Thursday, April 27, 2017

Painted Buntings Arrive

This week’s blog is inspired by two Facebook Posts, the first,  the photo below, of a Painted Bunting at the Visitor Center feeders, taken by Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge volunteer Jean Flick, on April 21, 2017; this is the first time we have known of a Painted Bunting at the feeders,

and the second, posted by Texas Master Naturalist, Jack Chiles, on April 23, 2017:
“Today I was greeted by an annual ritual that I am treated to each year at this time. That is the arrival of my first mature male Painted Bunting of the season to my millet supply on my back patio. I will probably be visited multiple times daily by this bird until about August 20th when he leaves to go most likely to New Mexico where he will forage there during the monsoon season before venturing on to Mexico, where he will spend the winter. I am simply amazed at how dependable these birds can be. if you live in North Central Texas, have a brushy area or field nearby and want to watch this specie buy some white Millet and put it in a tray or on the ground and your chances are good of getting one of these beauties.”

The French name of the Painted Bunting, nonpareil, means “without equal,” a reference to the bird’s dazzling plumage.  On first spotting a male Painted Bunting, many folks think they are seeing an escaped pet bird, and in a way, they might be right.  According to All About Birds (Cornell), the conservation status of this bird is Near Threatened; and one reason for this is that 
Unfortunately, it’s easy to trap colorful male Painted Buntings by tricking them into attacking decoys. In 1841 John James Audubon reported that “thousands” of the colorful birds were caught every spring and shipped from New Orleans to Europe, where they fetched more than 100 times the price when sold as cage birds. They are still trapped and sold in large numbers in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent in Florida, despite efforts by conservationists to curb illegal trade.
Dr. Wayne Meyer says, “One of the more interesting things about this species is that adult males migrate three times each year.  In addition to moving south for the winter and north in the summer, buntings in western and central Texas fly to western New Mexico and Arizona in July.  Breeding usually ends about that time, so males leave the females to raise any young birds.  Late July and early August are when the monsoons arrive in Arizona and New Mexico, so the birds take advantage of the rains to molt where there is an abundant food supply.  Presumably, females who haven't any young also go, but most females that are rearing young will stay here in Texoma through September. 

Meyer continues, "To see Painted Buntings, the best thing is to get outdoors in grassy fields with small trees and look for singing males in May, June, and early July.  The pretty males all leave North Texas by the 20th of August (of course there's always one bird that can't read the notice).  The plain-Jane females and young will stay around through September.  Since they prefer weeds and knee-high grass, they aren't very likely to spend any time in suburban yards, but ranches can be very attractive.

For folks who want to invite Painted Buntings to their feeders, like Chiles, Meyer advises, “Put white millet seed in your ground bird feeders or hopper type feeder with perches, in April, May or September, and, as they prepare to fly south then they may come to feeders again.  Remember that young birds of both sexes retain the female-like yellow-green plumage.  Make water available, and you may attract them.” 

The next guided birding walk at the Refuge will be led by Jack Chiles, 8 am on May 13; maybe you will see a Painted Bunting! 

PS!  We had a male Painted Bunting and an Indigo Bunting at our feeder, south of Sherman, Texas, on April 26.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Known by several names, Texas Indian Paintbrush, Entireleaf Indian Paintbrush, Texas Paintbrush, Indian Paintbrush, Scarlet Paintbrush, these reddish orange wildflowers are showing off along North Texas roadsides and in some fields now.   Look for them along Refuge road when traveling to Hagerman NWR.

A description of Paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa Engelm. is found on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site

"One of the popular paintbrushes, this showy annual or biennial grows 6-16 in. high. Its several unbranched stems form clumps topped by bright-red, paintbrush-like spikes. The flowers are actually inconspicuous and greenish, but are subtended by showy, red-tipped bracts. They sometimes produce a light yellow or pure white variation mixed in with the reds. Together, the flowers and bracts form 3-8 in. spikes.
The roots of this plant will grow until they touch the roots of other plants, frequently grasses, penetrating these host roots to obtain a portion of their nutrients. Transplanting paintbrush may kill it. Indian paintbrush has a reputation for being unpredictable. In some years, when bluebonnets (which flower at approximately the same time as Indian paintbrush) are especially colorful, paintbrush will have only an average flowering year. Other years, paintbrush is spectacular.
Red and yellow Paintbrush at Hagerman NWR
The plants are attractive to butterflies and other nectar seekers and host to the buckeye butterfly, and "[... a member of the snapdragon family. The vivid “flower” color is actually provided by bracts – not flower petals - which are grouped around and under each of the inconspicuous flowers located on the upper third of the plant."

