Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Much Rain Did We Get?

By Sue Abernathy

Are you interested in knowing exactly how much rainfall you receive at home?

Do you wonder if the amount of precipitation varies greatly across Grayson County?

Would you like to have a permanent record of the total rainfall received in a given month, for the entire year and in previous years? If so, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is for you!

CoCoRaHS is a “national grassroots, non-profit, community-based, high-density precipitation network made up of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who take daily measurements of precipitation right in their own backyards.” The CoCoRaHS network originated at Colorado State University in 1998 with the intent of mapping and reporting intense storms. Since its inception, precipitation maps have been produced for every major storm. These maps show local weather patterns which are of great interest to scientists and the public. Today CoCoRaHS includes thousands of volunteers nationwide who are willing to spend a few minutes each day measuring and reporting precipitation.

CoCoRaHS has several goals:

1) provide accurate high-quality precipitation data on a timely basis

2) increase the density of precipitation data available throughout the country

3) encourage citizens to participate in meteorological science and heighten awareness about weather

4) provide enrichment activities and weather resources for teachers, educators and the community.

So why participate in CoCoRaHS? Precipitation is essential for life. However, it varies greatly with storm type, season and location. Data sources are few and rain gauges are far apart. Measurements using different style rain gauges are not always accurate. Participation in CoCoRaHS provides quality precipitation data which is viewable immediately in both map and table form. “By providing your daily observation, you help fill in a piece of the weather puzzle that affects many across your area in one way or another.” 

CoCoRaHS data is used by the National Weather Service, NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association), USDA, and local meteorologists. It provides a historical record of precipitation (and drought) and is used in predicting long-term weather patterns.

How can you become a CoCoRaHS volunteer? Training is provided to teach new observers how to install their rain gauge, properly measure precipitation and submit reports online. It is important that all reports be as accurate and consistent as possible. 
  • To join the CoCoRaHS network, submit an application online at Upon joining, you will receive a CoCoRaHS station ID unique to your specific rain gauge location. 
  • To complete the required training, either view the ‘Getting Started’ training slide show online or attend a local training session. 
  • Next, purchase a 4 inch diameter high capacity rain gauge, accurate to the nearest hundredth of an inch, which is available from several sources:, or your county coordinator. 
  • Install your rain gauge and begin measuring and recording daily precipitation observations online, including days with no rain. (To participate, you must have daily access to a computer.)
There are currently over 15 active CoCoRaHS participants within Grayson County. With less than an hour of training and the purchase of an approved rain gauge, you can become a CoCoRaHS observer. For more information, contact Sue Abernathy, Grayson County Coordinator via CONTACT for the Friends of Hagerman, and join the CoCoRaHS network!

NOTE: Sue Abernathy is a Grayson County Master Gardener and Texas Master Naturalist, Bluestem Chapter, and as a Friends of Hagerman volunteer, a butterfly garden supervisor and docent.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Feather Wars

Snowy Egret in Breeding Plumage at Hagerman NWR, by Jack Chiles

When you visit a National Wildlife Refuge today, you may not know that the impetus for the creation of what has become our present day refuge system  came from the world of women’s fashions.

