Posts Tagged With: white-crowned 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Bosque del Apache – 2

“Look, I understand it isn’t your fault. The company should just make “options” which are truly “optional”. This providing “option packages” makes me pay for things I’ll never, ever use. That just isn’t fair. I mean, come on, I live in Florida!” –  Me, talking to automobile salesperson one year ago.

Fast forward. January 2018.

“I don’t know how much you paid extra, but these heated seats are worth every penny!” My son, after standing on the shore of a pond for a couple of hours with temperatures ranging from 14 to 20 F (-10 to -7 C), was enjoying the option I complained so bitterly about. Truth be told, I was enjoying it, too. My humble apologies to the salesperson to whom I so unfairly grumbled.

The Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes had disappeared from the South Crane Pool where they had staged for over an hour after sunrise. (See our previous post for details.) As feeling returned to our frozen limbs, we entered the “North Loop” of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (See Additional Information.) The drive winds through the refuge passing ponds, canals, woods, fields and a myriad of other habitats. A glance in any direction provides spectacular views of open expanses, mountains and wildlife. I saw birds which were new for me, familiar birds in unfamiliar settings, new mammals, different flora and shared it all with my son. Turns out, he’s a veritable “nature whisperer”, finding animals long before I spotted them.

Shortly after noon, we motored north of the refuge a couple of miles to the bustling metropolis of San Antonio, New Mexico. Chile peppers are an institution in New Mexico. Individual growers compete annually for bragging rights as to who has the best peppers in a given year. In most restaurants throughout the state, the only question your server has is: “Red or Green Sauce?”. We dined at The Owl Bar and Cafe. Great burger (yes, with chiles), great service. (See Additional Information.)

Fortified, we returned to the refuge and began a tour of the south loop. Lots to see but it was getting late and we wanted to try to catch geese and cranes settling in for the night. We found one pond already filled with Snow Geese and back at the South Crane Pool at sunset, a few Sandhill Cranes and ducks had plenty of space to stretch. Where the majority of cranes spent each night is a mystery.

The sun dropped behind the Chupadera Mountains and the temperature plunged rapidly. We headed for the hotel and located a very nice place to eat. After a review of the days images, a hot shower, a call to my sweetheart – I don’t remember actually laying down.

“Ready?”

My son heard his alarm before I heard mine. The “clock” whisperer. A new day awaits.

The fact that most of my images are of birds should not be surprising. The real surprise is that I have photographs of things OTHER than birds! (Okay, not very many. But I tried.)

 

In the world beyond the refuge, I could only dream of getting this close to so much wildlife. Case in point, a cooperative American Wigeon. Who knew they were so colorful?

Bosque Del Apache

 

A diminutive Ruby-crowned Kinglet displays his namesake. This is only the second time I’ve seen the red crown atop this quick little bird. Yes, the white stuff on the reeds is frost.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Well over 100 White-crowned Sparrows spread out across the refuge and flashed their bright heads from every bush in some areas.

Bosque Del Apache

 

A familiar bird, this Eastern Phoebe was “fluffed up” due to the cold. Strong early morning light on only one side of the bird gave it an ethereal look.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The Song Sparrow is not a common visitor in Florida, and only in the winter. It’s not very common here, either. This one had buried itself in a bush full of high-protein seeds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

See, no birds! I need more practice with this landscape stuff. Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of actually being there.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Okay, I TRIED not to include a bird in this one. To be fair, I didn’t know that Mallard was even in the picture until I returned home and processed it. Photobombed by a duck.

Bosque Del Apache

 

There are several sub-species of the Dark-eyed Junco, varying in appearance by region. I think this one is in the “Oregon” group.

Bosque Del Apache

 

My son was alerted by a junco who made a strange leap backward. He soon saw the reason. A Long-tailed Weasel  (Mustela frenata) had popped his head from his den. These small mammals don’t normally eat birds (tell that to the Junco) but are known for their ferocity. Hmmm, the guide says nothing about them not considering a snack of two-legged mammals …..

Bosque Del Apache

Bosque Del Apache

 

We see Northern Harriers in Florida during migration. Watching their owl-like head turn from side to side while flying over a marsh is special, no matter where one sees them.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Even in the middle of the day, large groups of Snow Geese filled the skies as they moved from one field to another.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Duck on ice. Sounds more like a menu selection than a caption for a photograph. A Northern Pintail seemed to have no problem getting around on the frozen surface.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The zoom lenses of an American Kestrel are superior to what I was using. A handsome male soon found another perch, away from nosy tourists.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Where we live in central Florida, one of the most numerous raptors is the Red-shouldered Hawk. Here in this southwestern locale, the larger Red-tailed Hawk seemed ubiquitous. Magnificent birds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Much smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, the slim Sharp-shinned Hawk speeds through the woods with abandon as he chases small songbirds. I rarely get to see one perched for very long.

Bosque Del Apache

 

One of North America’s smallest ducks, the male Bufflehead makes up in beauty what he lacks in size.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Snow Geese found their way to a pond we drove by and the setting was pretty spectacular to this flatlander.Bosque Del Apache

 

Darkness happens quickly in the mountains. The South Crane Pool only had a few cranes and ducks as the clouds reflected the last light of the sun for this day. This very special day.

Bosque del Apache

 

Desert, mountain, extreme cold, new birds, a surprise weasel, massive views, spicy food, someone to share it with – exhaustion. What will tomorrow offer?

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

 

Additional Information

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Owl Bar and Cafe

 

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

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