Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hey Ma! Is that Snow?

It must be late summer when you see Snow-on-the-Prairie! Driving along the roads to  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, this plant with cool appearing green and white leaves actually does look like a light dusting of snow where it is growing en masse. This white flowering plant can blanket a prairie in no time at all, hence the name. Because livestock stay away from the poisonous sap that the plant emits, it doesn't take much for it to cover a field. 

Snow-on-the-Prairie, by Brenda Loveless
There are actually two plants, Euphorbia bicolor Engelm. and A. Gray, and Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata Pursh; NPIN, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database, notes that the two are often confused.

As members of the Spurge Family, both plants have a milky sap that is irritating to humans with sensitive skin, as well as to the eyes and is toxic to cattle.  A volunteer at the Refuge told us that beekeepers try to keep bees away from the plant, as it makes the honey "hot".

Poinsettias are members of the same family. Growing 1 - 4 feet tall, in poor soils, the plants multiply by throwing seed, described by Dorothy Thetford in Wildflowers-of-Texas. Thetford says, “This ballistic dispersal of seeds explains the scattered arrangement of plants on the prairie.”

Both plants are annuals in the spurge family. The actual flowers are tiny white blossoms, surrounded by the green and white bracts. The bract of bicolor (in photos) is narrower than that of marginata.  The National Resources Conservation Service shows a range for Snow-on-the-Prairie including Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The bloom time is July – October. Anything that helps us think "cool" at this time of year in Texas is welcome!

NOTE: This is becoming an annual post!  Various versions posted in August 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – August, 2017

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. Although it seems the heat will never end, the blooming of Snow-on-the-Prairie signals a change. Thistle still blooms and Frostweed is a popular nectar plant on roadside edges.

Some butterflies can be found throughout the United States, while others are only seen in a localized area. A few stray into a different geographic area to feed but not to deposit eggs. While climate is a key factor in where a species is found, more important is the presence of a preferred food source for caterpillars and adults.

In Grayson County, butterfly watchers have documented 87 different species and most of those have been found on the refuge. The Painted Lady, at right, 
is a frequent visitor to all parts of the refuge because the adults are willing to nectar from a wide variety of blooms. They lay eggs on Thistle, Mallow, and many other plants. As you might imagine, this makes them one of the most common butterflies found, not only in the U.S. but around the world!

The American Lady, at left, looks very similar but it has a smaller range because of its nectaring habits and larval food sources.  You might find both feeding in the same location, especially if there is thistle in the area. The two primary ways to tell them apart are the number and size of the spots on the hindwing (Painted Lady has four equally sized spots) and the presence of a white dot in the orange area near the forewing’s edge on the American Lady. Look for “ladies” wherever you see flowers.

The Southern Broken-dash, shown at right,  is an uncommon butterfly in Grayson County. As its name implies, it is found in southern states and only in the east. It is one of the many skippers found on the refuge but may be difficult to identify without a photo. The adults feed on low flowers and their caterpillars feed on grasses. Look for them in the Sandy Point unit where grasses are not mowed and fall flowers grow undisturbed.

The Skipper family is widely varied in color and characteristics. The Common Checkered-skipper, shown at left,  is the most widespread because it adapts well to any environment. These are found in nearly all habitats but their larval food source is Mallow. Look for them in disturbed areas along roadsides, especially on any of the pad roads off of Oil Field Road. 

Reakirt’s Blue, at right,  is common throughout Texas and northward into Oklahoma and Kansas. Its range extends somewhat westward but is primarily found in the center of the country. It is in the family of Gossamer-winged butterflies and is easily identified by the four dark spots on its forewing. As with many hairstreaks and blues, look for these anywhere Frog Fruit and other low flowers grow, including along the Auto Tour. 

Another western blue is the Marine Blue, at right. These are found from Texas to California, but
since Hagerman NWR is near the eastern edge of their range, they are not always seen. However, they are far from rare and it’s worth a close look at every small grayish butterfly to see how many varieties you can find. As with most hairstreaks and blues, the pad roads are good places to look, where low flowers are abundant.

The strikingly colored Great Purple Hairstreak, shown at left, is also a Gossamer-winged butterfly, although it could never be mistaken for its gray cousins. It is only found in the south, from coast to coast, because its larval host is Mistletoe. Look up in the trees to catch a glimpse of one laying her eggs. 

