Thursday, January 26, 2017

February Plant of the Month – Hercules Club (tree)

February Plant of the Month – Hercules Club (tree)

Hercules Club
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis l.
Other Names: Pepperbark, Toothache Tree, Tickle-tongue, Prickly Ash
Family: Rutaceae (Rue or Citrus Family)
Synonym: Zanthoxylum macrophyllum

Larval host for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

By Sharon and David Parrish

Imagine, if you will, Hercules, the mythological son of Zeus with the strength of a lion searching through Texas to find a tree for his legendary club. Surely, he would be drawn to the Zanthoxylum clava-herculis or Hercules Club with its distinctive knobby warts along the trunk. Today he could find two small specimens in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, Dr.Wayne Meyer reports that several examples can easily be seen along Meadow Pond Trail. 

(Photo by Richard Murphy, licensed under the Creative Commons)

Medicine: Also known as the toothache tree or tickle-tongue, the Native Americans and the early European settlers were known to chew the leaves and the bark to soothe a throbbing tooth. The major active compound is chelerythrine. This benzophenanthridine alkaloid exhibits anti-bacterial activity against the common, infectious microbe, Staphylococcus aureus (i.e., the staph infection). This highlights the importance of protecting our planet’s extensive botanical treasures, which harbor cures to countless human ailments. “As of 2003, at least 25 percent of modern medicines were derived from plants, yet only a tiny fraction of the estimated more than 50,000 medicinal plants used around the globe have been studied in the lab.” 5

Identification: Z. clava-herculis is a small, round-headed tree with smooth gray bark covered by triangular-shaped knobby prickles on the bark; thorns emerge from these triangular bumps when the plant is young, then as the plant ages and the “triangles” get larger, the thorns disappear. Leaves are alternate, once pinnately compound 5 to 8 inches long with 7 to 17 leaflets. Each leaflet is 1 to 3 inches long, ovate or lanceolate, toothed, with several sharp prickles along the rachis. The flowers are pale green on loose wide-branched terminal clusters, 4 to 5 inches long. Z. clava-herculis blooms in the early spring. 

(Photo by Joseph A. Marcus, Wildflower Center Digital Library,  unrestricted)

Fruit and Avian Dispersal: The fruit ripens in the early summer, producing a loose cluster of dark brown one seeded capsules. Once the valves open, the small seeds are exposed. Seeds are quickly eaten by seed-loving (granivorous) birds. The fruit passes through the birds and is dispersed below the birds’ favorite resting places, along fence rows and the edge of the woods.

(Photo by Joseph A. Marcus, Wildflower Center Digital Library,  unrestricted)

Butterfly Host:   Z. clava-herculis serves as a host plant to a number of insect species including the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Palio cresphontes). Their “ugly” caterpillars which resemble bird droppings morph into a large, attractive butterflies.

(Photo by Dale Clark, Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society

Related Plant Species: There are four species from the genus Zanthoxylum found in Texas. Z. clava-herculis overlaps in range with Z. hirsutum, which is also referred to as toothache tree. Z. hirsutum has five smaller leaflets and is common in West Texas.  

Z. clava-herculis is related to the Chinese-pepper tree,  Z. simulans, from eastern China. The fruit of this tree, the Sichuan pepper, produces the signature  mouth-numbing  flavor that  is  indispensable  in  the regional  cuisine of Sichuan, China.8

Same Name, Different Family: Aralia spinoza or devil’s walking stick is sometimes called Hercules club. It is a spiny shrub in east Texas with large twice compound leaves. A.spinoza is in a different family and does not resemble Z. clava-herculis.

Acknowledgement: We thank Ms. Dana Wilson, Dr. Wayne Meyer,  Mr. Bob Richie, and Ms. Sue Malnory  for their contributions to this article.  

1.      Texas A&M Forest Service (2014) Hercules'-Club Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, Trees of Texas.
2.      Sheryl Smith-Rodgers  (January 2011) FLORA FACT: TOOTHY CHEW, The toothache tree eases pain and hosts swallowtails. Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine,   
3.      Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database (September 14, 2015)
4.      Wikipedia. (2016) Zanthoxylum clava-herculis.
5.      Ferris Jabr ( September 14, 2016) Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis? The New York Times Magazine,
6.     Dallas County Lepidopterists' Society (December 2008), Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)  
7.   George A. Petrides and Janet Wehr (1988). Eastern Trees. Peterson Field Guides, New York, New York.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Let's Talk Binoculars

By Dick Malnory

Are you in the market for new binoculars for birding?  Whether you are purchasing your first pair or "upgrading", here is a rundown on binocular features to help you choose the pair that works best for you.

