Snow birds flock 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, Texas, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge provides wetland habitat for thousands of Canada, Snow and Ross geese each winter along with ducks, heron and song birds. Cormorant troll the waterways their long necks like submarine periscopes; Great Blue Heron take wing, resembling huge prehistoric pterodactyl; 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 auto tour. Ideal for birders with limited mobility, the driving route allows visitors to see thousands of birds without ever leaving the car. Incredible flocks of geese grace the shoreline along the route. Your parked car serves as an effective birding blind to observe Ross and Snow geese – beautiful white birds with black-tipped wings.
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has recreational activities beyond birding. In addition to the auto route, several easily accessible hiking opportunities exist within the refuge. On the 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 wood land. The Meadow Pond trail is along an unpaved service road and can be traversed with a stroller for families with small children.
At the end of your auto tour or hike, take the opportunity to enjoy a lunch at one of the picnic areas. Anglers can also bring their rod and reel for year round fishing at the refuge (pond fishing is limited to April through September).
The area’s history is as interesting as the migratory birds wintering at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The 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 town was submerged when the Army Corps of Engineers built Denison Dam on the Red River creating one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the United States. The Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was established shortly thereafter in 1946 in the area near the former town site.
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is unique in other ways too. Amongst flocks of geese, you find oil rigs. The grasshopper-styled rigs date from 1951 when oil was discovered in nearby Big Mineral Creek. When 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 oil rigs have removed millions of gallons of oil and natural gas from the refuge.
Just as people impact nature, so too nature affects human efforts. To alleviate the impact thousands of geese might have on local farms, the fields within the refuge are cultivated each year with Japanese millet, mung bean and winter wheat. The management practice provides food for the migratory flocks and minimizes damage to nearby farm fields. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge appears to successfully balance all three activities – oil development, wildlife sanctuary and farm preservation.
So pack your lunch and head out for a winter hike to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Don’t forget your binoculars and bird book!
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, Texas; 903-786-2826; www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/ Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is a day use facility open from sunrise to sunset. Visit the Friends of Hagerman website for special activities and information on free tours and talks at the refuge.
Texas State Historical Association – www.tshaonline.org/handbook/
Friends of Hagerman – www.friendsofhagerman.com