Thursday, February 23, 2017

Go Play Outside!

"Go play outside" was standard parental advice when I was growing up! And now volunteers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge have new opportunities to do just that.

1. The Outdoor Crew will meet at the Refuge for a couple of hours on the FIRST Tuesday and the FOURTH Saturday mornings of each month, weather permitting.  Crew volunteers will trim brush, remove trash, and perform other tasks to maintain trails and public areas at Hagerman.

2. Gardeners meet on Wednesday mornings, weather permitting, and spend two hours maintaining and beautifying the Butterfly Garden at HNWR. You do not have to be a super-gardener, supervision is given for the work.  A bonus is take-home plants at times!

3. Garden Docents are present in teams in the Butterfly Garden for garden walks and tours throughout the growing season, primarily on Saturdays. Docents train monthly on the first Thursday of each month to interpret the garden; during tours, they share literature and help visitors identify butterflies and Texas native plants and the connections between them.

To learn more about the garden related activities, see Butterfly Garden on the Friends of Hagerman website.

We know that folks are busy so these opportunities offer a come-when-you-can arrangement.  To participate in the volunteer pool for any or all, just register through CONTACT and you will be notified of specific schedules and other details.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Phenology II

A year or so ago, I ran across a new-to-me word – “phenology”. When I looked it up I learned that we talk about phenomena of phenology all the time at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. According to the National Wildlife Federation,

“The study of how the biological world times natural events is called phenology. Scientists now understand that plants and animals take their cues from their local climate. Climate (long-term weather patterns) is impacted by non-biological factors--temperature, precipitation, and available sunlight. Species use the predictable yearly changes in the climate to determine when they start natural events such as breeding or flowering.
Snow Geese at HNWR, by Keith Crabtree
Visitors want to know, “How much longer will the geese be here?’ “When can I see the Painted Bunting?” and so on. We will soon be watching the shorebird migration begin and see some greening of the deciduous trees. Later this spring we will see  Monarch butterflies, migrant from Mexico.

Painted Bunting, by Phil McGuire

The three main non-biological factors listed by the National Wildlife Federation as playing a part in the timing of natural events are sunlight, temperature, and precipitation.
NWF adds that birds in the Northern Hemisphere are believed to depend on day length for when to begin their spring migration to nesting grounds. Another example given is that of frogs, which depend on temperature and precipitation to determine when to begin breeding, while plants depend on all three factors for bloom time.

Milkweed at HNWR, by Carrie Chambers

“Phenology is an important subject to study, because it helps us understand the health of species and ecosystems. Animals and plants do not live in bubbles--every species has an impact on those in its food chain and community. The timing of one species' phenological events can be very important to the survival of another species.” 

Monarch Caterpillar at HNWR, by Brenda K. Loveless

So as you watch for signs of spring, remember you are awaiting a phenological event!

Adapted from the original post published October 15,  2015.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden

Welcome to our newest blog feature,  Beyond the Butterfly Garden, written by Laurie Sheppard, and illustrated with her photographs.  Once each month you can count on finding timely tips for butterfly watching on the Refuge in these posts.

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. While the native flowers and plants in the garden are just beginning to emerge, the first warm days of January have caused tiny waiting wildflowers to bloom in places around the refuge.

 All butterfly species have life strategies that allow their line to continue even in harsh winter climates.  Every species that does not migrate has one life stage that is able to survive freezing temperatures without forming crystals within their cells.  For some, it’s the adult butterfly that winters over and emerges when the daytime temperatures rise above 55 degrees or so.

These butterflies that hibernate or semi-hibernate make up most of the species we see on sunny winter days or in early spring at the refuge.  They survive tucked into a sheltered crevice in a tree or wedged behind loose bark or burrowed into thick leaf litter, protected from ice or snow.  Dainty Sulphur (shown at left) and Little Yellow (below) are the smallest butterflies in the Sulphur family and both semi-hibernate at Hagerman.  Look for them and other sulphurs in areas where grasses have been cut short late in the fall so early spring blooms are exposed.  Sandy Point Picnic Area is a likely spot to find them.

The hibernating winter form of Question Mark butterflies (shown at left) have unique coloring on their hind wing and can live for several months. They occasionally emerge on warm winter days and mate once the risk of frost is over.  You will find them at the edges of forests such as on Oil Field Road or Sandy Point Road.  They frequently fly to oak trees where the dead leaves provide natural camouflage.
 Another hibernator that might be found at the edges of the riparian forest found in the Sandy Point unit is the Mourning Cloak (below).  These butterflies may be as large as 4 inches.  Mourning Cloaks rarely nectar on flowers, preferring tree sap, especially that of oaks.  You may see them walking down the trunk of an oak tree, feeding with their head down.

