Thursday, December 8, 2016

Duck, Duck, Goose

The Youth FIRST program met  Saturday, December 3, at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, to learn about the geese that are wintering at the Refuge. Here are some fast facts about geese and ducks for our readers.

"The Gathering" - Geese at HNWR, by Michael Sweatt

Migrating birds, especially waterfowl, follow migration routes called flyways or migration corridors. There are four primary corridors in North America. From east to west, they are the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central (which includes Hagerman NWR) and Pacific flyways.

So - why do geese fly in a “V” formation? It would be too hard to fly in an “S”... Actually, it conserves energy and makes it easier to keep track of each other.

What is a gaggle? A group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle or flock. A skein is a group in flight, and if flying in a “V” formation, they are called a wedge.

"Three in Flight", by Skip Stevens
Snow geese may spend as long as three months migrating one way, stopping over to feed and rest along their journey.

Geese are vegetarian - feeding on grasses, stems, leaves, grains and berries.

Snow and Ross's Geese feeding in field at HNWR, by Bill Powell
A nickname for the Canada goose is “the honker”.

A Blue Goose is a dark morph Snow Goose, with a white face, dark brown body, and white under the tail. The Blue Goose mascot for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife is named Puddles and is bright blue!

Snow Geese, with Blue Goose at left, by Rick Cantu
Love to hear the geese call? Listen here.

Have your ducks in a row? You might have a

Brace of ducks - a pair; Flock of ducks – on the ground; Flush of ducks – taking flight; Paddling of ducks or raft of ducks - group swimming; Team of ducks – group in flight

"Ducks in Flight", by Dana Crites
If you've heard one quack…you haven’t heard them all – most species have their own quack and male and females may have different quacks.

A goose or duck by any other name: Baby ducks - ducklings; Baby geese - goslings; Male ducks - drakes; Male geese - ganders

Eggs laid are called a clutch – there may be 10 – 20 in a clutch

Certified swimmers – goslings and ducklings can swim as soon as they are ready to fledge.

Diving ducks are found on oceans, seas, and inland water; dabblers are found on creeks and inland pools.

The lowdown on “down” – the small, soft feathers that provide insulation for birds, and when collected, for man. Down from Eider ducks is believed to be superior.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Inside Story on Fall Foliage

Just today we had our annual conversation, trying to remember what creates the colorful fall foliage. Here is the answer, first published in 2011, in a blog by Helen Petre, college biology instructor who was a volunteer at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge at the time:

Every autumn, usually in November, nature puts on a brilliant show of color at Hagerman NWR. This is attributed to mild autumn days coupled with cold, but not freezing nights. Each autumn the amount of sunlight decreases as the days grow shorter. This is the signal for the leaves to stop making chlorophyll. When the leaves stop making chlorophyll, the other pigments become visible.

Autumn Color at HNWR by Laurie Sheppard

Leaves produce food by photosynthesis. They use the sun’s energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates. Leaves produce carbohydrates for the tree or shrub all during the spring and summer. They do this so well, that by autumn, the tree or shrub has enough food stored in the trunk and roots that it can live through the whole long winter without making any more food.

The sun’s light is actually white light and consists of all the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Most leaves have lots of chlorophyll and some carotenoids. Some leaves also have anthocyanin, tannin, and flavones. Chlorophyll absorbs all of the colors of light in sunlight except green. Green light is reflected, so a leaf that has mostly chlorophyll looks green.

Carotenoids are carotene and xanthophylls. Carotenes are similar to vitamin A and they look orange, like pumpkins, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Xanthophylls are the pigment in sunflowers, dandelions, corn and egg yolks.

Some leaves also have anthocyanin, which can be red or blue. If the plant is acidic, the color is red. If the plant is basic, the color is blue. Tannins are the brown color in tea, bark and blackjack oak leaves in the fall. Flavones are the yellow in horse chestnut and onions.

Autumn leaf color is due to newly made red pigments as well as yellow and orange carotenoids that were already present in the leaf and are rendered visible because the leaf is no longer making the dark green chlorophyll in autumn.  

