Thursday, March 26, 2015

Behold the Pelican!

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breed in the Northern Plains and in Canada, according to Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufman, and winter along the California and US Gulf of Mexico coasts. Their large size (wingspan is 9’), notable in the above photo by Dick Malnory,  and distinctive bill make them easy to recognize and the subject of cartoons and parodies such as this one by Dixon Lanier Merritt:

“A wonderful bird is the pelican, His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week.
I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”

That famous bill has some interesting characteristics. It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch. The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed. According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch to maintain elasticity. And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.   

Pelican "Poucher-cize" by Eileen Sullivan

The next photo, taken by Jack Chiles, shows one of the American White Pelicans seen at  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge this week during the bird census.  Jack notes that the bird is showing the horny knob on the upper mandible displayed by both sexes during the breeding season.  These knobs are believed to be a target for other adults when they arrive at the communal breeding grounds and fight for territories, Once eggs are laid, the knobs fall off.

Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing. They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch. Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.

These magnificent birds will be passing through HNWR during the next few weeks on their way to their breeding grounds.  Be sure to visit the Refuge this spring to see the American White Pelican!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What Are Friends For?

On Saturday, March 21, Friends members will gather at the Refuge to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and hear the "State of the Refuge” from Kathy Whaley, Refuge Manager.  In addition, the many volunteers who  carried out Friends activities at HNWR in 2014 will be recognized.

The present-day Friends of Hagerman NWR was organized in 2005, with this mission:
… to instill reverence, respect and conservation of our wild creatures and habitats through supporting environmental education, recreational activities, and programs of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Sherman, Texas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An earlier Friends organization operated in support of Hagerman NWR for a number of years but later went out of existence. In 2005, the newly constituted group grew from the steering committee responsible for organizing the first Red River Valley Birding and Nature Festival, held that spring, and the Friends have continued to grow in number, in programs offered at the Refuge, and in support of Hagerman NWR ever since.

Here is a recap of Friends history in general directly from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website:

The first Refuge Friends organizations started in the 1980's. Today, about 220 private, independent, nonprofit organizations build links between communities and their national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.

Friends organizations partner with national wildlife refuges to conduct public events, teach the community about conservation, restore habitat, maintain trails, coordinate volunteers, operate nature stores and raise funds. ( )

From its start in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has owed its very existence to concerned citizens eager to protect America's natural resources. There are now more than 200 Friends groups, with about 10 new organizations created each year. Some support a single refuge while others are connected to a refuge complex or an entire state.

Friends organizations are crucial to the collective mission of the Refuge System to conserve and protect the wildlife of this great nation. Friends organizations are essential to helping millions of Americans understand that their actions today determine the legacy we leave for tomorrow. ( )

In 1937, the Department of the Interior Appropriations Act recognized the legal status of cooperating associations but it wasn't until the 1980s that such associations began to support National Wildlife Refuges. Cooperating associations were authorized by Congress to support the education, interpretation and research activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society formed in 1982 in Florida followed by the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society in 1987.

In 1994, the Service and "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society hosted the first training sessions for cooperating associations in Tampa, Florida. The following year, President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order on the "Management and General Public Use of the National Wildlife Refuge System." During a workshop sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – "From Executive Order to Collective Action" – participants listed Friends organizations as the top priority for strengthening the Refuge System.

The Service joined the National Wildlife Refuge Association, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

and the National Audubon Society in a partnership called the Friends Initiative to jump start the creation of more refuge support organizations. The National Audubon Society began its Audubon Refuge Keepers (ARK) program to stimulate citizen action on refuges through local Audubon chapters.