Laurie Sheppard is a Texas Master Naturalist and regular blogger for Friends of Hagerman.

Please note:  Butterfly Garden Walks are set for August 19, September 2, 16, and 30 -  AND  - October 14 is Butterfly Day at Hagerman NWR, a full day of butterfly themed activities, talks and more!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Coral Honeysuckle, August Plant of the Month

By Nancy Cushion

Visitors to the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge can relax in the shady small pergola at the back of the garden. The shade is provided by a native vine, Lonicera sempervirens, or Coral Honeysuckle. Other common names for L. sempervirens are woodbine, trumpet honeysuckle, red honeysuckle, and evergreen honeysuckle.

Coral honeysuckle is a smooth, twining evergreen vine bearing dark, shiny green leaves which are white on the lower surface. The upper pair of leaves are fused together, just below the flower cluster. The tubular or trumpet shaped corolla occurs in whorls of four to six blossoms. They are usually red outside and orange inside, or rarely, all orange or yellow. Red to green twining stems fade to gray with a shreddy texture when mature. Clusters of red berries mature in September to October. Ornamentally, coral honeysuckle is well suited to climb on a fence or trellis, it is evergreen through most of Texas, and often blooms in January and sporadically throughout the growing season March to June to attract pollinators.

Coral honeysuckle is a native of  East Texas and much of the eastern U.S.; the plant apparently tolerates a wide variety of soils, and once established, it requires very little, if any, watering.  It is wide ranging from Connecticut to Florida, west through the south and midwest to Nebraska.   For those wanting to incorporate this attractive native into their home landscape, this vine is widely available at local nurseries.

Snowberry Clearwing caterpillar

Snowberry Clearwing
(Hemaris diffinis)
Coral honeysuckle is a larval host for the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (shown above) and Spring Azure butterfly (shown below) and is also a nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina "ladon")


Native Plant Society of Texas

Texas Native Plant Database

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Butterflies and

Note: Nancy Cushion is a member of the Blackland Prairie Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

8th Annual HNWR Nature Photography Contest

From the FOH Nature Photography Club

On Golden Pond - By Kim Morris, 1st place Beginner/Intermediate Wildlife, 2016
Have you heard this saying about visiting a refuge or wilderness area, "Leave only footprints, take only memories"?  Well, you can also take away "digitized memories" aka photographs.  Photography at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most popular activities.  Now you have an opportunity to share some of your best efforts and compete for cash, ribbons, and recognition as well in the 8th Annual Hagerman NWR Photography Contest.

Dew - By Donna Niemann, 1st Place, Artistic Category, 2013
Ribbons will be awarded for the First, Second, and Third place in each of four categories in two divisions. In addition, a cash prize of $50.00 will be awarded for First Place in each category and $100.00 for the single photo judged as Best of Show. Winners will be determined by a panel of three judges, who will review the submitted photos without knowing the identity of any of the photographers.

The entry period for the contest begins on August 1 and runs through August 31. Photographers can enter as many photos as they choose in one of two divisions - Beginner/Intermediate, and Advanced, and in 4 different categories:

Wildlife – Animals and birds in their natural habitat.

American Avocet - by Laurie Lawler, 1st place, Wildlife Category, 2012
Flora and Macro – Flowers, trees, and shrubs in their natural habitat. This category includes images of insects, plants, and animals taken with specialized macro equipment, settings or close-up images taken with a telephoto lens.

Peek a Boo - by Nancy Miller, 1st Place, Fora and Macro Category, 2011
Landscape – Expansive and dramatic views of the land and its features. Photographs in this category may include images of people enjoying the Refuge.

Winter Sunset - By Ron Varley, 1st Place, Advanced Landscape Category, 2016
Artistic – Artistic compositions in nature, both natural and manipulated in post processing (black and white, infrared, stitched panoramas, multiple-exposure, digital manipulation). Photographs in this category may include images of people enjoying the Refuge.

Into the Night - by Denise Remfert, 1st place, Artistic Category, 2015

Photos entered must have been taken at Hagerman NWR within the past five years.  
All entries including those sent by mail must be RECEIVED at Hagerman NWR by 4:00 pm on August 31. THERE WILL BE NO DEADLINE EXTENSION!   Entries can be dropped off or mailed to the Refuge at: 

Hagerman Photo Contest, 6465 Refuge RoadShermanTX 75092-5817

Doe - By Eileen Sullivan, 1st Place, Artistic Category, 2011
 Complete information about the photo contest rules, entry fees, entry form, and contest tips is available online (see sidebar on Club page)*. If you have questions regarding the photography contest, please contact us.

