Thursday, October 29, 2015

Owl-o-ween at HNWR

Great Horned Owl at HNWR, by Mike Chiles
Happy Owl-o-ween!  Although 8 species of owls have been seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the most frequently seen owls at Hagerman  are listed in the Bird Checklist only as “Occasional” or seen a few times in a season; they are the Eastern Screech Owl, the Great Horned Owl, and the Barred Owl.  

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 specially 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.

Owls are credited with possessing great wisdom in myth and folklore, as in this short anonymous poem found on the TPWD site:
A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird.

Owls have also been traditionally associated with evil spirits and Halloween, perhaps because of their eerie calls and night-time activity.  Have a little Halloween fun with these recorded owl calls from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

This post was originally published on 10/31/2013.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Golden Fields

Fence rows  and fields in North Texas and at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge have been glowing with “gold” at this time of year.  Several wildflower favorites are contributing to this fall palette.

Maximilian sunflower is a cheery yellow wildflower that blooms   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 database.  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, 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

This post was originally published on October 4, 2012.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Ran across a new-to-me word – “phenology”. When I looked it up I learned that we talk about phenomena of phenology all the time at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. According to the National Wildlife Federation,

“The study of how the biological world times natural events is called phenology. Scientists now understand that plants and animals take their cues from their local climate. Climate (long-term weather patterns) is impacted by non-biological factors--temperature, precipitation, and available sunlight. Species use the predictable yearly changes in the climate to determine when they start natural events such as breeding or flowering.
Snow Geese at HNWR, by Keith Crabtree
Visitors want to know, “When will the geese be here?’ “When can I see the Painted Bunting?” and so on. We have all been watching the monarch migration this month. Soon we may see some fall color in the leaves of deciduous trees.

Painted Bunting, by Phil McGuire

The three main non-biological factors listed by the National Wildlife Federation as playing a part in the timing of natural events are sunlight, temperature, and precipitation.
NWF adds that birds in the Northern Hemisphere are believed to depend on day length for when to begin their spring migration to nesting grounds. Another example given is that of frogs, which depend on temperature and precipitation to determine when to begin breeding, while plants depend on all three factors for bloom time.

Milkweed at HNWR, by Carrie Chambers

“Phenology is an important subject to study, because it helps us understand the health of species and ecosystems. Animals and plants do not live in bubbles--every species has an impact on those in its food chain and community. The timing of one species' phenological events can be very important to the survival of another species.” 

Monarch Caterpillar at HNWR, by Brenda K. Loveless

So as you watch for signs of autumn, remember you are awaiting a phenological event!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

National Wildlife Refuge Week

By Helen Vargus

The week of October 11-19, 2015 has been designated National Wildlife Refuge Week.  There are 562 refuges and 38 wetland management districts in America’s National Wildlife Refuge System.  As the world’s premiere public conservation system, they protect more than 150 million acres of wildlife habitat.  The refuges are home to 700 bird species, 220 mammal species, 250 reptile and amphibian species, over 1000 species of fish, and numerous invertebrates and plants. 

The national wildlife refuge system was born on March 14, 1903,  when President Theodore Roosevelt set aside Pelican Island, a tiny bird rookery of the coast of Florida, as the first refuge.  Today refuges are found from Maine to Alaska, and from the Caribbean to the Pacific.  Refuges cover all the North American ecosystems including boreal forests, wetlands, deserts, grasslands, arctic tundra, and remote islands.  Every state has at least one refuge and a refuge is within driving distance of every major city.  Texas is home to 18 National Wildlife Refuges.

Forty-seven million visitors use the refuges every year.  They add $2.1 billion dollars to local economies and support tens of thousands of local jobs. 

Snow on the Prairie at HNWR, by Lee Hatfield
Grayson County is fortunate to be the home of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, Texas.  Hagerman offers outstanding recreational opportunities for hiking, birding, fishing, hunting, wildlife watching, paddling, photography, and for a place to share the outdoors with friends and families.  Hagerman and the Friends of Hagerman also offer monthly educational opportunities for both youth and adults.

Sunrise Silhouette at HNWR, by Carl Hill
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating National Wildlife Refuge Week with planned activities during the week of October 11-19, 2015.  Enjoy a walk on the wild side this week and connect with nature at Hagerman!

On Sunday, October 11, at 3 pm we will celebrate the Grand Opening of the Butterfly Garden.

Gulf Fritillary on Texas Lantana, by Jesus Moreno
For the rest of the week, with the exception of Monday, all activities during the week will take place from 10 am-12 pm.  The Visitor Center and Refuge offices will be closed on Monday, October 12, in observance of Columbus Day, but the refuge lands will be open from sunrise to sunset.

“Tracking Tuesday” on October 13 will teach you what animals leave behind on the trail. Join us on the trail to test your tracking skills.  

“Wildflower Wednesday” on October 14 will provide lessons about wildflowers and the important roles they play on the prairie and as nectar sources for pollinators.  Look for wildflowers with us in the butterfly garden. 

Come hike with us on Harris Creek Trail on “Trails Thursday” on October 15. Learn about hiking safety and the history of Hagerman.

“Flyaway Friday” on the October 16 will discuss the migration of birds and butterflies. Experience with us the release of our Monarchs for their fall migration to Mexico.

On Saturday, October 17, join us for a docent-led walk in the Butterfly Garden at 10 am.

All activities listed above are free of charge and open to the public.  In case of rain, there will be an indoor program for the Grand Opening of the Butterfly Garden; other outdoor activities will be limited or cancelled. For more information about Hagerman NWR and activities, see or

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Monarch Tagging at HNWR

There will be a Monarch Tagging at Hagerman NWR on Tuesday, October 6.  If you are a newbie at this like we are, you might want to know:

"Many questions remain unanswered about the fall migration of the monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains. How do the monarchs move across the continent, i.e. do they move in specific directions or take certain pathways? How is the migration influenced by the weather and are there differences in the migration from year to year? We need data to answer these questions and we need your help! Only through the cooperative efforts of volunteer taggers will we be able to obtain sufficient recoveries and observations of the migration to answer these questions. Because monarchs have a certain "charisma" and a fascinating biology and because its fun to have an excuse to collect butterflies, this project is also a good way to introduce [participants] to science and have them contribute to a scientific study. Through participation in this project we also hope to further interest in the conservation of habitats critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly and its magnificent migrations."

Monarch Watch, the go-to website for monarch butterfly information, has complete supplies and instructions for participating in this citizen science project.

When: According to the website - the peak Monarch migration for the Hagerman NWR area occurs between September 29 and October 11.

Tags are placed on temporarily captured Monarch butterflies and the data for each tag is reported to Monarch Watch.   When a tagged butterfly is recaptured or found, the finder can contact Monarch Watch with the tag data and the new location.  Recovery data is analyzed for migration patterns.

If you would like to attend the tagging, please be at the Refuge Visitor Center by 9:30 am, Tuesday morning.