Thursday, January 19, 2017

Let's Talk Binoculars

By Dick Malnory

Are you in the market for new binoculars for birding?  Whether you are purchasing your first pair or "upgrading", here is a rundown on binocular features to help you choose the pair that works best for you.

What you want from a pair of binoculars for birding is
  • Wide field of view
  • A bright image
  • Quick focus
  • Eye relief

Let's look at optics specifications that you will be taking into consideration.

Prism Type:

Binoculars today come in two basic designs, Porro Prism and Roof Prism, which refer to the type and arrangement of optical prisms in the binoculars.

To compare, Porro Prism was the standard design until 1960.  It offers a wider field of view and is more light efficient.  It also offers more contrast, but Porro Prism binoculars are heavier and chunkier.

Roof Prism binoculars are more streamlined, lighter weight, more compact and easier to hold, but are more expensive.


The recommended magnification for most birding binoculars is 7x or 8x.  Higher powered binos give greater detail but are less steady, offer a narrowed field of vision, and also less depth of field.  Note - image stabilization binoculars are definitely recommended for higher power binoculars and for use by individuals who don't have steady hands!

Objective lens:

This is the lens closest to subject you are viewing.  When you see a rating for a pair of binoculars such as 8x40, 8 represents the magnification power and 40 is the diameter of the lens, in millimeters.  The larger the objective lens, the more light is available, giving a brighter image.  A general rule of thumb is that the objective lens should be 5 times the magnification power; with a magnification power of 8, an objective lens of 40 or more millimeters would be recommended.

Eye Relief:

This refers to the optimal distance between the binocular eyepiece and your eye.  Binoculars will have adjustable eyecups that either fold or rotate to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

Prism Glass:

The better the optical quality used in your binoculars, the better the light transmission.  There are 3 grades of prism glass - BAK4 - Best; SK15 - Better; and BK7 - Good.  If the specs for a pair you are considering says the prisms are made of eco-glass, that means no lead or arsenic was used in the manufacturing process.


Coatings are used to improve light transmission.  You will find one of these symbols on binoculars that have any coating - C - one or more optic surfaces are coated; FC - all air-to-glass surfaces are coated; MC - one of more surfaces are multi-layer coated; and best of all - FMC all glass surfaces are fully coated.

Field of View:

Refers to the width that can be viewed at a distance of 1000 yards.  The wider the field of view, the easier to find the birds.  The field of view will be expressed in degrees or actual feet that can be viewed at 1000 yards; 8 degrees is a very good field of view - equivalent to 420 feet.  With all other parameters equal, choose binoculars with the wider field of view.

Finally, consider the weight when choosing binoculars; a shoulder strap can distribute the weight better than a neck strap. Are the binoculars comfortable in your hands, and can you reach the focusing knob easily?  It's best, for this reason, to shop in person.  If ordering online you will want to make sure of the vendor's return policy.

NOTE:  Visitors at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge who take tram tours and guided walks may use loaner binoculars provided by the Friends of Hagerman and help in adjusting them if needed - a good chance to try out a pair for those new to birding.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pass Program Great for Outdoor Travel

By Jean Flick

During the cold of winter, many of us turn our thoughts to summer travel plans. The Interagency Pass Program enables many US citizens and permanent residents the opportunity to enjoy the natural wonders of a variety of federally managed lands at minimal expense.

Three of these passes are available at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, including the Senior Pass for those aged 62 or over ($10 for a lifetime pass), the Access Pass for US citizens with permanent disabilities (free), and the Annual 4th grade pass, free for the child and family during the year that each child is in the fourth grade and the following summer.

Additional passes include the Annual Pass for US military (free) and the Annual Pass for anyone ($80 for one year).

Six agencies participate in the Pass Program, including the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. Effective January 1, 2016, the US Army to Corps of Engineers was granted the authority to be a full participant. Passes typically allow free admission to federal sites overseen by these agencies and may include substantial discounts on some activities such as camping, boat ramp use, and swimming.

The National Park Service oversees 409 areas, including national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks and sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic trails and rivers, and the White House.

