Thursday, May 28, 2015

Texoma Flooding

Water, water everywhere at Hagerman NWR. as Lake Texoma topped the spillway last weekend and the lake level continues to rise as more rain falls.  Today's blog is a reprise of past information about Lake Texoma, the Denison Dam and the Refuge.

For June 28, 2012:
"....July 7, 2007, Lake Texoma topped the spillway, 640’ and areas around the lake, including much of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, remained flooded for several months. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the lake's highest elevation was recorded on May 6, 1990 at 644.76’. The top of Denison Dam is at 670’ elevation. The photo of Dead Woman's Pond, below,  was taken in August, 2007:

For July 4, 2014, we wrote:
"...we thought a little history might be in order - locally, the Herald Democrat reported that 70 years ago this week the newly completed Denison Dam was dedicated. You can learn more by clicking Herald Democrat.

Hagerman NWR and sister refuge Tishomingo were established in 1946, following completion of the lake. Visitors to the refuge enjoy perusing the exhibit and scrapbook of photos and clippings about the town of Hagerman, removed to make way for Lake Texoma, and the early days of the refuge.

From "A History of Hagerman by Dr. Jerry Lincecum", quoted in the blog August 28, 2014:
Despite the ill effects of the Great Depression, the town prospered until 1940. When the U.S. government announced it was going to buy up the land adjacent to Big Mineral Creek for the reservoir which would become Lake Texoma, some of the Hagerman citizens began moving out. Gradually, this island of activity began to break apart and drift away. The cotton gin was sold and moved to Tioga. The moving of houses from Hagerman to other locations soon gave the town a half-empty look.

In 1939 the clearing of land for this flood control project on Red River started, though the actual construction of the dam did not begin until 1940. The Hagerman Presbyterian Church (below) had its building reinforced in 1942, so it could be moved to the Denison area to become Hyde Park Presbyterian.

The Hagerman Baptist Church was moved eastward about two miles, where today a more modern building houses the congregation.
 After the Denison Dam was completed in late December of 1943, the waters of Lake Texoma rose rapidly to cover most of the buildings that remained. The two-story school, (shown below) which stood on higher ground, was soon razed to reclaim the bricks. Thus the town of Hagerman died only about 40 years after it was founded.

The next photo shows the area where the school once stood, now flooded by the swollen lake waters. The Visitor Center/Refuge Office sits at 649' above sea level.

More history is available in Gene Lenore's  DVD, Denison Dam - Taming the Raging Red, which can be purchased from the Nature Nook, once flooding recedes and the Visitor Center re-opens!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

And the Rains Came….

The rain that has been looked for, hoped for, and  prayed for has come and stayed and stayed  and now Lake Texoma is approaching a level of 637 feet above sea level,  At 640’ water will go over the spillway.  This week the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers was able to begin releasing some water as downstream flooding lessened, but water is coming into the lake faster than it is going out.

Meadow Pond Trail, taken this week by Courtney Anderson
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is flooded, as are many areas around the lake.  Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley says that prolonged high water will result in not only loss of wildlife but long-term habitat loss and change.  For example, many trees already stressed by drought will die from standing in water and invasive seeds will be spread by water.  In the past the big Mineral Picnic Area was a shady spot with many large trees, see Refuge file photo below, which were later lost due to flooding and prolonged standing in water.

Damage assessment, clean-up and repair cannot begin until the water recedes to normal levels.

The Visitor Center closed to the public on May 15, and will not re-open until access is clear.  The Refuge Office is open regular hours this week, for phone calls and mail only.

Trail Closed, photo from Refuge files, taken 5 - 15 - 2015
The Butterfly Symposium with Dale Clark, sponsored by the Bluestem Master Naturalists, has a new location, the Grayson County Courthouse.  There is no change in the meeting date or time; the program is still set for 9 am – 3:30 pm, Saturday, May 30. 

Youth FIRST is canceled for the  June 6  program, “Ants In Your Pants”, and will not meet again until August 1.  Reservations for that program, “Clean Green Algae Machine” will open July 6.

At this time, there is no plan to cancel Second Saturday, June 13, “Prairie Restoration”.

The Grand Opening for the Butterfly Garden at HNWR has been postponed until October.

We want to say "Thank You" to visitors for their patience and to all the Refuge volunteers who are standing by during the Great Flood of  '15.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nestling Bluebird Rescued from Flood at HNWR

By the end of last week, it was apparent that Lake Texoma was starting to flood. The staff at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge began preparing for the changes that floodwaters would bring to the Refuge.  Preparations included: 

-Securing the L-Pad dock to prevent it from floating off.
-Moving the wooden trash can holders out of Day Use Areas.
-Removing the pump from Big Mineral Creek.
-Moving the D7 dozer from MSU 7 to the maintenance shop.
-Removing the traffic counter from Wildlife Drive.
-Checking the tern platform to ensure adequate slack in cables for additional lake level rising.
-Closing gates at each entrance point for Wildlife Drive.

Wildlife Drive, May 11, 3 pm, HNWR Staff Photo

- AND - Checking bird nesting boxes in the expected flood zone.

