Thursday

Growing Redfish

New Red Drum Broodstock Arrive at TPWD Hatchery




Fresh from the Gulf, adult red drum have arrived at our Corpus Christi hatchery to breed more redfish. These ‘broodstock’ will be released back into the wild and their spawn will be stocked into Texas bays in coming months.

Many old salts will remember in the late 1970s and early 1980s when red drum all but disappeared from our bays. Management measures were adopted in the late 1980s which included banning commercial netting, implementation of bag and size limits and the designation of red drum as a game fish. 

In addition to implementing these traditional management measures, Coastal Fisheries began a stocking program to enhance the wild population of red drum. The first red drum fingerings were stocked in 1983 and about 30 million are stocked in Texas bays each year. While stocking red drum to enhance the wild population had not been done before, it has proven to be a successful and important part of our management program. 

Thanks to these management measures and research into the mysteries of red drum life history, the fishery has recovered to arguably one of the best in the nation, and represents one of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – Coastal Fisheries' greatest success stories.

Wednesday

Wildlife Conservation Day

Texas Game Wardens fight illegal wildlife trafficking



A call to action was put out by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 to raise awareness and engage conservationists on Wildlife Conservation Day, December 4.

During the “Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action” event held at the State Department on November 8, 2012, Secretary Clinton outlined the White House’s strategy to address the global problem of wildlife trafficking. 

Wildlife cannot be manufactured, and once it’s gone, it cannot be replenished," she said. "Those who profit from it illegally are not just undermining our borders and our economies, they are truly stealing from the next generation.” 

In Texas, there's a large wildlife black market that’s generating millions of dollars in illegal trade and having detrimental effects on our wildlife. Texas has become a hot spot in wildlife trafficking because of the state’s rich biodiversity, cultural diversity and international borders and ports.

Texas game wardens, charged with protecting Texas wildlife, have stepped up their efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade. They’re trying to keep sought-after Texas species such as turtles, tortoises and alligator gar from leaving the state while also trying to prevent dangerous species such as piranhas and snakehead fish from entering. In addition, they’ve worked cases to shut down illegal trade involving protected species such as bald eagles, American alligators and hummingbirds.

“The illegal sale and exploitation of wildlife resources is a global problem that has a direct negative effect on the state of Texas and could lead to the loss of Texas native species, either through the harvest of native species or introduction of nonindigenous invasive species,” says Col. Grahame Jones, law enforcement director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In 2013, TPWD game wardens joined with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other states and three Asian countries to crack down on internet wildlife crimes, resulting in 61 state and federal cases in Texas. Items seized in Texas included a Russian Amur leopard pelt, a hawksbill sea turtle, Texas tortoises (a threatened species heavily exploited by the pet trade), invasive freshwater stingrays and numerous snakes.

Whether it’s trucks full of finned sharks or bald eagle talons being sold at the Canton flea market, Texas game wardens are working to protect the state’s wildlife from the growing global illegal wildlife trade.

“It’s a significant problem,” says John Padgett, a game warden in the Dallas area who focuses on nongame enforcement, including wildlife trafficking cases. “When you see several hundred hummingbirds come in one shipment, you know you’re just touching the tip of the iceberg. You catch a shipment of a couple hundred turtles here and 50 turtles there, and maybe they’re not depleting them, but they’re sure knocking their numbers down. The animals weren’t designed to be taken like that. It’s probably a lot more widespread than anybody thinks because we just catch the ones we catch. How many get away with it?”

Tuesday

Thanksgiving in the Park

Walk off that pie at your favorite Texas park




Some families have a tradition of spending Thanksgiving in a Texas state park, bringing along all the fixings and enjoying their feast beneath the colors of fall leaves. 