Each species of deciduous tree and shrub has its own unique colors. Red oak and winged shining sumac leaves turn bright shades of red in autumn. This is because, as the amount of sunlight decreases, a layer of cells develops at the point where the leaf joins the stem. This blocks carbohydrates from moving out of the leaf and the increased amount of carbohydrate is used to make anthocyanin, the red color. 

Female shining sumac trees also produce red fruits that stay on the tree until frost. Anthocyanin production is inhibited by frost, so when it freezes the leaves can no longer make the red pigment and they turn brown from tannin. If the daytime temperatures are too warm, the colors will be less intense because the chlorophyll will still be masking the other colors.

Besides trees, poison ivy abounds at Hagerman NWR and it is one of the most beautiful plants in the fall. Be careful not to touch it. Many people mistake poison ivy for harmless foliage and gather it to use in decorations. The red, yellow and orange color is due to the anthocyanins.

Honey Locust trees at Hagerman turn yellow in autumn. They have no anthocyanin, but lots of carotenoids. Other fall plants at Hagerman that turn yellow are pecan, muscadine grapes, black walnuts, and cottonwood. Sycamores turn brownish yellow. Wild plums turn reddish yellow and rough leafed dogwoods turn purplish red. Persimmon turns yellow, orange and reddish purple.

When you come to Hagerman in the fall to view the migrating ducks and geese that come to feed in the fields and marshes for the winter, spend some time noticing the vibrant and beautiful colors of fall. The yellows and oranges were there all along, but they were not visible because of all the green of summer. Now is your chance. Enjoy.

For more photos of the Refuge as well as information on activities and events of the Friends of Hagerman, see

Thursday, November 24, 2016


White-tailed Deer at Hagerman NWR, by Larry Paar
Majestic moose. Elegant elk. Regal deer. What makes them so memorable? Antlers! National wildlife refuges are home to thousands of antlered animals. Here are some fascinating facts about antlers. 
Bull moose at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS)
Fact #1: Adult male elk, caribou, moose, white-tailed deer and mule deer – all native to North America -- have antlers. Most female caribou have antlers, too.  They all belong to the Cervidae family of mammals.

Fact #2: North America has four subspecies of elk: Roosevelt, Rocky Mountain, Tule and Manitoban.  Roosevelt elk, the largest subspecies, are found in the Northwest, including at: Willapa and Julia Butler Hansen Refuges in Washington and Nestucca Bay, William L. Finley and Bandon Marsh Refuges in Oregon.  Tule elk live in California, including at San Luis and Bitter Creek Refuges. Caribou (also known as reindeer) are found at many of Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges.  

Fact #3: Antlers can grow up to an inch per day, among the fastest-growing animal tissue on the planet. 

Fact #4:  Antlers are made of bone.  All antlered animals have a velvet phase, which helps antler growth by providing a blood supply to the growing bone. Before breeding season, the velvet dries up and the animal rubs the velvet off on vegetation. 

Tule elk in velvet at California’s San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Steve Martarano/USFWS)
Fact #5: Antlers serve various purposes. They facilitate competition among males for females. They are also used for defense against predators. They can also be used to assert dominance – usually for food and against others in the same species. 

Fact #6: Size matters. Antler size is an indication of male health because antlers take a lot of resources to produce and carry. Only healthy males can produce the largest antlers. Elk antlers can grow to seven or eight points each, can have a length and spread of four feet and can weigh 20 pounds each.

Fact #7: During the annual rut (breeding season), males use antlers to display dominance. Females tend to mate with males that have the largest antlers. Sometimes a male will carry vegetation on his antlers. Biologists believe the male is trying to enhance his size. For elk, moose and caribou, the rut generally occurs in late summer/early fall. For deer, it’s generally November/December.

Fact #8: After the rut, elk, moose, caribou and deer shed their antlers. The pedicles – the bony protrusions from which the antlers grow – often are injured. Once they are healed, a new set of antlers typically begin to grow.  

Fact #9: Although a new set of antlers grow each year, an animal doesn’t necessarily grow antlers of similar form each year.

