Feeling travel-frazzled? What I learned from the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken

attwaters-prairie-chicken-booming-mating-dance-taxidermy-versionI’m a little tightly-wound. I don’t mind being an intense person (and hey, after 40+ years, it ain’t gonna change now) but sometimes, I get on my own last nerve.

As a blogger and Web-connected person, every place I visit is a potential blog post, Facebook Wall note or could be the subject of a photo for Flickr or TwitPic.  My brain is constantly processing content ideas, and it is difficult for me to turn it off. It is how I am wired.

It’s wonderful when it is energizing, it is not when it is draining. After a recent personal bout with shingles, I knew I needed to find travel moments when I can back off a bit, not pile it on.

I found some of that respite while looking for birds, mostly because I am not a birder so I can’t get all hyper about it.

While driving to Houston recently to research two articles I’m  writing for Texas Highways magazine, I looked on the map for some fun road trip diversions. Let me tell you, there are stretches of Texas where the entertainment pickings are SLIM, and this is one of them.

There was a green blob on the map about 60 miles southwest of Houston labeled “Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (NWR.)”  I’d seen pictures of these birds and thought they looked impressive, but knew nothing about them.

Time for a detour.

“Miles and miles of miles and miles.” That’s how my Dad used to describe the middle of nowhere on our road trips. I drove into the NWR and meandered for a bit, leaving a cloud of road dust behind me in the incessant wind.

I learned that there are only 50 of the endangered Attwater’s birds in the wild at the NWR;  no wonder I never saw any. Combined with 40 or so in two other Texas preserves and 182 in captivity, that’s only 272 birds total. There used to be around a million, on six million acres of coastal prairie (the NWR is almost 10,000 acres of protected habitat.)

In the Visitor’s Center, I looked at videos about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken; they included the male’s distinctive mating dance when he puffs out his red “cheeks,” stomps rapidly and “booms,” or makes a sound like blowing across the top of an open bottle.

A stroll down some of the NWR marked trails brought me out into the prairie, where I could hear all sorts of birds.  There’s a birder’s species checklist for the real enthusiasts – “Plovers and Lapwings,” “Stilts and Avocets,” “Rails, Gallinules and Coots” and my personal favorite, “Goatsuckers.”

Most importantly, I was reminded that there are things to do and learn even out in “the middle of nowhere.” There are moments when you can simply be. Moments when the most important thing to do is play with the Macro setting on your camera to capture an unexpected wild raspberry.

Even though I never saw one, I thank the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken for slowing me (and my pulse rate) way down. More of my travels need to be like that, and I’ll bet yours do, too.  In the US, visit the National Wildlife Refuge System online, then include that NWR detour on your travels.

(Note: If you’d like to help save these birds from extinction, take a look at the Adopt-A-Prairie-Chicken program or the Nature Conservancy’s Attwater’s Prairie Chicken habitat preservation efforts.)

One Response

  1. Antonia Malchik May 15, 2009

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