Thursday, May 25, 2017

Wildflower Week

How many of us have thrilled to see a meadow filled with bluebonnets or to find the very first wildflower of spring alongside a hiking trail? The fields at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are blazing now with Coreopsis, Coneflower, Mexican Hat, Gaillardia and more.

"Painted Flowers" by Dana Crites
In recognition of the significance of our precious natural heritage of native flora, Michael L. Young, Acting Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, proclaimed May 21-27, 2017, as National Wildflower Week. “I call upon the people of the United States to join me in celebrating the United States Department of Agriculture's management of native wildflowers and other plants as well as the enduring benefits provided to society by native plant resources in America's National Forests and Grasslands.”

Barbara's-buttons (Marshallia caespitosa) at HNWR by Robert Jones
Why wildflowers?  Here is the answer, from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

Native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do much more than add beauty to the landscape. They help conserve water, reduce mowing costs, provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, protect the soil, and save money on fertilizer and pesticides. As Lady Bird Johnson said, native plants also “give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.”

Phaon Crescent on Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) by Carl Hill
But North American native plants, defined as those that existed here without human introduction, are disappearing at an alarming rate due to human activities, such as urban development, agribusiness and the introduction of invasive species. The loss of native plant communities has reduced wildlife habitat and the genetic diversity necessary for balanced ecosystems.

Native plants are not only hardy and require less effort to maintain in home or commercial landscapes but they can provide food and sources for traditional and new forms of medicine.

The Texas Dept. of Transportation, usually referred to as TXDOT, provides an online brochure, Texas Wildflowers, depicting numerous Texas wildflowers, details about each of the ten eco-regions of our state, driving tours and destinations for wildflower viewing.

Happy Wildflower Week!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Recording Rainfall

Historically, the months of May and October are when we receive the most rainfall in Grayson County.  Do you have a rain gauge at your home?  Many gardeners, homeowners, and farmers are interested in how much rain they get; listening to the weather report can inform you somewhat, but different, even nearby areas may receive differing amounts of precipitation  This post, on a citizen science project - CoCoRaHS -  was originally published on May 19, 2016.

By Sue Abernathy

Are you interested in knowing exactly how much rainfall you receive at home?

Do you wonder if the amount of precipitation varies greatly across Grayson County?

Would you like to have a permanent record of the total rainfall received in a given month, for the entire year and in previous years? If so, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is for you!

CoCoRaHS is a “national grassroots, non-profit, community-based, high-density precipitation network made up of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who take daily measurements of precipitation right in their own backyards.” The CoCoRaHS network originated at Colorado State University in 1998 with the intent of mapping and reporting intense storms. Since its inception, precipitation maps have been produced for every major storm. These maps show local weather patterns which are of great interest to scientists and the public. Today CoCoRaHS includes thousands of volunteers nationwide who are willing to spend a few minutes each day measuring and reporting precipitation.

CoCoRaHS has several goals:

1) provide accurate high-quality precipitation data on a timely basis

2) increase the density of precipitation data available throughout the country

3) encourage citizens to participate in meteorological science and heighten awareness about weather

4) provide enrichment activities and weather resources for teachers, educators, and the community.

So why participate in CoCoRaHS? Precipitation is essential for life. However, it varies greatly with storm type, season and location. Data sources are few and rain gauges are far apart. Measurements using different style rain gauges are not always accurate. Participation in CoCoRaHS provides quality precipitation data which is viewable immediately in both map and table form. “By providing your daily observation, you help fill in a piece of the weather puzzle that affects many across your area in one way or another.”

CoCoRaHS data is used by the National Weather Service, NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association), USDA, and local meteorologists. It provides a historical record of precipitation (and drought) and is used in predicting long-term weather patterns.


