Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bluestem Master Naturalists Support Grayson County Conservation Efforts

By Helen Vargus

In 2012 a small group with an interest in the natural world around them got together at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  With input from Friends of Hagerman board members, they developed a plan to develop a Texas Master Naturalist chapter to serve Grayson County.  They made application to the Texas Master Naturalist organization to charter the Bluestem Chapter, developed a curriculum, wrote by-laws and a chapter handbook.  In August of 2012, the new Bluestem Texas Master Naturalist chapter held their very first Texas Master Naturalist class with 12 individuals. 

Snead Prairie Group Shot - Very First Class
                 Bluestem Master Naturalists are trained and certified volunteers who have a desire to learn more about their natural environment.  Naturalists have an interest in conserving the natural resources and ecological regions of Texas.   Training enables the volunteers to give back to their local communities by providing education and service. 

Bluestem Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist partners with Hagerman NWR, Friends of Hagerman, and Eisenhower State Park and provides volunteers for their programs and projects.  The Bluestem Chapter also has individual projects that they institute to serve these partners. 

At Hagerman NWR the Bluestem members receive service hours credit in multiple ways.  Bluestem members are involved in garden maintenance, trail maintenance and development, and tram vehicle maintenance.  They conduct citizen science for Cornell Ornithology Lab by monitoring bluebird houses and participating in weekly bird counts.  Butterfly Garden docents, Visitor Center volunteers, tram drivers, and leaders or aides for school trip visits and Refuge Rocks monthly youth programs provide educational opportunities to children and adults alike.  Some Bluestem members also serve on the Friends of Hagerman Board which sponsors many of the Refuge programs.

At Eisenhower State Park Bluestem members work closely with Ranger Kate Saling to help with TWPD activities and programs.  Bluestem Chapter has also adopted a section of prairie at Eisenhower for a prairie restoration project.

Bluestem Chapter sponsors short programs and day-long seminars which are open to the public to provide educational information on conservation issues property owners can use on their own properties whether they have acreages or small yards.  Some past programs have included Rainwater Conservation, Butterflies, Beekeeping, and Wildscapes for Wildlife.

An annual Bluestem Chapter event held at Hagerman NWR is a Nature O’logy one day summer experience for elementary students.  Campers learn about wildflowers, constructing bird houses, trail hikes, art and nature, and pond ecology.

2017 Nature O’logy Camp
You might find the Bluestem Chapter at the Earth Day in Sherman or other area festivals throughout the year.   For the past two years, they have provided a children’s corner and nature activities at the annual Grayson County Master Gardeners Fall Garden Show.

Texoma Earth Day Booth
             Texas Master Naturalists are encouraged to specialize in subjects that interest them. Some of our volunteers are trained as Texas Water Specialists and Texas Master Volunteer Insect Specialists. Many of our members conduct citizen science for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRahs) by daily monitoring precipitation on their own land. This collected data is used by organizations such as the National Weather Service, television meteorologists, farmers, hydrologists, researchers, emergency managers, and water resource managers. During the fall Monarch migration butterflies are caught, tagged, and released and the data is sent to Monarch Watch.

About the Texas Master Naturalist Organization
The Texas Master Naturalist organization is a statewide organization jointly sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  The goals of the program are to improve public understanding of natural resource ecology and management through the development of a local body of knowledge and to provide educational training and development of volunteers who can provide volunteer service to the residents of Texas.
The first Texas Master Naturalist chapter was developed in 1997 in San Antonio.  Within two years programs had extended to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin areas.  As they approach their 20th Anniversary as a state-wide organization more than 48 chapters exist serving 194 Texas counties and new chapters are forming all the time.  This program has been used as the model for Master Naturalist programs throughout the United States.
                Since its inception, more than 416 partnerships have been developed.  Texas Master Naturalist organizations have trained nearly 10,500 volunteers.  Volunteers contributed more than 3.262 million hours of volunteer service valued at $75 million dollars to the state of Texas.  More than 221,357 acres of wildlife and native plant habitats have been impacted.  Trails maintained and developed number 2,015 miles.  Contacts with Texas residents of all ages more than 5.365 million.

