All photos © Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD
My phone and tablet dinged simultaneously at 8:03AM. It was the alert I'd been expecting this time of year. No, not that Amazon was delivering a last-minute round of holiday gifts. Instead my multi-platform notification read, "A high pollen alert has been issued. Predominant Pollen: Cedar, Juniper."
In December's issue Landry Allred brings to life the elegant sandhill crane, a true Texas snowbird. For our Feathered Friday post, we celebrate these beautiful birds in pictures.
Wall Street Journal article features a Texas first-timer and TPWD mentored hunts
Isolation due to COVID-19 has enticed more Texans (and Americans) than ever to head to the field in pursuit of wild game. The increased participation caught the notice of one of the largest newspapers in the nation, the Wall Street Journal, in a December 14 article that predicts a million new hunters in 2020.
“It’s an activity seemingly designed for a pandemic: outdoors, thriving in small groups and featuring built-in social distancing,” the article explains, noting a similar rise in fishing license sales.
|New Texas hunter Jonathon Nguyen was featured |
in the Dec. 14 Wall Street Journal article.
New hunter Jonathon Nguyen, a 26-year-old electrician from Victoria, shared his story from Texas with the WSJ reporters. A self-proclaimed city kid, Nguyen signed up for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mentored hunt, participating in skills and safety sessions before heading to a state park with a mentor to harvest his first doe.
Nguyen was lucky to secure a spot this year, as there were more than twice as many applicants as there were workshop spots, which include a guided hunt. The doe provided 30 pounds of meat for his freezer; he harvested a small hog, as well.
Besides a bounty of homemade sausage, Nguyen and other Texans are finding many personal benefits from spending time hunting, especially in stressful times. Blood pressures drop and moods elevate as they fill their lungs with crisp fall air and watch the antics of birds in nearby trees. There’s a satisfying sense of pride and self-reliance gained from harvesting your own food.
The benefits of hunting don’t stop with personal satisfaction, happiness and health, though that would be plenty. Hunting is an integral part of the conservation model, not only keeping our game animal populations sustainable but also benefiting the other wildlife that shares the habitat, like those birds.
With an estimated 5.5 million white-tailed deer in Texas, keeping population numbers in check with what the native habitat is capable of supporting is the critical role of hunters. That resulting population balance keeps habitat is in better condition to support not only the deer but all the other wildlife that utilize those habitats such as songbirds, small mammals, game birds and more. The revenue generated from hunting license dollars also translates back to wildlife and habitat conservation, including deer management across the state.
Want to learn more and hunting and maybe give it a try? We’re here to help.
For inspiration, check out our exhaustive “(Almost) Everything Whitetail” extravaganza in the November issue. Then, head over to the TPWD website to learn more about mentored hunts, hunter education, safety, license sales and more.
Experience a TPWD mentored hunt virtually through this episode from the Emmy award-winning Texas Parks & Wildlife PBS show.
November is Native American Heritage Month. Many Texas state parks have ties to Native American tribes, in the past as well as today.
These tribes have long recognized the many beneficial uses for Texas’ native plants. Here are four plants you can discover all over the state.
Prickly pear cactus, the yellow rose of Texas, was named our state plant in 1995. It’s also an important plant to Texas’ Native Americans, who eat both the prickly pear pads and fruits. Used for medicine too, a cut prickly pear pad can treat a burn.
There are many types of yucca in Texas, but they all have something in common. Native Americans of different tribes use them in their daily lives to make soap, fiber for cordage and clothing and often as food.
Cattails aren’t just a place for ducks to hide, Native Americans in Texas use them for roofing materials. The pollen from cattails is often used in their ceremonies, too.
|© Sally and Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center|
These beautiful, red honey mesquite beans are loved by wildlife such as deer, javelina, turkeys and more. Native Americans in Texas also harvest and enjoy the sweet beans by crushing the pods into meal to make small round cakes.
"It will be remembered that it was in southeastern Texas, in all probability within 50 miles of the present city of Houston, that the earliest discovery of the American bison on its native heath was made in 1530 by Cabeza de Vaca … They were also found in immense herds on the coast of Texas, at the Bay of St. Bernard (Matagorda Bay), and on the lower part of the Colorado (Rio Grande, according to some authorities), by La Salle, in 1685, and thence northwards across the Colorado, Brazos, and Trinity Rivers. They afterwards landed in St. Louis Bay (now called Matagorda Bay), where they found buffaloes in such numbers on the Colorado River that they called it La Rivière aux Boeufs.
