Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pollinator Week

June 19-25, 2017 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.


What is pollination and why should we care about this??  According to the Pollinator Partnership

"Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower to another of the same species it leads to fertilization. This transfer of pollen is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems.

About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
Meet the pollinators:
 About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
 Most pollinators ... are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees."
The most common avian pollinator is the hummingbird. There are 4000 species of native bees in the USA. (USDA NRCS

We should care about pollinators each time we shop for food or sit down to eat!  From the  USDA  National Resources Conservation Service:

"The produce section of grocery stores would be rather empty without the hard work of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other pollinators. More than 80 percent of the world’s plants need pollinators to survive, including many that provide the food we eat.
 We learn from the Pollinator Partnership that
 "Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning that they are critical to an ecosystem. The work of pollinators ensures full harvests of crops ...an estimated 1/3 of all foods and beverages is delivered by pollinators. In the U.S., pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually." 

The Ecological Society of America states that:

"Pollinators play a significant role in the production of over 150 food crops in the U.S.—among them apples, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash.

And from Business Insider:
"Native pollinators play a vital role in dairy production, fertilizing the clover seeds and alfalfa seeds that feed livestock. They are also involved in the production of oil stock like canola. “The absence of pollinators would not only take the most delicious things out of our diet, but also the most nutritionally significant parts as well...”

When you ask a blessing at your next meal, be sure to include the bees, the birds, the bats and the butterflies who pollinated the food! 

And - check out the photos in the recent Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club album, Pollinators at HNWR.




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Animal Dads

With a nod to Father’s day on June 18, we googled “animal dads” to see what we could learn. 

According to Animal Planet,  the top 10 animal dads are:

  • Lion – fiercely protective (when awake), dad lions head up large family units called prides that can include up to seven lionesses and 20 cubs
  • Australian Marsupial mouse – Dad gives his all, dies after long mating period
  • India’s Golden Jackal – monogamous dads feed regurgitated food to the “kids”
  •  Giant Waterbug of Japan - Dad carries up to 150 eggs on his back until they hatch
  • South American Rhea - Dad incubates up to 60 eggs for over two months with just two weeks of food to sustain him, and also raises the newborn chicks as a single parent for nearly two years
  • Stickleback fish - Dad keeps the eggs oxygenated by fanning them at 400 beats per minute for more than half the day
  • Jacana - Dad builds the nest and remains on it to incubate them
  • South American Darwin frog – Dad protects the eggs by swallowing and keeping them tucked inside his vocal sacs for six weeks, then essentially upchucking his children. 
  • Emperor Penguin – Dad incubates the egg in subzero weather and provides first meal to the young chick
  • Seahorse – the male is the one who gets pregnant, carrying up to 1,000 babies at a time 


But wait, what about some of the species at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge?

Snow Geese – mate for life – female builds the nest and male guards it while she incubates eggs and nestlings    

Great Blue Heron – male collects nesting material to present to the female, who builds the nest

Great Egret – males chooses the display area and begins building the nest platform, then the pair collaborate to finish building the nest    

Painted Bunting – males help search for nesting sites and vigorously defend their territory

Eastern Bluebirds – male selects a nest site, then if female approves, she builds the nest; he may assist in some cases and both parents feed the young.  

White-tailed Deer, Bobcats – moms raises the young alone

Coyote – this Father of the Year assists in building den, feeds the female during gestation and helps rear the pups  



Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden - June, 2017



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. Summer heat has arrived and with it, large flowering plants like native Texas Thistle, Basket Flower, and Buttonbush have bloomed. Tiny Frog Fruit is also in flower and will be through fall.

Texas Thistle is a drought tolerant plant that can easily be found along roadways and in open fields all over the refuge. Its purple blooms are an excellent nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other insects. If you sit by a thistle, you may be rewarded with a Giant Swallowtail (shown below) sighting. These large tailed butterflies are yellow on the underside but viewed from above, they are black with a trailing row of yellow spots and a second row that stretches from wingtip to wingtip.


Buttonbush blooms best near water, and many grow along the pad roads. They thrive in very wet soil, so high water levels are of no concern. Common Buckeyes (shown below) are frequent visitors to Buttonbush, but they will also feed on many other plants. In addition, Buckeyes are found pulling minerals from white rock roads and trails. They likely are the most common butterfly seen by hikers.


Many butterflies look different above and below, but few use camouflage as effectively as the American Snout (shown below). The Snout is so named because of the long palpi extending from its face. The underside of its hindwing is brown; when it folds in its forewing and hangs on a twig, it looks like a leaf. 




In contrast, the upperside  (shown above) of the Snout shares the colors of the Monarch, with orange patches bordered by dark brown, and white spots on the wing tips. American Snout are often found in flowering trees, but they also feed on Buttonbush and other plants.