How to Participate:  Bluestem Chapter 2017 Texas Master Naturalist Classes Forming Now           
The Texas Master Naturalist Program has three components leading to certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.  Individuals will attend 40 hours of Initial Basic Training.  Interns will provide 40 hours of volunteer service and a take an additional 8 hours of Advanced Training.  Upon completion of these requirements, an intern becomes a certified Texas Master Naturalist.  Master Naturalists recertify each year by donating 40 hours of service and receiving 8 hours of Advanced Training.
 Instructors for the Initial Training classes will come from Austin College, Grayson College, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M Agri-Life, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Heard Museum, Texas Master Naturalist, and individuals with specialties in Conservation, Ornithology, Citizen Science, and Archaeology.
If you have an interest in the natural world and a desire to learn more about conserving our natural resources, plan to join us on August 15, 2017, as we begin our next Texas Master Naturalist Training Class.  Classes will run from August 15 through December 5. The cost for the class is $100 per individual which includes a copy of the textbook, Texas Master Naturalist.  For more information visit our website at or visit our Facebook page: Bluestem Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Interior Least Terns

If you have visited Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in the last week you have probably noticed that C Pad and D Pad are barricaded. These pads are sites that the Least Terns have chosen to build their nests. The Interior Least Tern is an endangered species due to loss of habitat and is protected by Federal Regulations.

According to Paul Balkenbush, HNWR Deputy Manager, on July 5, 2017, "We observed about 24 adults foraging and loafing including 16 on C Pad and 8 on D Pad. There was some transfer between pads so a total count was challenging. We also observed three ILT nests (one on C Pad and two on D Pad) but there could have been more. We did not venture close enough to be certain because of the potential of stepping on eggs. Both C and D pads are protected from traffic via barricades. I plan to take another look tomorrow to see if there is ILT activity on other pads that need to be protected."

Nesting Tern, 2011, by Jack Chiles
The Least Tern is the smallest of the North American terns. The breeding adult is gray above, with a black head and nape and with black extending from the eye to the bill. It has a white forehead and an orange-yellow bill with a dark tip. The underparts are white and the legs orange-yellow. In flight look for the black wedge on the outer primaries (the outermost wing feathers) and the short deeply forked tail. An average adult is 8 to 10 inches in length and has a 20-inch wingspan.

Interior Least Terns usually begin nesting here in late May or early June preceded by 2 to 3 weeks of noisy courtship. This includes finding a mate, selecting a nest site, and strengthening the pair bond. Courtship often includes the “fish flight”, an aerial display involving aerobatics and pursuit, ending in a fish transfer on the ground between two displaying birds. Courtship behaviors also include nest preparation and a variety of postures and vocalizations. Least Terns are colony nesters where nests can be as close as 10 feet apart but often are more than 30 feet apart. The nest that you usually see here is a very shallow depression in the gravel.

The terns are late this year. Egg-laying usually begins in late May with the female laying 2 to 3 eggs over a period of 3 to 5 days which are then incubated, with the male and female alternately sharing duties for a period of about 21 days. The eggs are pale to olive buff and speckled or streaked with dark purplish-brown, chocolate or blue-gray markings.

Nesting adults defend an area surrounding the nest (territory) against intruders. Intruders can include humans, coyotes, fox, raccoons, bobcats, domestic dogs and cats, American Crows, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons among other creatures. When defending a territory, the incubating bird will fly around giving an alarm call and diving repeatedly at the intruder.

Where's Waldo?  Find the Tern chick in this photo, taken in 2009 by Dick Malnory
The chicks hatch within one day of each other and remain in the nest for about a week. Then they will wander from the nest in search of shade or cover. They will be able to fly within 3 weeks of hatching.
For feeding the Least Terns need shallow water like we have at Hagerman NWR which provides an abundance of small fish.
Tern parent with chick, 2011, by Eileen Sullivan
In an effort to help the terns successfully raise their young we monitor the terns a minimum of once a week during the nesting season. We try to locate all the nests and map them out. Then we keep records of eggs laid, eggs successfully hatched and birds that fledge. 

