Shy Prairie Chickens and Turtle Pillows

“It’s never crowded along the extra mile.”  ~ Wayne Dyer

APC NWR
APC NWR

We are way overdue for a garden post. There’s really not much going on at the moment. Aside from the seedlings in the kitchen catching whatever sunshine they can get from the windows, all’s quiet in the out-of-doors.  As soon as they begin to sprout, I’ll bathe them in grow lights to get them ready for the ground in the spring. There’s still 10 yards of mulch in the driveway.  Perhaps by the end of February I’ll have some new dirt to share, and the mulch will (finally) make its way into the yard.

The last couple of weekends — once the wobbly Arctic weather had passed and we were all back in our flip-flops again — the kids were itching to get out and do some hiking and birding.  Brazos Bend State Park is always a favorite place to go to get the wiggles out, so off we went.

First, stop, monkey bars. Always.

Upside Down
Upside Down

The rest of us went out to the pier to see what we could see.  We promptly added to our list a Great Blue Heron, fishing nearby.  It was still a bit cool for gators — the big ones are all still in hibernation, the park officials told us.

Through the woods, we saw many birds familiar to us in the brush. There were at least two that we could not identify by sound.  Scottie has his homework to do on the warbler and thrush variety so that we’ll have better luck next time.

Once we reached the lookout tower, we added a few more to our list:  Wilson’s Snipe, Little Blue Heron, and the House Sparrow. There were many other water birds in the marsh as well, but we had already checked those off our list early in the year.

There was one gator out. He was resting on a turtle.

See? Even these unlikely friends can get along, I told my kids, so stop fighting already.

Hard Pillow
Hard Pillow

Moving on, I took a couple ‘more crappy bird photos. I really do need to get me a long lens “big gun.” Either that or stop drinking so much coffee when hand-held action is required.

Wilson's Snipe
Wilson’s Snipe
Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal

When it became apparent the kids had had enough of being quiet and logging birds into their books, Angie ran up ahead to discover a new use for the sphagnum moss that hangs in the trees.

Oaks with Moss
Oaks with Moss
Face with Moss
Face with Moss

For a while now, we’ve been wanting to go out to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. It is one of the few “wild” places that is within an hour’s drive of us. If not for this coastal-prairie-turned-sanctuary near one of the largest cities in America, all that farmland, grazing pasture, and housing development “sprawl” would quickly engulf the area like a cancerous growth. Ground-dwelling grouses — the Prairie Chicken for which the park is named — would have no chance at all against us.

We set forth toward the west of Houston to see if we could add this elusive chicken for The Big Year. It would not be a good day for taking photos since both the clouds and the light were low; easy enough to keep binoculars at-the-ready rather than juggle equipment. The sunroof of the SUV also made for a great bird-sighting “turret.”

On the County Road leading to the park, we stopped to get our field glasses out and quickly add new birds to our journals:  Ross’s GooseGreater White-fronted GooseGreater Yellowlegs, and the Eastern Meadowlark.

APC NWR
APC NWR

As we drove around the 5-mile dirt road that meandered through the acreage, we spied something very big flying into a marshy area. Getting closer, the kids were clearly and audibly excited to list the biggest bird on their list so far:  Sandhill Crane. There was a whole flock of them; we watched them from the car for a good long time.

The Crested Caracara and Northern Harrier were all too busy hunting in the fields, along with the other hawks and kestrels we already had on our list.

Attwater’s Prairie Chicken
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a great day for birding, but sadly no Prairie Chicken. The extra mile did add us several new birds that we would not have seen otherwise, putting us that much closer to our goal of 200. Our count is now up to 82.  I guess we’ll just have to go back in the spring to nab that dang’d chicken.

* * *

Our back porch birds are oblivious to us now as we sit and enjoy them close up and personal. Still no good shot of Rufous, but I got this delightful moon from her as she hurried off.

Rufous Butt
Rufous Butt

The Calliope Hummingbird that graced our feeder for a few days was much more thoughtful of my taking photos.  She would even sit and stare down Ms. Rufous from the other side of the feeder as she tanked up. If there was ever a calm hummingbird, she’s it.

Calliope Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird

Rufous was not at all happy to have another hummer sharing the feeder.  She spent most of her time guarding and preening from the crepe myrtles above.

Guarding
Guarding

And finally, a Mourning Dove tried to fly through the kitchen window.  Not a wise move.  Still stunned, and not knowing whether it would survive, John scooped her up, put her in a box and draped a kitchen towel over it so she could recover from the relative safety of the back porch.

Stunned Mourning Dove
Stunned Mourning Dove

She flew off in good form a half-hour later and made John’s day.

Stay warm peeps!  Winter’s a third of the way done.

14 thoughts on “Shy Prairie Chickens and Turtle Pillows

  1. Wonderful wilderness post, Shannon. Really fun photos of your kids, too. A few springs ago I had the delight of visiting Atwater and although we did not see a prairie chicken (I think it is nearly impossible), we had a lovely auto tour and saw outstanding prairie and prairie birds. Great photos, and fun to see a snipe.

    Like

    1. Hey, Jet, thanks so much for your words. That was back when the kids still enjoyed birding. Now to go on a family excursion for nature and birds is akin to a dentist appointment. APC NWR is superb prairie habitat, and it’s a good thing; remaining prairies are quickly being converted to urban development. So sad for the critters that depend upon them. I’d really like to see a Short-eared Owl this year…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t imagine the turtle was wild about the whole arrangement — if nothing else, that gator was blocking the sun. At least they weren’t fighting.

    Thanks for sharing a little bit of nature with those of us living in concrete jungles. Now that I work from home, we don’t seem to get out much (am expecting that to change if we move to Vancouver — the nature there beckons). That being said, we did finally manage to do a little road trip in the southwest, and get a good dose of nature (and then human nature in Las Vegas). All documented here if you’re curious: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jfchenier/sets/72157639018869486/

    Like

    1. I do hope the Vancouver gig works out for you! I know your life is a bit out-of-sorts (in-of-sorts?) at the moment, but no doubt that trip to the southwest was a cure for the ill.

      My Gawd!!! Your Antelope Canyon photos are breathtaking. Thanks for sharing your link. Here…I hope my readers check it out. If you’ve not seen it yet, you simply MUST put time in to see Schwartzberg’s “Moving Art” streaming (and ONLY streaming) on Netflix. One of the four series is called Deserts — Antelope is featured there with time lapse photography. You won’t want to miss it. Stunning photography, as is your still-action.

      We hope to get the kids to the southwest once homeschooling begins for all four (this August). Not been to the Grand Canyon since 1997 and long to go back. I’m am still quite busy splitting my time between schools though, just not enough of me to go around anymore. LOL

      Thanks for stopping by, Jean-François. I do miss our “chats. Cheers!

      Like

    1. Thank you so much, Kristin. I DID get the book. And I so appreciate the personal note it came with. I have already passed on my other copy so your inspiration continues to touch others. I hope you are enjoying your winter!

      Like

    1. Yeah, thanks. It was a quickie as we had a science project underway as well. Next time you guys make it out, you’ll have to plan for a half day out there. It’s really pretty country. What I forgot to add was that when we were hiking along the creek with the woods to the other side, we came up upon (and obviously spooked) something LARGE in the brush. We heard a loud and LOW grunt and snuff and the sound of feet running away. Never saw what it was, but suspect it was a wild pig. Next time, I think I’ll bring my knife — just in case!

      Like

Say something. You know ya wanna.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s