Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grow a Pollinator Garden

Fall is one of the best times to start a garden in Texas, and here are easy steps to creating your own pollinator garden, from the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

See Your Pollinator Garden Grow
One of the best ways you can help monarch butterflies and other pollinators is to plant a pollinator garden – in your yard, behind your school or church, on your business property or even in a pot for your front steps. A simple, native flower garden helps pollinators stay healthy – and it’s pretty.

In addition to nectar from flowers, monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive. So if your milkweed leaves have been chomped, don’t worry. The monarchs have been around!

Get Started
Research what varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area. Here’s a great website to launch your research:

What you’ll need
  • A yard, raised bed or some flower pots
  • Garden tools to break the soil or build a raised bed
  • Extra dirt and mulch
  • Native milkweed and nectar plants

Seven easy steps
  1. Choose your location: Gardens should be planted in sunny spots and protected from the wind. 
  2. Look at your soil: Break ground to see the consistency of the soil in your yard. Soil may influence the kinds of plants you can grow or may require special considerations. If your soil type doesn’t match the plants you’d like to plant, consider building a raised bed or using flower pots.
  3. Prep your soil: If you’re planting in your yard, remove the lawn and current plant cover and rake the soil. Additional dirt can help and is necessary for raised beds and flower pots.
  4. Choose your plants: Buy native and local plants and milkweed. Native plants are ideal because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier.
    • Choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides or neonicotinoids.
    • Plant perennials to ensure your plants come back each year and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
    • Choose a diversity of plants that bloom throughout the seasons to ensure pollinators benefit in the spring, summer and fall. This will also ensure that your garden is bright and colorful for months!
  5. Choosing seeds or small plants: Small plants that have already started growing in a nursery are simple to plant and handle in a small space. If you’d like to use seeds, plan to plant in spring or fall, giving the seeds time to germinate. Seeds can also be best if you are planting a very large garden because they are less costly. Water your seeds even before you see plants.
  6. Plant your flowers and milkweed: For small plants, dig holes just big enough for the root system. Cover the roots with dirt and reinforce with dirt or straw mulch to reduce weed growth. For seeding, spread seeds across the freshly prepared garden and cover them with dirt. Consider adding some flat rocks so butterflies can bask in the sun,
  7. Wait, watch, water and weed: It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden. Weed and water your garden to keep it healthy.

Help track monarch movements, milkweed growth and monarch life stages by reporting your sightings at For more information, go online to the Monarch Joint Venture:

Milkweed, pictured above,  is not a weed. These beautiful wildflowers are the only source of food for monarch caterpillars. Plant milkweed that is native to your area to attract all pollinators. Photo above, by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.  Shown below, Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa,  a milkweed growing  in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR.

Native wildflower gardens add color to your garden and help bumblebees and butterflies. This purple coneflower, shown above,  attracted both bumblebees and a crab spider. Photo above by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Red-tailed Hawks

USFWS Bird Fact Sheet

Photo by Mark Bohn/USFWS
The most common North American hawk, the red-tailed hawk lives in virtually every state in the continental United States, in all kinds of habitats from deserts, prairies, and pastures to open forests and cityscapes.

Most red-tailed hawks stay in the same territory year-round. Birds that summer in the Northern Great Plains migrate to the southern U.S. for the winter.  Red-tailed hawks nest at Hagerman NWR, according to the Birds Checklist publication.

The red-tailed hawk’s raspy scream is so dramatic that Hollywood directors use it on soundtracks as the “voice” of an eagle, falcon or other fierce raptor.

Red-tailed Hawk in Flight at HNWR by Carl Hill
Though their wingspan may be as much as 4½ feet, red-tailed hawks are amazingly lightweight. A large adult may weigh just 3½ pounds.

Instead of plunging from a great height, red-tailed hawks swoop steadily towards their prey, striking with legs outstretched. They sometimes hunt in pairs. A male and a female hawk may take up positions on opposite sides of a tree trunk to capture a squirrel.

•The oldest known red-tailed hawk lived to age 28 years, 10 months

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Monarchs at HNWR Now

Monarchs on Frostweed in butterfly Garden, by Bill Powell

Monarch butterflies are taking center stage at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge these days as large numbers are seen nectaring, "fattening" up as they journey to Mexico for the winter.  Photographers are having a field day in the Butterfly Garden, which is living up to its designation as a Monarch Waystation,  finding monarchs galore on the Frostweed and Baccharis planted there and blooming just in time for the migration.  North American monarchs are the only butterflies that make such a  journey, which the World Wildlife Federation describes as:

... a marvelous migratory phenomenon. They travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles or more from the United States and Canada to central Mexican forests. There the butterflies hibernate in the mountain forests, where a less extreme climate provides them a better chance to survive.
Also from WWF,
The monarch butterfly is known by scientists as Danaus plexippus, which in Greek literally means "sleepy transformation." The name evokes the species' ability to hibernate and metamorphize.
From National Geographic:

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides (pupa state) in late summer and early fall are different from those that do so during the longer days and warmer weather of summer. These monarchs are born to fly, and know because of the changing weather that they must prepare for their lengthy journey.
Only monarchs born in late summer or early fall make the migration, and they make only one round trip. By the time next year's winter migration begins, several summer generations will have lived and died and it will be last year's migrators' great grandchildren that make the trip. Yet somehow these new generations know the way, and follow the same routes their ancestors took—sometimes even returning to the same tree.
Many scientists are concerned about the eastern population of monarchs, which summer east of the Rocky Mountains. This group is occurring in ever smaller numbers, and its survival may be threatened by a series of natural disasters in the Mexican wintering grounds, as well as by reduced acreage of milkweed plants in their summer home.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Quiz for National Wildlife Refuge Week

National Wildlife Refuge Week begins October 9.  Let's see how much you know about the national wildlife refuges right here in our own state of Texas! Answers at the bottom of the page, but no peeking! AND - try to make it out to Hagerman NWR this week.

Trivia Quiz - National Wildlife Refuges in Texas

1. Oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Hagerman
B. Aransas
C. Muleshoe

2. Largest national wildlife refuge in Texas:
A. Anahuac
B. Aransas
C. Brazoria

3. National wildlife refuge protecting ocelots in Texas:
A. Balcones Canyonlands
B. Laguna Atascosa
C. Texas Point

4. The largest maternal colony of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats documented in Texas can be found roosting within this refuge:
A. McFadden
B. Neches River
C. Trinity River

5. The wetlands of this refuge include cypress trees up to 400 years old:
A. Caddo
C. Buffalo Lake
B. Big Boggy

6. These 3 national wildlife refuges have been designated as constituting an “Internationally Significant Shorebird Site”:
A. Balcones Canyonlands, Trinity River, Neches River
B. Big Boggy, San Bernard, Brazoria
C. Hagerman, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Trinity River

7. The federally endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler is a management priority at:
A. Moody
B. Little Sandy
C. Balcones Canyonlands

8. The national wildlife refuge known for wintering Whooping Cranes is
A. Buffalo Lake
B. Aransas
C. McFadden

9.  This refuge was home to the Karankawas in 10 -12,000 B.C. E.
A. Texas Point
B. Santa Ana
C. Hagerman

10.  The national wildlife refuge named for one of the last populations of an endangered species is_____________________NWR.

Note: This quiz originally appeared in the August, 2015, edition of the Featherless Flyer, newsletter of the Friends of Hagerman. 

Answers:  1.C;   2.B;   3.B;   4.C;   5.A;   6.B;   7.C;  8.B;   9.A;   10. Attwater Prairie Chicken