Thursday, September 25, 2014

Overcoming EWWW


Refuge Wildlife Officers Fight Myths about 
Creepy Crawlies and Other Wildlife

It’s not just snakes. Other wild creatures inspire exaggerated fears, too: bats; spiders; birds; fish – yes, fish.

Who wants to touch a fish?  Activity provided by Texas Parks & Wildlife at Hagerman NWR.
(File photo)
In the course of greeting tens of thousands of visitors a year, staff on national wildlife refuges bump up against many such bugbears. They know which natural–world denizens invariably make some people flinch or go ewww.

One thing they've noticed: Whether it’s because today’s visitors tend to live more indoor lives than past generations or watch too many TV survival shows, fears of nature are flourishing -- in all ages.

“We’re seeing more kids sheltered and afraid,” says Ashley Inslee, a biologist at Bosque del Apache Refuge in New Mexico. “Even college kids interested in conservation haven’t been out hunting, fishing, hiking.  They've seen TV shows or National Geographic and think being outdoors is cool, but it can be uncomfortable at first.”

Note: At Hagerman NWR  a few grade-schoolers have shown reluctance to “go into the woods” on trail walks during school visits.

Different tactics are called for at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge, where gators are star attractions. “There should be a natural fear we have of them, and they of us; it’s a good thing to be fearful of a large predator like an alligator,” says supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. But she puts visitors’ fears in perspective. “We tell them we’re not going to have alligators jumping out of bushes. It’s safe. But it’s only safe because we respect wild animals and don’t feed them.”

Some visitors want to beat back old fears. Mary Stumpp signed on this winter as a volunteer at crane-filled Bosque del Apache Refuge — an odd choice for someone with a lifelong fear of birds. Her task: using a tractor to mow corn for feeding sandhill cranes. Slowly, she grew accustomed to seeing flocks overhead. Writes Stumpp, “I began to see the cranes not as a threat but as beautiful creatures. To my surprise, I began to care about them…”

To help anxious visitors, refuge staffers share some proven tactics:

Admit fears of their own. Visitors may be surprised to hear refuge staffers aren't all fearless. Bosque del Apache Refuge’s deputy manager Aaron Mize owns up to a fear of heights and snakes.

Find out what they know. At Patuxent Refuge, staff meets students on familiar turf before a refuge visit, and throws softball questions: “Do you spend any time outside? What’s your favorite animal?” Staff also invites students to confide fears in writing so they are not embarrassed in front of classmates.

Don’t dissemble. To a child nervous about snakes, you might try: ‘There are snakes here, but we almost never see any. That’s because they’re shy, and they can feel the ground tremble, and they go and hide when they hear people coming.’

Educate about feeding a wild animal.  Remind people that wildlife loses their fear of humans if regularly fed by visitors.  And tell them never to challenge wildlife.   

Let kids adjust at their own pace. Let young people decide if they want to touch a live frog or snake. Respect youngsters’ rights to say “no”.  Some refuge staff appoint an anxious young visitor to become their assistant for a day.   

Show enthusiasm. Students see that you’re not afraid and they respond.  When a youngster sees salamanders and turtles and responds, ‘Oh gross,’ that’s your chance to say, ‘No, they’re so cool,” and explain why.

Thanks to Friends NewsWire for this week's blog! 





Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pelican Update



In September, 2012, we blogged about the Fall migration numbers of the American White Pelican at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.   Let's take another look, two years later.  The following entries have been excerpted from the  Hagerman NWR Weekly Bird Census  by Jack Chiles, Master Naturalist:

2012
Sept. 4 - 0; Sept. 11 - 0; Sept. 18 - 0; Sept. 25 - 1000
Oct. 2 - 54; Oct. 9 - 10; Oct. 16 - 260; Oct. 23 - 25
Oct. 30 - 7
Nov. 6 - 127; Nov. 13 -300; Nov. 20 - 100; Nov. 27 - 25

2013
Sept. 3 - 3; Sept. 10 - 3; Sept. 17 - 4; Sept. 12 -24
Oct. 1 - 2080; Oct 8 & 15- shutdown/no census;  Oct. 22 - 1250; Oct. 29 - 1500
Nov. 5 - 75;Nov. 12 - 56; Nov. 19 - 50; Nov. 26 - 7



Thanks to Jack’s reports we have a picture of the swings in population of the American White Pelican at Hagerman NWR during the fall migration.  Pelicans were sighted circling overhead at HNWR last weekend, so the 2014 fall migration is now underway.

American White Pelican, by Dick Malnory
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breed in the Northern Plains and in Canada, according to Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufman, and winter along the  California and US Gulf of Mexico coasts.  Their large size (wingspan is 9’) and distinctive bill make them easy to recognize and the subject of cartoons and parodies such as this one by Dixon Lanier Merritt:

               “A wonderful bird is the pelican, His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
               He can hold in his beak
               Enough food for a week.
               I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”

That famous bill has some interesting characteristics.  It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch.  The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed.  According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch regularly  to maintain elasticity.  And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.

Pelican "Poucher-cize" by Eileen Sullivan
Pelican "Big Mouth" by Skip Hill

Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing.  They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch.  Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.

