Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hummingbirds

Text and Photo by Renny S.Gehman

A blur, a whir—a hummingbird! Hummers are back at our Texas feeders after wintering in Mexico. Their arrival is eagerly anticipated and greatly enjoyed—almost everyone gets a thrill when they spot one of these tiny creatures. Here in North Texas that usually happens around April 1st and mine were right on time.  



In our part of Texas the most common hummingbird in our garden is the ruby-throated, although this year I’ve been blessed with a visiting black-chinned male—who was nice enough to perch on a nearby bush long enough for me to see the purple throat which distinguishes it from the other visitors at my window feeder. Although in some lights, ruby throats and black chins can look similar, the most obvious distinguishing mark is their throat color: either red or purple. Both can look black in some lights! Since their females are so similar, I just assume that the female I’m also seeing is actually more than one!

Part of our fascination with hummers happens because of both their small size and swift speed. A hummingbird—any of the 18 species found in the U.S.—is the smallest bird, but can reach speeds equal to geese, accelerating to 60 mph from a standing start in less than three feet! No other species matches their flying skill—they can hover, fly up or down, and also backwards because of their extremely large breast muscles, which move their wings in a figure-8 pattern unique among birds.

With their high energy output, hummingbirds must eat every ten to fifteen minutes—a reason why they’re such regular visitors at our feeders. In fact, because of their energy requirements, hummers go into “torpor” or a reduced energy state at night when their heart beat slows, body temperature drops and they cannot move. But these little birds still use so much energy at rest, it is comparable to the amount a human uses during vigorous exercise.

The best way to help these high-energy flyers is to provide them with multiple food sources. Feeders are one food source humans can provide, but we need to remember some important guidelines:
  • Red dye is not necessary—and may actually be harmful!
  • Always boil your water.
  • Do not use honey—use refined white sugar. Honey promotes dangerous fungal growth.
  • Clean your feeders regularly—every few days, or even daily in hot weather—to avoid harmful fungal growth.

For detailed instructions, with amounts and proportions, follow this link to the Audubon Society’s website: http://www.audubon.org/news/how-make-hummingbird-nectar

Besides providing feeders, you can choose garden plants, like sage, honeysuckle and lantana, which attract hummingbirds—and often butterflies, as well. Some suggestions on planting a hummingbird garden are available in the Texas Parks and Wildlife brochure. To access online, follow this link: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_w7000_1173.pdf.

Hummingbirds are fun; I’m never sure if I enjoy their iridescent colors, their acrobatic flying or their territorial squabbles more. They pack a lot of entertainment in a small package—and certainly demonstrate the truth of the familiar adage, Little, but Oh, my!

Ed Note: At Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can enjoy Ruby-throated and occasional Black-chinned hummers at the feeder outside the Visitor Center and in the Butterfly Garden!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

From the Nature Nook Bookshelf - Field Guides to Rocks and Minerals

Field Guides to Rocks and Minerals
Book Review by Jean Flick

The marvelous geodes in the Nature Nook and the large decorative crystal in the butterfly garden are both favorites of children visiting Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  Kids know:  rocks are fun!!   Beyond fun, Rachel M. Barker, with the US Geologic Survey (USGS) reminds us that rocks “tell the story of the Earth.”

Most rocks at the Earth’s surface are formed from only 8 elements (oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium), but these elements are combined in various ways to make rocks that are very different.  Geologists classify rocks into the three major groups (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic), according to the major Earth processes that formed them (USGS website).  HNWR is located where the gently rolling black land prairies meet the more hilly terrain of the eastern cross timbers, providing us a glimpse into the geologic footprint that began millions of years ago when northern Texas was covered by a huge, warm, shallow sea.
               
There are three different rock and mineral field guides available in the HNWR Nature Nook.  Each offers unique features for the beginning or experienced geologist to explore and learn about a wide variety of geologic phenomena.  As you wander the refuge, by car or foot, be sure to take a rock and mineral field guide with you and discover more about “the story of the Earth” right here in our corner of that Earth.



The National Geographic Pocket Guide:  Rocks and Minerals of North America by Sarah Garlick.

This compact field guide, published in 2014 by the National Geographic Society, is lightweight and will fit easily in a backpack, pocket, or fanny pack.   The guide features 160 geologic forms and phenomena and is organized into the categories of minerals, rocks, fossils, and structures and landforms.  Each page contains high-quality photos of individual specimens for close-up comparison and photos of larger formations that might be viewed from a trail or road.  Key facts are presented in an interesting manner, making this an excellent guide for a family outing that will include a look at geologic features.

