Thursday, December 7, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden at Year End, Part II

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. As 2017 draws to a close, 89 species of butterflies have been documented by citizen scientists in Grayson County and of those, 84 have been found and verified on the refuge. In a blog last month, six new species found on the refuge this year were described. Here are seven more. 

Perhaps the most unexpected butterfly found this spring is the Frosted Elfin. This butterfly has a conservation status of G3 which means it is localized and threatened throughout its range. The larval host of the Frosted Elfin is Wild Indigo or Lupine which grows throughout the large open area bordering Sandy Point Road. This species flies only in spring, timed to coincide with the blooms of the host plants where it lays its eggs. Frosted Elfin caterpillars feed on the lupine’s blooms and seed pods, and their chrysalids hibernate in the litter beneath the plant awaiting the next spring.

Frosted Elfin by Laurie Sheppard

The Hoary Edge is typically found from Central Texas to the Atlantic coast. It is a dark butterfly of open woodland and brushy areas and was likely overlooked before at the refuge. Adult males perch on branches about 3-6 feet off the ground and may fly out repeatedly, then return to the same perch. Hoary Edge butterflies are known to frequent Oak woods with sandy soil such as the area between Oil Field Road and Sandy Point Road.  Larval hosts are all in the pea family, but adults will nectar on milkweed and buttonbush, among other flowers.

Hoary Edge by Laurie Sheppard
Two very similar species of small, dark brown skippers have been identified on the refuge. Called “Cloudywings”, they are often difficult to differentiate.  The Confused Cloudywing has more prominent glassy spots than the more common Northern Cloudywing and its spots may not be aligned. Confused Cloudywings are most easily found in open areas and at the edge of woods, nectaring on low flowers in early to mid-spring, although they do produce multiple broods.

Confused Cloudywing by Laurie Sheppard

Eastern Comma is another “look-alike” butterfly and is difficult to differentiate from the familiar Question Mark. While their territories overlap, the Comma prefers moist woods and riparian edges; the Question Mark is often found in open areas, backyards, parks, and streamsides. Eastern Comma lacks two distinguishing marks seen on the Question Mark. On the forewing, both have a row of three dots extending out from the butterfly’s body, but the Question Mark has a “dash” after the dots. The Eastern Comma lacks the dash. Underneath, both have a curved white line resembling a comma, but the Question Mark also has a white dot, like the punctuation mark for which it’s named.

Eastern Comma by Laurie Sheppard

Dion Skipper is an orange-brown grass skipper that is reportedly found in scattered populations along the east coast and infrequently from Kansas City to Dallas. Its distinguishing characteristic is a pair of pale rays extending from its body toward the tip of its hindwing. Like many other skippers, Dion Skipper adults feed on Thistle and Buttonbush but their larval hosts are various sedges. Adults fly only in late spring through summer. Their third-stage caterpillars hibernate in winter, emerging in spring to finish feeding and pupate.

Dion Skipper by Laurie Sheppard

In late summer, some butterflies of south Texas stray northward and find our Butterfly Garden. This year one such visitor was the Long-tailed Skipper. Striking first because of its long brown tails, it also exposes a blue-green iridescence on its upper surface when it perches with its wings open. Adults feed on Bougainvillea in the south, but also on Lantana which blooms late in the season in our garden.

Long-tailed Skipper by Dale Clark

Another exciting garden visitor this fall was the Theona Checkerspot. This butterfly is native to Central America, Mexico, and the foothills and canyons of southern Texas and New Mexico. In size and coloring, the Theona Checkerspot is similar to the Phaon Crescent but the wide pattern of cream-colored spots and lack of a hindwing border that includes black dots is very different. The underside, if you are lucky enough to see it, is a striking pattern of orange and white stripes. This butterfly is only a temporary stray and may not be found every year.

Theona Checkerspot by Laurie Sheppard

Thursday, November 30, 2017

When Worlds Collide - A Catch and Release Story

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Fishing from the lake edge is a popular year-round pastime at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. In good weather and bad, fishermen park on the sides of the road to cast their lines. When the lake is full, it gives them the advantage of being able to keep their equipment and belongings close by in their car. They sit quietly and enjoy the outdoors, while the birds and wildlife grow accustomed to their presence.

