Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tall Grass

By Pat Rowland (Orginally published in the Featherless Flyer , September, 2007)

During the late summer and early fall one can observe some of our most magnificent prairie plants in bloom. Big Bluestem and Indiangrass are a few of the most prominent seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

Big Bluestem commonly called “turkey foot” because the seed head usually branches into three parts, is one of the most impressive native grasses flowering in late summer. Growing up to eight feet tall, it would make a man on a horse barely visible riding through a tall grass prairie in frontier days. Few, if any, grasses can equal Big Bluestem in quality or quantity of forage production. Since 1885, through overuse and abuse, this native grass has been killed out or greatly reduced in most of its original area.

Indiangrass (shown in photo) is one of the most attractive native grasses. Indiangrass is found growing throughout the bluestem belt of the United States. It is very nutritious and is also a high forage producer.

Both grasses are known as sod formers with short scaly underground stems and roots that saturate the top two feet of the soil and may even reach as deep as seven feet. Until the invention of the steel plow, farmers were unable to penetrate this thick mass of fibrous roots. All can be found on the native prairie area located on Hagerman NWR.

ED Note: According to Refuge staff,Native prairie restoration is one of the ongoing projects on the refuge. It is estimated that close to 4,000 acres of the refuge were once native prairie. It is our goal to remove the current vegetative invaders and restore selected areas to native grasses and wildflowers."

Preparation has been underway for over a year along Bennett Lane and later this fall more grass and wildflower seeds will be planted. “The native grass mix includes the following species: Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Buffalograss (Buchloe dactylodies), Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactylodies), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Green Sprangletop (Leptochloa dubia) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).”

For more information about Hagerman NWR, the official website is For information about programs and activities of the Friends of Hagerman, please see

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Migratory Birds Protected by Boating and Fishing Rules

By Ken Carr

All boating activity in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge will end on September 30 and will not be permitted again until March 15, 2011. The ban covers not only boats launched from Refuge ramps but anywhere on the lake. The ban also includes not only motorized watercraft but also oar propelled craft such as jon boats, canoes and kayaks as well as foot propelled gear such as inner tubes.

The reason for the ban is to allow the huge incoming flights of migratory birds during the fall and winter months to be able to roost, feed and rest with a minimum amount of disturbance.

Fishing is also banned for the same period of the Refuge's four hundred acres of ponds, but bank fishing in the lake and creeks is allowed year round. There is no night fishing at the Refuge, which closes at dusk.

Prior to 2010, the boating ban was not lifted until April 1, but it was moved up to March 15 this year, allowing earlier boat access to the myriads of springtime crappie anglers.

During the boating season, watercraft must be confined to only the waters of Big Mineral Creek and its associated creeks. Water skiing, jet skis and nighttime boating are not allowed.

Outside of springtime, catfishing seems to be the most popular angling choice the rest of the year. the Refuge provides miles of bank fishing opportunities including the oilfield pads.

When the first Northers of the season bring in the waterfowl, they also bring in additional catfish and catfish anglers. The whiskered fish move in, both in numbers and increasing size as water temperatures cool.

Unlike striped bass, catfish prefer turbid or discolored water that can usually be found in the Refuge. The two most popular species for Refuge anglers are blue and channel catfish, which feed primarily by smell. Stink baits, dough baits, cut shad and shad gizzards are some of the favored baits. A live shad will also do the trick with the added bonus of picking up an occasional striper or sand bass.

On January 16, 2004, Cody Mullenix of Howe, Texas, was fishing with a three-inch dead shad on his 14-foot surf rod in the Refuge, just north of oilfield pad A when he landed what was then a world record blue catfish weighing 121 pounds and 8 ounces. The world and U. S. records since then have been broken but Mullenix's giant still ranks number one in Texas and Lake Texoma.

Mullenix made a wise choice once he got the fish in shallow water. He kept her alive and contacted the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, Texas, where the fish was given the name "Splash" and placed in a giant aquarium, thrilling visitors for the next two years before dying of an infection. Splash increased attendance at the Center by 43 per cent and was a particularly big hit with children, who were amazed when seeing the five-foot monster being fed raw chicken by divers.

