Thursday, January 18, 2018

American Kestrel

Photo by Nature's Realm
According to Cornell's  All About Birds, the American Kestrel is North America's smallest falcon and the most colorful raptor.  

Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles, or hover facing into the wind, flapping and adjusting their long tails to stay in place. 

Photo by Jack Chiles

Recently, photographers have been posting a number of photos of this beautiful little raptor taken at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on the Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page.  So we had the kestrel in mind as our topic for the week - then we discovered that a North Texas writer, Renny Gehman has the cover article, on the kestrel,  in the February, 2018 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest.  Don't miss her five-page article, with excellent descriptors.

As Gehman points out, kestrels nest in cavities, relying on existing holes.  They have one or two broods a season, with 4 - 5 eggs.  According to Cornell, which offers box plans, kestrels take readily to nesting boxes, but you would be fortunate to have a nesting pair in our North Texas area, as they are seldom seen here in summer, per the Hagerman Bird Census.

Photo by Win Goddard
Watch for the American Kestrel show at Hagerman NWR!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

January Plant of the Month - Possumhaw


Have you seen this bright berried deciduous tree or shrub that just stands out in the winter landscape? It is Ilex decidua  - commonly known by a number of names - Possumhaw, Possumhaw holly, Deciduous holly, Meadow holly, Prairie holly, Swamp holly, Welk holly, Deciduous yaupon, Bearberry, Winterberry.

Possumhaw in the rain at HNWR, by Dana Crites
According to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center website,

"Opossums, raccoons, other mammals, songbirds, and gamebirds eat the fruit of this and related species."

The spring blooms of the possumhaw also provide nectar for insects and the horizontal branches offer a platform for birds' nests.

From the Texas Native Plants Database

"Possumhaw is a large shrub or small tree frequently encountered in or near seasonally wet areas in Central and East Texas. Fairly nondescript in summer, female plants with their red, orange, or yellow fruit can become a blaze of color in the fall and winter landscape. It is the widest ranging of all Texas hollies and can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions. It can be grown in shade, but it fruits best in partial shade to full sun. Females need a male pollinator for good fruit set.

Possumhaw growing in Visitor Center landscape at HNWR
The Ladybird site notes that possumhaws can grow to 36' in height, while TAMU says 10' -12', occasionally 20', and 6' - 10' in width.  It is native within a "box" formed along the East Coast from  Virginia to Florida, from Virginia to westward to Kansas and down to Texas and in the states in between. (

Watch for possumhaw this winter as you walk the trails at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Wrap II - July - December, 2017

This week we complete our "look-back" at Hagerman NWR happenings for 2017:

July, 2017

Go green! HNWR added a water bottle filler to the drinking fountain; a counter shows the number of bottles eliminated from the waste stream.

The New Outdoor Crew has now worked on all three loops of Harris Creek Trail.

Geologist and geophysicist Diane Brownlee, below, was back for Second Saturday this month, to give an overview of Texas geology, addressing the local fossil record and plate tectonics that impacted Northwest Texas.

At The Refuge Rocks, youngsters, shown below checking their wingspan,  learned about our national bird, the eagle.

Photo by Cindy Steele

Three butterfly garden walks were held this month.

The FOH Nature Photography Club heard Paul Fuller speak on color printing of photos at the July meeting.

August, 2017  

Traffic at HNWR increased as visitors came to purchase Senior Passes before the price increase set for  August 28.

The Bluestem Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists, began their 2017 Fall Training series.

For Second Saturday, Dr. Wayne Meyer spoke on "The Shorebirds at Hagerman". Following the program,  Kelly Simpson, shown at right,  demonstrated the art of Plarn, crocheting recycled bags into useful items.

The Refuge Rocks offered children a program on "SSSNakes".

An eclipse-watching party was held at HNWR on August 21. Participants could bring their own viewers, borrow a pair of special glasses, or make a shoe box viewer. 

Photo by Roger Wilkins
September, 2017

HNWR managers Kathy Whaley and Paul Balkenbush reported to south Texas to help with Hurrican Harvey recovery.