How can you become a CoCoRaHS volunteer? Training is provided to teach new observers how to install their rain gauge, properly measure precipitation and submit reports online. It is important that all reports be as accurate and consistent as possible. 
  • To join the CoCoRaHS network, submit an application online at www.cocorahs.org. Upon joining, you will receive a CoCoRaHS station ID unique to your specific rain gauge location. 
  • To complete the required training, either view the ‘Getting Started’ training slide show online or attend a local training session. 
  • Next, purchase a 4-inch diameter high capacity rain gauge, accurate to the nearest hundredth of an inch, which is available from several sources: www.weatheryourway.comwww.ambientweather.com or your county coordinator. 
  • Install your rain gauge and begin measuring and recording daily precipitation observations online, including days with no rain. (To participate, you must have daily access to a computer.)
There are currently over 15 active CoCoRaHS participants within Grayson County. With less than an hour of training and the purchase of an approved rain gauge, you can become a CoCoRaHS observer. For more information, contact Sue Abernathy, Grayson County Coordinator via CONTACT for the Friends of Hagerman, and join the CoCoRaHS network!

NOTE: Sue Abernathy is a Grayson County Master Gardener and Texas Master Naturalist, Bluestem Chapter, and as a Friends of Hagerman volunteer, a butterfly garden volunteer and garden docent.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – May, 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. As April slides into May, leaves on trees have formed a shady canopy. Native Texas spring flowers like Texas Dandelion and Texas Vervain are blooming and attracting many different butterfly species.

The west side of the refuge (Sandy Point Unit) features many roads through riparian forest and open fields as well as many points of lake access. Throughout that area, there is a wide variety of butterflies to enjoy. Look along the forest edges and in the low growing flowers on the pad roads for dark butterflies in the Skipper family.

Largest and most common of these is the Funereal Duskywing (below, left), easily identified by the white fringe trailing its hindwing. The Northern Cloudywing (below, right) is very similar in size but less distinctly marked above and has shorter brown fringe on its hindwing. Each measures about an inch and a half with wings open.



Two smaller butterflies have recently been added to the list of species found on the refuge. These two have probably always been there but because they are so tiny (less than 3/4 inch) they may have been overlooked. Bell’s Roadside-skippers (below, left)  fly low and fast and generally stay close to the ground. They perch with their wings closed. The fringe edging both the forewing and the hindwing is checkered. Unless faded, the row of spots near the edge of the hindwing appears connected.




Hayhurst’s Scallopwing (above, right) visits flowers with its wings open but unless it catches the sun, it appears solid black. In the right light, especially the female shows bands of darker and lighter brown. As its name implies, the edges of its hindwing are uneven, giving a scalloped appearance. Both of these butterflies stay close to the edges of the forest, especially in moist areas, but they do venture out to nectar on the flowers growing along the pad roads.



One larger and more distinctly patterned butterfly that is found almost exclusively in the woods is the Hackberry Emperor (above). You may find it open or closed and each side is distinctive. It generally feeds with its wings closed, showing off its white underside with its many spots and lines. If disturbed, it will frequently escape to the bark of a tree, where it may open its wings to bask in the sun.

Also frequently found in the woods is the Red Admiral (below). These have bold orange stripes on a dark brown background, and may also be seen in fields or gardens. They sometimes appear fearless, as they will often let humans get quite close before flying.


A popular visitor to home gardens, the Gulf Fritillary (below) is equally happy on the back roads and fields of the refuge. These are warm weather butterflies and are rarely seen north of Oklahoma. They nectar on many flowers and visit all types of thistle, but will lay their eggs on various species of Passion Vine.



A related butterfly frequenting open fields of wildflowers on the refuge now through fall is the Variegated Fritillary (below). More subdued in coloring, these are common throughout much of the eastern United States. They, too, will lay their eggs on Passion Vine, but also on flax, violets, and other plants. 