Use as a first guide for young and old to share in the discovery of the wonders of geology.

Smithsonian Nature Guide:  Rocks and Minerals by Ronald Louis Bonewitz

This guide, published by DK Publishing (first American edition 2012), offers full-page profiles of 270 rocks and minerals.  Each profile includes a large photo of each specimen, along with small photos of variants and a concise description of key features.  The guide begins with general information about minerals, crystals, gems, and rocks and includes several pages of helpful hints for beginning collectors.  At 350 pages, this guide is still small and light enough to carry in a backpack, but loaded with large photos for easy identification.

Use to delve more deeply into the world of rocks and minerals and as a reference when beginning your own rock collection.

Peterson Field Guides:  Rocks and Minerals by Frederick H. Pough

This fifth edition, published by Houghton-Mifflin Co. in 1988, offers more in-depth information.  Photos of individual specimens, as well as various landforms, are grouped together in the middle of the book for convenience in identification and comparison.  Individual rocks, minerals, and other geologic phenomena are discussed in greater depth with comprehensive information on each specimen or topic.  At almost 400 pages, the guide packs in a wealth of information but is still well-sized to be carried in a backpack.

Use to glean the most in-depth information when learning about geologic specimens.

Photo Collage - Rocks at HNWR, by Jean Flick



The Nature Nook is run by Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  All proceeds are used for projects and activities at HNWR. 


Thursday, April 5, 2018

American Basketflower, April Plant of the Month

Centaurea americana - American Basketflower

By Sharon Parrish

American Basket Flower, sometimes called Shaving Brush or Straw-hat, is in the Sunflower family and the only genus native to North America.   It is found in several states in southwest and north central US, as well as New York and South Carolina.  The plant starts growing in late winter with blooming periods from May to July or August.





American Basketflower stands two to five feet high with two-three inch wide showy blooms that are generally lavender in color, with creamy centers, and have a honey fragrance.  The height of the plant is largely dependent on soil conditions and rainfall.   The plant can grow in sand, loam or clay and is found along roadsides, meadows, prairies and farmed or overgrazed fields. It grows best in full sun, and if enough land area is available, can be found in large colonies. 


This annual reseeds easily and has low water requirements.  Stems are enlarged below the head and sport narrow simple leaves that attach directly to the stem.  The leaves are smooth with no teeth and no hairs.  The petals that make up the plant head are held by a basket weave phyllary, appearing as a bloom in a basket (hence the name). Look for it soon in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and in the wild there also.



Nectar from the blooms is high in sugar and amino acids, and pollen is high in protein.  The plant attracts hummingbirds, songbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.  Game and songbirds especially nourish on the seeds, shown below,  that are relatively large with excellent nutritional value.   American Basketflower is not grazed by wildlife or livestock and has no diseases or pests.   The plant is generally tolerant of floods, droughts and freezing temperatures.




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

Range Plants of North Central Texas, Ricky J. Linex, 2014

Native American Seeds, www.seedsource.com, 2015

Note: Sharon Parrish is a Texas Master Naturalist, a Butterfly Garden Docent at HNWR and regularly volunteers in the Visitor Center there also.



Thursday, March 29, 2018

Rare Butterfly At Hagerman

Text and photos by Laurie Sheppard

One of the ongoing projects of the Butterfly Garden Docents is to identify every species of butterfly that lives on or visits Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The Butterfly Garden is commonly visited by a wide variety of butterfly species. Some previously rarely seen butterflies have become common sightings because of their attraction to the garden’s nectar and host plants. However, volunteers frequently find new species in places other than the garden. This is the story of a butterfly that is unlikely to ever visit the Butterfly Garden. It favors a specific habitat and rarely travels far from its “birthplace”.

Driving down Sandy Point Road last spring, I saw many yellow flowers along the roadside and in the open fields around the oil pumpers. There were several different types of butterflies hovering around, so I stopped to check what species were there. When I looked closely, I found a butterfly I had never seen before clinging to the stalk of the plant. It was a Frosted Elfin and we logged it as a new species on the refuge. In November, when we were reviewing the new species for the year, we discovered this little butterfly is the subject of great concern due to its diminishing numbers and actual disappearance from large parts of its historic range.

Frosted Elfin

Historical records show that the Frosted Elfin was found throughout the eastern half of Texas. However, in the past decade, only three sightings, including the one at Hagerman had been made public, adding to the uncertainty over the butterfly’s status. It is speculated that loss of habitat is the greatest threat to this species. The North American Butterfly Association received a Texas Conservation License Plate Wildlife Diversity Grant to create a “state status assessment of the Frosted Elfin”. Volunteer Texas Master Naturalists are participating in this effort with the cooperation and assistance of the Butterfly Garden Docents and refuge staff.