A different Paintbrush species,  (Castilleja linariaefolia) was adopted as the State Flower of Wyoming in 1917.

A NativeAmerican legend of the Paintbrush is the subject of a popular children's book, read and illustrated in this video -

Thursday, April 13, 2017

ButterBike Coming to Hagerman NWR April 15

Post by Sara Dykman.  You can follow Dykman’s videos, photos, blogs, and a daily progress map as she Butterbikes with the butterflies

Each spring millions of monarch butterflies leave the mountains of Central Mexico, where they survived the winter, to begin their annual migration north. This spring they are accompanied by cyclist Sara Dykman (age 32) from Kansas who is biking 10,000 miles from the monarch overwintering colonies in Mexico to Canada …and back... with the butterflies. Or as Dykman would say, “Butterbiking with the butterflies.” (Look closely at the photo below, Sara is accompanied by Monarchs!)

On April 15th, 2017 Dykman will be making a stop at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge to join the refuge’s butterfly walk from 11 am-1 pm. She welcomes folks to come see her gear and learn how biking 10,000 miles with butterflies is possible. Then, at 2 pm, she will present all about her trip and the monarch migration. Both events are free to the public,  and more information can be found at

Hagerman is just one of many stops on Dykman’s bicycle migration, including presentations to school kids. During her presentation, the students look at photos and listen to stories from her trip. They learned all about the unique monarch migration and tried out some of her camping gear. “It is so rewarding to connect my adventures to students,” said Dykman. “I want to show people how incredible the world is and be an example of what it means to follow your dreams and take care of the planet.”

These rest stops and presentations are key to the success of Dykman’s adventure. “As much as I love biking, what I will remember most are the people that invite me in and the students that have hundreds of questions and can’t wait to hear more,” reflected Dykman. “They motivate me to keep moving.”

And keep moving she must. In order to follow the migration, Dykman must cover about 300 miles per week on a bicycle loaded down with everything she needs for life on the road. From camping equipment to presentation materials, her bike is heavy and she moves slowly following the monarch migration while raising awareness about the importance of monarchs and threats to this iconic species. “The monarch migration is such an incredible migration,” boasted Dykman. “Not only are these iconic butterflies flying thousands of miles, but it is a multigenerational, multinational migration. And unless people along the route plant native nectar plants and milkweed in their gardens and on their lands and lawns… the monarchs are likely to go extinct.”

The eastern monarch populations have been in steady decline since counting began in the 1990s. In 1996 monarchs covered 21 hectares of the Mexican Oyamel Fir Forest. By 2014, monarchs covered only 0.67 hectares. This 80% decline can be attributed to habitat loss and climate change.

Adding to the conservation dilemma is the fact that monarchs call three countries home. Monarchs depend on Mexico, the United States, and Canada to work together to protect the migration. “The future of the monarch migration is in the hands of people from all three countries,” reported Dykman. “In Mexico, people need to protect the Oyamel Fir forest that the monarchs depend on to survive the winter, and in the United States and Canada, people need to plant milkweed.”

Milkweed is the only food source of the monarch caterpillars and gives the monarchs the toxins they need to be poisonous and avoid being eaten by most predators.  Milkweed has been in a fast decline as industrial farming uses more broad-spectrum herbicides and land development encroaches on wild lands.  Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas monarch education program, estimates that 6,000 acres of milkweed habitat are lost daily to development.

However, there is some good news, because unlike many species that need untouched wilderness to thrive, monarchs simply need waystations, or gardens that have milkweed plants to lay their eggs and feed their caterpillars, as well as flowering plants that provide monarchs and other pollinators with nectar. “Every garden adds up, and every garden is part of the solution,” Dykman emphasized. “Schools, city halls, churches, parks, farms, and neighborhoods are planting milkweed and native flowering plants to help save the migration.”