What you want from a pair of binoculars for birding is
  • Wide field of view
  • A bright image
  • Quick focus
  • Eye relief

Let's look at optics specifications that you will be taking into consideration.

Prism Type:

Binoculars today come in two basic designs, Porro Prism and Roof Prism, which refer to the type and arrangement of optical prisms in the binoculars.

To compare, Porro Prism was the standard design until 1960.  It offers a wider field of view and is more light efficient.  It also offers more contrast, but Porro Prism binoculars are heavier and chunkier.

Roof Prism binoculars are more streamlined, lighter weight, more compact and easier to hold, but are more expensive.


The recommended magnification for most birding binoculars is 7x or 8x.  Higher powered binos give greater detail but are less steady, offer a narrowed field of vision, and also less depth of field.  Note - image stabilization binoculars are definitely recommended for higher power binoculars and for use by individuals who don't have steady hands!

Objective lens:

This is the lens closest to subject you are viewing.  When you see a rating for a pair of binoculars such as 8x40, 8 represents the magnification power and 40 is the diameter of the lens, in millimeters.  The larger the objective lens, the more light is available, giving a brighter image.  A general rule of thumb is that the objective lens should be 5 times the magnification power; with a magnification power of 8, an objective lens of 40 or more millimeters would be recommended.

Eye Relief:

This refers to the optimal distance between the binocular eyepiece and your eye.  Binoculars will have adjustable eyecups that either fold or rotate to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

Prism Glass:

The better the optical quality used in your binoculars, the better the light transmission.  There are 3 grades of prism glass - BAK4 - Best; SK15 - Better; and BK7 - Good.  If the specs for a pair you are considering says the prisms are made of eco-glass, that means no lead or arsenic was used in the manufacturing process.


Coatings are used to improve light transmission.  You will find one of these symbols on binoculars that have any coating - C - one or more optic surfaces are coated; FC - all air-to-glass surfaces are coated; MC - one of more surfaces are multi-layer coated; and best of all - FMC all glass surfaces are fully coated.

Field of View:

Refers to the width that can be viewed at a distance of 1000 yards.  The wider the field of view, the easier to find the birds.  The field of view will be expressed in degrees or actual feet that can be viewed at 1000 yards; 8 degrees is a very good field of view - equivalent to 420 feet.  With all other parameters equal, choose binoculars with the wider field of view.

Finally, consider the weight when choosing binoculars; a shoulder strap can distribute the weight better than a neck strap. Are the binoculars comfortable in your hands, and can you reach the focusing knob easily?  It's best, for this reason, to shop in person.  If ordering online you will want to make sure of the vendor's return policy.

NOTE:  Visitors at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge who take tram tours and guided walks may use loaner binoculars provided by the Friends of Hagerman and help in adjusting them if needed - a good chance to try out a pair for those new to birding.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pass Program Great for Outdoor Travel

By Jean Flick

During the cold of winter, many of us turn our thoughts to summer travel plans. The Interagency Pass Program enables many US citizens and permanent residents the opportunity to enjoy the natural wonders of a variety of federally managed lands at minimal expense.

Three of these passes are available at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, including the Senior Pass for those aged 62 or over ($10 for a lifetime pass), the Access Pass for US citizens with permanent disabilities (free), and the Annual 4th grade pass, free for the child and family during the year that each child is in the fourth grade and the following summer.

Additional passes include the Annual Pass for US military (free) and the Annual Pass for anyone ($80 for one year).

Six agencies participate in the Pass Program, including the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. Effective January 1, 2016, the US Army to Corps of Engineers was granted the authority to be a full participant. Passes typically allow free admission to federal sites overseen by these agencies and may include substantial discounts on some activities such as camping, boat ramp use, and swimming.

The National Park Service oversees 409 areas, including national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks and sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic trails and rivers, and the White House.

