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”

Thursday, April 6, 2017

April Plant of the Month - Partridge Pea



By Laurie Sheppard

Partridge Pea is a valuable member of the Leguminosae (Pea) family. From the bottom up, it returns nitrogen to the soil, provides nectar for crawling insects as well as to pollinators, and food for butterfly larvae. Its seed pods are eaten by grassland birds and field mice and occasionally, by deer. It can be planted along roadsides and stream banks to control soil erosion and often grows in dense stands that produce litter and plant stalks to furnish cover for upland birds, small mammals, and waterfowl. It is considered an important honey plant as it frequently grows where few other honey plants are available. It has also been used as a medicinal by Native Americans to quell nausea or to combat fainting spells, although, in large amounts, it can be toxic.

Sensitive Plant or Sleeping Plant are other names by which the Partridge Pea is known. It earns those alternates, not by its effects on wildlife or humans but because when lightly touched, the Partridge Pea’s leaves will fold in on themselves. They also fold shut at night, hence the name “Sleeping Plant”. The leaves are pinnate, which means each stem that extends from the stalk is a single leaf and the narrow, inch-long, blue-green structures extending from the stem are called leaflets. There are 5-18 pairs of leaflets on each leaf, staggered alternately along the leaf stem.

Partridge Pea Emerging, by Laurie Sheppard

Partridge Pea produces small clusters of yellow flowers, each an inch across with five equal petals, and blooms from summer to fall throughout most of the eastern United States. Each flower has a bright red blotch at its base and features two types of anthers, which are the pollen-producing structures of the flower. Yellow anthers produce reproductive pollen while dark red or purple anthers produce food pollen.

Photo credit: Space Coast Wildflowers
One of the more unusual characteristics of the Partridge Pea is the presence of small nectar-producing glands on the leaf stalks called nectaries. It is here that nectar feeders congregate, leaving the blooms to be pollinated by long-tongued bees seeking food pollen. Those nectaries also attract ants and other crawling and flying insects looking for a free lunch.

Nectarie on Partridge Pea, by Laurie Sheppard
Partridge pea is a short-lived perennial plant that will reseed itself and is a larval and nectar food source for many of our Butterfly Garden’s most common butterflies. Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow butterflies will lay eggs on this plant to produce several broods of butterflies in a single season. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars, in particular, will feed on both the Partridge Pea’s leaves and its flowers. It is said that you can tell which the caterpillar concentrated on by its color, which may be yellow or green. Late last year, we had Ceraunus Blue butterflies (a south Texas species, normally found in the Rio Grande Valley) visit the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and they likely produced at least one brood on our Partridge Pea. Gray Hairstreaks also include Partridge Pea among their many caterpillar food sources.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – April, 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 begins, trees are leafing out and small yellow and white flowers cover the ground. By the end of the month, wildflowers will be showing up along the roadways. It’s a time of great change.


Butterflies that have spent the winter as adults have mated and are laying eggs to create the next generation. This makes adult Goatweed Leafwings (below left) more commonly seen at the edges of the woods. Often all you will see is a fluttering orange butterfly, but if you patiently watch, it will land and you will see how plain the upper side is compared to the Question Mark (below, right) that is also active now.




A common spring butterfly among the trees on the pad roads on Oil Field Road or out toward Sandy Point is the Little Wood-satyr. You will see them bouncing along close to the ground, blending in with the dead leaves. They do not typically visit flowers. This species has two broods but only flies in mid-late spring through early summer. You might also find two similar appearing butterflies in the woods near Meadow Pond: Carolina Satyr (below left) and Northern Pearly-eye (below right). These are much less common but have been found on the refuge. Notice the differences in the eyespots at the outer edge of the wings.





Another group of very similar looking (and tiny) butterflies become very common at this time of year. One is seen almost year-round and one is only seen for about six weeks in late spring. Others may be seen occasionally throughout the spring, summer, and fall. The common Gray Hairstreak is found everywhere, feeding on many different flowers and can be used as the standard by which to compare others in the Gossamer-winged family. 



Soapberry Hairstreak is nearly identical to Gray Hairstreak but is seen only in spring. Rarely found far from their larval food source, Soapberry trees, they will feed on flowers like Rough-leaf Dogwood. Note the additional white dash on both fore– and hindwing.



A frequent sight this spring on Oil Field Rd has been the Red-banded Hairstreak. As you pass slowly through the woods toward the lake, watch for movement in the leaf litter. These are smaller than Gray Hairstreak and often stay close to the ground.




In flight, the Eastern Tailed-blue (right) will show its
bright blue upper side, but when closed, it is very similar to the hairstreaks. Watch for these feeding on low flowers in mowed areas like Goode picnic area or near oil wells away from the lake. 




