Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bobwhite Memories

Written By: Skeeter and Marolyn Lasuzzo
Photography By: Skeeter Lasuzzo

The Northern bobwhite, a member of the New World Quail Family, is native to North America.  It is around 8.5 to 10.5 inches long, with a slight crest.  It's a small chunky bird which usually travels on foot and stays in a limited area.  

Beginning in late April and May, the male bobwhites begin setting up their "whistling territories."  This is when one can hear the familiar "bobwhite" call used by the males to attract females to the area.

Nesting activity usually lasts from early May through September.  Nests fall prey to many egg-eating predators as well as forest and farm management activities.  Climate factors such as drought, floods, and other natural causes determine quail populations.

The diet of the bobwhite varies per season, but consists of small acorns, mesquite beans, wild grapes, hackberries, insects and green plant material.

Bobwhite broods remain with their parents and, in early fall, are joined by unmated males and unsuccessful pairs to form large "coveys".  They remain in coveys from October to April.  A covey, which can number about 4-15 or more birds by early winter, will eventually roost and feed together.  The "covey circle" is the way quail roost.  They put their heads out, tails toward the center, resting against one another for warmth.  When frightened, the bobwhite will run from danger.  When the intruder gets too close, they will flush.  They fly rapidly, but then quickly drop back to the ground.  They will then begin a "gathering call" in an attempt to get the covey back together.

While bobwhites have been seen sporadically in Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, Marolyn and I have never seen or heard one in the 10 years we have been visiting the Refuge.  Imagine our surprise when we turned off of Refuge Road onto Wildlife Drive to see a bobwhite in the road.  It flushed and landed about 15 feet from the road in some very tall weeds.  I stopped the car and grabbed my camera and headed into the waist high weeds hoping to get an image.  My first step from the road into the weeds flushed another male quail.  After I gathered my senses, I was able to capture an image of the quail flying away.  I took two more steps and saw two or three more quail moving through the tall weeds.  At this point, we knew there were at least five quail in this covey.  I circled around and stood silent as to not disturb the quail.  Within a few minutes, the quail nearest me began to call to the others - an attempt to get the covey back together.  Slowly I moved closer to the calling bird.  I was able to get within two feet of the quail where I could see a female in the 4 feet high weeds.  I very slowly dropped to a knee, then slowly I began to move the grass and weeds that were between the quail and me in an attempt to get an unobstructed image.  I reached my hand within 10 inches of the female, without disturbing her, and captured the images included here.  I then very slowly replaced the weeds I had removed, backed away and went back to my car. 

Marolyn and I sat for a while listening to the calls between the quail.  It brought back some wonderful memories for me.  As a kid of 8 years old, my dad and I built a walk-in pen for the six female and two male bobwhite my dad had bought.  We separated the males from the females which encouraged them to sing out their "bobwhite call".  Little did I know at the time that this would be the beginning of a long relationship with bobwhites.  Until I left home after college, the "call of the bobwhite" was my alarm clock.

Ed. Note;  Many thanks to the Lasuzzos for their regular contributions to the Friends of Hagerman Blog, sharing their times on the Refuge.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Friends Plan Fundraiser and Summer Youth Activities

Slow down!! Fundraiser Ahead!

Miles and miles of bargains! From 9 am – 4 pm on both Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, the Friends will participate in the annual Red River Valley Tourism Association’s Hwy 82 Yard Sale.  Shoppers will find great buys and enjoy browsing in air conditioned comfort in the FOH Center at the Refuge.  You are almost certain to find something you cannot live without!! Sporting goods, dinnerware, collectibles, home d├ęcor and more! Event proceeds will go to fund projects and activities at the Refuge.

The annual RRVTA event will include yard sales, garage sales, sidewalk sales, farmers markets and flea markets all along 425 miles of the Highway 82 and Highway 287 corridors and beyond!  From as far as New Boston in the east, to Munday and Seymour in the west, south to Henrietta and north to Quanah, and Frederick and Hugo, Oklahoma and points in between, there will be shopping opportunities.