By 2008, there were more than 200 nonprofit Refuge Friends organizations with more than 50,000 members nationwide working on behalf of the National Wildlife Refuge System. ( )

Here are additional resources for learning more about specific Friends groups:

Directory of Friends Facebook Pages:

Find a Friends organization:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

OWLS Topic for Second Saturday

Barred Owl at HNWR, by Monica Muil
This Saturday, March 14, 2015,  Dr. Wayne Meyer, Associate Professor of Biology at Austin College will speak on “Owls” at 10 am in the Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, and in the evening at 7 pm he will lead an Owl Walk, that will depart from the Big Mineral Picnic Area at the Refuge.

With a nod to Dr. Meyer’s topic, here is some owl trivia gathered on the worldwide web:

To watch a nest of Great Horned Owls, here is a link to a webcam site belonging to Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  

Interesting facts about owls, from Texas Parks &Wildlife include:
  • Most owls are active primarily at twilight and by night.
  • Owl flight is silent, thanks to the combination of large wings, small bodies and special fringed and velvet textured feathers which deaden sound.
  • Owls have superb eyesight, between 35 and 100 times the sensitivity of the human eye, and excellent night vision.
  • Owl vision is binocular and while, unlike humans, the owl cannot rotate its eyeballs, it can rotate its neck from 180 degrees up to 270 degrees.
  • Owls have excellent hearing, with ear openings concealed behind the edges of the facial eye disks, which can be moved to listen in different directions.  Their hearing is especially tuned to detect high frequency sounds made by prey.
  • Ear tufts do not play a part in the owl’s hearing; birds do not have protruding external ears.

The website, Journey North  offers a menu of audio clips for listening to owls.  You are sure to learn more from Dr. Meyer at Second Saturday!

Note - Second Saturday programs at held year around at Hagerman NWR, sponsored by the Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman,  and are free and open to the public.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Miracle of Seeds

Who has not heard this popular proverb?

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." 

Although spoken metaphorically, this also describes one of nature's "miracles".

On Saturday, March 7, youngsters will learn  about The Miracle of Seeds at Youth FIRST at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  On the website, High Country Gardens, we found a description of that miracle:
“The fact that plants can create little dormant pieces of themselves to broadcast out into the world to germinate is quite marvelous.  Even more amazing, is how long some seeds can survive before being given the chance to sprout. There have been discoveries of bean seeds uncovered in archaeological digs that are over a thousand years old, and they were still viable and able to germinate! While not all seeds have that ability to hold a spark of life for so many centuries, it’s not uncommon for seeds that have been stored in a dry, cool place to maintain their viability for a decade."
From Wikipedia:
"Seeds have been an important development in the reproduction and spread of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants, relative to more primitive plants such as ferns, mosses and liverworts, which do not have seeds and use other means to propagate themselves. This can be seen by the success of seed plants (both gymnosperms and angiosperms) in dominating biological niches on land, from forests to grasslands both in hot and cold climates."
Another amazing aspect of seeds is the multitude of adaptations that have developed to disperse seed by means of wind, animals who pass seeds through their digestive tract, carry seed in their coats (think Velcro), or cache seeds that are not eaten later, gravity, fire which eliminates competition from adult plants and releases seeds, floating on water, or even ballistics, in the case of plants that can “launch” their seeds.  A video explaining these adaptions to youngsters (interesting to this adult as well!) can be found at

Whether you ate cereal (oat, corn, rice, wheat?) with milk or ham and eggs (from grain-fed animals) and fruit or juice for breakfast this morning, your meal depended on plants from seed. Humans depend on plants from seed for not only food, but also for shelter, clothing, medicines and more.

“Providing much of the nutritional values that humans need, seed plants are the foundation of human diets across the world.

Wood, paper, textiles, and dyes are just a few examples of plant uses in everyday human life.
Traditionally, humans have also used plants as ornamental species through their use as decorations and as inspiration in the arts.

 As medicinal sources, plants are vital to humans, as many modern drugs have been derived from secondary plant metabolites; ancient societies also depended on them for their curative properties."*

*Source: Boundless. “The Importance of Seed Plants in Human Life.” Boundless Biology. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 03 Mar. 2015 from