Thursday, June 30, 2011

Refuge Visitor Center Moving Closer to Completion

During the past two weeks, good progress has been made on the new Refuge Visitor Center/Administrative Facility! The majority of construction has been completed and staff members have moved into the admin side. Landscapers are still working to install plants and irrigation lines and punch list items are being completed. The only major item remaining is to install exhibits both inside and outside the building. This is expected to happen beginning in mid August and should take 7 - 10 days.

Now that we have taken legal occupancy possession of the facility, we will provide limited access to the public. Visitors will be allowed to enter the Visitor Center from 7:30am to 4:00pm Monday through Friday to get Refuge information and/or obtain Senior or Access Passes. The restrooms will also be available. The portion of the facility where exhibits will soon be installed is closed-off and the multi-purpose room will remained closed until July’s Second Saturday Program. Once the exhibits are installed, we will be open the hours listed above plus Saturday 9:00 to 4:00 and Sunday 1:00 to 5:00.

The official grand opening event is set for Thursday, September 8th. Stay tuned for more information on that day and the following weekend when new facility tours and programs will be offered for everyone!

Text and photo by Kathy Whaley, Refuge Manager

Note: The Visitor Center will be closed for national holiday on Monday, July 4. For more information about the Refuge, click Hagerman NWR, For information about the Friends, see Friends of Hagerman.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Wildflower by Any Other Name

What is that pretty purple wildflower? Which one? The one that has tiers of flowers stacked on the stem like wedding cake layers. Oh, that’s Horsemint.

Horsemint ? Someone else told me they thought it was Lemon beebalm.

It is…it is also Purple horsemint, Lemon mint, Plains horsemint, and Lemon horsemint. Many names for one plant, Monarda Citriodora (Lamiaceae).

The Horsemint has been glorious at the Refuge for the past few weeks. The blooms range from purple to lavender, with colored bracts. Now the flower heads are turning brown, preparing to shed seeds for next year’s crop.

An annual that stands about 1- 2 feet tall, Horsemint has lemon scented leaves and attracts hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The plant can tolerate drought, making it ideal for our area!

Whatever name you use, Horsemint is a wildflower all can enjoy each spring.

For more information about wildflowers and other aspects of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, see the official website. The Friends of Hagerman website has info on activities and events as well as photo albums of wildflowers and wildlife at the Refuge.

Text by Sue Malnory; photo by Dr. Wayne Meyer

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nesting Least Terns at Hagerman NWR

If you have visited Hagerman NWR in the last few weeks you have probably noticed that several of the pads (Tern Pad, “D” Pad, and “F” Pad at present) are barricaded. These pads are sites that the Least Terns have chosen to build their nests. The Interior Least Tern is an endangered species and is protected in Texas by Federal Regulations.

The Least Tern is the smallest of the North American terns. The breeding adult is gray above, with a black head and nape and with black extending from the eye to the bill. It has a white fore-head and an orange-yellow bill with a dark tip. The under parts are white and the legs orange-yellow. In flight look for the black wedge on the outer primaries (the outermost wing feathers) and the short deeply forked tail. An average adult is 8 to 10 inches in length and has a 20 inch wingspan.

Interior Least Terns usually begin nesting here in late May or early June preceded by 2 to 3 weeks of noisy courtship. This includes finding a mate, selecting a nest site, and strengthening the pair bond. Courtship often includes the “fish flight”, an aerial display involving aerobatics and pursuit, ending in a fish transfer on the ground between two displaying birds. Courtship behaviors also include nest preparation and a variety of postures and vocalizations. Least Terns are colony nesters where nests can be as close as 10 feet apart but often are more than 30 feet apart. The nest that you usually see here is a very shallow depression in the gravel.

Egg-laying usually begins in late May with the female laying 2 to 3 eggs over a period of 3 to 5 days which are then incubated with the male and female alternately sharing duties for a period of about 21 days. The eggs are pale to olive buff and speckled or streaked with dark purplish-brown, chocolate or blue-gray markings.

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.

The chicks hatch within one day of each other and remain in the nest for about a week. Then they will wander from the nest in search of shade or cover. They will be able to fly within 3 weeks of hatching.

For feeding the Least Terns need shallow water like we have at Hagerman NWR which provides an abundance of small fish.

In an effort to help the terns be successful in raising their young we monitor the terns a minimum of once a week during the nesting season. We try to locate all the nests and map them out. Then we keep records of eggs laid, eggs successfully hatched and birds that fledge. We have cameras at each colony monitoring for problems such as varmints enabling us to possibly head off future problems. We put out logs and driftwood for shade.

