Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Snowbirds are on their way, flocking to Texas to escape northern winters. No, they are not the two-legged variety driving RV’s. These feathered visitors arrive by wing. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, near the Texas and Oklahoma border, hosts up to 30,000 migratory birds October through February. Just west of Sherman, Hagerman North Texas Ramblings Hagerman National Wildlife Refugeprovides wetland habitat for thousands of Canada, snow and Ross geese each winter along with ducks, heron and songbirds.  Cormorant troll the waterways their long necks like submarine periscopes, great blue heron look like prehistoric pterodactyl against the sky, and thousands of snow geese honk a continuous serenade. In total, over 300 bird species call the refuge home. It’s a veritable birder’s paradise.

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge offers a four-mile, self-guided auto tour. Ideal for birders with limited mobility, the driving route gets you up close to thousands of birds without ever leaving the car. The best part, your parked car serves as an effective birding blind!

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has recreational activities beyond birding. In addition to the driving route, the refuge has miles of hiking trails. You’ll find additional bird species along with many local animals like armadillo, rabbit, fox squirrel and the occasional coyote, bobcat and feral pig. Trails cover a variety of habitat from prairie to marsh to woodland. The Meadow Pond trail is along an unpaved service road that is an easy hike for families with small children. Enjoy a packed lunch at one of the many picnic areas scattered throughout the refuge.

The area’s history is as interesting as the migratory birds wintering at the refuge. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is named for a town now under Lake Texoma. Founded in 1904, Hagerman boasted 250 residents, church, school and cotton gin.  In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers built Denison Dam. The dam submerged the town and created one of the largest man made reservoirs in the United States. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was established shortly thereafter in 1946 in the area near the former town site.

The refuge is unique in other ways, too. Among flocks of geese, you find oilrigs. The grasshopper-styled rigs date from 1951 when oil was discovered in nearby Big Mineral Creek. While the Army Corps of Engineers bought the land for the Denison Dam project, they failed to purchase the mineral rights. As a result, privately owned and operated oilrigs have removed millions of gallons of oil and natural gas from the refuge.

So pack your lunch and head out for a winter hike to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Don’t forget your binoculars and bird book!

Details. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman. It is a day use facility open from sunrise to sunset. Visit the Friends of Hagerman website for information on free tours and talks at the refuge.

Monarch Migration

On sunny days this time of year, you’ll likely notice butterflies along North Texas roadways. This is the annual Fall migration of North American Monarch butterflies on their Texas Backyard Naturalist Monarch Butterflyway to warmer climes in the Oyamel fir trees in central Mexico. Unlike migrating birds, the Monarchs are not returning to a wintering ground. They are making the journey for the first and only time. Monarchs born in late summer have a life span of seven to nine months. That’s long enough to journey south, winter over, and then begin the journey back north. In early spring, this generation of Monarchs will make it as far as south Texas to lay eggs in milkweed. The Monarchs born in spring and summer continue their northward journey to Minnesota and other northern states. But unlike their parents and grandparents, the summer Monarchs live only two to eight weeks.  That means the Monarchs you see next Fall will be the great-great grandchildren of the ones you see today!

For more information on the great Monarch migration, check the Monarch Watch and Monarch Butterfly USA websites.

Johnson City

Johnson City, in Texas Hill Country, is a great destination for families. Here are three family-friendly activities you’ll not want to miss during your visit.

Sauer-Beckmann Farm. Travel back in time at the Sauer-Beckmann Farm, a living North Texas Rambling Sauer Beckmann Farmhistory farm located in the Lyndon B Johnson State Park and Historic Site. The farm gives visitors a look at Texas Hill Country life at the turn of the twentieth century. Costumed interpreters perform farm tasks like canning fruits and vegetables, milking, and soap making. A dogtrot styled farmhouse outfitted with turn of the century furnishings offers kids a glimpse into what it might have been like to live in Texas Hill Country a hundred years ago. During my family’s visit, our son shared the chores by fetching eggs from the hen coop. The Sauer-Beckmann Farm is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is no charge for touring the farm though donations are welcome. Nature trails collocated at the farm make for an easy hike, even for small children.

LBJ Ranch Tour. At the Lyndon B Johnson National Park, your family can explore recent American history by taking the LBJ Ranch Tour in your car. An audio CD narrates the tour route and highlights aspects of the Johnson presidency. The tour also examines factors that influenced him during his childhood years. Stop at the re-creation of his birthplace, and visit LBJ and Lady Bird’s gravesides. Learn about his vocation as a schoolteacher and his dedication to education, including the formation of the Head Start program. The tour highpoint is a stop at the Texas White House. Guides conduct tours inside the home from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. The downstairs portion of the house has been restored to its 1960s appearance. The show barn and airplane hangar contain many of LBJ’s automobiles and his presidential plane. The driving tour is free though there is a $3 fee for the Texas White House Tour. You can obtain your driving tour pass and audio CD at the park visitor center.

Exotic Resort Zoo. Take a walk on the wild side at the Exotic Resort Zoo (235 Zoo Trail, Johnson City). The animal park boasts 60 different species and 500 animals. You’ll find the animals on the open range and in a petting zoo environment. Zoo tours are available daily. Tractors pull trailers outfitted with a canopy and seats. Zoo guides narrate the Texas Hill Country safari. Be sure to buy at least one bucket of food pellets for the hour-long tour. Bison, zebra, ostrich, antelope, llama, aoudad and emu abound. The animals converge on the safari mobile for handouts and some will even lop next to the moving vehicle for their treats. Beware the very friendly camels. Omar, the older of two camels, sometimes steals an entire food bucket from unsuspecting visitors. Cabins are available for rental on the zoo property and make an ideal spot for family reunions.