The US Forest Service manages 193 million acres of vast scenic beauty, including national forests and grasslands. These public lands include 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as alpine ski areas, heritage sites, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and more than 150,000 miles of trails.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service preserves habitat and protects wildlife on 150 million acres of national wildlife refuges, as well as more than 418 million acres of national marine monuments.

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for a variety of national conservation sites, including 223 Wilderness areas with over 8.7 million acres in 10 western states. These areas are “special areas where the earth and its community of life are essentially undisturbed.” Areas are open for certain forms of recreation, but permanent changes to the land are not permitted, to preserve the integrity of the wilderness.

The Bureau of Reclamation is tasked with managing water in the West and has projects in 17 western states. The reclamation work of the Bureau has resulted in the development of 289 areas with developed recreation areas including campgrounds, boat ramps, and opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the number one federal provider of recreation in the US, with 400 lake and river projects in 43 states, including our own Lake Texoma.

America the Beautiful awaits...there is something out there for everyone...go to or for more information.


The information above was originally published January 14, 2016.
There is no charge for admission at Hagerman NWR.
Senior, Access, and Annual 4th Grade Passes are available at the Refuge Office, during regular business hours Monday - Fridays, 7:30 am - 4 pm.  The cost for Senior passes is set for a sharp increase this spring, so be wise, buy now!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blasts from the Past

As we end 2016 and begin the new year, we are going down memory lane this week, with selected news items from Featherless Flyers dating back as far as 10 years:

NOTE: this includes just a sampling of the many activities and events held at HNWR each year.


First Annual Meeting of the Friends of Hagerman
First Refuge Manager, Mark Nelson, Pays a  Visit to HNWR

First "Second Saturday" Held
Extensive Flooding at HNWR as Texoma Tops Spillway for 3rd Time in History
Website for FOH Established
Christmas Bird Count Set for Dec 15
Whooping Cranes Stop Over at HNWR

December, 2007 - Photo by Rick Cantu

Photographer of the Month Program Begins
Refuge Manager Johnny Beall Retires

First Super Saturday Held

Grilled 'burgers were popular at Super Saturday
Hiking Hagerman Series Published
Rick Cantu and Jim Lillis Offer Program for Bowhunters at HNWR

Welcome New Refuge Manager, Kathy Whaley

Two Pads Completed for Workampers


Kathy Whaley Organizes SHORE Volunteers, for Outdoor Cleanup and Improvements
New 20 mph Speed Limit Signs Posted on Wildlife Dr.
Trail Gets New Designation - Haller's Haven Trail, by Popular Vote

FOH Taking HNWR Slide Show to Area Civic Clubs and Groups
First  Photo Safari Set for April
More Flooding at Refuge as Lake Texoma Level Reaches 629'
Welcome Workampers Guy & Elaine Welch, Judy & Buzz Sutherlin,  and Bill & Carol Powell
New Observation Deck Added on Egret Road

Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society  Grant Received for Prairie Restoration
Wetlands Improvement Project Gets Underway
Winter Tours of Refuge by Van Are Popular
FOH Nature Photography  Club to Organize
FOH Starts Facebook Page


New Program - Second  Saturday for Youth Begins
Extension of State Hwy 289 Completed
Welcome Mary Maddux, USFWS Region 2 Oil and Gas Specialist
Plans for New Refuge Office and Visitor Center Published

Winners of the First HNWR Nature Photography Contest Announced
Welcome Kevin Vaughn,  Law Enforcement Officer
Nest Box Monitoring Program Organized
Pottsboro 4th Grade Students at HNWR for Environmental Day
Demolition of Existing Visitor Center  Completed

Groundbreaking  Held for New Refuge Office and Visitor Center

Kids Fishing Event Big Success
First  High on the Hawg Held on the Three "Hunt" Saturdays
Adopt a Nest Box Program Offered
TAPS Buses Provide Tours of Wildlife Drive to View Geese for Second Saturday Program


FOH Receives Grant from Clara Blackford Smith & W. Aubrey Smith Foundation for Nature Nook Set-up in New Visitor Center
Elm Fork Master Naturalists Tour HNWR
New FOH Website Launched
Plans Announced  to Organize Bluestem Master Naturalist Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists
FOH Participates in  Earth Day Texoma for Second Year
Staff Move to New Refuge Office Begins in July
FOH Receives Gift from Jetta Operating Co, Inc, New Oil Operator at HNWR
Refuge Office/Visitor Center Grand Opening Held September 8