The efforts of so many people have made the monarch an iconic symbol of education, conservation, and teamwork. Unless people from Mexico, the United States, and Canada can work together to implement conservation strategies, the monarch migration could disappear from the planet. “I am biking to raise awareness and encourage people to plant native gardens with milkweed. Be part of the solution and be part of the migration,” said Dykman. “The future of the monarch is in the hands of all North Americans”

Thursday, April 6, 2017

April Plant of the Month - Partridge Pea

By Laurie Sheppard

Partridge Pea is a valuable member of the Leguminosae (Pea) family. From the bottom up, it returns nitrogen to the soil, provides nectar for crawling insects as well as to pollinators, and food for butterfly larvae. Its seed pods are eaten by grassland birds and field mice and occasionally, by deer. It can be planted along roadsides and stream banks to control soil erosion and often grows in dense stands that produce litter and plant stalks to furnish cover for upland birds, small mammals, and waterfowl. It is considered an important honey plant as it frequently grows where few other honey plants are available. It has also been used as a medicinal by Native Americans to quell nausea or to combat fainting spells, although, in large amounts, it can be toxic.

Sensitive Plant or Sleeping Plant are other names by which the Partridge Pea is known. It earns those alternates, not by its effects on wildlife or humans but because when lightly touched, the Partridge Pea’s leaves will fold in on themselves. They also fold shut at night, hence the name “Sleeping Plant”. The leaves are pinnate, which means each stem that extends from the stalk is a single leaf and the narrow, inch-long, blue-green structures extending from the stem are called leaflets. There are 5-18 pairs of leaflets on each leaf, staggered alternately along the leaf stem.

Partridge Pea Emerging, by Laurie Sheppard

Partridge Pea produces small clusters of yellow flowers, each an inch across with five equal petals, and blooms from summer to fall throughout most of the eastern United States. Each flower has a bright red blotch at its base and features two types of anthers, which are the pollen-producing structures of the flower. Yellow anthers produce reproductive pollen while dark red or purple anthers produce food pollen.

Photo credit: Space Coast Wildflowers
One of the more unusual characteristics of the Partridge Pea is the presence of small nectar-producing glands on the leaf stalks called nectaries. It is here that nectar feeders congregate, leaving the blooms to be pollinated by long-tongued bees seeking food pollen. Those nectaries also attract ants and other crawling and flying insects looking for a free lunch.

Nectarie on Partridge Pea, by Laurie Sheppard
Partridge pea is a short-lived perennial plant that will reseed itself and is a larval and nectar food source for many of our Butterfly Garden’s most common butterflies. Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow butterflies will lay eggs on this plant to produce several broods of butterflies in a single season. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars, in particular, will feed on both the Partridge Pea’s leaves and its flowers. It is said that you can tell which the caterpillar concentrated on by its color, which may be yellow or green. Late last year, we had Ceraunus Blue butterflies (a south Texas species, normally found in the Rio Grande Valley) visit the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and they likely produced at least one brood on our Partridge Pea. Gray Hairstreaks also include Partridge Pea among their many caterpillar food sources.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – April, 2017

By Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. As April begins, trees are leafing out and small yellow and white flowers cover the ground. By the end of the month, wildflowers will be showing up along the roadways. It’s a time of great change.

Butterflies that have spent the winter as adults have mated and are laying eggs to create the next generation. This makes adult Goatweed Leafwings (below left) more commonly seen at the edges of the woods. Often all you will see is a fluttering orange butterfly, but if you patiently watch, it will land and you will see how plain the upper side is compared to the Question Mark (below, right) that is also active now.

A common spring butterfly among the trees on the pad roads on Oil Field Road or out toward Sandy Point is the Little Wood-satyr. You will see them bouncing along close to the ground, blending in with the dead leaves. They do not typically visit flowers. This species has two broods but only flies in mid-late spring through early summer. You might also find two similar appearing butterflies in the woods near Meadow Pond: Carolina Satyr (below left) and Northern Pearly-eye (below right). These are much less common but have been found on the refuge. Notice the differences in the eyespots at the outer edge of the wings.

