The Sparrow-Looking Not-Sparrow
by Renny Gehman
Photo by Pam Rendall-Bass
You’re driving along H Pad, heading away from Wildlife Drive, focused on the waters surrounding the road and looking for waterfowl when suddenly, at eye level, you pass a sparrow-like bird, brightly marked with yellow, clinging to a tall stalk of grass, and singing its head off. At first glance, you think “House Sparrow” but then you see another one and realize the markings are wrong—House Sparrows don’t have that bright yellow. Maybe a Meadowlark? When you get out of the car at the end of the pad you spot a third one, this time perched on a shrub, but also singing its curt little song. And you realize, no Meadowlark ever sang that clicky-buzzy, dick-dick-ceessa-ceessa. Besides, Meadowlarks are much larger and stockier.
Photo by Pam Rendall-Bass
Who is this cute little guy who seems to be everywhere you look this year on the Refuge? That’s a Dickcissel—so named because of its unique call. And the males do resemble House Sparrows and Meadowlarks with their black V-shaped throat patch, contrasting yellow breast, brownish upperparts with black streaks on the back, rust patches on the shoulder, and light underparts. Those yellow patches can make the male look like a tiny Meadowlark while the female’s and immature male’s
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Female Dickcissel by Jack Chiles
brownish/grey streaking do resemble House Sparrows.
Yet they’re neither. Both male and female Dickcissels' large, thick bills resemble that of the Northern Cardinal—which might explain their inclusion in the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae). The classification of these small songbirds has puzzled scientists for decades; they have previously been considered part of the New World sparrow, oriole and blackbird families. For now, ornithologists have given the Dickcissel its own genus (Spiza) and list no close relatives.
Some people think the Dickcissel looks like a cross between a House Sparrow and some kind of finch. Certainly, their size (about 6”) is finch-like but Roger Tory Peterson’s field guides suggested it looked like a miniature Meadowlark. What we do know is that it’s a seed-eater that
breeds on the prairie grasslands of the Midwestern United States. But Dickcissels aren’t picky; they’ll nest in pastures, hayfields, and along fencerows and roadsides. They like to eat seeds while perched on a plant stalk—which explains why they’re so easy to spot at Hagerman even while driving in your car. But they also hunt grasshoppers, beetles, flies, caterpillars, and other insects during breeding season.
Male Dickcissels establish a territory when they arrive in their breeding ground in late May or early June, but will mate with up to six females, although most only attract one or two. It is the female who selects the nest site, building a bulky cup nest of weeds, leaves, grasses and roots. Sometimes the nest is lined with animal hair. Nests are usually located near the ground in dense grasses or small shrubs; they rarely locate them more than 5 or 6 feet off the ground. Females lay 3-6 eggs, which hatch in about 2 weeks; some pairs will raise a second brood. Males continue to sing and defend their territory while the female broods the eggs. The young leave the nest before they can fly, so the female continues to feed them outside the nest until they can forage for themselves.
After nesting season here in the northern part of its range is over, Dickcissels gather in huge flocks, sometimes thousands of birds, for their return to their wintering grounds in South America. These large flocks can be considered a scourge by many farmers since, outside of breeding season, the Dickcissel stops eating insects and reverts to eating seeds only. One of these little guys can consume over a dozen sorghum seeds per minute, so their large flocks can greatly affect a farm’s grain production. You can understand why farmers often call the Dickcissel a pest!
Photo by Pam Rendall-Bass
Dickcissels are not common at feeders, and only if your habitat is mostly open fields, meadows or plains. Since they are ground-foraging birds, try throwing a little extra cracked corn or sunflower seeds on the ground near your feeders to attract them. They also may visit a clean birdbath.
Some years it seems that there is a Dickcissel singing from every grass stalk or fence post in the Midwest—while other years they may be totally absent. Scientists presume this is a response to rainfall and its effect on local habitat. Still, they are fairly consistent at Hagerman; this year, judging by the number of Facebook posted pictures, they seem to be fairly common. Your best chance to see one is, as I said earlier, in the fields bordering Wildlife Drive or on the sides of the various oil-pads stretching into the lake. Trying to locate one? Stop and listen! They are named for their song for a reason—it’s loud and persistent. Their flight call is similarly recognizable; it sounds like an electric buzzer!
And when you see one, stop and admire its uniqueness. It’s a sparrow-sized bird that’s not a sparrow. It sings like a finch but acts like an aggressive mockingbird. It spends its summers defending a territory but flocks with thousands of its brothers and sisters in winter. Its bill resembles the Cardinal’s but it shares little else with other passerines.
It’s a Dickcissel.
Smile and wave when you see one.
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By Brenda Kay Edwards
by Brenda Kay Edwards
No pictures to show
By Pam Rendall-Bass
Refuge Rocks: Free Fishing Day
Free Nature Daycamp for ages 10-11
Laying Sod for the Evironmental Education Park
Bluebird Livestream in the Visitor Center!
Mrs. Bluebird has 5 eggs, expected to hatch around July 6th.