NOTE: A Pollinator Photo Shoot, sponsored by the Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club, is set for 9 - 10 am and Noon - 1 pm, Saturday, May 13, in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR, weather permitting.  Come out and join in,  photographing butterflies, bees and more!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May Plant of the Month - Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula Caroliniana)

By Donna Rogers

Carolina buckthorn, a member of the family Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn family), is also known as Yellow buckthorn or Indian cherry. This plant was discovered in South Carolina, hence the common and Latin species names, but it is also native to parts of Texas, including our north Texas Blackland prairie. The Carolina buckthorn’s native habitat is bottomlands, stream banks, and woods, and it thrives best in part shade in moist, chalky, and rocky soils. It can, however, stand attractively alone in full sun or works well as an understory tree if it can get three to four hours of sun each day. Even though its name contains the word thorn, this native perennial is without spines. It is one of the most attractive ornamental trees available and a wildlife-friendly choice.

Photo credit, left:  University of Florida (spring); Photo credit, right:  A Tree a Day (fall)


Grown as a small tree or large shrub, the Carolina buckthorn grows slowly to heights of 12-15 feet but can grow as high as 25 feet. It has shiny, oval leaves that are bright green on top and slightly paler underneath. The leaves stay green into late fall when they begin a show of yellow to bronze. Although deciduous, some of the leaves hold on through February. Its leaves are usually three to five inches long with a few fine, widely spaced, rounded teeth and prominent veins, especially on the underside. The flowers are small and bell-shaped and form as yellowish or yellow-greenish small clusters at the base of the leaves. The Carolina buckthorn flowers in May and June and attracts many pollinators, then in the late fall it produces a fleshy red berry, about 1/4 inch or more in diameter, that turns purplish-black when ripe. The fruit clusters are so pretty that they can be used as part of Thanksgiving or Christmas decorations


Photo credit, left:  www.jimbotany.com; Photo credit, right:  www.namethatplant.net

Plant diversity in the landscape encourages a healthy, sustaining habitat for wildlife, and the Carolina buckthorn helps do just that. The ripe berries of this buckthorn attract butterflies, and the tree serves as the larval host to the American snout (shown below, Photo credit: www.butterflygardening.com), gray hairstreak, spring azure, and painted lady butterflies. Many bird species, especially mockingbirds, catbirds, and brown thrashers, and other wildlife also consume these buckthorn berries, which are toxic to humans. Deer have also been known to nibble on the leaves and bark.


Carolina buckthorn are easily propagated by seed, but semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late summer or dormant hardwood cuttings will root. Seeds can be collected in the fall after the fruits have turned dark purple but are also available commercially. This plant should be watered immediately after planting and every other week during its first growing season but should become drought tolerant thereafter.

Upon a visit to the butterfly garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Carolina buckthorn may be found just south of the water feature in the dry creek bed area.


Sources:

http://www.wildflower.org

https://npsot.org

http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu

http://npsot.org/wp/boerne/files/2013/12/Carolina-Buckthorn_Feb.20141.pdf

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Painted Buntings Arrive

This week’s blog is inspired by two Facebook Posts, the first,  the photo below, of a Painted Bunting at the Visitor Center feeders, taken by Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge volunteer Jean Flick, on April 21, 2017; this is the first time we have known of a Painted Bunting at the feeders,


and the second, posted by Texas Master Naturalist, Jack Chiles, on April 23, 2017:
“Today I was greeted by an annual ritual that I am treated to each year at this time. That is the arrival of my first mature male Painted Bunting of the season to my millet supply on my back patio. I will probably be visited multiple times daily by this bird until about August 20th when he leaves to go most likely to New Mexico where he will forage there during the monsoon season before venturing on to Mexico, where he will spend the winter. I am simply amazed at how dependable these birds can be. if you live in North Central Texas, have a brushy area or field nearby and want to watch this specie buy some white Millet and put it in a tray or on the ground and your chances are good of getting one of these beauties.”

