Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pollinator Week

June 19-25, 2017 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

What is pollination and why should we care about this??  According to the Pollinator Partnership

"Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower to another of the same species it leads to fertilization. This transfer of pollen is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems.

About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
Meet the pollinators:
 About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
 Most pollinators ... are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees."
The most common avian pollinator is the hummingbird. There are 4000 species of native bees in the USA. (USDA NRCS

We should care about pollinators each time we shop for food or sit down to eat!  From the  USDA  National Resources Conservation Service:

"The produce section of grocery stores would be rather empty without the hard work of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other pollinators. More than 80 percent of the world’s plants need pollinators to survive, including many that provide the food we eat.
 We learn from the Pollinator Partnership that
 "Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning that they are critical to an ecosystem. The work of pollinators ensures full harvests of crops estimated 1/3 of all foods and beverages is delivered by pollinators. In the U.S., pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually." 

The Ecological Society of America states that:

"Pollinators play a significant role in the production of over 150 food crops in the U.S.—among them apples, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash.

And from Business Insider:
"Native pollinators play a vital role in dairy production, fertilizing the clover seeds and alfalfa seeds that feed livestock. They are also involved in the production of oil stock like canola. “The absence of pollinators would not only take the most delicious things out of our diet, but also the most nutritionally significant parts as well...”

When you ask a blessing at your next meal, be sure to include the bees, the birds, the bats and the butterflies who pollinated the food! 

And - check out the photos in the recent Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club album, Pollinators at HNWR.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Animal Dads

With a nod to Father’s day on June 18, we googled “animal dads” to see what we could learn. 

According to Animal Planet,  the top 10 animal dads are:

  • Lion – fiercely protective (when awake), dad lions head up large family units called prides that can include up to seven lionesses and 20 cubs
  • Australian Marsupial mouse – Dad gives his all, dies after long mating period
  • India’s Golden Jackal – monogamous dads feed regurgitated food to the “kids”
  •  Giant Waterbug of Japan - Dad carries up to 150 eggs on his back until they hatch
  • South American Rhea - Dad incubates up to 60 eggs for over two months with just two weeks of food to sustain him, and also raises the newborn chicks as a single parent for nearly two years
  • Stickleback fish - Dad keeps the eggs oxygenated by fanning them at 400 beats per minute for more than half the day
  • Jacana - Dad builds the nest and remains on it to incubate them
  • South American Darwin frog – Dad protects the eggs by swallowing and keeping them tucked inside his vocal sacs for six weeks, then essentially upchucking his children. 
  • Emperor Penguin – Dad incubates the egg in subzero weather and provides first meal to the young chick
  • Seahorse – the male is the one who gets pregnant, carrying up to 1,000 babies at a time 

But wait, what about some of the species at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge?

Snow Geese – mate for life – female builds the nest and male guards it while she incubates eggs and nestlings    

Great Blue Heron – male collects nesting material to present to the female, who builds the nest

Great Egret – males chooses the display area and begins building the nest platform, then the pair collaborate to finish building the nest    

Painted Bunting – males help search for nesting sites and vigorously defend their territory

Eastern Bluebirds – male selects a nest site, then if female approves, she builds the nest; he may assist in some cases and both parents feed the young.  

White-tailed Deer, Bobcats – moms raises the young alone

Coyote – this Father of the Year assists in building den, feeds the female during gestation and helps rear the pups  

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden - June, 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 heat has arrived and with it, large flowering plants like native Texas Thistle, Basket Flower, and Buttonbush have bloomed. Tiny Frog Fruit is also in flower and will be through fall.

Texas Thistle is a drought tolerant plant that can easily be found along roadways and in open fields all over the refuge. Its purple blooms are an excellent nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other insects. If you sit by a thistle, you may be rewarded with a Giant Swallowtail (shown below) sighting. These large tailed butterflies are yellow on the underside but viewed from above, they are black with a trailing row of yellow spots and a second row that stretches from wingtip to wingtip.

Buttonbush blooms best near water, and many grow along the pad roads. They thrive in very wet soil, so high water levels are of no concern. Common Buckeyes (shown below) are frequent visitors to Buttonbush, but they will also feed on many other plants. In addition, Buckeyes are found pulling minerals from white rock roads and trails. They likely are the most common butterfly seen by hikers.