Be sure to visit the Refuge this fall to see the American White Pelican!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Refuge Office/Visitor Center Turns 3 This Month

Ribbon-cutting at Grand Opening
Three years ago this week, actually on September 8, 2011, the Refuge Office and Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge held its grand opening.  And how grand it has been since!

Visitors at Grand Opening
In late March 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Refuge Staff and the Friends were excited to learn that the new Visitor Center had been awarded Silver  Certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design .  More than 20 different design aspects helped reach this level. 



Building under construction
LEED highlights for the facility include super thick insulation sprayed inside all walls and on ceilings, solar panels that produce about 1/3 of the power required to operate the building with a high efficiency HVAC system.  Windows contain energy efficient glass that does not allow heat penetration, and  windows in the observation area are tilted to reduce bird strikes.  Motion sensors on all lights  turn them off when the room is unoccupied, and energy star appliances have been installed in the breakroom.  Other features include use of low odor paints and other chemicals used throughout the building, carpets made from 65% recycled content, and recycling of all construction debris and unused materials.  Light colored exterior materials and roof metal  reflect light rather than absorb it, and the building is situated  in an east/west fashion to maximize natural sunlight.   
Transportation/energy costs were reduced by use of locally available materials for the most part, including Texas limestone for much of the construction.  
There are five “green” plaques in the Visitor Center that describe other LEED features.  Be sure to look for them the next time you visit!
In the new venue, the Friends of Hagerman NWR will have sponsored 34 Second Saturday programs as of September 13, 2014:  two Super Saturdays and ten sessions of Youth First, the expanded program for youngsters, since the Grand Opening.

Gathering in Visitor Center for bird walk
Additional programs offered have included a screening of the Aldo Leopold story, Green Fire, History Day at Hagerman,  a Bow Hunting Seminar, Wild Wednesday story hours (2012), 3-day BirdFest Texoma in 2013, a Fun Friday on January 3 this year and most recently, Snakes at Hagerman NWR .

School groups, clubs and other groups, including the Bluestem Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists, have enjoyed tours and presentations in the new building as well as out on the Refuge.

Visiting school group
This spring, the Nature Nook hours were expanded from the original 10 - 3 on weekdays, to 9 – 4 Monday through Saturday and 1- 5 on Sunday, with a dedicated group of volunteers to serve visitors every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.

The saying, “If you build it they will come” has held true at Hagerman – the total number of persons checking in at the previous Visitor Center for all of 2010 was 7065, compared to 9664, for January through August of 2014.  Many local visitors have stated, “I have been to the Refuge before but I never came to the Visitor Center – this is great!”

So Happy 3rd Birthday to the Refuge Office/Visitor Center!

Visitor Center, 2011, by Ken Day
Grand Opening photos by Skip and Melinda Hill.
Information on green building features provided by Kathy Whaley.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Two Late Season Wildflowers

In the Bird Census Highlights for September 2, Jack Chiles noted that many late summer/fall wildflowers are in bloom at the Refuge.   Below is a re-run of information on one my favorites, Eryngo,  Eryngium leavenworthii Torr. & Gray.  As described by Native Plant Information Network, (NPIN),  the Native Plant Database for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Eryngo is a prickly, showy annual with a leafy stem, blue or purple bloom in late summer, in fact almost the whole plant, which stands 1’ – 3’ tall, shows color (photo by Wayne Meyer).  Watch for it now in fields at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and along the roadsides in the area, striking against a backdrop of Snow-on-the Prairie or contrasting with Sunflowers. Eryngo looks like a thistle but is not; it is in the Carrot family.  The plants are deer resistant, for those whose gardens have unwanted deer visitors, and provide nectar for insects and seed for birds.


Eryngo at HNWR, by Laurie Lawler
Another notable is  Gregg’s Mistflower:  Conoclinium greggii (Gray) Small.  Also in the Aster family, this plant can be seen in the Native Plant Garden at the Refuge and is a butterfly magnet. It is documented by NPIN as attracting Queen butterflies in Fall and as a larval food source for Rawsons Metalmark.  It has puffy lavender flowers heads, grows from 1’ – 3’ tall, blooms from spring to fall, spreads easily and unlike the others described above, provides deer browse. Mistflower may also be known as Palmleaf thoroughwort, Palm-leaf mistflower, Palm-leaf thoroughwort, Purple palmleaf mistflower, Purple palmleaf eupatorium.


Gregg's Mistflower at HNWR, by Becky Goodman

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hagerman History

Labor Day, on September 1 this year, is the traditional date for the Hagerman Reunion, held at Hagerman Baptist Church on Refuge Road, Sherman.  On that day,  former residents and  descendants of Hagerman residents will meet to swap stories and enjoy potluck.  We tip our hat to those who have kept this tradition going longer that the town was in existence, and in recognition,  there will be a continuous showing of some home movie clips of the townspeople of Hagerman Texas, at the Refuge in the Visitor Center from 10 am - 3 pm Labor Day.  Below you will find information compiled about the town by Jerry Lincecum; this is also distributed as a flier at the Visitor Center.

