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.