Investigating “Feather Wars” on the web, we found this from the Smithsonian Institute:
At the turn of the last century, stylish women wore hats with the latest feather-topped design from Paris, New York, and other centers of fashion. Millinery houses in Europe and America traded internationally and indiscriminately for birds and bird feathers. The more exotic or unique the hat design and feather display, the larger the sales.
By the 1890s, women were wearing whole bodies of birds on hats and clothing. In 1886, noted ornithologist Frank Chapman counted 40 varieties of native birds, or bird parts, decorating three-fourths of the 700 ladies' hats that he had observed in New York City.
Tens of millions of birds, particularly white egrets or herons and small terns, were taken at the height of the feather trade years, from 1870 – 1920.  One auction record alone listed more than one million bird skins sold in London, from 1897 – 1911.
Especially hit by the feather trade was the Florida Everglades, where hunters sought the largest rookeries, killing adult birds and leaving the young to fend for themselves.
Plume hunting was an activity almost anyone could do if they owned a gun.  The beautiful down plumage of a Snowy Egret hen nursing her chicks was highly prized and brought the same price-per-ounce as gold.  Without alternative means of commerce of almost any kind, plume hunting became a lucrative activity for men, women, and children in both pioneer and Seminole communities, providing cash for everyday necessities.
As the fashion industry expanded its use of feathers, the scale of this cottage industry became monstrous, and spread globally.  The impact in Palm Beach County on individuals, families, and the natural environment was not reversible. For approximately fifty years, the birds were pursued to near extinction, and the phenomenon inspired some of the earliest and most critical legislation in the area of environmental protection.
Reports of these atrocities led to formation of the first Audubon and conservation societies, whose founders believed they now had enough evidence to change public opinion about hunting regulations. The social and political prominence of these individuals enabled them to promote the passage of laws that began to protect America's native wildlife
In 1896 two Boston women who had founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society, campaigned to convince prominent women that it was wrong to wear feathered or other bird related millinery, holding social events for their cause and also spearheading boycotts. They also convinced women to work with their group to promote the protection of birds.
 In 1901, William Dutcher, chairman of the American Ornithologists Union committee on bird protection traveled to Florida and assisted Florida Audubon in persuading the legislature to pass the Audubon Model Law outlawing plume hunting in the state. Knowing that the protection of Pelican Island would require more legislation, Frank Chapman, curator of the American Museum of Natural History and his fellow advocate, Dutcher went to President Theodore Roosevelt at his home in New York. The two appealed their case to Roosevelt’s conservative ethics. In 1903, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that established Pelican Island as the first federal bird reservation. This was the first time that the federal government put land aside for the sake of wildlife. 

Theodore Roosevelt set aside over 234 million acres of the country as national forests, national parks, and wildlife refuges. Most of the “Feather War” battles were conducted at the legislative level of government. Conservationists pushed legislatures to enact laws that would protect birds and thus end the feather trade. In 1911 New York passed the Audubon Plumage Bill which banned the sale of native bird plumes and closed domestic trade of feathers, in 1913 the Underwood Tariff Bill banned the import of wild bird plumes from other countries into the United States, and in 1916 the Migratory Bird Act ensured the protection of migratory birds through an agreement between the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's Up, Buttercup?

Have you ever gotten “butter” on your nose from a buttercup? Or as they are botanically named, Oenothera speciosa Nutt. Buttercups are also known as Pink evening primrose, Showy evening primrose, Mexican evening primrose, Showy primrose, Pink ladies, Pink buttercups, according to the Native Plant Information Network.

From Wikipedia, we learned that although this plant is also frequently referred to as a buttercup, it is not a true buttercup (genus Ranunculus) or even in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.

Pink Evening Primrose at Hagerman NWR, by Kathy Whaley

The website for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center goes on to say that while most primroses open in the evening, this plant, native over a widespread area from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, opens in the evening in the northern range but in the morning in the southern range. They could also be called “day flower” as each flower lasts only one day.

“Buttercups” are perennial; their blooms vary from palest pink, nearly white, to deep rich pinks. The flowers’ yellow pollen is the source of the “butter”. They will grow is a variety of soils but go dormant if the soil is too dry; in our area, you will note large masses of them where there are apparent low places in the fields and along roadsides.  You will see large masses of them along Refuge Road  between FM 1417 and Highway 289 while traveling to Hagerman NWR.

Birds like the seeds from pink evening primroses and the flowers offer nectar to bees and butterflies.

So "butter up"! And - as this is National Wildflower Week, watch the Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page for more wildflower photos this week.

NOTE": This Blog was originally published April 30, 2015.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Butterfly Garden Update

Have you been to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge recently, and did you visit the Butterfly Garden?

We are adding plants regularly and cataloging and enjoying those coming back from last year.  Here are just some of the plants currently in bloom:  Bluebonnet, Winecup, Sundrops, Lyre-leaf Sage, Verbena, Mealy Blue Sage (in the photo below), Coreopsis, Huisache and Englemans’s Daisy, Gaura, and Coral Honeysuckle.  A Ruby-throated hummingbird was enjoying the honeysuckle this week.

Milkweed and Passion Vine are returning and we found a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar on one of the vines last week! An informal census last week yielded Cloudless Sulphur, Dainty Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Little Yellow, Clouded Sulphur, Monarch, and Black Swallowtail.  Plus – a number of Painted Ladies were released into the garden by Sherman ISD pre-schoolers, who raised them from caterpillars in their classrooms.  Each day, Monday through Thursday last week, two classes brought their little mesh cages to the garden to free the butterflies, and then stayed to learn more about them through games, stories and songs.

