November 30, 2013

11/18/13 - Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

George noticed Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge on the map, near where we were staying near Columbus, TX.  I didn't know what an Attwater Prairie Chicken was, but I liked the name and wanted to go see one.   It wasn't our most successful outing.

More things I didn't know:
I never found out who Attwater is  The Attwater's Prairie Chicken is about the size of, well, a chicken.  As part of their mating ritual, the males inflate their bright orange air sac and emit a booming sound across the prairie grasses to impress the hens.  These poor things are stuck forever in a display case at the Visitor Center, never to boom or be impressed again.
There used to be about a million Attwater Prairie Chickens, but now there are millions of people in this part of Texas, so the birds lost 99% of their habitat for cropland and pastures and other signs of "civilization", like buildings and asphalt.   I'm sure a lot of them were ingested by humans.  After all, what looks like a chicken, is called a chicken, probably tastes like a chicken.  
Prairie Chickens are on the Endangered Species List.  They're so endangered there were only 42 remaining in the whole world by 1996.  Captive Breeding Programs at Texas zoos have helped increase the prairie chicken population to about 250.  Zoos don't always lock 'em up.  Sometimes they hatch and release.

George and I walked the Sycamore Trail, starting behind the Visitor Center.  It's a trail through the prairie and wetlands.  What can I say?  It's a prairie.  We didn't see prairie chickens.  We didn't see anything  interesting except a caterpillar, a trail of leaf-cutter ants and a whole bunch of huge black mosquitoes who left a trail of blood (mine!) on my legs.  

After that we went went on the 5-mile Auto Tour Loop through the refuge.  The brochure says to "use your vehicle as a slow moving blind to see many wildlife species".  We're in Texas--there are deer blinds in every other field, so it's a way to relate to the locals.  George put the truck in gear and just let it idle along the dirt road.  Every time we went across another cattle guard, the road got worse.  We didn't see ANY wildlife species.  (sigh)  No Prairie Chickens, no buffalo, no wildlife species.  
We stopped at the Observation Blind--there we saw an egret, a heron and half a dozen crows fly past.  Whoopie.
Here are more pictures of the wildlife refuge.  Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

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