For 2017, two artificial "Tern Islands" have been placed in the lake near the pads off Oilfield Roads, but so far they have not accepted them for nesting places.  Balkenbush says"No terns were observed on the nesting platforms or showing any interest in them. I am concerned that the newly-added cross wires (to deter predators) might be making the artificial habitat less desirable. I am considering removing the cross wires from at least one platform tomorrow to see if it makes a difference. We will also put out some decoys on both. Seems like a good opportunity for an experiment."

Tern Island I, 2015
The Least Terns will probably be observed around the pads until late August. After the Least Terns leave in late summer we will be anxiously awaiting their return next spring as they usually return to the same breeding site year after year.

Interior Least Tern in Flight, 2011, by Laurie Sheppard
Text by Jack Chiles, Texas Master Naturalist, originally published on July 13,  2011, updated for July, 2017 by the editor.

For information about the Friends of Hagerman, see

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – July, 2017

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. Summer continues, but the heat cannot diminish the beauty of the Buttonbush and Thistle, now joined by Sunflowers and Sawleaf Daisies. Tiny Frog Fruit continues to attract butterflies.

The family of butterflies known as Whites and Sulphurs has several members that can be found at Hagerman NWR throughout most of the year. Look for them in open fields, along roadsides, and at the edges of forests. The largest Sulphur in the group is the Cloudless Sulphur (shown below), often seen on flowers or at mud. With a wingspan of three inches and a sunny yellow upper wing surface, these are hard to miss. The underside is sometimes marked with brownish spots, but always has 1-2 bold white spots on both the forewing and the hindwing.

Cloudless Sulphur

Orange Sulphur

Somewhat smaller, with a wingspan averaging a bit over two inches is the Orange Sulphur, shown above. This is arguably the most common butterfly seen at the refuge due to its many nectar sources and frequent overlapping brood hatches. The upper surface of the Orange Sulphur’s wings is bordered in black—a feature seen in several other Sulphurs. The warm orange hue on the forewing is especially prominent in fall and can be seen most easily when the butterfly is backlit.

Sleepy Orange
The Sleepy Orange butterfly, above, is similar in size to the Orange Sulphur but can easily be distinguished by the bold brick red or rusty brown patterning on the hindwing. Both will perch with wings closed but in flight, the Sleepy Orange is much brighter.

An occasional late summer visitor to Grayson County is the Southern Dogface, below, so named because the black border and dark spot on the forewing appear to mimic a canine’s eye and snout. The sharply angled forewing helps to identify this similar Sulphur.

The Little Yellow butterfly (below) is bright yellow, usually with only a few small dark spots sprinkled over the under side of its wings. Above, the wings are sparsely bordered in black, especially at the tip of the forewing. These are tiny, with a wingspan of just over an inch, and fly close to the ground in open areas. Like other Sulphurs, they will also draw water and minerals from muddy areas along roadsides.

Little Yellow

Dainty Sulphur
Dainty Sulphur (above) is similar in size to the Little Yellow but instead of bright yellow, this butterfly is a soft pastel when viewed in flight. Above, it is black bordered and underneath, the forewing is orange toward the base with two bold black spots near the edge. You will find these on small flowers growing close to the ground, such as Frog Fruit or Fleabane. 

There are many very similar looking butterflies in this family. The most common white on the refuge is the Checkered White (below). Its wingspan is about two inches and though its markings can be quite variable, it typically shows a checkered pattern both above and below. The hindwing may have brown veining, especially in spring. 

Checkered White
Cabbage White
The similarly sized Cabbage White butterfly (above) has recently been identified on the refuge, but currently is rarely seen. It nectars on the same flowers and can easily be mistaken for a lightly patterned Checkered White. Look for one or two white spots on the forewing of the Cabbage White, instead of the checkered pattern. The hindwing of the Cabbage White is usually unmarked below.