The US Forest Service manages 193 million acres of vast scenic beauty, including national forests and grasslands. These public lands include 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as alpine ski areas, heritage sites, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and more than 150,000 miles of trails.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service preserves habitat and protects wildlife on 150 million acres of national wildlife refuges, as well as more than 418 million acres of national marine monuments.

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for a variety of national conservation sites, including 223 Wilderness areas with over 8.7 million acres in 10 western states. These areas are “special areas where the earth and its community of life are essentially undisturbed.” Areas are open for certain forms of recreation, but permanent changes to the land are not permitted, to preserve the integrity of the wilderness.

The Bureau of Reclamation is tasked with managing water in the West and has projects in 17 western states. The reclamation work of the Bureau has resulted in the development of 289 areas with developed recreation areas including campgrounds, boat ramps, and opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the number one federal provider of recreation in the US, with 400 lake and river projects in 43 states, including our own Lake Texoma.

America the Beautiful awaits...there is something out there for everyone...go to or for more information.


The information above was originally published January 14, 2016.
There is no charge for admission at Hagerman NWR.
Senior, Access, and Annual 4th Grade Passes are available at the Refuge Office, during regular business hours Monday - Fridays, 7:30 am - 4 pm.  The cost for Senior passes is set for a sharp increase this spring, so be wise, buy now!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blasts from the Past

As we end 2016 and begin the new year, we are going down memory lane this week, with selected news items from Featherless Flyers dating back as far as 10 years:

NOTE: this includes just a sampling of the many activities and events held at HNWR each year.


First Annual Meeting of the Friends of Hagerman
First Refuge Manager, Mark Nelson, Pays a  Visit to HNWR

First "Second Saturday" Held
Extensive Flooding at HNWR as Texoma Tops Spillway for 3rd Time in History
Website for FOH Established
Christmas Bird Count Set for Dec 15
Whooping Cranes Stop Over at HNWR

December, 2007 - Photo by Rick Cantu

Photographer of the Month Program Begins
Refuge Manager Johnny Beall Retires

First Super Saturday Held

Grilled 'burgers were popular at Super Saturday
Hiking Hagerman Series Published
Rick Cantu and Jim Lillis Offer Program for Bowhunters at HNWR

Welcome New Refuge Manager, Kathy Whaley

Two Pads Completed for Workampers


Kathy Whaley Organizes SHORE Volunteers, for Outdoor Cleanup and Improvements
New 20 mph Speed Limit Signs Posted on Wildlife Dr.
Trail Gets New Designation - Haller's Haven Trail, by Popular Vote

FOH Taking HNWR Slide Show to Area Civic Clubs and Groups
First  Photo Safari Set for April
More Flooding at Refuge as Lake Texoma Level Reaches 629'
Welcome Workampers Guy & Elaine Welch, Judy & Buzz Sutherlin,  and Bill & Carol Powell
New Observation Deck Added on Egret Road

Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society  Grant Received for Prairie Restoration
Wetlands Improvement Project Gets Underway
Winter Tours of Refuge by Van Are Popular
FOH Nature Photography  Club to Organize
FOH Starts Facebook Page


New Program - Second  Saturday for Youth Begins
Extension of State Hwy 289 Completed
Welcome Mary Maddux, USFWS Region 2 Oil and Gas Specialist
Plans for New Refuge Office and Visitor Center Published

Winners of the First HNWR Nature Photography Contest Announced
Welcome Kevin Vaughn,  Law Enforcement Officer
Nest Box Monitoring Program Organized
Pottsboro 4th Grade Students at HNWR for Environmental Day
Demolition of Existing Visitor Center  Completed

Groundbreaking  Held for New Refuge Office and Visitor Center

Kids Fishing Event Big Success
First  High on the Hawg Held on the Three "Hunt" Saturdays
Adopt a Nest Box Program Offered
TAPS Buses Provide Tours of Wildlife Drive to View Geese for Second Saturday Program