Come and watch her feed the her nestlings!
The live feed nest box is a specially designed box that has a small cavity above the nest area that allows for a small camera to be placed above the nest looking down.
Our first experience at this was before Covid-19 where the box was located North of the campers spot on Refuge Rd. We used a radio to shoot the camera signal over to the Visitors Center lobby where it was fed into the TV for viewing.
We had nest success that first year and rejoiced at seeing the father bring insects into the nest and the mother distributing the food to the individual nestlings.
This year we are using the same box design but located just east of the Visitor Center parking lot. We have improved the radio communication for a strong, more reliable picture provided to the VC TV monitor.
Recently we were thrilled to find a nest in the box, and we turn the system on for daily viewing on VC TV. Come and see her!
Thank you Gene and Nancy Cushion and John Van Bebber
for making this possible!!
America the Beautiful Park Passes
America the Beautiful Park Passes are available to purchase from refuge staff. Ring the door-bell at the window inside the Visitor Center for staff assistance.
Hours: Monday through Friday 7:30 - 4:00 PM
Annual Pass - $80
Senior Lifetime Pass (age 62) - $80
Senior Annual Pass (age 62) - $20
Military Pass – Free with Military ID
Access Pass – Free for people with a permanent disability that limits one or more life functions.
(must bring documentation)
NOTE: Nature Nook Volunteers cannot sell park Passes.
Beyond the Feathers by Murali Hanabe
Saturday, July 15th, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm in the Visitor Center
"I am a nature photographer. I always had a penchant for landscape photography but the interest really spiked a couple of years ago. I self taught watching you tube videos, drawing inspiration from others and practicing a lot photographing local sites within the DFW area. When I discovered the beauty of birds, the whole hobby developed into another dimension. In this presentation I will talk about my approach to bird photography drawing some concepts from my background in landscape photography." Murali Hanabe
Murali Hanabe has won awards in the annual FOHNWR Nature Photography Contest, notably for his landscape photographs. Murali won Best in Show in the 2022 photo contest.
Camera Cleaning Workshop After the Presentation
Saturday, July 15th, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm in the Visitor Center
David Parsons, Bert Garcia, and Alan Lusk will present a workshop on cleaning your camera and photography equipment. David will give a presentation that will include a live demonstration of cleaning techniques. Bring your camera and lens to participate in the hands-on workshop that follows the presentation. Basic cleaning materials will be available for you to use at the workshop.
- Be sure to have front and end caps for any lens you bring and bring a body cap for your camera.
- Bring some kind of cushion for the tabletop, such as a bath towel or poly-fill pillow.
- DSLR camera's battery should be charged for cleaning. Mirrorless camera does not need to be charged.
- Please register for this event so we have enough supplies for everyone during the workshop. There is no cost for the workshop.
- Registration closes on July 14.
Photo club members, guests, and visitors are welcome to attend meetings. You do not need to be a photo club member to attend.
If you have questions regarding this event, email FOHphotoclub@gmail.com.
July 2023 Plant of the Month: Salvia farinacea
Known As: Mealy Blue Sage, Mealy Cup sage, and Mealy Sage
By Cindy Steele
ZOOM…there goes a hummingbird making a B-line for that plant with the purply-blue spires! What is he so excited about? He knows that this plant, the mealy blue sage, was just voted the 2023 Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year! The Central Texas Butterfly Ranch partnered with the San Antonio Native Plant Society to sponsor this contest and the mealy blue sage won with 67% of the vote! So, the insect world is abuzz with excitement about this pollinator-popular plant!
This drought-tolerant perennial repels insects, is non-invasive, requires little to no fertilizer, attracts bees and butterflies, and is deer resistant. These traits make it one of the best pollinator-friendly native plants to add to your pollinator garden in Texas. It’s often called a “super plant of our region”.
This hardy upright to sprawling perennial is native to Texas, and easily grown throughout the southern portion of the United States. They grow well in sandy or gravelly soil in full sun. Mealy blue sages are very drought tolerant wildflowers that bloom all summer. They grow to be 1-2 feet in height with a long blooming period from March to November. Coupled with the fact...
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Birding with Jack: Updated, Weekly Census Results
By Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, Mike Petrick and Dr. Wayne Meyer
Each Tuesday a team of experienced birders, including Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, traverse 35 miles of refuge roads and hiking trails, documenting every bird they encounter. This Bird Census is reported to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for use in research, and each week we will bring you a link to their actual bird count, and a summary of their adventures.
This report is as of May 30th, and some progress has been made since then. With nearly 50 nestboxes being monitored weekly on the refuge, the Bluebirds are making a comeback after the deep freeze of 2021. the deep freeze of 2021.
Butterfly Garden Walks
Registration is not necessary
Pipevine Swallowtail by Laurie Sheppard
Come and learn how to identify the birds of North Texas while enjoying the beautiful sunrise over Lake Texoma! Modeled after Cornell's national "Big Sit" event, a group of dedicated birders invite you to join them at sunrise to conduct a bird count as multiple species fly to the water and the surrounding land to feed. Leaders will bring spotting scopes and will provide tips for identification of the many species you will see.