Skippers are the most populous family of butterflies in the U.S. Most are yellow or brown and characteristically perch upright with wings closed or partially open in a so-called “jet-plane position”. They can be quite challenging to identify because they are very small and the differences between species are subtle. The most common skipper found here is the Fiery Skipper (below), shown here on Frog Fruit. This plant grows as ground cover on roads to the oil pumper pads and along other roadside edges. Look down as you are driving or walking and watch for butterflies’ movement.



Also common on the refuge is the Sachem (above). These are very similar to the Fiery Skipper but rather than tiny dark spots on the wings the Sachem has larger softly contrasting areas on their wings. On the upper side, the males have a large black “stigma” that is obvious in flight. That dark area is slightly smaller in the females.

Some skippers have no visible markings at all on the underside of their wings and identification can only be done by noting the color of the wings, face, and body, or by viewing them in flight or on the occasions when they open their wings. One of these unmarked butterflies is the orange Delaware Skipper (below).






Others, like the Zabulon Skippers (above) have bold contrasting areas on their hind wings. This latter butterfly is seen from spring through fall and may be found along Oil Field Rd as well as in some more open areas. The female Zabulon Skipper is dark brown.

Note:  Some of these butterflies may also be seen in the Butterfly Garden at the Refuge.  Garden walks with docents on hand to interpret the garden are held on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of the month, through September, 9:30 - 11:30 am. Visitors are also welcome in the garden at any time during Refuge hours. Mark October 14 "Butterfly Day at HNWR" on your calendar and look forward to a day-long slate of butterfly related activities!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

June Plant of the Month – Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana)

By Sue Abernathy


Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana), a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) Family, is also known as Big Tree Plum, Inch Plum, and Wild Plum.  It is a beautiful single-trunked, flowering, deciduous tree with bark that eventually gets dark and striated, peeling off in patches on old trunks.  It has an irregular branching structure with somewhat thorny branches.  Early in the spring, it is covered with clusters of two to six fragrant white flowers before the leaves appear.  The flowers are reminiscent of Crabapples (Malus spp.) when in bloom and provide nectar for bees. The dark red to purple plums ripen in summer to early fall.  The plums are edible and can be used in preserves, but are most valued as food for birds and mammals. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches in length, smooth and dark green.  At times they are folded over and look like they are drooping from lack of water.  Fall leaf color ranges from yellow to a beautiful orange.



Mexican plum is relatively drought tolerant, soil pH adaptable, and suited to full to part sun, but requires good soil drainage.  It is often found in its native Texas habitat (mostly in northeast and north central Texas) along woodland edges, river bottoms, open woods, fencerows and well-drained prairies.  Because it grows singly and does not sucker or form thickets as do many other native plums, its rootstock is widely used for grafting.  Mexican plum grows in a rounded shape to a height of 15–30 feet and a spread of 20–25 feet at maturity and is hardy to USDA zone 6.  It grows at a slow rate, with height increases of less than 12 inches per year.



Mexican plum is most often planted as an ornamental or understory tree.  Its iridescent white flowers are of prime ornamental value, while the fruit, bark, and fall color are secondary assets.  It is a good alternative for Japanese Maple and Crabapple trees for the residential landscape.  These trees can be seen growing at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in the landscaped area at the Visitor Center, in the Butterfly Garden, and in the wild.  Occasionally, a few insects chew on the leaves but the tree does not have major pest problems and is tolerant of cotton root rot which devastates many members of the family Rosaceae.  It is rather difficult to transplant from the wild except for very small trees, but is widely cultivated and readily available in the nursery trade.
Sources:
Aggie Horticulture at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at http://www.wildflower.org
National Arbor Day Foundation at https://www.arborday.org
Photo credits – Sue Abernathy

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Wildflower Week

How many of us have thrilled to see a meadow filled with bluebonnets or to find the very first wildflower of spring alongside a hiking trail? The fields at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are blazing now with Coreopsis, Coneflower, Mexican Hat, Gaillardia and more.

"Painted Flowers" by Dana Crites
In recognition of the significance of our precious natural heritage of native flora, Michael L. Young, Acting Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, proclaimed May 21-27, 2017, as National Wildflower Week. “I call upon the people of the United States to join me in celebrating the United States Department of Agriculture's management of native wildflowers and other plants as well as the enduring benefits provided to society by native plant resources in America's National Forests and Grasslands.”

Barbara's-buttons (Marshallia caespitosa) at HNWR by Robert Jones
Why wildflowers?  Here is the answer, from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

Native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do much more than add beauty to the landscape. They help conserve water, reduce mowing costs, provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, protect the soil, and save money on fertilizer and pesticides. As Lady Bird Johnson said, native plants also “give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.”

