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Mississippi Kite – The Graceful Gray Raptor

Article and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Adult Missippi Kite

As winter turns to spring, we all look forward to neotropical migrants returning to Grayson County and the refuge. Some are tiny and elusive, just passing through the area. Others, like Dickcissels, make their presence known singing loudly in the fields. One summer visitor that catches many people’s attention is the Mississippi Kite, soaring and diving over Wildlife Drive in groups of four or more, hunting for their favorite prey – insects!

Mississippi Kites are medium-sized birds of prey. They are long-distant migrants, wintering deep in subtropical South America and breeding primarily in the southern great plains of the United States. Grayson County is at the eastern edge of their primary breeding area, but a few pairs travel much further and stake out their own favored locations. Successful nests have been documented as far north as New Hampshire and Ohio. However, most nesting pairs fledge their young in north central Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Mating pair of Mississippi Kites

Mississippi Kites are monogamous, forming breeding pairs soon after arriving at their nesting sites. They may reuse old nests or create new ones from twigs and green leaves. Nests are often built 20-35 feet up in tall trees but on the plains, they may be as low as 6 feet. The nests are not always tightly formed and sometimes are lost to wind and weather. The adults continue to add leaves to the nest throughout the season. Both parents tend their eggs and feed their hatchlings. The young leave the nest in 4-5 weeks. They stay with their parents who continue to feed them for another 3-4 weeks, teaching them to hunt for themselves, and the family remains together even longer. These birds are social rather than territorial and often nest near other pairs in loose colonies.

Juvenile Mississippi Kites

The primary feeding behavior of Mississippi Kites is unlike most other raptors. Rather than hunting small ground-dwelling mammals and amphibians from a perch on a tree or high in the sky, these birds usually soar relatively low over an open field catching large insects in their talons. They eat grasshoppers, cicadas, and other insects while in flight, reaching forward with their feet to consume the bug, all while continuing to hunt for their next morsel. They may also fly over herds of cattle or horses, grabbing the insects that are stirred up by the larger animals. Occasionally, they will eat small birds, mammals, or lizards, too.

Hunting

Eating in the air

During the early part of the twentieth century, Mississippi Kite numbers began to fall, but by the 1950s they had begun to rebound, partly due to adaptation to urban surroundings, but likely also aided by the human practice of planting windbreaks around crop fields. Insects make up a huge part of the Mississippi Kite’s diet, and those windbreaks allow them to build nests close to a ready food source. Their presence near the crops is beneficial for the landowner as well, since the Mississippi Kites help control the number of destructive insects and other pests.

Although not an endangered species, the Mississippi Kite is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which specifies that birds, their eggs, and their nests must not be tampered 

with. Recently a tree was removed in a local neighborhood at the request of the homeowner, and as a result, a Mississippi Kite nest with one tiny hatchling was brought down. It was relocated to a nearby tree but unfortunately, the little bird did not survive. It’s a sad reminder that there are consequences from human interference in the nesting and fledging of wild birds.

Grayson County’s Mississippi Kites will begin leaving the area over the next two months, so enjoy them while you can, but don’t worry. They’ll return again next spring. You can start watching for them around the first of May each year.

Refuge Update:

The visitor center is open Monday through Saturday 9-4, Sunday 1-5.  Need an air conditioned outing?  Try the auto tour.

Recent Sightings:

 

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Giant swallowtail by Spencer Beard

Gulf fritillary by Brenda Edwards

 

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 Red-headed Woodpecker by Ananthanarayanan Thiagarjan / Kiran Photography

Grasshopper by Pam Rendall-Bass

Upcoming Activities:


The Friends of Hagerman is Hosting

14 Family Friendly Events in August!

Calendar of  Events 

Were YOU There?

All are welcome as a participant or a volunteer--A good time is had by all!

Click to enlarge images

Lotus Flower Photo Club field trip

Save the Date: October 14 is the Refuge Roundup!

Activities for the whole family!

  • Grand Opening of the Environmental Education Park
  • Snakes and Spiders on display
  • Monarch Tagging and Garden Walks with Docents on hand
  • Lectures on Nature Topics
  • And Much More! 

