Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Perfect Host

In the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, there is a butterfly nursery out there just waiting for warm spring weather.  These are plants that will feed, or host butterfly and moth caterpillars once eggs begin to hatch.

According to Gardens with Wings,
If you keep an eye out you’ll see the female as she flits around the plant, gently laying her next brood’s eggs, sometimes on the top of leaves but usually on the bottom, hidden from predators.  Then, in 10 to 14 days, the tiny larvae, less than an eighth inch long, emerge and begin eating the plant. It’s a fascinating process as they munch away, growing larger every day. Equally fascinating is watching the caterpillar leave the plant to form a chrysalis.    
And from The Butterfly Site:
Because tiny caterpillars cannot travel far to find their own food, the female butterfly locates and lays her eggs on only the type of plant that the caterpillar can use as food. Most species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants they can eat. If the egg was not placed on the correct plant, the caterpillar hatching from that egg will not survive.

So what is on the menu?  

Click here for a list of common garden plants that host caterpillars in North Texas, from the North American Butterfly Association. (Scroll past Nectar Plants to Host Plants)
Here are just a few of the “caterpillar nurseries” that have been planted in the garden at the Refuge, and the species they will host:
  • Milk Weed - Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias viridis –Monarch and Queen
  • Texas Redbud, Yaupon Holly  – Henry’s Elfin
  • Carolina Buckthorn – American Snout
  • Inland Sea Oats – Bell’s Roadside Skipper
  • Downy Forestiera -  Hairstreaks
  • Passionvine – Gulf Fritillary
  • Partridge Pea - Cloudless Sulphur
  • Frogfruit - Phaon Crescent
All of these host plants grow naturally as well at Hagerman. When you see some raggedy chewed up leaves on these host plants, you will know new butterflies will soon appear!

Monarch Caterpillar, by Brenda Loveless
NOTE:  This post has been updated from the original publication on  February 2, 2015.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

From the Nature Nook Bookshelf - Wetland Birds of North America

From the Nature Nook Bookshelf:
Wetland Birds of North America, a Guide to Observation, Understanding and Conservation
By Scott Leslie

Author Scott Leslie offers an ode to wetlands in this excellent book on wetland birds found in the HNWR Nature Nook.  Describing wetlands as “hotbeds of life,” he first discusses the diversity of wetland habitats, then provides a chapter on the intricate complexity of wetland ecosystems.

To help the reader identify and learn about wetland bird species, over 70 representative “core” birds found throughout North American wetlands are discussed. These core birds are divided into categories which include waterfowl, wading birds, birds of prey, rails, shorebirds, gulls and terns, diving birds and perching birds.  Beautiful color photos of each core bird are included, along with descriptions of appearance, habitat, calls, behavior, family life, migration patterns, and conservation concerns.

The author concludes with a gentle plea to preserve and protect wetland habitat, reminding readers that wetlands are more than a great natural spectacle, but, are, in fact, “home” for the many birds we love.

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge includes 2600 acres of wetlands and is home to over 300 bird species through the course of the year.  USFWS is the primary federal agency charged with collecting data for the National Wetlands Inventory.  The initial NWI report estimates that in the first 200 years of our nation’s history, half of all original wetlands in the lower 48 states was lost.

Writer and anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote, “If there is magic in this planet it is contained in water.”

Take time to enjoy and appreciate the “hotbeds of life” found on the refuge, then browse through the pages of “Wetland Birds of North America” to deepen your knowledge and awareness of the magic within.

The Nature Nook is run by Friends of Hagerman Wildlife Refuge.  All proceeds go to activities and projects at Hagerman NWR.