In October, Snow and Ross’s Geese begin to arrive and by mid-November, thousands blanket the fields, eating the tender blades of wheat planted by the refuge staff. When the geese are not eating, they rest on the lake, often close to the edges. The geese feel safe on the water and they crowd together, quietly vocalizing.

With the fishermen’s lines sitting just off-shore and the geese floating closer and closer to the lake edge, accidental contact can occur. Such was the case last week when a Ross’s Goose got caught in a fisherman’s line. I had parked nearby to enjoy the sight of so many geese close to Wildlife Road between Goose Point and Plover Road when I saw a fisherman just ahead. He was reeling in what looked like a big fish, judging by the way his rod was bending. In fact, the fisherman confirmed later that he had thought the same thing.

I drove a little closer to watch the action, hoping to get some photos of the fish being caught. The fisherman saw it before I did – he was reeling in a Ross’s Goose, not a fish! Its wing had become severely tangled in the fishing line. He took great care to gently bring the goose closer because if the line broke, he might not be able to save it. When he got the goose close enough, the fisherman gently pulled the exhausted bird out of the water. He laid it in his lap and went about removing the line from its trapped wing.

The fisherman found that his hook had caught the edge of one of the Ross’s Goose’s feathers and its thrashing about had wrapped the line around and around its wing. The more the goose struggled, the more entangled it became. It took a few minutes for the fisherman to remove the line, but the bird’s wing did not appear to be damaged. He carefully picked up the goose and set it into the water at the edge of the lake. I watched as it flapped its wings, running along the water’s surface.

After a few attempts to take off, the goose stopped frantically flapping and began swimming.  Instead of heading toward the flock floating nearby, the goose swam straight out to the center of the lake. I continued to watch as it shook its head a few times and settled its wings while it kept swimming away from the flock. Finally, it turned and headed back toward the other geese but before it got there, I watched it take off and fly. Happily, the goose was unharmed by the encounter.

It’s unfortunate when worlds collide, but this fisherman showed himself to be a kind and conscientious steward of the land and the Ross’s Goose had quite a story to tell his friends.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Turkey On My Mind

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin nominated the turkey to be the national bird of the United States of America?

And that President Abraham Lincoln started the tradition of a White House pardon for a turkey on Thanksgiving – the impetus? His son Tad made friends with the turkey that was to be on the Thanksgiving menu (later named Jack!). Naming "dinner" is never a good idea.

The domestic turkey we are familiar with is descended from a subspecies that is now extinct.  There are five subspecies of the wild turkey: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande (shown below), Merriam’s and Gould’s.

Photos by Monica Muil

The wild turkeys at Hagerman NWR are Rio Grande (named for the general area in which they are found –the central plains states) and there are a number of flocks at the Refuge.  But this has not always been the case. By the late 1800’s, turkeys throughout Texas had been hunted to very low numbers. Then hunters stepped in to support conservation and restoration, and now thanks to individuals, to legislation and to organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, hunting regulations and better habitat management practices have allowed turkey populations to steadily increase in most areas.    Now more than seven million wild turkeys roam America’s woodlands. 

Several flocks of turkeys use habitat on and adjacent to the Refuge including brushy areas next to streams and the lake, or mixed oak forests near the creeks. At Hagerman, turkeys are sometimes visible along field edges or roadsides with trees and like to forage for insects and seeds in wooded areas.

Photo by Dick Malnory

An adult female turkey is called a hen. Hens generally weigh between 8 and 11 pounds. Female turkeys less than one-year-old are called a jenny. Like many other birds, the females’ feathers are more subdued in color than the males’, allowing them to better blend in with their surroundings.

Female turkeys weigh about 10 pounds while males tip the scales at closer to 20.   An adult male turkey is called a gobbler. The name comes from the sound they make in spring, to attract the hens during the mating season. Their iridescent feathers have a green-coppery sheen to them with the tips of the tail and lower back feathers being light tan. Male turkeys are known for their “beards” which are actually bristly tassels rather than feathers and grow for life instead of molting.  A male under one year of age is called a jake.

Wild turkeys can run or fly. They can run up to 19 mph for short distances. They usually fly only short distances but at speeds of up to 55 mph. They prefer the borders between woodlands and field, which provide low cover for nesting, trees for roosting and for their food source.  Wild turkeys prefer to nest in grass or brush at least 18 inches tall and usually lay 10-11 eggs that hatch in 28 days.  The young turkeys (poults) are up and running behind the hen within the first 24 hours.   Generally ground dwellers, there is a high mortality rate on poults by critters including bobcats, foxes, snakes, raccoons, and hogs, so safe night roosting sites are critical to turkey survival. Turkeys typically seek trees that are 40 feet or taller and tend to roost in groups.