A Brief History of
Hagerman, Texas
By Jerry Lincecum

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Big Mineral Creek in Grayson County occupies land with a varied and interesting history.  It was once used by the Caddo Indians.  As farmland, it became part of the O.H. Willis Survey.  In 1899 a section (640 acres) of this land was purchased for farming by three brothers from Fordyce, Arkansas: James Patillo Smith, William Nat Smith, and Maurice Goodwin Smith.

Grave marker for James Patillo Smith, Hagerman Cemetery
Town-view of Hagerman, Texas
In 1904 the brothers divided the land among themselves, and J.P. Smith set aside 10 acres for a town along the railroad tracks, in the NE corner of his land.  After having it surveyed for a township, he platted and named the streets.  The name of the town was a foregone conclusion, since the MKT Railroad switch there was already named the Hagerman Switch (after an official of the railroad).  It was a favorite stop for the train because of good water from the springs nearby. By 1910 the town had grown to a population of about 250 citizens.



             Ten years later it was a thriving community with a railroad depot, cotton gin, brick bank, a restaurant, post office (established in a home), a school, a church, an ice-house and two grocery stores.  There was also a large hardware store (shown above) well-stocked with Daisy Mae butter churns, since many people kept a milk-cow in their own backyards.  Corn meal was another staple, so Hagerman had an old-fashioned noisy mill where corn was crushed and ground.  Local farmers patronized a blacksmith shop, and the increasingly popular automobiles required a filling station and repair shop. Soon a barbershop was added.

              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.




Thursday, August 21, 2014

Snow in Summer-time!

It must be August when you see Snow- on-the-Prairie!  Driving along Refuge Road, en route to Hagerman NWR, this plant with cool appearing green and white leaves actually does look like a light dusting of snow where it is growing en masse.  There are actually two plants, Euphorbia bicolor Engelm. & A. Gray, and Snow-on- the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata Pursh; NPIN, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database,  notes  that the two are often confused.



As members of the Spurge Family, both plants have a milky sap that is irritating to humans with sensitive skin, as well as to the eyes, and is toxic to cattle. Poinsettias are members of the same family. Growing 1 - 4 feet tall, in poor soils, the plants multiply by throwing seed, described by Dorothy Thetford in Wildflowers-of-Texas. Thetford says, “This ballistic dispersal of seeds explains the scattered arrangement of plants on the prairie.”

Both plants are annuals in the spurge family.  The actual flowers are tiny white blossoms, surrounded by the green and white bracts.  The bract of bicolor (in photos)  is narrower than that of marginata.  According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension  Snow-on-the-Mountain grows mainly in Central Texas, as well as north to Montana and Minnesota and south to Mexico, and Snow-on-the-Prairie mainly in the eastern third of Texas.  NPIN shows a range including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.  The bloom time is July – October.  We'll take anything that even helps us think "cool" at this time of year!



This blog was originally published August 23, 2012.  The blooms are especially noticeable this year since the surrounding grasses have gotten enough rain to stay green even though it is late summer.


Post and photos by Dick and Sue Malnory

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lantana



Last weekend I was shopping for a container plant to add some cheer to my front porch when my choice was made easy by following a large swallowtail butterfly who landed on a pot of “Bandana Lemon Zest “ lantana in the garden shop (shown above).  We have several pots of different varieties of lantana, but just one lantana in the ground in our garden that returns reliably, although a little slowly after last winter’s prolonged cold…Basket of Gold.  These lantanas have been developed by growers in various colors and forms for the garden trade, but they share at least some of the traits of native lantana – tolerant of drought, poor soil and heat.

A common lantana that is actually a tropical native is Tropical Lantana, Lantana camara,  shown below, which has been cross-bred for the nursery trade.  Although it has the charming common name of Ham and Eggs, according to USDA  it has become invasive in the state of Florida.


The native lantana in our region is Texas lantana, - originally named Lantana horrida; according to the Native Plant Society of Texas – the scientific name referred to the strong odor of the plant.  It was later renamed Lantana urticoides.   Common names are Calico Bush, Bacon and Eggs and West Indian Shrub Verbena.

Texas lantana from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, by Joseph A. Marcus

Here are the growth characteristics of Texas lantana, from Texas Native Plants Database.

Plant Habit or Use: small shrub - medium shrub
Exposure: sun - partial sun
Flower Color: yellow, orange, red
Blooming Period: summer - fall
Fruit Characteristics: black drupe with 2 nutlets
Height: 2 to 6 feet
Width: 2 to 6 feet
Plant Character: deciduous
Heat Tolerance: very high
Water Requirements:
Soil Requirements: adaptable

From the Native Plant Society of Texas  we learn that

“Texas lantana produces deep purple-black berries which are poisonous to most mammals, including cattle, sheep and humans. However many birds relish them and spread the seeds. Birds are not the only wildlife to benefit. Bees use the nectar in honey production. Texas lantana, with its verbena tube flowers, is an excellent food-source for many nectaring butterflies, especially swallowtails, hairstreaks, skippers, sulphurs and brush-foot butterflies. It is also a crucial food source for the larva of the Lantana Scrub-Hairsteak butterfly.”

Watch for Texas lantana in the new Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge!