Thursday, September 22, 2016

Butterfly Garden Hosting Pipevine Swallowtails

Pipevine Swallowtail nursery series by Kathy Nance
We had a little excitement in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge a couple of weeks when ago when one of the garden work volunteers observed a Pipevine Swallowtail on the Woolly Dutchman's pipe growing in the garden. After a careful check, she found eggs on the plant.  The following week she found tiny caterpillars, see photo above,  and later, we took the photos (below) of the rapidly growing caterpillars.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on 9-17-2016, above and on 9-21-2016, below,  by Sue Malnory

In our go-to butterfly guide, Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America, we learned that the Pipevine Swallowtail is the second most familiar dark swallowtail, next to the Black.  The pipevine plant, similar to the function milkweed provides the monarch,  makes the adult butterfly poisonous, or at least bad tasting,  and protects from predators.  Also similar to the Monarch, the Pipevine has mimics, including the Spicebush and the  female Black and female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Red-spotted Purple, in our area.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly by Joe Blackburn
The life cycle for this butterfly, from Butterflies and Moths of North America: "Adult males patrol likely habitat in search of receptive females. Females lay batches of eggs on underside of host plant leaves. Caterpillars feed in small groups when young but become solitary when older. Wintering is by the chrysalis."
"This butterfly can be found in  a wide variety of open habitats, open woodland, and woodland edges."

Kaufman states that their flight is rapid and they usually continue to flutter their wings even when perched.

The host vine, officially Aristolochia tomentosa Sims, is also known as Common Dutchman's pipe, and is native throughout  the southern states, several midwest states, and New England, according to Lady Bird's Native Plant Database.  As the vine likes some shade, it is planted near the small pergola in our garden and is starting to comingle with the coral honeysuckle. it should go over the top of the pergola someday, as the expected size is up to 100'!!  We have not seen it bloom yet as it seemed to get off to a slow start this spring.  The expected bloom time is March - May, and the bloom color may be yellow, purple or green, but is not listed as a nectar source for the Pipevine Swallowtail.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fields of Gold

Bitterweed in Field along Lawrence Lane, by Sue Malnory
A number of fields along the roadsides on the way to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are blanketed with gold! Gold wildflowers that is...And this year, according to the Lady Bird's Native Plant Database, what we are seeing is Helenium amarum, commonly called Yellow Sneezeweed, Bitterweed, Yellow bitterweed, Yellowdicks, Slender-leaved sneezeweed, Fine-leaved sneezweed, and/or Yellow dog-fennel. A member of the aster family, "The genus is thought to have been named by Linnaeus for Helen of Troy. The legend is that the flowers sprung up from the ground where her tears fell."  The plant is an annual and is valuable to Native Bees and tolerant of dry conditions and varied soil types.

Bitterweed by Sue Malnory

In years past the gold was provided by another member of the aster family is Gutierrezia sarothrae, with common names that include Broom snakeweed, Kindlingweed, Matchbrush, Texas snakeweed, Broomweed, Turpentine weed. Growing from 1 – 3’ tall, it is a small shrub-like plant covered in tiny yellow flowers. By bloom time the lower leaves have dropped off, giving it a delicate appearance.

Broomweed, by Dick Malnory

Broomweed is native throughout much of the western U.S. and blooms from August – November. It reproduces by seed and provides nectar for bees and butterflies and seed for birds. Dried plants can be tied together to fashion a “broom”.

Another yellow autumn wildflower, one that is considered a “bad actor” by many, is Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis L., also called Canada goldenrod, Canadian goldenrod, Tall goldenrod, or Giant goldenrod. Goldenrod is blamed for causing allergic reactions each fall, but according to NPIN, the reactions are caused mainly by pollen from the ragweed plant that blooms at the same time.

Goldenrod, by Dick Malnory

Finally, there is also a burst of gold in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman - Maximilian sunflower, a cheery yellow wildflower blooms that from August to October and provides food  as a range plant, and seed and cover for wildlife. Helianthus maximiliani Schrad., called Maximilian sunflower, Max sunflower and Michaelmas-daisy, was named for the German explorer and naturalist, Prince Maximilian, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center native plant data-base. Maximilian explored the Great Plains of the U.S. in 1832.

