Thursday, February 27, 2014

Welcome to the Visitor Center

Did you ever stop to think about the hours that the Visitor Center is open?  We understand that many years ago the Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge had been manned by volunteers on weekends, but somewhere along the way that effort ended.  Then, in 2004 then Refuge Manager Johnny Beall held a meeting to recruit volunteers for starting up again.  The new weekend hours were 9 am – Noon on Saturdays and 1 - 4 pm on Sundays.
Volunteers hoisted the OPEN flag each weekend at the old Visitor Center.
This schedule continued until early in 2009, when the Saturday hours were extended – 9 am – 3 pm.  Sunday hours remained the same at that time.

The Temporary Refuge Office was open on weekends, thanks to volunteers, during construction of the new Visitor Center/ Refuge Office
Now, fast forward to September, 2011 and the opening of the new Visitor Center and Refuge Office.  Volunteers not only manned the new Visitor Center on weekends, but the weekend hours were extended, becoming 9 am – 4pm on Saturdays, and 1 – 5 pm on Sundays.

2011 - Brand new Visitor Center/Refuge Office; photo by Ken Day
AND – volunteers started the Nature Nook book and gift shop also, with weekday hours - Monday through Friday, from 10 am – 3 pm.  The Visitor Center and Nature Nook has remained open year around since except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, “iced-in days” and during the government shutdown.*

SOON – volunteers will be there to serve visitors and assist the staff even longer hours during the week, from 9 am – 4 pm, Monday through Friday, beginning on March 10.

This would not be possible without the large team of over 50 individuals - friendly and capable volunteers who agree to work one or more shifts each month at the Refuge.  These folks prepare by becoming familiar Refuge rules and regulations, location of points on the Refuge of interest to visitors, Refuge history and more.  In addition they become proficient in the sales process and operating the gift shop.

Please remember to give the volunteers on duty at the time of your next visit special thanks, and if you would like to join their ranks, contact us  and we will add you to the list for the next Volunteer Orientation and Training event.

*The Nature Nook will be closed for inventory on Friday, February 28; the Visitor Center will be open usual hours.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Martins Are Coming

The Martins Are Coming!
All the way from South America!  Yes, our largest common North American swallow, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Purple Martins should be arriving in North Texas neighborhoods any day now, for the summer breeding season.  You can follow their migration progress on the Purple Martin Conservation Association site’s 2014 Scout Arrival Page.

For the third year, the welcome mat is out at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge for Purple Martins, at the big Martin house just outside the Visitor Center at the Refuge, purchased by the Friends of Hagerman and installed by Refuge staff and volunteers.
Jack, Kevin and Rusty installing Martin house at HNWR, 2012

Some “Cool Facts” about Purple Martins, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology  include:

·        Native Americans hung up empty gourds for the Purple Martin before Europeans arrived in North America. Purple Martins in eastern North America now nest almost exclusively in birdhouses, but those in the West use mostly natural cavities.
·        European Starlings and House Sparrows often push Purple Martins out of local areas by taking over all of the nest sites, including houses that people put up specifically for the martins.
·        Purple Martins roost together by the thousands in late summer, as soon as the chicks leave the nest. They form such dense gatherings that you can easily see them on weather radar. It’s particularly noticeable in the early morning as the birds leave their roosts for the day, and looks like an expanding donut on the radar map.
·        Despite the term "scout" used for the first returning Purple Martins, the first arriving individuals are not checking out the area to make sure it is safe for the rest of the group. They are the older martins returning to areas where they nested before. Martins returning north to breed for their first time come back several weeks later. The earlier return of older individuals is a common occurrence in species of migratory birds.
·        The Purple Martin not only gets all its food in flight, it gets all its water that way too. It skims the surface of a pond and scoops up the water with its lower bill.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macauley Library offers a variety of recorded songs and calls for birds; hear a sample song of the Purple Martin:  In addition the library offers videos; here is one selected for the demonstration of  the Purple Martins’  flight, described as a mixture of flapping and gliding:

Another resource for those who would like to host a Martin colony is The Purple Martin Society of North America, which, with a wealth of information  on  Martins and Martin houses,  is “dedicated to Purple Martin landlords.