Fact #10: Antlers are not horns. The deer (Cervidae) family has antlers. Bison, antelopes, sheep, goats and domestic cattle – all in the bovine family – have horns. Antlers are composed of bone. Horns are composed of keratin (same material as hair and fingernails) on the outer portion and live bone on the inner core. 
Bighorn sheep have horns, not antlers. This photo is from the National Bison Range in Montana. (Photo: Dave Fitzpatrick/USFWS volunteer)
Antlers! is from the Friends Newswire, a service of  US Fish & Wildlife

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Arriving Daily! Geese at Hagerman NWR

Perusing the history scrapbook at the Refuge, we found that in promoting the establishment of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, a Mr. K. F. MacDonald, from the USFWS Regional Office in Albuquerque, was quoted, in late 1946, as saying that many waterfowl would make their winter home at Hagerman now, instead of continuing on to the Texas Gulf Coast ..."Hagerman would reduce the waterfowl invasion of the coast area where damage is caused to rice crops". 

To attract  geese to the newly established refuge, by December of that year, twenty-one wild geese - 18 Canada and 3 Snow - had been captured elsewhere and, with their wings clipped, placed in a two-acre pen, as "decoys".

Today, greening fields of wheat are beckoning to the migratory geese, inviting them to spend the winter here.  The management goal has been to provide 300 acres of wheat; this year, due to depredation by army worms,  much replanting has taken place in the hope of creating adequate feeding grounds, and new acreage is also being planted.  Providing food also keeps the birds from foraging in farmer’s fields. Historically, waste grain from agricultural fields was the primary food source for migratory geese, but more efficient harvesting leaves less food available in the field. Without Hagerman management, there would not be enough food energy to sustain the numbers of geese over-wintering here in north Texas.

Geese in Field, by Bill Powell
This month the great flocks of waterfowl are  arriving at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge via the Central Flyway, to find food, shelter and protection for the winter. Waterfowl are the Order Anderiformes, Family Anatidae. Geese are the Subfamily Anserinae. Geese are heavier and have longer necks than ducks. Their short legs are farther forward than those of ducks; an adaptation for more efficient grazing since they are terrestrial feeders.

Gaggle of Geese, by Ron M. Varley
Geese have broad, round tipped bills and feed on grains, seeds, aquatic plants and young grasses. They thrive in the wheat fields over the winter at Hagerman. The geese migration is best known for the large number of birds migrating and for the loud, noisy communities that spend the winter here.

Male and female geese look identical. They fly with deep, powerful wing beats. 
In autumn,  listen for the noisy birds migrating and look for the V formations and long undulating lines. Some 7,500 - 10,000 geese will winter on the refuge feeding on the green wheat shoots and aquatic plants. Rested and refueled, they return north along the Central Flyway to nest in the Arctic again next summer.  The birds spend half the year in migration, approximate three months coming and three months going.

Geese in Flight by Skip Stevens
Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are the most widespread geese in North America with a black head and neck, white breast and chin strap and characteristic honk, bark or cackle, and were once the "big flock" at Hagerman, but starting in the mid 1980's, the Snow Geese have become the most abundant Hagerman winter residents.  In general, Canada Geese are larger than the Snow Geese that now  migrate  to Hagerman in great numbers along with even somewhat smaller Ross’s Geese (Chen rossii).  Hagerman also has some Greater White Fronted Geese (Anser albifrons), brownish geese with  white faces and orange legs.

Greater White-fronted Geese, Ross's Goose, by Carl Hill
Snow Geese are white with black wing tips.  Ross’s Geese, also white, and Snows are difficult to distinguish by size when in a large mixed flock.   Distinguishing marks are on the head.  Look for the shape of the head and length of the bill.  Snow Geese have a long tapered bill, with a dark line between the upper and lower bill, called a “grin patch”, and sloping foreheads.  The bill of the Ross’s  is shorter or stubbier and lacks the “grin patch”; the head is more round, with a steeper forehead.  Ross’s are becoming increasing more common winter residents and mix well with Snow Geese.

Perfect Two-point, by Bert Garcia
"Geese at Hagerman" will be the topic for Youth FIRST, the free nature activity program for youngsters age 4 - 7 AND 8 - 12,  at the Refuge, on Saturday, December 3.  Interested parents and grandparents can register the children online or by calling the Refuge, 903 786 2826.

