Thursday, December 25, 2014

Twelve Days of Winter at Hagerman NWR

On the first day of winter, at Hagerman we see – a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the second day of winter, at Hagerman we see - two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the third day of winter, at Hagerman we see - three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the fourth day of winter, at Hagerman we see - four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the fifth day of winter, at Hagerman we see - five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the sixth day of winter, at Hagerman we see - six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the seventh day of winter, at Hagerman we see - seven Shovelers shoveling, -six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the eighth day of winter, at Hagerman we see - eight Coots a-bobbing, seven Shovelers shoveling,  six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the ninth day of winter, at Hagerman we see – nine nodding pumpjacks, eight Coots a-bobbing, seven Shovelers shoveling, six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the tenth day of winter, at Hagerman we see - ten pintails dabbling, nine nodding pumpjacks, eight Coots a-bobbing, seven Shovelers shoveling, six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the eleventh day of winter, at Hagerman we see - eleven geese-a-browsing, ten pintails dabbling,  nine nodding pumpjacks, eight Coots a-bobbing, seven Shovelers shoveling, six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

On the twelfth day of winter, at Hagerman we see - twelve bluebird boxes, eleven geese-a-browsing, ten pintails dabbling. nine nodding pumpjacks, eight Coots a-bobbing, seven Shovelers shoveling, six birders birding, five hiking trails, four leaping White-tails, three Harriers harrying, two Eagles soaring and a jolly red tram touring merrily.

Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Migratory Bird Conservation Commission Champion Retires

From the National Wildlife Refuge Association e-Newsletter, December 2014
This month, Refuge System champion and conservation hero, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) participated in his last meeting of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission as he is retiring in January. He is the longest serving member of the Commission, having begun his tenure 45 years ago in 1969.
The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission authorizes and approves areas of land and/or water recommended by the Secretary of the Interior for purchase or easement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also fix the price or prices at which such areas may be acquired. Most importantly for conservation, the Commission considers the establishment of new waterfowl refuges.
Congressman Dingell enjoying his cake | Desiree Sorenson-Groves
Congressman Dingell enjoying his cake | Desiree Sorenson-Groves
Established on February 18, 1929 by the passage of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Commission typically convenes three times per year in March, June, and September, as needed, or in this case November. The Division of Realty within the Service produces an annual report that summarizes the operations of the Commission.
Since the Commission was established, over 5.5 million acres have been acquired by the Service via fee purchase, easement, or lease. These purchases are funded by the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund which draws funds mostly from the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (also known as the Duck Stamp), but also from appropriations authorized by the Wetlands Loan Act of October 4, 1961 as amended, important duties collected on arms and ammunition, and receipts from the sale of refuge admission permits as provided for by the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. The Fund is further supplemented by receipts from the sale of products from rights-of-way across national wildlife refuges, disposals of refuge land, and reverted Federal Aid funds.
In 1989, the Commission earned the additional responsibility to approve project funding under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The North American Wetlands Conservation Council, which was created by NAWCA, submits project recommendations to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission for funding approval, and thus far all have been approved for funding representing $1 billion for the protection of wetland habitat.
This particular meeting was particularly meaningful because two of the Congressional members of the Committee will not be back in 2015.  Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) was defeated in his re-election bid and Congressman Dingell is retiring. As the longest serving member of the Commission, and indeed, the longest serving member of either the House or Senate in our country’s history, Representative Dingell has been a longtime champion of the National Wildlife Refuge System and talked about the importance of the System in remarks to the Committee. Dingell established the first International Wildlife Refuge and endorsed the development of many others protecting critical breeding and wintering habitat for hundreds of species of fish and wildlife. Since he came on the Commission in 1969, 3300 tracts of land totalling over 700,000 acres have been added to the Refuge System.  As his long time former staffer, and now Director of Government Affairs for Ducks Unlimited remarked, “Congressman Dingell is second only to Theodore Roosevelt when it comes to conservation in America.”
Below is the list of approved projects for national wildlife refuges. NAWCA projects were approved, but await funding from the Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill currently being debated by Congress:
Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Texas – 475.93 acres for $606,800
Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana – 804 acres for $2,010,350
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland – 153.6 acres for $490,000
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Washington – 303 acres for $455,000

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bobwhite Quail

Jason Hardin, Upland Game Bird Specialist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, will be the presenter for Second Saturday at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, on December 13, at 10 am. 
Hardin's topic will be "The Bobwhite Quail".