Those campers and day-pass users can also join in on activities that help burn off those extra calories, such as the 2nd Annual Turkey Trot 5K at South Llano River State Park, the Turkey Pass (or Pass the Turkey) Hike at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area or the Thanksgiving Gobble Wobble at Caddo Lake State Park

Ray Roberts Lake State Park’s Johnson Unit will be hosting a day of Thanksgiving celebrations beginning at 9 a.m. Nov. 23. Families can learn to cook a Dutch oven dish for Thanksgiving this year and try samples of different Dutch oven cuisines. At 11 a.m., there will be crafts and a game hosted in honor of the turkey. The day finishes off with a trap ball turkey tournament at 2 p.m.

The fun doesn’t end on Thursday as we encourage you to #OptOutside instead of heading to the mall for Black Friday sales. OptOutside activities include sunrise and afternoon hikes at many parks and the 12th Annual “Walk Off the Bird” Bird Walk at Tyler State Park.
You can find all kinds of events at Texas state parks at their event page: tpwd.texas.gov/calendar.

Wednesday

Ready for Rainbows?

TPWD Stocks Rainbow Trout Fingerlings 




Would you rather have Jack Frost nipping at your nose or rainbow trout nipping at your line? If you chose trout, get ready – we begin stocking rainbows at parks in December. See the stocking schedule for specific dates.

Fishing is always free at state parks, and you can borrow fishing gear at many parks through our tackle loaner program. Just bring bait and a smile! 

Trout stocking is one of our most popular programs because they're delicious and fun to catch. Fishing is enjoyed by all ages and a great way to get outside and make memories with family and friends. Try it – catching rainbows might become a new holiday tradition.

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.

Thursday

Wildlife Week - Tarantula Hunter

They mean death for tarantulas and can painfully sting us





One of the most conspicuous of Texas’ invertebrates, tarantula-hawk wasps (genus Pepsis) are also one of our most fascinating. These big wasps could certainly be described as beautiful with their iridescent, blue-black bodies and their wings and antennae that can be metallic black, orange or red. What’s most interesting about these wasps, however, is their namesake behavior: hunting tarantulas. 

I admire any hunter that specializes in prey larger than itself, particularly if that prey has the substantial defensive weaponry of a tarantula. But the tarantula-hawk wasp takes on the challenge without fear, not only hunting tarantulas at the ground level but also being so bold as to enter occupied tarantula burrows, forcing the spider to the surface for an attack. 

If you are lucky enough to see the battle, settle in and take advantage of a rarely seen show. 

After a tense face-off, the tarantula-hawk wasp makes its move: darting under the tarantula and biting a hind leg while using its own hind legs to hold the tarantula’s fangs out of biting range. Then, in a bold wrestling move, the tarantula hawk flips the tarantula on its back and delivers the coup de grace: a sting, usually at the base of the first leg (a veritable chink in the tarantula’s armor) that paralyzes the tarantula in seconds.

Then the tarantula’s day gets even worse. The immobilized but still-alive tarantula is carried back to a burrow, where the tarantula-hawk wasp lays a single egg. Like a tomb, the burrow is then sealed until the egg hatches, and the wasp larva begins to feast on the living tarantula. Although chances for survival are slim, all hope is not lost for the tarantula. In at least one species, if the wasp egg does not hatch, the venom will eventually wear off, allowing the tarantula to make a full recovery. 

Aside from their behavior toward tarantulas, adult tarantula-hawk wasps are, for the most part, docile vegetarians, feeding primarily on nectar. About 13 of the 250-plus species of tarantula-hawk wasps occur in Texas. Body lengths typically measure up to 2 inches, though the largest of the South American species can reach lengths up to 2½ inches.

They are easily observed up close, being active during the day, particularly morning and evenings, when females can be found engaged in a fast-paced search for prey, apparently unthreatened and unafraid of humans or any other would-be predator. 

Justin Schmidt from the University of Arizona hypothesizes that this confidence has arisen from the female tarantula-hawk wasp’s spectacular ability to inflict pain. Schmidt is well qualified to make this claim: As creator of the Schmidt sting pain index, he has been stung by more species of pain-inducing invertebrates from around the world than most of us care to think about. On the Schmidt sting pain index, tarantula-hawk wasps hold an infamous distinction as one of only three insects to attain the highest possible rating of 4 or “traumatically painful.” 