Finally, are Purple Martins “skeeter eaters”?  Here is the definitive answer, from the the Purple Martin Conservation Association:

“Martins, like all swallows, are aerial insectivores. They eat only flying insects, which they catch in flight. Their diet is diverse, including dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, bees, wasps, flying ants, and ballooning spiders. Martins are not, however, prodigious consumers of mosquitoes as is so often claimed by companies that manufacture martin housing. An intensive 7-year diet study conducted at PMCA headquarters in Edinboro, PA, failed to find a single mosquito among the 500 diet samples collected from parent martins bringing beakfuls of insects to their young. The samples were collected from martins during all hours of the day, all season long, and in numerous habitats, including mosquito-infested ones. Purple Martins and freshwater mosquitoes rarely ever cross paths. Martins are daytime feeders, and feed high in the sky; mosquitoes, on the other hand, stay low in damp places during daylight hours, or only come out at night. Since Purple Martins feed only on flying insects, they are extremely vulnerable to starvation during extended periods of cool and/or rainy weather.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Great Backyard Bird Count this Weekend

The Great Backyard Bird Count, a nationwide citizen science project set this year for February 14-17 will be observed at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge with a guided bird walk on Sunday afternoon, February 16, at 1 pm.   Dr. Wayne Meyer, Associate Professor of Biology at Austin College, will lead the  walk at the Refuge, along one of the five trails at the Refuge, and bird sightings will be reported to the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Bewick's Wren by Dick Malnory
The first Great Backyard Bird Count was held in 1998 and since then Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports "more than 100,000 people of all ages and walks of life have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds". 

Participants will meet at the Hagerman NWR Visitor Center.  There is no charge for participation, but walkers should dress for the weather and bring binoculars, etc.  Some binoculars are available for loan, at the refuge.  

In keeping with the GBBC, Hagerman NWR will also offer the opportunity  to learn more about the birds that are coming to your backyard feeder, as well as considerations for purchasing a bird field guide or a pair of binoculars.  The Refuge will offer Begin to Bird, a free class for beginning birders, starting on Saturday, February 15, from 10 am – Noon, and finishing on Saturday, February 22, again from 10 am – Noon.

Led by long-time birder Dick Malnory, the class is recommended for adults and teens.  Malnory will address strategies for learning to identify a number of songbirds.  Participants may register online at, by calling the Refuge, 903 786 2826, or at the door, on February 15.  The class will meet in the Multi-purpose Room in the Visitor Center at the Refuge, which is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman 75092.  

For additional information about Hagerman NWR and activities of the Friends of Hagerman, visit

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bluebird - Symbol of Happiness

Bluebirds, a favorite songbird, will the topic for Second Saturday at Hagerman NWR, with Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley, speaker.  Since Kathy will be educating us about Bluebird traits and behavior, today’s post will focus on some Bluebird trivia.

Bluebird on Harris Creek Trail by Bert Garcia
This Navajo song, referring to the Mountain Bluebird (a spirit animal connected with the rising sun) is sung at dawn:
Bluebird said to me,
"Get up, my grandchild.
It is dawn," it said to me.

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.

An early 20th century Nobel–prize winning play forchildren  is a fairy tale in which children are sent on a world journey to search for the Bluebird of Happiness, only to discover it close to home. 

The song, “Bluebird of Happiness”, was composed in 1934 by Sandor Harmati, for his friend, opera singer Jan Peerce, with words by Edward Heyman and additional lyrics by Harry Parr-Davies.  Here’s a link to a performance of the song by Peerce. 

"The White Cliffs of Dover" is another popular song  with a Bluebird symbol of cheer, written by Johnny Mercer with lyrics by Nat Burton;  the World War II song represented the feelings of the Allies about protecting Britain from the planned German invasion.  The song, popularized by Vera Lynn, starts :
There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,

Then we find “Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder” in the lyrics to “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” from Disney’s Song of the South.  

A 1940 fantasy film starring Shirley Temple was The Blue Bird – “The blue bird of the title was paid $50 a day, and flew away from a Los Angeles aviary soon after the movie was finished.

For a 1976 film produced jointly by American and Russian film companies, The Blue Bird, “No bluebirds could be readily found, so several thousand pigeons were hand-dyed blue for the climactic scenes.”  Neither of the two films brought any happiness to audiences or producers; they were both “bombs”.

If you ever rode on a school bus you were probably riding on a Blue Bird bus.  

The “Original Bluebird of Happiness” is a registered trademark for the familiar blue glass bird, originally created by Leo Ward at Terra Studios in Arkansas and sold in gift shops across the nation and around the world. 

The Eastern Bluebird has been designated as the state bird for both New York and Missouri; the Mountain Bluebird is the state bird for Idaho and Nevada.

Here is an online Bluebird Trivia Quiz you can take, perhaps before AND after the presentation Saturday!