Book review by Jean Flick.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Roughleaf Dogwood - Plant of the Month, March, 2018

Rough-leaf Dogwood
Cornus drummondii
By David Parrish

deep within the woods
a white dogwood blooms~
a bluebird cheers
Copyright © Patricia Sawyer (2009)

Over forty species of birds including bobwhite quail, wild turkey, numerous songbirds, plus some small mammals value the small white berries of the rough-leaf dogwood. Early each summer, from May to August, the rough-leaf dogwood flowers into clusters of small white flowers with four petals. These flowers attract a variety of pollinating insects such as native bees and butterflies which are seeking nectar.

Figure 1. [dogwood-flowers.jpg] Rough-leaf dogwood flowers. (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wasowski, Sally and Andy. May 1988. Unrestricted)
Then from August until October, the flowering clusters give way to the clusters of the much-valued fruit. These berries are drupes about ¼ inch in diameter which sometimes have small pink spots or streaks. Don’t hesitate if you hope to see the fruit of the rough-leaf dogwood because they are consumed quickly and seldom last into the winter months.

Figure 2. [dogwood-fruit.jpg] Rough-leaf Dogwood Drupes. (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia. 1988. Unrestricted)
This plant readily sprouts from its roots. The rough-leaf dogwood or Cornus drummondii is a shrub or small tree that grows near the edge of the forest, along fence rows, or along streams. Farmers use this plant to form shelterbelts in the prairie-plains regions. This plant is commonly used as an ornamental species.

                          Figure 3. [dogwood-shelterbelt.jpg] Dogwood shelterbelt.  (USDA, Lincoln County Minnesota, SWCD.                                         Date unknown. Public)

Leaves are simple and opposite, oblong to elliptic with a pointy tip. They are ½ to 2 ½ wide and 1 to 5 inches long. The upper surface is olive green and roughly, pubescent (hairy). It’s the only local species of dogwood with rough leaves. Edges are wavy. Leaves have a distinct, prominent curving vein pattern on the underside of the leaf. By the late summer, leaves take on a keeled or boat-shaped appearance. To tell if a leaf is from the genus Cornus (dogwoods) grasp it near the tip and at the base and tear it in two laterally.  The veins will look like connected elastic threads. Young twigs are opposite and green but turn reddish with age. These are characteristics that can be used to help identify this species.

Figure 4. [dogwood-leaf.jpg] Rough-leaf dogwood leaf showing vein pattern and wavy edge. (TPWD, Chase Koll, Palmetto State Park Plants (Quiz), )

At Spring Creek Park Preserve, the Garland Parks Department mows annually to sustain the prairie. There, a stand of rough-leaf dogwood has formed into a perfect circular colony 3 foot-high and 10-15 feet in diameter (see photo). Naturalists have used some of these saplings to replace invasive privets removed along an erosion-prone creek bank. The success rate is reported at 90%. 

Figure 5. [Dogwood-colony.jpg] Rough-leaf dogwood colony in Garland Preserve. (Parrish, David. January 2018. Unrestricted) 

E.O. Wilson concludes his autobiography, Naturalist, saying, “…if (he) could do it all over again, … (he) would be a microbial ecologist.” Ecologists in Illinois studied changes in soil microbes as areas transitioned from open prairies to shrubland to forest (Yannarell, et al; 2014).  Light woody encroachment into the prairies from the forests in the study sites included rough-leaf dogwood and sumacs. More heavily encroached areas also included honey locust and red cedar. Forest and prairie microbial communities are very different from each other. As the degree of encroachment increases, microbial communities shift to reflect the forest ecosystem. This may be an important process in the succession from grasslands to forests. So, this raises the question, does a land manager want to maintain a prairie or create a forest? 

Figure 6. [microbe-study-design.gif] Schematic representation of the study design and analysis. The diagram shows two prairie remnants with differing degrees of shrub encroachment, as well as the surrounding forest and river bluffs. (Yannarell, et al, Microb Ecol (2014))

Linex, Ricky J. (2014) Range Plants of North Central Texas. USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Weatherford, Texas 76086.
Vines, Robert A. (1982) Trees of North Texas. University of Texas press, Austin, Texas 78712.
Plant Database. Cornus drummondii., Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78739.
Wilson, E.O. (1994) Naturalist. Island Books, Washington, DC 20009.
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). "Soil microbes shift as shrubs invade remnant hill prairies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2014. <  >.  
Yannarell, A.C., Menning, S.E. & Beck, A.M. Microb Ecol (2014) 67: 897.

