#InTheWildHood - The Water Edition

There's a high pressure system sitting on top of West Texas right now and it's bringing the heat.  Be it our western mountains, eastern bayous, northern plains, southern valleys or central hills, this weekend we'll all be passing 100 degrees. Well, except the beach. If you're at the beach it'll be hot, but it won't be hitting the century mark. 

A perfect antidote to that kind of hot is water. 

© Sharon B. | #InTheWildHood  

The gorgeous photos of cooling oases in this post are just a handful of the hundreds of submissions we've already received for our In The Wild Hood photo contest. They represent the roughly 15 rivers, 3700 named streams and 7000 lakes and reservoirs dotting the Texas landscape. All-in-all not a bad proposition if you're looking for a way to keep cool. 

Blanco river
© Elizabeth M. | #InTheWildHood  (Blanco River)

Our July 2016 Wanderlist can help you pick a state park with fresh or salt water recreation close to where you are. Make sure you check in with each park for any closures or special instructions. If you're already out and about and decide to head to refreshing hydration you may prefer to listen for places you can go. This week's Under the Texas Sky podcast gives an overview of some of Texas' best swimming holes. 

Lake Amistad
© Eric Diaz | #InTheWildHood  (Lake Amistad)

And while you're enjoying one of our beautiful Texas water locations this weekend, don't forget to pick up your camera or camera phone and snap a picture. Entering the In The Wild Hood summer photo contest is quick and easy.  If you need inspiration, photographers Earl Nottingham and Chase Fountain have a gorgeous photo essay in our current Summer Dreams issue. 

Santa Elena Canyon
© G.B. | #InTheWildHood  (Santa Elena Canyon)

However you decide to enjoy the waters of Texas, please stay safe and keep cool as the temperature soars!

For more great content on places to see in Texas, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


#InTheWildHood — The Hawk Edition

Full disclosure — I took none of the photos in this post. They are all submissions from our In The Wild Hood photo contest.

Like the rest of our magazine staff, I've been teleworking for over three months. Our group is small and geographically scattered along a 100 mile stretch of IH35. Still, we are used to seeing each other in the office each weekday. Now we converse using virtual meeting and chat tools. An unforeseen benefit of this is that, thanks to TEAMS, I know precisely when the hawks first starting hanging out in my backyard.

Wildlife in my yard is no new phenomenon. While I am one of the 86% of Texans that live in an urban area, a greenbelt trails through my subdivision — heavily wooded, full of hidden karsts, and with a dry, limestone creek bed that fills with water during heavy rains. One finger of it sits directly behind my house, and to fully benefit from it's beauty, we long-ago removed a privacy fence and gate.

© Kat P. | #InTheWildHood

Over the years we've had the full array of urban wildlife; the occasional deer, cute little bunnies, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it ringtail, the ubiquitous 'possums, raccoons and armadillos, and the more thrilling foxes and coyotes. And birds of course — many, many different birds. You'd think then that I'd be immune to the allure of a gliding hawk, but you'd be wrong.

There are two of them, a nesting pair I assume, and my first view of them was June 16 when one flew across my deck at the exact eye-level of my office chair. It was so close that, had a window not been between us, I could have reached out to touch it's gleaming feathers. Since then we have seen or heard them several times a day. Occasionally, as was the case this morning, I see them catch their prey and settle with it on a tree branch. All of these sightings I exuberantly (as much as that's possible in writing) share with my work friends on chat.

There's some debate in my neighborhood as to whether they are red-tailed hawks or red-shouldered hawks. I tend to think the latter based on a rather distinct call they make to each other. But I am not an ornithologist. 