Photo by Skip & Melinda Hill
Bird Census Committee Established to Preserve HNWR Census Data
Native Plant Garden Installed at Visitor Center by Grayson Master Gardeners


Refuge Conducts Visitor Survey
New Refuge Office/Visitor Center Receives Silver LEED Certification
Natur'Ology Camp Announced for June
FOH Holds Garage Sale in May
Welcome Workamper Edee Wolfenberger
Sory Elementary Students Visit HNWR on Field Trip

Residents of the Old Town of Hagerman, Texas, Invited to Tell Stories at History Day at HNWR
New Official HNWR Website Launched
Refuge Participates in Dust Study 
Carlos & Eulalia Cardinal Express - Open-air, All-electric Tram, Gift from Dr. and Mrs. Carlos Araoz, Put Into Service

Bluestem Master Naturalists Complete First Volunteer Training Series


Grant Received from Ft. Worth Audubon Society to Purchase Binoculars for  Guided Tours
BirdFest Texoma  Features David Sibley, The Raptor Project, Field Trips and More, in May, 2013

David Sibley in the field at HNWR, by Laurie Sheppard

The Raptor Project, by Marilyn Pickens

Handicapped Accessible Loop Added to Harris Creek Trail
Photo Blind Built on Meyers Unit, North of Visitor Center
FOH Honored by USFWS Southwest Region 2 - Friends Group of the Year
Interior Least Tern Project - Artificial Nesting Platform  Built, Launched
HNWR Weekly Bird Census Record Set, with 108 Species Seen in 5-hour Period
National Public Radio Visits HNWR - USFWS Arranged for KXII TV and NPR to Spend a Day Birding with Karl Haller,  Honored for 50 Years of Birding at the Refuge

Karl Haller Honored
Welcome Summer Intern Jesse Trujillo
Super Saturday 2013 Cancelled Due to Government Shutdown


Friday Fun Day and a Nature Writing Workshop Added to January Activity Calendar
Spring Break Family Fun Offered March 10 - 14
Drought Began in  2011, Goes On and On
Welcome Workampers, Fran & Bob King
Bald Eagles Call HNWR Home Year Around for First Time
Welcome Summer Intern Aaron Blount
Work Begins on Butterfly Garden

FOH Gets a New Logo

Designed by Jesus Moreno

Nature Nook Offering Ducks Unlimited Prints for Sale
Welcome Workampers Barry & Lynn Burkhardt
Butterfly Garden Dedication Held


Friends Obtain NFWF Grant for Board Training
Jay Noel recognized for 30 years with USFWS

Meet Courtney Anderson, First SCA Intern at HNWR
Regional Refuge Supervisor, Raye Nilius, Officing at HNWR
HNWR hit by Record Flooding of Lake Texoma - Closed to Public Mid-May - August

Staff Photos
Garden Docent Program Organized
Welcome Monarch Intern Alex Ocanas
Lights, Camera, Action as FOH Partners with KXII to Promote HNWR and Volunteering at the Refuge, Thanks to NFWF Grant and In-Kind Gifts
Grand Opening of the Butterfly Garden Held in October

Mini-Fest,  Geese by Golly Set in December
New Shop/Office Nears Completion


Flooding Returns to HNWR

Repairs were made to flood damaged signs and structures by workampers.
Celebration Held as HNWR Turns 70
Guided Butterfly Garden Walks Set
Record Number of Children at HNWR for Spring School Field Trips
Officer Kevin Vaughn Retires, Welcome New Officer, Chris Owen
Welcome Workampers Debbie and Mark Ford and Daniel Jackson, Summer Pathways Intern
Farewell to Rick Cantu,  Named New Manager at Tishomingo NWR
Refuge Road Re-do Begins and Is Completed by Year-end

Drawing and Nature Journaling Workshop Held in October
Monarchs Galore at Refuge During Fall

Monarchs on Frostweed, by Bill Powell
Ten New Lepidoptera Species Reported for HNWR
7th Annual High on Hawg Held
Welcome Refuge Assistant Manager Paul Balkenbush, (shown below) and Courtney Anderson, General Biologist

Happy  2017, from Friends of Hagerman!