Thursday, August 29, 2013

Knock, Knock - Who's There?

The Hagerman NWR Bird Check List includes 8 species of woodpeckers:  Red-headed, Red-bellied, Ladder-backed, Downy, Hairy and Pileated woodpeckers, Yellow bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker.  The Red-bellied and the Downy are listed as likely to be seen in suitable habitats all year around at the Refuge.   Let’s take a look today at the smallest of the bunch, the Downy Woodpecker.

Think checkerboard when you think of the Downy.  Here is a description from Cornell’s All About Birds: 
Downy Woodpeckers give a checkered black-and-white impression. The black upper parts are checked with white on the wings, the head is boldly striped, and the back has a broad white stripe down the center. Males have a small red patch on the back of the head. The outer tail feathers are typically white with a few black spots.
Downy Woodpecker at HNWR.

The site goes on to discuss differentiating Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, whose appearances are very similar but the Hairy is much larger with  a much  larger bill.  Cornell gives tips for distinguishing the two visually at Project Feeder Watch. 

Downy Woodpecker at HNWR.
Look for the Downy in open woodlands and brushy edges.  The abundance of dead trees around Dead Woman Pond provides a good habitat for all the woodpeckers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  And, according to Cornell, the Downy is the most likely of the woodpeckers to visit  the backyard  feeder, where their  preferred diet is suet, followed by sunflower seeds, peanuts,  and other seeds.

Downy at backyard feeder.

Photos of Downy Woodpeckers by Dick Malnory

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Smartweed - Dining for Ducks

Smartweed grows in freshwater marshes and low places, including those at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  The seeds provide fine dining for waterfowl.   According to NPIN, Ladybird John WildflowerCenter, there are about 75 species of Smartweed  in the US.  Smartweed is  in the genus Polygonum and  is native in the U.S., including Alaska, and in Canada.

Smartweed at HNWR, by Dick Malnory
From  a website on Texas duck hunting, we learn that  
…various Smartweed species colloquially known as Smartweed, Knotweed, Ladysthumb, Bindweed, Tearthumb or Bistort, can be very difficult to identify by specie, as they appear very similar and will hybridize with one another.  The ones of most interest to duck hunters [and to ducks!] all have very pale pink (almost white) to deep pink clusters of flowers at the terminal end of multiple flower spikes. All have long, rather thin leaves. All have a ring formed around the stalk where the leaf stem joins the stalk, and the stalk bends at each of these many junctures. These bends somewhat look like knees, and give the plant its genus name.  Literally translated, Polygonum means; many knees.  

The flowers of the various species  may be greenish white, white or pink.  Some species are annual and some perennial.  One perennial species is described at and is commonly known as Water Pepper.  A common species, Pennsylvania Smartweed, is annual and is described at

According to  a commercial site for Pennsylvania Smartweed:  
The nectar of the flower attracts many different insect species including long and short-tongued bees, small butterflies and moths. In addition it is an excellent food for waterfowl including ducks, geese, doves, and other game and non-game species. Furthermore, the dense foliage provides excellent cover for immature waterfowl, marsh birds, and wintering pheasants.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Let's Hear It for the Sunflower

There is one wildflower that  is still a standout at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, in the heat and drought of August – the Common Sunflower – Helianthus annuus.  Singly or in large masses sunflowers wave their golden faces in the hot breezes; according to the Native Plant Index, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center,  “The heads follow the sun each day, facing eastward in the morning, westward at sunset; the name in Spanish means turns toward the sun”.  Other sources report that this turning or heliotropism occurs only in the bud stage and that the flowers face east.

Sun Flower, Photo Courtesy of Tommy Horn
The state flower of Kansas, known as the Sunflower State, Common Sunflower is said to be one of the most common wildflowers across the U. S.    From NPIN we learn that:
“The plant has been cultivated in Central North America since pre-Columbian times; yellow dye obtained from the flowers, and a black or dull blue dye from the seeds, were once important in Native American basketry and weaving. Native Americans also ground the seeds for flour and used its oil for cooking and dressing hair. In the 19th century it was believed that plants growing near a home would protect from malaria. In the United States and Eurasia seeds from cultivated strains are now used for cooking oil and livestock feed.
Common Sunflower is an annual, spreading rapidly by seed, and grows from 1-1/2 – 8’ tall.  The bloom period is from July – October.  Sunflowers provide cover for wildlife and many wild birds enjoy the seeds.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bird Migration Topic for Second Saturday

According to All About Birds, birds migrate primarily to find the best places for nesting and for food, although genetic patterns are also at play in birds which migrate long distances.   The mission of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is in fact, to provide food and protected nesting habitat for migratory waterfowl during winter and migration seasons.

Winter migrants at HNWR, Bald Eagles, by Bill Powell
This month at Second Saturday at  Hagerman NWR you can learn  more about Bird Migration with  Dr. Wayne Meyer, speaker.  Meyer says, “Birds have some of the most spectacular travel patterns of all animals, some of them travelling literally half-way around the world twice each year to move between breeding and wintering areas.”  Meyer will discuss how and why birds manage these feats and how humans have learned to study migration.   The program will begin on August 10, 2013,  at 10 am in the Visitor Center Meeting Room.
Harris' Sparrow, winter migrant at HNWR, by Charlie Hernandez
Meyer is Associate Professor of Biology at Austin College, where  he has been a member of the Austin College biology department for twenty years.   He began birding at the age of 13 in Connecticut and has been at it ever since.  He has birded extensively on both coasts of North America and in Texas and Oklahoma.  Meyer’s  research interests include song learning in the Painted Bunting and grassland breeding birds, and projects investigating both have been conducted at Hagerman NWR and nearby areas.
Little Blue Heron, summer migrant at HNWR, by Rick Cantu
Hagerman NWR is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX, 75092, on the Big Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma.  Second Saturday nature programs are free and open to the public.    For more information, see or call the Refuge, 903 786 2826.
Summer migrant at HNWR, Interior Least Tern, by Laurie Sheppard

Thursday, August 1, 2013


In mid-July just as most of the earlier wildflowers were going to seed, a tall wildflower with rich purple blossoms started showing up at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge along Refuge Road near the Refuge entrance - Western Ironweed.

Photos taken at HNWR by Jesse Trujillo, July, 2013

Western, or Baldwin's Ironweed's botanical name is Vernonia baldwinii Torr, and it is a member of the Aster family.  According to the Native Plant Identification Network
Western ironweed’s 3-5 ft. stems occur singly or in clumps, and are stout and hairy. Wide clusters of vibrant, red-violet flowers form at the ends of short branches near the top of the plant. Because the flowers are all of the disk variety, the 6 in. wide flower cluster has a fuzzy appearance. Long, lance-shaped leaves line the stems.

The site goes on to say that Ironweed is native to much of the midwest, Texas and Louisiana.  A range map is shown on the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services site. The bloom time is from July to frost.   Ironweed  is perennial  The plant is attractive to birds, butterflies and native bees, as well as photographers and wildflower fans.