© Bill W. | #InTheWildHood

What I do know is that they are here, in my backyard, every day. The squirrel population, which was abundant and very loud at the start of my teleworking adventure, is suddenly suspiciously absent. My cats no longer cry to go outside in the day time: one in fact was diagnosed with anxiety by his vet, and the timeline of symptoms matches the appearance of the hawks exactly. And each time I see them swoop down into my yard, I grab wildly for my phone but never quite get that perfect photo I long for.
It's possible that there have always been hawks in my backyard. After all, I have 5 large live oaks, a small ornamental pond and the beauty of forested green space a stone's throw from my deck. So maybe it's not that they are new, but rather that my being at home every day to experience them is what is new. 

© Cherish T. | #InTheWildHood

It's a beautiful thought, really, that majestic wild creatures can be there every single day if you just look for them. Even in your own backyard.

And many of you seem to agree judging from all the fabulous entries in our In The Wild Hood summer photo contest. You don't have to go far to find and capture (on film) the beauty of nature. Sometimes it comes to you. Now, if I could only get a photo...
If you enjoy articles about native Texas species and want to learn more, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


American Zoo Day

One of my earliest memories is going to the San Antonio Zoo as a toddler. It was a hot, Memorial Day weekend and a photographer asked to take my picture. I'd like to think it was my nascent wit that captured his attention, but in reality it was the chocolate ice cream melting across my chubby-cheeked face. Regardless, the photo was taken and published in the Memorial Day edition of the Express-News. My proverbial 15-minutes of fame tied inexorably to a zoo. The San Antonio Zoo remains our family go-to, so much so that a gibbon panel there served as an ongoing family activity for well over a decade.

Child displayed turns 19 on American Zoo Day 2020. Complete coincidence.

Zoos are the perfect place to build shared family memories. They are a place where you can see animals you might never have a chance to glimpse in the wild. 

But zoos have evolved to become so much more. While the public sees animals in their exhibits and enclosures, behind-the-scenes zoos have become leaders in animal conservation for both native and exotic species.

Today on American Zoo Day — which commemorates the opening of the country's first zoo, The Philadelphia Zoo, on July 1, 1874 — we'd like to share with you all a little of the conservation efforts of our own Texas zoos!  

Read an excerpt below from Russell Roe's story, "The Changing Face of Zoos" from the June issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. 

On a cold and drizzly weekday afternoon at the Houston Zoo, zookeepers give elephants a drink from a hose and show visitors the zoo's three generations of giraffes: grandma, mom and baby. Behind a large, fenced-off section, workers busily construct the zoo's groundbreaking new South American Pantanal exhibit. 

That same day, far beyond the zoo walls, employees carry out tasks less visible but increasingly important to the future of zoos: releasing egg strands of the endangered Houston toad into the wild and teaching elephant keepers in Thailand how to treat elephant herpes.

Today you can still see groups of schoolkids in matching shirts ooh and ahh over exotic animals. But Texas zoos are evolving, becoming leaders in local and worldwide conservation, with a unique role to play in saving wild creatures.

“It’s a role that zoos have been playing for a long time,” says Houston Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke. “We’re bringing it to a higher level of visibility and effectiveness. [The world is] losing habitat and wildlife, and zoos have the potential to do significant things to combat that.”

Zoo engage in conservation by performing fieldwork in far-flung places, serving as “arks” harboring rare species, educating millions of visitors and operating captive breeding programs.

Many Texas zoos, especially those certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, do significant work to protect and save wildlife and habitat. Two Texas zoos — Houston and Fort Worth — are undergoing massive transformations, with conservation as the guiding force.

To read more about the changing face of Texas zoos, visit our website or better yet, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


National Pollinator Week Captured By Our Readers

It's complete happenstance that the launch of our In The Wild Hood summer photo contest coincides with National Pollinator Week. Pinky swear! But we have to admit some of our early submissions are tailor made to highlight this annual observance.

We love these shots of pollinators in action and would love it even more if the contributors had included their names with their photo submissions. 

When you enter your contest photos, don't forget that we want to know who you are!

National Pollinator Week is a celebration of the bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles that provide an invaluable service to our ecosystem. More importantly, by shining a spotlight on these essential creatures we can continue to address the issue of declining pollinator populations.