Note:  Watch for Roughleaf Dogwood in bloom along the fence rows, forest edges and in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge this spring! 
David Parrish is a member of the North Dallas Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists and regularly volunteers at Hagerman NWR.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hagerman Marks 72nd Year as National Wildlife Refuge

     By Helen Vargus

Have you visited Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge recently?  Did you know that the Refuge is now in its seventh decade?  The remainder of this post was originally published as part of the 70-year celebration for Hagerman NWR.  And you can learn more about the Refuge while you enjoy a driving tour with the new Audio Tour, on your phone, on a compact disk, or, thanks to the Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society, with a personal listening device for your car.

Hagerman NWR came into being as a result of the Denison Dam construction.  The Dam was championed by Sam Rayburn in an effort to alleviate flooding along the Red River and to have the ability to generate hydroelectric power and provide electricity to rural Grayson County.  The dam bill was passed by Congress in 1938 and in 1944 the reservoir was filled.  It took several years and many steps to the birth of the 11,320-acre Hagerman Refuge. 

In 1941 the Katy and Frisco railroads began moving miles of tracks from the area.  Some of those track areas are now Wildlife Drive, Meadow Pond Trail, and Raasch Trail.  In November, 1941, Postmaster R.L. Sweeney, was required to move the Hagerman post office to the Grayson County Air School site at Perrin Field.

By August, 1942, Hagerman town lots were being condemned in anticipation of the flooding of its low-lying valley.  The U.S. government appraised the properties and paid the citizens for their property based on these appraisals. The town would be inundated by 10-20 feet of water once the dam’s reservoir was filled.  Most residents found farms in drier locations or moved to the thriving towns of Denison, Sherman and other smaller communities in Grayson County. A few left the Texoma area for distant places.  Reluctant to give up their homes, some of the Hagerman residents moved their houses to nearby towns; others had them dismantled and moved elsewhere in the area, where they were then rebuilt. 

Historic marker tells the town story
In 1944 with the reservoir full the little town of Hagerman was only a memory for the families that had developed and cared for this piece of Texas.  The government now owned the land and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began looking into the possibility of using the flooded Hagerman town area for a wildlife preserve for migratory birds. 

Nothing is ever simple when it comes to dealing with a government entity.  First, studies needed to be done on the feasibility of the area as a refuge.  Next, an agreement between the Texas game service and the federal service was made to establish a refuge.  Hagerman was officially designated a refuge by the Fish and Wildlife Service in September, 1945.  Then, a presidential executive order was signed to establish the area as a federal refuge of the Fish and Wildlife Service in February of 1946.  It was also at that time the Refuge agreement was made with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In April, 1946, the Secretary of the Interior approved the refuge.
A report in February, 1947, said the outlook for the Hagerman Wildlife Game Refuge was deemed to be excellent.  The population for wildlife was declared satisfactory and it compared favorably with other United States preserves.  At that time the building program at the refuge was on hold because initial bids were too high for additional structures. 

Marcus Nelson, first Refuge Manager

          The construction of the office and laboratory, located on a bluff overlooking Lake Texoma, was underway in August 1947.  The structure was built of concrete blocks, took about six weeks to erect, and cost about $10,000.  (Ed. Note: That building is still in use, designated as the FOH Building) Other buildings to be placed on the site were workshops, tool sheds, residences, and garages.  For all buildings on this site, the total estimated costs were to be $100,000 or more.