Hardin, who earned his undergraduate in Forest Wildlife Management at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, and master’s degree in Range and Wildlife Management at Texas A&M University – Kingsville, has also worked as Coordinator for the Audubon Texas Quail and Grassland Birds Initiative.  His graduate work focused on empirical testing of Dr. Fred Guthery’s “Hunter-Covey Interface Theory”, and he served as Coordinator of the Quail Associates Program for the first two years of the project.   

According to state biologists, the Bobwhite Quail population has decreased 75% over the past 30 years, due to disappearing grasslands across Texas.  Last year Texas lawmakers earmarked funds for restoring prime quail habitat, and expanding research and education about the species.  Hardin will address the present status of quail and restoration efforts in his talk.

Second Saturday programs are open to the public, free of charge, and are held in the Visitor Center Meeting Room.  Hagerman NWR is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, 75092.  For more information, contact the Refuge, 903 786 2826, or see

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Waterfowl Trivia

Youth FIRST goose-craft!

Youth FIRST will meet at 10 am, Saturday, December 6, at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, to learn about the geese that are wintering at the Refuge.  Here are some fast facts about geese for our readers.

Why do geese fly in a “V” formation? It would be too hard to fly in an “S”... Actually, it conserves energy and makes it easier to keep track of each other.

What is a gaggle? A group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle or flock. A skein is a group in flight, and if flying in a “V” formation, they are called a wedge.

A nickname for the Canada goose is “the honker”.

A Blue Goose is a dark morph Snow Goose, with a white face, dark brown body, and white under the tail.    The Blue Goose mascot for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife is named Puddles and is bright blue!

Love to hear the geese call?  Listen here.  

Have your ducks in a row? You might have a

Brace of ducks - a pair; Flock of ducks – on the ground; Flush of ducks – taking flight; Paddling of ducks or raft of ducks - group swimming; Team of ducks – group in flight

If you've heard one quack…you haven’t heard them all – most species have their own quack and male and females may have different quacks.

A goose or duck by any other name:   Baby ducks - ducklings; Baby geese - goslings; Male ducks - drakes; Male geese - ganders

Eggs laid are called a clutch – there may be 10 – 20 in a clutch

Certified swimmers – goslings and ducklings can swim as soon as they ready to fledge.

Diving ducks are found on oceans, seas and inland water; dabblers are found on creeks and inland pools.

The lowdown on “down” – the small, soft feathers that provide insulation for birds, and when collected, for man. Down from Eider ducks is believed to be superior.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

This Count Is for the Birds

Who wants to join in the 2014 Christmas Bird Count at Hagerman NWR

Dr. Wayne Meyer is taking names of those interested, and you can sign up online  or by calling the Refuge, 903 786 2826.  Dr. Meyer says you don't have to be an experienced birder to participate, because spotters are needed for each team, as well as those who can ID the birds seen.

The count at Hagerman, set for Saturday, December 20, is just one of hundreds of counts planned across the Northern Hemisphere that will make up the 115th Audubon Christmas Bird Count.   Last year some 70,000 volunteers participated in the count, which has an interesting history.

During the nineteenth century  sportsmen of the eastern U.S. would  compete on Christmas day to see who could shoot the most birds, so just over one hundred years ago Frank Chapman and members of the early Audubon Society decided that there should be a new tradition that did not take such a toll on birds, and that new tradition became  the Christmas Bird Count.   The data collected in all these censuses have become one of the world’s most complete and long-term data sets on bird populations.

According to Audubon, "The long term perspective made possible by the Christmas Bird Count is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat - and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. For example, local trends in bird populations can indicate habitat fragmentation or signal an immediate environmental threat, such as groundwater contamination or poisoning from improper use of pesticides."