Along the way, participating towns and entities will have maps available guiding shoppers to the special sales throughout their communities. Some towns will have city-wide yard sales set up at a central location, or spread throughout the community.  Still others will showcase their downtown merchants or their flea markets/trade days.  See for more information to help plan your trip.


Summer Activities for Youth

Summer is the ideal time for children to connect with nature and Hagerman NWR and the Friends are offering the following programs this summer, in addition to Second Saturday forYouth:

For ages 8 – 12 – Nature O’logy Camp – a free, one day outdoor experience; kids will learn who lives in a pond, and about snakes, beavers, birds, wildflowers, butterflies and more!  The program will start at 9 am and end at 4 pm, at the Refuge.  Advance registration is required; simply call the Refuge, 903 786 2826 Mon- Fri during office hours to sign up.

For families with children (recommended for children age 8 and under) – Wild Wednesdays

Wild Wednesdays are set for June 13, 20, 27 and July 11, 18, and 25 and are free of charge.  Children must be accompanied by parent or other responsible adult.

9 – 10 am – Self-guided hike on your choice of one of the five trails at the Refuge
10 am – Story Hour with Granny Blue Bonnet – stories and hands-on activities
Bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the patio or in one of the Refuge picnic areas following Story Hour

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cycle Of Life In Hagerman

Post and photos by Marolyn and Skeeter Lasuzzo

We had been watching an old hawk nest at Hagerman NWR, hoping the hawk would return this year.  The nest had been empty every day, but on this day a large bird flew from the nest as we stopped to take a look.  It was not the hawk we expected, but instead it was a Great Horned Owl.  Since it was obvious that the owl was very wary of people, it became very important for us to make certain we did not disturb the owl too much or it might abandon the nest.  We would visit the nest once a week for no longer than five minutes.  This was fine until others heard about the nest and many observers were stopping to take a look.  The adult would leave the nest when a car stopped and be frantic to return to its eggs.  The word soon spread "to be respectful of the nest" and most people limited their visits.

We left to spend a few weeks in Wyoming with the hopes that the adult owls would be left undisturbed long enough for the eggs to hatch and some little owlets to appear.  One of the first things we did upon our return to Texas was to go to Hagerman and check out the nest.  And there they were.  Two little owlets staring back at us with those big yellow eyes.

Photographers should always be very cognizant of their impact on the wildlife they are photographing, especially  baby birds in a nest as well as the parents trying to feed them.  No image is worth risking any animal's safety.  For that reason, Marolyn and I spent a few days observing the nest from a distance with binoculars.  We determined the adults would arrive at the nest within 5 minutes of 7:00 P.M. to check on the owlets or bring food to the nest.  Gathering this type of information from afar allowed us to determine when we could get in position to capture significant images with a minimum amount of disturbance.  We usually spent less than 5 minutes at a safe distance from the nest to capture most of our images.  

On one afternoon, we arrived at our vantage point to photograph the owls at around 7 minutes 'til 7:00 P.M.  The adult arrived at 7:00 P.M. carrying a large wood rat.  She flew in, took a short glance at us in our vehicle, and  determined we were no threat.  She turned to feed her babies (notice the less aggressive owlet peeking over the nest near the adult's legs).  If she had looked at us and been uncomfortable, leaving the nest with the food and not immediately returning, we would have left.  Once the feeding begins we must stay until the adult finishes feeding and leaves the nest on her own.  Starting our vehicle to leave during feeding would scare the adult off the nest.

Life and death is part of nature.  Seeing the little owlets grow and survive speaks to life and renewal and the cycle of life.  One always worries about baby animals surviving the first tough months of life.  The survival rate of wild birds and animals is surprisingly low - so many things can happen.  One doesn't really think about survival of the parents of the babies.  That's why we were surprised when we received an e-mail from a friend at Hagerman about the death of one of the adult Great Horned Owls that was a parent of the owlets in the nest.  Evidently, the adult was hit by a car on a side road near the nest.  The owl was still alive, but according to the representative from the wildlife rehab center who was called in to examine the injured owl, there was no hope of it surviving and it had to be euthanized.

