Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Lake Is Back!

Honey  Grove Photo Club enjoys a tram tour along the marshes.
(Photo by Skip Hill)

American Avocet at HNWR
(Photo by Leslie Knudtson)
The lake is back! With recent spring rains, this week the lake level rose to nearly 617 ft. above sea level. In January, 2015 the lake level was between 611 and 612 feet above sea level. A little over a year ago, in March, 2014, the lake level was only 608 ft. 

The lake began filling in 1944 and soon attracted visitors for fishing, boating and swimming. According to information from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the lake elevation went to a low of 599.96  ft. in 1957. then, later that very same year, the lake experienced a record setting flood elevation that sent water over the spillway for the first time since the lake was constructed.

When you google Lake Texoma level you will see a reference to the conservation pool.  
From top to bottom, reservoirs typically have three “pools” – the flood pool, the conservation pool, and the inactive pool. The design elevations of the pools do not change although the lake level fluctuates depending on rain, evaporation, and water use. 
The conservation pool at Lake Texoma refers to the volume of water contained between
the top elevation of 617.0 ft above mean sea level (modified seasonally down to 615.0 and up to 619.0) and the bottom elevation of 590.0 ft. The volume of water in the conservation pool is considered to be set aside as “storage” to satisfy congressionally authorized project purposes such as water supply and hydropower.  The top of the conservation storage marks the bottom of the flood pool, which is used for temporary storage of excess water following heavy storms. The bottom of conservation storage marks the top of the inactive storage pool, the part of the reservoir designed for hydropower head and storing sediment, typically holding lower quality water due to its depth.

From Wikipedia, we learn that 
 "The lake has crested the dam's spillway at a height of 640 ft (195.07 m) three times: once in 1957, again in 1990, and most recently on July 7, 2007.[2] (USACE 2003a). The lake's highest elevation was recorded on May 6, 1990 at 644.76 feet.[3] The top of Denison Dam is at 670 feet. In May, 2009, Wildlife Drive and much of the Refuge was once again flooded when the lake levelreached 629 ft.
Lake Texoma's two main sources are the Red River from the west and Washita River from the north. Other notable sources include Big Mineral Creek, Little Mineral Creek, Buncombe Creek, Rock Creek, and Glasses Creek. Lake Texoma drains into the Red River at the Denison Dam."

Denison dam controls a drainage area of approximately 39,719 square miles.   According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, it takes significant rainfall across the entire watershed that feeds Lake Texoma to bring water levels up. "In general, a persistent exceptional drought for the last three years has gripped much of the Lake Texoma watershed. Evaporation of water is also a contributing factor. On an average year, Lake Texoma loses approximately six feet (74”) of water to evaporation. When the Lake Texoma basin does not get enough rain, the combination of evaporation and ongoing water usage will cause the lake level to drop."

Now, thanks to abundant rainfall, as Goldilocks declares in the "The Three Bears", Lake Texoma is “just right”. The ponds at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are full, there is water in Harris Creek and the marshes again, and Refuge staff have been able to put the two “Tern Islands”, aka artificial nesting platforms in place just in time for the Least Terns' arrival in mid-May.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What's Up, Buttercup?

Have you ever gotten “butter” on your nose from a buttercup? Or as they are botanically named, Oenothera speciosa Nutt.  Buttercups are also known as Pink evening primrose, Showy evening primrose, Mexican evening primrose, Showy primrose, Pink ladies, Pink buttercups, according to the Native Plant Information Network


From Wikipedia, we learned that although this plant is also frequently referred to as a buttercup, it is not a true buttercup (genus Ranunculus) or even in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.

Pink Evening Primrose at Hagerman NWR, by Kathy Whaley

The website for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center goes on to say that while most primroses open in the evening,  this plant, native over a widespread area from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, opens in the evening in the northern range but in the morning in the southern range.  They could also be called “day flower” as each flower lasts only one day.

“Buttercups” are perennial; their blooms vary from palest pink, nearly white, to deep rich pinks.  The flowers’ yellow pollen is the source of the “butter”.  They will grow is a variety of soils but go dormant if the soil is too dry; in our area you will note large masses of them where there are apparent low places in the fields and along roadsides.

Birds like the seeds from pink evening primroses and the flowers offer nectar to bees and butterflies.