For perspective, the rather aggressive red wasps (Polistes carolina and Polistes exclamans) that are common throughout much of Texas get a 2, merely “painful.” 

Schmidt has described the pain of the tarantula-hawk wasp as “immediate, intense, excruciating, and totally debilitating. The pain is so debilitating and excruciating that few, if any, can maintain normal coordination or cognitive control” if stung. 

Despite the sobering warning, humans have little to fear from tarantula-hawk wasps. They don’t show unprovoked aggression toward humans, and in the unfortunate event of a sting, the pain completely subsides after a few minutes, leaving no permanent damage. 

Their bold coloration and charismatic swagger make tarantula-hawk wasps an entertaining and welcome addition to the Texas landscape.

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.

Wednesday

Wildlife Week - Box Turtles

These Texas treasures come packaged in protective, decorative shells



On a recent walk in the woods, our family dog returned from his travels with a “treasure” gripped firmly in his jaws. He ran straight to me, obediently dropped his package at my feet and proudly looked up awaiting his reward — a heartfelt “good boy!” Upon closer inspection, I noticed that this gift was a little different from his customary offerings. I reached down and picked up a slobbery, slimy and somewhat disoriented three-toed box turtle.

Just mention the name “box turtle” and it brings about a flood of fond childhood memories for most Texans. I doubt that there is any other type of turtle in our state so warmly welcomed by the masses, so loved that it could possibly compete with the beloved Texas horned lizard in a reptile popularity contest. Box turtles were once common throughout the state, but recent population declines have been a cause for concern.

There are two species of box turtles found in Texas — the eastern box turtle and the ornate box turtle. Three representative subspecies occur in Texas. The eastern box turtle is represented by the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis). The ornate box turtle has two subspecies: the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) and the desert box turtle (Terrapene ornata luteola).

Box turtles can be found statewide, with each subspecies generally occupying a different area of the state. The desert box turtle inhabits the southwest, the three-toed box turtle resides in the eastern portion of our state, and the ornate box turtle generally enjoys a more statewide distribution. Box turtles are omnivorous, with a diet of insects, snails, slugs, fruits, berries, plants and sometimes carrion.

These unique turtles acquired their name from the hinge on their shell that allows them to completely shut the shell when threatened. This adaptation protects the turtle from its natural enemies, which are not thought to be the most likely culprits in recent population declines. Habitat loss and collection for the pet trade are the more likely reasons for the decline.

These turtles occupy a very small home range, which means that when they are removed from an area for any reason, they generally do not recolonize that area. They are also long-lived, having been documented with a lifespan of up to 50 years. Because of this long life expectancy, they take between five and 10 years to reach maturity, and produce relatively few offspring. These biological constraints add to the already daunting task of rebounding from population and habitat losses.

To enable us to better manage their populations and to gain more information about these turtles, TPWD tracks box turtle sightings. You can help by completing the form at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/boxturtles if you happen to encounter a box turtle. We hope these efforts will allow for future generations to look back at their fond childhood memories of these interesting “treasures.” 

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.

Tuesday

Wildlife Week - Skeleton Shrimp

Tiny monsters lurk in the shallows off the Texas Coast



Ever find yourself jumping in  your seat when a fascinating yet horrible monster pops out on the movie screen? Even though you cover your eyes, you still venture a peek between fingers to get another glimpse.

Real animals often serve as models for some of Hollywood’s scariest inventions. It wouldn’t be surprising if a certain type of amphipod — small crustaceans found along the Texas coast — inspired man-eating aliens in a series of blockbusters. Even its name is scary: skeleton shrimp.

Skeleton shrimp, a small, unusual group of amphipods, are not really shrimp at all. Shrimp have 10 pairs of legs, but most amphipods have only seven (certain skeleton shrimp have as few as five). With a long, stick-like body and large claw-like appendages (gnathopods), skeleton shrimp look like the translucent offspring of an aquatic praying mantis and a walking stick.