Storm Coming Through - By Randy Conaway, 1st place, Landscape Category, 2014
*UPDATE:  Please note the on July 29, 2017 the photo contest rules were updated to expand the definition of the Artistic category to include HDR.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bluestem Master Naturalists Support Grayson County Conservation Efforts

By Helen Vargus

In 2012 a small group with an interest in the natural world around them got together at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  With input from Friends of Hagerman board members, they developed a plan to develop a Texas Master Naturalist chapter to serve Grayson County.  They made application to the Texas Master Naturalist organization to charter the Bluestem Chapter, developed a curriculum, wrote by-laws and a chapter handbook.  In August of 2012, the new Bluestem Texas Master Naturalist chapter held their very first Texas Master Naturalist class with 12 individuals. 

Sneed Prairie Group Shot - Very First Class
                 Bluestem Master Naturalists are trained and certified volunteers who have a desire to learn more about their natural environment.  Naturalists have an interest in conserving the natural resources and ecological regions of Texas.   Training enables the volunteers to give back to their local communities by providing education and service. 

Bluestem Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist partners with Hagerman NWR, Friends of Hagerman, and Eisenhower State Park and provides volunteers for their programs and projects.  The Bluestem Chapter also has individual projects that they institute to serve these partners. 

At Hagerman NWR the Bluestem members receive service hours credit in multiple ways.  Bluestem members are involved in garden maintenance, trail maintenance and development, and tram vehicle maintenance.  They conduct citizen science for Cornell Ornithology Lab by monitoring bluebird houses and participating in weekly bird counts.  Butterfly Garden docents, Visitor Center volunteers, tram drivers, and leaders or aides for school trip visits and Refuge Rocks monthly youth programs provide educational opportunities to children and adults alike.  Some Bluestem members also serve on the Friends of Hagerman Board which sponsors many of the Refuge programs.

At Eisenhower State Park Bluestem members work closely with Ranger Kate Saling to help with TWPD activities and programs.  Bluestem Chapter has also adopted a section of prairie at Eisenhower for a prairie restoration project.

Bluestem Chapter sponsors short programs and day-long seminars which are open to the public to provide educational information on conservation issues property owners can use on their own properties whether they have acreages or small yards.  Some past programs have included Rainwater Conservation, Butterflies, Beekeeping, and Wildscapes for Wildlife.

An annual Bluestem Chapter event held at Hagerman NWR is a Nature O’logy one day summer experience for elementary students.  Campers learn about wildflowers, constructing bird houses, trail hikes, art and nature, and pond ecology.

2017 Nature O’logy Camp
You might find the Bluestem Chapter at the Earth Day in Sherman or other area festivals throughout the year.   For the past two years, they have provided a children’s corner and nature activities at the annual Grayson County Master Gardeners Fall Garden Show.

Texoma Earth Day Booth
             Texas Master Naturalists are encouraged to specialize in subjects that interest them. Some of our volunteers are trained as Texas Water Specialists and Texas Master Volunteer Insect Specialists. Many of our members conduct citizen science for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRahs) by daily monitoring precipitation on their own land. This collected data is used by organizations such as the National Weather Service, television meteorologists, farmers, hydrologists, researchers, emergency managers, and water resource managers. During the fall Monarch migration butterflies are caught, tagged, and released and the data is sent to Monarch Watch.

About the Texas Master Naturalist Organization
The Texas Master Naturalist organization is a statewide organization jointly sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  The goals of the program are to improve public understanding of natural resource ecology and management through the development of a local body of knowledge and to provide educational training and development of volunteers who can provide volunteer service to the residents of Texas.
The first Texas Master Naturalist chapter was developed in 1997 in San Antonio.  Within two years programs had extended to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin areas.  As they approach their 20th Anniversary as a state-wide organization more than 48 chapters exist serving 194 Texas counties and new chapters are forming all the time.  This program has been used as the model for Master Naturalist programs throughout the United States.
                Since its inception, more than 416 partnerships have been developed.  Texas Master Naturalist organizations have trained nearly 10,500 volunteers.  Volunteers contributed more than 3.262 million hours of volunteer service valued at $75 million dollars to the state of Texas.  More than 221,357 acres of wildlife and native plant habitats have been impacted.  Trails maintained and developed number 2,015 miles.  Contacts with Texas residents of all ages more than 5.365 million.