ED Note: Adapted from an article prepared by Helen Petre that appeared in the Featherless Flyer, November, 2009.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Workamper Travel Adventures

How many national wildlife refuges have you visited? A special presentation is planned for Saturday, November 12, at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, when we will enjoy virtual travel to a number of other refuges and recreation areas in the U.S., thanks to workampers Carol and Bill Powell and Barry and Lynn Burkhardt.

According to Wikipedia, “workamping”, a contraction of "work camping" is a form of RV camping involving singles, couples or families who work part-time or full-time and exchange volunteer work for RV-camping privileges.  There are many settings for workamping, national and state parks and other public recreation lands, private RV campgrounds, etc.

Bill and Carol Powell started their workamping travels in October, 2003,  at Cibola NWR, in Arizona. Since then they have been at Great Bay, New Hampshire; Mattamaskeet, North Carolina; Lower Suwanee, Florida Panther, Merritt Island, all in Florida; Mackay Island, North Carolina; and in Texas, Hagerman and Anahuac. They also volunteered for TPWD at Sabine National Battlefield in Sabine, Texas.  Carol and Bill are now veterans at Hagerman NWR, spending each fall at the Refuge since 2009. They also returned in spring, 2013, to assist with BirdFest Texoma.

Barry and Lynn Burkhardt entered retirement five years ago and began their "legacy" work as full-time RV volunteers. Their experiences include two summers with the Corp of Engineers in Branson, Missouri, at Table Rock Dam visitors center, and two seasons with the Georgia State Park system at Highland Walk Golf course. The 2013 winter was their first experience with a national wildlife refuge, in Anahuac Texas. They worked with Bill and Carol Powell who extended an invitation to apply at Hagerman NWR, and will return  for their third stint at HNWR, in January, 2017. 

NOTE: at 10 am, Saturday, November 12, winners in the 2016 HNWR Nature Photography Contest will be announced and awards presented, then the regular program will begin.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

New County Record Species in Butterfly Garden

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

The Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has been growing and maturing under the watchful eye and loving labor of the Friends of Hagerman’s volunteers.  Every Wednesday morning a dedicated group gathers to weed, plant, trim, and transplant, and together they have created a welcoming haven for resident and transient butterflies.  It’s also a peaceful place just to sit and enjoy or to search out species to add to your butterfly life list.  Yes, butterfly watchers are just as fanatical as birders in seeking out new species.  Photographers are also loving the opportunity for getting great close-ups of the many different butterflies.

Mallow Scrub-hairstreak: smaller and browner than common
Gray Hairstreak and  has dark spots circled in white
near the leading edge of the hindwing.
During the month of October, 44 species of butterflies were seen and documented at the refuge and most of those visited the butterfly garden.  Of the 44, five were new county records according to the Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) project, a group of volunteer naturalists who keep and maintain reference data relating to all Lepidoptera.  To put that number in perspective, only 73 species of butterflies have ever been seen in Grayson County. 

Ceraunus Blue: tiny, gray under and lavender above (in flight),
no tail,  lines on forewing and hindwing are widely bordered in white
So how do we identify and submit a new county record?  I’m sure you’ve played the game “Can you spot the differences?”  That’s exactly what it’s like trying to locate and identify new butterfly species for our county.

Tawny-edged skipper: dark brown skipper with gold or tawny
orange leading edges; above has white spots on forewing and
tawny orange patch in the center of the hindwing
Each butterfly species has a unique size, color, pattern, and behavior that are well documented.  They range from as small as a shirt button to as large as a saucer.  Many have similar coloring with only slight pattern differences.  Identifying them requires a very close look.  Photographing the butterfly from every angle is critical to proving the identification.  A good field guide will help you narrow down the options and zero in on the correct ID.