There is no fee charged for fishing in Refuge waters, but a Texas or Lake Texoma license is required. Most of the limits are similar to Texas regulations; one exception is the limit for crappie, which is 37 at the Refuge, compared to 25 for other Texas waters.

Refuge law enforcement officer Kevin Vaughn warns that while the number limit for crappie is more generous than the state's, the same 10 inch limit still applies - any kept crappie less than 10 inches can bring a fine as high as $125 for the infractions, as well as $20 for EACH undersized fish. The fine for fishing without a license is also $125. Texas licenses are good through August of each year, while Lake Texoma licenses expire at the end of the year.

For more information about Refuge rules, the official website is and for programs and activities at the Refuge see

Photo by Ken Carr, Signs such as this posted at the Big Mineral hand boat launch are posted throughout the Refuge. This particular launch is designed for small watercraft such as kayaks and canoes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fall Flowers

By Pat Rowland

(Originally published in the Featherless Flyer, October, 2007)

Spring is when most people think of wildflowers in bloom. As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. However, native and restored prairies exhibit an abundance of colorful flowers through three seasons - spring, summer and fall. Two of the most impressive autumn flowers are Dotted Gayfeather and Maximilian Sunflower. Dotted Gayfeather (Liatris punctata, also known as “blazing star”, blooms from August to October, exhibiting a beautiful purple flowered spike and standing 1 to 2 feet high. Dotted Gayfeather has a root system over 21 feet deep and is a palatable and nutritious range plant. The bulb-like root has a carrot flavor in early spring and has been used for food by Native Americans.

Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is closely associated with the bluestem grasses. It grows upright, singly or in a close cluster from a common rhizome. Maximilian sunflower (shown in photo by Sue Malnory) is palatable, nutritious, and readily eaten by all classes of livestock. It produces a heavy crop of seed that is excellent wildlife food. Both these plants can be found on the tall grass prairies located at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.


Ed: Thanks to grants in 2009 and 2010 from the Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society, McKinney, Texas, prairie restoration work is underway along south Bennett Lane at the Refuge, with extensive planting of native grass and wildflower seeds.

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the official website is and for information about the activities and programs of the Friends of Hagerman,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Prescribed Burn at Hagerman

By Helen Petre, with contribution from Kathy Whaley

In January, 2011, the topic for Second Saturday will be Controlled Burns, with speaker Richard Baker, Chief Firefighter for the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge (shown in photo by Becky Goodman).

The last weekend of August, 2010, was a little smoky around the Meyers unit at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Not to worry. This was just another routine prescribed burn. Burns are an integral part of maintaining the grasslands of Hagerman. Historically, approximately 3,750 acres of the 11,320 acres of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge were grasslands. Fires were set either by lightning or intentionally by Native Americans.

Why burn:

Prescribed burns restore habitat in areas where agriculture has changed historic grasslands to different, less wildlife-friendly ecosystems. Common native grasses that grow in Grayson County include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and eastern mock grama grass (Tripsacum dactyloides). Grasslands also support wildflowers, including Maximilian sunflower, heath asters and milkweeds and also those little yellow Huisache daisies (Amblyolepsis steigera) that are everywhere at Hagerman in August.

What happened to these vast grasslands? When farmers settled and began plowing the land, large grazing animals including wapiti (Cervus elaphus) and bison (Bos bison) left the area, and the remaining plant community changed drastically. Farmers suppressed fire, even in areas where they did not plant, and honey locust (Gledistsia triacanthos), juniper (eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana), and other undesirable woody species invaded lands that were once vast prairies.

At Hagerman, winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) and other food plots are still planted for the migrating birds, but the Refuge is working towards restoring several upland areas to their historic vegetative cover - grasslands. Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), dickcissel (Spiza americana), meadowlark (Sturnella magna), and other birds thrive and nest on grasslands, and burning and restoring grasslands should attract them to Hagerman.