Interested in learning how you can help our native Texas pollinators? Read more in the pages of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

You don't have to be a subscriber to our enter our #InTheWildHood summer photo contest, but it sure can't hurt! For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


You Can Still Get Outside - Snap Some Photos While You Do!


© Sonja Sommerfeld/TPWD

The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the U.S., weaving its way into the fabric of human life and social connection. But humans have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation — the outdoors.

Many large cities in Texas issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the virus. Though social isolation is great for slowing the spread of the virus, the resulting loneliness can cause higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity and other negative health impacts.

As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. Luckily, the outdoors can counter those ill effects (still keeping in mind appropriate social distancing). Being in or around nature has shown time and time again to produce positive health effects in humans.

In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality and general happiness. 

© Trong Nguyen |

Though it is not fully proven, some evidence suggests that vitamin D from sunlight may even help protect individuals from becoming infected with, and developing symptoms of, coronavirus.

Forest bathing, or nature therapy, has become a popular technique to promote the health benefits of being outside. Exposure to green space has been proven to induce relaxation.

Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they would be participating in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.

Most Texas state parks are open, though some restrictions and capacity limits are in place. “No one is more pleased than us to welcome more outdoor enthusiasts back into state parks as part of the continued reopening of Texas,” said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Even in this limited capacity, we are glad that we can get more Texans and their families safely back on the trails and in the campsites to enjoy all the many unique spaces and places that make Texas state parks so special.”

© Chase Fountain/TPWD

People are also interacting with outdoor spaces closer to home. Leave No Trace, an outdoor nonprofit, conducted a survey on how COVID-19 has affected the way individuals spend time outdoors and found that there was a decrease in participation level in travel-based activities, such as camping, climbing and backpacking, while activities that could be conducted in a residential area, such as running, birding and gardening, increased.

These closer-to-home activities still prove to be effective, as humans need only two hours minimum per week outside to reap the benefits. Even merely looking out the window increases satisfaction and decreases stress. Birding from the comfort of your neighborhood also promotes better mental health.

So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! You don’t need to travel far to find the peace that nature provides — all you have to do is simply walk out the door.

And while you're outside, whether in your backyard or elsewhere in Texas, why not enter our In The Wild Hood photo contest! Submit photos of the wild see you see all around you and submit them online in one easy step. 

© Kristina Kostova |

To learn more about all the outdoor wonders that Texas has to offer, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


Don't Forget Dad!

Father's Day really, really trailed in the wake of Mother's Day

Attempts to establish a day to honor fathers can be traced back to at least 1908, and had support from churches, civic groups and even President Woodrow Wilson. But by and large there seemed to be little real interest from the general public.

As historian Bret Carroll, Ph.D., writes, "Many men scoffed at the holiday's sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or derided the proliferation of such a holiday as a commercial gimmick to sell more products."

He has a point. The biggest push to keep Father's Day in the public eye seems to have been from retailers. During the Great Depression, businesses quickly recognized that a gift-giving holiday midway through the year was a good opportunity to keep themselves afloat until Christmas. By 1935, advertising efforts in the tobacco, tie and shirt industries were coordinated as "Give Dad Something to Wear," by the Father's Day Council. The advent of World War II, with fathers leaving to defend family, home and country, increased the popularity of the nascent holiday. 

It wasn't until 1972, however, that Congress officially authorized Father's Day as a permanent day of observance. Today it is the 5th most popular occasion for sending greeting cards and gifts that represent both the work and play in which dads engage.

Father's Day does seem inherently different than Mother's Day somehow. On Mother's Day we tend to honor mom with flowers, gifts and brunch. But Father's Day? Maybe it's its placement at the beginning of the summer season, but who doesn't have a Father's Day memory rife with baseball, bbq, fishing or going to the beach? It just feels like a perfect day to be outside.

