Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Wonderful Bird Is the Pelican

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breed in the Northern Plains and in Canada, according to Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufman, and winter along the California and US Gulf of Mexico coasts. Their large size (wingspan is 9’), notable in the above photo by Dick Malnory, and distinctive bill make them easy to recognize and the subject of cartoons and parodies such as this one by Dixon Lanier Merritt:

Photo by Eileen Sullivan

“A wonderful bird is the pelican, 
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week.
I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”

Photo by Skip Hill
That famous bill has some interesting characteristics. It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch. The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed. According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch to maintain elasticity. And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.

The next photo, taken by Jack Chiles, shows an American White Pelican seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in springtime. Jack notes that the bird is showing the horny knob on the upper mandible displayed by both sexes during the breeding season. These knobs are believed to be a target for other adults when they arrive at the communal breeding grounds and fight for territories, Once eggs are laid, the knobs fall off.

Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing. They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch. Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.

These magnificent birds will be passing through HNWR during the next few weeks on their way to their winter grounds. On the Tuesday Bird Census for October 10, 2017, 1034 American White Pelicans were listed, but only 54 on October 17.   There are surely many more to come this Fall!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – October, 2017

 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. The profusion of color that summer and fall flowers bring is over. Now is the time for butterflies to feed on small flowers or late blooms. Migrants are often seen looking for places to spend the night.

Without a doubt, the Monarch is the star of the season! We are fortunate to have these beauties year round but in October, Monarchs from everywhere east of the Rockies are passing through Texas on the way to their wintering grounds in Mexico. You will find them all over the refuge, either looking for food or landing on leaves as they search for a secure place to rest for the night.

The most similar mimic of the Monarch is the Viceroy. The Viceroy is easily identified by the black line through their hindwing. Viceroys do not migrate like Monarchs. Instead, mature caterpillars create a shelter from a rolled Cottonwood or Willow leaf in which to spend the winter.

The Queen is smaller and typically a rich brown color, but also mimics the Monarch. Their behavior is similar as well. Queens sometimes gather to roost communally at night and in Texas, they appear to migrate. The Queen’s caterpillar host is Milkweed, like the Monarch’s, which makes them distasteful to predators. All three of these are seen together in the Butterfly Garden.

The Red-spotted Purple is a strikingly patterned butterfly with an iridescent blue hindwing above. They are not often found nectaring on blooms, instead feeding on tree sap, rotting fruit, or animal dung. Their larvae feed on Oaks and Cottonwoods, and caterpillars over-winter.

The Tawny Emperor is related to but less common than the Hackberry Emperor. They lay their eggs on Hackberry trees and rarely visit flowers, so look for them in the woods on Oil Field Rd. Tawny Emperor caterpillars overwinter in groups of ten (10) or so in a curled dead leaf.

Fall is a good time to find southern strays like the Brazilian Skipper. These are very large compared to other skippers and fly spring to fall in south Texas. Look for them in the Butterfly Garden and then see if you can find them elsewhere on the refuge. Present only in small numbers, it’s unlikely they breed in Grayson County.

Other strays you might find in the garden include the Mallow Scrub-hairstreak which could be easily overlooked as being “just another Gray Hairstreak.” These are usually found in the Rio Grande Valley and do not cross the Red River but we’ve found them annually at Hagerman.

 A rare stray seen here is the Tailed Orange. Typically a butterfly of Mexico, in years with heavy rains, these migrate north into Texas. They are very similar to the Sleepy Orange but their hindwing narrows to a distinctive point.

NOTE: Laurie Sheppard is a Texas Master Naturalist.  She will be presenting the program, "Butterflies at HNWR", at the Refuge on Butterfly Day, October 14, and also demonstrate tagging.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

National Wildlife Refuge Week begins October 8 and wraps up at Hagerman NWR with Butterfly Day on October 14.  Let's see how much you know about the national wildlife refuges right here in our own state of Texas! Answers at the bottom of the page, but no peeking! AND - try to make it out to Hagerman NWR during Refuge week! 

Trivia Quiz - National Wildlife Refuges in Texas

1. Oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Hagerman
B. Aransas
C. Muleshoe

2. Largest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Anahuac
B. Aransas
C. Brazoria

3. National wildlife refuge protecting ocelots in Texas:
A. Balcones Canyonlands
B. Laguna Atascosa
C. Texas Point

4. The largest maternal colony of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats documented in Texas can be found roosting within this refuge:
A. McFadden
B. Neches River
C. Trinity River

5. The wetlands of this refuge include cypress trees up to 400 years old:
A. Caddo
C. Buffalo Lake
B. Big Boggy

6. These 3 national wildlife refuges have been designated as constituting an “Internationally Significant Shorebird Site”:
A. Balcones Canyonlands, Trinity River, Neches River
B. Big Boggy, San Bernard, Brazoria
C. Hagerman, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Trinity River

7. The federally endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler is a management priority at:
A. Moody
B. Little Sandy
C. Balcones Canyonlands

8. The national wildlife refuge known for wintering Whooping Cranes is
A. Buffalo Lake
B. Aransas
C. McFadden

9.  This refuge was home to the Karankawas in 10 -12,000 B.C. E.
A. Texas Point
B. Santa Ana
C. Hagerman

10.  The national wildlife refuge named for one of the last populations of an endangered species is_____________________NWR.

