise the camera. A seed on his bill was all that remained of his snack.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Why did the caterpillar cross the road? To have his photograph taken, of course! I think this fellow is a Salt Marsh Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea) ?? Any help would be appreciated.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Let’s just agree to call the Turkey Vulture’s appearance “unique”. Whatever you think of his looks, they are an impressive bird and I, for one, appreciate the valuable cleanup service they provide.

Colt Creek State Park

 

In addition to the park’s namesake, Colt Creek, another small waterway, Gator Creek, flows through the park. I thought this rock was a nice metaphor for life. Like the swiftly flowing water, life speeds around us on all sides but Gini is my rock. Together, we are immovable.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Even MORE winter visitors! American Robins, North America’s largest thrush, seemed to be everywhere in some areas. In the trees and all over the ground. Active, noisy, beautiful.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Cold-blooded creatures find a warm spot when the weather turns cool. This gorgeous Bluestripe Garter snake wasn’t about to give up her place in the sun for some guy flailing on the ground a few feet away.

Colt Creek State Park

 

As the sun continued to warm the air, insects became active. Hungry birds were ready. A Savannah Sparrow stopped just long enough to give me a quick glance before scurrying after little hopping things in the weeds.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Sometimes, karma slaps me in the head. My sarcastic nature (shocking, I know!) is often answered with some of the same. I think that’s what happened here. After my encounter with the visitor who “just came for the deer”, I almost couldn’t NOT see deer the rest of the day. Gini and I had a quiet lunch in the car watching birds hopping about in oak trees. As I got out of the car, six deer were in a clearing behind us calmly munching their own lunch. Later, a doe gazed at me from behind a thick curtain of sedge grass. I could make out two fawns beside her. Later still, a young buck with new spike antlers skulked at the edge of the woods, wary of what kind of threat I might present.

Yes, I am convinced God has a sense of humor. In my case, it is often wrapped lovingly with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Colt Creek State Park

Colt Creek State Park

 

Even if you go “just for the deer”, try to observe all of Nature’s wonders that surround us all each day. Gini would say “it’s just common sense” that the more we look – the more we see. It’s my harsh task to remind her that “common sense”, alas, just is not all that “common”.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Last night (1/20), we were treated to a total lunar eclipse. Just for you, I took a picture.

Yard

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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