Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Female Ruby-throated hummer at HNWR, by Dick Malnory

The Turk’s Cap is just coming into bloom in the garden adjacent to the Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, offering the hungry hummingbirds an alternative to the nectar feeders there.  During the summer, the volunteers in the Visitor Center have had the added job duty of making nectar and keeping the feeders filled – the hummers have been consuming approximately a quart daily recently.

The Birds of Texas Field Guide (StanTekiela) points out that the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the smallest bird in our state of Texas.  According to Cornell, the Ruby-throated, which have been frequenting the garden at the Refuge, are eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird.
Here are some “Cool Facts” about the Ruby-throated from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds:
·         The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
·         The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping, allowing it to only shuffle along a perch. However, it can scratch its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.
·         Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (though it's not necessary to color the sugar water you put in a hummingbird feeder). Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.
·         The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird was 9 years 1 month old.
From Birds of Texas we find that  the female Ruby-throated builds a tiny cup shaped nest with plant material and spider webs, camouflaging it with lichen; she may have 1- 2 broods a year, with 2 white eggs.  From Cornell we learn that they usually build their nest on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree; however, these birds, accustomed to human habitation, have been known to nest on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords.  Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds don’t stick around long. Pairs are together long enough for courtship and mating – just a matter of days to weeks. Then he’s off on his own, and may begin migration by early August.

A medium to long-distance migrant, according to Cornell, most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America, and most get there by flying across the Gulf of Mexico. Some birds stay in North America along the Gulf Coast, parts of the southern Atlantic coast, and at the tip of Florida; these are usually birds from farther north rather than birds that spent the summer there.

Enjoy them while you can, fall is around the corner.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bluebird College

"Bluebird College Professor" Carolyn Kohls
Nearly 650 children have been to “college” at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge so far this year!  Bluebird College that is… the “college” classroom is on the Visitor Center patio, with a good view of a Bluebird nest box in the adjacent field, the “college professors” are volunteers from the Nest Box Monitors, and the curricula is geared to the grade school interest level.

The students learn to recognize an Eastern Bluebird and the difference in plumage for the male and female.   They learn about Bluebird habitat, diet and nesting. Students get a close-up view of a nest box and completed nest.  They see photos of Bluebird young in various stages of development.  They also get to see a nest that was removed, along with several eggs, from a box on the trail at the Refuge after it was clear that there would be no hatch.

They get to hear a recorded Bluebird song.  And they might even get to see Bluebirds flying around the nest box nearby.  

Thanks to the school administrators, teachers, parents, Friends of Hagerman, volunteers and Refuge staff who make it possible for all these children to go to Bluebird College!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mississippi Kite

Ten Mississippi kites were reported at Hagerman NWR on the Tuesday Bird Census, July 15, 2014.  Visitors have been coming in to the Visitor Center asking about a hawk-like bird with a light colored head for several weeks now. 

Mississippi kite at HNWR, posted on  the Friends Facebook Page
by  Claudia Browning
Here is a description, from Cornell’s All About Birds

“Medium-sized hawk. Long, narrow, pointed wings. Long black tail. Head pearly gray. Body darker gray. Pale patch on rear edge of wings as seen from above.
Mississippi kite at HNWR by Nancy M. Miller
 After spending the winter in tropical South America, Mississippi kites come to the southern and central US to breed   .Mississippi kites usually lay two white eggs in twig nests that rest in a variety of deciduous trees.  Over time their nesting habitat has come to include wooded areas in suburban and urban development.
From Wikipedia:
“Mississippi kites nest in colonies and both parents (paired up before arriving at the nesting site) incubate the eggs and care for the young. They have one clutch a year which takes 30 to 32 days to hatch. The young birds leave the nest another 30 to 35 days after hatching. Only about half of kites successfully raise their young. Clutches fall victim to storms and predators such as raccoons and great horned owls. Because of the reduced amount of predators in urban areas, Mississippi kites produce more offspring in urban areas than rural areas. They have an average lifespan of 8 years.”
Kites feed on mostly insects. From the National Audubon Society website:  
"This graceful, buoyant kite is a marvelous flier and spends hours in the air. It is quite gregarious, often seen in flocks and even nesting in loose colonies. Although chiefly insectivorous, feeding largely on grasshoppers and dragonflies, it occasionally takes small snakes and frogs."
Although the voice is not often heard, click to listen to  a recorded call, from the MacauleyLibrary.  Be sure to watch for the Mississippi kit at Hagerman NWR this summer!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Odonata Second Saturday Topic

Banded Pennant, by Rick Cantu

Odonata will be the order of the day when Omar Bocanegra comes to  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge for Second Saturday on July 12.  The program, Dragonflies and Damselflies,  will begin at 10 am in the Visitor Center meeting room at the Refuge.   Second Saturday nature programs are free of charge and open to the public.

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife's "Introduction to Dragonfly and Damselfly Watching", by Mark Klym and Mike Quinn: 
"Approximately 212 species of odonates have been taken in Texas. The
color and behavior of these beautiful creatures excites many people, both
amateur and professional, to study them more. Their gossamer jeweled
wings, and spectacular aerial displays are entrancing.
and further:
"North American damselfly diversity has been estimated at 128 species of
which 70 have been found in Texas.
Second Saturday will present the opportunity to learn about the many species of dragonflies and damselflies found in N. Texas and at Hagerman,  from Bocanegra, who  is a US Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Coordinator.  He is based in the Arlington Field Office for US Fish and Wildlife.  He completed a Master’s thesis on the reproductive ecology of the Desert Firetail Damselfly.    Following a photo presentation and talk, Bocanegra will lead a short field trip on the Refuge.  Participants are advised to dress for walking through grass, and are welcome to bring cameras.