Finally, not all hairstreaks are gray or gray-brown. Look for the green Juniper Hairstreak (at left) and other unusual hairstreaks in open fields around the refuge.




Thursday, March 23, 2017

It's Bluebonnet Time in Texas

Motorists in North Texas are enjoying swathes of bluebonnets along roadsides these days. There is even a patch in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR.



Texas A&M's Aggie Horticulture site quotes historian Jack Maguire:

"It's not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." .... "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland." 

According to The Handbook of Texas,
"On March 7, 1901, the Twenty-seventh Texas Legislature adopted the bluebonnet, flower of the annual legume Lupinus subcarnosus, as the state flower.  On March 8, 1971, the legislation was amended to include L. texensis and "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded." ... In 1933 the legislature adopted a state flower song, "Bluebonnets," written by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett. Also in the 1930s the Highway Department began a landscaping and beautification program and extended the flower's range. Due largely to that agency's efforts, bluebonnets now grow along most major highways throughout the state." 

From the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center we learn that the species most often planted along the roadsides is Texas lupine, Lupinus texensis  - known by assorted common names:
Texas bluebonnet, Bluebonnet, Texas lupine, Buffalo clover, Wolf flower.

A member of the pea family,
"Texas lupine has larger, more sharply pointed leaves and more numerous flower heads than similar lupines. Light-green, velvety, palmately compound leaves (usually five leaflets) are borne from branching, 6-18 in. stems. These stems are topped by clusters of up to 50 fragrant, blue, pea-like flowers. The tip of the cluster is conspicuously white."

Texas lupine is one of the six Lupinus species which are collectively designated the state flower of Texas.

One legend of the bluebonnet is the story of an orphaned girl who sacrificed her only possession from her mother, a doll with a blue feather, in a plea to stop the bad times of drought and famine that her tribe of Plains Indians was experiencing.  In return, the Great Spirit sent blue flowers, a herd of buffalo, and rain.

"From that day forward she became known as She Who Loved Her Tribe Dearly. And, every Spring, the Great Spirit sends the bluebonnet back to remind us of the young girl who was willing to give her greatest possession to save her tribe."

Keep your eyes out for our beloved State Flower! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Winter Walk in the Woods


By Rebecca Jones

On the third Saturday of every month, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman host a youth outreach program called “The Refuge Rocks.” Themes center on local wildlife, and different activities are provided for the four- to seven-year-old and the eight- to twelve-year-old groups. In February, our subject was “Backyard Birds.”

Photo by Drew Smith, courtesy of the Herald Democrat
As the 20+ participants in the four- to seven-year-old class lined up for their first experience on Harris Creek Trail, I presumed that the combination of chilly weather and the sheer volume (read: noise level) of our group would provide us little chance of seeing any wildlife. I wasn’t wrong—but for these children that did not matter. They marveled instead at the curve of the tree branches, the stillness of the waters. They walked beside their friends and parents absorbing the scenery. Their shoulders slumped when we had to turn back, and many asked to come again after class.

Children walk the trail with parents at The Refuge Rocks (Photo by Holly Neal)
I saw myself in the wonderment on their faces, but I also identified with the children whose eyes stayed glued to the path as they buried their hands in their pockets and kicked stones out of boredom. 

I grew up on the refuge. For as long as I can remember (and even before I was born), my late father had done contract conservation work at Hagerman. As a kid, I would ride along with him while he checked and baited traps for wild hogs. I remember the raindrops hitting me like icy bullets as we rode his four-wheeler through the trees and puddles, the metal traps clanging noisily against the sides of the trailer. Later in life, we would spend our summers kayaking around the lake or walking the trails until my skin burned and muscles ached.

As a teenager, though, I secretly yearned for another life: one with Wi-Fi and all the conveniences of the city. After high school, I got my wish and moved to Sherman when I started classes at Austin College. Having lived there for the past seven years, I now secretly yearn to turn back time. What a gift I had growing up a stone’s throw from the lake and a wildlife refuge with a real outdoorsman for a dad.

My dad passed away last April, but Hagerman will always be a joyful reminder of the time we spent together and the knowledge he passed on to me. I’m now a Texas Master Naturalist and a regular at Hagerman’s monthly youth programs.


In March, The Refuge Rocks kids' classes will discuss wildflowers. Planning for the program is already underway, and parents can register their children for the class immediately. It begins at 10 a.m. If you can’t make it, I urge you to plan to come another day. Fish, hike, photograph and explore. The value of teaching children about nature today should not be underestimated.

Photo by Tami Howard