By Laurie Sheppard
The dog days of summer arrived weeks ago and according to the Farmer’s Almanac, are due to depart on August 11th when Sirius, the so-called Dog Star, is no longer visible at dawn. That’s the astrological end of the dog days, but true Texans know that the sultry summer heat will continue into early September.
Let’s face it. It’s hot! Not that I’m complaining – I was the one who couldn’t wait for spring – but it has affected the way I enjoy the refuge. I find that birds and animals are most active in the relative cool of early morning. As the sun climbs, the birds become scarce as they hide in the shade of the trees, returning to feed near sundown. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, though.
Egrets and Herons manage to stay cool standing in the water along the shore of the lake. You can find them hunting for fish and forage at any time during the day. If you see egrets perching on a tree, take a closer look – you’ll see their throats vibrate as they rapidly pant to keep their body temperature down. Smaller birds also use this technique, sitting open-beaked through the hottest part of the day.
Some birds migrate through the refuge on their way north and will be returning in a few months, but others spend the summer on Lake Texoma. Those can be reclusive, so it’s a challenge and a thrill to see or photograph a Prothonotary Warbler or a Little Green Heron. Still other birds are rare or occasional visitors – some uncommon guests seen recently were a Long-billed Curlew and an Anhinga.
Spring fawns who stayed hidden in early summer are now seen more frequently, as does and their offspring feed on the lush grass available in so many areas on the refuge. Twins seem quite common this summer and all ages of deer have not been frightened away easily, which has led to wonderful photographic opportunities. Raccoons (photo by Laurie Sheppard), squirrels, armadillo and occasional bobcats have been sighted and photographed this summer as well.
The most common wildlife to find this time of year is a wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies. (Pick up a wildlife guide at the Visitors Center to see pictures of some of the more prevalent ones.) It’s impossible to drive on Egret Road without seeing dozens of dragonflies swarming about in the shade of a cottonwood tree or out in the open sun. Look closely and you will see they are hunting and dining on bugs. Dragonflies will also show you how hot it is – when the sun is very strong and high in the sky, instead of perching in a normal straight position, some dragonflies will raise their abdomens to the sun to minimize the surface area exposed to the rays. They do this to maintain a lower body temperature.
Butterflies are also frequent daytime feeders, even on the hottest days. Most species have two or even three broods per year. On any given day you should see several varieties, ranging in size from tiny Dainty Sulphurs to Eastern Tiger Swallowtails the size of a man’s hand, in varying shades of yellow, orange, brown and black. Enjoy their fragile beauty and frenetic flight as they search for nectar and the exact right plant host for their offspring.
Signs of autumn are already showing up as the Buttonbush turns red and leaves begin to yellow. Sunflowers will bloom through fall and Snow On The Prairie is beginning to bloom. Change is inevitable, and isn’t it delightful?
Find out about activities and programs at Hagerman NWR by visiting http://www.friendsofhagerman.com or visit the official Hagerman NWR website, http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html.