Look in the open field in front of the visitor’s center and in the grassy areas alongside Wildlife Drive for the Checkered White butterfly (below). These are not hibernators—they winter over as a chrysalis and may emerge in the first warm days of late winter to look for any available flowers to nectar on.

Overwintered Southern Dogface finds early Spring Beauty flowers at Sandy Point in January.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Watching and Waiting for Springtime

Today is Groundhog Day.  Which will it be - spring or 6 more weeks of winter?   We all know about Punxsutawney Phil, but since we don't have groundhogs here in North Texas we decided to poll some of the volunteers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge as to what they considered to be signs of spring. 

Here are their replies, and - full disclosure, this is by no means a random survey!

"We watch the thickness of the fur on our donkeys. They shed as they sense warmer weather coming. No shedding...there will be more winter weather coming."  ~ Holly and Dan Neal, Piece Of Heaven Ranch 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, by Laura Cooper
"I always look for the scissor-tailed flycatchers returning from Mexico and Central America as a sign of spring.  My students and I watch for the monarchs migrating back from Mexico." ~ David Palmer

Monarch, by Carl Hill
"We watch Bees.  We look for an increase in Queen bee egg laying and at bees actively bringing in pollen to increase colony size and be able to produce honey for their pantry!!  Increased brood heralds Spring." ~ A Beekeeper/Master Naturalist

"Suddenly the American Goldfinch are no longer flocking to our bird feeders - they have left for their nesting grounds."

American Goldfinch - Winter Plumage, by Phil McGuire
"I look for two things.  First for American Robins (there were twenty or more in my yard this morning in late January). and for buds on the redbud and pear trees.  Those two things are usually good and reliable signs in my experience."  ~ Bert Garcia

Robin with Berry, by Donna Niemann
On the other hand, Jack Chiles said, "The most reliable sign for me that spring has truly arrived is when the Bois d'Arc leaf out.  Robins least reliable because they are here all winter."

"My wife, Sharon, always associates her brother's birthday which is on Groundhog Day with the coming of Spring. I watch for the Trout Lilies in our local forest, as a sign of the coming annual rebirth of nature. By emerging in February this small flower gets a jump on other plants. For a few weeks, the Trout gathers all the sunshine it needs for the year before the majestic trees of forest fill out canopy." ~ David Parrish.

Trout Lily, by Lee Hatfield
Lee Hatfield agrees, "Blooming trout lilies are a sure sign that Spring is coming! I also watch for the Dickcissels at the Hagerman!"  

"The purple glow of henbit across a lawn or roadside."

Henbit, by Linn Cates
"To me, it is the first time I drive under the shade of a tree's new leaves." ~ Patricia Crain

Several Master Gardeners who volunteer at the Refuge weighed in:

"I  know it's spring when the weeds begin to green up my yard!  Rats!  That is still winter in Texas!"

"The budding of branches in late January when I am getting the pruning finished."

Budding tree branches
"The appearance of flocks of robins gobbling up the worms in my yard;  the green leaves of daffodils peeking their heads out of the ground, and the hint of purple emerging on the twigs of the redbud."

Early Daffodils
Speaking of gardens, daffodils received several votes and flowering quince was named also.

Budding Quince

What signs of Spring do you watch for?  Add yours in the Comments!

Note:  Our average annual last frost date is March 21 - 31.   Don't put your winter gear away yet!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

February Plant of the Month – Hercules Club (tree)

February Plant of the Month – Hercules Club (tree)

Hercules Club
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis l.
Other Names: Pepperbark, Toothache Tree, Tickle-tongue, Prickly Ash
Family: Rutaceae (Rue or Citrus Family)
Synonym: Zanthoxylum macrophyllum

Larval host for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

By Sharon and David Parrish

Imagine, if you will, Hercules, the mythological son of Zeus with the strength of a lion searching through Texas to find a tree for his legendary club. Surely, he would be drawn to the Zanthoxylum clava-herculis or Hercules Club with its distinctive knobby warts along the trunk. Today he could find two small specimens in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, Dr.Wayne Meyer reports that several examples can easily be seen along Meadow Pond Trail. 

