Thursday, July 30, 2015

Coming Home to Roost

A video of Purple Martins recently taken in Austin, Texas, by Friends member George Mason and  posted on Facebook sparked some questions about the huge numbers seen. Purple Martins will soon begin their journey to their wintering grounds in Brazil. In the meantime they have been gathering at roosts across the country after completing the nesting season. “A martin roost is a place where Purple Martins sleep at night. A martin roost typically forms annually with martins using it nightly during late June, July, August, and early September in North America…. A martin roost may have from 1000 to 1,000,000 individuals, with numbers more typically in the 25,000 to 100,000 range. Most martin roosts are large enough to show up on Doppler weather radar as the birds leave in the morning.

Purple Martins heading to roost in Austin, Texas, by George Mason
Closer to home, after a great start on nesting at this year at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the Martins seem to have left prematurely; did they move to a roost? On June 11, Refuge Manager, Kathy Whaley, Noted “We have not seen activity in more than 2 weeks now at the martin house. When we checked it today and we found 11 of the 14 compartments had been occupied by martins and had a nest. Two compartment inserts had been turned around as they had house sparrow activity for several weeks in a row. One compartment had a house sparrow nest. We are not sure why the birds left their nests, leaving 11 unhatched martin eggs and 4 martin baby bird skeletons in one compartment. I hope they try again next year.”

Perhaps the persistent spring/early summer rains were the culprit. According to, “Since martins feed solely on flying insects, they are extremely vulnerable to weather conditions that affect insect availability. Prolonged bad weather, such as rain, snow, cool temperatures, and/or heavy winds, all reduce or eliminate insect flight. If poor weather persists for more than 2 or 3 days, martins begin to die of starvation. 

Jack Chiles has reported seeing anywhere from 3 - 11 on the weekly bird census, which has been restricted to the perimeter of the Refuge due to flooding.

We found more about roosts in “Preparation for Migration”:

"Migration is an extraordinary act that requires a lot of energy and endurance. In order to accomplish their goal of returning to their summer or winter homes, birds must have an excellent source of energy to rely on. Martins, like all migrants, consume energy-rich foods just prior to migration and develop fat stores. Fat provides two times more energy than either carbohydrates or proteins. The amount of fat each species accumulates determines how far a bird can fly nonstop.

A second preparation for migration is that of forming roosts. Many birds, including martins, will gather in large numbers to spend the night. Many wading birds will congregate in estuaries. It is during this time that many migrants form the flocks that they will travel with. Martins, however, are thought to migrate in loose, small groups."

Here is a link, from 2004, with a map for searching out known roosting sites at that time:

Googling "Audubon Martin Roost Events" will bring up a list of roost watching events and associated festivals in locations such as Tulsa, Houston, New Orleans, and more.

Finally, click for information on turning in a new roost report here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Found it on the Web

In times of drought and flood lots of folks are interested in learning the current lake level for Lake Texoma - did you know that links for all this info as well as for other attractions and activities for visitors to the Texoma area are on the LINKS page of the Friends of Hagerman website. You will find LINKS grouped with VISITOR INFORMATION, under REFUGE. Links to the official Hagerman NWR website and the lake level webpage of the US Army Corps of Engineers are also in the sidebar on the VISITOR INFORMATION page.

Want to hike the Refuge trails? Read or download and print a map and descriptions to one or more trails by going to the TRAILS page, under REFUGE tab.

Want to know what birds you may see on your next visit? Highlights of the weekly bird surveys are shown on the BIRD DATA page, where you will also find the Hagerman Bird Check-list and the complete weekly census reports, month by month, for this year.

By clicking ACTIVITIES you can see the schedule of upcoming Second Saturdays and other events and activities at the Refuge.

Check out HAGERMAN YOUTH under ACTIVITIES tab for activities for youngsters and families to do at home as well as links to approved sites for online educational games and more.

Want to be a member of the Friends of Hagerman? Click JOIN NOW for information, to download forms or to join or renew membership online.

Interested in the Friends PROJECTS? Learn more about the NEST BOX PROGRAM and the NATURE NOOK; look for these tabs under FRIENDS, on the Home Page.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, then there are about a billion words-worth in the GALLERY - virtual albums for current and recent Photographers of the Month, birds including waterfowl, songbirds, waders, etc., animals, butterflies, wildflowers, and more, ALL taken at the Refuge. and coming in mid-September, winning entries in the 2015 Nature Photography Contest will be on display.

Watch the development of the Butterfly Garden at the Refuge and learn more about butterflies and other pollinators and how you can help.

Want a memento of the Refuge. Shop online for pins, patches and hiking stick medallions.

You can check the NEWS page for the latest edition of the Friends newsletter, Featherless Flyer as well as other Refuge news!

And - you are most welcome to CONTACT us with questions, comments and to volunteer!!

These are just some highlights from the website; next time you are web-surfing, we invite you to spend some time exploring

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sowing the Seeds on the Wings of the Future

By Student Conservation Association Interns

For the past couple of weeks the green milkweed, abundant  at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, has been producing large green pods stacked with rows of seeds. In an effort to save the monarchs, both interns at the refuge, Alex OcaƱas and Courtney Anderson, have been making trips to different non-flooded units for collection. The goal of this project is to help create a seed bank that can be used to increase milkweed for “way stations” as a source of pollen, nectar, and egg-laying space for not only monarchs, but pollinators alike!

