Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rough-leaf Dogwood

Have you noticed the shrubby plant with white blossoms growing in the fencerow along Refuge Road at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge?  It is Rough-leaf Dogwood, not quite the romantic lacy understory dogwood we see  in East Texas in early spring, but  an attractive plant in its own right.

The plant is also known as Roughleaf Dogwood, Small-flower Dogwood, Cornel Dogwood, or White Cornel and Drummond's Dogwood.  The species name is Cornus drummondii, named for Thomas Drummond, a Scottish naturalist who came to Texas in 1830, and spent nearly two years collecting between Galveston Island and the Edwards Plateau.  His collections were the first made in Texas that were distributed to scientific institutions and museums around the world, according to the Native Plant database.

Rough-leaf Dogwood will grow as a shrub or can be trimmed into a tree form, reaching about 16 feet in height.  The shrub form provides good nesting cover for small  birds.   It is deciduous, growing in the eastern half of our state, and east to Alabama and north to Ontario, with  the upper surface of the leaves appearing rough.  The clusters of white blossoms may reach 3 inches across and bloom from May - August..  It forms white fruit from August - October  which is quickly eaten by over 40 species of birds.  Fall leaf color is purplish red.  It is a nectar plant for butterflies and attracts native bees.

Rough-leaf dogwood can be propagated by seed or from cuttings.  It readily forms suckers, an asset for naturalized areas.  It is tolerant of a wide variety of soil, light and moisture conditions.

Texas Native Plants - Aggie Horticulture
Native Plant Database

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wilson's Phalaropes

Wilson’s Phalarope Facts

A large flock of Wilson’s Phalaropes has been at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge for several weeks, to the enjoyment of the Refuge visitors.  Here are some facts about Wilson’s Phalarope, from Audubon  and the NationalZoo/Smithsonian Park websites:

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor,  is named after the great early American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson , and is the only one of the three phalarope species confined to the New World.

Wilson's Phalarope  is a slender, delicately built shorebird with a small head, and thin, pointed bill; medium-sized shorebird averaging 2.1 ounces in weight and 8.5 inches in length, with pointed wings that span 17 inches.

Females are substantially larger and can weigh as much as 40% more than males.

In winter, both sexes have grey-white plumage.

Breeding females (photo below) -  colorful, with a gray cap, white eyebrow, and dark crimson mask that extends from the bill to the back of the head and then swoops down the nape toward the back. The throat is white; a rusty wash colors the neck and chest, otherwise whitish below and grey above.

Breeding males (photo below) - pale grey above and whitish below, with a light rusty wash on the nape of the neck.

Winter range – from Peru  to the tip of South America
Breeding range -  Great Plains of North America

Feeding – a number of Refuge visitors have commented on the Phalarope’s spinning behavior during feeding.  Note circular ripples in the photo of the female phalarope.  “Like other phalaropes, the Wilson's often spins in the water, at speeds of up to 60 turns per minute. The purpose of this whirling behavior may be to churn the muddy bottom, excite small aquatic creatures, and condense them in the swirls, where they can be picked off the surface. Wilson's phalaropes consume flies, beetles, brine shrimp, and other tiny marine creatures."

Reproduction – sexual roles are reversed with the female displaying bright plumage and aggressively  courting males They often mate with more than one male, have more than one nest and, after egg-laying, they leave their families to the sole care of the males.

The female lays four eggs; incubation time is 18 – 27 days. The young are fully feathered and  can walk, swim, and feed independently within an hour after hatching, but require brooding to keep them warm.

After the breeding season , Wilson’s Phalaropes are one of the few birds to undergo a post-breeding, molt migration, traveling to large western lakes in the US to molt and build up fat reserves for the 54 hours flight to South America.   According to  The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, they can gain up to 55% of their body mass at this time; some become too fat to walk, and have to "take off" swimming.  