Each count is based on a circle with a fifteen-mile diameter.  The task of the counters is to find and identify all the birds they can within that circle.  They can take a maximum of 24 hours to do this, all within one calendar day, between December 14, 2014, and January 5, 2015; however, most Christmas counts don’t last that long -  the National Audubon Society encourages Christmas counts to cover the daylight hours and most counts include a few hours of owl searching at night.

The Hagerman NWR Christmas count circle is divided into six areas and each area has a designated leader who is skilled in identification.  Volunteers can participate in an all day search or register for a half day, as several  areas are small enough to be covered in half a day.  The owl count will begin at 4 am and the main count will begin at 7 am, and will conclude at 5  pm on  December 20.

There is another way people can contribute.  Any bird feeders within the count circle can be included in the day’s tally.  If you prefer,  you can register to be a feeder watcher if you live in one of these communities within the Hagerman NWR circle: Pottsboro, Sherwood Shores, Cedar Mills, Mill Creek, Locust, Fink, Tanglewood, Georgetown, Preston and Gordonville.

All persons registered for the Hagerman count will be notified by email of count details before the event.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turkey Day on the Way

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What is Baccharis

Recently there has been lots of conversation at the Refuge about Baccharis, but what is it?   Growing in profusion along many of the Pad roads, this plant provided a roosting spot for many migrating monarchs this fall.   We consulted Dr. George Diggs about which species of Baccharis we are seeing.  Dr. Diggs said that the Baccharis we are seeing is most probably Baccharis neglecta Britton.  He added, “While I haven’t collected B. halimifolia at the refuge, it is definitely in the area (known from both Dallas and Fannin counties) and I suspect it has moved into Grayson County by now.”  Both are native to the lower 48 states.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, UT, Baccharis neglecta Britton, which is also known as False Willow, Jara dulce, Poverty Weed, Roosevelt Weed, is “A weedy, tall (6 -12’) shrub abundant in fields out of cultivation and on disturbed ground, also in unshaded, low places. With ascending light brown branches and green twigs. Leaves partly evergreen, very narrow, less than 1/4 inch wide and up to 3 inches long. Male and female flowers on separate plants. Female flowers inconspicuous, silky, in small, greenish white heads which appear to be individual flowers, these arranged in large clusters up to 1 foot or more long and 8 inches wide, resembling silky plumes in October and November. Fruit, minute, about 1/16 inch long, borne on the wind by a tuft of hairs."

Baccharis neglecta (Photos by Melody Lytle, from  Wildflower Center Digital Library)
Baccharis, along Pad C at HNWR, by William H. Powell

The website notes that Baccharis is the ancient Greek name (derived from the god Bacchus) of a plant with fragrant roots, and the species name neglecta refers to the prevalence of this plant in neglected or disturbed areas.  The shrub offers a showy profusion of silky silver/white flowers, and is also a good nectar plant for many pollinators including some butterflies.   Luckily for the butterflies, the plant is highly deer resistant, too! 

Alternatively, Baccharis halimifolia, which is also known as  Groundseltree, Sea-myrtle, Consumptionweed, Eastern baccharis, Groundsel, Groundsel bush, Salt marsh-elder, Salt bush, Florida groundsel bush is also a 6 – 12 foot deciduous shrub which is tolerant of salt-water spray.  Its plumes in fall are said to resemble “silvery paintbrushes.”

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bobkitty Tale

By Kathy Whaley (Originally published Nov. 11, 2010)

This is one of those stories where you would almost have to had been there to believe it… so I will understand if you’re skeptical.

The first Friday morning in November I was riding north on Oil Field Road when ahead of me I saw the bright flash of a white tail swishing profoundly back and forth, back and forth. As I got closer, I could see that the bushy tail was attached to a very alert deer. Ignoring me, she jumped around, up and down, back and forth, into the weeds, and back out to the road for about 30 seconds. I was quite amused at her antics then came the real surprise: she had a playmate. Out of the weeds beside the road popped a young bobcat. It looked to be about 15-20 pounds and probably a 2010 model. 