The Junior and Advanced Ranger Programs

Bring the kids on out to the refuge for a day of learning about nature with our newly updated Junior and Advanced Ranger Booklets.  Download them here and, when completed, come on in to the Visitor Center where the kids can say their pledge and receive their Junior Ranger badge!


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!


The Photo Club: Super Moon Photography Field Trip

Join us for a sunset and evening photo shoot at Hagerman NWR. This shoot will include sunset shots across the water and moonrise with the August 1st super moon. We will have permission to stay in the refuge after dark and will have opportunity to try out some light painting and other low exposure shots.

This event is limited to FOHNWR Nature Photography Club members only. Registration is not required. Click here to become a member of Friends of Hagerman and select a membership with Photo Club.

This shoot is weather permitting so please check back within 48 hours of the event for updates.

8:00pm. Meet at the 1st pad on Plover Drive (with the 2 pumpjacks). We will be there for sunset photos across the water. Sunset is predicted at 8:27pm.

8:57pm Moonrise. We should have many options to photograph the moon from the first and second pads as it rises. We can also try light painting on the pumpjacks or other long exposure shots. 

What to wear/bring: Hiking shoes, insect repellent, water, camera, and photography equipment. Tripod and flashlights recommended for the night/light painting shots. If you have any glowsticks or laser pointers those can also be fun for night shots.

Parking. Click for a Refuge Map. If you are able to walk a short distance, park on Wildlife Drive and then walk up Plover Road to the pads. There are not many spaces to park cars on the pads on Plover Drive. Please be aware that Plover Drive is gravel and driving too close to the pads will create dust and may interfere with people that have setup their cameras and equipment. Because of limited parking space, we will be utilizing the van which will leave the Visitor Center at 7:45pm.

For questions about this field trip, contact:

Field Trip Leader, Shawn Stone

Mobile 214-707-5495

Email shawn@stonelink.com

For questions about the photo club, contact:

Photo Club Leader, Lisa Wilkins

Email FOHphotoclub@gmail.com

In the event of any last minute changes to this event, such as cancellation due to bad weather, the FOH NWR website and Friends of Hagerman NWR Nature Photography Group on Facebook will be updated as soon as possible.

Friends of Hagerman NWR Annual Nature Photo Contest

Every year in September, the Friends of Hagerman Photo Club sponsors a nature-themed photo contest.  For a small fee per photo, photographers may enter as many photos as they wish. 

All photographers are invited to participate in the contest, regardless of age or skill level.  Divisions include Beginner and Intermediate/Advanced: all photographers, including youth, are welcome!

Ribbons will be awarded for First, Second, and Third place in each of four categories and in both divisions (Beginner and Advanced/Intermediate). In addition, a cash prize will be awarded for First Place in each category, and the photos judged as “Best of Show” and “Youth Best in Show”. Winners will be determined by a panel of judges, who will review the submitted photos without reference to entrant name.

Winners’ photographs will be displayed at the Refuge Visitor Center and published on the Friends of Hagerman website, Facebook page and other venues. The Nature Photo Contest Committee will coordinate and conduct the contest for the Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman NWR.

  • All photos entered in the contest must have been taken within Hagerman NWR boundaries within the past five years.  
  • Entries will be accepted from September 1st through September 30 of every year.
  • Categories include: Landscapes, Flora and Macro, Artistic, and Wildlife. 
  • Winners will be announced at the November Second Saturday presentation.


The 2023 Friends of Hagerman Online Auction


Join Us With a Membership

The Friends of Hagerman Board of Directors

Dues From Memberships 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, mowing the trails, picking up trash, painting and 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 friendsofhagerman.com  website 


Join Online Today!   An individual membership is $10

Birding with Jack: Updated, Weekly Census Results

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.

Click to enlarge images.