(Photo by Richard Murphy, licensed under the Creative Commons)

Medicine: Also known as the toothache tree or tickle-tongue, the Native Americans and the early European settlers were known to chew the leaves and the bark to soothe a throbbing tooth. The major active compound is chelerythrine. This benzophenanthridine alkaloid exhibits anti-bacterial activity against the common, infectious microbe, Staphylococcus aureus (i.e., the staph infection). This highlights the importance of protecting our planet’s extensive botanical treasures, which harbor cures to countless human ailments. “As of 2003, at least 25 percent of modern medicines were derived from plants, yet only a tiny fraction of the estimated more than 50,000 medicinal plants used around the globe have been studied in the lab.” 5

Identification: Z. clava-herculis is a small, round-headed tree with smooth gray bark covered by triangular-shaped knobby prickles on the bark; thorns emerge from these triangular bumps when the plant is young, then as the plant ages and the “triangles” get larger, the thorns disappear. Leaves are alternate, once pinnately compound 5 to 8 inches long with 7 to 17 leaflets. Each leaflet is 1 to 3 inches long, ovate or lanceolate, toothed, with several sharp prickles along the rachis. The flowers are pale green on loose wide-branched terminal clusters, 4 to 5 inches long. Z. clava-herculis blooms in the early spring. 

(Photo by Joseph A. Marcus, Wildflower Center Digital Library,  unrestricted)

Fruit and Avian Dispersal: The fruit ripens in the early summer, producing a loose cluster of dark brown one seeded capsules. Once the valves open, the small seeds are exposed. Seeds are quickly eaten by seed-loving (granivorous) birds. The fruit passes through the birds and is dispersed below the birds’ favorite resting places, along fence rows and the edge of the woods.

(Photo by Joseph A. Marcus, Wildflower Center Digital Library,  unrestricted)

Butterfly Host:   Z. clava-herculis serves as a host plant to a number of insect species including the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Palio cresphontes). Their “ugly” caterpillars which resemble bird droppings morph into a large, attractive butterflies.

(Photo by Dale Clark, Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society

Related Plant Species: There are four species from the genus Zanthoxylum found in Texas. Z. clava-herculis overlaps in range with Z. hirsutum, which is also referred to as toothache tree. Z. hirsutum has five smaller leaflets and is common in West Texas.  

Z. clava-herculis is related to the Chinese-pepper tree,  Z. simulans, from eastern China. The fruit of this tree, the Sichuan pepper, produces the signature  mouth-numbing  flavor that  is  indispensable  in  the regional  cuisine of Sichuan, China.8

Same Name, Different Family: Aralia spinoza or devil’s walking stick is sometimes called Hercules club. It is a spiny shrub in east Texas with large twice compound leaves. A.spinoza is in a different family and does not resemble Z. clava-herculis.

Acknowledgement: We thank Ms. Dana Wilson, Dr. Wayne Meyer,  Mr. Bob Richie, and Ms. Sue Malnory  for their contributions to this article.  

1.      Texas A&M Forest Service (2014) Hercules'-Club Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, Trees of Texas.
2.      Sheryl Smith-Rodgers  (January 2011) FLORA FACT: TOOTHY CHEW, The toothache tree eases pain and hosts swallowtails. Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine,   
3.      Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database (September 14, 2015)
4.      Wikipedia. (2016) Zanthoxylum clava-herculis.
5.      Ferris Jabr ( September 14, 2016) Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis? The New York Times Magazine,
6.     Dallas County Lepidopterists' Society (December 2008), Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)  
7.   George A. Petrides and Janet Wehr (1988). Eastern Trees. Peterson Field Guides, New York, New York.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Let's Talk Binoculars

By Dick Malnory

Are you in the market for new binoculars for birding?  Whether you are purchasing your first pair or "upgrading", here is a rundown on binocular features to help you choose the pair that works best for you.

What you want from a pair of binoculars for birding is
  • Wide field of view
  • A bright image
  • Quick focus
  • Eye relief

Let's look at optics specifications that you will be taking into consideration.

Prism Type:

Binoculars today come in two basic designs, Porro Prism and Roof Prism, which refer to the type and arrangement of optical prisms in the binoculars.

To compare, Porro Prism was the standard design until 1960.  It offers a wider field of view and is more light efficient.  It also offers more contrast, but Porro Prism binoculars are heavier and chunkier.

Roof Prism binoculars are more streamlined, lighter weight, more compact and easier to hold, but are more expensive.