Photo by Kathy Whaley
The deer lunged playfully at the bobcat, tail still swishing, and the bobcat just watched as if to say “oh yeah? Well now what cha' gonna do?” They stopped in their tracks about 10 feet apart and stared at each other for about 7-8 seconds before the bobkitty darted back into the weeds…then out again… then in again. 

The doe looked my direction briefly, then bolted into the woods where her buddy had gone. I thought to myself how cool it was to see such an interesting mixed-species, herbivore/carnivore encounter. When you visit Hagerman, keep your eyes open! You never know what might just be around the next bend.

For more information about what to see and do at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the official website, including a species list, is and the website for the Friends of Hagerman is

Editor's Note: Want to share your "tales" of adventure at Hagerman NWR? Email to There is no remuneration for any submissions. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Go Native In Your Garden

Texas Native Plant Week is October 19-25.

How ‘green’ is your garden? Well, now may be last chance this year to plant seeds of wildflowers native to your region that will give you low-maintenance blooms next spring and all summer long. Not only will they thrive — they’ll support native birds, insects and other pollinators that depend on familiar, home-grown species for a healthy ecosystem.

Liatris mucronata DC, or Gayfeather, at Hagerman NWR (Refuge File Photo)

“Native species evolved in the local environment and have developed complex interrelationships with other area plant species as well as fine tuning to local climate and soil  conditions,” says Kathleen Blair, an ecologist at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Exotic plant species — non-natives, including many commercially available garden flowers — haven’t. That means, she says, “If you plant non-native or exotic species, a whole lot of other local species cannot use them.”

Maximilian Sunflower

It’s possible that going native might help save a local ecosystem, or at least parts of one. That’s what motivates Pauline Drobney, a biologist at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, where the staff is working to restore the globally threatened tallgrass prairie savannah. Each year, says Drobney, staff and volunteers plant up to 250 species of native plants on the refuge.  Does planting native mean sacrificing flash and drama? No way, says Drobney, who won over a skeptical neighbor by showing him the butterfly milkweed and blazing star in her yard. “It was just knock-your-socks-off color,” she says.

Some non-natives or exotics have become ecological nightmares, escaping backyards to rampage across entire regions, choking out native species as they spread. Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria, native to Europe) is a prime example. “It’s a nightmare of a plant. It’s now clogging up the wetlands of the East Coast,” says Blair.

Beyond that, planting an appropriate species will improve your odds of success. Some wildflowers are highly site-specific in terms of rainfall, elevation and soil type.

Here are just a few examples of some native wildflower favorites by region:

Great Plains/Prairie: blazing star, cream gentian, fall sunflower, prairie phlox, prairie violet, heath aster, bird’s foot violet. (“Not only does it bloom profusely, but it’s the obligate host food for the rare regal fritillary butterfly,” says Drobney about the last plant species.)

Southwest: lupin, beard-tongue (or penstemon; a real hummingbird favorite)

Chesapeake Bay watershed: butterfly weed, Joe- Pye weed (also known as trumpet weed), eastern or willow bluestar

Southeast: bee balm, black-eyed Susan

Pacific Northwest: broad-leaf lupine, spreading phlox
Upper Plains: rigid goldenrod, wild lily

Northeast: blue flag iris, New England aster  For reliable information on plants native to your
region, consult your local native plant society.

The Nature Nook at Hagerman NWR has two different seed mixes available in small packets that are appropriate for the North Texas area. 

For Texas see Some other good sources are:

Department of Agriculture: 

Native Plant Information Network – houses a native plant database and searchable image directory maintained by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Plant Conservation Alliance – contains links to plant guides by region.