Another group of very similar looking (and tiny) butterflies become very common at this time of year. One is seen almost year-round and one is only seen for about six weeks in late spring. Others may be seen occasionally throughout the spring, summer, and fall. The common Gray Hairstreak is found everywhere, feeding on many different flowers and can be used as the standard by which to compare others in the Gossamer-winged family. 

Soapberry Hairstreak is nearly identical to Gray Hairstreak but is seen only in spring. Rarely found far from their larval food source, Soapberry trees, they will feed on flowers like Rough-leaf Dogwood. Note the additional white dash on both fore– and hindwing.

A frequent sight this spring on Oil Field Rd has been the Red-banded Hairstreak. As you pass slowly through the woods toward the lake, watch for movement in the leaf litter. These are smaller than Gray Hairstreak and often stay close to the ground.

In flight, the Eastern Tailed-blue (right) will show its
bright blue upper side, but when closed, it is very similar to the hairstreaks. Watch for these feeding on low flowers in mowed areas like Goode picnic area or near oil wells away from the lake. 

Finally, not all hairstreaks are gray or gray-brown. Look for the green Juniper Hairstreak (at left) and other unusual hairstreaks in open fields around the refuge.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

It's Bluebonnet Time in Texas

Motorists in North Texas are enjoying swathes of bluebonnets along roadsides these days. There is even a patch in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR.

Texas A&M's Aggie Horticulture site quotes historian Jack Maguire:

"It's not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." .... "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland." 

According to The Handbook of Texas,
"On March 7, 1901, the Twenty-seventh Texas Legislature adopted the bluebonnet, flower of the annual legume Lupinus subcarnosus, as the state flower.  On March 8, 1971, the legislation was amended to include L. texensis and "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded." ... In 1933 the legislature adopted a state flower song, "Bluebonnets," written by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett. Also in the 1930s the Highway Department began a landscaping and beautification program and extended the flower's range. Due largely to that agency's efforts, bluebonnets now grow along most major highways throughout the state." 

From the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center we learn that the species most often planted along the roadsides is Texas lupine, Lupinus texensis  - known by assorted common names:
Texas bluebonnet, Bluebonnet, Texas lupine, Buffalo clover, Wolf flower.

A member of the pea family,
"Texas lupine has larger, more sharply pointed leaves and more numerous flower heads than similar lupines. Light-green, velvety, palmately compound leaves (usually five leaflets) are borne from branching, 6-18 in. stems. These stems are topped by clusters of up to 50 fragrant, blue, pea-like flowers. The tip of the cluster is conspicuously white."

Texas lupine is one of the six Lupinus species which are collectively designated the state flower of Texas.

One legend of the bluebonnet is the story of an orphaned girl who sacrificed her only possession from her mother, a doll with a blue feather, in a plea to stop the bad times of drought and famine that her tribe of Plains Indians was experiencing.  In return, the Great Spirit sent blue flowers, a herd of buffalo, and rain.

"From that day forward she became known as She Who Loved Her Tribe Dearly. And, every Spring, the Great Spirit sends the bluebonnet back to remind us of the young girl who was willing to give her greatest possession to save her tribe."

Keep your eyes out for our beloved State Flower! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Winter Walk in the Woods

By Rebecca Jones

On the third Saturday of every month, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman host a youth outreach program called “The Refuge Rocks.” Themes center on local wildlife, and different activities are provided for the four- to seven-year-old and the eight- to twelve-year-old groups. In February, our subject was “Backyard Birds.”

Photo by Drew Smith, courtesy of the Herald Democrat
As the 20+ participants in the four- to seven-year-old class lined up for their first experience on Harris Creek Trail, I presumed that the combination of chilly weather and the sheer volume (read: noise level) of our group would provide us little chance of seeing any wildlife. I wasn’t wrong—but for these children that did not matter. They marveled instead at the curve of the tree branches, the stillness of the waters. They walked beside their friends and parents absorbing the scenery. Their shoulders slumped when we had to turn back, and many asked to come again after class.

