Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hummingbird Facts from USFWS

In preparation for National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 9 - 15, we have received a number of Bird Fact Sheets to distribute.  This week, since the Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration is on and we are seeing 3, 4 and 5 hummers around the  feeders at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge at one time,  we are sharing information from  the Hummingbird Fact Sheet from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas, which are home to more than 300 different hummingbird species. Most are found only in Central and South America, but Arizona is a hotbed of hummingbird variety, with many Central American species reaching the northern limits of their range there. One species, the rufous hummingbird,summers in southern Alaska.
  • Unique shoulder joints, wing bones and musculature allow hummingbirds to hover and even fly backwards. When hovering, their wings beat about 55 times per second. Inflight, that rises to 75 beats per second or more. Their wingspans range from about 2½ inches for the bumblebee hummingbird, a Central American species seen in Arizona, to 4½ inches for the ruby-throated hummingbird of the Eastern U.S.
  • It takes a lot of energy to power all those wing beats.Hummingbirds weigh about a tenth of an ounce – about the same as a U.S. penny – and consume about half that amount of sugar, in the form of flower nectar, every day.
  • Hummingbirds often conserve energy by going into a state of torpor on cool summer nights or during unseasonable cold spells. They become motionless, their bodies cold to the touch, but they’ll revive when temperatures rise.
  • The Eastern United States’ only breeding hummingbird,the ruby-throated hummingbird, builds a nest the size of a walnut, lined with soft mosses and held together with spider webs. The female lays two pea-sized eggs and tends them alone. The males have multiple mates and begin their long migration to Central America in August, with the females following a few weeks later.
Photo by Bill Buchanan/USFWS
NOTE: Thanks to the Visitor Center and garden volunteers who maintain the hummingbird feeding station and to the Friends of Hagerman who supply the feeders and nectar ingredients.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Butterfly Garden Hosting Pipevine Swallowtails

Pipevine Swallowtail nursery series by Kathy Nance
We had a little excitement in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge a couple of weeks when ago when one of the garden work volunteers observed a Pipevine Swallowtail on the Woolly Dutchman's pipe growing in the garden. After a careful check, she found eggs on the plant.  The following week she found tiny caterpillars, see photo above,  and later, we took the photos (below) of the rapidly growing caterpillars.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on 9-17-2016, above and on 9-21-2016, below,  by Sue Malnory

In our go-to butterfly guide, Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America, we learned that the Pipevine Swallowtail is the second most familiar dark swallowtail, next to the Black.  The pipevine plant, similar to the function milkweed provides the monarch,  makes the adult butterfly poisonous, or at least bad tasting,  and protects from predators.  Also similar to the Monarch, the Pipevine has mimics, including the Spicebush and the  female Black and female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Red-spotted Purple, in our area.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly by Joe Blackburn
The life cycle for this butterfly, from Butterflies and Moths of North America: "Adult males patrol likely habitat in search of receptive females. Females lay batches of eggs on underside of host plant leaves. Caterpillars feed in small groups when young but become solitary when older. Wintering is by the chrysalis."
"This butterfly can be found in  a wide variety of open habitats, open woodland, and woodland edges."

Kaufman states that their flight is rapid and they usually continue to flutter their wings even when perched.

The host vine, officially Aristolochia tomentosa Sims, is also known as Common Dutchman's pipe, and is native throughout  the southern states, several midwest states, and New England, according to Lady Bird's Native Plant Database.  As the vine likes some shade, it is planted near the small pergola in our garden and is starting to comingle with the coral honeysuckle. it should go over the top of the pergola someday, as the expected size is up to 100'!!  We have not seen it bloom yet as it seemed to get off to a slow start this spring.  The expected bloom time is March - May, and the bloom color may be yellow, purple or green, but is not listed as a nectar source for the Pipevine Swallowtail.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fields of Gold