Maximilian Sunflowers in the Garden by Sue Malnory

"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.  So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air."
-  Nathaniel Hawthorne

Note- Portions of this post were originally published on October 4, 2012, and October 9. 2014.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Refuge Office and Visitor Center Celebrate Five Years

A little recent history is our topic for today.  Five years ago, on September 8, 2011, the completion of the new Refuge Office and Visitor Center at Hagerman NWR was celebrated with a grand opening ceremony.  Several hundred visitors lined up to enter the new facility after celebratory speeches by USFWS Region 2, Refuge and local leaders, and then a ribbon cutting.

Once inside, visitors were thrilled with the spacious exhibit area, shown below:

The building incorporated many green features - siting the building for maximum natural light, specially coated window glass to conserve energy, with windows tilted inward from top to bottom to prevent bird strikes, motion sensors on lighting and plumbing, solar panels on carport and office roof are just a few examples - and later earned Silver Level Leed certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

The new Multi-purpose Meeting Room offered comfortable seating for up to 100, along with high-tech audio/visual equipment for presentations.

Books and nature-themed gifts were now available to visitors for purchase in the new Friends of Hagerman Nature Nook.

Visitors had ready access to literature about the Refuge and to information and help from volunteers in the Nature Nook or in the Refuge Office.

And finally, there was cake for all!

S0 - not only was there a GRAND Opening, but the last five years have been truly grand, with thousands of visitors enjoying this gateway to Hagerman NWR.  Many thanks to all who made it possible! And thanks to Skip and Melinda Hill for the photos included above in this blog.

Refuge Office and Visitor Center, 2011, by Ken Day

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Snow-on-the Prairie is Back

It must be late summer, when you see Snow-on-the-Prairie! Driving along the roads to  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, this plant with cool appearing green and white leaves actually does look like a light dusting of snow where it is growing en masse. This white flowering plant can blanket a prairie in no time at all, hence the name. Because livestock stay away from the poisonous sap that the plant emits, it doesn't take much for it to cover a field. 

There are actually two plants, Euphorbia bicolor Engelm. and A. Gray, and Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata Pursh;NPIN, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database, notes that the two are often confused.

As members of the Spurge Family, both plants have a milky sap that is irritating to humans with sensitive skin, as well as to the eyes, and is toxic to cattle.  A volunteer at the Refuge told me that beekeepers try to keep bees away from the plant, as it makes the honey "hot".

Poinsettias are members of the same family. Growing 1 - 4 feet tall, in poor soils, the plants multiply by throwing seed, described by Dorothy Thetford in Wildflowers-of-Texas. Thetford says, “This ballistic dispersal of seeds explains the scattered arrangement of plants on the prairie.”

Both plants are annuals in the spurge family. The actual flowers are tiny white blossoms, surrounded by the green and white bracts. The bract of bicolor (in photos) is narrower than that of marginata. According to Texas A & M Agrilife Extension Snow-on-the-Mountain grows mainly in Central Texas, as well as north to Montana and Minnesota and south to Mexico, and Snow-on-the-Prairie mainly in the eastern third of Texas. NPIN shows a range including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. The bloom time is July – October. We'll take anything that even helps us think "cool" at this time of year!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Keeping a Nature Journal

"A Nature Journal is a place to grow your thoughts, feelings, ideas, activities, observations, and relationship with the natural world. And, it is an opportunity to interpret your inner thoughts out into the natural world and a space where the natural world can flow into you and leave a permanent mark." (Sierra Club)

On Saturday, October 29, the Friends of Hagerman will host a Drawing and Nature Journaling Workshop led by watercolor artist Walt Davis. who says,

"This workshop will focus on seeing (which is more than simply looking at) and recording what is seen in words, drawings and diagrams. It will explore the rich tradition of nature journaling practiced by John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, Thomas Nuttall and Earnest Thompson Seaton. Drawing talent or skill are not required. We will explore the supplies needed, some key observational techniques, several methods for capturing simple images and will practice making records of actual encounters with nature. We will explore the Grinnell journaling technique used widely by professional naturalists as well as several other journaling formats. Weather permitting, our work will be done out of doors."

The Sierra Club site amplifies Davis' comment about John Muir - "We can learn a lot about keeping a Nature Journal from John Muir, the inspiration for, and the first president of the Sierra Club. Muir studied and cared about wilderness. He sought to preserve wild places and is considered one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. Muir wrote in his journals about the beauty he saw in nature. He also drew sketches detailing information about plants, animals, mountains, and landscapes. He used his journals to compose letters to friends, articles, and books to share his love of nature and to enlist people's support to preserve wilderness. Muir's journals gave him a wealth of recorded experience from which ten books and over two hundred articles were published. We continue to gain insight into Nature's beauty and importance in our lives from Muir's writings.