If you want to search Texas beaches for these living monsters, bring a magnifying glass. Of the nine species of skeleton shrimp recorded from Texas coastal waters, the largest are only about one inch long; the smallest, less than a quarter-inch long. 

Aside from their small size, skeleton shrimp are masters of disguise. They use their hind legs to grasp onto their favorite substrate, and then allow their bodies, antennae and remaining appendages to wave in the water, blending in like a small piece of algae. They can be found attached to a variety of surfaces, including mangrove roots, eel grass, floating debris and the sargassum that washes up on beaches. 

Depending on the species, skeleton shrimp feed on a variety of material, including detritus (a mixture of living and dead plant and algal material and microorganisms), plants, algae and small animals, including other skeleton shrimp. Despite their terrifying close-ups, they are much too small to pose any threat to people. 

When piles of sargassum make fishing on the beach difficult, put down your pole and collect a small bucket of the stuff. Look closely and find the eerie world of skeleton shrimp, perched like their bony namesakes in a forest neighborhood of odd residents.

Pull out your magnifying glass or zoom your camera in for a closer look at what might be the next Hollywood monster.

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.

Monday

Wildlife Week - Streetwise Grackles

Mobs of great-tailed grackles call cities home




If you’ve ever dined on an outdoor restaurant patio in Austin, you’ll remember the laser gun vocalizations and bold presence of the great-tailed grackle. You can’t leave your plate unattended for even a moment without the streetwise thief snatching a morsel.

This noisy, gregarious bird has not been deeply rooted in much of the Lone Star State for long. Some early writings on Texas avifauna (including J.K. Strecker Jr.’s 1912 checklist The Birds of Texas) found the great-tailed grackle only in South Texas, from San Antonio to Corpus Christi and south to the Rio Grande Valley. 

Another barometer of Texas birds, H.C. Oberholser’s 1974 book Bird Life of Texas, claims the grackle did not arrive in Fort Worth until 1944 (and in Dallas until 1947). The explosion northward throughout Texas (and beyond) caught steam after World War II when Texans flocked from rural areas to the cities. These now-urban birds are as ubiquitous in cities as pigeons, rats and roaches.

There really is safety in numbers, which is one reason for the success in this species. During breeding season, males carefully guard harems of females with their young, reacting viciously toward perceived predators. Near the nest colony, grackles overwhelm visitors with numbers and noise. 

The colonies can be large and are considered a nuisance by many. Anyone who parks a vehicle under a shady tree full of these nesting or sleeping birds soon regrets the decision because the droppings are not easy to scrub off.

Slender and long, male great-tailed grackles are iridescent black with a long shovel-scooped tail; females are smaller in drabber shades of brown and black. The voice of the displaying males is elaborate, with a variety of sounds, some sounding like a laser gun in a movie. 

These city birds forage in open areas such as parking lots, in search of scraps from cars or garbage cans, and they forage lawns for anything that crawls. They sometimes even follow behind a lawnmower.

At one time, this species and its close relative, the boat-tailed grackle, a resident of coastal marshes straddling the Gulf Coast, were considered one species. Both are glossy black and noisy and congregate in sizeable flocks. There are slight differences, however, which have resulted in the split into two species. 

The male great-tailed has pale yellow eyes, while the boat-tailed in Texas has brown eyes. The forehead and crown are very flat on the great-tailed, while that of the boat-tailed is slightly rounded or humped. This gives their heads very different profiles. 

While you won’t find the boat-tailed grackle very far from coastal marshes with brackish water, the great-tailed grackle has a far greater range, one that continues to expand northward with the aid of the growing (human) urban population.

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.

Sunday

Big Bend Ranch State Park Hosts Annual Fiesta Today

Rugged West Texas park celebrates 10th anniversary




Big Bend Ranch State Park is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a free fiesta Nov. 3 at the Sauceda Ranger Station located in the middle of the park. 