The French name of the Painted Bunting, nonpareil, means “without equal,” a reference to the bird’s dazzling plumage.  On first spotting a male Painted Bunting, many folks think they are seeing an escaped pet bird, and in a way, they might be right.  According to All About Birds (Cornell), the conservation status of this bird is Near Threatened; and one reason for this is that 
Unfortunately, it’s easy to trap colorful male Painted Buntings by tricking them into attacking decoys. In 1841 John James Audubon reported that “thousands” of the colorful birds were caught every spring and shipped from New Orleans to Europe, where they fetched more than 100 times the price when sold as cage birds. They are still trapped and sold in large numbers in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent in Florida, despite efforts by conservationists to curb illegal trade.
Dr. Wayne Meyer says, “One of the more interesting things about this species is that adult males migrate three times each year.  In addition to moving south for the winter and north in the summer, buntings in western and central Texas fly to western New Mexico and Arizona in July.  Breeding usually ends about that time, so males leave the females to raise any young birds.  Late July and early August are when the monsoons arrive in Arizona and New Mexico, so the birds take advantage of the rains to molt where there is an abundant food supply.  Presumably, females who haven't any young also go, but most females that are rearing young will stay here in Texoma through September. 

Meyer continues, "To see Painted Buntings, the best thing is to get outdoors in grassy fields with small trees and look for singing males in May, June, and early July.  The pretty males all leave North Texas by the 20th of August (of course there's always one bird that can't read the notice).  The plain-Jane females and young will stay around through September.  Since they prefer weeds and knee-high grass, they aren't very likely to spend any time in suburban yards, but ranches can be very attractive.

For folks who want to invite Painted Buntings to their feeders, like Chiles, Meyer advises, “Put white millet seed in your ground bird feeders or hopper type feeder with perches, in April, May or September, and, as they prepare to fly south then they may come to feeders again.  Remember that young birds of both sexes retain the female-like yellow-green plumage.  Make water available, and you may attract them.” 

The next guided birding walk at the Refuge will be led by Jack Chiles, 8 am on May 13; maybe you will see a Painted Bunting! 

PS!  We had a male Painted Bunting and an Indigo Bunting at our feeder, south of Sherman, Texas, on April 26.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Paintbrush

Known by several names, Texas Indian Paintbrush, Entireleaf Indian Paintbrush, Texas Paintbrush, Indian Paintbrush, Scarlet Paintbrush, these reddish orange wildflowers are showing off along North Texas roadsides and in some fields now.   Look for them along Refuge road when traveling to Hagerman NWR.

A description of Paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa Engelm. is found on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site

"One of the popular paintbrushes, this showy annual or biennial grows 6-16 in. high. Its several unbranched stems form clumps topped by bright-red, paintbrush-like spikes. The flowers are actually inconspicuous and greenish, but are subtended by showy, red-tipped bracts. They sometimes produce a light yellow or pure white variation mixed in with the reds. Together, the flowers and bracts form 3-8 in. spikes.
The roots of this plant will grow until they touch the roots of other plants, frequently grasses, penetrating these host roots to obtain a portion of their nutrients. Transplanting paintbrush may kill it. Indian paintbrush has a reputation for being unpredictable. In some years, when bluebonnets (which flower at approximately the same time as Indian paintbrush) are especially colorful, paintbrush will have only an average flowering year. Other years, paintbrush is spectacular.
Red and yellow Paintbrush at Hagerman NWR
The plants are attractive to butterflies and other nectar seekers and host to the buckeye butterfly, and "[... a member of the snapdragon family. The vivid “flower” color is actually provided by bracts – not flower petals - which are grouped around and under each of the inconspicuous flowers located on the upper third of the plant."

A different Paintbrush species,  (Castilleja linariaefolia) was adopted as the State Flower of Wyoming in 1917.

