Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge: 11,320 acres on the Big Mineral arm of Lake Texoma, along the border of Texas and Oklahoma. Bit off the beaten path for a Pennsylvania chick, isn’t it? Except that last month found me in Dallas spending time with family. Inevitably I got itchy for the great outdoors. This year I conned my cousin Jensen into spending a day at Hagerman, mostly by promising him armadillos. Jensen is a talented photographer with a good eye who focuses on landscapes and sports. This would be his first time birding – and armadillo hunting.
The day didn’t start out auspiciously. 45° to a Southern boy with thin blood and no socks is darn near intolerable. The wind wasn’t helping matters; nor were the thick gray clouds. The weather only served to accentuate the stark landscapes, and send us scurrying back to the warmth of Jensen’s SUV.
Then we saw one good bird, a Red-tailed Hawk, and then another, this time a Northern Harrier (above) in flight. Suddenly the day didn’t look so bad! By the time we’d driven along the Wildlife Drive to where the Snow Geese were, the wind was abating and the sun was trying to break out.
Ah, the Snow Geese! There were hundreds of them, as there always are, gathered in a grassy field across from the lake. More poured in from somewhere over the trees. Watching large flocks of Snow Geese fly always amazes me. They never fly into each other, even when the flight paths of individual squadrons cross. When I looked at these photos later, I discovered that there were a few smaller but very similar Ross’s Geese mixed in.
One of the odd things about Hagerman NWR is that it is dotted with oil wells. Many of them are sitting out at the end of narrow peninsulas jutting out into the lake. The Turkey Vulture above startled us as we were walking down one such spit of land. It burst up out of the vegetation at the water’s edge right next to us, and we’d never even known it was there. One of the many Turkey Vultures at Hagerman.
Off in the distance, we saw something brown splashing across a creek. An armadillo? No such luck, but what we saw was just as good. Jensen said “Fox!” just as I yelled “Coyote!” Mr. Coyote turned and looked back at us before disappearing into the brush. I’d never seen a coyote before.
We spent some time walking along a couple of different trails, across marshy areas and through woods. These strange seeds littered the ground. Jensen said they called them “crabapples” as kids. Sorry, cuz, wrong again. The sign says they’re the fruit of the Osage Orange.
FUN FACT: Well, okay, we have to give Jensen partial credit, because a common name for these fruits is “hedge apple”; in Texas, “horse apple” is common. For centuries the Osage Orange tree was found only in a limited area near the Red River valley, a portion of which is now Lake Texoma. They spread throughout the Plains after they were widely planted as living fences in long hedgerows. Aggressive pruning turned them into tight thorny hedges. Barbed wire made the trees obsolete, but their strong termite-resistant wood makes great fence posts that don’t rot.
Maybe those hedges are keeping the armadillos out?
Both Western and Eastern Meadowlark are found at Hagerman. I’m not a good enough birder to tell the difference from a photo. Supposedly, their songs are quite different, but these birds weren’t talking!
The ponds around the Refuge are good wintering places for waterfowl. We saw several kinds of ducks, including Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, and this Northern Shoveler. There were also a number of Great Blue Herons.
At one point, the Refuge road passed through a small cattle ranch. This little Texan farm dog chased our SUV fiercely through his territory, despite not being any taller than our hubcaps.
Also escorting us along the road was this flock of snow geese. No more dark clouds now – nothing but blue skies!
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: There’s always one on every trip, isn’t there? This time it was a Greater Roadrunner, along the side of the road just feet away from our car. Of course this was AFTER we’d put our cameras away and left the Refuge!
The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in one day? I guess that was too much to ask!