Note: This quiz originally appeared in the August, 2015, edition of the Featherless Flyer, the newsletter of the Friends of Hagerman. 

Answers:  1.C;   2.B;   3.B;   4.C;   5.A;   6.B;   7.C;  8.B;   9.A;   10. Attwater Prairie Chicken 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Frogfruit - October Plant of the Month

By Pat Crone

It’s been a good year for Frog Fruit. I’ve found it everywhere... .growing along the edges of our country roads, on the lake shore trailing over sand dunes... .and at Hagerman NWR in the Butterfly Garden on all four corners of the bridge. And when I come across it, I always have to pause to look for tiny butterflies flitting among the flowers—such a happy plant! Look for pots of Frog Fruit at the HNWR Butterfly Day Native Plant Sale on October 14.

Photo credit:  Dana Britton, taken in the HNWR Butterfly Garden

Tiny Frog Fruit is a native butterfly host plant in the Verbena family. It is a groundcover native to the southern half of the United States. A perennial in cool winters and an evergreen in warmer ones, it spreads horizontally by runners that will root into the soil where they lay on the ground. Frog fruit can be used as a groundcover in home gardens, although many consider it a weed when found growing in lawns. It works well between stepping stones or as a low creeping or trailing perennial; however, caution is needed as it may take over. The flowers are a mixture of purple, pink and white, and make a great nectar source for low-flying butterflies, shown below, bees, and other insects.

Also known as turkey tangle, frog fruit is very tough and extremely drought tolerant, but it also tolerates very wet soil. Creeping along the ground, it branches and forms dense mats several feet in diameter. The plant rises only 3 to 5 inches above the ground but may have long runners. Frog Fruit is a host plant for the tiny Pearl Crescent (left, below) and Phaon Crescent (right, below) butterflies.

Butterfly Photo credit:

Range Plants of North Central Texas by Ricky J. Linex
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center (

Pat Crone is a Texas Master Naturalist, Bluestem Chapter.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mother Nature's Gold

"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Bitterweed in field along Refuge Road
Last week we blogged about sunflowers. Several other plants in fields along the roadsides on the way to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge as well as at the Refuge are also gleaming gold! Wildflower "gold" that is...And this year, according to the Lady Bird's Native Plant Database, some of the "gold" we are seeing is Helenium amarum, commonly called Yellow Sneezeweed, Bitterweed, Yellow bitterweed, Yellowdicks, Slender-leaved sneezeweed, Fine-leaved sneezeweed, and/or Yellow dog-fennel. A member of the aster family, "The genus is thought to have been named by Linnaeus for Helen of Troy. The legend is that the flowers sprung up from the ground where her tears fell."  The plant is an annual and is valuable to Native Bees and tolerant of dry conditions and varied soil types.
Soon more gold will be provided by another member of the aster family is Gutierrezia sarothrae, with common names that include Broom snakeweed, Kindlingweed, Matchbrush, Texas snakeweed, Broomweed, Turpentine weed. Growing from 1 – 3’ tall, it is a small shrub-like plant covered in tiny yellow flowers. By bloom time the lower leaves have dropped off, giving it a delicate appearance.

Broomweed, by Dick Malnory
Broomweed is native throughout much of the western U.S. and blooms from August – November. It reproduces by seed and provides nectar for bees and butterflies and seed for birds. Dried plants can be tied together to fashion a “broom”.
Another yellow autumn wildflower, one that is considered a “bad actor” by many, is Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis L., also called Canada goldenrod, Canadian goldenrod, Tall goldenrod, or Giant goldenrod. Goldenrod is blamed for causing allergic reactions each fall, but according to NPIN, the reactions are caused mainly by pollen from the ragweed plant that blooms at the same time.

Goldenrod, by Dick Malnory

Finally, there is also a burst of gold in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman - Maximilian sunflower, a cheery yellow wildflower blooms that from August to October and provides food as a range plant, and seed and cover for wildlife. Helianthus maximiliani Schrad., called Maximilian sunflower, Max sunflower and Michaelmas-daisy, was named after the German explorer and naturalist, Prince Maximilian, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center native plant database. Maximilian explored the Great Plains of the U.S. in 1832. In 2016, during the early stages of the fall Monarch migration, the Monarch butterflies swarmed this plant in the garden at the Refuge. We are hoping for a repeat this year!

Maximilian Sunflowers in the Garden 
Speaking of butterflies, mark your calendar for Saturday, October 14, Butterfly Day at Hagerman NWR.   You can find the schedule of events and activities on the Friends Butterfly Garden web page.