This event lasts a couple of hours, but all are welcome to come and go as they please. Participants are advised to bring a chair, binoculars and water.
The First Saturday of every month, beginning 30 minutes before sunrise.
Location: H Pad, Sadler, Texas 76264 (H Pad is in Sadler, but it is part of the refuge) GPS Coordinates: 33.734961, -96.780582
Photo by Laurie Sheppard
Early Bird Walk with Jack Chiles
Early Bird Walks have been cancelled for the summer months due to the heat.
Second Saturday: Shorebirds with Dr. Wayne Meyer
Saturday, July 8th at 10:00 AM in the Visitor Center
Every Spring and Autumn Hagerman NWR hosts thousands of shorebirds of 30 or more species. We’ll talk about the importance of shorebirds and the importance of NWRs to shorebirds. Then we’ll discuss some (certainly not all) of the different species that visit. We’ll learn how to tell the players apart, which isn’t always easy.
Dr. Wayne Meyer is Associate Professor of the Biology department at Austin College, where he has been teaching for 30 years. He started birding at 13 in Connecticut. In 1993 he finally achieved his life’s dream of being paid to look at birds when he joined the faculty of Austin College. He has birded both coasts of the U.S. extensively and now has spent a quarter century birding in Texas and Oklahoma. The proximity of Austin College to Hagerman NWR has made research on prairie birds easy and convenient and he has been studying song learning and singing in Painted Buntings for over a decade. Meyer is also a sought after speaker for Master Naturalist groups and a frequent speaker at the Friends of Hagerman NWR second Saturday programs.
Future Second Saturday Programs
Future Refuge Rocks Programs
Puddles' Craft Corner
What’s the Buzz on Bees?
By Cindy Steele, Master Naturalist
Welcome back to Puddles’ Craft Corner! Just imagine it’s a hot summer day. You’ve been swimming and playing in your yard. You’re hungry and ready to sit down for a cool snack. What is something you would love to eat…maybe, a cool slice of watermelon? But, did you know, without bees, there wouldn’t be any watermelons!
That’s right, without bees we wouldn’t have watermelons, apples, peaches, grapes, blueberries, almonds, cashews, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, and oranges. And…these are just a few of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for bees!
We may not realize that bees are essential to life on Earth. They help pollinate plants so we can have food! Bees are actually some of the most important creatures on our planet.
But how is this possible? What do bees have to do with our food? About one third of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we eat need bees to pollinate them. Pollinate is a fancy word for spreading pollen between individual plants and fertilizing them. Basically, by flying from plant to plant and collecting nectar and pollen, bees carry that pollen to other ...
Register for a Tram Tour Today!
Do You Like to Work Outside? The Refuge Needs You!
It takes a lot of people to have a beautiful garden!
The Wednesday Garden Team
Love to work with native plants and meet other gardeners? Come and help us add plants, weed and mulch our beautiful butterfly garden. Garden Team volunteers get first dibs on thinned native plants as well as access to seeds and cuttings for propagation.
Gardeners meet on most Wednesdays, but times vary. Contact Us to subscribe to the volunteer garden team weekly email. Provide own tools and gloves. Minimum age 18, or 16 if accompanied by parent/volunteer.
Mowing and Refuge Beautification: The Work Crew
Do you enjoy working outside, mowing, sprucing up hiking trails, trimming and removing brush and general cleanup? Show your love for nature by joining the Outdoor Crew at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Outdoor Crew volunteers meet on the First Tuesday and Fourth Saturday of every month.
Contact Us for exact times, dates and other details about joining the volunteer Work Crew.
Visitor Center Volunteers Needed!
Do you enjoy meeting all kinds of people from all over the world, and like-minded people in our area? If yes, consider joining our team of Visitor Center Volunteers. You will greet refuge guests, distribute maps and other refuge information, and make sales in the gift shop.
Shifts available every day of the week: Monday through Saturday 9 AM to 12:30 PM and 12:30 to 4:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 PM. Training is provided.
To Our Contributors:
Renny Gehman, Pam Rendall-Bass, Jack Chiles, Cindy Steele, Brenda Kay Edwards, Ananthanarayanan Thiagarjan / Kiran Photography, Gene Cushion, John Van Bebber
Refuge Manager: Kathy Whaley
Deputy Refuge Manager: Paul Balkenbush
Visitor Services Manager: Spencer BeardEditors: Patricia Crain, Laurie Sheppard
Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation
6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092
Join us on Facebook:
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Kroger: Stop by the customer service desk at Kroger and link your Kroger Card to the Friends of Hagerman: the Friends will get rewards for every dollar you spend, at no cost to you.
Please add email@example.com to your contacts to ensure delivery of registration confirmations, account information and the Featherless Flyer
Special thanks to Nancy Miller for the amazing photo of the Visitor Center
See you at the refuge!