How to Participate:  Bluestem Chapter 2017 Texas Master Naturalist Classes Forming Now           
The Texas Master Naturalist Program has three components leading to certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.  Individuals will attend 40 hours of Initial Basic Training.  Interns will provide 40 hours of volunteer service and a take an additional 8 hours of Advanced Training.  Upon completion of these requirements, an intern becomes a certified Texas Master Naturalist.  Master Naturalists recertify each year by donating 40 hours of service and receiving 8 hours of Advanced Training.
 Instructors for the Initial Training classes will come from Austin College, Grayson College, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M Agri-Life, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Heard Museum, Texas Master Naturalist, and individuals with specialties in Conservation, Ornithology, Citizen Science, and Archaeology.
If you have an interest in the natural world and a desire to learn more about conserving our natural resources, plan to join us on August 15, 2017, as we begin our next Texas Master Naturalist Training Class.  Classes will run from August 15 through December 5. The cost for the class is $100 per individual which includes a copy of the textbook, Texas Master Naturalist.  For more information visit our website at or visit our Facebook page: Bluestem Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Interior Least Terns

If you have visited Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in the last week you have probably noticed that C Pad and D Pad are barricaded. These pads are sites that the Least Terns have chosen to build their nests. The Interior Least Tern is an endangered species due to loss of habitat and is protected by Federal Regulations.

According to Paul Balkenbush, HNWR Deputy Manager, on July 5, 2017, "We observed about 24 adults foraging and loafing including 16 on C Pad and 8 on D Pad. There was some transfer between pads so a total count was challenging. We also observed three ILT nests (one on C Pad and two on D Pad) but there could have been more. We did not venture close enough to be certain because of the potential of stepping on eggs. Both C and D pads are protected from traffic via barricades. I plan to take another look tomorrow to see if there is ILT activity on other pads that need to be protected."

Nesting Tern, 2011, by Jack Chiles
The Least Tern is the smallest of the North American terns. The breeding adult is gray above, with a black head and nape and with black extending from the eye to the bill. It has a white forehead and an orange-yellow bill with a dark tip. The underparts are white and the legs orange-yellow. In flight look for the black wedge on the outer primaries (the outermost wing feathers) and the short deeply forked tail. An average adult is 8 to 10 inches in length and has a 20-inch wingspan.

Interior Least Terns usually begin nesting here in late May or early June preceded by 2 to 3 weeks of noisy courtship. This includes finding a mate, selecting a nest site, and strengthening the pair bond. Courtship often includes the “fish flight”, an aerial display involving aerobatics and pursuit, ending in a fish transfer on the ground between two displaying birds. Courtship behaviors also include nest preparation and a variety of postures and vocalizations. Least Terns are colony nesters where nests can be as close as 10 feet apart but often are more than 30 feet apart. The nest that you usually see here is a very shallow depression in the gravel.

The terns are late this year. Egg-laying usually begins in late May with the female laying 2 to 3 eggs over a period of 3 to 5 days which are then incubated, with the male and female alternately sharing duties for a period of about 21 days. The eggs are pale to olive buff and speckled or streaked with dark purplish-brown, chocolate or blue-gray markings.

Nesting adults defend an area surrounding the nest (territory) against intruders. Intruders can include humans, coyotes, fox, raccoons, bobcats, domestic dogs and cats, American Crows, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons among other creatures. When defending a territory, the incubating bird will fly around giving an alarm call and diving repeatedly at the intruder.

Where's Waldo?  Find the Tern chick in this photo, taken in 2009 by Dick Malnory
The chicks hatch within one day of each other and remain in the nest for about a week. Then they will wander from the nest in search of shade or cover. They will be able to fly within 3 weeks of hatching.
For feeding the Least Terns need shallow water like we have at Hagerman NWR which provides an abundance of small fish.
Tern parent with chick, 2011, by Eileen Sullivan
In an effort to help the terns successfully raise their young we monitor the terns a minimum of once a week during the nesting season. We try to locate all the nests and map them out. Then we keep records of eggs laid, eggs successfully hatched and birds that fledge. 