NOTE - several versions of this post have appeared previously.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Let's Hear It for the Sunflower

Lunch Break, by Michael Sweatt
There is one wildflower that is still a standout at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and in area fields as well, in the heat and drought of August – the Common Sunflower – Helianthus annuus. Singly or in large masses sunflowers wave their golden faces in the hot breezes; according to the Native Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, “The heads follow the sun each day, facing eastward in the morning, westward at sunset; the name in Spanish means turns toward the sun”. Other sources report that this turning or heliotropism occurs only in the bud stage and that the flowers face east.

Sunflowers are also growing in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman, a legacy from pre-garden days! 

Sunflower, by Jim West

The state flower of Kansas, known as the Sunflower State, Common Sunflower is said to be one of the most common wildflowers across the U. S. 

Sunflower, by Dana Crites

From the Native Plant Database, we learn that:
“The plant has been cultivated in Central North America since pre-Columbian times; yellow dye obtained from the flowers, and a black or dull blue dye from the seeds, were once important in Native American basketry and weaving. Native Americans also ground the seeds for flour and used its oil for cooking and dressing hair. In the 19th century it was believed that plants growing near a home would protect from malaria. In the United States and Eurasia seeds from cultivated strains are now used for cooking oil and livestock feed.”Common Sunflower is an annual, spreading rapidly by seed, and grows from 1-1/2 – 8’ tall. The bloom period is from July – October. Sunflowers provide cover for wildlife and many wild birds enjoy the seeds.

Phases and Stages, by Carly Pryor

NOTE: Post has been updated -  originally published  August 15, 2013.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden, September, 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. With the shorter days and cooler temperatures, the roadways are lined with Sunflowers and Eryngo. Prairie Aster, Saw Leaf Daisy, and Frostweed are popular nectar plants now.

L-R, Pearl, Phaon, and Texan Crescents
The Pearl Crescent is one of the most common small butterflies at Hagerman NWR. It feeds on a wide variety of flowers and it can be seen in many habitats. Its larval hosts are members of the Aster family, so fall is a great time to find Pearl Crescents in all parts of the refuge.

The Phaon Crescent is similar in size and coloring, but can easily be distinguished by the contrasting cream or white band on the forewing, Phaon Crescent and Pearl Crescent often feed on the same nectar plants, but Phaon Crescent will lay eggs only on Frogfruit. Look for both of these on the lakeside ends of pad roads where you find spreading patches of Frogfruit.

The Texan Crescent is similar in size to other crescents and is in the same family, although it is much darker than its orange cousins and has a distinctive white band on its hindwing. A resident of south Texas, it regularly but infrequently strays north to the refuge. Look for it in open areas along roadsides and beside the lake, such as in the Goode Unit and Haller Haven Trail.

The Bordered Patch (shown at right) is slightly larger than
the crescents but is similarly shaped and belongs to the same family. The broad orange band on its hindwing and predominantly dark upper side make it easy to identify, although its coloring can be quite variable. This butterfly lays its eggs on Sunflower and Ragweed plants, which are plentiful on the refuge in the fall. It is found feeding along with crescents regularly but infrequently, as Hagerman NWR is at the edge of its normal range.

On woodside edges or open fields, look for the Common Wood-nymph (below, at left), a larger, brown butterfly, with prominent eye spots on its forewing. These are frequently found in the Sandy Unit between Oil Field Rd and Sandy Point Rd, or near the Goode Picnic Area. They lay their eggs on grasses in the fall. Larvae hatch but do not feed until spring. Instead, they overwinter as dormant caterpillars. Common Wood-nymphs hatch only one brood per year, but the adults are on the wing summer to fall.

In early fall, the Pipevine Swallowtail (above, right) becomes very common on the auto tour roads, especially on Plover, where its larval host plants grow wild. Caterpillars of this species feed on noxious Pipevine plants which makes the adults unpalatable to typical butterfly predators so they are avoided. Several other butterfly species use this to their advantage, which is why most black swallowtail butterflies appear similar. Look for an iridescent blue wash on the upper hindwing of the Pipevine Swallowtail, and a single row of large orange spots edging the hindwing below.

The White M Hairstreak (left, below) is rarely identified at Hagerman NWR but it is so similarly marked to the Gray Hairstreak that it may simply be overlooked. A single white dash on the leading edge of the forewing distinguishes it from other hairstreaks.

Clouded Skippers (above, right) have few distinctive characteristics, being very small and overall brown with just a few small white dots on the forewing. They may be found in open areas or woodside edges feeding on flowers but are also found on grasses, basking with open wings. They are common in fall and at times may congregate to feed.

NOTE: Laurie Sheppard is a Texas Master Naturalist and regularly volunteers in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR.  This year she has written a monthly edition of Beyond the Butterfly Garden, for the Friends of Hagerman. She will be a presenter at Butterfly Day, October 14.