Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mother Nature Gives and Takes

The fluctuating levels of Lake Texoma offer an ever-changing landscape around the lake shore and the Sandy Day Use Area at Hagerman NationalWildlife Refuge is no exception.    On a recent visit we were amazed to see that the current lake level, about 611.6’ elevation, has created a very wide beach - a wonderful place for animals to get water and for people to stroll.

On the other side of the equation, high waters over times have eroded Sandy Point and threaten to undermine one of the concrete picnic table units.  Those who choose to enjoy lunch at that table are truly on the edge! Fortunately another table is available, because Sandy Point is the perfect picnic spot. If you have not yet visited there, add it to your to-do list on your next trip to the Refuge. 

The PhotographyNavigation Guide produced by Becky Goodman for the Friends of Hagerman describes it thus:
“In the Sandy Day Use Area, you may see Osprey in the summer and Bald Eagles in the winter. Roadrunners are common. On the road to the picnic area, watch for deer in the open areas and various birds including Cardinals, Wrens, and Painted Buntings in the wooded sections. Wildflowers attract bees and butterflies along the road. Raptors such as Red‐tailed Hawks and American Kestrel frequent this section of the Refuge.”

On our visit last week we saw a large flock of gulls working the water just off the beach, ducks and herons flying by, and families out for a walk. If you stand far out on the point, look back to your right and you can just see the Refuge Visitor Center.  Look straight across Big Mineral and you can see Flowing Wells Resort and Marina, look left along the shoreline and you can see Big Mineral Resort Camp, and still further away, appearing like a bunch of tiny needles, the masts of boats at Cedar Mills Marina.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nest Monitors Prepare to Welcome Refuge Birds

Folks on the Nest Box Monitoring Team at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge will be on the job today to relocate and refurbish nest boxes along three trails at the Refuge, Raasch/Myers Branch, Meadow Pond and Harris Creek.   The location for each box will be 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.

As soon as signs of nesting are observed, the team will monitor the boxes and report data during the nesting season, and then clean and repair the boxes for the following season.  The group also plans to conduct an experiment, applying reflective paint to the roofs of selected boxes in an effort to see if the paint reduces the interior box temperature and if this affects nest outcomes.

Skip Hill & Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, setting up nest box, 2012
Anyone walking the whole of Harris Creek Trail will observe that the nest boxes placed there have both a number and a nameplate attached.  The plates carry the name of the person or groups (or even a pet) who has adopted that box for the season.  All those who have adopted boxes for 2013  are invited to attend the Second Saturday program on February 9, where at 10 am they will have the opportunity to draw for the numbered box they will be assigned.

In 2011 the team elected to begin reporting 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, a key factor 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.  Still another volunteer sends weekly reports and photos of activity in designated boxes to those who adopted nest boxes for the season.

Two Bluebird eggs in nest box, June 8, 2012.
The monitors’ tasks are to observe nesting activities including whether adult birds are in the area, or even on or  in the nest box, and if a nest is present, for what species and degree of completion; 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 mentor those who are less experienced.

Suzanne Brooks & Carolyn Kohls record findings for a Peterson-style box.
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 the 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 repellent for personal use, and binoculars.  Those who drive the Refuge vehicles used for monitoring also must have completed the driver safety training provided by the Refuge system.

Monitors meet periodically 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.   A minimum of one half day per month is required, plus the ability to meet the work schedule.  For more about volunteering, contact the Friends of Hagerman.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Backyard Bird Show

Did you get a bird feeder for Christmas?  If not, go “gift” yourself one now for a ticket to a daily show right outside your window, especially during this cold weather.  If you are going to have just one feeder, tube feeders are recommended by Audubon as the best choice.  Depending on your budget, go for the best constructed feeder for long-time use.

Fill your tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, a seed mix, peanuts, or safflower.    A visitor like the Northern Cardinal can "make your day"!  Their favorite is the sunflower seeds; we have not had many takers for safflower at our house, although it is recommended for some birds.  The feeder should be hung no closer than 3 feet to your window, to prevent bird strikes, and at least 5 feet off the ground.  Baffles can be added to deter the squirrels.  Thistle feeders are a specialized tube feeder for finches and similar birds, offering the small seed through tiny ports.  The thistle seed has to be fresh; we have goldfinch swarming our regular tube feeder for sunflower seed, so we forego the thistle.