Children walk the trail with parents at The Refuge Rocks (Photo by Holly Neal)
I saw myself in the wonderment on their faces, but I also identified with the children whose eyes stayed glued to the path as they buried their hands in their pockets and kicked stones out of boredom. 

I grew up on the refuge. For as long as I can remember (and even before I was born), my late father had done contract conservation work at Hagerman. As a kid, I would ride along with him while he checked and baited traps for wild hogs. I remember the raindrops hitting me like icy bullets as we rode his four-wheeler through the trees and puddles, the metal traps clanging noisily against the sides of the trailer. Later in life, we would spend our summers kayaking around the lake or walking the trails until my skin burned and muscles ached.

As a teenager, though, I secretly yearned for another life: one with Wi-Fi and all the conveniences of the city. After high school, I got my wish and moved to Sherman when I started classes at Austin College. Having lived there for the past seven years, I now secretly yearn to turn back time. What a gift I had growing up a stone’s throw from the lake and a wildlife refuge with a real outdoorsman for a dad.

My dad passed away last April, but Hagerman will always be a joyful reminder of the time we spent together and the knowledge he passed on to me. I’m now a Texas Master Naturalist and a regular at Hagerman’s monthly youth programs.

In March, The Refuge Rocks kids' classes will discuss wildflowers. Planning for the program is already underway, and parents can register their children for the class immediately. It begins at 10 a.m. If you can’t make it, I urge you to plan to come another day. Fish, hike, photograph and explore. The value of teaching children about nature today should not be underestimated.

Photo by Tami Howard

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Winecup, March Plant of the Month

Winecup (Purple Poppy Mallow)
Callirhoe involucrate
by Jean Flick

Winecups are a hardy, drought-tolerant perennial native to Texas and the central U.S.  Callirhoe is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae.  The family's nine species are commonly known as poppy mallows and all are native to the prairies and grasslands of North America.  The Winecup, or purple poppy mallow, produces a chalice-shaped flower in beautiful shades of wine ranging predominantly from pink to dark purple.  Look also for a white spot at the base of the five petals.  The leaves are rounded, hairy and palmately lobed.

This spring-blooming plant sprawls vine-like across the ground, spreading numerous trailing stems up to three feet in length and forming a thick mat up to a foot tall.  The blooms are found on the ends of slender stems and open each morning and close each evening.  Once pollinated, the flowers remain permanently closed.  Bloom time is typically from March - June.  There are several plantings of Winecup in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  Keeping the faded or pollinated blooms picked helps prolong the growing season.

Winecups are easy to grow from seed, or can be started from a carrot-like tuber.  After seeds are planted in the fall, flowers will bloom the second year.  Plants prefer full sun in well-drained gravelly or sandy soils.  They often go into dormancy in the summer, with new leaves emerging after rain.

Roots of the plant have been used to reduce aches and pains.  The roots can be boiled, creating a tea, or can be dried, crushed, and then burned.  Inhaling the smoke may relieve symptoms of head colds and aching muscles can be exposed to the smoke to reduce pain.

The beautiful blooms serve as a nectar source for pollinators, including bees and butterflies.  The plants serve as a larval host for the Common Checkered Skipper and the Gray Hairstreak butterfly (shown below, nectaring on Butterfly Weed.).  The female Gray Hairstreak lays individual eggs on the flowers.  Young caterpillars feed on the flowers, while older caterpillars may munch on the leaves.


Aggie Horticulture at

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at

Wikipedia at

Missouri Prairie Foundation at

Butterflies and Moths of North America at

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden - March

 Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. The coming of spring causes the woods and roadsides to burst forth with color from Redbud, Wild Plum, and other flowering trees. Butterflies and moths are drawn to these blooms.

All butterfly species have a similar life cycle. Adult butterflies lay eggs on or near their favored host plant. The eggs hatch into caterpillars that feed until they are ready to pupate. They metamorphose in their chrysalis and emerge as adult butterflies. For some species, this entire life cycle can complete in a few weeks but for others, it takes an entire year. Some spring butterflies are only found this time of the year.