The host plant for the Frosted Elfin in Texas is any of three varieties of Wild Indigo. Yellow Wild Indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) grows abundantly in the Sandy Unit of the refuge, so that was our target area for investigation. The plants began to emerge in early March but were obscured by last year’s grasses and refuse. We checked the area frequently and eventually, could see how widespread the plants are. They are now forming buds and will soon be blooming. Finally, on March 21, we saw our first Frosted Elfins of 2018.



The Frosted Elfins are currently mating and placing their eggs on or near the plants’ flower buds. As the plants develop and bloom, the eggs will hatch and tiny Frosted Elfin caterpillars will feed and grow. The caterpillars will be less than half an inch long when they pupate. Each of this year’s caterpillars will begin metamorphosis but remain in its chrysalis until emerging as an adult butterfly next spring. Frosted Elfins have only one brood per year.


So far this year, we’ve identified at least fifteen adult butterflies while looking only at the edges of the fields of Wild Indigo. It’s likely there are more that haven’t been seen. These butterflies may have escaped notice at Hagerman because of their small size (a closed wingspan of 1/2"), secretive low-flying behavior, and similarity to other dark butterflies also emerging in early spring. Now that we know where they are, though, the habitat can be protected to secure these threatened butterflies.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Survey of Visitors Set to Begin at HNWR

By Jean Flick



Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has been selected as a participant in the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Survey for 2018.  The thirty-five refuges selected represent all regions of the country and each has annual visitation of at least 50,000.  Two sampling periods are scheduled at HNWR, with the first period from March 22 – April 1.  The second sampling period will be in the fall.  During each survey period, two survey staff will conduct visitor surveys at four refuge locations.  Multiple areas were selected in an effort to capture visitors with diverse interests in the refuge.  

Watercolor- HNWR Visitor Center -  by Sandy Weir
During the first survey period, the selected areas include the Visitor Center, Harris Creek Trailhead and Kiosk, Big Mineral Day Use Area, and the intersection of Refuge Road and Wildlife Drive.  Visitors will be asked if they are willing to participate in an online or mail survey.  If willing, contact information will be collected by the surveyors.  The surveyors, who are from American Conservation Experience (ACE) and the Ohio State University, will be housed at the refuge during the two sampling periods.



According to Kathy Whaley, refuge manager, the USFWS has increased its emphasis on improving visitor services and experiences in recent years.  The Visitor Survey is designed to gather information about who visits refuges, and what activities are most important to visitors.  The survey also assesses visitor satisfaction with access, facilities, and available recreational opportunities, as well as looking at related transportation on and off the refuge, and the economic contribution of visitors to the local economy. 

HNWR participated in the last National Visitor Survey, conducted in 2012.  At that time, over 10,000 responses were received from the 73 refuges that participated, with over 200 responses received from visitors at HNWR.  Surveyed visitors at HNWR listed participation in a variety of refuge activities during the 12 months prior to completing the survey; the top three activities in which people reported participating were bird watching (71%), wildlife observation (71%), and auto tour route/driving (53%). The primary reasons identified for visitors’ most recent visits included bird watching (32%), hunting (13%), and wildlife observation (10%). Eighty-seven percent of visitors also used the HNWR Visitor Center during their visits.  In all areas of visitor satisfaction, the response rates ranged from 94-97% expressing satisfaction.  Over half of visitors surveyed expressed interest in a tram tour of the refuge.  A twice-weekly tram tour was implemented in 2012 and is conducted by FOH volunteers.


The overall satisfaction of visitors at HNWR is clearly evidenced by the increase in visitation at HNWR, increasing from 135,000 in 2011 to 181,000 in 2017.  Kathy Whaley expressed hope that the 2018 Visitor Survey will continue to affirm the work of  the HNWR staff and volunteers of “doing what we are supposed to be doing, ” as expressed in the USFWS publication “Meet the National Wildlife Refuge System:  Special Places Where Wildlife and People Thrive:”


The Refuge System strives to make refuges welcoming, safe, and accessible places for visitors, and to provide visitors a variety of ways to enjoy, learn about, appreciate, and help conserve fish, wildlife, and plants. While carrying out national conservation goals, we strive to be valued components of local communities. We also strive to foster an informed and engaged citizenry that actively supports and understands the value of conservation and the role of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

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.