Monday, January 28, 2013

Plowing the Food Plot

Thursday we got our training on one of the big boy toys that we will be operating while we are here.

Wallace got to go first.  

The plow had to have the cylinder replaced which caused me to be delayed a bit.  My plow was wider than Wallace's, so, my extra instructions were to be careful going through the cattle guards.  Oh, first time out and now another challenge!!!  

Darrell followed me out to the field to make sure I made it out without any problems.

That's Wallace coming toward me.

There I am on the John Deere 7710 with a/c and radio!!!  We ran in C 3 and made sure the throttle was in the right placement according to the tachometer.  There is another lever that raises and lowers the plow and that is used whenever we hit a wet spot that causes the tires to spin.  Of course, the plow is in the up position while going down the road.

I just had to stop and get this picture of those straight rows.  My brother-in-law was a farmer and I always wanted to get on a tractor and make those straight rows.  Not bad for our first time doing this.    

We have two more plots to plow and we will be plowing again tomorrow.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Our Job Today...

that was done on Tuesday...was to do inventory of tools and equipment (we sure are learning our way around and the names of some of the equipment).  It was another one of those blustery, cold days.  Around 11:00 am, Darrell, with his two volunteers, drove up and said, "get in".

He first treated us to lunch.  Then we drove over to Katy, Texas to order mulch and landscape cloth for the grass garden we have been working on.  Next was a stop at Ace to pick up some other needed items.  As he was checking out, I was admiring the deerskin gloves when Darrell said, "oh, you need gloves, put 'em over here."

We shall see how long they stay that clean...but I love them.  I had planned to purchase them myself since I had been wanting them for some time.  They are so soft!!!  Thanks Darrell!!!

Then it was time for a blizzard as Dairy Queen was close by.

My comment when we got back to the refuge was, "hey, I think we will hang out with you more often!"  It was a fun time and a great break from some of the other things we have been doing lately.

No camera today during work time.

Until next time...

Friday, January 25, 2013

January 17th


Our duties today were split in two.  We joined Darrell (maintenance man) and crew to help tear down an old water well structure that was unsightly on the prairie and not needed anymore.

Loading up and getting ready.

That's Darrell on the left with Ferris (our super) on the right of the picture.

A front view of the two from the above photo.

Backing in the dump truck while the loaders are holding up the roof.  The poles have already been detached at this point.

Wallace called this a redneck camper.  Now for its transport to the barn.

We had the afternoon off in order to go out with the biology crew that evening (prior blog).

Our work week is Tuesday through Thursday.  We are a week behind on blogs and will catch up this weekend.  Stay tuned.

Until next time...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Night Out With Biologist

Mike Morrow, who has been here for over 20 years.  He took us under his wings as we walked all over this prairie tracking and capturing the chickens that are wearing radio transmitters.  We had done telemetry at Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR tracking bobcats and we were eager to do it again with the prairie chickens.

That's Mike on the right of the picture at our pot luck (blog coming later).

This is the radio transmitter that gets attached to the bird.

This is the receiver.  The knobs at the bottom are tuned to the transmitter number of each bird that is being tracked.  

We were ready to go at 6:30pm and returned at 11:30pm.  We were both weary from walking through ankle deep water (potholes), rose bushes, head high grasses with big clumps at the base (blue stem), and crossing under barbed wire fencing  in 40 degree temperature.

The first bird was caught at 7:40.  A nice young male.  Mike showed us the bird as he pointed out identifying features, the yellow eyebrow, the yellow air sacs, and the beautiful long neck (pinnae) feathers.  This one was very healthy with a full crop.

Mike carried the receiver and antenna and led the way as we listened to the beep beeping from the bird's radio.  The closer you get, the louder the sound becomes.  Wallace carried the net.  When Mike got close, the net was handed off to him.  Our instruction was to stay put until the bird was caught and then to come forward to help.  We then bagged fecal, noting on each bag the date, time, and number of the bird.  Then the bird was put into a wooden crate.  When we captured three, it was time to  drive to the van (portable lab) where they were weighed, measured, aged etc.

The bird Mike is holding took us on a looong walk!!!  She had flushed twice before being caught.  

I have mixed feelings about all this.  I feel for the birds, what they go though during the process, while at the same time knowing all this information is necessary.  

When Mike stepped out of the back, he told me to get in there for a better look.  It was quite interesting indeed!!!

This is one of the blank data sheets that gets filled out about each bird captured.  There was a total of fifteen birds captured that night.

This is one of two trucks with antennas that are rotated manually from inside that pick up the transmissions while driving about.  They go out twice a day 5 days a week.  Some birds go missing, some are fatalities.  There are 75 birds that are wearing the radios.

