Thursday, January 30, 2014

Red-tailed Sentinel

According to Cornell’s All About Birds, the Red-tailed Hawk, (Buteo jamaicensis) is the most common hawk in North America.  In our own experience at certain times of year, for example, while traveling to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge you will see one after another, perching in trees or on light poles, along Refuge Road. You can judge the size of their territory by the distance between them.

Red-tailed Hawk at HNWR, by Carl Hill
These large birds are easily identified when sitting, by the white front with the belly band, and the red tail.   In Hawks in Flight, (2nd Edition) by Dunne, Sibley and Clayton) we read that the basic ID for the Red-tailed is “big, broad, lumpy winged, and short-tailed.”  Weighing up to three pounds, the Red-tailed hawk’s size allows it “to soar and glide, with little or no wobble”.

In the hawk family, Red-tailed hawks show the most variation in plumage – example - Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk,  and the highest incidence of  partial albinism - example -  Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tails are either resident or migrate short distances: “Most birds from Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains fly south for a few months in winter, remaining in North America. Birds across the rest of the continent typically stay put, sharing the countryside with northern arrivals”. 

They feed primarily on mammals, and we recently read somewhere that some hawks have adapted to life along the “fast lane” and hang about highways waiting for speeding vehicles to deliver freshly killed or wounded “dinner”.

The term "hawk-eyed" is based on the fact that in members of the Family Accipitridae, Hawks and Allies, visual acuity is 4 - 8 times that of humans, and some raptors can spot small prey more than a  mile away.  In relation to the head-size, some birds of prey have eyes larger, relatively, than human eyes. (The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior).

Red-tailed hawks may be found in any open habitat.  They nest in tall trees or cliff edges, building or re-using a substantial nest of sticks that is 3’ across up to 6.5’ deep.  A pair will have one brood, with 1 - 5 eggs.

According to Cornell, the shrill cry of any raptor in a movie is probably the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk.  To hear various Red-tail calls, you can go to

Pale Male is the most famous Red-tailed Hawk; this New York City resident has been the subject of a PBS documentary and has his own website (

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Posing with Puddles

Last December we blogged about Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling and the Blue Goose logo he designed, which became the national symbol of the refuge system.

The refuge system owns a number of Blue Goose costumes which can be borrowed for special events. The Blue Goose  appeared in the Texoma area at the first ever Red River Birding and Nature Festival, in 2005, and subsequently has been seen at a number of area events, including Earth Day Texoma 2010, and the Grand Opening for the new Refuge Office and Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge  in 2011.

The Blue Goose has even appeared on local television, KXII, accompanied by Refuge Assistant Manage Rick Cantu and Friends president, Dick Malnory.

Folks enjoy having their photo taken with the Blue Goose, whose name is Puddles, by the way.  So – as the costume is not always available nor  is  a person to wear it always available, the Friends hatched a plan to create their own Blue Goose for photo purposes.

The costume was sent for, and local photographer Wyatt Spurgeon donated his skills to photograph a Friend whom shall not be named,  as the goose.  Wyatt helped the Friends locate a photo lab that could print a life size version mounted on foam core, as the photo-prop Blue Goose.

Now cardboard Puddles stands ever ready to be photographed at special events (Texoma Earth Day 2011, shown below) and  with refuge visitors, who receive the photo, with "Hagerman NWR" and the date added, by email, as a free souvenir of their visit to the Refuge.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Keep It Clean

Keep it clean! There are more than twenty species of vultures in the world, according to an article in National Wildlife, “By A Nose”, by Michael Lipske (August/September 2013).   Two species can be seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, and thanks to waste management by these two - Turkey Vultures  and Black Vultures, carrion  is soon disposed of at the Refuge.  You can see them on the job daily, in their search for food, soaring in circles over the Refuge fields or occasionally feeding along roadsides.

Turkey Vulture at HNWR
You can distinguish the two by looking up at their wings; for Turkey Vultures, the trailing edges are white, while for the somewhat smaller Black Vulture, only the wing tips are white.  Of course, if you get a close look, the Turkey Vulture has a red head, and voila’ – the head of the Black Vulture is – black (always an exception – the immature Turkey Vulture also has a black head).

Black Vulture at HNWR
Turkey Vultures breed in the U. S. and are year around residents in primarily the southeastern U.S. and  in Central and South America. 

Some "Cool Facts" about Turkey Vultures, or “TV”s” as they are familiarly known, from Cornell’s All About Birds:
 The Turkey Vulture uses its sense of smell to locate carrion. …Its heightened ability to detect odors—it can detect just a few parts per trillion—allows it to find dead animals below a forest canopy.