In addition, the Friends of Hagerman Nature Photo Club will meet at 12:30 pm on July 12 in the Audio Visual Classroom.  The club is open to anyone interested in nature photography.  Visitors may attend at no charge; there are nominal dues for membership.  There will be a program on re-sizing images for various applications and photo sharing; the theme for July is Butterflies.  For more information, contact

Hagerman NWR is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman.  For more information see or call the Refuge, 903 786 2826.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Take Time for a Little History

As we prepare to celebrate July 4, we thought a little history might be in order - locally, the Herald Democrat reported that 70 years ago this week the newly completed Denison Dam was dedicated.  You can learn more by clicking Herald Democrat.  Hagerman NWR and sister refuge Tishomingo were established in 1946, following completion of the lake.  Visitors to the refuge enjoy perusing the exhibit and  scrapbook of photos and clippings about the town of Hagerman and the early days of the refuge.

And from the historical archives of the USFWS...history buffs may enjoy finding information about the history of conservation in our country, including a video visit to Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and for those who enjoy lending an ear, we have chosen a podcast interview with William Souder, the author of a book about Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore:  The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, which was published in 2012, on the 50th anniversary of Carson's groundbreaking Silent Spring.

Hope everyone has a safe and happy July 4th!

Flag over new Visitor Center at Hagerman NWR, 2011, by Ken Day

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greater Roadrunner

Beep Beep!   Who does not enjoy seeing the low profile of a Roadrunner darting across the road or flying up into a nearby shrub or tree? For many, a sighting bring backs memories of cartoons, specifically, Warner Brothers, that popularized the Greater Roadrunner – older generations enjoyed these with popcorn at the movies, followed by the younger  generations of Saturday morning cartoon-watchers.  Another name for this bird is Chaparral Cock.

Greater Roadrunner with Worm, taken at Hagerman NWR by Tigger Saldy

Here are some “Cool Facts” about the Roadrunner, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
  • Roadrunners hold a special place in Native American and Mexican legends and belief systems, revered for their courage, strength, speed, and endurance. The roadrunner’s distinctive X-shaped footprint—with two toes pointing forward and two backward—are used as sacred symbols by Pueblo tribes to ward off evil. The X shape disguises the direction the bird is heading, and is thought to prevent evil spirits from following.
  • Despite the cartoon character’s perennial victories over Wile E. Coyote, real-life coyotes present a real danger. The mammals can reach a top speed of 43 miles an hour—more than twice as fast as roadrunners.
  • Roadrunners have evolved a range of adaptations to desert living. Like seabirds, they secrete a solution of highly concentrated salt through a gland just in front of each eye, using less water than excreting it via their kidneys and urinary tract. Moisture-rich prey including mammals and reptiles supply them otherwise-scarce water in their diet. Both chicks and adults flutter the unfeathered area beneath the chin (gular fluttering) to dissipate heat.
  • Their poisonous prey, including venomous lizards and scorpions, gives no ill effect, although they’re careful to swallow horned lizards head-first with the horns pointed away from vital organs. Roadrunners can also kill and eat rattlesnakes, often in tandem with another roadrunner: as one distracts the snake by jumping and flapping, the other sneaks up and pins its head, then bashes the snake against a rock. If it’s is too long to swallow all at once, a roadrunner will walk around with a length of snake still protruding from its bill, swallowing it a little at a time as the snake digests.

Found in all the Southwestern states, Greater Roadrunners are year-round residents in Texas.  They breed from early March to late-October.  In Spring, the male roadrunner offers choice food morsels to a female as an inducement to mating and dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly.  After the pair builds a nest 3 – 10 feet above the ground, the female will lay 2 – 6 eggs; they may nest 2 - 3 times during a favorable breeding season.

From “The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas”  of Texas A&M, we learned that despite its popularity as a popular multicultural iconic bird, from prehistory to modern time, the Greater Roadrunner was one of the last bird species to be given state protection because of the mistaken belief that the birds were a threat to declining quail populations.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Seeing Red

One of our favorite wildflowers is in bloom now – Standing Cypress.  Watch for the tall red plumes along roadsides in North Texas in May – July, and in the Native Plant Garden adjacent to the Visitor Center at Hagerman NWR.  According to the Native Plant Information Network, Standing Cypress is a biennial plant, in the Phlox family.  The botanical name is Ipomopsis rubra; additional common names are Red Texas star, Texas plume and Red gilia.  

Standing Cypress may reach 4 -6 feet in height.  The red blossoms begin appearing from the tip down.   The bloom may also be orange or yellow.  The plant grows in dry, well-drained soil.  You can collect seed in pods as the bloom dries if you want to try to propagate it, sowing in the fall – expect about  60% success, according to the Aggie Horticulture site.  Seed is available for purchase also.  From NPIN: “The first year of growth will produce a ferny rosette, followed by a flower spike the second year. When the spike has bloomed out, cut it off, and new spikes will be formed.“

Standing cypress is  attractive as a nectar plant for hummingbirds, and some sites also say it attracts butterflies.  The plant is native to Central and East Texas, and eastward to Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida.