Thursday, June 14, 2018

Interior Least Terns at Hagerman NWR

Last week Dr. Wayne Meyer's Second Saturday program was on Terns, particularly the Interior Least Tern. Thirty Interior Least Terns were spotted by the birders at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on May 22, then only 8 on May 29 and 4 on June 5. Until this week,  no nesting activity had been reported and the question has been, will they nest here this year or have they moved on?

Now we have the answer!  From Jack Chiles Tuesday Bird Census for June 12, "The highlight of the day was discovering that the Least Terns have settled in, starting to nest."

The Refuge was ready, with two nesting platforms placed in Lake Texoma. (Photos were taken in 2015 by Rusty Daniel and Gary Hall)





Habitat for the Least Tern, as described by Cornell Lab of Ornithology on All About Birds is “Seacoasts, beaches, bays, estuaries, lagoons, lakes, and rivers, breeding on sandy or gravelly beaches and banks of rivers or lakes, rarely on flat rooftops of buildings.” You can add to that the two artificial nesting platforms at Hagerman, especially designed and built by Refuge employees for the Least Tern. Funding for the project was provided by Jetta Operating Company, Inc and the Nancy Ruth Fund.



The first of two artificial nesting platforms (above) was completed and put in place the summer of 2013.  A second platform was constructed and was to be "launched" in 2014 but those plans were on hold due to drought - there was no water in the area where the platform was to go! And for the record, the one-legged Terns in the photo above from 2013 are decoys!  BUT - once again the terns have chosen the pad roads, according to Jack, nesting "on C and D pads. Those areas have now been closed off to the public (no walking/no driving) to protect this endangered species. We counted 20 Least Terns and saw at least 4 birds sitting on eggs. One nest visible from the edge of the pad had 3 eggs. The nests will be monitored until the birds that hatch out fledge six weeks or so from now".


The Least Tern, the smallest American Tern, is an 8 to 9-inch bird, with a black "crown" on the head, a snowy whiter underside and forehead, grayish back and wings, orange legs, and a yellow bill with a black tip. Males and females are similar in their appearance. The name “Interior” is attached to Least Terns who breed in isolated areas along the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Red, and Rio Grande river systems. They winter in coastal areas of Central and South America.

Interior Least Terns at HNWR, photographed by Eileen Sullivan in June, 2011

The Interior Least Tern is endangered due to loss of habitat, primarily because of changes in river systems and competition from recreational development. Terns arrive at the breeding ground in late spring – early summer and spend several months there. According to Dr. Wayne Meyer, courtship behavior includes the male showing off a fish to potential females, see photo above. Nesting in small colonies, Terns scratch out a shallow depression in sand or gravel for a nesting spot. The female lays 2 – 3 eggs in 3 – 5 days. Parents take turns incubating the eggs for about 3 weeks; Dr. Meyer says that the female does the lion share of the incubating.  Chicks hatch one per day and leave the nest a few days after hatching but continue to be fed and cared for by adults for about two months.

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.

Terns feed on small fish and aquatic creatures and can be seen hovering and diving for prey, as well as skimming for insects. The young have to learn these hunting skills during their "nursery" days.


Tern in flight, photographed by Mike Chiles

Terns usually return to the same nesting area year after year. Before the launch of Tern Island I and II, the birds chose the rocky surface of the pad roads for their nursery, completely vulnerable to predators and extreme summer heat; the successful hatch rate was low to none. However, they still had not taken to the presumably safer man-made nesting platforms in 2017; they produced 10 eggs and 5 live chicks, on the pad roads C and D.



Nesting Tern, photographed by Jack Chiles in 2011 on one of the Pad roads at HNWR.


Hopefully, the terns will have a successful hatch this year.


Thanks to Jack Chiles, Texas Master Naturalist, for the original post on Least Terns, July 13, 2011.  Material has been updated in 2015, 2017 and 2018. In addition to All About Birds, information for this post came from Texas Parks Wildlife and from US Fish & Wildlife.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

June Plant of the Month - Gregg’s Mistflower



Gregg’s Mistflower – Conoclinium greggii

(before 2000 C.E.: Eupatorium greggii)

By Linn Cates
Monarch on Mistflower in Butterfly Garden at HNWR (Photo by Truett Cates)
With great anticipation of what is to come, I sighted the first Gregg’s Mistflower blossom at the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Butterfly Garden on Sunday, June 3rd.