Several successful least tern nests were reported this summer.  The Nest Box Monitors reported that from the 52 boxes along the bluebird trails, 209 birds fledged, and 139 of these were bluebirds.

Tishomingo Refuge Manager Rick Cantu was the Second Saturday speaker - his topic - "Tishomingo NRW"!

Workampers Bill and Carol Powell are back!

Children attending The Refuge Rocks were "Hobnobbing with Hummingbirds" (photo below). Courtney Anderson represented HNWR at Sherman Arts Festival, offering crafts for kids and Refuge information.

Finding nectar hummingbird style. Photo by Cindy Steele

David Alley spoke to the FOH Nature Photography Club on photo editing.

October, 2017

HNWR celebrated National Wildlife Refuge Week with a Super Saturday, Butterfly Day on October 14, organized by the Garden Docents.  Butterfly themed activities were offered throughout the day. An exhibit of butterfly photographs taken at HNWR was on display throughout the month.

Photo by Mary Maurer
The Refuge Rocks topic for October was "Go Batty with Bats".  Shown here, youngsters learn how bat mothers and young use their sense of smell to find one another.

Photo by Cindy Steele
Wildlife Drive received an upgrade and application of low-dust crushed red granite.

Another drawing and nature journaling workshop was held, led by Walt Davis, shown below, on October 28.

November, 2017

Over 200 enjoyed "High on the Hawg" on November 4.  Musical entertainment was sponsored by Landmark Bank and First United Bank, and added this year was a popular silent auction.

Greg Guymon and Little Big Iron entertained at High on the Hawg. Photo by Becky Goodman

Winning entries in the 2017 HNWR Nature Photography Contest were announced November 11.

"Protecting Wildlife" was the Second Saturday topic, with  TPWD Game Warden Michael Hummert speaking.

"Hoot for Owls" was the final Refuge Rocks session for 2017. Youngsters shown below are dissecting owl pellets.

Photo by Cindy Steele

The FOH Nature Photography Club program for November was "Photographing Bears in Alaska, with speaker Tom Savage.

Thousands of  Snow and Ross's geese began arriving at HNWR by mid-November, in time for the many visitors who make an annual pilgrimage to HNWR over Thanksgiving weekend.

Photo by Carl Hill
Workampers Kris Armstrong and Mark Gurley came to volunteer at HNWR for a month.

Garden team workdays held weekly during the growing season tapered off this month as the butterfly garden was put to bed for the winter.

December, 2017

A new 8-stop audio auto tour of the Refuge was introduced. The audio available in several formats, including personal audio devices, purchased with a grant from Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society, to plug into a car speaker system, loaner compact disks, and as a download.

Photo by James Waghorne

Jack Frost visited  HNWR early in December - note the frostweed ice formations in the Butterfly garden shown in this photo by Nancy Miller.

Dr. Michael Keck spoke on "Sex Lives of Frogs Around the World" for Second Saturday.

Plans for the annual Christmas Bird count were announced.  Count results, compiled by Dr. Wayne Meyer are posted on the Friends website.

Adopt-a-Nest Box was open for 2018 adoptions and all boxes were taken before the end of the year.

Jay Noel retired from USFWS after 33 years of service, all at Hagerman NWR.

Winning entries in the 2017 HNWR Nature Photography Contest were hung for an exhibit in the Visitor Center.

All in all, we had a great year, thanks to all the Friends members and supporters, volunteers and Refuge staff!  Here's to a repeat in 2018!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 - Almost a Wrap! January through June

Let's take a look back at the first half of 2017 at Hagerman NWR,  as we prepare to start a new calendar year:

January - We welcomed new Deputy Refuge Manager, Paul Balkenbush, shown below,
and Visitor Services/Youth Program Biologist, Courtney Anderson, and said farewell to Raye Nilius, who retired from her position as Oklahoma/North Texas Refuge supervisor for USFWS.

On Second Saturday we "traveled" to Peru with Dr. Wayne Meyer and learned about squirrels at  The Refuge Rocks, initiated in January by moving the program for children ages 4 - 12 from the first Saturday each month to the third Saturday.