NOTE: The  Friends of Hagerman NWR offer Butterfly Garden Walks from 9:30 - 11:30 am on the first, third and fifth Saturdays, through September, weather permitting.  Butterfly Day, a full day of butterfly themed activities is set for October 14.  For more information about the Butterfly Garden and butterflies at HNWR, see our garden page.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

July Plant of the Month - Downy Forestiera

By David and Sharon Parrish

A native, perennial Texas shrub with so many names – Forestiera pubescens, Texas Forsythia, Spring Herald, Spring Goldenglow, Texas Elbow Bush, Devil’s Elbow, Tanglewood, Cruzilla and Chaparral! Many of these names relate to how they grow and when they appear. This plant is found on prairies, in brush and along streams. It grows in North Central Texas to the Edwards Plateau and into the Trans-Pecos.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife GIS Lab
There are male and female plants, the male has two to five stamens surrounded by hairy bracts, while the female has yellow-green flowers with one two-lobed stigma.  These are generally the first flowers to appear in the landscape blooming from late January to March.

Source: Joseph A. Marcus, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Downy Forestiera attracts bees and butterflies. When the female develops fruits, which are blue-black in color and fleshy, birds and small animals rely on these drupes as a food source. This shrub is also the host of the larval Hairstreak butterflies and is a nectar source for bees. There are two planted in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

                                                  Source: City of Austin, Texas

The Downy Forestiera is a rapidly growing plant and can reach fifteen feet tall and wide. The shrub tolerates many soil types and responds well in sun or partial shade. Once established, the plant can adapt to heat or drought. This plant can be pruned into a dense shrub or small tree with drooping branches of deciduous leaves. 

Source: University of Texas, Austin 


Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Butterfly Garden Plant Pages

Delene Tull and George Oxford Miller, 1991, Field Guide to Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs of Texas

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website,

Teo Spengler, Gardening Know How: Elbow Bush Care – Information On Growing An Elbow Bush,

Texas AgriLife, Texas Elbow-bush, Downy Forestiera, Spring Herald, Texas Forsythia, Spring Goldenglow, Tanglewood, Devil's Elbow, Chaparral,

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pollinator Week

June 19-25, 2017 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

What is pollination and why should we care about this??  According to the Pollinator Partnership

"Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower to another of the same species it leads to fertilization. This transfer of pollen is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems.

About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
Meet the pollinators:
 About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
 Most pollinators ... are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees."
The most common avian pollinator is the hummingbird. There are 4000 species of native bees in the USA. (USDA NRCS

We should care about pollinators each time we shop for food or sit down to eat!  From the  USDA  National Resources Conservation Service:

"The produce section of grocery stores would be rather empty without the hard work of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other pollinators. More than 80 percent of the world’s plants need pollinators to survive, including many that provide the food we eat.
 We learn from the Pollinator Partnership that
 "Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning that they are critical to an ecosystem. The work of pollinators ensures full harvests of crops estimated 1/3 of all foods and beverages is delivered by pollinators. In the U.S., pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually." 

The Ecological Society of America states that:

"Pollinators play a significant role in the production of over 150 food crops in the U.S.—among them apples, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash.

And from Business Insider:
"Native pollinators play a vital role in dairy production, fertilizing the clover seeds and alfalfa seeds that feed livestock. They are also involved in the production of oil stock like canola. “The absence of pollinators would not only take the most delicious things out of our diet, but also the most nutritionally significant parts as well...”

When you ask a blessing at your next meal, be sure to include the bees, the birds, the bats and the butterflies who pollinated the food! 

And - check out the photos in the recent Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club album, Pollinators at HNWR.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Animal Dads

With a nod to Father’s day on June 18, we googled “animal dads” to see what we could learn. 

According to Animal Planet,  the top 10 animal dads are:

  • Lion – fiercely protective (when awake), dad lions head up large family units called prides that can include up to seven lionesses and 20 cubs
  • Australian Marsupial mouse – Dad gives his all, dies after long mating period
  • India’s Golden Jackal – monogamous dads feed regurgitated food to the “kids”
  •  Giant Waterbug of Japan - Dad carries up to 150 eggs on his back until they hatch
  • South American Rhea - Dad incubates up to 60 eggs for over two months with just two weeks of food to sustain him, and also raises the newborn chicks as a single parent for nearly two years
  • Stickleback fish - Dad keeps the eggs oxygenated by fanning them at 400 beats per minute for more than half the day
  • Jacana - Dad builds the nest and remains on it to incubate them
  • South American Darwin frog – Dad protects the eggs by swallowing and keeping them tucked inside his vocal sacs for six weeks, then essentially upchucking his children. 
  • Emperor Penguin – Dad incubates the egg in subzero weather and provides first meal to the young chick
  • Seahorse – the male is the one who gets pregnant, carrying up to 1,000 babies at a time 

But wait, what about some of the species at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge?