I had seen the first at Austin College’s Idea Center Native Plants Garden 2 days earlier. 


I check daily, but mine hasn’t bloomed yet. 

Photo by Truett Cates

All this excited anticipation because what is to come is amazingly beautiful to behold. Gregg’s Mistflower, to my mind, wins the prize for attracting beautiful butterflies.

Queens on Mistflower (Photo by Truett Cates)
Look for Gregg’s Mistflower in the Hagerman NWR Butterfly Garden, but not on the trails. Gregg’s Mistflower is native to areas in west and south Texas. Our native is Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum which grows in East, Southeast and North Central Texas.

You will see many pollinator species on this plant; you might see a flock of Queens happily nectaring away during your visit to the garden. It is especially exciting to see the Monarchs nectaring on it in October on their amazing 3000-mile migration south each year.

While Gregg’s Mistflower is not native to North Central Texas,  it performs so nicely here in our Butterfly Garden setting that we have invited it in to stay. Its cousin, Blue Mist Flower (Conoclinium coelestinum), our region’s native, stays in the fields at Hagerman. The Wasowskis caution about Blue Mist in Native Texas Plants writing that “one of these plants is usually enough” to invite into a garden.

Identifying Gregg’s Mistflower

Though you won’t be needing to hone your ID skills to locate Gregg’s Mistflower at Hagerman –it is labelled in the Butterfly Garden-- you may encounter it in the wild on travels south and west.  It grows on chalky, calcareous soils that get seasonally flooded. It grows to a height of 1-3 feet, usually 1 ½’, and because it spreads readily by way of underground rhizomes, it will form a mat or colony and may have spread over vast areas if the moisture and sun conditions were conducive. The leaves are about 2” long and a little less wide, very cut out looking on the leaf margin, and arranged in pairs opposite one another along the stem. The bloom is made up of small purplish-blue flowers clustered together to form cushion like 2” flower heads. This plant tends to seek shade because of its preference for lightly moist soils so you most often encounter it in dappled shade in the wild. On the USDA Plants Database (https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=COGR10)  you can zoom in on the range map for this plant to see its native range by county-- something I like to do as I’m learning about a native plant species.

I also like to glean all I can from the common and scientific names of species. Josiah Gregg (1806-1850) was an avid naturalist, who explored Texas and Mexico, in the 1840’s, and then points west to California before he died. The American Botanical Society has added the Latin name “Greggi” to 23 species of plants in his honor. “Mist” in the name is thought to refer to the blurry look of the florescence. “Conoclinium” is from the Latin for “little cone-shaped bed.”

Growing Gregg’s Mistflower in Your Texoma Garden

I’ve enjoyed getting to know this plant over the years in different gardens, therefore in different growing conditions. Some of us gardeners will remember our own, very special plant person, Jesse Stephens who wrote a weekly column in the Sherman Democrat on gardening, published several garden-related books, and ran a garden store called “The Backyard Nature Store” from which she also did landscape consulting. In this capacity, Jesse planned a xeriscape landscape for the front garden of the Belden Street Montessori School where I taught. 

In choosing the perfect plant for a flower bed that bordered the benches where our preschoolers waited to be picked up after school, she chose Gregg’s Mistflower. It was soft, in case a child fell into the flowers; short enough that the children could see over the plants while sitting; and it was often covered in butterflies and other pollinators, so the children could watch nature and contemplate as they unwound after a busy school day. Perfect!,  we decided, but our Gregg’s Mistflower decided otherwise. It found the spot too sunny and over time it grew only in one small shadier triangular corner of the bed and eventually “walked,” as Jesse described it, across the sidewalk to the dappled shade under a newly planted redbud tree! 

We most likely could have kept the plant in our intended place had we met its water requirement; but alas this was a xeriscape landscape and we used a minimum of water in it.