A trip to the Heard Museum native plant sale earlier in April yielded more milkweed, an Aromatic Sumac, another Mexican Buckeye, this one red; Prairie Verbena, Wright’s Skullcap and more.  We have also been the lucky recipients of native plants on our list that were dug at various Metroplex locations in a Plant Rescue program.  Our fall seed sowing has produced a good crop of Standing Cypress and Goldenrod, but we have not been so lucky with seeding coneflowers. 

Some uninvited visitors to the garden are Cedar Elm seedlings by the million, thanks to two mature Cedar Elms adjacent to the garden.  Feel free to pull a few whenever you visit!

We thought we had Wind Anemones but they turned out to be Geranium carolinianum, Carolina Geranium, very large and prolific, so out they went with the exception of one or two for the bees. Another take-over plant is Swamp Fleabane, attractive, but enough is enough.

The trees planted as a screen behind the garden have all survived except one small Mexican Buckeye. Another tree note, last week Cedar Waxwings gorged on the Soapberries, from the one tree in the garden and one in the parking area landscape.

Thanks to the generosity of garden sponsors and donors and to the hard work of the garden volunteers, we have been able to use the garden as an outdoor classroom for hundreds of school children this spring, with more to come in May.

For the general public, the garden is open the same hours as the Refuge, and Garden Walks, with docents on hand to help identify native plants and visiting butterflies, are planned for the third Saturday of each month through October, from 10 – 11 am, and on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2 – 3:30 pm, all – weather permitting.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Raasch Trail at Hagerman NWR

 By Doug Raasch

Take this trail to explore the area northeast of the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. The old rail bed provides access to excellent birding and wildlife viewing. The hike will be three miles round trip plus some suggestions for side trails. 

Park your car at the gate at the east end of Wildlife Drive, and follow the old rail bed. The trail crosses Myers Branch creek on a sturdy, relatively modern bridge. For the next ¼ mile the trees are often rich with songbirds. As you leave the trees the rail bed/trail bisects a large field. The south side is planted each fall with winter wheat for migratory geese and native wildlife while the north side is a field full of blooming sunflowers during summer months and attractive to deer and turkey. 

Soon after re-entering the trees, a mile into the hike, you will have the opportunity to turn left and follow the fence north, but your time will likely be better spent if you continue straight ahead on the road to Terry Lane. The gate at Terry Lane is the turn-around point for a three-mile walk ending back at where you parked. 

The paved, county road “Terry Lane” runs north and south here, cutting through the eastern side of the Refuge Myers Unit. The section of the Refuge east of Terry Lane is a relatively undisturbed area that, you guessed it, can best be seen from the old rail bed. For an additional 2/3 mile hike, hop the gate and walk through the trees looking for deer. This area* does not see many visitors, so the deer don’t seem to mind hikers gawking at them. The rail bed has several bridges that mark the date of construction as 1926. After about 1/3 mile the trail comes to a fence that marks the turn-around point. Returning to the gate will provide a four-mile hike.

NOTE: Raasch Trail was formerly called Old Trains and Terry Lane.  In October of 2011, the trail was renamed to honor Doug Raasch, and a newly created trail sign was presented to Doug, shown at right, below, and his wife, Sue:

 Doug, who passed away last month, wrote a trail guide series for the Friends of Hagerman newsletter, Featherless Flyer in 2008, with the first installment published in the August, 2008 edition; later the trail guides were published independently to hand out to visitors to Hagerman NWR. They were last updated in November, 2013. We have been publishing one each week in our blog, honoring his memory and love for the Refuge.  Raasch Trail is the last in the series.

*Area is not maintained for public use.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Meadow Pond Trail

By Doug Raasch

If we ever have an election to pick our favorite Hagerman walks, Meadow Pond Trail will be, without a doubt, chosen “best all around.”  Meadow Pond walk is everything that Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has to offer in one place.
First, realize that the full adventure is over six miles.  That would be three miles in and three out, plus a few short side trips.  The full trek is recommended because the trail gets more interesting as you progress towards the end.

To reach the trail,  from the Visitor Center, turn right as you exit the driveway and then left onto Wildlife Drive and continue about 2 miles until the road T’s.  You will be looking straight down Meadow Pond trail as you approach the “T.”  You can park at the trailhead or in the day use area on the right.  A restroom is available.

After passing through the turnstile, you will be walking down a cool, shady lane with trees on both sides.  This is an excellent place to see and hear song birds.  The trail is perfectly flat the entire way because we are following the rail bed that once was the lifeblood of the town of Hagerman. The berms that occasionally shelter the trail are left over from rail bed construction.  The track basically follows Mineral Creek on the north which adds variety to the wildlife habitat.  You will notice short little trails that lead to photo opportunities.  Nesting boxes along the trail attract bluebirds, wrens, titmice, chickadees and Prothonotary warblers each spring and summer.