The Nature Photography Club was off to a great start for the year with a program by Trey Neal, Photographing Owls at HNWR.

February -  Alex Ocanas shared her experiences volunteering with a Community Based Elephant Conservation program in Thailand, for Second Saturday, and youngsters learned about backyard birds at The Refuge Rocks, as we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Courtney Anderson with a new microscope.
Thanks to a grant from Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society, eight additional butterfly binoculars and five microscopes have been purchased for the educational program at HNWR (see photos below and at right).

Education program in the Butterfly Garden using new equipment from PTAS, May 2017

Refuge staff were monitoring a Bald Eagles' nest at HNWR, with the eagles believed to be incubating eggs.

School field trips began early in the year, scheduled by Courtney Anderson with educational activities led by volunteers and wildlife pros.

March -  Led by FOH Committee Chair Larry Vargus and Courtney Anderson, staff,  the new Outdoor Crew is working on improving trails, habitat and more at the Refuge, on the first Tuesdays and fourth Saturdays each month.

Dr. Jessica Healy educated and entertained us with "Otter Nonsense" on Second Saturday, and the youngsters were "Wild about Wildflowers" at The Refuge Rocks.

Nature Rocked also for Spring Break at HNWR, with crafts, hikes and more.  The Nature Photography Club held a Signs of Spring photo shoot, and enjoyed a program this month on Bird Photography for Beginners by Dr. Mike Keck.

Paul Balkenbush, Deputy Manager at HNWR was the featured speaker at the FOH Annual Meeting. New Life Members recognized were Wes and Teresa Crawford, shown below, honored with a gift to FOH from Exxon Mobil for volunteer service, and Derek Miller, not pictured, honored with a gift to FOH from Texas Instruments Foundation for volunteer service.

Walt Davis returned to lead a second workshop on drawing and nature journaling.

April - Regular Butterfly Garden walks began April 1, along with regularly scheduled garden workdays.  Docents benefitted from a  program on Native Bees given by Carol Clark and the Butterbike Lady stopped by at the Refuge on April 15, shown in photo below, by Melinda Hill.

Dr. Wayne Meyers spoke on Warblers at HNWR for Second Saturday, following a guided bird walk led by Jack Chiles,  and children attended The Refuge Rocks program, "Eggzactly!" shown below, in photo by Cindy Steele.

FOH provided free Save the Earth Coloring Books for Earth Day 2017.

Courtney Anderson and the Bluestem Master Naturalists held a night program, Hagerman's Enchanted Skies this month.

The Federal Junior Duck Stamp traveling exhibit of winners was on display at HNWR April  - May.

May -  A volunteer appreciation event was hosted by the Refuge staff on May 6, noting that more than 8000 hours of service had been given by volunteers in 2016.

We had a great turnout for Mother's Day in the Garden, with punch and cookies in the Butterfly Garden and lots of photo taking of moms and families.

Mother's Day in the Garden, 2017
For Second Saturday, a guided bird walk with Jack Chiles and "Weather Facts and Fiction", with Wava Denito, KXII, plus a Pollinator Photo Shoot in the Butterfly Garden.

Wava Denito, with Junior Duck Stamp exhibit in background

Youngsters learned about turtles at The Refuge Rocks.

Jimmy Thomas spoke on "Wildlife Photography in Africa", for the FOH Nature Photography Club.

June -  Dr. Wayne Meyer led the early bird walk for Second Saturday, followed by a program on Dragonflies presented by USFWS Endangered Species Specialist, Omar Bocanegra, shown at left.

Nest Box Monitors conducted weekly checks on the two Bluebird Trails at the Refuge and kept those who had adopted boxes informed of nesting activity throughout the season via  emailed reports and photos like the one below.

The Bluestem Master Naturalists sponsored Nature O'Logy, outdoor experience for youngsters ages10 -11.

Who Has Seen the Wind? was the topic for The Refuge Rocks in June, shown below.