Gregg’s Mistflower spreads by underground stems or rhizomes, putting up new plants all along it or as in the case of the “walking” plant putting up new plants on the other side of the sidewalk. This growth pattern has led some gardeners to call it “aggressive.” My observations in my garden, at HNWR Butterfly Garden, at Austin College’s Idea Center Gardens, and even at the Montessori School garden indicate that it is easy to pull out any strays and that environmental factors, like shade and moisture, naturally limit expansion. And one benefit of this growth pattern is that it yields plants you may want to have in new garden areas. This photo shows plants that have walked under a fence, and I welcomed that. 

Photo by Truett Cates

You may want to share the rhizomes as new plants with friends and neighbors. I have tried directly transplanting and potting up for a while to establish more root hardiness before planting. 

Photo by Truett Cates

Both ways work! This my new Gregg’s mist plot with both potted and directly transplanted individuals.
Photo by Truett Cates

A couple of tips when including this plant in your space: 
  • It can be a filler around showier plants. 
  • Overwatering makes it more aggressive.

I am curious about the mistflower native to our area, Conoclinium coelestinum (coelestinum for “sky blue.”) I will be looking for it on walks in the area, and plan to invite one, maybe just one, into my garden. I have bought the seeds and will share. Any takers? This queen wants to know.

Photo by Truett Cates


References: World-wide Web
Denton County Master Gardener Association. Article on Gregg’s Mist Flower. https://dcmga.com/north-texas-gardening/perennials/master-gardener-favorites/greggs-mist-flower/
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=cogr10 (plant profile for Gregg’s Mist Flower)
Monarch Butterfly Gardens. https://monarchbutterflygarden.net/ (Article on Gregg‘s Mist Flower. Conoclinium greggii)
US Department of Agriculture Plants Data Base.  https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=COGR10
Wikivisually. Conoclinium coelestinum. (Article and video on Blue mist-flower, the species native to North Central Texas.) https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Conoclinium_coelestinum
References: Books
Diggs, George, et al. 1999. Shiners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas. Botanical Research Institute of North Texas and Austin College. Ft. Worth, Tx
Wasowski, Sally and Andy Wasowski. 1997. Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region By Region, 2nd edition
Photo Credits
©Truett Cates
@Linn Cates


Thursday, May 31, 2018

From the Nature Nook Bookshelf: “The Fireflies Book” by Brett Otler

Book Review by Jean Flick

Get ready for summertime magic!  The Fireflies Book by Brett Otler provides a good introduction to the magic of fireflies, often called lightning bugs.  This delightful little book is available in the Nature Nook at HNWR.

The emphasis of the book is on enjoying fireflies, with lots of fun and interesting facts thrown in.  The biology and chemistry of how and why fireflies light up the summer sky are presented in easy-to-understand language.  Simple family projects are described, such as how to participate in firefly citizen science and how to compare the flashing patterns of common firefly species.  And, readers learn where to see the greatest synchronous firefly show in the U.S.
               
In Texas, fireflies may light the night sky from mid-April until October.   According to National Geographic, fireflies are actually winged beetles.  There are approximately 2,000 firefly species, and each subspecies has its own unique flashing pattern.

In The Fireflies Book, Otler seeks to remind us, above all, of the simple joy of gathering together on a warm summer evening, sharing in one of the most readily accessible spectacles of the natural world.  “The Fireflies Book” is suitable reading for older children to those of adult age who revel in childhood memories of chasing lightning bugs.

The Nature Nook is run by Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  All proceeds are used for projects and activities at HNWR.  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly Away Home

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

In many cultures, ladybugs are thought to bring good luck. In Sweden, a ladybug landing on a young lady’s hand means she will marry soon. In England, they are thought to be an omen of a good harvest. Some other cultures believe that if you kill a ladybug, then sadness and bad luck will follow you. As with many “old wives tales”, there’s a grain of truth to the myth, or at least a desire to lead behavior in a particular direction. Most farmers and home gardeners consider ladybugs a welcome visitor and something to be protected rather than exterminated.

