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.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Wonderful Bird Is the Pelican

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breed in the Northern Plains and in Canada, according to Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufman, and winter along the California and US Gulf of Mexico coasts. Their large size (wingspan is 9’), notable in the above photo by Dick Malnory, and distinctive bill make them easy to recognize and the subject of cartoons and parodies such as this one by Dixon Lanier Merritt:

Photo by Eileen Sullivan

“A wonderful bird is the pelican, 
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week.
I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”

Photo by Skip Hill
That famous bill has some interesting characteristics. It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch. The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed. According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch to maintain elasticity. And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.

The next photo, taken by Jack Chiles, shows an American White Pelican seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in springtime. Jack notes that the bird is showing the horny knob on the upper mandible displayed by both sexes during the breeding season. These knobs are believed to be a target for other adults when they arrive at the communal breeding grounds and fight for territories, Once eggs are laid, the knobs fall off.

Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing. They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch. Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.

These magnificent birds will be passing through HNWR during the next few weeks on their way to their winter grounds. On the Tuesday Bird Census for October 10, 2017, 1034 American White Pelicans were listed, but only 54 on October 17.   There are surely many more to come this Fall!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – October, 2017

 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. The profusion of color that summer and fall flowers bring is over. Now is the time for butterflies to feed on small flowers or late blooms. Migrants are often seen looking for places to spend the night.

Without a doubt, the Monarch is the star of the season! We are fortunate to have these beauties year round but in October, Monarchs from everywhere east of the Rockies are passing through Texas on the way to their wintering grounds in Mexico. You will find them all over the refuge, either looking for food or landing on leaves as they search for a secure place to rest for the night.

The most similar mimic of the Monarch is the Viceroy. The Viceroy is easily identified by the black line through their hindwing. Viceroys do not migrate like Monarchs. Instead, mature caterpillars create a shelter from a rolled Cottonwood or Willow leaf in which to spend the winter.

The Queen is smaller and typically a rich brown color, but also mimics the Monarch. Their behavior is similar as well. Queens sometimes gather to roost communally at night and in Texas, they appear to migrate. The Queen’s caterpillar host is Milkweed, like the Monarch’s, which makes them distasteful to predators. All three of these are seen together in the Butterfly Garden.

The Red-spotted Purple is a strikingly patterned butterfly with an iridescent blue hindwing above. They are not often found nectaring on blooms, instead feeding on tree sap, rotting fruit, or animal dung. Their larvae feed on Oaks and Cottonwoods, and caterpillars over-winter.

The Tawny Emperor is related to but less common than the Hackberry Emperor. They lay their eggs on Hackberry trees and rarely visit flowers, so look for them in the woods on Oil Field Rd. Tawny Emperor caterpillars overwinter in groups of ten (10) or so in a curled dead leaf.

Fall is a good time to find southern strays like the Brazilian Skipper. These are very large compared to other skippers and fly spring to fall in south Texas. Look for them in the Butterfly Garden and then see if you can find them elsewhere on the refuge. Present only in small numbers, it’s unlikely they breed in Grayson County.

Other strays you might find in the garden include the Mallow Scrub-hairstreak which could be easily overlooked as being “just another Gray Hairstreak.” These are usually found in the Rio Grande Valley and do not cross the Red River but we’ve found them annually at Hagerman.

 A rare stray seen here is the Tailed Orange. Typically a butterfly of Mexico, in years with heavy rains, these migrate north into Texas. They are very similar to the Sleepy Orange but their hindwing narrows to a distinctive point.

NOTE: Laurie Sheppard is a Texas Master Naturalist.  She will be presenting the program, "Butterflies at HNWR", at the Refuge on Butterfly Day, October 14, and also demonstrate tagging.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

National Wildlife Refuge Week begins October 8 and wraps up at Hagerman NWR with Butterfly Day on October 14.  Let's see how much you know about the national wildlife refuges right here in our own state of Texas! Answers at the bottom of the page, but no peeking! AND - try to make it out to Hagerman NWR during Refuge week! 

Trivia Quiz - National Wildlife Refuges in Texas

1. Oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Hagerman
B. Aransas
C. Muleshoe

2. Largest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Anahuac
B. Aransas
C. Brazoria

3. National wildlife refuge protecting ocelots in Texas:
A. Balcones Canyonlands
B. Laguna Atascosa
C. Texas Point

4. The largest maternal colony of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats documented in Texas can be found roosting within this refuge:
A. McFadden
B. Neches River
C. Trinity River

5. The wetlands of this refuge include cypress trees up to 400 years old:
A. Caddo
C. Buffalo Lake
B. Big Boggy

6. These 3 national wildlife refuges have been designated as constituting an “Internationally Significant Shorebird Site”:
A. Balcones Canyonlands, Trinity River, Neches River
B. Big Boggy, San Bernard, Brazoria
C. Hagerman, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Trinity River

7. The federally endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler is a management priority at:
A. Moody
B. Little Sandy
C. Balcones Canyonlands

8. The national wildlife refuge known for wintering Whooping Cranes is
A. Buffalo Lake
B. Aransas
C. McFadden

9.  This refuge was home to the Karankawas in 10 -12,000 B.C. E.
A. Texas Point
B. Santa Ana
C. Hagerman

10.  The national wildlife refuge named for one of the last populations of an endangered species is_____________________NWR.

Note: This quiz originally appeared in the August, 2015, edition of the Featherless Flyer, the newsletter of the Friends of Hagerman. 

Answers:  1.C;   2.B;   3.B;   4.C;   5.A;   6.B;   7.C;  8.B;   9.A;   10. Attwater Prairie Chicken