Next week, July through December.  AND - want to know what's coming up for 2018?  See our Activities Calendar, and Happy New Year from the Friends of Hagerman!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

O Little Town of Hagerman

The holidays can be a time for nostalgia and we have been thinking about an old-time Christmas in Hagerman, imagining what it might have been like, in the town of Hagerman, Texas, the little town that was cleared away for the building of Lake Texoma.

School Christmas Pageant
From “Hagerman Schools”, by Gwen Morrison Swadlenak, reprinted in the Herald Democrat column “Other Voices”, July 13, 2008:
Hagerman School - stood near the grove of trees just north of the present-day Visitor Center

… “in about 1920, the school was moved to a two-story brick building…”, “built with three rooms downstairs and an auditorium on the second floor, later doubling as a classroom”. The Hagerman school was used as a cultural center for the community.

“the auditorium of the brick building was the scene of the last closing [other farewells had been held] program with the Christmas tree in 1942.”

Was the program a traditional school Christmas pageant, combining the secular and sacred aspects of the occasion? By the 1930s, secular tunes like “Jingle Bells,” “Up on the Housetop,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” were already becoming holiday favorites. In addition to “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” which was written in 1934, the 1930s produced this holiday classic, “Winter Wonderland” (1934).


In the South, firecrackers were long used to celebrate Christmas. However, this tradition led to a loss in the town of Hagerman, described in Donna Hunt’s column in the Herald Democrat for July 11, 2012:

“Just before Christmas in 1926, three stores on the east side of the street burned. Exploding fireworks set off by the flames announced the holiday a little prematurely. Children stood by and watched the exploding fireworks that they had thought would be brought to them by Santa Claus.”

According to the article, those stores never re-opened and with the bank’s closing in 1927, the town’s decline began.


For kids who earned a little, perhaps picking cotton (A Brief History of Hagerman, "A Pioneer Texas Town” by Annette Morrison Catts),the stores might have offered these treats: Candy from the 1920s includes candy delights such as Candy Cigarettes (before they realized ‘real’ cigarettes are bad for us!), Caramel Creams, Chiclets,Clark Bars, Tootsie Rolls, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and more.

Smith Cash Grocery Store, Hagerman, Texas

Christmas Cards

By 1920, Hagerman was a thriving community with a railroad depot, cotton gin, brick bank, a restaurant, post office (established in a home and later moved to a store), a school, a church, an ice-house and two grocery stores.

Did the grocery store offer holiday merchandise such as cards, or were they homemade? According to Wikipedia, during the Victorian era, holiday postcards had been in favor, but by the 1920’s cards with envelopes were again used. First class postage in 1920 was two cents, which would be 25.5 cents adjusted to today’s prices.

Holiday Treats

From "A Brief History of Hagerman", compiled by Dr. Jerry Lincecum:

There was … a large hardware store well-stocked with Daisy Mae butter churns, since many people kept a milk-cow in their own backyards. Cornmeal was another staple, so Hagerman had an old-fashioned noisy mill where corn was crushed and ground. An ice-house presented the means for safe storage of meat and dairy products.

Eggs for Eggnog?

There might have been fresh citrus from the Texas Valley in time for the holidays (In 1919 The California Fruit Growers Exchange began burning 'Sunkist' on their oranges - the first trademarked fresh fruit - Food  

Mail Order Gifts

(Also from Dr. Lincecum) For the founding Smith brothers, the name of the town was a foregone conclusion, since the MKT Railroad switch there was already named the Hagerman Switch (after an official of the railroad). It was a favorite stop for the train because of good water from the springs nearby. Mail would have come in by train to be distributed through the local post office.

Eerily predictive of the online shopping boom of our times, “By the early part of the twentieth century, the mail-order retailing business had become a major sector of the American economy, through which millions of rural consumers purchased a variety of goods. By 1919, Americans were buying over $500 million worth of goods a year from mail-order companies (roughly half of this business went to Wards and Sears alone). The millions of bulky mail-order catalogs sent from Chicago to points around the country had become important cultural documents, with significance that went beyond the purely economic. Particularly in rural areas, which were still home to half of the American population as late as 1920, the catalogs served not only as a marketing tool, but also as school readers, almanacs, symbols of abundance and progress, and objects of fantasy and desire."