The Least Terns will probably be observed around the pads until late August. After the Least Terns leave in late summer we will be anxiously awaiting their return next spring as they usually return to the same breeding site year after year.

Text and photo by Jack Chiles.

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge,the official website is

For information about the Friends of Hagerman, see

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Swallows at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge

Anyone who has driven through Hagerman Wildlife Refuge in the last few weeks has probably noticed the flocks of swallows darting through the air. Until Marolyn and I stopped and really spent time trying to photograph these birds, we were not aware that there were different species of swallows all flocked together. We talked to Jack Chiles, (our "go to guy" for bird identification at Hagerman) who informed us that there are three easily seen species of swallows in Hagerman -- Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and Bank Swallows. The Purple Martin, along with a few other much less common species (Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Tree Swallow), can also be observed. Now, the challenge -- see, identify and photograph each of the three most abundant and easily seen species of swallows. Seeing and identifying was not a problem, but photographing swallows, especially in flight, can be very frustrating.

The Barn Swallow is very distinctive with deep blue plumage above, orange to buff color on its breast and belly while the throat and forehead are rust in color. It is the only North American swallow with buffy to cinnamon under parts and under wing linings and a white-spotted, deeply forked tail. This swallow looks as if it is wearing a mask due to the line between the deep blue of the head and the rust color on the throat. Probably the most distinctive feature of the Barn Swallow is the deeply forked tail.

The Bank Swallow is America's smallest swallow. It is brown above with wings and back slighter darker. The underside is mostly white with the exception of a distinctive brown breast band below a white throat. These swallows have long slender wings with a slightly forked tail.

The Cliff Swallow is sometimes confused with the Barn Swallow. They both have deep blue backs, but the Cliff Swallow has a light colored belly, dark throat and light brown to rust face. A very distinctive white forehead and square tail help to distinguish the Cliff Swallow from the Barn Swallow. Sometimes two white streaks can be seen down the back of the Cliff Swallow.

The habitat, behavior and diet are very similar among the three species of swallows found in Hagerman. All feed mostly on flying insects, usually above water and near their nest which for the Cliff and Barn Swallow is built under the eaves of buildings and bridges. The Bank Swallow's nest is built in the banks of sandy cliffs. In Hagerman, most feeding and nesting is seen in and around the bridges. Some foraging can be seen over open fields.

These swallows are long distance migratory birds. The Barn, Cliff and Bank Swallows all head to Central and/or South America for the winter and usually begin their migration south when their young become independent and ready for the long flight.

A point of interest -- the killing of Barn Swallows for their deep blue feathers was one of the issues that led to the founding of the Audubon Society and legislation to protect migratory birds.

Now you know -- all those swallows buzzing around Hagerman are not the same and now you, too, can identify them.

Written by Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo

Photography By Skeeter Lasuzzo

For more information about HAgerman National Wildlife Refuge, the official website is and for more on the Friends, see

Thursday, June 2, 2011

White-faced Ibis

There are not many birds that have iridescent feathers. Two that come to mind are the Turkey and the White-faced Ibis. Most of us have seen wild Turkeys either in the wild or in pictures, but my guess is that most have not seen the White-faced Ibis. Hagerman Wildlife Refuge usually has a few each year, but this year over 30 Ibis can be observed feeding in the shallow marsh.

The White-faced Ibis is a medium size shorebird - 20-26 inches tall, with a wingspan of 32-36 inches. The most obvious feature on the face of the Ibis is the long, down curved bill. The Ibis uses its curved bill to search in the mud for snails, newts, insects, and especially crayfish, frogs, and fish. The White-faced Ibis gets its name from the thin band of white feathers around its mostly red face.

The White-faced Ibis numbers, while somewhat recovered inland, are declining in coastal North America where they are threatened by the draining and receding of wetlands and the use of pesticides. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, not only are they on the Texas "threatened" list, but are being reviewed by the federal government for potentially being listed as an endangered or threatened species.

Usually the Ibis is seen as a brown bird with a long curled bill feeding in the marsh and along the shallow shoreline. Only when the sunlight is at the right angle do the back and tail feathers show the iridescent blue, green, and purple colors. As a photographer wanting a flight image, you must find the birds feeding at just the right angle to the sun and then hope, when they take flight, that they do at this same angle such that a flight image showing the iridescent color on the Ibis's back feathers can be captured. As always, patience is a photographer's best asset. A little luck never hurts either.

Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo

Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, please see the official website, and to learn more about the Friends, see