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Northernmost Texas Nest of Least Grebes Discovered
RICHLAND, Texas — The most northerly least grebe nest ever recorded in Texas has been spotted at Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
Hayden Haucke, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, was surprised to see two least grebe adults and five half-grown chicks last month while visiting a pond in the south unit of Richland Creek WMA, where least grebes were first seen this past spring.
This northerly sighting is highly unusual because the birds are a non-migratory species and are predominantly found south of the Nueces River in South Texas. There is only one record of a more northerly nest globally, reported in California in 1946.
The least grebe is a water bird that resembles a small duck and is dark gray with a bright yellow eye as its distinguishing marker. Least grebes can fly but do not migrate. Once settled into a particular body of water, they generally do not move. While not rare, least grebes are sought after by ornithologists and birdwatchers, who travel to South Texas in order to pump up their life lists with species generally not found elsewhere in the United States.
"Least grebes breed almost any month of the year on the coast and in South Texas," Cliff Shackelford, TPWD Nongame Ornithologist said. "The climate is typically mild and the environmental cue there is the water depths in the wetlands and resacas."
Shackelford believes that the least grebe pair spotted at Richland WMA is likely a function of dispersal possibly in response to drought or overcrowding in the south. He is concerned though about the birds surviving when the first real cold front hits Texas this winter.
"Time will tell if they will survive there permanently or not," Shackelford said.
The Richland Creek WMA is located east of the Richland-Chambers Reservoir dam in Freestone and Navarro Counties. The area is split into two units. The north unit is located north of US Hwy 287 and the south unit is accessible from FM 488.
The public is welcomed to go and see the rare bird. Visitors 17 years of age and older must possess a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit (APH) or a $12 Limited Public Use Permit (LPU). Visitors who still have a Texas Conservation Passport may also enter the WMA until the pass expires. Entry to the WMA is permitted only during daylight hours and at designated entry sites.
For more information about Richland Creek WMA call (903) 389-7080 or visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wma/).
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