Church Services

Originally meeting in a school or in homes, members of Hagerman Presbyterian Church moved into their first building in 1905 (see photo below). The church building was shared with both the Methodist and the Baptist congregations and for years was considered the community, or “union” church. In 1922, the Hagerman Baptist Church congregation moved to their own building, which was later moved to the present day site at the intersection of Refuge Road and Terry Lane, and has since been replaced by a newer structure. The original Presbyterian church building was later moved to Denison by the Hyde Park Presbyterian congregation. ("A Brief History of Hagerman, A Pioneer Texas Town” by Annette Morrison Catts)

Season's Greetings, from the Friends of Hagerman NWR

NOTE; This blog has been updated from the original, posted  December 24, 2015.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Truly Amazing Plant, Switchgrass - December Plant of the Month

By Linn Cates. Texas Master Naturalist, Bluestem Chapter

Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, is a fast-growing, tall, warm weather perennial grass. It forms large, open, feathery looking, finely textured seed heads that transform it from a pleasing, but plainer look, (while the nearby spring and summer flowers demand the limelight) to an impressive, dressy fall showing. This continues, though somewhat subdued, right through the winter, until mid-spring when things warm up and a whole new chorus of green leaves emerge from the switchgrass crown to begin the show anew.

Switchgrass “Heavy Metal” through the Seasons
Native to the North American prairie, switchgrass’s large range is east of the Rocky Mountains (south of latitude 55°N,) from Canada south through the United States and into Mexico. In Texas, it grows in all regions but is rare in the Trans-Pecos area of west Texas.

Prairie with switchgrass near Comfort TX. March 2011
 In our part of Texas, North Central, you can see it at Clymer Meadow, a large prairie remnant nearby in Hunt County,
Clymer Meadow. Sept. 23, 2017
in native haying meadows near St. Jo in Montague County, at Austin College’s Sneed property in Grayson County, and at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge among other places. But you could see it easily and up close by driving out to Hagerman NWR Visitor Center and taking a look in the Butterfly Garden right behind the parking area. You won’t miss it; one of the garden’s switchgrass specimens has a plaque hanging in front of it, identifying it as “Switchgrass, Plant of the Month.”

Hagerman NWR Butterfly Garden. Switchgrass. Dec. 2, 2017


The repertoire of this performer, Panicum virgatum, is extensive.

Switchgrass is used today in many ways. Conservationists use it in prairie restoration and erosion prevention. Farmers and ranchers use it in forage production, haying operations, and establishing game cover. Landscapers and gardeners use ornamental switchgrass cultivars appropriate for those settings. Agricultural research institutions have studied switchgrass for decades and developed commercial agricultural applications. Further study has included phytoremediation projects, fiber manufacture, electricity production, biofuel production, and biosequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Could switchgrass help halt global warming?! I see all this as an amazing repertoire for a plant that grows all around us, one which I have enjoyed seeing in prairies I’ve visited and in gardens I’ve worked in, but I’m increasingly awed by Switchgrass as I learn more about it.

Grow it, but do your homework first!

Switchgrass has two growth forms: upland switchgrass and lowland switchgrass, varying from one another in several significant ways. The taller (6’+) lowland type requires more moisture, has a more extensive root, and has a more aggressive growth pattern than the shorter (waist high) not so aggressive upland switchgrass with a different root system. Some lowland varieties, such as “Alamo,” are so aggressive that they can grow to be a virtual monoculture (Wasowski 1999: 135) when you may have the goal of a lovely diversified prairie. George Cates, prairie plant expert of Native American Seed, Inc., cautioned, “Know your purpose. Match your goals and objectives to the seed or plants you buy or acquire for your project.” Do you want to stabilize soil to prevent erosion or grow good forage for cattle? Are you doing a prairie restoration or diversification in existing acreage and want additional food and cover for birds and other wildlife? Are you growing biomass for market? Or are you working on public, commercial or personal landscaping? Cates summarizes his advice, “Do your homework before buying your plants or seeds!

Love your garden? – Think about adding switchgrass to it.