Walking less than ½ mile from the starting point, the view opens up on the left and Deaver Pond will reliably harbor a few wading birds for you to watch.  A bench built as an Eagle Scout project offers an opportunity for a rest stop.  And by the way, Deaver is not a typo for Beaver, it is the name of a previous landowner.

Walking on, the trees return and the sheltered trail seems to provide a byway for wildlife.  Deer and turkeys are willing to share this man-made lane and don’t seem overly concerned by hikers.  Open fields on the south side of the trail  along the way often provide a glimpse the two species out foraging on green vegetation.  Also, be on the lookout for roadrunners along the path.

If you notice the concrete barriers that cap each end of the old water control structures near the bridges, check out the stamp on the outside.  Each culvert has a large 1913 date impressed into the concrete.  Let your imagination take over and think of the men who built this track with a pick and shovel in hot Texas weather about 100 years ago. In your reverie, don’t be shocked if the ground begins to shake with train noises.  The modern day Union Pacific track runs just south of the  trail and still carries trains throughout the day.

The two-mile marker is the namesake Meadow Pond.  Expect to view raptors, wading birds, vultures, and possibly wild hogs as well as  American Lotus which take over the pond in summer months.  Some will turn back, but the real explorers will trudge on to the somewhat symbolic spot where the old and new tracks come together just ahead. The path makes a small loop down to Mineral Creek and back to the trail.  The loop is at the three-mile mark.  Explore the creek before turning back. 

Enjoy your three-mile walk back !  Looking for birds on both sides of the trail will keep you busy and help pass the time.  You won’t be disappointed.

NOTE: Doug Raasch, who passed away last month, wrote a trail guide series for the Friends of Hagerman newsletter, Featherless Flyer in 2008, with the first installment published in the August, 2008 edition; later the trail guides were published independently to hand out to visitors to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. They were last updated in November, 2013. We have been publishing one each week in our blog, honoring his memory and love for the Refuge.  Next week, Raasch Trail.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


NOTE: Doug Raasch, who passed away last month, wrote a trail guide series for the Friends of Hagerman newsletter, Featherless Flyer in 2008, with the first installment published in the August, 2008 edition; later the trail guides were published independently to hand out to visitors to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. They were last updated in November, 2013. We will be publishing one each week in our blog, honoring his memory and love for the Refuge.

By Doug Raasch

Take Refuge Road to Wildlife Drive. Traveling southwest on Wildlife Drive, turn left at the first opportunity, Silliman Road, then follow the gravel road to the right before the gated cattle crossing. For you old timers, the parking area has been moved from the old site. The bad news is the rustic old stick gate with “CROW HILL” artistically spelled out with stick letters is missing. Whoever took it down should be given two lashes with a Crow Hill switch. However, the good news is we have a nice, new parking area that is easily seen by visitors coming in.

Walk up the road about 300 yards (think 3 football fields) and take the path on the left into the trees. When the path approaches the main circle trail, go right and enjoy the shade. There is a bench if you want to sit for a while and look for birds or maybe just contemplate. The trail circles Crow Hill and gives you the opportunity to look for the common songbirds that are plentiful in the trees along the trail. From spring to fall the scenic prairie meadow is full of wildflowers, and butterflies and other insects abound. There are placards identifying many of the native trees. The largest turkey gobbler I have ever seen anywhere was at the base of Crow Hill.

There used to be an old tower at the top of the hill, but it was removed for safety reasons. Now you will find a bench for resting and taking in the sounds of nature. Sometimes you can see the former town of Hagerman from parts of the trail—off to the northeast. The founder of Hagerman, J.P. Smith, called his town “the little village in the valley between two hills.” From our little observation spot on a hill, we can imagine a community with three churches, a train depot, cotton gin, lumber business, a brick school, bank, grocery, drug store, and ten additional stores. The school, by the way, was the first brick school in Texas. It closed in 1942.

Looking out over Texoma, be aware of the size of this lake project, started in 1939. The shoreline covers parts of two states and six counties. It has one of the largest watersheds of any area in the United States, covering more than 39,000 square miles.

Descend down the hill and continue the trail back to the parking area. Amazingly, this little adventure is only a 3/4 mile walk.