U.S. National Arboretum – search “native plants”.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Editor Note: Above information is a update of blog originally published October 14, 2010 from the  USFWS Newswire

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Workamping FAQ's

According to Wikipedia, “workamping”, a contraction of "work camping" is a form of RV camping involving singles, couples or families who work part-time or full-time. The people who are Workamping can be called Workampers. The term "Workamper" was coined by and is a registered trademark of Workamper News 

Workampers generally are retired or working part-time, and exchange volunteer work for RV-camping privileges. There are many settings for workamping, national and state parks and other public recreation lands, private RV campgrounds, etc.  There are currently two workamping couples in residence at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

Barry & Lynn Burkhardt entered retirement three years ago and began their "legacy" work as full time RV volunteers. Their experiences include two summers with the Corp of Engineers in Branson, Missouri, at Table Rock Dam visitors center, and two seasons with the Georgia State Park system at Highland Walk Golf course. The 2013 winter was their first experience with a national wildlife refuge, in Anahuac Texas. They worked with Bill and Carol Powell who extended an invitation to apply at Hagerman NWR.

Bill and Carol are veterans at Hagerman, spending each fall at the Refuge since 2009.  They also returned in spring, 2013, to assist with BirdFest Texoma.. The Powells began workamping in October 2003 at Cibola NWR, in Arizona.  Since then they have been at  Great Bay,  New Hampshire; Mattamaskeet, North Carolina; Lower Suwanee, Florida Panther, Merritt Island, all in Florida;   Mackay Island,  North Carolina; and in Texas,  Hagerman and  Anahuac.  They also volunteered for TPWD at Sabine National Battlefield in Sabine, Texas.   They note that all Refuges & Texas Parks & Wildlife furnished a full RV site in exchange for 32-48 hours of service per couple.

Carol has worked primarily with records, digitizing pictures & slides, office work, Visitor Center desk, school programs, and trash collection.  Bill received DOI certification to run various types of heavy machinery on all refuges. He also has worked with school programs, maintained building & grounds, upgraded internet system in Cibola and of course picked up trash.

Since arriving at Hagerman, Barry and Lynn have cleaned, cleaned, cleaned and spruced up outdoor areas including picnic grounds, and restrooms!  They mow regularly and help wherever needed with visitor information and activities, and have worked in the Butterfly Garden, with Youth First and group tours.

Both the Burkardts and the Powells will be at the Visitor Center on Sunday, October 26, at 2:30 pm, ready to share their experiences and answer questions about workamping.  Come on out and meet them and enjoy Bill's slides from other Refuges as  well!  The coffee pot will be on!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Go for the Gold

Roadsides and fields in North Texas and at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are glowing with “gold” at this time of year.  Several wildflower favorites are contributing to this fall palette.

Maximilian sunflower is a cheery yellow wildflower blooms that  from August to October and provides food for livestock, as a range plant, and seed and cover for wildlife. Helianthus maximiliani Schrad., called Maximilian sunflower, Max sunflower and Michaelmas-daisy, was named for the German explorer and naturalist, Prince Maximilian, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center native plant data-base.  Maximilian explored the Great Plains of the U.S. in 1832.

Maximilian sunflower, by Sue Malnory
Max sunflower is a prairie perennial native to the eastern U.S. and grows throughout the U. S. as an introduced species and ornamental.  Recognizable by multiple blooms along the unbranched, upright stalk It grows from 24” to 10’ tall, and reproduces by seed and by sprouting from the rhizome, which is edible.  In addition to seed, it also provides nectar for bees and butterflies.

Also in the aster family is Gutierrezia sarothrae (Pursh) Britt. & Rusby, with common names that include Broom snakeweed, Kindlingweed, Matchbrush, Texas snakeweed, Broomweed, Turpentine weed.  Growing from 1 – 3’ tall, it is a small shrub-like plant covered in tiny yellow flowers.  By bloom time the lower leaves have dropped off, giving it a delicate appearance. 

Broomweed, by Dick Malnory
Broomweed is native throughout much of the western U.S. and blooms from August – November.  It reproduces by seed, and provides nectar for bees and butterflies and seed for birds.  Dried plants can be tied together to fashion a “broom”.

Another yellow autumn wildflower, one that is considered a “bad actor” by many, is Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis L., also called Canada goldenrod, Canadian goldenrod, Tall goldenrod, or Giant goldenrod.  Goldenrod is blamed for causing allergic reactions each fall, but according to NPIN, the reactions are caused mainly by pollen from the ragweed plant that blooms at the same time.