The recommended magnification for most birding binoculars is 7x or 8x.  Higher powered binos give greater detail but are less steady, offer a narrowed field of vision, and also less depth of field.  Note - image stabilization binoculars are definitely recommended for higher power binoculars and for use by individuals who don't have steady hands!

Objective lens:

This is the lens closest to subject you are viewing.  When you see a rating for a pair of binoculars such as 8x40, 8 represents the magnification power and 40 is the diameter of the lens, in millimeters.  The larger the objective lens, the more light is available, giving a brighter image.  A general rule of thumb is that the objective lens should be 5 times the magnification power; with a magnification power of 8, an objective lens of 40 or more millimeters would be recommended.

Eye Relief:

This refers to the optimal distance between the binocular eyepiece and your eye.  Binoculars will have adjustable eyecups that either fold or rotate to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

Prism Glass:

The better the optical quality used in your binoculars, the better the light transmission.  There are 3 grades of prism glass - BAK4 - Best; SK15 - Better; and BK7 - Good.  If the specs for a pair you are considering says the prisms are made of eco-glass, that means no lead or arsenic was used in the manufacturing process.


Coatings are used to improve light transmission.  You will find one of these symbols on binoculars that have any coating - C - one or more optic surfaces are coated; FC - all air-to-glass surfaces are coated; MC - one of more surfaces are multi-layer coated; and best of all - FMC all glass surfaces are fully coated.

Field of View:

Refers to the width that can be viewed at a distance of 1000 yards.  The wider the field of view, the easier to find the birds.  The field of view will be expressed in degrees or actual feet that can be viewed at 1000 yards; 8 degrees is a very good field of view - equivalent to 420 feet.  With all other parameters equal, choose binoculars with the wider field of view.

Finally, consider the weight when choosing binoculars; a shoulder strap can distribute the weight better than a neck strap. Are the binoculars comfortable in your hands, and can you reach the focusing knob easily?  It's best, for this reason, to shop in person.  If ordering online you will want to make sure of the vendor's return policy.

NOTE:  Visitors at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge who take tram tours and guided walks may use loaner binoculars provided by the Friends of Hagerman and help in adjusting them if needed - a good chance to try out a pair for those new to birding.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pass Program Great for Outdoor Travel

By Jean Flick

During the cold of winter, many of us turn our thoughts to summer travel plans. The Interagency Pass Program enables many US citizens and permanent residents the opportunity to enjoy the natural wonders of a variety of federally managed lands at minimal expense.

Three of these passes are available at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, including the Senior Pass for those aged 62 or over ($10 for a lifetime pass), the Access Pass for US citizens with permanent disabilities (free), and the Annual 4th grade pass, free for the child and family during the year that each child is in the fourth grade and the following summer.

Additional passes include the Annual Pass for US military (free) and the Annual Pass for anyone ($80 for one year).

Six agencies participate in the Pass Program, including the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. Effective January 1, 2016, the US Army to Corps of Engineers was granted the authority to be a full participant. Passes typically allow free admission to federal sites overseen by these agencies and may include substantial discounts on some activities such as camping, boat ramp use, and swimming.

The National Park Service oversees 409 areas, including national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks and sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic trails and rivers, and the White House.

The US Forest Service manages 193 million acres of vast scenic beauty, including national forests and grasslands. These public lands include 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as alpine ski areas, heritage sites, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and more than 150,000 miles of trails.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service preserves habitat and protects wildlife on 150 million acres of national wildlife refuges, as well as more than 418 million acres of national marine monuments.

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for a variety of national conservation sites, including 223 Wilderness areas with over 8.7 million acres in 10 western states. These areas are “special areas where the earth and its community of life are essentially undisturbed.” Areas are open for certain forms of recreation, but permanent changes to the land are not permitted, to preserve the integrity of the wilderness.

The Bureau of Reclamation is tasked with managing water in the West and has projects in 17 western states. The reclamation work of the Bureau has resulted in the development of 289 areas with developed recreation areas including campgrounds, boat ramps, and opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the number one federal provider of recreation in the US, with 400 lake and river projects in 43 states, including our own Lake Texoma.

America the Beautiful awaits...there is something out there for everyone...go to or for more information.


The information above was originally published January 14, 2016.
There is no charge for admission at Hagerman NWR.
Senior, Access, and Annual 4th Grade Passes are available at the Refuge Office, during regular business hours Monday - Fridays, 7:30 am - 4 pm.  The cost for Senior passes is set for a sharp increase this spring, so be wise, buy now!