The National Wildlife article states that  John James Audubon “proved” in an experiment that Turkey Vultures  were unable to smell; the science of birds’ sense of smell has advanced in the last century and  has shown that birds indeed can smell and that while Turkey Vultures prefer carrion, they want it fresh!
More "Cool 'TV' Facts" from Cornell:
The Turkey Vulture maintains stability and lift at low altitudes by holding its wings up in a slight dihedral (V-shape) and teetering from side to side while flying. It flies low to the ground to pick up the scent of dead animals.
In cowboy movies the bad guy usually threatens to leave the hero in the desert for the buzzards, meaning the vultures. Although buzzard is a colloquial term for vulture in the U.S., the same word applies to several hawks in Europe. In fact, the Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) of Europe is the same species as the Rough-legged Hawk of North America.
Some "Cool Facts" from All About Birds about Black Vultures, which are found in South and Central America and the southeastern United States,  including parts of Texas, are:

       In the U.S., Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.
Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.
         The oldest Black Vulture on record was at least 25 years, 6 months old.

Thanks to Dick Malnory for photos for this post.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Snakes Topic for Second Saturday

On January 11, Second Saturday, Dr. Michael Keck will speak at Hagerman NWR on the topic "Snakes".  

Snakes are a very important part of the natural ecosystem and play a critical role in the balance of nature. Small snakes feed on many harmful bugs and insects while larger ones eat rats, mice, and other rodents that can destroy crops or damage property by chewing. Without snakes, the world would literally be completely overrun by rodents! Snakes also serve as a food source for larger predators such as hawks, owls, herons, and carnivores including bobcats and coyotes. On occasion, some snakes will even consume other snakes.

As with any relationship, it’s all about respect. A snake doesn't want to be any closer to you than you do to it. Learn to identify poisonous snakes and keep your distance – enjoying the view from afar.

Timber Rattler at HNWR by Joe Blackburn

Although in general, snakes are considered non-game wildlife in Texas, and are not protected by law, Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley points out that it is unlawful to capture any species of wildlife on public lands without a permit, or along roadways and road edges.   On the Refuge, snakes, like other wildlife, are protected, and no wildlife, including snakes,  may be captured without a Special Use Permit issued by the Refuge Manager. Permits are issued on a very limited basis for scientific research only. 

In addition, protected species of wildlife may not be captured or possessed without a special permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

Texas law protects 12 species of snakes which are considered to be threatened with or in imminent danger of extinction of local populations, or of the species as a whole. These threatened and endangered species are protected by law from hunting or harassment. You can find the list at

Since 2008, a permit from Texas Parks and Wildlife has been required for the sale, transport or recreational ownership of exotic snakes ( Exotics include venomous snakes not native to Texas, several species of python, and one species of anaconda. Releasing these snakes into the wild is also prohibited.

Finally, It is illegal to release any type of wild or domestic animal on a National Wildlife Refuge. The reason for this is to make sure that animals not native to the area are not introduced to possibly start a population (such as what happened in the Florida Everglades with pythons). The other important reason is that wild animals brought in from another location can transmit diseases such as rabies, distemper, or hemorrhagic disease to previously healthy Refuge wildlife.

Adapted from original post on this topic, "Snakes Alive",  by Kathy Whaley, that  appeared in the Friends of Hagerman Blog on March 15, 2012.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 in Review – Hagerman NWR and the Friends of Hagerman