Brazilian Skipper: very large skipper with brown wings and
3-4 white spots on  hindwing - flies only early morning and
near dusk; in flight, it looks similar to a bumblebee
Using your pictures of the butterfly, first, try to determine which family group the butterfly is in.  Is it tiny and triangular?  It’s probably a Hairstreak or a Blue.  Is it all or mostly white or yellow?  Check the Whites and Sulphurs family.  Next, look at the size and compare it to a butterfly you know.  Is it smaller or larger?  Look at the predominant color and then the pattern of lines and spots on the side of the wings the butterfly shows you.  Some will keep their wings folded and you will only see the bottom of their wings, while others will open fully to show you the beauty on top of their wings.  Don’t forget to check the color or pattern on the butterfly’s body and the shape and color of the antennae – those can provide clues as well.

Dorantes Longtail: a dark skipper with a long brown tail and heavily patterned
under wing with a broad brown line that is not smoothly continuous, especially on the forewing
Once you’ve narrowed it down and think you have a good ID, go to  It’s easy to create a profile and log in.  Click on “Get Involved” and follow the link to submit a sighting.  The online submission form will ask you the date you saw the butterfly, what you think it might be, and allow you to upload a photo or two.  It will also ask you to be specific about where you saw the butterfly.  If you type “Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge” in the Search Address window, the map will zoom in on the butterfly garden.  Finally, select United States for Region and then Texas and Grayson County from the lists.  Click on Save and an email will be sent to you thanking you for the submission.  Usually you will get a follow-up email in a few days with the reviewer’s confirmed identification.

Keep your eyes open and you may find the next county record in our Butterfly Garden!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grow a Pollinator Garden

Fall is one of the best times to start a garden in Texas, and here are easy steps to creating your own pollinator garden, from the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

See Your Pollinator Garden Grow
One of the best ways you can help monarch butterflies and other pollinators is to plant a pollinator garden – in your yard, behind your school or church, on your business property or even in a pot for your front steps. A simple, native flower garden helps pollinators stay healthy – and it’s pretty.

In addition to nectar from flowers, monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive. So if your milkweed leaves have been chomped, don’t worry. The monarchs have been around!

Get Started
Research what varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area. Here’s a great website to launch your research:

What you’ll need
  • A yard, raised bed or some flower pots
  • Garden tools to break the soil or build a raised bed
  • Extra dirt and mulch
  • Native milkweed and nectar plants

Seven easy steps
  1. Choose your location: Gardens should be planted in sunny spots and protected from the wind. 
  2. Look at your soil: Break ground to see the consistency of the soil in your yard. Soil may influence the kinds of plants you can grow or may require special considerations. If your soil type doesn’t match the plants you’d like to plant, consider building a raised bed or using flower pots.
  3. Prep your soil: If you’re planting in your yard, remove the lawn and current plant cover and rake the soil. Additional dirt can help and is necessary for raised beds and flower pots.
  4. Choose your plants: Buy native and local plants and milkweed. Native plants are ideal because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier.
    • Choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides or neonicotinoids.
    • Plant perennials to ensure your plants come back each year and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
    • Choose a diversity of plants that bloom throughout the seasons to ensure pollinators benefit in the spring, summer and fall. This will also ensure that your garden is bright and colorful for months!
  5. Choosing seeds or small plants: Small plants that have already started growing in a nursery are simple to plant and handle in a small space. If you’d like to use seeds, plan to plant in spring or fall, giving the seeds time to germinate. Seeds can also be best if you are planting a very large garden because they are less costly. Water your seeds even before you see plants.
  6. Plant your flowers and milkweed: For small plants, dig holes just big enough for the root system. Cover the roots with dirt and reinforce with dirt or straw mulch to reduce weed growth. For seeding, spread seeds across the freshly prepared garden and cover them with dirt. Consider adding some flat rocks so butterflies can bask in the sun,
  7. Wait, watch, water and weed: It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden. Weed and water your garden to keep it healthy.

Help track monarch movements, milkweed growth and monarch life stages by reporting your sightings at For more information, go online to the Monarch Joint Venture:

Milkweed, pictured above,  is not a weed. These beautiful wildflowers are the only source of food for monarch caterpillars. Plant milkweed that is native to your area to attract all pollinators. Photo above, by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.  Shown below, Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa,  a milkweed growing  in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR.

Native wildflower gardens add color to your garden and help bumblebees and butterflies. This purple coneflower, shown above,  attracted both bumblebees and a crab spider. Photo above by Jim Hudgins/USFWS