Another choice is the hopper type feeder; hang these 5 feet off the ground also, to feed seeds and cracked corn.   The hopper, looking like a little house, provides some protection for seed from wet weather.  Ground feeders, unprotected from wet weather, should have a bottom made of mesh, or other means of drainage and should be placed away from shrubs to eliminate “blinds” for birds’ predators.  You can put just about any type of seed other than the very fine thistle in the ground feeder. 

The bug eaters among your bird visitors will also enjoy a suet feeder, and we find they attract just about everyone during really cold weather.

Finally, add a birdbath to your feeding area to bring in birds not usually seen at backyard feeders.  Recently we have had an Eastern Bluebird and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet coming right outside our kitchen window for water.

We will discuss feeder sanitation in a later post.  Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show!

Note:  The Friends of Hagerman Nature Nook, at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has a number of books on backyard birds in stock.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Things Will be Hopping at Second Saturday

"Froggy went a-courting and he did ride..."  How many learned  this song in school - or from Bob Dylan?  At "Amphibians of Grayson County"   Dr. Michael Keck will describe the natural history of various frogs and salamanders of the area, with photos and recordings of vocalizations.  The program will begin at 10 am on January 12,  in the Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  Second Saturday nature programs are free of charge and open to the public.

The speaker, Dr. Keck, earned his PhD in Quantitative Biology from The University of Texas at Arlington in 1998.  His research interests primarily were in the physiological ecology and spatial ecology of snakes. Since 2001, Keck has been a professor at Grayson College, where he focuses on teaching.  

For youngsters, ages 5 – 10, the Second Saturday for Youth topic will be Ribbit, Ribbit.  This hands-on nature program will be held in the Audio Visual Classroom at the Refuge and is free of charge, however, Carol Hix, program leader, asks that reservations be made by calling the Refuge, 903 786 2826.  Parents must accompany children who are age 6 and younger.

Also on January 12, the Nature Photography Club will meet at the Refuge, at 12:30 pm in the Audio Visual Classroom.  Participants are invited to brown bag during the meeting; Jim West will give the program on keywording photo files.  In addition, those who wish to share photos with the group may submit one photo in jpg format on the theme for January, “Winter”, to by January 10.

For those new to the area, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Big Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, Texas, 75092.  For more information please call the Refuge, 903 786 2826 or visit

NOTE:  The photo of the Tree Frog was taken in the old Visitor Center at the Refuge, where the frog took up residence  for several weeks. (From Refuge File)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Up Close With A Bobcat Family

Post by Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo, 

 Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

The bobcat is a very elusive animal.  If you get a fleeting glimpse of one as it crosses a road or moves through the woods, consider yourself lucky.  Most wild animals don't like people, they fear us.  When that fear is coupled with a mother with babies, the mature animal becomes very protective, taking her young quickly out of harm's way.  Marolyn and I have been fortunate to have spent time with and photographed single bobcats and bobcat families on more than one occasion, but this last encounter was the best yet.  

On this rare occasion, I went out to photograph alone.  It was early one August morning and as I pulled down one of the many remote dirt roads in Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, I caught just a glimpse of a bobcat in the brush.  Instead of moving in quickly, I stopped and waited for another sighting.  After a few minutes, I saw the cat again.  I moved my car slowly to not seem "attacking" to the cat.  It took me nearly 20 minutes to get into position, at a safe distance, to photograph the bobcat.  It turned out to be a mother bobcat and two kittens - I think it is the same family of cats Marolyn and I came across last June.  At that time, we captured images of a little kitten coming out of the tall grass.  While these kittens are much bigger now, they are still kittens, relying on their mom for food and protection.  

What followed was nothing short of amazing.  I spent nearly two hours with the bobcat family and captured over 250 images.  I watched and photographed the mother playing with the kittens, leaving and returning with food on two occasions, and mom just sitting and watching her kittens play.  I watched and photographed the kittens playing, play fighting, and being very curious of the world around them.  The highlight was when the kittens moved toward me as the mother looked on.  They came close enough for me to capture portraits of the two kittens, a very rare photo from wild bobcats.  I think the bobcats sensed that no harm would come to them from me - they could relax knowing there was nothing to fear. 

Marolyn and I have seen and photographed a number of bobcats since this August encounter, but nothing has come close to the true connection I felt with this bobcat family.