Tricolored Heron

Painted Bunting

Spotted Sandpiper

Ruddy Duck

It was another hot, dry one for today's census. The current lake level is above 618 ft above sea level so there is no mudflats for shorebirds to feed on. The only shorebirds we saw were 5 Spotted Sandpipers a shorebird that likes to hang around the rocky edges of the lake. There was a Tricolored Heron in Myers Branch marsh and also a couple of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons feeding near the north shore. One very nice find today was a breeding plumage Ruddy Duck sitting off the end of Tern Pad with a Neotropic Cormorant and a pair of Canada Geese. We also found another Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Meadow Pond. There were 5 Least Terns off the end of Plover Pad. There was a Green Heron in Taylor Pond. The Red-headed Woodpeckers are still in the Harris Creek Trail area near headquarters. We saw a Western Kingbird on the far west side of the refuge a bird that has been very scarce on the refuge this year. There were 3 Loggerhead Shrikes on Short Road. We heard a Summer Tanager singing north of Dead Woman Pond. We found 15 Painted buntings and finished the day with 58 species. Today's photos, Tricolored Heron, Painted Bunting in a Button Bush, a Spotted Sandpiper and a distant shot of a breeding plumage Ruddy Duck siting with a Neotropic Cormorant and a pair of Canada Geese. Enjoy your week and try to stay cool.


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

Hagerman Bluebirds


Five Livestreamed Bluebirds Successfully Fledged


The first Eastern Bluebird nest livestreamed in the visitor center was a huge success!  All five nestlings made their way safely into the world July 21 - 22, and visitors to the visitor center enjoyed watching their progress.  

Thank you Gene and Nancy Cushion and John Van Bebber for making this possible! 

Watch for the 2023 Nestbox summary in next month's Featherless Flyer!

Butterfly Garden Walks

Enjoy a stroll through the 1/4 acre Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  Garden docents on hand to help you identify the Texas native plants and the butterflies in the garden.  Come on your own or bring the family.  Use our close-focus butterfly binoculars to get a really CLOSE look.  Special activities for families available: scavenger hunts, meet the Metamorphosis Puppet and more. Garden walks are Come and Go or Come and Stay. The garden is free of charge and open to the public during Refuge hours.

Do you love butterflies and native plants? Do you enjoy being outdoors and meeting new people? If so, then consider joining a group of volunteers who serve as docents in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. New volunteer garden docents are always welcome and training is provided: simply attend a scheduled Butterfly Docent Meeting, or Contact Us for more information.

Registration is not necessary


Pipevine Swallowtail by Laurie Sheppard

The Little Sit

Sunrise Bird Count


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

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

Photo by Laurie Sheppard

Early Bird Walk with Jack Chiles

Early Bird Walks have been cancelled until cooler weather.

Second Saturday: Kim Snipes' Prehistoric Grayson County Presented by Wayne Meyer

Saturday, August 12 at 10:00 AM in the Visitor Center 

Grayson County is well-known for its rich fossil deposits. In this talk, which Kim presented to the Grayson County Historical Society and to the Natural History Museum of Grayson County we look at how Grayson County got to be such a rich depository and what species are most well-known. We also speculate on some other organisms that almost certainly were present but which have not yet been found. Lastly we discuss the end of the age of dinosaurs.

Kim Snipes was an adjunct lecturer and safety officer for the biology department at Austin College. She died of cancer in November 2022, five years after losing her vision. She continued to teach and serve students almost until the very end. Her husband, Wayne Meyer will be presenting her talk in her memory.

Future Second Saturday Programs

The Refuge Rocks! Programs for Children

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

    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
    Register

    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




Future Refuge Rocks Programs


Puddles' Craft Corner

Hop on Over to the Frog Pond!

By Cindy Steele, Master Naturalist


 

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Welcome back to Puddles’ Craft Corner! It’s a warm summer evening and the bugs are floating around the pond. All of a sudden, as it starts to get dark, you start to hear those familiar sounds of a summer evening…frogs! All at once, they’re everywhere…all around you. The sound is almost deafening. As most frogs are nocturnal animals, their unmistakable concerts occur throughout the night. The frogs can seem to compete with one another for a slot in the stream of sound waves. Every second is filled with calls and signals, mainly for the purpose of finding a mate. In almost all frog species, only males call. In fact, that noise you hear in your backyard pond, local creek or lake is a sweet serenade- male frogs calling to attract female frogs.

They hop, they jump, some of them stick to windows - frogs! Frogs come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and can be found almost anywhere in the world.  Add to that one of the most interesting life cycles on earth, and it's no wonder that people everywhere are...

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!

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:

Laurie Sheppard, Jack Chiles, Cindy Steele


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  

Join us on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/FOHNWR

www.facebook.com/groups/HagermanPhotoClub

Search for any word--do not use quotes for phrases

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

friendsofhagerman@gmail.com

            

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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