Goldenrod, by Dick Malnory
Goldenrod grows 3 – 6’ tall, and like the Maximilian sunflower, is perennial.  It provides nectar for bees and butterflies, and produces seeds.  It will grow in most any soil and is tolerant of dry or moist conditions,   Goldenrod is  a native plant found  in Canada and across the U. S. and blooms September – November.

So, using the phrase in a different context, "Go for the Gold"  and enjoy the view.

"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.  So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air."
-  Nathaniel Hawthorne
Note- this post was originally published on October 4, 2012.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Hummingbird Rescue

 By Patricia Carey

The poor hummingbird could see trees just in front of him, and could not understand why he couldn't get to them.  The sound of his bill hitting the glass window was heart-wrenching!

The garage door and the back door were both wide open, but the hummingbird was determined to bore through the glass.  He was flapping as hard as he could, and obviously becoming exhausted.

I decided to cover his window from the other side—surely if he could not see through it, he would look for another way, and see that the doors were open.  Covering the window was no easy task—it was a small window near the ceiling.  I had to get creative: I draped a black blanket around a laundry basket and held it up on the outside of the window.  Success!  I was relieved at the instant cessation of the horrendous sound his bill had been making.  I was sure he would be gone by the time I re-entered the garage.

Oh No!  Apparently, this poor hummingbird’s instinct was to fly straight up!  Now he was hitting against the ceiling of the garage, still flapping furiously, and I worried about him going back to the window.  Out of ideas, I needed reinforcements.

My neighbor rushed over, and my husband came home.  After much discussion about the risks to the exhausted bird, we decided to close the garage door.  I went out and covered the window, and they almost shut the back door leaving just enough light to see the bird.  Obviously confused, the poor hummingbird no longer tried to fly through the ceiling; it just flew at a standstill.  My husband lifted a small piece of wood up to it, and he seemed grateful to land.  Holding our collective breaths, he slowly carried him out the door and set him free at last!

Editor's Note:  The parade of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the  Hagerman NWR Visitor Center feeders has slowed down, but leave your feeders out.  It is a myth that providing nectar keeps the hummer from migrating, and those on migration will need all the sustenance they can find for their journey.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Overcoming EWWW

Refuge Wildlife Officers Fight Myths about 
Creepy Crawlies and Other Wildlife

It’s not just snakes. Other wild creatures inspire exaggerated fears, too: bats; spiders; birds; fish – yes, fish.

Who wants to touch a fish?  Activity provided by Texas Parks & Wildlife at Hagerman NWR.
(File photo)
In the course of greeting tens of thousands of visitors a year, staff on national wildlife refuges bump up against many such bugbears. They know which natural–world denizens invariably make some people flinch or go ewww.

One thing they've noticed: Whether it’s because today’s visitors tend to live more indoor lives than past generations or watch too many TV survival shows, fears of nature are flourishing -- in all ages.

“We’re seeing more kids sheltered and afraid,” says Ashley Inslee, a biologist at Bosque del Apache Refuge in New Mexico. “Even college kids interested in conservation haven’t been out hunting, fishing, hiking.  They've seen TV shows or National Geographic and think being outdoors is cool, but it can be uncomfortable at first.”

Note: At Hagerman NWR  a few grade-schoolers have shown reluctance to “go into the woods” on trail walks during school visits.

Different tactics are called for at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge, where gators are star attractions. “There should be a natural fear we have of them, and they of us; it’s a good thing to be fearful of a large predator like an alligator,” says supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. But she puts visitors’ fears in perspective. “We tell them we’re not going to have alligators jumping out of bushes. It’s safe. But it’s only safe because we respect wild animals and don’t feed them.”

Some visitors want to beat back old fears. Mary Stumpp signed on this winter as a volunteer at crane-filled Bosque del Apache Refuge — an odd choice for someone with a lifelong fear of birds. Her task: using a tractor to mow corn for feeding sandhill cranes. Slowly, she grew accustomed to seeing flocks overhead. Writes Stumpp, “I began to see the cranes not as a threat but as beautiful creatures. To my surprise, I began to care about them…”

To help anxious visitors, refuge staffers share some proven tactics:

Admit fears of their own. Visitors may be surprised to hear refuge staffers aren't all fearless. Bosque del Apache Refuge’s deputy manager Aaron Mize owns up to a fear of heights and snakes.

