Posts Tagged With: scissor-tailed flycatcher

The Kingbird Roost

“Feel like going for a ride?”

“I’ll get my shoes on. Where to?”

“Let’s check out the kingbird roost.”

Notice, Gini gets her shoes first. She has always been that way. Positive, optimistic, action-oriented. Worry about little details, like a destination, later.

Several years ago (10 according to records I could find), a group of Western Kingbirds along with a couple of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were noted roosting in a citrus grove not too far from here. They begin arriving around early December and stay until March. Like clockwork, they appear on utility lines bordering the grove 30-40 minutes before sunset. They chatter, hawk a few insects and one-by-one dive into the dense trees as dark settles in.

These two species are not commonly seen in central Florida, even during migration, so it’s a treat for those who may not have an opportunity to travel west of the Mississippi River where they are more prevalent. Two years ago, the group included an even more uncommon member, a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, a rare neo-tropical bird likely from South America.

Arriving a bit early allowed us to cruise the perimeter of the groves and we were rewarded with a nice selection of birds, very active near the end of the day. A trio of female Baltimore Orioles was a surprise and a half-dozen American Robins provided a splash of color and noise. A quick click through the car window was the only chance I had to catch an image of a low-flying Bald Eagle as she appeared over an orange tree.

We are concerned about this area. Florida has faced a devastating loss of citrus trees in recent years due to a disease which has been hard to tame. Many grove owners are turning to other, more reliable, crops. A large section of the groves used by these roosting flycatchers is being converted to huge covered greenhouses. We are not sure what the plans are for greenhouse production. Some good news was found in several plots of newly planted citrus trees. Hopefully, they will thrive and provide shelter for future generations of these beautiful winter visitors.

 

The rays of the setting sun highlight the lemon yellow undersides of a Western Kingbird.

Cox Road

 

Gray head, salmon-colored sides and – that tail! Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are a joy to behold.

Cox Road

 

An image of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher from two years ago. A few of these striking birds are seen in the southern United States each year although their home is in South America and southern Mexico. This one seemed to be among friends as he joined in the nightly routine prior to diving into an orange tree. (The strong rays of the setting sun gave his wings and tail an unnaturally colored glow.)

Cox Road Area

 

New fencing around a greenhouse complex provides a handy perch for a Palm Warbler as he scans the grass for the last meal of the day.

Cox Road

 

Just beyond the Palm Warbler above, a Red-shouldered Hawk uses a newly erected greenhouse support pole for his own lookout spot.

Cox Road

 

 

 

Around the edges of the citrus groves are lakes, open fields and old homesteads where long-ago plantings of shrubs, vines and hardwood trees grow wild. In one large tree were three female Baltimore Orioles searching the leaves for a juicy insect morsel.

Cox Road

Cox Road

 

A half-dozen American Robins swooped into the top of the oriole tree, chatted for awhile then noisily flapped off toward their own citrus tree roost for the night.

Cox Road

 

Another hardwood tree harbored two Red-bellied Woodpeckers. They had no time for visiting as the sun was getting low and they still needed to shop for supper.

Cox Road

 

Speaking of supper, an American Kestrel sure would like a grasshopper or lizard to show up in the field below. Where did these falcons perch before utility lines were invented?

Cox Road

 

We approached an intersection at the edge of the grove and a Bald Eagle came into sudden view over the orange trees. I went through my routine of trying to slam on the brakes, point the camera out the window, focus and shoot. Imagine my surprise to discover the image is almost adequate!

Cox Road

 

Our late afternoon spur-of-the-moment outing was delightful! Beautiful birds, spectacular sunset and I got to spend time with my best friend. Life. Is. Good.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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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