Posts Tagged With: scissor-tailed flycatcher

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

A Big Day

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I was introduced to “bird watching”.  We were living in the kingdom of west Texas and had made friends with a couple with whom we shared many similar interests.  One day, they suggested we all go on a camping trip.  We secured the necessary supplies and headed east to the pine forest.  It was our first camping trip with our fairly new son and it was great fun.  During our first day, I discovered my friend standing with his head thrown back and gazing toward the top of a tall pine tree.  Upon inquiring as to his behavior, he shouted excitedly:  “There are Pine Warblers all over the place!”.  Ummm…okay.  Later that day, he bolted from his car shouting:  “Red-headed Woodpecker!”.  It was a two-day trip.  I didn’t have a chance.  Addicted.

On Sunday, my addiction was provided a major boost.  I joined some really expert birders for an all day, all out effort in nearby DeSoto County.  This area doesn’t receive much attention from birders as it has no major parks, no major bodies of water, no coastline and no road access to much of the county.

Our day began in darkness as we listened for night birds along a deserted road adjacent to pine woods and a damp field.  Not a whisper.  But I did see two shooting stars!  Cool.  We proceeded to a favorite night-time locale for birders – a cemetery.  Seriously.  Not a lot of traffic here!  It was still very dark and a few short whistles were soon answered by an Eastern Whip-poor-will!  This is a migratory species here and not very common.  The day was off to a great start!

By the time we headed home at sundown, our tally was over 80 species!  We had seen 12 warbler species, including some surprises:  Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Magnolia and Tennessee.  A wet field produced over 140 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were immature and juveniles.  I spotted a migratory Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched on a low fence wire.  The hit of the day was a  Say’s Phoebe, a western North American flycatcher who is a casual visitor to the eastern part of the country in the fall.

It was a great day and I continue to learn from these very patient birders.  My addiction is satisfied.  Until tomorrow……

There were not many opportunities for photos on this trip as much of the time we were in deep woods with only a partial view of birds or using spotting scopes for very distant birds.  Here are a few images from the day.

When Ponce de Leon arrived in the New World in 1513, he evidently spotted a few flowers and declared the place should be called “La Florida”, possibly in honor of Spain’s “feast of the flowers” (“Pasqua florida”), an Easter tradition.  There are still flowers here.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

We found a Green Heron on a utility wire – not exactly a natural perch for this water bird.  Apparently, he was a trend-setter.  As we looked around, we found five more Green Herons – all perched on utility wires!

Green Heron

Green Heron

This colorful bug is a Delta Flower Scarab Beetle.

Delta Flower Scarab Beetle (Trigonopeltastes delta)

Delta Flower Scarab Beetle (Trigonopeltastes delta)

Wood Storks are in trouble in much of their range so it’s always good to see a number of them together.

Wood Stork, Great Egret

Wood Stork, Great Egret

I think this is an immature male Eastern Pondhawk.  The young and females are bright green and the males eventually turn blue.  This one appears to be in transition.

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - (Immature Male)

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – (Immature Male)

Upon spotting the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, I snapped a “record” photo through the windshield.  It’s the only chance I got as the bird took off and we didn’t see it again.  I apologize for the poor image quality, but even I can’t diminish the beauty of this gorgeous bird.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Yes, there was a fungus among us.

Fungus

Fungus

The Bald-faced Hornet builds a very substantial nest.  This structure was about 30 feet up in the tree and they can be as large as 14 inches (35 cm) in diameter and 23 inches (60 cm) in length.  Many people like to collect these nests for decoration.  Many people discover how painful these hornet stings are!

Hornet Nest

Hornet Nest

A curious Ovenbird must wonder about strange creatures on the ground always looking up and making funny noises and pointing and shuffling noisily through the dry leaves.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Another dragonfly, another identification challenge.  My guess is a Band-winged Dragonlet.  Any other suggestions?

Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata) - (Female)

Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata) – (Female)

The ducks.  Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were not common in Florida just a few years ago.  Now, it’s hard to walk out of your house without stepping on one.  (Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.)  They are handsome birds, though!

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

If you, too, are an addict, you understand what a “fix” this kind of day can provide.  If you haven’t been hooked yet – oops, too late!

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

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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