FOH Receives Grant from Clara Blackford Smith & W. Aubrey Smith Foundation for Nature Nook Set-up in New Visitor Center
Elm Fork Master Naturalists Tour HNWR
New FOH Website Launched
Plans Announced  to Organize Bluestem Master Naturalist Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists
FOH Participates in  Earth Day Texoma for Second Year
Staff Move to New Refuge Office Begins in July
FOH Receives Gift from Jetta Operating Co, Inc, New Oil Operator at HNWR
Refuge Office/Visitor Center Grand Opening Held September 8

Photo by Skip & Melinda Hill
Bird Census Committee Established to Preserve HNWR Census Data
Native Plant Garden Installed at Visitor Center by Grayson Master Gardeners


Refuge Conducts Visitor Survey
New Refuge Office/Visitor Center Receives Silver LEED Certification
Natur'Ology Camp Announced for June
FOH Holds Garage Sale in May
Welcome Workamper Edee Wolfenberger
Sory Elementary Students Visit HNWR on Field Trip

Residents of the Old Town of Hagerman, Texas, Invited to Tell Stories at History Day at HNWR
New Official HNWR Website Launched
Refuge Participates in Dust Study 
Carlos & Eulalia Cardinal Express - Open-air, All-electric Tram, Gift from Dr. and Mrs. Carlos Araoz, Put Into Service

Bluestem Master Naturalists Complete First Volunteer Training Series


Grant Received from Ft. Worth Audubon Society to Purchase Binoculars for  Guided Tours
BirdFest Texoma  Features David Sibley, The Raptor Project, Field Trips and More, in May, 2013

David Sibley in the field at HNWR, by Laurie Sheppard

The Raptor Project, by Marilyn Pickens

Handicapped Accessible Loop Added to Harris Creek Trail
Photo Blind Built on Meyers Unit, North of Visitor Center
FOH Honored by USFWS Southwest Region 2 - Friends Group of the Year
Interior Least Tern Project - Artificial Nesting Platform  Built, Launched
HNWR Weekly Bird Census Record Set, with 108 Species Seen in 5-hour Period
National Public Radio Visits HNWR - USFWS Arranged for KXII TV and NPR to Spend a Day Birding with Karl Haller,  Honored for 50 Years of Birding at the Refuge

Karl Haller Honored
Welcome Summer Intern Jesse Trujillo
Super Saturday 2013 Cancelled Due to Government Shutdown


Friday Fun Day and a Nature Writing Workshop Added to January Activity Calendar
Spring Break Family Fun Offered March 10 - 14
Drought Began in  2011, Goes On and On
Welcome Workampers, Fran & Bob King
Bald Eagles Call HNWR Home Year Around for First Time
Welcome Summer Intern Aaron Blount
Work Begins on Butterfly Garden

FOH Gets a New Logo

Designed by Jesus Moreno

Nature Nook Offering Ducks Unlimited Prints for Sale
Welcome Workampers Barry & Lynn Burkhardt
Butterfly Garden Dedication Held


Friends Obtain NFWF Grant for Board Training
Jay Noel recognized for 30 years with USFWS

Meet Courtney Anderson, First SCA Intern at HNWR
Regional Refuge Supervisor, Raye Nilius, Officing at HNWR
HNWR hit by Record Flooding of Lake Texoma - Closed to Public Mid-May - August

Staff Photos
Garden Docent Program Organized
Welcome Monarch Intern Alex Ocanas
Lights, Camera, Action as FOH Partners with KXII to Promote HNWR and Volunteering at the Refuge, Thanks to NFWF Grant and In-Kind Gifts
Grand Opening of the Butterfly Garden Held in October

Mini-Fest,  Geese by Golly Set in December
New Shop/Office Nears Completion


Flooding Returns to HNWR

Repairs were made to flood damaged signs and structures by workampers.
Celebration Held as HNWR Turns 70
Guided Butterfly Garden Walks Set
Record Number of Children at HNWR for Spring School Field Trips
Officer Kevin Vaughn Retires, Welcome New Officer, Chris Owen
Welcome Workampers Debbie and Mark Ford and Daniel Jackson, Summer Pathways Intern
Farewell to Rick Cantu,  Named New Manager at Tishomingo NWR
Refuge Road Re-do Begins and Is Completed by Year-end