Switchgrass will grow in many soil types; it’s not finicky. Sand, loam, clay, caliche all work for it. It likes full sun, but does well in part shade (half day full sun, half day shade.) Switchgrass can grow in medium to moist soils and after establishment does not need watering in addition to rainfall, but also will tolerate poorly drained soils. It can be propagated by root division while dormant if you know someone willing to divide theirs and share. Here is a link to a short video on how to do it. (The Garden Gate. 2016) Susan Mahr recommends that one divide the roots every three years. (Mahr 2015). Ornamental Switchgrass cultivars are not too hard to find in local and nearby nurseries. Twin Oaks on the Sherman/Denison border carried two attractive cultivars last year: “Heavy Metal” and “Shenandoah. “Heavy Metal” is a tightly upright switchgrass with blue-green leaves that turn rich amber in the fall and to lighter tan by winter. See the first photo of this blog. It is 3’ tall with pink toned flower spikes that make it a foot or more taller. The tiny seeds of “Heavy Metal” are a dark burgundy color. “Shenandoah;” grows to 4’ and has variegated leaves with red leaf tips early. In the fall it shows burgundy foliage and a burgundy seed head.
 “Shenandoah” Switchgrass

Ornamental switchgrass cultivars are bred to have properties that work well aesthetically in gardens. They are tall and remain upright; even if knocked over by heavy rain or snowfall they will often stand back up. They have year-round interest, so they function much like an evergreen shrub would. You can use them in attractive ways, in pairs to set off a park bench,

Placement of Switchgrass behind a garden park bench
in groups at the back of deep flower beds or in mixed plantings with other tall or mid-size prairie grasses and spring, summer, or fall flowers.

Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR. October 4, 2017

 You can use Switchgrass plants singly or in a row close together (4’) to create a visual barrier

Switchgrass at the edge of my patio. Oct.2017                          

or to hide an unsightly area. The above plant suggestions are all native to our North Central Texas area and will do much to provide nectar and host plants for our region’s butterflies. Switchgrass is the host plant for four Texoma butterflies: the Least Skipper, the Delaware Skipper, the Dotted Skipper and the Broad-wing Skipper. The Delaware Skipper has been sighted at Hagerman by Laurie Shephard who writes the Friends of Hagerman NWR monthly “Beyond the Butterfly Garden,” in which she chronicles her butterfly sightings with photos and observations of what she sees on the Refuge. Planting species native to one’s region, whether trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, flowers or ground covers, will definitely bring more butterflies and birds your way and most importantly you will be playing a positive role in helping nature do its job to provide for us all, all the interconnected web of life of which we are a part.

What’s your favorite prairie plant?

This summer and fall as I worked as a gardener and docent in Hagerman’s Butterfly Garden, I thought my favorite was Gregg’s Mistflower because every time I looked from late spring to late fall (7 +months) I would see many butterflies (Queens, Monarchs, Painted Ladies, Gulf Fritillaries, Variegated Fritillaries, Bordered Patches, ETC!! nectaring on the large clusters of its pretty, fuzzy light purple flowers. But today, I may have a new favorite: Switchgrass! Tell me yours?

A Final Thought: Keep learning! Me learning with my son George.


Cates, George D. 2017. Private communication.
Diggs, George, et al. 1999. Shinners & Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas. Ft. Worth: BRIT and Austin College.
Ecological Solutions: The Grass Issue. Spring 2017. Native American Seed (Catalog). Junction, TX
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2017. “Find Plants.”
Mahr, Susan. 2015. “Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum.”
National Wildlife Foundation. 2017. “Native Plant Finder.”
Sheppard, Laurie. 2017. “Beyond the Butterfly Garden.”
The Garden Gate. June 28, 2016. “Maintaining and Dividing Switchgrass.”
Wasowski, Sally and Andy. 1999. Native Texas Plants. Landscaping Region by Region. Second Edition. Lanham, MD: Lone Star Books.

Photo Credits
01: Susan Mahr
02: T Cates
03: T Cates
04: L Cates
O5: Susan Mahr
O6: Susan Mahr
07: L Cates
08: L Cates

09: T Cates