Find out what they know. At Patuxent Refuge, staff meets students on familiar turf before a refuge visit, and throws softball questions: “Do you spend any time outside? What’s your favorite animal?” Staff also invites students to confide fears in writing so they are not embarrassed in front of classmates.

Don’t dissemble. To a child nervous about snakes, you might try: ‘There are snakes here, but we almost never see any. That’s because they’re shy, and they can feel the ground tremble, and they go and hide when they hear people coming.’

Educate about feeding a wild animal.  Remind people that wildlife loses their fear of humans if regularly fed by visitors.  And tell them never to challenge wildlife.   

Let kids adjust at their own pace. Let young people decide if they want to touch a live frog or snake. Respect youngsters’ rights to say “no”.  Some refuge staff appoint an anxious young visitor to become their assistant for a day.   

Show enthusiasm. Students see that you’re not afraid and they respond.  When a youngster sees salamanders and turtles and responds, ‘Oh gross,’ that’s your chance to say, ‘No, they’re so cool,” and explain why.

Thanks to Friends NewsWire for this week's blog! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pelican Update

In September, 2012, we blogged about the Fall migration numbers of the American White Pelican at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.   Let's take another look, two years later.  The following entries have been excerpted from the  Hagerman NWR Weekly Bird Census  by Jack Chiles, Master Naturalist:

Sept. 4 - 0; Sept. 11 - 0; Sept. 18 - 0; Sept. 25 - 1000
Oct. 2 - 54; Oct. 9 - 10; Oct. 16 - 260; Oct. 23 - 25
Oct. 30 - 7
Nov. 6 - 127; Nov. 13 -300; Nov. 20 - 100; Nov. 27 - 25

Sept. 3 - 3; Sept. 10 - 3; Sept. 17 - 4; Sept. 12 -24
Oct. 1 - 2080; Oct 8 & 15- shutdown/no census;  Oct. 22 - 1250; Oct. 29 - 1500
Nov. 5 - 75;Nov. 12 - 56; Nov. 19 - 50; Nov. 26 - 7

Thanks to Jack’s reports we have a picture of the swings in population of the American White Pelican at Hagerman NWR during the fall migration.  Pelicans were sighted circling overhead at HNWR last weekend, so the 2014 fall migration is now underway.

American White Pelican, by Dick Malnory
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breed in the Northern Plains and in Canada, according to Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufman, and winter along the  California and US Gulf of Mexico coasts.  Their large size (wingspan is 9’) and distinctive bill make them easy to recognize and the subject of cartoons and parodies such as this one by Dixon Lanier Merritt:

               “A wonderful bird is the pelican, His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
               He can hold in his beak
               Enough food for a week.
               I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”

That famous bill has some interesting characteristics.  It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch.  The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed.  According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch regularly  to maintain elasticity.  And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.

Pelican "Poucher-cize" by Eileen Sullivan
Pelican "Big Mouth" by Skip Hill

Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing.  They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch.  Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.

Be sure to visit the Refuge this fall to see the American White Pelican!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Two Late Season Wildflowers

In the Bird Census Highlights for September 2, Jack Chiles noted that many late summer/fall wildflowers are in bloom at the Refuge.   Below is a re-run of information on one my favorites, Eryngo,  Eryngium leavenworthii Torr. & Gray.  As described by Native Plant Information Network, (NPIN),  the Native Plant Database for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Eryngo is a prickly, showy annual with a leafy stem, blue or purple bloom in late summer, in fact almost the whole plant, which stands 1’ – 3’ tall, shows color (photo by Wayne Meyer).  Watch for it now in fields at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and along the roadsides in the area, striking against a backdrop of Snow-on-the Prairie or contrasting with Sunflowers. Eryngo looks like a thistle but is not; it is in the Carrot family.  The plants are deer resistant, for those whose gardens have unwanted deer visitors, and provide nectar for insects and seed for birds.

