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!