Many butterflies look different above and below, but few use camouflage as effectively as the American Snout (shown below). The Snout is so named because of the long palpi extending from its face. The underside of its hindwing is brown; when it folds in its forewing and hangs on a twig, it looks like a leaf. 

In contrast, the upperside  (shown above) of the Snout shares the colors of the Monarch, with orange patches bordered by dark brown, and white spots on the wing tips. American Snout are often found in flowering trees, but they also feed on Buttonbush and other plants.

Skippers are the most populous family of butterflies in the U.S. Most are yellow or brown and characteristically perch upright with wings closed or partially open in a so-called “jet-plane position”. They can be quite challenging to identify because they are very small and the differences between species are subtle. The most common skipper found here is the Fiery Skipper (below), shown here on Frog Fruit. This plant grows as ground cover on roads to the oil pumper pads and along other roadside edges. Look down as you are driving or walking and watch for butterflies’ movement.

Also common on the refuge is the Sachem (above). These are very similar to the Fiery Skipper but rather than tiny dark spots on the wings the Sachem has larger softly contrasting areas on their wings. On the upper side, the males have a large black “stigma” that is obvious in flight. That dark area is slightly smaller in the females.

Some skippers have no visible markings at all on the underside of their wings and identification can only be done by noting the color of the wings, face, and body, or by viewing them in flight or on the occasions when they open their wings. One of these unmarked butterflies is the orange Delaware Skipper (below).

Others, like the Zabulon Skippers (above) have bold contrasting areas on their hind wings. This latter butterfly is seen from spring through fall and may be found along Oil Field Rd as well as in some more open areas. The female Zabulon Skipper is dark brown.

Note:  Some of these butterflies may also be seen in the Butterfly Garden at the Refuge.  Garden walks with docents on hand to interpret the garden are held on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of the month, through September, 9:30 - 11:30 am. Visitors are also welcome in the garden at any time during Refuge hours. Mark October 14 "Butterfly Day at HNWR" on your calendar and look forward to a day-long slate of butterfly related activities!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

June Plant of the Month – Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana)

By Sue Abernathy

Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana), a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) Family, is also known as Big Tree Plum, Inch Plum, and Wild Plum.  It is a beautiful single-trunked, flowering, deciduous tree with bark that eventually gets dark and striated, peeling off in patches on old trunks.  It has an irregular branching structure with somewhat thorny branches.  Early in the spring, it is covered with clusters of two to six fragrant white flowers before the leaves appear.  The flowers are reminiscent of Crabapples (Malus spp.) when in bloom and provide nectar for bees. The dark red to purple plums ripen in summer to early fall.  The plums are edible and can be used in preserves, but are most valued as food for birds and mammals. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches in length, smooth and dark green.  At times they are folded over and look like they are drooping from lack of water.  Fall leaf color ranges from yellow to a beautiful orange.

Mexican plum is relatively drought tolerant, soil pH adaptable, and suited to full to part sun, but requires good soil drainage.  It is often found in its native Texas habitat (mostly in northeast and north central Texas) along woodland edges, river bottoms, open woods, fencerows and well-drained prairies.  Because it grows singly and does not sucker or form thickets as do many other native plums, its rootstock is widely used for grafting.  Mexican plum grows in a rounded shape to a height of 15–30 feet and a spread of 20–25 feet at maturity and is hardy to USDA zone 6.  It grows at a slow rate, with height increases of less than 12 inches per year.

Mexican plum is most often planted as an ornamental or understory tree.  Its iridescent white flowers are of prime ornamental value, while the fruit, bark, and fall color are secondary assets.  It is a good alternative for Japanese Maple and Crabapple trees for the residential landscape.  These trees can be seen growing at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in the landscaped area at the Visitor Center, in the Butterfly Garden, and in the wild.  Occasionally, a few insects chew on the leaves but the tree does not have major pest problems and is tolerant of cotton root rot which devastates many members of the family Rosaceae.  It is rather difficult to transplant from the wild except for very small trees, but is widely cultivated and readily available in the nursery trade.
Aggie Horticulture at
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at
National Arbor Day Foundation at
Photo credits – Sue Abernathy

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 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: 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!