So "butter up"! And - watch the Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page for Wildflower Wednesdays, featuring a different wildflower each week during the season.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Great Gar Adventure

By Courtney Anderson

Growing up with a fisheries background has followed me to apply it at every internship I have had the pleasure of serving. It has been a constant theme, through my schooling and budding career. Most people don’t care about fish, unless it’s a game fish that can be “Fried up good!” And honestly, it drives me crazy. We should care about the planet as a WHOLE: from deer to songbirds, dragonflies to algae, humans to mosquito fish, because our planet works as such. A whole. And every part is unique and important.  That’s why I helped save about 60 Gar last Friday.
The Discovery
Deaver Pond at Hagerman NWR had an unfortunate accident with its’ culvert that led to a drainage of almost every last drop of water. I heard that the pond was a mess and stunk of dead fish, needless to say I was intrigued enough to check it out myself. Plus I had the opportunity to add a skull to the interpretation collection here at Hagerman. I was shocked to discover that there was still some water in the pond; A couple of pools here and there. So, I climbed on down to grab a perished carp when… SLOSH! My foot sunk all the way to my calf, so much for those nice pair of pants. After looking around I discovered some commotion in a small section (About 5ft in diameter) of water. Knowing I had already trashed my outfit I went to investigate. Lo and behold there were still fish! And I mean a lot of fish, hanging out in this small area. Clearly they were gar, which means the potential for Alligator Gar.  We have all four species of gar on the refuge (Shortnose, Longnose, Spotted, and Alligator).  There is concern for the long term survival of the Alligator Gar because their numbers have declined significantly in the past few years. With this in mind, I knew we needed to do something.
The Rescue
After discussion with Kathy Whaley, the Refuge Manager, she agreed that we couldn’t sit back with the potential for a species whose population status is in question, dying. So I recruited Deputy Manager Rick Cantu and Maintenance Worker Russell “Rusty” Daniel and headed to the pond. Now fishing is never easy, and fishing for gar is definitely not easy. We all loaded up with waders and braved the mud to the little pond where the gars were. I didn’t get but about 5 feet into the mud when my hip waders were so buried, I had no other choice. I slipped out of them and took on the mud like any woman who’s not afraid to get dirty. Rusty used a noose to catch the fish under their fins, handed them to me, and I passed them off to Rick. And we continued to do this. I began to hand catch the gar, which was easier than I thought because of the high number of them in such a small space! However, this is also why I was the only one of the three of us who had mud up to my ears (see photo!)
The Relief
With two very large coolers full of fish, we drove down the road a bit to Big Mineral Creek. The looks on both Rusty and Rick’s faces were priceless, being that they were exhausted and covered in mud like myself. After unloading the fish into the water and gleefully watching them swim away I couldn’t help but remember the wise words of the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” And saving those fish’s lives may not have made a difference to the world, but it most certainly made a world of difference to me.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Coyote

"The Coyote" will be the topic for Second Saturday at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on April 11, 2015,  with speaker, Dr. Jessica Healy.  The program will begin at 10 am in the Visitor Center Meeting room at the Refuge.

Texas Master Naturalist Jack Chiles will lead a guided bird walk earlier that morning, at 8 am, weather permitting.  Participants will meet at the Refuge Visitor Center and will return in time for Dr. Healy’s program.  Loaner binoculars are provided by the Friends of Hagerman if needed.

Dr. Healy joined the sciences faculty at Austin College as Assistant Professor of Biology in 2012.  After serving as a postdoctoral research associate at University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. She earned a Ph.D. in zoology at Colorado State University, concentrating in ecological physiology, and completed her bachelor’s degree in biology at Central College in Iowa.

According to National Geographic, “The coyote appears often in the tales and traditions of Native Americans—usually as a very savvy and clever beast. Modern coyotes have displayed their cleverness by adapting to the changing American landscape. These members of the dog family once lived primarily in open prairies and deserts, but now roam the continent's forests and mountains. They have even colonized cities like Los Angeles, and are now found over most of North America....[Omnivorous mammals, the coyote may live to be to 14 years of age in the wild.]”

On Wikipedia we found this account of a coyote sighting from the journal of Meriwether Lewis, said to encounter the species a number of times during the  Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Lewis, writing on May 5, 1805, in northeastern Montana, described the coyote as follows:
Toltec pictograph of coyote from Wikipedia
"the small woolf or burrowing dog of the prairies are the inhabitants almost invariably of the open plains; they usually ascociate in bands of ten or twelve sometimes more and burrow near some pass or place much frequented by game; not being able alone to take deer or goat they are rarely ever found alone but hunt in bands; they frequently watch and seize their prey near their burrows; in these burrows they raise their young and to them they also resort when pursued; when a person approaches them they frequently bark, their note being precisely that of the small dog. they are of an intermediate size between that of the fox and dog, very active fleet and delicately formed; the ears large erect and pointed the head long and pointed more like that of the fox; tale long; . . . the hair and fur also resembles the fox tho' is much coarser and inferior. they are of a pale redish brown colour. the eye of a deep sea green colour small and piercing. their tallons [claws] are reather longer than those of the ordinary wolf or that common to the atlantic states, none of which are to be found in this quarter, nor I believe above the river Plat."