Phaon Crescent on Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) by Carl Hill
But North American native plants, defined as those that existed here without human introduction, are disappearing at an alarming rate due to human activities, such as urban development, agribusiness and the introduction of invasive species. The loss of native plant communities has reduced wildlife habitat and the genetic diversity necessary for balanced ecosystems.

Native plants are not only hardy and require less effort to maintain in home or commercial landscapes but they can provide food and sources for traditional and new forms of medicine.

The Texas Dept. of Transportation, usually referred to as TXDOT, provides an online brochure, Texas Wildflowers, depicting numerous Texas wildflowers, details about each of the ten eco-regions of our state, driving tours and destinations for wildflower viewing.

Happy Wildflower Week!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Recording Rainfall

Historically, the months of May and October are when we receive the most rainfall in Grayson County.  Do you have a rain gauge at your home?  Many gardeners, homeowners, and farmers are interested in how much rain they get; listening to the weather report can inform you somewhat, but different, even nearby areas may receive differing amounts of precipitation  This post, on a citizen science project - CoCoRaHS -  was originally published on May 19, 2016.

By Sue Abernathy

Are you interested in knowing exactly how much rainfall you receive at home?

Do you wonder if the amount of precipitation varies greatly across Grayson County?

Would you like to have a permanent record of the total rainfall received in a given month, for the entire year and in previous years? If so, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is for you!

CoCoRaHS is a “national grassroots, non-profit, community-based, high-density precipitation network made up of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who take daily measurements of precipitation right in their own backyards.” The CoCoRaHS network originated at Colorado State University in 1998 with the intent of mapping and reporting intense storms. Since its inception, precipitation maps have been produced for every major storm. These maps show local weather patterns which are of great interest to scientists and the public. Today CoCoRaHS includes thousands of volunteers nationwide who are willing to spend a few minutes each day measuring and reporting precipitation.

CoCoRaHS has several goals:

1) provide accurate high-quality precipitation data on a timely basis

2) increase the density of precipitation data available throughout the country

3) encourage citizens to participate in meteorological science and heighten awareness about weather

4) provide enrichment activities and weather resources for teachers, educators, and the community.

So why participate in CoCoRaHS? Precipitation is essential for life. However, it varies greatly with storm type, season and location. Data sources are few and rain gauges are far apart. Measurements using different style rain gauges are not always accurate. Participation in CoCoRaHS provides quality precipitation data which is viewable immediately in both map and table form. “By providing your daily observation, you help fill in a piece of the weather puzzle that affects many across your area in one way or another.”

CoCoRaHS data is used by the National Weather Service, NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association), USDA, and local meteorologists. It provides a historical record of precipitation (and drought) and is used in predicting long-term weather patterns.


How can you become a CoCoRaHS volunteer? Training is provided to teach new observers how to install their rain gauge, properly measure precipitation and submit reports online. It is important that all reports be as accurate and consistent as possible. 
  • To join the CoCoRaHS network, submit an application online at www.cocorahs.org. Upon joining, you will receive a CoCoRaHS station ID unique to your specific rain gauge location. 
  • To complete the required training, either view the ‘Getting Started’ training slide show online or attend a local training session. 
  • Next, purchase a 4-inch diameter high capacity rain gauge, accurate to the nearest hundredth of an inch, which is available from several sources: www.weatheryourway.comwww.ambientweather.com or your county coordinator. 
  • Install your rain gauge and begin measuring and recording daily precipitation observations online, including days with no rain. (To participate, you must have daily access to a computer.)
There are currently over 15 active CoCoRaHS participants within Grayson County. With less than an hour of training and the purchase of an approved rain gauge, you can become a CoCoRaHS observer. For more information, contact Sue Abernathy, Grayson County Coordinator via CONTACT for the Friends of Hagerman, and join the CoCoRaHS network!

NOTE: Sue Abernathy is a Grayson County Master Gardener and Texas Master Naturalist, Bluestem Chapter, and as a Friends of Hagerman volunteer, a butterfly garden volunteer and garden docent.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – May, 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 slides into May, leaves on trees have formed a shady canopy. Native Texas spring flowers like Texas Dandelion and Texas Vervain are blooming and attracting many different butterfly species.

The west side of the refuge (Sandy Point Unit) features many roads through riparian forest and open fields as well as many points of lake access. Throughout that area, there is a wide variety of butterflies to enjoy. Look along the forest edges and in the low growing flowers on the pad roads for dark butterflies in the Skipper family.

Largest and most common of these is the Funereal Duskywing (below, left), easily identified by the white fringe trailing its hindwing. The Northern Cloudywing (below, right) is very similar in size but less distinctly marked above and has shorter brown fringe on its hindwing. Each measures about an inch and a half with wings open.