Bitterweed in Field along Lawrence Lane, by Sue Malnory
A number of fields along the roadsides on the way to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are blanketed with gold! Gold wildflowers that is...And this year, according to the Lady Bird's Native Plant Database, what we are seeing is Helenium amarum, commonly called Yellow Sneezeweed, Bitterweed, Yellow bitterweed, Yellowdicks, Slender-leaved sneezeweed, Fine-leaved sneezweed, and/or Yellow dog-fennel. A member of the aster family, "The genus is thought to have been named by Linnaeus for Helen of Troy. The legend is that the flowers sprung up from the ground where her tears fell."  The plant is an annual and is valuable to Native Bees and tolerant of dry conditions and varied soil types.

Bitterweed by Sue Malnory

In years past the gold was provided by another member of 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

Finally, there is also a burst of gold in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman - Maximilian sunflower, a cheery yellow wildflower blooms that from August to October and provides food  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 Sunflowers in the Garden by Sue Malnory

"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- Portions of this post were originally published on October 4, 2012, and October 9. 2014.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Refuge Office and Visitor Center Celebrate Five Years

A little recent history is our topic for today.  Five years ago, on September 8, 2011, the completion of the new Refuge Office and Visitor Center at Hagerman NWR was celebrated with a grand opening ceremony.  Several hundred visitors lined up to enter the new facility after celebratory speeches by USFWS Region 2, Refuge and local leaders, and then a ribbon cutting.

Once inside, visitors were thrilled with the spacious exhibit area, shown below:

The building incorporated many green features - siting the building for maximum natural light, specially coated window glass to conserve energy, with windows tilted inward from top to bottom to prevent bird strikes, motion sensors on lighting and plumbing, solar panels on carport and office roof are just a few examples - and later earned Silver Level Leed certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

The new Multi-purpose Meeting Room offered comfortable seating for up to 100, along with high-tech audio/visual equipment for presentations.

Books and nature-themed gifts were now available to visitors for purchase in the new Friends of Hagerman Nature Nook.

Visitors had ready access to literature about the Refuge and to information and help from volunteers in the Nature Nook or in the Refuge Office.

And finally, there was cake for all!

S0 - not only was there a GRAND Opening, but the last five years have been truly grand, with thousands of visitors enjoying this gateway to Hagerman NWR.  Many thanks to all who made it possible! And thanks to Skip and Melinda Hill for the photos included above in this blog.

Refuge Office and Visitor Center, 2011, by Ken Day

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Snow-on-the Prairie is Back

It must be late summer, when you see Snow-on-the-Prairie! Driving along the roads to  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, this plant with cool appearing green and white leaves actually does look like a light dusting of snow where it is growing en masse. This white flowering plant can blanket a prairie in no time at all, hence the name. Because livestock stay away from the poisonous sap that the plant emits, it doesn't take much for it to cover a field. 

There are actually two plants, Euphorbia bicolor Engelm. and A. Gray, and Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata Pursh;NPIN, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database, notes that the two are often confused.

As members of the Spurge Family, both plants have a milky sap that is irritating to humans with sensitive skin, as well as to the eyes, and is toxic to cattle.  A volunteer at the Refuge told me that beekeepers try to keep bees away from the plant, as it makes the honey "hot".

Poinsettias are members of the same family. Growing 1 - 4 feet tall, in poor soils, the plants multiply by throwing seed, described by Dorothy Thetford in Wildflowers-of-Texas. Thetford says, “This ballistic dispersal of seeds explains the scattered arrangement of plants on the prairie.”

Both plants are annuals in the spurge family. The actual flowers are tiny white blossoms, surrounded by the green and white bracts. The bract of bicolor (in photos) is narrower than that of marginata. According to Texas A & M Agrilife Extension Snow-on-the-Mountain grows mainly in Central Texas, as well as north to Montana and Minnesota and south to Mexico, and Snow-on-the-Prairie mainly in the eastern third of Texas. NPIN shows a range including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. The bloom time is July – October. We'll take anything that even helps us think "cool" at this time of year!