Thursday, April 28, 2011

Summer Tanager at Hagerman NWR

By Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo

On April 16th we photographed our first Summer Tanager of the season. We had been hearing its song for a few days, but had not visually observed one until the 16th. One of the many exciting things that come to Texas and Hagerman Wildlife Refuge in the spring is the colorful spring songbirds. The Summer Tanager is just one of our favorite four birds of spring. The Painted Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Indigo Bunting, along with the Summer Tanager are our most sought after birds to see and photograph during spring and summer.

The male Summer Tanager is all red, the only all red bird in North America. The female is a light yellow to olive green. The immature first spring male is a combination of bright yellow with small amounts of red. The male Summer Tanager is often mistaken for a male Cardinal. While they really don't look alike, most people just assume the red bird they see is the more common Cardinal. These birds spend most of their time high up in the top canopy of trees in dense forested areas. In the spring the Summer Tanager arrives after wintering in Central and South America.

The Summer Tanager's main food is bees and wasps. They are excellent flycatchers, able to seize adult bees and wasps in mid-flight and take them back to a perch where they then kill them by beating them against a tree limb. They will remove the stinger and then eat their victim. In addition to eating bees and wasps, the Summer Tanager also eats a wide variety of flying and non-flying insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, dragonflies, caterpillars, and spiders.

Summer Tanagers also eat fruits and berries, mostly in the winter or during breeding season. These include blackberries, blueberries, mulberries, and bananas. In the image, the bird sometimes called "the bee-eater”, appears to be planning his attack on this bee. The Summer Tanager made an attempt to capture the bee but missed. I felt fortunate to not only witness but to photograph this interaction.

Ed. Note: Painted Buntings will be the topic for Second Saturday on May 14, 2011, with Dr. Wayne Meyer’s program Songs of the Painted Bunting. For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the official website is

Information about the Friends of Hagerman can be found at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yellow Rail Reported at Hagerman NWR

Yellow Rails are secretive marsh birds that winter in wetlands along the gulf coast and breed in wet meadows of the northern United States and parts of Canada. As they migrate from one place to the other in the spring and fall, Yellow Rails may stop for a day or two in wetlands of northern Texas. However, due to their secretive nature, these birds are very hard to find. Yellow Rails are quite small – only about the size of an Eastern Bluebird. They have short, thick bills and their plumage is generally dark with yellow breasts and faces. Not only does this coloration make them well-camouflaged with their habitat, but they typically remain very inconspicuous (for example, they feed in very dense vegetation). When Yellow Rails are threatened by a predator (or an approaching bird-watcher), they run under the vegetation where they can go unnoticed. Their vocalizations are a series of 4 or 5 ticks that sound similar to marbles clanking together. They primarily make these calls in preparation for their breeding season. Consequently, any birds that might be passing through northern Texas right now might be quite vocal. According to Pulich (1988), there are very few confirmed records of Yellow Rails occurring in Grayson County. If they’re going to occur here, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge seems to be the most likely place to find them. There has been a recent report of Yellow Rail vocalizations in the refuge, so please keep your ears open and your eyes peeled. Any detections of this species should be reported to the refuge staff.

Jason D. Luscier, PhD

Austin College

Sherman, TX

Pulich, W. M. 1988. The Birds of North Central Texas. Texas A & M University Press, College Station, TX.

Editor: Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Big Mineral arm of Lake Texoma, at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092. The phone number is 903 786 2826. For more information about the Refuge, please see and for information about the Friends of Hagerman, see

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cedar Waxwings Still at Hagerman NWR

Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo

Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

On April 10th, we were fortunate to photograph a flock of Cedar Waxwings near a small puddle at the edge of the woods in Hagerman Wildlife Refuge. These beautiful silky textured birds usually travel in small to large, very compact flocks - meaning the birds fly very close together. Cedar Waxwings are foragers. They will fly into a berry tree and devour the berries in a short amount of time. There are times when these birds can get so intoxicated from overripe fruit that they cannot fly and have been known to fall off of limbs. They will feed on not only berries but flower petals, insects and will drink sap on occasion. The Cedar Waxwing can also be observed passing fruit back and forth between birds.

These birds are identified by the crest of feathers on their head, the black mask on their face and chin and their silky feather appearance. They also have yellow bellies and white under tail coverts. There is a very distinctive bright yellow band on its tail. The bright red feathers or "sealing wax" at the end of its secondary wings are what give the Cedar Waxwing its name as well as the fact that red cedar berries are their main food source.

Most of the time the Cedar Waxwings will land in the top of trees or in dense berry bushes or trees making it very difficult to get a clear image. We have found that when these birds leave the trees to go to a water source they will sometimes land on lower limbs before going all the way down to the water source, as do most birds. That's exactly what happened at Hagerman which led to a number of pleasing images. The small puddle was ringed by dead limbs approximately 8 to 10 feet above the water. The flock of Waxwings landed on these limbs and posed for a picture before going down to have a drink. As usual with Cedar Waxwings, when the last bird had a drink, the entire flock took flight at the same time and in a flash was gone.

The Cedar Waxwing is a winter resident at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge as well as most of the southern half of the U.S. They will spend the summer in Canada and the central U.S. The Cedar Waxwings will be leaving Hagerman soon to head north.

We have also been fortunate to photograph the Bohemian Waxwing in March in Wyoming. Believe it or not, the Bohemian Waxwing is equally as beautiful as the Cedar Waxwing.

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, please see, and for information about the activities of the Friends of Hagerman,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Should I use spot metering or center weighted? What's the best ISO for this shot? Conversations like this will be heard across Hagerman NWR on April 30 as small groups of photographers fan out across the Refuge for the 3rd Annual Spring Photo Safari.

Whether you have never opened the manual for your camera (manual??) or are experienced at setting up sophisticated nature shots, there is a place for you at this event. There are only a few requirements, the big one is that you need to register in advance to be sure there is a place for you, as spaces are limited.

You will also need to be on time, 8 a.m., in this case, so your group can set out together. Bring your camera, and your manual - the group leaders will be familiar with most cameras but may not know all the bells and whistles on your particular model. Extra batteries! Tripods are good, if you have one, and footwear for walking through grass wet with dew.

You may also bring a brown bag lunch, to join in the post-shoot discussion in the audio Visual Classroom at the Refuge. Dessert will be provided.

There is no charge for participation; to register send your name, contact information, make and model camera to

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092. Photo programs at the Refuge are sponsored by Hagerman NWR ( and the Friends of Hagerman ( ).