For 2017, two artificial "Tern Islands" have been placed in the lake near the pads off Oilfield Roads, but so far they have not accepted them for nesting places.  Balkenbush says"No terns were observed on the nesting platforms or showing any interest in them. I am concerned that the newly-added cross wires (to deter predators) might be making the artificial habitat less desirable. I am considering removing the cross wires from at least one platform tomorrow to see if it makes a difference. We will also put out some decoys on both. Seems like a good opportunity for an experiment."

Tern Island I, 2015
The Least Terns will probably be observed around the pads until late August. After the Least Terns leave in late summer we will be anxiously awaiting their return next spring as they usually return to the same breeding site year after year.

Interior Least Tern in Flight, 2011, by Laurie Sheppard
Text by Jack Chiles, Texas Master Naturalist, originally published on July 13,  2011, updated for July, 2017 by the editor.

For information about the Friends of Hagerman, see

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – July, 2017

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. Summer continues, but the heat cannot diminish the beauty of the Buttonbush and Thistle, now joined by Sunflowers and Sawleaf Daisies. Tiny Frog Fruit continues to attract butterflies.

The family of butterflies known as Whites and Sulphurs has several members that can be found at Hagerman NWR throughout most of the year. Look for them in open fields, along roadsides, and at the edges of forests. The largest Sulphur in the group is the Cloudless Sulphur (shown below), often seen on flowers or at mud. With a wingspan of three inches and a sunny yellow upper wing surface, these are hard to miss. The underside is sometimes marked with brownish spots, but always has 1-2 bold white spots on both the forewing and the hindwing.

Cloudless Sulphur

Orange Sulphur

Somewhat smaller, with a wingspan averaging a bit over two inches is the Orange Sulphur, shown above. This is arguably the most common butterfly seen at the refuge due to its many nectar sources and frequent overlapping brood hatches. The upper surface of the Orange Sulphur’s wings is bordered in black—a feature seen in several other Sulphurs. The warm orange hue on the forewing is especially prominent in fall and can be seen most easily when the butterfly is backlit.

Sleepy Orange
The Sleepy Orange butterfly, above, is similar in size to the Orange Sulphur but can easily be distinguished by the bold brick red or rusty brown patterning on the hindwing. Both will perch with wings closed but in flight, the Sleepy Orange is much brighter.

An occasional late summer visitor to Grayson County is the Southern Dogface, below, so named because the black border and dark spot on the forewing appear to mimic a canine’s eye and snout. The sharply angled forewing helps to identify this similar Sulphur.

The Little Yellow butterfly (below) is bright yellow, usually with only a few small dark spots sprinkled over the under side of its wings. Above, the wings are sparsely bordered in black, especially at the tip of the forewing. These are tiny, with a wingspan of just over an inch, and fly close to the ground in open areas. Like other Sulphurs, they will also draw water and minerals from muddy areas along roadsides.

Little Yellow

Dainty Sulphur
Dainty Sulphur (above) is similar in size to the Little Yellow but instead of bright yellow, this butterfly is a soft pastel when viewed in flight. Above, it is black bordered and underneath, the forewing is orange toward the base with two bold black spots near the edge. You will find these on small flowers growing close to the ground, such as Frog Fruit or Fleabane. 

There are many very similar looking butterflies in this family. The most common white on the refuge is the Checkered White (below). Its wingspan is about two inches and though its markings can be quite variable, it typically shows a checkered pattern both above and below. The hindwing may have brown veining, especially in spring. 

Checkered White
Cabbage White
The similarly sized Cabbage White butterfly (above) has recently been identified on the refuge, but currently is rarely seen. It nectars on the same flowers and can easily be mistaken for a lightly patterned Checkered White. Look for one or two white spots on the forewing of the Cabbage White, instead of the checkered pattern. The hindwing of the Cabbage White is usually unmarked below.

NOTE: The  Friends of Hagerman NWR offer Butterfly Garden Walks from 9:30 - 11:30 am on the first, third and fifth Saturdays, through September, weather permitting.  Butterfly Day, a full day of butterfly themed activities is set for October 14.  For more information about the Butterfly Garden and butterflies at HNWR, see our garden page.