Drawing and Nature Journaling Workshop Held in October
Monarchs Galore at Refuge During Fall

Monarchs on Frostweed, by Bill Powell
Ten New Lepidoptera Species Reported for HNWR
7th Annual High on Hawg Held
Welcome Refuge Assistant Manager Paul Balkenbush, (shown below) and Courtney Anderson, General Biologist

Happy  2017, from Friends of Hagerman!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

January Plant of the Month - Yaupon Holly

Yaupon holly
Ilex vomitoria

Larval host for Henry's Elfin Butterfly

By Jean Flick

Yaupon Holly at HNWR, by Jean Flick

During the gray of winter when little is blooming at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the bright red berries of yaupon holly add a splash of color to the refuge landscape. Popular in north Texas yards, Yaupon is a perennial plant, grown as a shrub or small tree with evergreen, shiny leathery leaves that are 1/2 - 1 1/2 inches long. The tree usually grows no higher than 25 feet, but can grow as tall as 45 feet. Yaupon is slow growing, becoming thick and twiggy inside, a perfect cover for nesting birds (1).

You can easily see them growing at the Refuge in the Butterfly Garden, in the parking area and on the lawn adjacent to the Visitor Center.

Photo by Jean Flick

The pale gray bark is marked with white patches. The leaves and twigs contain caffeine and can be used to produce tea. In fact, Native Americans drank large quantities of the tea ceremonially for purification that involved purging, leading to the plant species name of vomitoria. During the Civil War, yaupon tea was used by Southerners as a substitute for scarce coffee and black tea (2).

These native members of the holly family range from the southeastern coast of the U.S., west to Texas and north to southeast Oklahoma. The plants are versatile, being both cold and heat tolerant, are low in water use and can grow in moist or well drained sandy, loamy, clay, limestone, or gravelly soils (1).

In the spring, the shrub puts forth tiny, whitish flowers that may be scattered or densely clustered along the branches. Look for blooms in April and May. Yaupon fruits are drupes (often called stone fruits, meaning a fleshy fruit with a seed inside) that are shiny red and spherical, up to 1/4 inch in diameter. The female shrubs produce fruit the best when they receive at least a half day of sun or more. Many species of birds eat the fruit, typically in late winter after several freezes and thaws (1).

Henry's Elfin Butterfly, by Laurie Sheppard

Yaupon are a larval source for Henry's Elfin butterflies. Henry's Elfins typically stay near their larval food source. When not taking nectar or moisture, courting, or laying eggs, they are usually hidden among the foliage (3).

(1) Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at
(3) Butterfly Gardening for Texas by Geyta Ajilvsgi. Texas A&M University Press. 2013

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Northern Cardinals Cheer the Landscape

Northern Cardinals, or “redbirds”, are flocking to North Texas backyard bird feeders this week, and are an especially cheery sight with their red or reddish brown plumage contrasting so well with the winter-browned trees and lawns and occasional evergreens. The bright red color makes them a favorite subject for holiday cards also.  Bird Watcher's Digest points out that the  Northern Cardinal, also known as  Cardinal grosbeak and Virginia nightingale, is not the "reddest" bird in North America.  This honor goes to the male summer tanager; the male northern cardinal is not entirely red; notice the black around his bill. The male northern cardinal is the only bright red bird with a crest on this continent, however.

Northern Cardinals at HNWR by Charlie Hernandez

Cornell’s All About Birds has this to say about Cardinals:
The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off. Even the brown females sport a sharp crest and warm red accents.

Northern Cardinals do not migrate and are found primarily in the Eastern half of the United States, as well as in Texas and Arizona, and in Mexico and Central America. During the 2015 Christmas Bird Count at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge,  185 cardinals were reported.

Cardinals mainly eat seeds and fruit and also insects. Hands down, sunflower seed are their favorite at the backyard feeder. While large numbers of cardinals may be seen in flocks much of the year, when breeding season begins they fiercely defend their territory. They will nest in shrubs in residential areas as well as in the wild; cardinals may have one or two broods in a season, with 2 -5 eggs in a clutch.