Blog originally published May 23, 2013.  Photos taken at Hagerman NWR by Dick Malnory

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Eagle Week at HNWR

We are unofficially designating this week as Eagle Week!  Two eaglets are in the first ever eagles’ nest at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, definitely worth celebrating, and we were invited to give a program on the Bald Eagle this week for the Pottsboro first graders.

Young eagles at HNWR, by Rick Cantu
Of all the more than 300 species of birds that are on the Hagerman NWR bird check list, the one most visitors say they want to see is the eagle.  And now that there are several nests going in the Texoma area we should be able to see them regularly year around.

The Bald Eagle was adopted as the national emblem in 1782 and serves as a symbol of wilderness and freedom. Benjamin Franklin said that the Bald Eagle was a bird of bad moral character (stealing food) and recommended the turkey instead. I wonder if the turkey had been chosen, what we would eat for Thanksgiving?

Eagles are one of our largest birds –  they just weigh about 10 – 14 pounds but envision the size of an eagle’s wingspan – the first graders held a tape measure indicating the wingspan measurement of  a whopping 6 – 7’5’ !!

Bald eagles have white feathers on their head and tail - but not until they get to be about 4 – 5 years old; often this makes viewers think they are seeing a Golden Eagle rather than a young Bald Eagle – You might wonder about the name bald…a long time ago bald meant white, not “hairless”.

Bald eagles are very good hunters and have terrific eyesight.  The students learned that if they could see as well as an eagle they could stand on the playground and look down the street to a mile away and see a tennis ball in the grass there.

Watching the video, A Home for Pearl, we learned that Bald Eagles make a very big nest of sticks high up in a tree or on the edge of a cliff.  They use the nest again and again, making it bigger every year.  How big?  One really huge eagle nest was over 9’ across – we had to use the tape measure again…. AND it weighed 2 TONS!! That’s about the same as 80 kids all added up – so 80 first graders stood up for comparison.  That particular nest was reused over and over for 34 years.

Paralleling changes in the national eagle population, Texas Parks & Wildlife reports, as noted  in the May edition of the Featherless Flyer,  indicate that from 1971 – 2005 the number of known active eagles’ nest in Texas increased from  5 to 160.  Nationally, after recovering from, first, being hunted, and then affected by DDT, they are no longer considered endangered or threatened; however the eagle population is considered threatened for Texas.

And that reminds me of the last fact I want to tell you – Most eagles can live for up to 20 years…the oldest one we know about lived to be 48 years old.

Note:  The location of the eagles’ nest at Hagerman is known only to Refuge staff and is strictly “off-limits” for visitors, for the protection of the birds.  Attempts by visitors to find it will jeopardize the continued use of the nest.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Second Saturday - Butterflies, Birds and More!

Monarch, by Nancy Miller
Here's your chance to learn the names and preferred habitat for the butterflies of North Texas, at the Second Saturday nature program at Hagerman NWR this week.  Dale Clark will be the speaker on Saturday, May 10; the free presentation will begin at 10 am in the Visitor Center meeting room and will conclude with a short field trip on the Refuge, weather permitting.

Sulphur on Gaillardia, by Emily Thomas
Clark is the founder of the Dallas County Lepidopterists’Society and owns Butterflies Unlimited, a butterfly farm, south of Dallas.  He provides over 50 species of live native Texas butterflies  and moths to zoos and scientific exhibits throughout the U. S.

Painted Bunting, by Laurie Lawler
Early-birds are invited to join Dr. Wayne Meyer for a guided bird walk at 8 am that same morning.  The walk will conclude in time for Clark’s presentation.  Walkers will meet Dr. Meyer at the Visitor Center and are invited to bring binoculars or may use loaners provided by the Friends of Hagerman; participation is free of charge.

Want to share your photos, swap photo tips and hone your skills?  The Nature Photography Club will meet at 12:30 pm on May 10, in the A/V Classroom, FOH Center, at the Refuge.  Anyone interested in nature photography is welcome.  Those attending may bring brown bag lunches; cookies and soft drinks will be available. There is no charge to visitors to the club meetings, and dues for members are nominal.

