Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greater Roadrunner

Beep Beep!   Who does not enjoy seeing the low profile of a Roadrunner darting across the road or flying up into a nearby shrub or tree? For many, a sighting bring backs memories of cartoons, specifically, Warner Brothers, that popularized the Greater Roadrunner – older generations enjoyed these with popcorn at the movies, followed by the younger  generations of Saturday morning cartoon-watchers.  Another name for this bird is Chaparral Cock.

Greater Roadrunner with Worm, taken at Hagerman NWR by Tigger Saldy

Here are some “Cool Facts” about the Roadrunner, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
  • Roadrunners hold a special place in Native American and Mexican legends and belief systems, revered for their courage, strength, speed, and endurance. The roadrunner’s distinctive X-shaped footprint—with two toes pointing forward and two backward—are used as sacred symbols by Pueblo tribes to ward off evil. The X shape disguises the direction the bird is heading, and is thought to prevent evil spirits from following.
  • Despite the cartoon character’s perennial victories over Wile E. Coyote, real-life coyotes present a real danger. The mammals can reach a top speed of 43 miles an hour—more than twice as fast as roadrunners.
  • Roadrunners have evolved a range of adaptations to desert living. Like seabirds, they secrete a solution of highly concentrated salt through a gland just in front of each eye, using less water than excreting it via their kidneys and urinary tract. Moisture-rich prey including mammals and reptiles supply them otherwise-scarce water in their diet. Both chicks and adults flutter the unfeathered area beneath the chin (gular fluttering) to dissipate heat.
  • Their poisonous prey, including venomous lizards and scorpions, gives no ill effect, although they’re careful to swallow horned lizards head-first with the horns pointed away from vital organs. Roadrunners can also kill and eat rattlesnakes, often in tandem with another roadrunner: as one distracts the snake by jumping and flapping, the other sneaks up and pins its head, then bashes the snake against a rock. If it’s is too long to swallow all at once, a roadrunner will walk around with a length of snake still protruding from its bill, swallowing it a little at a time as the snake digests.

Found in all the Southwestern states, Greater Roadrunners are year-round residents in Texas.  They breed from early March to late-October.  In Spring, the male roadrunner offers choice food morsels to a female as an inducement to mating and dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly.  After the pair builds a nest 3 – 10 feet above the ground, the female will lay 2 – 6 eggs; they may nest 2 - 3 times during a favorable breeding season.

From “The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas”  of Texas A&M, we learned that despite its popularity as a popular multicultural iconic bird, from prehistory to modern time, the Greater Roadrunner was one of the last bird species to be given state protection because of the mistaken belief that the birds were a threat to declining quail populations.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Seeing Red

One of our favorite wildflowers is in bloom now – Standing Cypress.  Watch for the tall red plumes along roadsides in North Texas in May – July, and in the Native Plant Garden adjacent to the Visitor Center at Hagerman NWR.  According to the Native Plant Information Network, Standing Cypress is a biennial plant, in the Phlox family.  The botanical name is Ipomopsis rubra; additional common names are Red Texas star, Texas plume and Red gilia.  

Standing Cypress may reach 4 -6 feet in height.  The red blossoms begin appearing from the tip down.   The bloom may also be orange or yellow.  The plant grows in dry, well-drained soil.  You can collect seed in pods as the bloom dries if you want to try to propagate it, sowing in the fall – expect about  60% success, according to the Aggie Horticulture site.  Seed is available for purchase also.  From NPIN: “The first year of growth will produce a ferny rosette, followed by a flower spike the second year. When the spike has bloomed out, cut it off, and new spikes will be formed.“

Standing cypress is  attractive as a nectar plant for hummingbirds, and some sites also say it attracts butterflies.  The plant is native to Central and East Texas, and eastward to Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sharks! for Second Saturday

During the Cretaceous period, 145 million years ago, what is now Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was part of a huge, warm, shallow sea that covered much of North America. Giant turtles, huge sharp-toothed fish and sharks, and 50-foot seagoing reptiles ruled Texas’ watery world. Built-up layers of dead Cretaceous animal and plant life would later become the region’s limestone and petroleum deposits. 

Fast forward 145 million years...

Kim Snipes, Austin College Biologist, will speak on Sharks!  for the Second Saturday program, at 10 am on Saturday, June 14.  Snipes joined the Biology Dept. at Austin College in 1993.  Her professional training is in ornithology and physiology.  Her love affair with sharks and rays began when she was five and watched The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.  She shares her appreciation and knowledge about these incredibly misunderstood animals at every opportunity.  Sharks and rays are some of the most endangered yet least protected species on our planet -- most populations have declined by 80% in the last thirty years.  The free program will be held in the Visitor Center meeting room, and is open to the public.  No reservations necessary.

Kim Snipes, Photo courtesy of Austin College
For early birds, Dr. Wayne Meyer will lead a birding walk that morning at 8 am, weather permitting; participants will meet at the Visitor Center at the Refuge.  There is no charge for the event, and participants are encouraged to bring binoculars, camera, field guides and to dress for trail-walking. The Friends of Hagerman have binoculars to loan, also.

Hagerman NWR is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, Texas and provides an 11,000 acre plus habitat for wildlife.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day® 2014


American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day® will bring together outdoor enthusiasts across the country on Saturday, June 7, 2014, for the 22nd annual celebration of America's magnificent trail system and its countless supporters and volunteers. Over 2,000 nationwide events will take place including trail maintenance, hiking, paddling, biking, horseback riding, bird watching, running, trail celebrations and more! 

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman will participate in National Trails Day this year, hosting a Grand Slam Hike at the Refuge.   The Grand Slam challenge is to walk all five trails for a total of 17.5 miles.  Hikers must register at Visitor Center between 8 am and 4 pm Saturday, June 7 and complete all trails in time to check in at the Visitor Center by 5 pm Sunday, June 8, to earn free HNWR water bottle and certificate.  There is no registration fee.

The Grand Slam offers the perfect opportunity to showcase the five trails at the Refuge.  Maps and descriptions of each trail can be found on both the HNWR website and Friends of Hagerman site.  Printed trail guides are available in the Visitor Center at the Refuge.

In addition, families can enjoy a Bluebird Fun Walk, approximately ½ mile round trip,  along the universally accessible loop of Harris Creek Trail.  Informative and fun Bluebird Facts will be displayed along the trail on Saturday, June 7, from 9 am – 4 pm, weather permitting.  Children completing the fun walk can obtain certificates of completion at the Visitor Center that day.

For those who are planning their first trip to the Refuge, Hagerman is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman.  It is four miles west of HWY 289, on Refuge Road.  The phone number is 903 786 2826.

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day® is a nationally recognized trail awareness program that occurs annually on the first Saturday of June and inspires the public to discover, learn about, and celebrate trails while participating in outdoor activities, clinics, and trail stewardship projects.  National Trails Day® is a registered trademark of American Hiking Society.

Founded in 1976, American Hiking Society is the only national, recreation-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s hiking trails, their surrounding natural areas and the hiking experience.  To learn more about American Hiking Society and its mission and programs, visit or call (301) 565-6704.

Join American Hiking Society, Hagerman NWR and the Friends of Hagerman, and the National Trails Day® 2014 sponsors: Adventure Medical Kits, Columbia, Gregory, and The North Face, for the Grand Slam Hike or a trail event near you.