Thursday, May 26, 2011

Volunteer Opportunity at New Visitor Center

Text by Kay Casey

Love nature and wildlife?

Like to meet people and help others enjoy the outdoors, birds and photography?

Enjoy the satisfaction of giving your time and talents to promote a better world?

Friends of Hagerman NWR and the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge have a deal for you.

If you love nature and enjoy sharing with others, you will find pleasure working at the new Hageman National Wildlife Refuge visitor center and nature store. The new $3 million facility will open to the public soon and volunteers are needed to staff the visitor information desk providing excellent Refuge information to our visitors and making sales for the Nature Nook.

The job description is simple. Use your pleasant, friendly competent attitude to:

· Greet refuge guests and answer questions.

· Make sure every visitor has the information needed to have a good experience at the Refuge

· Inform guests about the opportunity to support the Refuge by joining Friends of Hagerman

· Ring up sales of nature related items in the new gift shop/bookstore

· Some volunteers will perform a variety of chores such as keeping the information materials and merchandise displays neat and fresh, stocking the drink dispenser, labeling merchandise and reporting visitor requests.

Volunteers will be needed daily for the Nature Nook and the visitor information desk between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Our goal is to have two persons per half-day shift. You can choose to work one or more shifts weekly or monthly.

New volunteers will receive training about the refuge from the Refuge staff and about working in the Nature Nook from Friends of Hagerman . Beginners will work with experienced folks as they learn more about the Refuge and the nature store.

Contact the Refuge office at 903-786-2826 or email for more information.

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, please see the official website, and to learn more about the Friends, see

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Blue Heron

One of the most easily recognized and photogenic birds in America can be seen every day of the year at Hagerman. The largest member of the heron family, the great blue heron stands four feet tall and has a six foot wingspan. The name is misleading. Rather than blue it is largely gray with a long yellow-orange bill, yellow eyes, long pale legs and black occipital patches separated by a white stripe. The underside of the neck is white with black and brown hatching.

The great blue is solitary most of the time except when roosting or breeding. Its diet is mainly fish, frogs, snakes and other marine life. While foraging it slowly stalks its prey. It may remain motionless for minutes before suddenly striking with its long uncoiled neck. Small fish are grasped in the bill and large ones are impaled. They are then tossed in the air and swallowed headfirst. Great blues tuck their heads close to their chest in flight, making them easy to identify.

As the days lengthen early in the year light penetrates the skull stimulating hormone production. This initiates migration and breeding. In the south some birds do not migrate. Hormonal changes produce remarkable physical changes. The most obvious marker is a bright electric blue skin patch between the eye and bill in a location called the lores. The legs become salmon colored and tha crown feathers are elongated. The male is about ten percent larger than the female. Otherwise both sexes appear identical. Courtship is initiated by the male who finds an old nest or builds a new one and stands by it engaging in a series of stretches called displays. His new mate will reciprocate with displays signalling her acceptance of his overtures. She then proceeds to rebuild the nest to her specifications with his help. When this chore is completed more mutual displaying occurs followed by copulation. The clutch usually consists of four eggs. The eggs are hatched after four weeks of incubation.

Both parents share the responsibilities of incubating, catching food and feeding the chicks by regurgitating partially digested fish. As the chicks mature the competion for food becomes violent. The youngest and therefore the weakest chicks often die from starvation or fratricide. By eight weeks when the chicks are almost as big as their parents and ready to fledge. By the end of the first year less than half will have survived.

The greatest concern for the future of all birds is the unremitting habitat destruction due the explosive human population growth. The world’s population in 1930 was two billion. By 2011 it was up to seven billion with a projection of nine billion in 2030. The ramifications of these changes should be obvious.

Text and photo by Phil McGuire

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, see the official site, and for information about the Friends, see

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Barred Owls

The Barred Owl is a medium size owl that is brown to gray-brown in color with white streaking on the belly and chest. Of course, like most owls, they have a facial disc. The Barred Owl's facial disc is gray in color with a brown border. The Barred owl lives in wooded swamp areas or wooded areas near waterways. They are widespread over most of the U.S. and Canada.

Even though these owls are nocturnal, they can be seen during the daylight hours mostly in early afternoon. They hang out in dense foliage usually near the trunk of a tree or in tree cavities.