Open-air tram tours are offered at the Refuge at 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays and 10 am on Wednesdays; reservations are recommended and may be made by calling the Refuge, 903 786 2826.  Tours are free; however donations to the tram fund are accepted.  This is a great way to view the shorebirds gathered in the marsh area off Wildlife Drive.

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman.  Tours, walks and other outdoor activities are all offered weather permitting. For more information, see or call the Refuge.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

USFWS to Fund Species-Recovery Projects on Refuges

To speed wildlife recovery and perhaps avert extinctions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will award $5.8 million to 17 projects to recover threatened or endangered species on or near national wildlife refuges. Target species include whooping crane, Karner blue butterfly and Attwater’s prairie chicken.

The efforts are part of the Service’s Cooperative Recovery Initiative, begun in 2013 with $4.3 million in funding to 10 projects.

One beneficiary of 2013 funding – the Oregon chub – has recovered so well that in February the Service proposed removing the small fish from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife under the Endangered Species Act. If the action is finalized, the chub would be the first fish delisted with the help of this initiative.

As in 2013, funding will draw from several Service programs, including the Refuge System; Endangered Species; Partners for Fish and Wildlife; Fish and Aquatic Conservation; and the Science program. Projects include:

  • Alaska: Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. 1) Expand nest surveys for the spectacled eider, an endangered sea duck, to more reliably gauge population size. 2) Prepare to reintroduce Steller’s eider to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to establish a viable breeding population.
  • Arizona and New Mexico: San Bernardino and Leslie Canyon Refuges – Improve habitat for five fish (Yaqui chub, Yaqui top minnow, Huachuca water umbel, beautiful shiner and Yaqui catfish), one amphibian (Chiricahua leopard frog) and one invertebrate (San Bernardino springtail).
  • Colorado: Arapaho Refuge – Improve the status of the Wyoming toad, one of North America’s four most endangered amphibian species. Tactics include treating a chytrid fungus known as Bd that is killing wild toads.
  • Florida: Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area – Encourage ranchers to manage lands to prevent extinction of the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow.
  • Guam: Guam Refuge – Collect, propagate and plant seeds of the rare native tree Serianthes nelsonii. Only one adult tree survives in Guam; fewer than 50 survive on nearby Rota Island.
  • Iowa: Driftless Area Refuge and nearby sites – Establish and document six new colonies of endangered red Iowa Pleistocene snail.
  • Montana and Colorado: UL Bend and Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuges – Reintroduce endangered black-footed ferrets to Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge and control outbreaks of plague in its primary prey, the prairie dog. 
  • Nevada: Ash Meadows Refuge – 1) Establish and manage two populations of endangered Devil’s pupfish at the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility. 2) Remove barriers facing Moapa dace.
  • New Hampshire: Great Bay Refuge – Restore early successional habitat to benefit the rare Karner blue butterfly. The New England cottontail may also benefit.
  • Oregon: Baskett Slough, William L. Finley and Ankeny Refuges – Recover golden paintbrush, a rare flowering plant.
  • Puerto Rico: Cabo Rojo and Laguna Cartagena Refuges – Recover six endangered plant species, including Woodbury’s stopper and Cobana negra.  
  • Texas: Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge – Step up control of invasive fire ants to improve survival of endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken hatchlings; Houston toad may also benefit.
  • Utah:  Ouray Refuge – Improve and expand habitat for an endangered razorback sucker.
  • Washington: Willapa Refuge – Establish two new populations of Columbian white-tailed deer.
  • Wisconsin: Necedah Refuge – Boost the hatching and fledgling rates of endangered whooping cranes by encouraging the birds to re-nest at a time when black flies won’t prompt nest abandonment.

Among the 17 projects funded in 2014 under the Cooperative Recovery Initiative is one in which U.L. Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Montana and Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge in Colorado will join forces for the benefit of the
endangered black-footed ferret (shown above). (Ryan Hagerty/USFWS)