Two smaller butterflies have recently been added to the list of species found on the refuge. These two have probably always been there but because they are so tiny (less than 3/4 inch) they may have been overlooked. Bell’s Roadside-skippers (below, left)  fly low and fast and generally stay close to the ground. They perch with their wings closed. The fringe edging both the forewing and the hindwing is checkered. Unless faded, the row of spots near the edge of the hindwing appears connected.




Hayhurst’s Scallopwing (above, right) visits flowers with its wings open but unless it catches the sun, it appears solid black. In the right light, especially the female shows bands of darker and lighter brown. As its name implies, the edges of its hindwing are uneven, giving a scalloped appearance. Both of these butterflies stay close to the edges of the forest, especially in moist areas, but they do venture out to nectar on the flowers growing along the pad roads.



One larger and more distinctly patterned butterfly that is found almost exclusively in the woods is the Hackberry Emperor (above). You may find it open or closed and each side is distinctive. It generally feeds with its wings closed, showing off its white underside with its many spots and lines. If disturbed, it will frequently escape to the bark of a tree, where it may open its wings to bask in the sun.

Also frequently found in the woods is the Red Admiral (below). These have bold orange stripes on a dark brown background, and may also be seen in fields or gardens. They sometimes appear fearless, as they will often let humans get quite close before flying.


A popular visitor to home gardens, the Gulf Fritillary (below) is equally happy on the back roads and fields of the refuge. These are warm weather butterflies and are rarely seen north of Oklahoma. They nectar on many flowers and visit all types of thistle, but will lay their eggs on various species of Passion Vine.



A related butterfly frequenting open fields of wildflowers on the refuge now through fall is the Variegated Fritillary (below). More subdued in coloring, these are common throughout much of the eastern United States. They, too, will lay their eggs on Passion Vine, but also on flax, violets, and other plants. 


NOTE: A Pollinator Photo Shoot, sponsored by the Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club, is set for 9 - 10 am and Noon - 1 pm, Saturday, May 13, in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR, weather permitting.  Come out and join in,  photographing butterflies, bees and more!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May Plant of the Month - Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula Caroliniana)

By Donna Rogers

Carolina buckthorn, a member of the family Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn family), is also known as Yellow buckthorn or Indian cherry. This plant was discovered in South Carolina, hence the common and Latin species names, but it is also native to parts of Texas, including our north Texas Blackland prairie. The Carolina buckthorn’s native habitat is bottomlands, stream banks, and woods, and it thrives best in part shade in moist, chalky, and rocky soils. It can, however, stand attractively alone in full sun or works well as an understory tree if it can get three to four hours of sun each day. Even though its name contains the word thorn, this native perennial is without spines. It is one of the most attractive ornamental trees available and a wildlife-friendly choice.

Photo credit, left:  University of Florida (spring); Photo credit, right:  A Tree a Day (fall)


Grown as a small tree or large shrub, the Carolina buckthorn grows slowly to heights of 12-15 feet but can grow as high as 25 feet. It has shiny, oval leaves that are bright green on top and slightly paler underneath. The leaves stay green into late fall when they begin a show of yellow to bronze. Although deciduous, some of the leaves hold on through February. Its leaves are usually three to five inches long with a few fine, widely spaced, rounded teeth and prominent veins, especially on the underside. The flowers are small and bell-shaped and form as yellowish or yellow-greenish small clusters at the base of the leaves. The Carolina buckthorn flowers in May and June and attracts many pollinators, then in the late fall it produces a fleshy red berry, about 1/4 inch or more in diameter, that turns purplish-black when ripe. The fruit clusters are so pretty that they can be used as part of Thanksgiving or Christmas decorations


Photo credit, left:  www.jimbotany.com; Photo credit, right:  www.namethatplant.net

Plant diversity in the landscape encourages a healthy, sustaining habitat for wildlife, and the Carolina buckthorn helps do just that. The ripe berries of this buckthorn attract butterflies, and the tree serves as the larval host to the American snout (shown below, Photo credit: www.butterflygardening.com), gray hairstreak, spring azure, and painted lady butterflies. Many bird species, especially mockingbirds, catbirds, and brown thrashers, and other wildlife also consume these buckthorn berries, which are toxic to humans. Deer have also been known to nibble on the leaves and bark.


Carolina buckthorn are easily propagated by seed, but semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late summer or dormant hardwood cuttings will root. Seeds can be collected in the fall after the fruits have turned dark purple but are also available commercially. This plant should be watered immediately after planting and every other week during its first growing season but should become drought tolerant thereafter.

Upon a visit to the butterfly garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Carolina buckthorn may be found just south of the water feature in the dry creek bed area.


Sources:

http://www.wildflower.org

https://npsot.org

http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu

http://npsot.org/wp/boerne/files/2013/12/Carolina-Buckthorn_Feb.20141.pdf

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

Paintbrush

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 - https://youtu.be/gyaifWkUWr0.

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 atwww.beyondabook.org

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 www.friendsofhagerman.com.

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