While few of us will have the impact of John Muir, we can enjoy the process of observing and recording. "Journals can include both personal expressions and objective observations. Objective information might include scientific experiments, weather, wildlife behavior, and seasonal changes. Keeping a nature journal can be a powerful experience because it helps the observers slow down, carefully take note of their surroundings, make first-hand, concrete observations of nature, and become better observers. Good science depends upon keen observations, and nature journaling is an effective way to develop that skill." (U. S. Fish & WildlifeService)

For your own journal, you might also choose a theme that captures your interest, bird nests, wildflowers,  or location such as backyard, for example.   The workshop at Hagerman NWR will meet from 10 am - 4 pm. Registration details, Mr. Davis' biography and the supply list for the event can be found on the Friends of Hagerman News Page. Participants may register online or by contacting the Refuge, 903 786 2826, and asking for a call back about the workshop.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Watch for Banded Birds at HNWR

This week a photographer posted a photo of a Piping Plover on the Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page.  The individual who posted noted the presence of two different color leg bands on the bird. Jack Chiles responded with a website especially for reporting banded Piping Plovers.  Visitors at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge may also spot other migratory birds that have been banded.

According to the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory,   bird banding has a long history. “ The first record of a metal band attached to a bird's leg was about 1595 when one of Henry IV's banded Peregrine Falcons was lost in pursuit of a bustard in France. It showed up 24 hours later in Malta, about 1350 miles away, averaging 56 miles an hour!”  Through a banding in about 1669, a Grey Heron was found later to have lived at least 60 years.  Another Grey Heron was found to have traveled more than 1200 miles, from Turkey to Germany.

John James Audubon first reported banding and retrieval  in America in 1803.  In 1899 a bird banding system was developed in Denmark that is the model for modern banding programs.  In 1920 the Bureau of Biological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service took over previous efforts  in the U.S. and Canada and the North American banding program has been a joint effort to oversee the activities of dedicated banders all over the world ever since.

Anyone reporting will be asked to answer multiple choice questions regarding their role (individual, bander, wildlife official), type band, etc., as well as species, if known and other details.  Those reporting will receive a certificate of appreciation.  Reporting bands adds to the ability of scientists to study bird migration, populations, longevity and more.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Watching Hummingbirds

Are you one of the many fans of hummingbirds?  Do you have a feeder near a window at your home?
Hummingbirds are probably some of the most watched birds, according to Hummingbirds of Texas.

The number one hummer we see is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  In the Texas Parks andWildlife Quick Reference to Hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated is described as the only commonly seen hummer in the eastern half of Texas and in the Eastern U. S.

Male Ruby-throated, photographed at Hazel Bazemore by Jesus Moreno
In recent years there have been reports of sightings of Black-chinned Hummingbirds in north Texas. In the Sibley Guide to Birds, the two "species are very similar in all plumages. Males are distinguished by throat color but identification of females requires very close study..." Viewing the throat color is dependent on how light is reflected on the bird, but a behavior check may help distinguish the two, as Sibley states that the Black-chinned pumps its tail frequently when hovering. If you have a photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird taken in Grayson County, we invite you to post it on the Friends Facebook Page.

Most recently, a volunteer at Hagerman NWR reported a Rufous Hummingbird at her home feeder in western Grayson County. The Rufous is normally a west Texas migrant and seen occasionally on the Texas Gulf Coast.  According to TPWD, the Rufous is the only hummingbird with a rufous (rusty, reddish-brown) back.

Rufous Hummingbird at left, by Sue Abernathy
In the Native Plant and Pollinator Garden adjacent to the Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife  Refuge, hummingibrds are attracted to the red blossoms of Turk's Cap and to the nectar feeders.  Earlier in the season they were feeding at the coral honeysuckle in the Butterfly Garden.  In past presentations at the Refuge, Mark Klym has stated that given a choice of a nectar feeder or a nectar feeder among a garden of blooms attractive to birds, the humming birds is likely to choose the latter.  The home garden can be designed to provide food, water and shelter for theses birds, keeping mind that red is definitely a key in attracting them.  However, coloring the nectar in your feeder is now a no-no as dyes may be harmful to the birds.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding  at Turk's Cap, at HNWR, by Dick Malnory
The recommended ratio for making nectar is one part sugar to four parts water. Feeders should be
cleaned every two - three days in this hot weather and refilled.  Hummers also feed on small insects. It is a myth that the presence of feeders will delay or interfere with the fall migration of the hummingbirds.