As soon as the spring flowers like False Garlic and those in the mustard family emerge, Falcate Orangetip butterflies emerge from their chrysalises where they have been for nearly a year. These white butterflies show gender differences in their color and patterning. Only the male (below, left) of this species shows the bright orange tip on its forewing. After mating, the female Falcate Orangetip (below, right) lays her eggs singly on the emerging blooms of a mustard plant. The eggs hatch as the plant blooms providing food for the caterpillar until it wraps up in its chrysalis to wait for the next spring. Look for these on Haller Haven Trail or along Oil Field Rd.

Another butterfly that is only seen in spring is the Henry’s Elfin (below). This butterfly’s eggs are frequently laid on the flowers and buds of the Redbud tree. The emerging caterpillar feeds on the buds and young leaves and then pupates in the litter at the base of the host tree. Adult butterflies emerge at the end of the following winter. Henry’s Elfins will also lay eggs on American or Yaupon Holly or on Blueberry bushes in the north.

Several small dark skippers called Duskywings are found around Redbud and other spring blooms along Bennett Rd and Sandy Point Rd. Horace’s and Juvenal’s Duskywings can be very difficult to differentiate but the Funereal Duskywing (below) always has bright white fringe edging its hind wings.

Two species of Swallowtails are among the earliest butterflies found on the refuge because they overwinter as chrysalids. They are the largest and busiest butterflies seen here. In early spring you can find Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (below, left) everywhere from Haller Haven and Meadow Pond trails to Bennett and Oilfield Roads. Black Swallowtails (below, right) will often be found nectaring on flowers on the auto tour and in the fields along Wildlife Road but you may also find them alongside other roadways looking for blooms.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Go Play Outside!

"Go play outside" was standard parental advice when I was growing up! And now volunteers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge have new opportunities to do just that.

1. The Outdoor Crew will meet at the Refuge for a couple of hours on the FIRST Tuesday and the FOURTH Saturday mornings of each month, weather permitting.  Crew volunteers will trim brush, remove trash, and perform other tasks to maintain trails and public areas at Hagerman.

2. Gardeners meet on Wednesday mornings, weather permitting, and spend two hours maintaining and beautifying the Butterfly Garden at HNWR. You do not have to be a super-gardener, supervision is given for the work.  A bonus is take-home plants at times!

3. Garden Docents are present in teams in the Butterfly Garden for garden walks and tours throughout the growing season, primarily on Saturdays. Docents train monthly on the first Thursday of each month to interpret the garden; during tours, they share literature and help visitors identify butterflies and Texas native plants and the connections between them.

To learn more about the garden related activities, see Butterfly Garden on the Friends of Hagerman website.

We know that folks are busy so these opportunities offer a come-when-you-can arrangement.  To participate in the volunteer pool for any or all, just register through CONTACT and you will be notified of specific schedules and other details.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Phenology II

A year or so ago, I 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, “How much longer will the geese be here?’ “When can I see the Painted Bunting?” and so on. We will soon be watching the shorebird migration begin and see some greening of the deciduous trees. Later this spring we will see  Monarch butterflies, migrant from Mexico.

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 spring, remember you are awaiting a phenological event!

Adapted from the original post published October 15,  2015.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden

Welcome to our newest blog feature,  Beyond the Butterfly Garden, written by Laurie Sheppard, and illustrated with her photographs.  Once each month you can count on finding timely tips for butterfly watching on the Refuge in these posts.

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. While the native flowers and plants in the garden are just beginning to emerge, the first warm days of January have caused tiny waiting wildflowers to bloom in places around the refuge.

 All butterfly species have life strategies that allow their line to continue even in harsh winter climates.  Every species that does not migrate has one life stage that is able to survive freezing temperatures without forming crystals within their cells.  For some, it’s the adult butterfly that winters over and emerges when the daytime temperatures rise above 55 degrees or so.

These butterflies that hibernate or semi-hibernate make up most of the species we see on sunny winter days or in early spring at the refuge.  They survive tucked into a sheltered crevice in a tree or wedged behind loose bark or burrowed into thick leaf litter, protected from ice or snow.  Dainty Sulphur (shown at left) and Little Yellow (below) are the smallest butterflies in the Sulphur family and both semi-hibernate at Hagerman.  Look for them and other sulphurs in areas where grasses have been cut short late in the fall so early spring blooms are exposed.  Sandy Point Picnic Area is a likely spot to find them.

