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A Romp of Otters

By Renny Gehman

Photo by Bill Wilbur

You’re walking along the water’s edge in the Big Mineral Day Use area, hoping for a glimpse of Lucy the Bald Eagle or her mate when movement on the opposite shore catches your eye. What is that? What is it doing? It looks like something—maybe a weasel?—is sliding down the bank into the water. Another one follows it, and another. Then you see them climb back out of the water and do it again! What are they?

You’ve just seen one of the most playful and unknown inhabitants of Hagerman: the river otter. We’re usually known for the variety and abundance of our bird population, but our bottomland hardwoods along creeks attract a variety of wildlife like bobcats, raccoons, mink—and, recently, river otters.

Photo by Donnie Simmons

River otters are members of the weasel family that are equally at home on land or water. Historically one of the most common mammals across North America, extensive trapping and hunting decimated their numbers by the early 20th century. They were prized for their chocolaty brown coat—warm, waterproof and soft—and many ended up as hats or mittens. Until about 10 years ago, river otters in Texas were limited to the Piney Woods in the eastern part of the state, but they’ve been extending that range slowly and steadily.

Here at Hagerman, sightings of otters have increased recently, as evident by the number of pictures posted by members of our Photo Club. The consensus of researchers and refuge personnel is that the otters have successfully established a presence on Refuge land within the last decade. Does this mean you’ll see one every time you visit? Unlikely, as otters spend most of their time in water, and are relatively shy and inconspicuous.  

Your best chance at spotting an otter is while they’re wandering through their habitats—which they do a lot—or when they’re exercising their renowned sense of play. A group of otters, known collectively as either a bevy, a raft, or a romp, is most likely to be sighted when sliding down the banks of streams or islands in lakes. In fact, the collective noun romp, derives specifically from this behavior. Slides are about 1 foot wide and located on a slope at the water’s edge. They can be made in grass, dirt, sand or (less likely here) snow. Sliding is a favorite activity. When traveling on level ground otters often run a few steps and then slide on their bellies. They truly know how to have fun!

Photo by Pam Rendall-Bass

Underwater, they are acrobats, using their webbed hind feet to paddle and steering with their strong tails. With eyelids and nostrils that close in the water, otters can stay under for up to 8 minutes cavorting with their buddies, but also hunting fish, which is a favored food. They most commonly consume perch, suckers and catfish but also enjoy various amphibians, like salamanders and frogs, as well as aquatic insects, small mammals and mollusks. And while otters are opportunistic predators, they do not eat carrion. But their second-most important prey are crayfish—which may account for their recent expansion in Texas. I mean, what Texan doesn’t like crawdads?

Adult river otters can vary in size quite a bit, weighing between 11 and 30 pounds with males averaging about 25, females 18 pounds. They are long, slender mammals, with about 1/3 of their average 3-4 foot length in the tail. Their legs are short and heads flattened and their bodies streamlined for easy movement underwater. An otter’s face is marked by long whiskers that are used to detect prey in dark water.

Refuge Update:

Jack and the Birding Van participants recorded 7,200 Snow and Ross' Geese on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.  It may not be too late to come out to see them!

Though refuge lands are open from sunrise until sunset every day of the year, the Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday 9-4, Sunday 1-5.  It's a great time to visit the refuge!

Photos by Mike Petrick

More Amazing Nature Photos taken at the refuge.

Upcoming Activities:

The Friends of Hagerman is Hosting

15 Family Friendly Events in February!

Calendar of  Events 

Reservations Required! Don't Wait!  These popular sessions will fill up fast!

Save the Date: April 8, 2024

Come and Safely View the Solar Eclipse!

  • FREE Eclipse goggles and stickers to the first 100 attendees
  • View with our filtered telescope!
  • See the interesting eclipse shadows!
  • The next eclipse in the USA is in the year 2043!
  • More details to come!

Texoma's Frigid-Weathered Friends: Backyard Birds During Brutally Cold Weather

When the weather is unusually cold or snowy, you may notice more variety in the species of birds enjoying your seed feeder, suet feeder or thawed bird bath.  Thanks to the amazing Hagerman NWR photographers who share their photos on Facebook, we are able to bring you a beautiful collection of birds you may see in your backyard when natural resources are more difficult to find. Like nearly all photos on our website, these photos were taken at our beloved refuge.  Click to enlarge images.

Thank you to all these wonderful photographers!

Monarchs Need Your Help!

Join the Monarch Research Team

Training Wednesday, February 28 at 1pm

An Opportunity to Work with Laurie Sheppard and Other Butterfly Enthusiasts

Volunteers at Hagerman NWR conduct several surveys of migrating Monarchs each spring and fall as part of the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program (IMMP) - a national program that documents milkweed, nectar plant, and monarch use data from various land-use types and regions. Information gathered at National Wildlife Refuges like Hagerman is an important part of the research shaping scientists' understanding of how monarchs interact with their environment and how the population and its habitat changes over time.