We have spent a lot of long, hot hours in the sun. Between startling encounters with snakes and pricking our fingers with thistle, this job is no easy task. Collection of these seed pods is an extremely delicate task and requires knowledge on the part of the harvester. 
  • First, not all pods are the same. The shade of the pod or proximity of other viable pods is not always a sure-footed indicator of preparedness; meaning that even if one pod on the same plant is ready the other one may not be. 
  • Second, the pod should pop open along the seam with little effort. If you are struggling to get it open, chances are it is not ready. 
  • Third, the seeds should be dark brown. If they are white, green, or light brown, then the nutrients have not made their way from the plant to the seeds to give them the best chance at germinating – and once you pluck the pod from its plant, the seeds will not develop any further. 
  • Fourth, any milkweed beetles (orange and black insects) seen on the pod are an indication of poor pod quality. These insects actually pierce through the pod and poke holes in the seed! 

With all of this in mind we have collected nearly half a pound of seeds and plan to use them in the future. Beyond the collection process, there is delicate and precise procedure for handling and storing the seeds afterwards as you prepare them to be planted. How the seeds are processed and stored depends on what time of year you plan to sow them. To help with future seed collections or to get some of your own call, or for detailed information on processing seeds, call us at the Refuge,  (903) 786-2826 or use Contact to email us. You may also want to visit,

Thursday, July 9, 2015

National Campaign to Save Beleaguered Monarch Butterfly

From The Friends Newswire:

This spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a major campaign aimed at saving the declining monarch butterfly.

The Service signed a cooperative agreement with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), announced a major new funding initiative with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and pledged $2 million in immediate funding for on-the-ground conservation projects around the country.

Introducing the new initiatives at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. were Service Director Dan Ashe, U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar, NWF President and CEO Collin O’Mara, and NFWF representatives.

Monarch at HNWR, by Laurie Lawler
Monarchs are found across the United States. While they numbered some 1 billion in 1996, their numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in recent years. The decline is the result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion. Degradation of wintering habitat in Mexico and California has also had a negative impact on the species.

 “We can save the monarch butterfly in North America, but only if we act quickly and together,” said Ashe. “And that is why we are excited to be working with the National Wildlife Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to engage Americans everywhere, from schools and community groups to corporations and governments, in protecting and restoring habitat. Together we can create oases for monarchs in communities across the country.”

The memorandum of understanding between NWF and the Service will serve as a catalyst for national collaboration on monarch conservation, particularly in planting native milkweed and nectar plants, the primary food sources in breeding and migration habitats for the butterfly.

The new NFWF Monarch Conservation Fund was kick-started by an injection of $1.2 million from the Service that will be matched by private and public donors. The fund will provide the first dedicated source of funding for projects working to conserve monarchs.

From California to the Corn Belt, the Service will also fund numerous conservation projects totaling $2 million this year to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs while also supporting more than 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. Many of the projects will focus on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer breeding habitats in the eastern population’s central flyway.

The monarch may be the best-known butterfly species in the United States. Every year they undertake one of the world’s most remarkable migrations, traveling thousands of miles over many generations from Mexico, across the United States, to Canada.

The monarch’s exclusive larval host plant and a critical food source is native milkweed, which has been eradicated or severely degraded in many areas across the U.S. The accelerated conversion of the continent’s native short and tallgrass prairie habitat to crop production has also had an adverse impact on the monarch. 
Monarch caterpillar on newly planted milkweed in Butterfly Garden at HNWR
The monarch serves as an indicator of the health of pollinators across the American landscape. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit other plants, animals and important insect and avian pollinators.

A new Web site -- -- provides information on how Americans can get involved with the campaign.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

Moon Over HNWR, by Mary Karam

July 2015 has two full moons. That’s somewhat unusual, according to  the website, Most months only have one. But in cycles of 19 years, or 228 calendar months, seven to eight calendar months will always have two full moons. In other words, there’s a month with two full moons every two to three years. When it happens, the second one is popularly called a Blue Moon.

The first of the two full moons for this month occurred on July 1. The second, or Blue Moon, will occur on July 31.
By recent popular acclaim, the second of two full moons in a single calendar month goes by the name of Blue Moon. A Blue Moon can also be the third of four full moons in a season. But the second-full-moon-in-a-month definition is the easier to remember, and it’s probably what most people think of when they hear Blue Moon. (

According to Wikipedia, "The phrase has nothing to do with the actual color of the moon, although a literal "blue moon" (the moon appearing with a tinge of blue) may occur in certain atmospheric conditions; e.g., when there are volcanic eruptions or when exceptionally large fires leave particles in the atmosphere. This phenomenon is specific to calendars."  A Google search revealed that actual blue-colored moons may be seen following volcanic eruptions or sometimes forest fires, due to ash in the atmosphere.

The contemporary definition of "blue moon" is more technical than some historical usages, according to an article on the International Planetarium Society website, in which we find that the phrase is well over 400 years old, but with the meaning changing through the years. Earliest folklore references use the term to signify something  "absurd" or that would never happen.  Since actual "blue moons" were sighted during volcanic eruptions the term changed to "once in a blue moon"/infrequent.  "Blue Moon" is also found as a symbol of sadness and loneliness in popular songs.

With the supposedly 100 year flooding of Lake Texoma  and  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge occurring in 1957, 1990, 2007 and 2015, we would hope that the future occurrences are even  less frequent than "once in a blue moon".