  • January - The Friends of Hagerman excitedly opened online registration for BirdFest Texoma on January 1.  A grant was received from the Fort Worth Audubon Society for the purchase of binoculars to be used on Refuge tours. Pamela Porter was the Photographer of the Month; the Second Saturday program was “Amphibians of Grayson County”, presented by Dr. Michael Keck; for  Second Saturday youth the topic was was “Ribbit, Ribbit, Ribbit”.  Nest box monitors held a work day to refurbish boxes for the 2013 season.
  • February - Hagerman NWR celebrated its 67th birthday this month.  The new handicapped-accessible portion of Harris Creek Trail was completed, including a photo blind, and the printed Harris Creek Trail guide was updated for the Featherless Flyer, February edition, by Doug Raasch.    Dr. Wayne Meyer’s Second Saturday program on Owls was SRO; the youth topic was “Who Pooped in the Woods?” led by Andrea Gowans.   Bob Brown was the February Photographer of the Month.
  • March - Dr. Steven Goldsmith took Second Saturday participants on an armchair tour of Hawaii with his program, Birds of Hawaii.  Andrea Gowans led “What a Boar” for the youth. Karl Haller was honored by the Refuge for 50 years of birding at Hagerman NWR.  Kathy Whaley presented the State of the Refuge to the Friends at their annual meeting, March 23.  Outgoing board members Kay Casey, Peggy Harlan, Susan Knowles and Sue Malnory were recognized.  Harris Creek Trail entrance was improved.  Lee Hatfield was the March Photographer of the Month.  Special programming offered activities for children and families during Spring Break, March 11 – 15. Two weekends were set aside for the first permitted feral hog hunt at the Refuge. Jan Beckert became the new editor of the Featherless Flyer.
  • April - Plans for BirdFest Texoma ramped up during the final month before the event. Dr. David Baker presented “Extreme Weather on Earth and Beyond” for Second Saturday. Katie Merrick led the yout program, Fossils, Rocks and Minerals.  Charlie Hernandez was the Photographer of the Month.    Officials from the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Southwest Region traveled to the Refuge to present a plaque to the Friends, represented by Dick Malnory FOH Board president, board members and Friends,  as the inaugural honorees of the Friends Recognition Program.  Two weekends were set aside for the first permitted wild turkey hunt at the Refuge. Twelve interpretive signs were installed along the new loop of Harris Creek Trail.
  • May - BirdFest Texoma, featuring David Sibley and the popular Jonathan Woods Raptor Project was a huge success, thanks to Cathy Van Bebber, the fest committee, Refuge staff, presenters,  and generous sponsors.  Sibley led a field trip, signed books and presented a painting demonstration; the painting was sold at auction and the considerable proceeds went to the Friends for Refuge projects.  Plans were in the works for a floating tern “island” to facilitate nesting success for Interior Least Terns.  John S. Mead was the photographer of the Month. An all-time monthly record was set when 2122 folks were counted at the Visitor Center, and another records-breaker was the 108 bird species counted during the 5 hour bird census on May 7, reported by Jack Chiles.
  • June - Acres of glorious wildflowers and the nesting Pied-billed Grebes and Gallinules in the marsh areas were the big wildlife news this month. The first of two planned tern nesting floating platforms was set in place this month.  New directional signs showing the way to the Refuge were added on U. S. Hwy 82 and Hwy 289. John Scruggs was the Photographer of the Month.  For Second Saturday, TPWD Biologist Bruce Hysmith spoke on “Lake Texoma, Uncommon Fishery”; youth topic for the month was SSSsnakes, led by Master Naturalist Donna Rogers. A volunteer orientation and training was held on June 10 and five new volunteers stepped up to work in the Visitor Center. Jesse Trujillo, college student from Roswell, New Mexico, arrived to intern at the Refuge and assist in Dr. Wayne Meyer’s Grassland Research project and TPWD Dove Banding project.
  • July -Dr. Keith Kisselle presented “Global Warming” for Second Saturday while KXII Meteorologist Steve Lanore taught the youth some basic weather facts, assisted by Carol Hix.  The 4th annual Hagerman Nature Photography Contest, coordinated by Nature Photo Club chair Laurie Sheppard,  began accepting entries this month. Kevin Vaughn was the July Photographer of the Month. Visitors continued to enjoy watching the nestling Grebes and Gallinules thanks to the wetlands improvements made over the past two years at the Refuge.
  • August - A reporter from National Public Radio visited the Refuge to interview Karl Haller about his 50 years of birding there, and a KXII-TV reporter joined in also for a day of birding with Karl.  Dr. Wayne Meyer spoke at Second Saturday on “Bird Migration”.  No more Second Saturday for Youth; due to the need for additional meeting space for eht large number of attendees, the program was organized into two age groups meeting for parallel topics, as Youth FIRST and the August 3 topic was “Going Batty” led by Carol Hix and Sue Malnory.  Monica Babin Muil was named Photographer of the Month.  Refuge staff began spreading crushed red granite along Wildlife Drive, which should make it practically dust-free. 
  • September - September 8 marked the two-year anniversary of the Grand Opening for the New Refuge Office and Visitor Center.  Workampers Bill and Carol Powell, who made a special trip to the Refuge to assist with BirdFest, were welcomed back for the 4th year.  Geology instructor Rick Lynn spoke on Texoma Geology for Second Saturday, while the youth topic was Monarch Migration, led by Cindy Steele,  which brought out a record number of children and families.  Rick Cantu presented a Bowhunting Hagerman Seminar for archery deer hunters this month, also.  Photographer of the Month was Maggie Goodman. A Fall Volunteer Orientation and Training was held with a large number in attendance.
  • October - Shutdown!   Super Saturday and other planned events were cancelled, however the Refuge re-opened in time for the Fall Photo Safari, held October 26, and awards were presented to winners of the Nature Photography Contest following the safari – Donna Niemann received Best in Show, First Places went to Donna, Bob Brown, Carl Hill and Bill Powell.  Brian Kaylor was Photographer of the Month.
  • November -The topic was Deer for both Second Saturday, led by Rick Cantu, and the youth program, led by Martha Floyd and Andrea Gowans.  A record number attended High on the Hawg, led by Chair, Ron Varley, on a beautiful fall evening.  Roger Sanderson was on hand with plans for the proposed Butterfly Garden,  with dinner proceeds going into the project fund.  A major cold front led to cancellation of the Heard Photo Club trip to the Refuge the following weekend. Geese began appearing at the Refuge in mid-month.  The Friends gained a new Life Member, Trey Neal.
  • December -The month began with balmy weather which ended on December 5 with the Big Chill – the Refuge was iced in for a week, and Youth FIRST and group visits were cancelled.  Dr. Wayne Meyer presented the Second Saturday program, Winter Waterfowl at the Refuge, but very few stuck around during the week-long ice spell. Finally on December 13 the geese began returning to the Refuge.  The annual Christmas Bird Count was held on December 21.