And if you aren't able to spend this Father's Day outside with your dad, you can still give him the next best thing. Help him enjoy the outdoors all year long, even when you can't be there, with a subscription to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

If your dad prefers the feel of paper, give him one year of our print issues for $10.  For dads that like the latest in tech, give him a year of our mobile app for $10.  Or hey, it's your DAD! Give him both for $15!

Whether the dads in your life like tales of huntingfishingtravelbirdingcampinghiking, or just love photos that soothe the soul, don't worry — we have you covered this Father's Day. 


Be a Bat Superhero

Bat emergence on South Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin

For variety, it’s hard to beat bats. Bats are one of the most diverse groups of animals in the world, and you can see it in their faces, from the prominent muzzle and nose leaf of the Mexican long-nosed bat to the wrinkly, scrunched-up visage of the ghost-faced bat. These differing faces give us a glimpse into the wide world of bats, a creature often misunderstood and threatened.


There are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide. Texas is one of the biggest U.S. bat hubs, with 32 of the 47 bat species found in the U.S. The Mexican free-tailed bat is the most common bat species in Texas. They typically spend their winters in Mexico and migrate to Texas in the spring to birth and raise their pups.


Texas also has one of the largest bat colonies in the world — Bracken Cave, which hosts over 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. During the late summer, pups are old enough to forage on their own, which provides for some astounding bat emergences. Bat fanatics can see bat flights in many places in Texas such as Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area in Rocksprings, Frio Bat Cave near Concan and others. Just remember to be patient with the bats, as emergences are naturally occurring, unpredictable events, and to respect them by talking quietly, keeping your distance and refraining from shining bright lights.


Unfortunately, many bats are endangered today. Out of the 32 bat species in Texas, 23 are considered “species of greatest conservation need” in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Conservation Action Plan.


One area of increasing concern is the deadly white-nose syndrome, which is an invasive, cold-adapted fungus that targets hibernating bats in North America and has killed 5.7 million bats in the U.S. and Canada. The first case was found in New York in 2006, and fungus started appearing in Texas in the Panhandle in 2017. The first case in Texas was found this year in Gillespie County on a cave myotis bat on February 23.


Bat populations are declining across the globe. Why? For starters, bats are the slowest producing mammals on earth for their size, as females give birth to one pup each year. The  babies weigh up to one-third of their mother’s body weight (imagine giving birth to a 40-pound human).


Habitat destruction is a major cause of bat decline, with forest habitats being cleared for agriculture or other development. Wind energy presents a threat as well, as bats collide with the turbine blades.


Bats are also constantly misunderstood by people, and these irrational fears can cause problems. For instance, perhaps the biggest myth is that bats are blood suckers. While vampire bats exist, there are only three of those species, and they are limited to Latin America. They don’t even suck blood but rather lap it up as kittens do with milk. Additionally, their saliva carries an enzyme used to prevent blood clots and has been developed into medicine for strokes.


Another bat myth some people believe is that all bats have rabies. While most bats that approach humans could carry diseases, only 5 percent to 6 percent of bats tested by the CDC have rabies. Many folks are also afraid bats will fly into and “nest” in an unsuspecting person’s hair. If a bat swoops toward your head, it’s probably after an insect. Plus, they don’t even make nests!


Some see bats as wicked creatures, whereas bats are actually quite selfless. In fact, they share food with other bats. In China, they are symbols of good luck and happiness.


Other myths include bats being blind (they have normal eyesight as any other animal and even use echolocation); they are flying mice (they are more closely related to humans than rodents); and they always stay in isolated caves (they actually interact daily with the same fields, forests and waters that we do).


Unfortunately, the endangerment of bats is also a danger to us. Bats are critical for the environment’s well-being and our economic health. They act as natural pest controls, as bats eat around 600 to 1,000 mosquitos an hour. They also reduce crop damage and pesticide use by $3.7 billion a year. Bats pollinate critical plants and act as seed dispersals for new flora to grow. Even their excrement, guano, can be used as fertilizer.