A NativeAmerican legend of the Paintbrush is the subject of a popular children's book, read and illustrated in this video - https://youtu.be/gyaifWkUWr0.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

ButterBike Coming to Hagerman NWR April 15

Post by Sara Dykman.  You can follow Dykman’s videos, photos, blogs, and a daily progress map as she Butterbikes with the butterflies atwww.beyondabook.org

Each spring millions of monarch butterflies leave the mountains of Central Mexico, where they survived the winter, to begin their annual migration north. This spring they are accompanied by cyclist Sara Dykman (age 32) from Kansas who is biking 10,000 miles from the monarch overwintering colonies in Mexico to Canada …and back... with the butterflies. Or as Dykman would say, “Butterbiking with the butterflies.” (Look closely at the photo below, Sara is accompanied by Monarchs!)



On April 15th, 2017 Dykman will be making a stop at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge to join the refuge’s butterfly walk from 11 am-1 pm. She welcomes folks to come see her gear and learn how biking 10,000 miles with butterflies is possible. Then, at 2 pm, she will present all about her trip and the monarch migration. Both events are free to the public,  and more information can be found at www.friendsofhagerman.com.

Hagerman is just one of many stops on Dykman’s bicycle migration, including presentations to school kids. During her presentation, the students look at photos and listen to stories from her trip. They learned all about the unique monarch migration and tried out some of her camping gear. “It is so rewarding to connect my adventures to students,” said Dykman. “I want to show people how incredible the world is and be an example of what it means to follow your dreams and take care of the planet.”


These rest stops and presentations are key to the success of Dykman’s adventure. “As much as I love biking, what I will remember most are the people that invite me in and the students that have hundreds of questions and can’t wait to hear more,” reflected Dykman. “They motivate me to keep moving.”

And keep moving she must. In order to follow the migration, Dykman must cover about 300 miles per week on a bicycle loaded down with everything she needs for life on the road. From camping equipment to presentation materials, her bike is heavy and she moves slowly following the monarch migration while raising awareness about the importance of monarchs and threats to this iconic species. “The monarch migration is such an incredible migration,” boasted Dykman. “Not only are these iconic butterflies flying thousands of miles, but it is a multigenerational, multinational migration. And unless people along the route plant native nectar plants and milkweed in their gardens and on their lands and lawns… the monarchs are likely to go extinct.”


The eastern monarch populations have been in steady decline since counting began in the 1990s. In 1996 monarchs covered 21 hectares of the Mexican Oyamel Fir Forest. By 2014, monarchs covered only 0.67 hectares. This 80% decline can be attributed to habitat loss and climate change.

Adding to the conservation dilemma is the fact that monarchs call three countries home. Monarchs depend on Mexico, the United States, and Canada to work together to protect the migration. “The future of the monarch migration is in the hands of people from all three countries,” reported Dykman. “In Mexico, people need to protect the Oyamel Fir forest that the monarchs depend on to survive the winter, and in the United States and Canada, people need to plant milkweed.”

Milkweed is the only food source of the monarch caterpillars and gives the monarchs the toxins they need to be poisonous and avoid being eaten by most predators.  Milkweed has been in a fast decline as industrial farming uses more broad-spectrum herbicides and land development encroaches on wild lands.  Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas monarch education program, estimates that 6,000 acres of milkweed habitat are lost daily to development.

However, there is some good news, because unlike many species that need untouched wilderness to thrive, monarchs simply need waystations, or gardens that have milkweed plants to lay their eggs and feed their caterpillars, as well as flowering plants that provide monarchs and other pollinators with nectar. “Every garden adds up, and every garden is part of the solution,” Dykman emphasized. “Schools, city halls, churches, parks, farms, and neighborhoods are planting milkweed and native flowering plants to help save the migration.”

The efforts of so many people have made the monarch an iconic symbol of education, conservation, and teamwork. Unless people from Mexico, the United States, and Canada can work together to implement conservation strategies, the monarch migration could disappear from the planet. “I am biking to raise awareness and encourage people to plant native gardens with milkweed. Be part of the solution and be part of the migration,” said Dykman. “The future of the monarch is in the hands of all North Americans”