Snow Geese – mate for life – female builds the nest and male guards it while she incubates eggs and nestlings    

Great Blue Heron – male collects nesting material to present to the female, who builds the nest

Great Egret – males chooses the display area and begins building the nest platform, then the pair collaborate to finish building the nest    

Painted Bunting – males help search for nesting sites and vigorously defend their territory

Eastern Bluebirds – male selects a nest site, then if female approves, she builds the nest; he may assist in some cases and both parents feed the young.  

White-tailed Deer, Bobcats – moms raises the young alone

Coyote – this Father of the Year assists in building den, feeds the female during gestation and helps rear the pups  

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden - June, 2017

Text and photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. Summer heat has arrived and with it, large flowering plants like native Texas Thistle, Basket Flower, and Buttonbush have bloomed. Tiny Frog Fruit is also in flower and will be through fall.

Texas Thistle is a drought tolerant plant that can easily be found along roadways and in open fields all over the refuge. Its purple blooms are an excellent nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other insects. If you sit by a thistle, you may be rewarded with a Giant Swallowtail (shown below) sighting. These large tailed butterflies are yellow on the underside but viewed from above, they are black with a trailing row of yellow spots and a second row that stretches from wingtip to wingtip.

Buttonbush blooms best near water, and many grow along the pad roads. They thrive in very wet soil, so high water levels are of no concern. Common Buckeyes (shown below) are frequent visitors to Buttonbush, but they will also feed on many other plants. In addition, Buckeyes are found pulling minerals from white rock roads and trails. They likely are the most common butterfly seen by hikers.

Many butterflies look different above and below, but few use camouflage as effectively as the American Snout (shown below). The Snout is so named because of the long palpi extending from its face. The underside of its hindwing is brown; when it folds in its forewing and hangs on a twig, it looks like a leaf. 

In contrast, the upperside  (shown above) of the Snout shares the colors of the Monarch, with orange patches bordered by dark brown, and white spots on the wing tips. American Snout are often found in flowering trees, but they also feed on Buttonbush and other plants.

Skippers are the most populous family of butterflies in the U.S. Most are yellow or brown and characteristically perch upright with wings closed or partially open in a so-called “jet-plane position”. They can be quite challenging to identify because they are very small and the differences between species are subtle. The most common skipper found here is the Fiery Skipper (below), shown here on Frog Fruit. This plant grows as ground cover on roads to the oil pumper pads and along other roadside edges. Look down as you are driving or walking and watch for butterflies’ movement.

Also common on the refuge is the Sachem (above). These are very similar to the Fiery Skipper but rather than tiny dark spots on the wings the Sachem has larger softly contrasting areas on their wings. On the upper side, the males have a large black “stigma” that is obvious in flight. That dark area is slightly smaller in the females.

Some skippers have no visible markings at all on the underside of their wings and identification can only be done by noting the color of the wings, face, and body, or by viewing them in flight or on the occasions when they open their wings. One of these unmarked butterflies is the orange Delaware Skipper (below).

Others, like the Zabulon Skippers (above) have bold contrasting areas on their hind wings. This latter butterfly is seen from spring through fall and may be found along Oil Field Rd as well as in some more open areas. The female Zabulon Skipper is dark brown.

Note:  Some of these butterflies may also be seen in the Butterfly Garden at the Refuge.  Garden walks with docents on hand to interpret the garden are held on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of the month, through September, 9:30 - 11:30 am. Visitors are also welcome in the garden at any time during Refuge hours. Mark October 14 "Butterfly Day at HNWR" on your calendar and look forward to a day-long slate of butterfly related activities!