We left the group at 11:30, they stayed out until 5:00.  They have gone out three consecutive nights.

The research was done to see how well the captured birds are faring since they have been released onto the refuge.

Our adventure continued as we tried to find our way back at night in unfamiliar territory without any landmarks.  We finally came upon Horseshoe Lake and then we knew where we were.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mama's Got a New Pair of Boots

A new rule at wildlife refuges this have to wear leather boots in order to operate an all terrain vehicle (ATV) or UHV.  My boots are not leather, so Darrell, the maintenance man, drove me to town and bought me new boots.  He mentioned that in order to drive heavy equipment, I would need steel toes.  So that is what I got.  Sounds good to me!!!

Now I will be legal.

As soon as the weather cooperates, you will find me on some of that heavy equipment.  I am all set and ready to go.

Until next time...

Monday, January 7, 2013


Acronyms, don't you just love them?!?  Attwater Prairie Chicken at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.  Now that is a mouth full isn't it?

The refuge was established in 1972 and is 10,528 acres of one of the largest remnants of coastal prairie habitats remaining in Southeast Texas.  It is home to one of the  LAST populations of the critically ENDANGERED Attwater Prairie Chickens.

This is a picture of a picture...I hope to get my own pretty soon.  

The refuge mission is to protect, restore, preserve, enhance, and manage gulf coastal prairie grasslands in support of the Endangered Species Act and the Attwater's Prairie Chicken Recovery Plan while maintaining and perpetuating biodiversity.  Today, less than one percent of coastal prairies remain.

Typically, about half the adults die each year from predation or other natural causes.  Their courtship rituals take place on a lek, or booming ground and used year after year.  For males, a lek is their stage.  They perform each morning February through mid-May, and guess what...we will be here!!! 

The hen nests on the ground and lays a dozen eggs that hatch 26 days later.  Only 30% of all nests escape predation.  Less than half the chicks make it to adulthood.  They dine on insects, leaves, flowers, and seeds of prairie plants.

So few birds are left that a captive breeding program offers the best hope for saving this species.

We provide tours of the refuge on the first Saturday of the month and the second weekend in April, the festival will be held.  You will be given the chance of seeing them on their lek strutting around with their courtship display.  Consider this your invitation to come join us!!!

I have been reading their CCP book that is the refuges plan for the next 15 years. 

The refuge is one of 13 located in the Central Flyway.

Until next time...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Went Straight to Work

Driving in toward the refuge, December 26th, we started second guessing our decision about coming here.

The county road left something to be desired.  This reminded me of the road going to Laguna Atascosa.  We could barely see the headquarters in the right hand side of the photo.

Anticipation grows as we never know what awaits you at new places!!!  Once we got backed in, we felt better.  There is a feeling of peace and serenity here.

The next morning, we checked in at headquarters.

and were put right to work.  No few days to get settled siree!  After meeting the few staff that were working (holidays), we were given a tour of the refuge by our supervisor, Ferris Calderon, who is the assistant to the assistant refuge manager, and is in training for management.

After lunch, Wallace helped Ferris move some shocks around on two of the Rangers while I worked on MSDS (material safety data sheets).  This work was done in the maintenance shop.

Since we arrived, it has been brutally cold and wet.  Hence, we have been doing inside stuff.  January 2nd, we worked all day separating sensitive documents, shredding those and recycling all the rest.  These files dated back to the early 70's.  We emptied six of those file boxes with many more to do.

January 3rd, was spent with our supervisor tearing down one of the acclimation pens.

You can barely see the structure.  There are six of them placed in different areas.  Prior to release, the prairie chickens are placed in these pens to assist in the transition from captivity to  life on the prairie.

That's me, my white hair blends right in to the sky.

This is the release pen that is put inside the acclimation pen.  The chicks need to grow before being released in the bigger area.

The tearing down of the pen took us three hours.  Ferris told us he thought it would have taken longer...hey, we don't mess around.

The afternoon was spent digging up prairie grasses to transplant in the grass garden by headquarters.

There is Indiangrass, little blue stem, big blue stem, switchgrass, and gamma grass planted in this garden.

Around headquarters, there are large Sycamore trees and huge live oak trees that were planted around the old farm building that used to be here.

New Year's Eve was spent with our fellow volunteers until the late hour of 10:00 pm.  Yeah, we think we are going to like it here.

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Little House on the Prairie

The view out our window which looks out on the prairie of the Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR where we will be until April.

The entrance is located off 3013, 60 miles west of Houston, Texas.  Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S.

As you can see, we have a huge front yard with nice spacing.  AND, the night is really pitch lights...NICE!!!

We see beautiful sunsets out our window when it is not raining/misting.  "There is a peaceful, easy feeling."

Until next time...