Convergent Lady Beetle
Ladybugs are beneficial in gardens and agricultural fields. Rather than eating or damaging plants, they are carnivores that feast on plant pests like mealy bugs, mites, and aphids. This behavior may have even led to their common name. Legend says that during the Middle Ages, European crops were threatened by many plant-eating insect pests. Farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary to save their crops and soon after, they began seeing black-spotted red bugs doing battle with the other insects. The crops survived and as the legend spread, people began to refer to the helpful bugs as “our lady’s birds”. Over time, they became known as “ladybugs”, “ladybirds”, or “lady beetles”.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle
Ladybugs are insects in the order Coleoptera (beetles). Like other insects, they have six legs, wings, a muscular thorax, and an abdomen, but most of these are tucked away under the ladybugs’ rigid coverings. The most visible of these coverings are the Elytra, on which you will find each ladybug’s typical colors. These are actually the ladybug’s forewings that have hardened to surround and protect the delicate hindwings. The elytra must be lifted to expose the hindwings so the ladybug can fly.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle Lifting Elytra
There are several thousand different species of ladybugs worldwide; they inhabit most temperate or tropical climates. A few hundred species are found in North America, and several of those have been found at Hagerman NWR. Not all ladybugs are red with black spots, and not everything with the same general coloring is a ladybug.

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (not a Lady Beetle)
Like butterflies, ladybugs undergo complete metamorphosis. An adult ladybug lays a cluster of 10-15 eggs on the underside of a leaf in an area where she has found aphids or other small plant-eating bugs. The eggs hatch into larvae that look similar to tiny caterpillars, but with six legs. Unlike butterflies, the larvae’s diet is the same as an adult ladybug’s.

Ladybug Larva
The larvae grow and shed their “skin” (exoskeleton) repeatedly until they are ready to pupate. After shedding for the last time, individual larvae are enclosed in a new covering, not unlike a chrysalis. Over the next few days, they complete the transformation into an adult ladybug. From egg to adult takes less than a month and an adult can live a year or more.

Pupating Lady Beetle
Ladybugs are generally harmless to people, although one group can be considered pests. Asian Lady Beetles are becoming more common in Grayson County and can be a mild nuisance in winter, when they find their way inside our homes. All ladybugs can release a nasty-smelling fluid when threatened but the Asian Lady Beetles are larger than other ladybugs in the area, so that fluid is more noticeable. These ladybugs can be recognized by their orange legs – other local ladybugs have black legs.

Asian Lady Beetle on Soapberry
If you want to find ladybugs at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, you need look no further than the Butterfly Garden, where they help us keep the host and nectar plants pest free. You can also find them anywhere wildflowers grow, busily climbing up and down stems and over and under leaves and blossoms. I particularly like Silliman Road and L Pad for finding ladybugs. They like warmer weather and will not fly if it is under 55 degrees. The colors on the head and the number and pattern of spots on the elytra are helpful in identifying which ladybug species you are looking at. Think small and enjoy your search! You have no idea what else you may find out there.

Polished Lady Beetle





Thursday, May 17, 2018

Buttercups in Bloom

Have you ever gotten “butter” on your nose from a buttercup? Or as they are botanically named, Oenothera speciosa. Buttercups are also known as Pink evening primrose, Showy evening primrose, Mexican evening primrose, Showy primrose, Pink ladies, Pink buttercups, according to the Native Plant Information Network

From Wikipedia, we learned that although this plant is also frequently referred to as a buttercup, it is not a true buttercup (genus Ranunculus) or even in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.

Pink Evening Primrose at Hagerman NWR, by Kathy Whaley

The website for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center goes on to say that while most primroses open in the evening, this plant, native over a widespread area from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, opens in the evening in the northern range but in the morning in the southern range. They could also be called “dayflower” as each flower lasts only one day.


“Buttercups” are perennial; their blooms vary from palest pink, nearly white, to deep rich pinks. The flowers’ yellow pollen is the source of the “butter”. They will grow is a variety of soils but go dormant if the soil is too dry; in our area, you will note large masses of them where there are apparent low places in the fields and along roadsides.  