Photo of original Refuge HQ, taken in 1950

         Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge contains 3,000 acres of marsh and water and 8,000 acres of upland and farmland.  It is an overlay of a portion of the Big Mineral arm of Lake Texoma Its purpose is to protect and improve living conditions for all wildlife.  It provides a variety of habitats for birds and other animals and is a prime location for migratory birds and waterfowl.

Barred Owl Sentinel at HNWR, Photo by Buddy Viers

The Refuge is located at 6465 Refuge Road in ShermanTexas.  The Refuge Office and Visitor Center are open Monday – Friday, from 7:30 – 4 pm.  The Visitor Center is also open from 9 am – 4 pm on Saturdays, and 1 – 5 pm on Sundays. The grounds are open year-round from sunrise until sunset unless otherwise posted. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gull Excitement at Hagerman NWR

Text and photos by Laurie Sheppard

In early spring, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge attracts large numbers of gulls, as many preparing for migration join those that wintered here. Most are Ring-billed Gulls, but it’s worthwhile to look closely through the large flocks because frequently you will find a few Herring Gulls, Franklin’s Gulls, or other species migrating through. This week, though, we have had a very unusual visitor – a Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) has landed in our midst. Jack Chiles reports that this is the first time one has been seen at Hagerman NWR and many birders have rushed to the refuge to get that rare sighting.

Glaucous Gulls are very large, with some approaching 28 inches, compared to the Ring-billed Gulls’ mere 17-21 inches. The Glaucous Gulls’ typical wingspan is nearly five feet, which rivals that of the familiar Turkey Vulture, and the gulls can exhibit bursts of speed of up to 40 mph. They are said to be the second largest gull species, behind only the east coast’s Great Black-backed Gull. They are strikingly pale and have been described as “ghostly”. Adult Glaucous Gulls have a yellow bill and both adults and juveniles have dark pink legs and feet. In any group of gulls, the refuge’s visitor will appear much bigger and lighter than others nearby, particularly because of its white wing tips. Most other gull species found in north Texas have dark wing tips.

Note the differences in size and coloring between the larger Glaucous Gull and the smaller, more common Ring-billed Gull.
Glaucous Gulls breed in the Arctic, along marine and freshwater coasts, or on nearby tundra, cliffs, or ice edges. Both sexes build their nest which is little more than a shallow depression in a mound of grass, moss, twigs, and occasionally feathers with little or no lining. These might be at the water’s edge or in grassy areas atop cliffs, on the cliff’s ledges, or in the rocky scree at the base of the cliff. Both parents tend the eggs and care for the young until they become independent. It takes four years for a Glaucous Gull to fully reach maturity and their lifespan in the wild may be ten years or more.

Glaucous Gull shows its pale feathers and pink feet as it prepares to land.
 Like most gulls, Glaucous Gulls are omnivores with a varied diet. They will eat fish, berries, mollusks, small birds or mammals, eggs and chicks of other birds, and vegetation. They will also scavenge dead fish, carrion, and human refuse, and will attempt to steal food from other gulls and terns. They often forage while walking or swimming. The gull at the refuge has frequently been seen in the vicinity of other gulls, especially in the shallow water near Harris Creek or the exposed area off J Pad.

Glaucous Gull feeding on a dead fish.
During the winter, Glaucous Gulls migrate south along the coastal edges of the continent, but most adults remain north of Virginia in the east and California in the west. Occasionally, some birds migrate further south, but nearly all of those are immature Glaucous Gulls. This appears to be the case with the one seen on the refuge, which has the black-tipped bill and occasional brown freckling of a third winter bird. Migrating Glaucous Gulls are rarely found very far inland, which makes our visitor unusual.

Markings of an immature gull include the black-tipped pink bill bordered by brown feathers and slight brown freckling on the chest and wings.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey

By Jean Flick  
On a cold day in January, a group of hearty individuals, led by Paul Balkenbush, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Deputy Manager, searched the Texas side of Lake Texoma for the presence of bald eagles.  HNWR has supported the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey for a number of years, providing bald eagle counts that are used to estimate trends of wintering bald eagle populations across the lower 48 states.