Box 28, Raasch Trail, HNWR Staff Photo

Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley checked the monitors' notebook for Meadow Pond/Raasch Nest Box Trails and did a run to look for young that needed to be rescued. The only one found that was in a major flood zone was Box 28 on Raasch Trail.  The nest box had two eggs that had failed to hatch and one partially feathered young bluebird, approximately 5-6 days old. Since this box would be inundated within a couple of days, the nest with the bird in it was removed and the young bird was taken to Rogers Wildlife Rehab Center near Dallas.  

Mary Maddux, in boat, preparing to open Nest Box 28, HNWR Staff Photo

Mary Maddux and Rusty Daniel remove the nest from the box. HNWR Staff Photo

Rescued Bluebird Nestling, photo by Laurie Lawler

Thanks to Laurie Lawler for transporting the bird to the rehab facility. 

The other Meadow Pond/Raasch Trail boxes that have birds were on the far east end of Raasch Trail and are outside any potential flood zone. One, Box 58 on Meadow Pond Trail has bluebird eggs, but the flooding is not expected to endanger the nest.  Boxes along the Harris Creek Nest Box Trail are all outside the flood zone.

Daddy Bluebird on Box 28 after baby bird removed.
Photo by Laurie Lawler

On Tuesday, Box 28 was completely submerged.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Butterfly Magic

Laurie Sheppard is a volunteer at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge who loves butterflies; Laurie and garden docents will be on hand at the Refuge from 3 - 4:30 pm on Mother's Day to help visitors identify any butterflies that come into the new Butterfly Garden.   Some folks may not realize the number of butterfly species that might be seen at Hagerman; Laurie is working on a species list for the Refuge and is now up to 63 species confirmed by  Butterfly and Moths of North America.  Here is her account of a recent visit to Hagerman, along with photos.

"I went out to the refuge last weekend to concentrate on butterflies.  The highlight of the visit was that there had been a mass hatch of Question Marks.  There was one spot on Sandy Point Road where it was almost magical, with 30-40 Question Marks flying around me.  

The photos shown below illustrate the differences between a summer hatched Question Mark (center photo) and one that wintered over and is ragged and thin (top photo).  Summer hatch Question Marks have a dark hindwing and more detailed underside (bottom photo) compared to those hatched in the fall.

Here is Laurie's species list for the day. She says, "  I did not count actual numbers of each, but I did try to estimate."
Monarch - 1
Hackberry Emperor - 4
Gray Hairstreak - 1
Eastern Tailed-blue - 1
Orange Sulphur - 50+
Clouded Sulphur - 1
Cloudless Sulphur - 2
Dainty Sulphur - 3
Checkered White - 8
Question Mark - 50
Little Wood-satyr - 10
Funereal Duskywing - 1
Clouded Skipper - 2
Pearl Crescent - 1
Phaon Crescent - 1
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - 3
Black Swallowtail - 6
Variegated Fritillary - 1
Common Buckeye - 2
Viceroy - 1

Guided walks through the Butterfly Garden at the Refuge will be held at 10 am on the third Saturday of each month, May through October, weather permitting.  On June 20, the walk will be held in conjunction with the Grand Opening for the garden.  Get ready for the magic!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Lake Is Back!

Honey  Grove Photo Club enjoys a tram tour along the marshes.
(Photo by Skip Hill)

American Avocet at HNWR
(Photo by Leslie Knudtson)
The lake is back! With recent spring rains, this week the lake level rose to nearly 617 ft. above sea level. In January, 2015 the lake level was between 611 and 612 feet above sea level. A little over a year ago, in March, 2014, the lake level was only 608 ft. 

The lake began filling in 1944 and soon attracted visitors for fishing, boating and swimming. According to information from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the lake elevation went to a low of 599.96  ft. in 1957. then, later that very same year, the lake experienced a record setting flood elevation that sent water over the spillway for the first time since the lake was constructed.

When you google Lake Texoma level you will see a reference to the conservation pool.  
From top to bottom, reservoirs typically have three “pools” – the flood pool, the conservation pool, and the inactive pool. The design elevations of the pools do not change although the lake level fluctuates depending on rain, evaporation, and water use. 
The conservation pool at Lake Texoma refers to the volume of water contained between
the top elevation of 617.0 ft above mean sea level (modified seasonally down to 615.0 and up to 619.0) and the bottom elevation of 590.0 ft. The volume of water in the conservation pool is considered to be set aside as “storage” to satisfy congressionally authorized project purposes such as water supply and hydropower.  The top of the conservation storage marks the bottom of the flood pool, which is used for temporary storage of excess water following heavy storms. The bottom of conservation storage marks the top of the inactive storage pool, the part of the reservoir designed for hydropower head and storing sediment, typically holding lower quality water due to its depth.

From Wikipedia, we learn that 
 "The lake has crested the dam's spillway at a height of 640 ft (195.07 m) three times: once in 1957, again in 1990, and most recently on July 7, 2007.[2] (USACE 2003a). The lake's highest elevation was recorded on May 6, 1990 at 644.76 feet.[3] The top of Denison Dam is at 670 feet. In May, 2009, Wildlife Drive and much of the Refuge was once again flooded when the lake levelreached 629 ft.
Lake Texoma's two main sources are the Red River from the west and Washita River from the north. Other notable sources include Big Mineral Creek, Little Mineral Creek, Buncombe Creek, Rock Creek, and Glasses Creek. Lake Texoma drains into the Red River at the Denison Dam."

