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Spring Blitz

Part 10:  Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR (14-15 APR)

Headed east to Sealy (with a pit and milk shake stop at a McDonald’s), and started scouting those dirt roads, determined to find this Prairie Chicken Road!  The directions I wrote out from Google Maps sent me down a very bad road, so I backtracked to MacDonald, which actually turned into Glueck, which is one of the roads I wanted.  Eventually I stumbled upon Cat Springs, which is another road that supposedly gets you to PC Road (eventually), so I followed that until it T’d, and saw where I made my mistake last time:  instead of turning right on Rice Road, I turned left last time, and that took me almost to Eagle Lake!  So I turned right this time, and it eventually reconnected to Cat Springs, which twisted and turned until it started looking more civilized, and I was losing hope that I’d ever find PC Road.  Then I passed Tree Farm Road, which sounded familiar from looking at Google, and then suddenly off to the right, there was Prairie Chicken Road!  As implied, that eventually took you right up to the freeway (where it looks like they’re doing some major construction, but it’s still passable at least), so turning around at that spot I restarted the trip meter after getting out of the construction zone, then retraced the route all the way back to the refuge, and by adding the tour loop, that made a very nice 20-mile BBS-style birding route! J  Added a few nice birds to the day/trip list while scouting:  a couple of Krider’s Hawks and Caracaras, a crow, an flock of Upland Sandpipers in a field, a mob of Common Grackles near someone’s homestead, Cattle Egrets with the cattle, and on the refuge itself, a Harrier, some teal, a Sedge Wren, a Grasshopper Sparrow that actually showed himself J, and a Swainson’s Hawk that I almost put down as a White-tailed, as I tend to be looking for them there (and they have the same wing pattern if you think about it).

Grasshopper Sparrow along the route

Headed in to Sealy after that, got gassed and iced up, then checked in.  No wonder the room was pricey:  the only thing they had was a suite!  But it was on the top floor (and they had an elevator), so I had a nice view of Wal-Mart… J

Got to try the instant oatmeal as I wouldn’t have time for the hotel’s breakfast (although since it had just opened when I was leaving she let me grab a banana), and it was pretty good!  Heading out on I-10 I found the exit for the north end of the route okay, but in the meantime I had been advised to start at the dead end of PC Road.  I hadn’t scouted that part of the road the day before, and when it started growing stuff in the middle I got a little apprehensive and turned the car around at that point, but that’s where I decided to start the survey, and I was amazed at the traffic noise; had I started where I had planned to start it woulda been really bad!  It was fun hearing the Sedge Wrens singing away, but there must have been at least one Mockingbird at every stop (and the whole route was just over 22 miles); I thought for sure EBird would flag that one!  There were plenty of Bobwhites awakening the dawn, but didn’t hear any Prairie Chickens at that end.  So once dawn hit (and it was a lovely sunrise; you could see a thunderstorm going on to the east) I started the BBS Protocol and had a blast!  Before I even finished PC Road a flock of Cattle Egrets flew by (with a token Snowy)!

From PC Road I followed Cat Spring Road (heading north to Huntsville later I saw that there really was a little town called Cat Spring), and a good portion of that road is paved. Lots of Common Grackles flew over hear the homesteads, and several different flocks of Upland Sandpipers wheeled into the various fields!  Lots of Caracaras were about, and a young White-tailed Hawk finally showed up!  The Krider’s hawk was still around (along with a normal-looking adult), and several stops yielded several sparrows: Whitecrowns would pop up quickly to pishing, as would Lincoln’s and a single Savannah.  There are a couple of wooded creek crossings that only yielded a Yellowthroat and Carolina Wren, but picked up a new trip bird at a couple of spots with trees:  Red-bellied Woodpecker!

Creek crossing along Cat Spring Road

   

Two of several Upland Sandpipers that came wheeling in! 

Crested Caracara having just had breakfast...

But the jackpot was along a stretch of Cat Spring where there’s this space-station-looking structure out in the field (it looks like a big, round, white platform with a cone-shaped thing sticking up out of the middle of it; you can’t miss it – I think someone told me it had to do with aeronautic navigation).  I was doing a “scheduled stop” and enjoying a Bobwhite that had jumped up from this mess of sticks along with a bunch of Whiteyes, but then I heard some caterwauling in the distance that sounded vaguely familiar but couldn’t place.  Then it dawned on me – that was the Prairie Chicken!  So I started scanning, found a big brown body, and got the scope out, and thanked Pat several times over for giving me her old scope with the zoom on it:  there he was, flipping his little tail to show off the white butt, and puffing out those orange balloons!  Couldn’t hear the actual booming from where I was, but you could really hear the cackling once he got going!  I only saw the one bird, and it was easy for him to hide in the grass, so there could have been others.  A Harrier sent everyone into hiding (except for the Uppy Sands that made a break for it).  And as icing on the cake, one last pish brought up a Swamp Sparrow!

Bobwhite sentry

   

Lousy shots of the endangered Attwater's Prairie Chicken, which is almost impossible to see aside from a guided tour on the refuge!  This guy had wandered into some farmer's field...

Everything was gravy after that, but other interesting birds along that part of the route included a small flock of Shovelers flying overhead, several Swainson’s Hawks joining the TVs in their kettle, and some kind of towhee – apparently both can show up even this far east, so who knows which it was…  Once on FM 3013 I was really wondering if doing the prescribed stops along there would be worth it because of the traffic, but I’m very glad I did, as in a plowed field about a mile east of McDonald Road was a pair of Sandhill Cranes!  One of them looked like it had a hurt wing, so my guess is that it was a mated pair, and the “well” one decided to hang tight with his mate – how sweet! J

Another Bobwhite along the road

Habitat along Cat Spring Road

   

"Documentation shots" of a pair of Sandhill Cranes that should have been long gone by now, but apparently the wounded bird's mate decided to stick with him/her!

The last part of the route was the tour road at the refuge, and by that time it was getting rather warm (even though Diggory’s thermometer still said 59), so things were quieting down a bit.  At one stop I didn’t even notice the young Swainson’s Hawk on the post right in front of me until after I had done my two-minute look and listen – I’m surprised he stayed put when I got out of the car!  An adult White-tailed joined the Swainies that were hanging around there, so that was very nice!  Some Purple Martins were making a lot of interesting noises at their house near the headquarters, and as I turned the corner and continued down the tour road, I was almost sideswiped by a refuge truck with a big antenna on top who was coming off a side road!  When she stopped to open the gate I asked her if she was tracking chickens, and she said yes, so I told her about the bird I saw that was nowhere near the refuge, but she said they did occasionally get out into that area.  As a matter of fact, I noticed that same “space ship” structure from the tour road (way in the distance, of course)!

   

Curious Killdeer on the tour road

   

Young Swainson's Hawk

Head-on White-tailed Hawk

Purple Martins at the headquarters 

Refuge truck that nearly ran me down...

Decided to check the overlook at the little pond there, and got the route’s only Carolina Chickadee in the little riparian woodland there.  The pond had a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, a few Coots, a single Common Gallinule, and a Catbird calling across the way, but that was it (besides a posing Cardinal).  Finished up the route adding a mess of vultures, grabbed a piece of chicken for lunch, then headed for Huntsville, enjoying the latest political controversies on the radio!

View of the creek from the "Overlook Trail"

 

Common Buckeye

 

Cardinal against the lake

View from the blind

   

Black (left) and Turkey Vultures along the back stretch

Wild raspberries

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