Young turkeys favor insects for their diet. As they mature, mast such as acorns, pecans, and berries, along with various seeds and grains, becomes the primary diet for the wild turkey.

Although you may see turkeys any time of year, spring is an especially good time to look for these unique birds. Males can often be seen strutting around and fanning their tail feathers in hopes of impressing the ladies. When you visit Hagerman, keep an eye out for signs of wild turkeys by looking for scratching in the dirt or leaves, spotting their large three-toed footprint, or listen for gobbling sounds coming from the woods.

Wild turkeys are not migratory and often live out their lifespan within five miles of their hatching site.

Happy Turkey Day from the Friends of Hagerman!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden at Year-end

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. Now that fall has arrived, butterfly migrants are moving on and each species’ wintering form is preparing for the approaching cold. Some lingering adults will still be around until the first hard freeze but the season is virtually over. This month we’ll look back at the new species identified on the refuge in 2017.

As 2017 draws to a close, 89 species of butterflies have been documented by citizen scientists in Grayson County and of those, 84 have been found and verified on the refuge. In the spring, three butterflies previously documented in the county were photographed on the refuge. Those were Hayhurst’s Scallopwing (pictured below), Southern Broken-dash, and Dun Skipper. The Hayhurst Scallopwing is tiny, dark, and found in or very close to wooded areas, such as near the end of Oil Field Road. They fly spring through fall, but are most easily found in spring.

Hayhurst's Scallopwing

The Southern Broken-dash and Dun Skipper are also very small and like most grass skippers, they are usually found with wings closed. The Southern Broken-dash is red-orange with a gray fringe on the forewing. The hindwing has a pale spotband which sometimes resembles the number 3. They are not common in north Texas, but as shown below, may be found nectaring on late spring flowers such as Prairie Verbena.

Southern Broken-dash

The Dun Skipper, below, is one of the most widespread brown skippers but typically they are found well north of the Red River. Their wings most often are kept closed and the undersides are unmarked. They usually can be distinguished from other brown skippers by their contrasting gold head.

Dun Skipper

Each spring, Redbud blooming in the woods off of Oil Field Road attracts many pollinators, including several species of butterflies. This year, the butterflies included a pair of Silver-spotted Skippers. These are common in the east, but unusual in north Texas. Although they usually perch with their wings closed, they may open them to bask in the sun. Among their larval hosts is the Honey Locust, so perhaps a new colony will establish itself at Hagerman NWR.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Another tree with attractive blooms in early spring is Eve’s Necklace. Found at the edges of the woods along Oil Field Road, these trees attracted a Bell’s Roadside-skipper on several occasions. This tiny dark skipper inhabits moist woods and streambeds in north Texas, Oklahoma, and eastern central states. They fly from spring to fall, with three broods, but are infrequently seen.

Bell's Roadside-skipper

Surprisingly, before this spring the Cabbage White butterfly had never been documented in Grayson County, let alone on the refuge. It is an introduced species, considered to be an agricultural pest of Cabbage, Nasturtium, and cultivated Mustards and is now common throughout the U.S. The Cabbage White is less likely to be found in natural areas but with the proliferation of Bastard Cabbage on the refuge, we may see it more often.

Cabbage White

Several other new butterflies were found in 2017 and will be highlighted in next week’s blog.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Wood Duck

Cornell's All About Birds has this to say about the Wood Duck:

The Wood Duck is one of the most stunningly pretty of all waterfowl. Males are iridescent chestnut and green, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather; the elegant females have a distinctive profile and delicate white pattern around the eye. These birds live in wooded swamps, where they nest in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up around lake margins. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.

This photo by Laurie Lawler, taken at Hagerman NWR this week, exemplifies the beautiful bird.

An Original Duckumentary, a PBS Nature production, is excerpted on youtube and provides an entertaining view of fledgling Wood Ducks leaving their nest high in a tree.  According to Cornell, the nest may be as high as 50 feet off the ground! There may be anywhere from 6 to 16 chicks in a brood and they are ready to leave the nest the next day after they hatch.