If you think you might be interested in joining this fun and interesting project, click below for more information and registration.

Information and Registration


Birding with Jack: The Weekly Bird Census

Left to Right: Mike Petrick, Nancy Riggs, Jack Chiles and Terry Goode

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.

 January 30, 2024 Complete Bird Census List

83 Species observed

Observers: Jack Chiles, Mike Petrick, Terry Goode, Laurie Sheppard, Mike Sanders and

Keiko Inagaki

American Pipit, Ring-billed Gulls and American White Pelicans off the end of J pad, and a Northern Pintail

The weather was fantastic today for our census. The Long-tailed Duck is still present. It was a good day for ducks. The Long-tailed Duck has been using Silliman and Muleshoe marshes. Also still present are Canvasbacks with a total of 98 today. We saw 726 Northern Pintails, , 506 Green-winged Teals, 7 Ruddy Ducks, 2 Common Goldeneyes, 115 Gadwalls, 11 American Wigeons, 14 Mallards, all seen in the marshes. We also saw 40 Redheads and 24 Ring-necked Ducks in the large pond by the railroad tracks east of the refuge. We saw over 1200 Ring-billed Gulls as well as a mature Lesser Black-backed Gull and a couple of Herring Gulls. A large number of 7200 Snow and Ross's Geese were present arriving from south of the refuge as the day progressed. We saw 7 woodpecker species today. We had a good count of 7 Loggerhead Shrikes. A good number of 85 Savannah Sparrows were seen. We had a good count of raptors today with 11 Red-tailed Hawks and 8 Red-shouldered Hawks. We finished the day with 83 species. 

See the rest of Jack's notes and the latest Bird Census Results       

The Butterfly Garden Docent Program

Join Them on April 6th for Training!

Do you love butterflies and native plants, like to learn new things, enjoy being outdoors and meeting new people, and like helping others learn?  Then consider joining the Hagerman Butterfly Garden Docent Program!

Click Here for Details

The Friends of Hagerman NWR Photo Club

Photo by Jeff Gladden

Photo Club Field Trip: Lotus Stalks at Hagerman NWR

Saturday, February 17th at 10:00 AM

Join the Friends of Hagerman NWR Nature Photography Club for a field trip. Join us for a photo shoot of Lotus flower stalks at Meadow Pond at Hagerman NWR. The Lotus flower stalks form interesting and abstract shapes in winter.

Field Trip Details

Future Photo Club Events:

Sponsor the Friends of Hagerman NWR with a Membership

The Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation is a 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to instill reverence, respect, and conservation of our wild creatures and habitats through supporting environmental education, recreational activities, and programs of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sponsors Enable the Friends to…

  • Provide at least 12 free, family friendly, nature-oriented activities every month
  • Provide the refuge with volunteers to plant wheat for the geese, mow the trails, pick up trash, paint and perform other chores assigned by refuge staff
  • Develop Second Saturday programs to educate the general public about wildlife conservation
  • Sponsor “The Refuge Rocks!” nature programs for children

  • Maintain the beautiful butterfly garden—a Monarch Waystation that has attracted species new to Grayson County

  • Facilitate Eastern Bluebird populations by maintaining and monitoring 45 nestboxes throughout the refuge

  • Provide interesting educational tram tours of the refuge via the “Wildlife Explorer”

  • Produce “The Featherless Flyer” newsletter and other publications to promote conservation

  • Maintain the friendsofhagerman.com  website 

Join Today!   Memberships available for $10

    • April 20, 2024
    • 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
    • Hagerman NWR Visitor Center
    • 9

    Trees are an important part of our world.  They provide wood for building and pulp for making paper.  They provide habitats (homes) for all sorts of insects, birds and other animals.  Many types of fruits and nuts come from trees - including apples, oranges, peaches, walnuts and pecans.  Even the sap of trees is useful as food for insects and for making maple syrup -- yum!  Come join us on April 20 for a free class to learn about trees. We'll be going out on the trail to measure the ages of trees and to make bark rubbings.  The attendees will make a fun tree craft to take home.  For ages 5-10.  Registration Required.   Photo credit:  Cindy Steele

    • May 18, 2024
    • 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
    • Hagerman NWR Visitor Center
    • 26

    Calling all bug and insect lovers!  Buzz in to learn about our creepy crawly bug friends in this Refuge Rocks program. Explore the magical realm of insects that are nature's superheroes. From ladybugs to praying mantises, learn about these tiny creatures' incredible powers and how they help our gardens thrive. Children will discover bugs' vital role in maintaining balance in our ecosystems. Get ready to unleash your inner bug enthusiast as we uncover the secrets of these fascinating critters and their essential contributions to our world.

