I grew up in states that were once considered the Great Plains of America and are now less than one tenth of one percent prairie. Therefore, when I find American prairie, I treasure it. So last month on a visit to Texas, I sought out this magnificent prairie preserve.
Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge is about a one hour drive west of Houston. In Houston for a family reunion, I visited the Refuge when the spring wildflowers were still in bloom and it was incredibly magical.
It’s a funny thing about grassland birding, the more prairie-like it is, the harder it is to see the prairie birds. You hear their chirps and clicks in the tall grasses, are dazzled by their melodious songs, but all you see is grass and wildflowers waving in the wind.
The Refuge’s namesake bird, the Attwater prairie chicken, was nowhere to be seen that day. The male’s mating display is a spectacular flashy, booming phenomenon, but it happens earlier in the spring, and after that they are nearly impossible to see. Also, this bird is unfortunately nearly extinct.
Fortunately for us, the Refuge was instead experiencing their spring influx of migrating dickcissels. A grasslands song bird, they breed in the central U.S.. As a California resident, I have only seen about three dickcissels in my whole life. The timing was just right with the migration and their breeding cycle. I saw SO MANY dickcissels fluttering about that day.
We saw hundreds of males perched on top of reeds and tall grass singing their hearts out, impressing their future mates. Dapper in their spring breeding plumage, it was a dickcissel bonanza. It was absolutely heavenly!
Photo credit: Athena Alexander