When owls hunt, they are very focused and intense.  They spot their prey and dive toward it, not paying attention to much around them - sometimes flying into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  We saw this happen to a Great Grey Owl in the Tetons a couple of years ago.  It's always sad to lose a magnificent creature like this to an accident, especially when one has been following it during its nesting and "young feeding" period.

The attention then turned to the babies and whether the single adult would be able to feed the owlets until they fledged and could feed on their own.  I'm happy to report that the single adult did successfully feed its young and the little owlets have left the nest and should have fledged by now.  Hopefully the lone parent can keep the owlets alive.  As far as we know, they are doing fine.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hooray for Mothers

For Mother’s Day, I wanted to share a story told by John Slaughter when he gave his Second Saturday presentation on Invertebrates of North Texas at the Refuge, on April 14, 2012.

John told the group that he grew up in Illinois – “No big spiders there”, he said…then the family went visiting in Arkansas and John was allowed to play outdoors – he was about 5 years old at the time, he believes.  He found a very large spider and carefully took it indoors to play with. 

When his mother, wondering why John was playing so quietly, asked just what was he doing, he showed her his find.  John says “this was the ‘crossroad’ of my life”.  If Mother had screamed and stomped on the spider, that would have been the end of my interest.  But!  Instead she calmly looked at the spider, explained, “you’ve found a tarantula.  I used to play with those when I was your age.” 
This was the beginning of my life-long interest in spiders and related species!

Happy Mother’s Day

And speaking of Mother’s Day, the four Killdeer eggs in the nest in front of the Visitor Center hatched yesterday and all have moved on out into the fields behind the Visitor Center!

Second Saturday nature programs, sponsored by Hagerman NWR and the Friends of Hagerman, are set for May 12.   Activities include a nature walk led by Jack Chiles, weather permitting,  Richard Baker presenting on “Prescribed Burns of National Wildlife Refuges”, “Wildflowers” program for ages 4 – 10 (reservations needed for this one) and Nature Photography Club meeting.  See “activities” on the Friends website for details.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cool Adaptation or Just Lazy?

Post and photo by Kathy Whaley

Recently witnessing something I had never before seen, I have to stop and wonder if birds are truly getting smarter, or just lazier.

Most of us have probably noticed that insects have been very prolific this spring.  Butterflies, beetles, moths, flies, and dragonflies are in our yards, in our homes and offices, and especially hanging around highways where the front of my car manages to find dozens of them daily.  This is where the interesting part comes in.  

Last weekend I was sitting in a car in Sam’s Club parking lot and kept seeing a bird scurrying around between and amongst the vehicles.  Finally, it came to the row just in front of me and I had a bird’s eye view of just what it was up to.  A male grackle stopped in front of a vehicle, quickly surveyed the bumper and grille, and proceeded to jump straight up and pick a particular bug from the grille. The bird repeated this about three or four times per car, then moved on to the next one in the row.  

It was interesting to see which bugs were taken and which were left. The hefty gray moth? Gulped.  The wide-bodied dragonfly?  Down the hatch.  But, the yellow sulfur butterfly did not even get a second look and remained untouched.  I suppose like humans, birds develop an affinity for certain tastes, and not others.  The grackle must have envisioned the butterfly the same way I view celery – no way.

I began to wonder if this is one of the ways grackles are “adapting” to co-exist with humans.  Or, is it just a quick way to get an easy meal that doesn’t have to be chased and captured?   Either way, it made for an interesting few minutes in a parking lot.

ED:  Just in case you prefer to do your bird watching at Hagerman NWR, the Refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and on May 12 the Friends will offer a program on wildlife habitat maintenance, Prescribed Burns on National Wildlife Refuges, with speaker Richard Baker of the Wichita Mountain WR Firefighting Team.