Each January, several hundred individuals count eagles along standard, non-overlapping survey routes as part of this nationwide survey.  Started in 1979, counts were first coordinated by the National Wildlife Federation and are now coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). 

Paul Balkenbush coordinates this effort for the Texas portion of Lake Texoma.  The 2018 survey was completed in one day in January, by individuals who were each assigned portions of the shoreline area between Highway 69/75 and I-35.  Team members may travel by boat or vehicle to search for eagles, with most choosing to travel by vehicle.  This year, the team completed 859 minutes of survey time with 67.3 miles of shoreline observed.  Bald eagle sightings included 4 adult and 8 immature eagles.

Paul reports the team’s data, including the time spent and miles observed.  This data, including the number of eagles/shoreline mile and number of eagles/survey hour is compiled from regions across the country and can then be used to support bald eagle relative density estimates.

The USACE website provides summary trend tables from 1986-2010, which show an overall increasing trend in eagle sightings in the majority of national regions (6 of 9 regions) but an overall decreasing trend in sightings in Texas during that same time period.  A wide range of variables may impact this data.

The USFWS considers the recovery of bald and golden eagles to be a conservation success story.  When the bald eagle was adopted as our national symbol in 1782, the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles.  By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, the species was in danger of extinction. Loss of habitat, shooting, and DDT poisoning contributed to the near demise of our national symbol.

The Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973, and in 1978 the bald eagle was listed as endangered throughout much of the contiguous U.S.  Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery.  Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently.  (USFWS Endangered Species website and Fact Sheets)

Data from a variety of sources, including estimates from the annual Midwinter Survey, contribute to our body of knowledge regarding the continued successful recovery of bald eagle populations.  Paul is always looking for members to join the Bald Eagle Survey team.  Participation is open to any interested birder who wants to spend a day looking for eagles along the lakeshore.  Contact Paul at the refuge office if you would like to participate on the team in January 2019.

Photo Credit:  Bald Eagle at HNWR by Brian Fant

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Smartweed February Plant of the Month at Hagerman NWR

Yellow-headed Blackbird, Pennsylvania Smartweed at HNWR, by Philip Jones
Smartweed is a plant that is native to the lower 48 states and Alaska in the U.S. as well as in much of Canada.  When Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was first established, smartweed seed was among the 10 - 15 tons of seeds of various plants sent by the Fish and Wildlife Service to both Hagerman and Tishomingo national wildlife refuges, to be planted at both refuges along the edges of newly built Lake Texoma (Denison Herald, February 18, 1945).  Since February is the anniversary month for the establishment of the Refuge, we chose Smartweed as the featured plant this month.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, smartweed is in the buckwheat family and is important to waterfowl and other birds, which use it for food and cover. 

At least 50 species of birds have been observed feeding on the seeds, including ducks, geese, rails, bobwhites, mourning dove, and ring-necked pheasant. The seeds and other parts are eaten by mammals such as the white-footed mouse, muskrat, raccoon, and fox squirrel. (Wikipedia)

Great Egret in Field of Smartweed at HNWR, by Kim Morris
The Wildflower Center notes that about 75 species of smartweeds occur in North America.  Pink blooming Polygonum pensylvanicumand white blooming smartweed, Polygonum lapathifolium,
can be found on the Refuge. We know this because thanks to the birds, we also have volunteer plants of both species in the Butterfly Garden each summer.

Pennsylvania, or pink, smartweed, is mainly  identified by spikes of numerous flowers and encircling leaf sheaths.  The white blooming smartweed is also known as Curlytop knotweed, and Pale Smartweed.  Pale Smartweed (P. lapathifolium), is closely related to Pink Smartweed and has white or pale rose, arching flower spikes and usually smooth stems. Both are found in gardens as well as in damp waste places and wetlands.   The plant is annual, so watch for it to come back from seed this spring. The bloom-time is March-May.