Conducting the burn:

Weather is a key factor for prescribed burning and conditions are monitored hourly from the actual fireline. It is imperative to wait for the correct moisture and weather conditions for a prescribed burn, which is why the last weekend of August was just right this year. Relative humidity should be fairly low to allow for a good burn, but the vegetation cannot be too dry/too wet or the burn will not meet the objectives of safely removing unwanted trees, adding nutrients to the soil, and reducing the “fuel load” to lessen the risk of wildfires near homes. The air temperature should also be moderate, not too hot or too cold. Wind speed and direction are critical. The best winds for burning in this area are between 5 and 10 mph. If wind changes speed or direction during a fire, this could cause a dangerous situation.

For the recent burn at Hagerman, there were about 8 crew members working together to conduct the burn. Fire lines around the entire 800 acre Meyers Unit that was burned were mowed and a dirt line was put in the day before the burn to greatly decrease the chances of the fire escaping the designated burn area, or “spotting over”. Using a drip torch, the fire boss starts a test fire along a road or other fire break on the side of the field against the wind to ensure the fire will react as it is expected to. This is the backing fire. If conditions are as expected, the fire boss starts another parallel (flank) fire on the side with the wind while the initial fire burns, and this fire burns towards and joins the backing fire. It is important that firefighters on both the backing and flank fires keep in contact with radios or even cellular telephones.

The Fire Crew follow along the fire break with swatters (flappers), or poles with large, flat rubber pieces that are used to beat out any fire that moves the wrong way. Some firefighters also carry backpack sprayers with water and fire-retardant foam , and some even drive brush trucks (vehicles designed for wildland firefighting) or four-wheelers along the fire line to spray water on any grassy area that might carry fire and in case the wind changes. The fire is monitored for several hours after the burn to make sure there is no chance of fire moving outside of the burn unit. It is also checked for the next several days before it is considered a completed burn.

Bright green of sprouts of grasses and wildflowers are already appearing in the burned area!

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the official website is and for information on programs and activities at the Refuge, see

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Enjoying Egrets

By Nancy Miller

I didn’t want to spend another weekend cooped up under the air conditioning, so I got up early this morning so I could go to the refuge before it got too hot. The sunrise was beautiful! It is always so peaceful early in the morning. The water is smooth as glass, a great time to get pictures with reflections.

I pulled up Egret road and was just amazed at the white I could see scattered about, guess that’s why they named that pad Egret. I counted 80-90 Egrets between Wildlife and the oil rig at the end of the road. That was just on the west side! I wonder if some of the birds up north have already started their journey south for there to be so many at one place?

I parked in the shade and just watched these beautiful creatures. I find it very entertaining to sit and watch the gracefulness of the Great Egret, and what I call “Attitude” of the Snowy Egret. The Snowy seems to be more territorial than the bigger species. Their plumes on the top of their head stick up like they just got electrocuted, as they run off others that try to invade their fishing spot! I once took 100 pictures while watching one of these Snowy with an attitude, of course they didn’t all turn out, but I keep several of them anyway, just to look back and remember the joy I had watching them. They still bring a smile to face when I look at them.

I searched the internet on these birds, and learned that they are a protected species. “Before they were protected by law the birds were nearly exterminated by hunters seeking their beautiful, white, silky plumage called aigrettes, used in millinery. These feathers develop during the breeding season. In the Great Egret the plumes are straight, about 21 in. (52.5 cm) long, growing on the back. The smaller Snowy Egret, the most beautiful and most hunted, has curved plumes on the back, head, and breast”.

(Information found on

We are now at the beginning of September and Fall is less than a month a way. It’s saddening to know they will be migrating south in the next few months, and we won’t see them again till around the Spring. I hope people get out to the Refuge to enjoy the beauty of these birds, and I hope you get some of the enjoyment I do watching them, while they are still here.

For more information about Hagerman NWR, please go to and for information about activities and programs at the Refuge as well as photo albums, go to

(Photo by Nancy Miller)