Pink Evening Primrose at Hagerman NWR, by H. S. Bert Garcia

You will also find a  showy yellow version in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife RefugeOenothera macrocarpa, commonly known as Bigfruit evening-primrose, Missouri evening-primrose, Fluttermill, Big-fruit evening-primrose, Missouri Primrose (shown below).


Birds like the seeds from evening primroses and the flowers offer nectar to bees, moths, and butterflies.

NOTE:  Weather permitting there will be a Wildflower Tour of Hagerman NWR at 10 on Saturday, May 26!  Reserve a spot in the van (see sidebar of the webpage) or caravan along as we stop to enjoy various wildflower areas at the Refuge.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

From the Nature Nook Bookshelf: Nat Geo Kids Everything Series

By Jean Flick

Richard Louv, in “Last Child in The Woods,” pleads the case for reconnecting children with nature.  He dubbed the term Nature Deficit Disorder to describe the “growing gap between children and nature.” In his later book, “The Nature Principle”, he asks the question, “What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?”  Consider rephrasing that:  “What would our children's lives be like if their days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?”

A good starting point to spark interest and enthusiasm for the natural world in the minds of the children in your life is the “Nat Geo Kids Everything” series.    The “Everything” series invites kids into the world of nature through the use of fun facts and comparisons, and, of course, outstanding photography.  The unique “Explorer’s Corner” feature introduces readers to scientists such as ecologists (“Everything Birds of Prey”) and herpetologists (“Everything Reptile”) and offers a personal connection to the field work of these scientists as well as a glimpse into potential career opportunities.  Interactive glossaries keep young readers engaged all the way to the last page.

National Geographic has a well-established history of producing high-quality books, magazines, and documentaries about our world.  Their publications are noted for their scientific inquiry as well as their stunning photography.  Books published for children are of equal quality, designed to entice young readers to explore the many wonders of our natural world. 

The Nature Nook at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge offers Nat Geo Kids books for children with varying reading levels.   Pre-readers will enjoy “Slither Snake!” while books on bats, plants, butterflies, trees, and more are available for various reading levels.

In addition to the wide selection of children’s books available in the Nature Nook, HNWR provides robust programming designed to spark kids’ interest in the natural world that abounds on the refuge. FOH volunteers and refuge staff biologist Courtney Anderson engage children through The Refuge Rocks for Youth/Saturday programs, Spring Break activities, and multiple school field trips.


The Nature Nook is operated by Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  All proceeds are used for projects and activities at HNWR.  Book review by Jean Flick.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

May Plant of the Month - Prairie Verbena

By Sue Abernathy

Have you noticed a purple hue in the pastures or patches of vivid purple along the roadside as you are driving down country roads?

More than likely it is Prairie Verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida, which is an early blooming native perennial. It is also known as Dakota Vervain, Purple Prairie Verbena, and Dakota Mock Vervain. It generally has purple, five petal clustered blooms, but the color can vary from a bluish purple to violet to pink.  The blooms set on top of stems with highly divided leaves.


Prairie Verbena is drought tolerant and highly deer resistant. This native perennial can be found from Northern Mexico north to Oklahoma and west to New Mexico and Arizona. It thrives in full sun in open pastures and grasslands, often covering acres of ground, but will also tolerate partial shade. It is a low growing, trailing plant that likes dry to medium moist sites and well-drained soils like sand, loam, clay, caliche, and limestone.

Prairie Verbena’s extended bloom time from March through October benefits both gardeners and pollinators. The blankets of purple flowers are an excellent nectar source for butterflies and bees.
It transplants easily from nursery stock or the pasture and can be started from seed and it is a great addition to any butterfly or pollinator garden.  It is widespread throughout the state of Texas and can also be found in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge along the slope, behind the bench in the smaller pergola.




Sources:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at http://www.wildflower.org
Native American Seed at http://www.seedsource.com

Photo credits – Sue Abernathy

NOTE: Sue Abernathy is both a Grayson CountyMaster Gardener and a Texas Master Naturalist, Bluestem chapter, and serves as a co-chair for the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR and as a Garden Docent. "Plant of the Month" blogs are contributed by the Butterfly Garden Docents at HNWR.