Denison dam controls a drainage area of approximately 39,719 square miles.   According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, it takes significant rainfall across the entire watershed that feeds Lake Texoma to bring water levels up. "In general, a persistent exceptional drought for the last three years has gripped much of the Lake Texoma watershed. Evaporation of water is also a contributing factor. On an average year, Lake Texoma loses approximately six feet (74”) of water to evaporation. When the Lake Texoma basin does not get enough rain, the combination of evaporation and ongoing water usage will cause the lake level to drop."

Now, thanks to abundant rainfall, as Goldilocks declares in the "The Three Bears", Lake Texoma is “just right”. The ponds at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge are full, there is water in Harris Creek and the marshes again, and Refuge staff have been able to put the two “Tern Islands”, aka artificial nesting platforms in place just in time for the Least Terns' arrival in mid-May.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What's Up, Buttercup?

Have you ever gotten “butter” on your nose from a buttercup? Or as they are botanically named, Oenothera speciosa Nutt.  Buttercups are also known as Pink evening primrose, Showy evening primrose, Mexican evening primrose, Showy primrose, Pink ladies, Pink buttercups, according to the Native Plant Information Network


From Wikipedia, we learned that although this plant is also frequently referred to as a buttercup, it is not a true buttercup (genus Ranunculus) or even in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.

Pink Evening Primrose at Hagerman NWR, by Kathy Whaley

The website for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center goes on to say that while most primroses open in the evening,  this plant, native over a widespread area from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, opens in the evening in the northern range but in the morning in the southern range.  They could also be called “day flower” as each flower lasts only one day.

“Buttercups” are perennial; their blooms vary from palest pink, nearly white, to deep rich pinks.  The flowers’ yellow pollen is the source of the “butter”.  They will grow is a variety of soils but go dormant if the soil is too dry; in our area you will note large masses of them where there are apparent low places in the fields and along roadsides.

Birds like the seeds from pink evening primroses and the flowers offer nectar to bees and butterflies.

So "butter up"! And - watch the Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page for Wildflower Wednesdays, featuring a different wildflower each week during the season.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Great Gar Adventure

By Courtney Anderson

Growing up with a fisheries background has followed me to apply it at every internship I have had the pleasure of serving. It has been a constant theme, through my schooling and budding career. Most people don’t care about fish, unless it’s a game fish that can be “Fried up good!” And honestly, it drives me crazy. We should care about the planet as a WHOLE: from deer to songbirds, dragonflies to algae, humans to mosquito fish, because our planet works as such. A whole. And every part is unique and important.  That’s why I helped save about 60 Gar last Friday.
The Discovery
Deaver Pond at Hagerman NWR had an unfortunate accident with its’ culvert that led to a drainage of almost every last drop of water. I heard that the pond was a mess and stunk of dead fish, needless to say I was intrigued enough to check it out myself. Plus I had the opportunity to add a skull to the interpretation collection here at Hagerman. I was shocked to discover that there was still some water in the pond; A couple of pools here and there. So, I climbed on down to grab a perished carp when… SLOSH! My foot sunk all the way to my calf, so much for those nice pair of pants. After looking around I discovered some commotion in a small section (About 5ft in diameter) of water. Knowing I had already trashed my outfit I went to investigate. Lo and behold there were still fish! And I mean a lot of fish, hanging out in this small area. Clearly they were gar, which means the potential for Alligator Gar.  We have all four species of gar on the refuge (Shortnose, Longnose, Spotted, and Alligator).  There is concern for the long term survival of the Alligator Gar because their numbers have declined significantly in the past few years. With this in mind, I knew we needed to do something.
The Rescue
After discussion with Kathy Whaley, the Refuge Manager, she agreed that we couldn’t sit back with the potential for a species whose population status is in question, dying. So I recruited Deputy Manager Rick Cantu and Maintenance Worker Russell “Rusty” Daniel and headed to the pond. Now fishing is never easy, and fishing for gar is definitely not easy. We all loaded up with waders and braved the mud to the little pond where the gars were. I didn’t get but about 5 feet into the mud when my hip waders were so buried, I had no other choice. I slipped out of them and took on the mud like any woman who’s not afraid to get dirty. Rusty used a noose to catch the fish under their fins, handed them to me, and I passed them off to Rick. And we continued to do this. I began to hand catch the gar, which was easier than I thought because of the high number of them in such a small space! However, this is also why I was the only one of the three of us who had mud up to my ears (see photo!)
The Relief
With two very large coolers full of fish, we drove down the road a bit to Big Mineral Creek. The looks on both Rusty and Rick’s faces were priceless, being that they were exhausted and covered in mud like myself. After unloading the fish into the water and gleefully watching them swim away I couldn’t help but remember the wise words of the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” And saving those fish’s lives may not have made a difference to the world, but it most certainly made a world of difference to me.