The hibernating winter form of Question Mark butterflies (shown at left) have unique coloring on their hind wing and can live for several months. They occasionally emerge on warm winter days and mate once the risk of frost is over.  You will find them at the edges of forests such as on Oil Field Road or Sandy Point Road.  They frequently fly to oak trees where the dead leaves provide natural camouflage.
 Another hibernator that might be found at the edges of the riparian forest found in the Sandy Point unit is the Mourning Cloak (below).  These butterflies may be as large as 4 inches.  Mourning Cloaks rarely nectar on flowers, preferring tree sap, especially that of oaks.  You may see them walking down the trunk of an oak tree, feeding with their head down.

Look in the open field in front of the visitor’s center and in the grassy areas alongside Wildlife Drive for the Checkered White butterfly (below). These are not hibernators—they winter over as a chrysalis and may emerge in the first warm days of late winter to look for any available flowers to nectar on.

Overwintered Southern Dogface finds early Spring Beauty flowers at Sandy Point in January.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Watching and Waiting for Springtime

Today is Groundhog Day.  Which will it be - spring or 6 more weeks of winter?   We all know about Punxsutawney Phil, but since we don't have groundhogs here in North Texas we decided to poll some of the volunteers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge as to what they considered to be signs of spring. 

Here are their replies, and - full disclosure, this is by no means a random survey!

"We watch the thickness of the fur on our donkeys. They shed as they sense warmer weather coming. No shedding...there will be more winter weather coming."  ~ Holly and Dan Neal, Piece Of Heaven Ranch 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, by Laura Cooper
"I always look for the scissor-tailed flycatchers returning from Mexico and Central America as a sign of spring.  My students and I watch for the monarchs migrating back from Mexico." ~ David Palmer

Monarch, by Carl Hill
"We watch Bees.  We look for an increase in Queen bee egg laying and at bees actively bringing in pollen to increase colony size and be able to produce honey for their pantry!!  Increased brood heralds Spring." ~ A Beekeeper/Master Naturalist

"Suddenly the American Goldfinch are no longer flocking to our bird feeders - they have left for their nesting grounds."

American Goldfinch - Winter Plumage, by Phil McGuire
"I look for two things.  First for American Robins (there were twenty or more in my yard this morning in late January). and for buds on the redbud and pear trees.  Those two things are usually good and reliable signs in my experience."  ~ Bert Garcia

Robin with Berry, by Donna Niemann
On the other hand, Jack Chiles said, "The most reliable sign for me that spring has truly arrived is when the Bois d'Arc leaf out.  Robins least reliable because they are here all winter."

"My wife, Sharon, always associates her brother's birthday which is on Groundhog Day with the coming of Spring. I watch for the Trout Lilies in our local forest, as a sign of the coming annual rebirth of nature. By emerging in February this small flower gets a jump on other plants. For a few weeks, the Trout gathers all the sunshine it needs for the year before the majestic trees of forest fill out canopy." ~ David Parrish.

Trout Lily, by Lee Hatfield
Lee Hatfield agrees, "Blooming trout lilies are a sure sign that Spring is coming! I also watch for the Dickcissels at the Hagerman!"  

"The purple glow of henbit across a lawn or roadside."

Henbit, by Linn Cates
"To me, it is the first time I drive under the shade of a tree's new leaves." ~ Patricia Crain

Several Master Gardeners who volunteer at the Refuge weighed in:

"I  know it's spring when the weeds begin to green up my yard!  Rats!  That is still winter in Texas!"

"The budding of branches in late January when I am getting the pruning finished."

Budding tree branches
"The appearance of flocks of robins gobbling up the worms in my yard;  the green leaves of daffodils peeking their heads out of the ground, and the hint of purple emerging on the twigs of the redbud."

Early Daffodils
Speaking of gardens, daffodils received several votes and flowering quince was named also.

Budding Quince

What signs of Spring do you watch for?  Add yours in the Comments!

Note:  Our average annual last frost date is March 21 - 31.   Don't put your winter gear away yet!