The Wood Duck is the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one year.  They are mostly herbivores but will also eat caterpillars, snails, and insects.  Wood Ducks are present year-round at Hagerman but not always seen. These sightings have been reported in the Hagerman NWR Bird Census for 2017, to date,  by Jack Chiles:

March 14 - 3; March 21 - 2; March 28 - 6
May 2 - 2; May 23 - 6
June 13 -2; June 27 - 2
July 11 - 1; July 18 - 3; July 11 - 6
Aug. 8 - 4; Aug. 15 - 7; Aug. 22 -  2; Aug 29 - 3
Sept. 5 - 2; Sept. 12 - 1; Sept. 19 - 9; Sept. 26 - 2
October 3 - 2;  Oct. 17 - 11
Nov. 7 - 3

Thursday, November 2, 2017

November Plant of the Month - Passion Vine

By Judy Wilkins

Passion Vine Flower, by Dana Crites
Passiflora incarnata, commonly known as maypop or purple passion flower, is a fast-growing, woody, perennial vine with unusual blossoms. The maypop is one of the hardiest species of passion flower and is common as a wildflower in the southern United States.

The plants grow in full sun and need direct sunlight for at least half of the day and have a high drought tolerance. The best soils for P. incarnata are well-drained but the plants tolerate occasionally wet and acidic soils. It takes a year or two before maypops begin bearing and each flower has a very short life (about one day) and the fruit ripens in two to three months. The fleshy fruit is an oval yellowish berry about the size of a hen egg. It is green at first, but then becomes orange as it matures. The egg-shaped green fruit ‘may pop’ when stepped on – thus its common name. Seeds can be collected in the fall after the fruit has shriveled.

Maypop and other passion flowers are the exclusive larval host plants for the Gulf Fritillary (photo at left below, by Jim West) and non-exclusive for the Variegated Fritillary ( at right below, photo by Lindsey Hill) and the Zebra Longwing butterflies.

All season long we have been finding Fritillary caterpillars (photo below, by Sue Malnory) on the passion vines in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

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The flowers also seem to be perfectly suitable for bumblebee pollination, shown in photo below, by Mary Karam. As the bees look for nectar the pollen-filled flower anthers brush the back of the bee and when the bee moves to the next flower the pollen is readily transferred.

Native Plant Society of Texas

Texas Native Plant Database

Butterflies and

Note:  Judy Wilkins is a member of the Friends of Hagerman Board of Directors, and serves as Treasurer and Nature Nook chair.  She is a Butterfly Garden Docent and volunteers on the Garden Work Team and for school field trips.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Hagerman Halloween

Photo by Marilyn Pickens

Families can find some “naturally” enjoyable ways to get into Halloween mode at Hagerman NWR. Take a walk along one of the five trails at the Refuge and look for something creepy like a spider web or a tree “skeleton”.  Or how about a "nodding dinosaur" pump jack?  You can pick up a printed trail guide at the Visitor Center. 

Photo by Dana Crites

Photo by Donna Niemann
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Photo by Aaron Hamilton

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Photo by Joe Blackburn

Wait – hush! What was that rustling sound? Was it the wind in the dry grass or did a ghost just brush by?   
Greater Roadrunner - Photo by Terri Barnett

Barred Owl - Photo by Monica Muil

Other good “I spy” objects are – hollow tree, “faces” in the burl of a tree, animal tracks, leaf skeletons, crows, vultures, worms, and beetles.

Salamander - Photo by Michael Keck
Black Vulture - Photo by Mike Sweatt

On the way to the Refuge, look through your bird field guide for the birds wearing “masks”!

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Loggerhead Shrike - Photo by Jack Chiles
Cedar Waxwing - Photo by Ken Morton
Northern Cardinal- Photo by Rick Cantu

You can imagine the “ghost” town of Hagerman that was cleared away when Lake Texoma was built,  after visiting the historic Hagerman exhibit in the Visitor Center. 

If the Halloween fun begins to pall, you might want to move into “harvest” mode. At the Refuge, berry, nut, and mushroom picking are allowed without a permit, for personal use only, 5 gallons per person per day. Firewood cutting (from fallen trees) is allowed, with a Special Use Permit, obtainable at the Refuge Office during weekday business hours (7:30 – 4 pm, Monday – Friday).

One last thing - your car will turn into a pumpkin at sunset if you are not on your way out of the Refuge! Visit the Refuge website and for more information.