“Big Bend Ranch State Park offers a unique wilderness experience within the state parks system tied with spectacular night skies and scenery,” says Mark Lockwood, Regional Director for Texas State Parks. “The expansion of access within the park that started 10 years ago has introduced this rugged park of Texas to a generation of outdoor enthusiasts.”

The event begins at 10 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. Walt Dabney, former director of Texas State Parks, career ranger and past national chief ranger for the National Park Service will give the keynote presentation and speak about the history of public lands, public lands in Texas and the BBRSP acquisition.

The fiesta includes activities such as guided hikes and bike rides, horseback rides, jeep tours, birding activities, a variety of vendors and entertainment, and barbecue. There will also be geology, archeology and birding tours throughout the day.

Fiesta details, schedules and bike ride registration are available on the Compadres del Ranch Grande website

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.

Saturday

Texas Deer Hunters Welcome Cooler Weather for Opening Weekend

New mandatory harvest reporting required for antlerless deer harvest




Deer hunters hoping for a change in the weather may be in luck for opening weekend of general deer season as weather forecasters predict cooler temperatures across the state. With an estimated 5.3 million deer in the statewide white-tailed deer population, Texas hunters heading to the field this fall are sure to fill their freezers with this season’s bounty.

“Good fawn production this year should help maintain the overall population and provide an abundance of deer for hunters to pursue,” said Alan Cain, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s white-tailed deer program leader. “We’ve seen a slow but steady growth in the statewide population over the last 15 years, particularly in areas such as the Hill Country, Oak Prairies and portions of the Cross Timbers. As a result of the growing population, we’ve expanded hunting season opportunities in the last several years, including a couple of changes to the antlerless season in 2019.”

For the first time, 21 counties in south-central Texas can partake in a four-day antlerless season that runs from Nov. 28- Dec. 1.

Any antlerless deer harvested during the archery, youth-only, muzzleloader, and the 4 doe-days during the general season is required to be reported to the department within 24 hours of harvest using either the “My Texas Hunt Harvest” mobile app (for iOS and Android) or on TPWD’s My Texas Hunt Harvest web page.

Counties required to report their harvest include Austin, Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, Dewitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Waller, Washington and Wilson. Also included in the change are Goliad, Jackson, Victoria and Wharton counties north of U.S. Highway 59 and Comal, Hays and Travis counties east of IH-35.

The change in weather may be what is needed to jump start deer movement which has been slow during archery season due to unseasonably warm temperatures.  As hunting conditions improve with cooler temperatures, hunters can expect an above average year in terms of antler quality, deer numbers and overall harvest.

“Despite a slow start to archery and MLDP (Managed Lands Deer Program) season, I’m hearing of some exceptional bucks being harvested including an incredible 214 gross Boone and Crockett score low-fenced buck from La Salle County,” said Cain. “I’ve talked to a number of hunters and landowners who have been scouting at their lease or hunting property for the upcoming general season and are reporting good antler quality as well. I think hunter excitement is high this season and hunters have lots to look forward to.”

The general gun season opener kicks off on Nov. 2 and runs through Jan. 5, 2020 in north Texas and Jan. 19, 2020 in south Texas. A late youth-only season is also slated for Jan. 6-19, 2020. For additional late season deer hunting opportunities and county specific regulations, consult the 2019-2020 Outdoor Annual of hunting and fishing regulations.

Hunters are also reminded to review the TPWD chronic wasting disease regulations for information about CWD testing requirements and carcass movement restrictions for the 2019-2020 season. Also as a reminder, Texas hunters harvesting deer, elk, moose or other susceptible species in other CWD-positive states must also comply with carcass movement restrictions when bringing those harvested animals back into Texas.  Additionally, the Texas Animal Health Commission has mandatory testing requirements that apply to elk, red deer, sika, moose and reindeer.

Share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine to get more tips like this. We have an all access subscription offer.