Eryngo at HNWR, by Laurie Lawler
Another notable is  Gregg’s Mistflower:  Conoclinium greggii (Gray) Small.  Also in the Aster family, this plant can be seen in the Native Plant Garden at the Refuge and is a butterfly magnet. It is documented by NPIN as attracting Queen butterflies in Fall and as a larval food source for Rawsons Metalmark.  It has puffy lavender flowers heads, grows from 1’ – 3’ tall, blooms from spring to fall, spreads easily and unlike the others described above, provides deer browse. Mistflower may also be known as Palmleaf thoroughwort, Palm-leaf mistflower, Palm-leaf thoroughwort, Purple palmleaf mistflower, Purple palmleaf eupatorium.

Gregg's Mistflower at HNWR, by Becky Goodman

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hagerman History

Labor Day, on September 1 this year, is the traditional date for the Hagerman Reunion, held at Hagerman Baptist Church on Refuge Road, Sherman.  On that day,  former residents and  descendants of Hagerman residents will meet to swap stories and enjoy potluck.  We tip our hat to those who have kept this tradition going longer that the town was in existence, and in recognition,  there will be a continuous showing of some home movie clips of the townspeople of Hagerman Texas, at the Refuge in the Visitor Center from 10 am - 3 pm Labor Day.  Below you will find information compiled about the town by Jerry Lincecum; this is also distributed as a flier at the Visitor Center.

A Brief History of
Hagerman, Texas
By Jerry Lincecum

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Big Mineral Creek in Grayson County occupies land with a varied and interesting history.  It was once used by the Caddo Indians.  As farmland, it became part of the O.H. Willis Survey.  In 1899 a section (640 acres) of this land was purchased for farming by three brothers from Fordyce, Arkansas: James Patillo Smith, William Nat Smith, and Maurice Goodwin Smith.

Grave marker for James Patillo Smith, Hagerman Cemetery
Town-view of Hagerman, Texas
In 1904 the brothers divided the land among themselves, and J.P. Smith set aside 10 acres for a town along the railroad tracks, in the NE corner of his land.  After having it surveyed for a township, he platted and named the streets.  The name of the town was a foregone conclusion, since the MKT Railroad switch there was already named the Hagerman Switch (after an official of the railroad).  It was a favorite stop for the train because of good water from the springs nearby. By 1910 the town had grown to a population of about 250 citizens.

             Ten years later it was a thriving community with a railroad depot, cotton gin, brick bank, a restaurant, post office (established in a home), a school, a church, an ice-house and two grocery stores.  There was also a large hardware store (shown above) well-stocked with Daisy Mae butter churns, since many people kept a milk-cow in their own backyards.  Corn meal was another staple, so Hagerman had an old-fashioned noisy mill where corn was crushed and ground.  Local farmers patronized a blacksmith shop, and the increasingly popular automobiles required a filling station and repair shop. Soon a barbershop was added.

              Despite the ill effects of the Great Depression, the town prospered until 1940. When the U.S. government announced it was going to buy up the land adjacent to Big Mineral Creek for the reservoir which would become Lake Texoma, some of the Hagerman citizens began moving out. Gradually, this island of activity began to break apart and drift away. The cotton gin was sold and moved to Tioga.  The moving of houses from Hagerman to other locations soon gave the town a half-empty look.

              In 1939 the clearing of land for this flood control  project on Red River started, though the actual construction of the dam did not begin until 1940. The Hagerman Presbyterian Church (below) had its building reinforced in 1942, so it could be moved to the Denison area to become Hyde Park Presbyterian.  

The Hagerman Baptist Church was moved eastward about two miles, where today a more modern building houses the congregation.

            After the Denison Dam was completed in late December of 1943, the waters of Lake Texoma rose rapidly to cover most of the buildings that remained.  The two-story school, (shown below) which stood on higher ground, was soon razed to reclaim the bricks. Thus the town of Hagerman died only about 40 years after it was founded.