The cardinal is a popular choice as a mascot for athletic teams and has been chosen as the state bird for seven states. According to Bird Watchers' Digest, the bird's name comes from the red-robed Roman Catholic Cardinals. Its crested head is also said to resemble a bishop's mitre.

These colorful birds were once sold for caged pets but this became illegal with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

This post was originally published in December, 2014 and has been updated.  A note about the photo - Hernandez always enjoys photographing the cardinals at the Refuge when he visits, as they are not normally seen in his home state of California.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Frozen! Frostweed Lives Up to Its Name

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Without question, the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was a huge success this year!  It was host to thousands of butterflies and other nectar feeders as well as hundreds of human visitors.  It was a place of quiet reflection and explosions of color, attracting several new county record butterflies and many more common residents and migrants.  Butterflies fed and mated and laid their eggs for the next generation of their species.  Caterpillars feasted on the leaves of their host plants and pupated in time.  Fresh butterflies emerged and repeated the cycle.  So, too, flowers blossomed in their season and pollinators spread each plant’s genetic material to the next bloom.  Through it all, one of the stars of the garden was the Frostweed, standing tall in the back row.

Frostweed grows in a clump that can reach six feet tall by the first frost.  Large, bushy leaves emerge on growing stalks in early spring, providing a green backdrop to more colorful flowering plants. By late summer, clumps of white flowers spread out atop the Frostweed’s slender stalks.  These drab seeming flowers attract a multitude of butterflies, and those attract photographers and butterfly watchers daily.  Among the many butterfly species to nectar there, you could find Gossamer-wings like Gray Hairstreaks, Eastern Tailed-blues, and the uncommon White M Hairstreak.  The county-record Mallow Scrub-hairstreak was often seen on Frostweed and dramatic Great Purple Hairstreaks, as shown below,  were also frequent visitors.

Monarch butterflies’ peak migration occurred simultaneously with the peak blossoming of the Frostweed in the back of the garden and throughout every day, the air was filled with orange wings, as shown above.  Sharing the blooms were other Brush-footed butterflies, including Painted Ladies, American Ladies, Goatweed Leafwings, Queens, Gulf Fritillaries and many others.  Not only did the Frostweed attract nectar feeders, it also was a larval host for the Bordered Patch butterfly (shown below), which frequently nectared on mistflower elsewhere in the garden.

Summer ended and with the first frost, most butterfly activity died down.  Leaves of the Frostweed dried and curled and other plants in the garden also died back.  Then, overnight on December 9, 2016, the refuge experienced its first hard freeze of the winter season.  Ice formed in puddles and plants that had managed to survive that first light frost finally succumbed.  That is when the Frostweed showed us how it got its name!  As each plant became cold, water and sap inside their stalk expanded and the outer bark split, allowing moisture to leak out.  The liquid froze in the cold temperatures.  The plant responded by pumping more water out of the ground to replace what was lost and that, too, leaked out, causing the ice crystals to grow.  This continued all night and in the morning, each Frostweed plant had a unique ice sculpture at its base.  Thin ribbons of ice curled and spread, only to drop off and melt as the day warmed.  This phenomenon will not repeat itself until next fall when a new batch of Frostweed freezes for the first time.

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) is a member of the Aster family, along with Ragweed, some of the wild Daisies, and Roosevelt Weed (Baccharis neglecta).  Frostweed is also known as White Crownbeard, Iceplant, Iceweed, Indian Tobacco, or Squawweed.  Native Americans are said to have used the dried leaves as a substitute for tobacco and other parts of the plant for medicinal purposes to treat gastrointestinal, urinary, or eye issues. Like its relatives, Frostweed is easy to grow and it tolerates many different soil, water, and lighting conditions.  It grows from central Texas eastward and north into the mid-Atlantic states.  A biennial, it readily reseeds and also may form sizeable colonies through spreading rhizomes. 

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.