The Barred Owl is a highly vocal owl and will call in the daytime as well as at night. Often the call is a series of eight sounds followed by silence while the owl listens for a reply. Mates will call in tandem, but the male's voice is deeper and more mellow. Many other vocalizations are made which range from a short yelp or bark to a frenzied and raucous monkey-like squall. While Barred Owls will call year round, courtship begins in February with breeding occurring between March and August. Barred Owls will usually nest in cavities in trees but will on occasion use an abandoned hawk, crow, or squirrel nest.

After 2 to 4 eggs are laid, the male will bring food to the female while she is on the nest. The owlets will leave the nest before they can fly, usually in around 4 weeks. The young owls can be seen perched on limbs near the nest flexing their wings in preparation for when they will fledge. The parents will care for their young for at least 4 months.

Again, like most owls, the Barred Owl will hunt from a perch. They will locate their prey with their amazing hearing and/or eyesight, then dive to the ground onto their prey. Their main food source is mice and voles, but will also feed on frogs, fish, rats, squirrels, moles, snakes, lizards, and many insects. A few other facts about Barred Owls--their life span is about 10 years in the wild, their only natural enemy is the Great Horned Owl and pairs mate for life while maintaining the same territories and nesting site for many years.

Finding Barred Owls to photograph can be difficult. They are usually in dark shadows or dense foliage at dusk or dawn when light is very low. Barred Owls, like most owls, will also hunt during low light or dark conditions. This makes it challenging to use a high enough shutter speed to successfully capture an owl on its perch, much less in flight. If you locate an owl during the day and approach it, the owl will likely fly away from you, not making for a favorable image. If you are fortunate enough to observe an owl on its perch in daylight hours, be patient. Wait for the owl to fly on its own or dive for prey. If you're lucky, you might get a good angle for a flight shot.

Text by Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo. Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

Ed. Note: For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, you may visit the official Refuge website, and the Friends of Hagerman site,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nest Box Monitoring

What do a big city fireman, a realtor, a retired rural postal carrier, a corporate trainer, an attorney, two radiology technologists, a social worker, an engineer, and a lay preacher have in common? These folks make up just part of the Nest Box Monitoring Team at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge who are on the job much of the year to build and set-up nest boxes for song birds, monitor the boxes and report data during the nesting season, and then clean and repair the boxes for the following season.

Very early this spring new boxes were added, for a total of 54 nest boxes along three trails at the Refuge, Myers Branch, Meadow Pond and Harris Creek. Box locations were chosen with the habitat preference of Bluebirds, Prothonotary Warblers, Carolina chickadees and Titmice in mind. Currently there are primarily two styles of nest box in use, the Peterson design box and the saltbox. One monitor has donated a specially designed box a unique ventilation design and camera access.

For 2011 the team elected to report data on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Kathy Whaley, Refuge Manager, created monitoring notebooks for each trail with compatible data sheets, coding keys, trail maps and other needed information. Each nest box has a unique number, key in monitoring and reporting; and there is a data sheet for each box on which the monitors enter their findings. Periodically another volunteer enters the data for all three trails on the Cornell website. Another volunteer sends weekly reports and photos of activity in designated boxes to those who adopted nest boxes for the season.

The monitors’ task is to observe nesting activities including whether adult birds are in the area, or even on in the nest box, if a nest is present, for what species and how complete; the number and type of eggs, young, estimated age of young, and estimated date they will fledge. In addition the monitors perform maintenance to keep the boxes habitable and safe for nesting birds. Some of the monitors are expert birders who are helping the less knowledgeable acquire the needed skills.

The Nest Box Monitors are subdivided into two “trail” teams, with members of each trail team rotating monthly to monitor their assigned boxes weekly. Necessary equipment for monitoring includes notebook for recording observations, spatula for removing wasp and other invasive nests, soap to rub on boxes to deter wasp nest-building, observation mirror, assorted tools for opening nest boxes and quick maintenance, camera, insect repellant and binoculars.

Monitors meet monthly as a group to share information and improve skills. Nest Box monitoring is an enjoyable way to see more of the Refuge, learn more about wildlife and meet others who share these interests. For more about volunteering, send your contact information to with the subject line Nest Box Monitor.

For more information about the Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman, see, the official website for Hagerman NWR, and

Photo - Young Carolina Chickadees in nest box on Harris Creek Trail, by Nest Box Monitors