Thursday, October 20, 2016

Red-tailed Hawks

USFWS Bird Fact Sheet

Photo by Mark Bohn/USFWS
The most common North American hawk, the red-tailed hawk lives in virtually every state in the continental United States, in all kinds of habitats from deserts, prairies, and pastures to open forests and cityscapes.

Most red-tailed hawks stay in the same territory year-round. Birds that summer in the Northern Great Plains migrate to the southern U.S. for the winter.  Red-tailed hawks nest at Hagerman NWR, according to the Birds Checklist publication.

The red-tailed hawk’s raspy scream is so dramatic that Hollywood directors use it on soundtracks as the “voice” of an eagle, falcon or other fierce raptor.

Red-tailed Hawk in Flight at HNWR by Carl Hill
Though their wingspan may be as much as 4½ feet, red-tailed hawks are amazingly lightweight. A large adult may weigh just 3½ pounds.

Instead of plunging from a great height, red-tailed hawks swoop steadily towards their prey, striking with legs outstretched. They sometimes hunt in pairs. A male and a female hawk may take up positions on opposite sides of a tree trunk to capture a squirrel.

•The oldest known red-tailed hawk lived to age 28 years, 10 months

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Monarchs at HNWR Now

Monarchs on Frostweed in butterfly Garden, by Bill Powell

Monarch butterflies are taking center stage at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge these days as large numbers are seen nectaring, "fattening" up as they journey to Mexico for the winter.  Photographers are having a field day in the Butterfly Garden, which is living up to its designation as a Monarch Waystation,  finding monarchs galore on the Frostweed and Baccharis planted there and blooming just in time for the migration.  North American monarchs are the only butterflies that make such a  journey, which the World Wildlife Federation describes as:

... a marvelous migratory phenomenon. They travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles or more from the United States and Canada to central Mexican forests. There the butterflies hibernate in the mountain forests, where a less extreme climate provides them a better chance to survive.
Also from WWF,
The monarch butterfly is known by scientists as Danaus plexippus, which in Greek literally means "sleepy transformation." The name evokes the species' ability to hibernate and metamorphize.
From National Geographic:

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides (pupa state) in late summer and early fall are different from those that do so during the longer days and warmer weather of summer. These monarchs are born to fly, and know because of the changing weather that they must prepare for their lengthy journey.
Only monarchs born in late summer or early fall make the migration, and they make only one round trip. By the time next year's winter migration begins, several summer generations will have lived and died and it will be last year's migrators' great grandchildren that make the trip. Yet somehow these new generations know the way, and follow the same routes their ancestors took—sometimes even returning to the same tree.
Many scientists are concerned about the eastern population of monarchs, which summer east of the Rocky Mountains. This group is occurring in ever smaller numbers, and its survival may be threatened by a series of natural disasters in the Mexican wintering grounds, as well as by reduced acreage of milkweed plants in their summer home.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Quiz for National Wildlife Refuge Week

National Wildlife Refuge Week begins October 9.  Let's see how much you know about the national wildlife refuges right here in our own state of Texas! Answers at the bottom of the page, but no peeking! AND - try to make it out to Hagerman NWR this week.

Trivia Quiz - National Wildlife Refuges in Texas

1. Oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Hagerman
B. Aransas
C. Muleshoe

2. Largest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Anahuac
B. Aransas
C. Brazoria

3. National wildlife refuge protecting ocelots in Texas:
A. Balcones Canyonlands
B. Laguna Atascosa
C. Texas Point

4. The largest maternal colony of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats documented in Texas can be found roosting within this refuge:
A. McFadden
B. Neches River
C. Trinity River

5. The wetlands of this refuge include cypress trees up to 400 years old:
A. Caddo
C. Buffalo Lake
B. Big Boggy

6. These 3 national wildlife refuges have been designated as constituting an “Internationally Significant Shorebird Site”:
A. Balcones Canyonlands, Trinity River, Neches River
B. Big Boggy, San Bernard, Brazoria
C. Hagerman, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Trinity River

7. The federally endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler is a management priority at:
A. Moody
B. Little Sandy
C. Balcones Canyonlands

8. The national wildlife refuge known for wintering Whooping Cranes is
A. Buffalo Lake
B. Aransas
C. McFadden

9.  This refuge was home to the Karankawas in 10 -12,000 B.C. E.
A. Texas Point
B. Santa Ana
C. Hagerman

10.  The national wildlife refuge named for one of the last populations of an endangered species is_____________________NWR.

Note: This quiz originally appeared in the August, 2015, edition of the Featherless Flyer, newsletter of the Friends of Hagerman. 

Answers:  1.C;   2.B;   3.B;   4.C;   5.A;   6.B;   7.C;  8.B;   9.A;   10. Attwater Prairie Chicken 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hummingbird Facts from USFWS

In preparation for National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 9 - 15, we have received a number of Bird Fact Sheets to distribute.  This week, since the Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration is on and we are seeing 3, 4 and 5 hummers around the  feeders at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge at one time,  we are sharing information from  the Hummingbird Fact Sheet from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas, which are home to more than 300 different hummingbird species. Most are found only in Central and South America, but Arizona is a hotbed of hummingbird variety, with many Central American species reaching the northern limits of their range there. One species, the rufous hummingbird,summers in southern Alaska.
  • Unique shoulder joints, wing bones and musculature allow hummingbirds to hover and even fly backwards. When hovering, their wings beat about 55 times per second. Inflight, that rises to 75 beats per second or more. Their wingspans range from about 2½ inches for the bumblebee hummingbird, a Central American species seen in Arizona, to 4½ inches for the ruby-throated hummingbird of the Eastern U.S.
  • It takes a lot of energy to power all those wing beats.Hummingbirds weigh about a tenth of an ounce – about the same as a U.S. penny – and consume about half that amount of sugar, in the form of flower nectar, every day.
  • Hummingbirds often conserve energy by going into a state of torpor on cool summer nights or during unseasonable cold spells. They become motionless, their bodies cold to the touch, but they’ll revive when temperatures rise.
  • The Eastern United States’ only breeding hummingbird,the ruby-throated hummingbird, builds a nest the size of a walnut, lined with soft mosses and held together with spider webs. The female lays two pea-sized eggs and tends them alone. The males have multiple mates and begin their long migration to Central America in August, with the females following a few weeks later.
Photo by Bill Buchanan/USFWS
NOTE: Thanks to the Visitor Center and garden volunteers who maintain the hummingbird feeding station and to the Friends of Hagerman who supply the feeders and nectar ingredients.

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