Second Saturday programs are free and open to the public.  Reservations are not needed.  Come and learn!

Hagerman NWR is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman.  The phone number for the Refuge is 903 786 2826.  Refuge lands are open daily from sunrise to sunset, with no charge for admission. Directions and hours for the Refuge Office and Visitor Center are posted at

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring-time and Snakes Are on the Move

Speckled Kingsnake
By Kathy Whaley

It’s that time of year again – redbuds are sprouting their beautiful purple blooms, the fragrance of sand plums whiffs through the forest, and, yes, snakes are emerging from their winter siestas. For some people, this brings gasping for breath, while for others, it’s just an opportunity to see more of Mother Nature’s creatures doing what they do.

So, what do they do anyway? Like it or not, snakes are a very important part of the natural ecosystem. They play a critical role in the balance of nature by eating countless numbers of rodents – rats, mice, moles, shrews – along with bugs and insects worldwide. All of these can destroy crops or damage property by chewing or consuming them. Snakes will also eat lizards and eggs given the opportunity. On occasion, some snakes will even prey on other snakes. One example is the kingsnake that is known to eat even venomous snakes such as copperheads and rattlesnakes.

Diamond-backed Water Snake
Snakes are often a food source for predators such as hawks, herons, egrets, bobcats, and coyotes. The most common predator you would likely actually see with a live snake is the great blue heron. Herons strike quickly with their massive, sharp-pointed beak to immobilize the snake. They often then use their beak to carry the snake to a more suitable dining location.

Snakes have been around for many millions of years and worldwide more than 3,000 species have been identified. In Texas, there are 109 species of snakes and 28 of those have been documented on Hagerman NWR. Of Texas snakes, none are currently listed as federally threatened or endangered, but two are listed as state threatened by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: timber rattlesnake and smooth green snake. State law prohibits killing (incidental or otherwise) any state-listed species, including snakes. Penalties can range from $25-$500 for a first-time offense to as much as a $4,000 fine and/or up to 1 year in jail if found to be a Class A Misdemeanor.

Only 5 of the 28 snakes found on Hagerman are venomous: broad-banded copperhead, western cottonmouth, western pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and western diamondback rattlesnake. Of these, the most often seen is the cottonmouth. When frightened, the cottonmouth quickly opens its mouth showing the bright white skin inside – hence the name cottonmouth. Most adults are 30-42 inches long with a dark, grayish-brown body with little or no markings. Older cottonmouths may be entirely black. Unlike non-venomous snakes that have a round pupil, the eye has a cat-like pupil that usually appears as a narrow slit. There is normally a lighter colored band visible on the side of the head under the eye. Cottonmouths prefer wet or moist areas and are often seen swimming on a pond. A good rule of thumb is that if you see a snake swimming with the entire body on top of the water it is likely a cottonmouth. If only the head is above water, it is usually a non-venomous water snake.

Western Cottonmouth
In general, snakes are very misunderstood and often feared creatures. Many people think snakes are slimy and vicious – neither is true. As with any relationship, it’s all about respect. A snake doesn't want to be any closer to you than you do to it. Learn to identify poisonous snakes and keep your distance – enjoying the view from afar and never attempt to catch a snake with your hand. Almost half of all snake bites are a result of someone trying to hand catch a snake. If you find a venomous snake in your yard and feel it absolutely cannot stay there, please seek a non-lethal means of dealing with the snake first, remembering that it is part of the ecosystem and likely just passing through.

At the Refuge, snakes and all other non-game wildlife are protected and may not be harmed, killed or captured. Also, it is illegal to release any type of wild or domestic animal on a National Wildlife Refuge. The reason for this is to make sure that animals not native to the area are not introduced to possibly start a population (such as what happened in the Florida Everglades with pythons). The other important reason is that wild animals brought in from another location can transmit diseases such as rabies, distemper, or hemorrhagic disease to previously healthy Refuge wildlife.

For a list of all snakes at Hagerman NWR, click here: list of reptile and amphibian species found at Hagerman NWR