    In this program, we’ll learn about the superheroes of the insect world through a short lesson, craft, and fun activities!  Come join us on May 18 for a free class for youth ages 5-10.  For ages 5-10.  Registration Required.   Photo credit:  C. Steele/Canva Pro

President's Day Program for the Kids

at the Pottsboro Library:

104 N. Main Street

Pottsboro, TX 75076


Puddles' Craft Corner

The Great Backyard Bird Count - 2024

By Cindy Steele, Master Naturalist

Welcome back to Puddles’ Craft Corner! It is time for the yearly Great Backyard Bird Count! What is that, you ask? The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts and any age bird watchers. The best part is that you can participate from your own backyard, or anywhere in the world.

When is this event held in 2024? The 27th annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 16 through Monday, February 19, 2024. This global activity is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, Birds of Canada, and partially by Wild Birds Unlimited. For any additional information, visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information.

Here are ten tips for making the most of the Great Backyard Bird Count this year...

Junior Ranger Program: Advanced and Intermediate

Complete a scavenger hunt, a leaf rubbing and identify a few common birds to become a Junior Ranger.  At the end of the journey report back to the Visitor Center where you will be guided through the Junior Ranger Pledge and receive a merit of completion. 

Print a Hagerman-specific Junior Ranger Packet or Advanced Jr. Ranger Packet or pick one up in the Visitor Center.

The Junior Ranger Pledge

As a Junior Ranger at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge,

I pledge to protect outdoor creatures small, big and huge.

To keep the water, air and land clean.

To make enjoying nature a routine.

I will share my new skills with family and friends.

When people and nature work together, everybody wins!

Come, Take a Tour on the Wildlife Explorer!

Enjoy a ninety minute tram tour of Wildlife Drive aboard our open-air Wildlife Explorer.  Learn about the fascinating history of the displaced town of Hagerman while watching for an abundance of wildlife.

  • Lots of stops for bird-watching and photography.   
  • Guided tours are weather permitting and seating is limited. 
  • Standbys are accepted if space permits. 
  • Recommended for age 6 - adult. 
  • Bring your binoculars or borrow ours.
  • Meet at the visitor center 15 minutes before departure. 
  • School, church, families or other groups of 6 to 8 people may request a special group tram tour on days other than regularly scheduled tram tour days 
 Group Tram Tour

Register for a Tram Tour Today!

The Little Sit

Sunrise Bird Count and Photo Opportunity

Sunrise at the Little Sit by Laurie Sheppard

Photo by Cathy Van Bebber

Meet Jack and the Bird Census Team 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

Please register (optional) so we may inform you of unexpected changes. 

Click to enlarge map:

Early Bird Walk with Jack Chiles

Master Naturalist Jack Chiles will lead our Early Birding event, weather permitting. Bring binoculars or borrow ours.  Meet at the Visitor Center and return in time for the Second Saturday program.

Please Register (Optional) so we may inform you via email of unforseen changes/cancellations.

Photo by Jack Chiles

Second Saturday:  2024 Annual Work Plan for the Refuge with Paul Balkenbush, Deputy Refuge Manager

Saturday, February 10th, at 10:00 AM in the Visitor Center 

Spring Storm Beauty by Pam Rendall-Bass

Deputy Refuge Manager Paul Balkenbush will talk about the 2024 Annual Work Plan for the Refuge.

Paul was graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Conservation from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. In 1996 he earned a Master of Science degree from Oklahoma State University. His field of study was Wildlife and Fisheries Ecology. Paul is a Certified Fisheries Professional as qualified by the Board of Professional Certification...


Future Second Saturday Programs

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.

Scouts welcome!

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.  Contact Us if interested.

Thank You

To Our Contributors:

Renny Gehman, Jack Chiles, Cindy Steele

Thank You to the Generous Photographers:

Jack Chiles, Robert Chura, Tony Goza, Murali Hanabe, David Helton, Mick Jobert, Amber Lyne Leach, Randall Patterson, Mike Petrick,JRolinc Photography, Pam Rendall-Bass, Laurie Sheppard, Donnie Simmons, Snyder Yahya Steve, Mayve Strong, TOTAL Nature Photography, James Waghorne, Kitta Weinkauf Dory, Danielle Christine White, Bill Wilbur

Refuge Manager: Kathy Whaley

Deputy Refuge Manager: Paul Balkenbush

Visitor Services Manager: Spencer Beard 

Editors: Patricia Crain,  Laurie Sheppard

Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation

6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092

Phone: 903-786-2826

Contact Us  

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Events and activities hosted by the Friends of Hagerman are funded by donations and powered solely by volunteers.  There are no fees for admission to the refuge or parking; the refuge is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year, drive on any road unless gated.

6465 Refuge Road

Sherman, TX 75092



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 friendsofhagerman@gmail.com to your contacts to ensure delivery of registration confirmations, account information and the Featherless Flyer

See you at the refuge!

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