So how can we help bats? Educate others on bats! Let them know they’re not scary, flying creatures that bite but rather diverse and beautiful creatures that can coexist with humans. It is also best to reduce pesticide use, care for natural bat habitats, protect water quality and maybe even build a bat house.

Check out the Under the Texas Sky Wanderlist podcast that inspired this blog post or read more articles about the fascinating lives of bats, places to watch emergences and the threat of white-nose syndrome in Texas Parks & Wildlife.


To see bats in action around the world, check out these live cams:

To learn more about Texas' fascinating wildlife, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


Nature Photography Day + In The Wild Hood Photo Contest

From close-ups of the tiniest insects to panoramic sunset shots, there are infinite possibilities for beautiful photographs if we only take time to pause, explore and appreciate. 
- Earl Nottingham, Chief Photographer Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine

Since 2006 the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) has designated June 15 as Nature Photography Day, a day to promote the enjoyment of nature photography and understand how images can be used to advance the cause of conservation in our natural world. 

What better way to celebrate than to announce the launch of our own nature photography photo contest - In The Wild Hood!

Entering is simple. Select from one of 12 categories, snap a photo and share it on one of three social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) using #InTheWildHood. The contest lasts all summer long, giving everyone plenty of opportunities to enter as often as they would like, and the categories cover over 40 photo prompts that you can snap anywhere you find nature.


Succulent/cacti, flower, tree 

 Puddle, lake, stream, river, pond, fountain
Sunrise, sunset, moon, stars, Milky Way
Wind chimes, outdoor lights, gorgeous gardens
Birdhouse, gazing ball, statuary, pollinator plants
Boat, fishing gear, neighborhood trail
Rain, fog, sunshine, clouds, lightning
Fungi/mushroom, moss, ivy, overgrown yard

Atmospheric, interesting rocks, nature abstracts
Flying bug, crawling bug, spider in a web
Small mammal, outdoor pet, backyard livestock
Bird, reptile, amphibian

For more information and complete rules, click here.
Each week we'll spotlight a different category on social media.
And look for our favorites in future issues. Will your submission make the cut?  
Not sure you know the best way to take outdoor photos? Earl Nottingham reveals tricks of the trade each issue in his column, Picture This. To get the most out of your outdoor photography, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


Saturday, June 6th, is Free Fishing Day in Texas!

© Bobby J Norris -

Summer's here with its lure of clear water, fishing rod in hand waiting for a big one to hit your line. If you've been dreaming about fishing, tomorrow's your day.

The first Saturday in June each year is Free Fishing Day in Texas. You can fish any public waterbody in the state without a fishing license. 

It's the perfect opportunity for experienced anglers to share what they know and teach it to a new generation.  And for those branching out and trying it on their own, Texas Parks and Wildlife offers resources to get you started.

If you enjoyed these tips and want to learn more, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!

Simple Ways to Beat the Heat

The last Friday in May is dedicated to National Heat Awareness. With summer imminent and temperatures rising, we remind you to stay cool, stay hydrated and stay informed.

Even with summer heating up there are still ways to be outside and stay cool. Here are a few tips.

  • Wade in the water. You can often find cooler temperatures by the ocean, and fresh water lakes and streams can offer welcome respite.
  • Climb every mountain. West Texas vistas benefit from high altitudes and low temperatures, even if you have to trek to reach them.
  • Descend into the depths. Many of the caverns and caves that spread beneath our Texas soil boast consistent, year-round lows to keep you cool while you tour, enthralled.
  • Stay up late. There's a reason so many critters live the nocturnal life. Night hiking or running is a great way to take advantage of cooler temps when the sun goes down.  

For more details on how to beat the heat, read Sarah Youngblood's story in our July 2019 issue.

If you enjoyed these tips and want to learn more, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!