It is a curious coincidence that the State of Texas, wherein the earliest discoveries and observations upon the bison were made, should also now furnish a temporary shelter for one of the last remnants of this great herd."
— Mr. William T Hornaday, Superintendent of the National Zoological Park. From the Report of the National Museum at Smithsonian Institution, 1886-1887.
I'll be honest. This post ended up going in a very different direction than originally planned. My intent was to highlight the bison, particularly as this past Saturday was National Bison Day. But then, as I was doing a bit of research, I stumbled across Mr. Hornaday's report. And it is a fascinating piece of American history that's intrinsically tied to Texas. So Mammal Monday went a little sideways. It's still about the bison, but more about why we still have them than the bison itself.
Every American knows the story of the buffalo, an animal so plentiful that vast herds covered the landscape from Alaska into Mexico, 60-million strong. But by the time Mr. Hornaday's report was published in 1889, he could only confirm that roughly 635 wild bison remained alive on the continent — 85 of those in the U.S.
The report itself is rather breathtaking in its scope. It is a celebration of the animal, a mourning of its systemic slaughter, and a plea for "preservation of the species from absolute extinction." In his preface, Mr. Hornaday writes, "The wild buffalo is practically gone forever, and in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water-courses, a few museum specimens, and regret for his fate."
Thankfully his report was something of a wake-up call. Today it is considered one of the first important treatises of the American wildlife conservation movement.
According to the report, there were bison "running wild and unprotected" in Texas on January 1, 1889. About that small herd he notes that a "miserable remnant" of the great southern herd could be found in the Panhandle along the Canadian River. It numbered about 100 individuals in 1887, but over the course of two years a local rancher, identified as C.J. Jones, had killed 52 and captured 18. Jones and the men in his hunting party "saw about all the buffaloes now living in the Panhandle country, and it therefore seems quite certain that not over twenty-five individuals remain. These are so few, so remote, and so difficult to reach, it is to be hoped no one will consider them worth going after, and that they will be left to take care of themselves."
On page 458 of the report, Mr. Hornaday begins listing every bison herd and individual bison in captivity on January 1, 1889. Every single non-wild bison in the United States, Canada and Mexico appears on the report, along with their sex, provenance and value if purchased or sold! He notes that an I.P. Butler of Colorado, Texas, owns a young bull buffalo and a half-breed calf. At the top of page 461 we find the following:
"Herd of Mr. Charles Goodnight. Clarendon, Texas. — Mr. Goodnight writes that he has been breeding buffalos in a small way for the past ten years, but without giving any particular attention to it." At present his herd consists of thirteen head, of which two are three-year old bulls and four are calves. There are seven cows of all ages, one of which is a half-breed."
Records indicate that this small herd left on its own to wander Goodnight's JA Ranch, slowly grew in number. In 1894 there were between 25 - 30, in 1903 there were 45, and by 1914 it included 35 bulls, 107 cows and 22 calves. In 1996 the JA Ranch donated the herd to the state, although first the state had to find them.
It's been over a century since conservation efforts by men like William Hornaday and Charles Goodnight ensured that the bison would survive. Today the Official Texas State Bison Herd, descended from the Goodnight herd, with unique genetics of the great southern herd not shared by any other bison in North America, is a living testament to those efforts.
In East Texas, along the Gulf Coast, a sinuous line in the water may alert you the presence of the river otter. These inquisitive and graceful mammals are, like badgers, Mustelids — a family of animals well-represented in Texas.
River otters, as their name implies, are generally associated with water. However, they also spend a considerable amount of time on land. Their long, lean bodies and undulating gait appear awkward on dry ground, but make no mistake, once this creature slides into the water, it has entered its domain. Otters have webbed hind feet, ears and nostrils that can be closed underwater, and a long, tapered tail that aids in their aquatic escapades. River otters are masterful swimmers and divers, and can hold their breath for up to eight minutes.
Otters can live a decade, grow to four feet long and weigh up to 20 pounds. They are well known for their playful antics, and are often observed slipping, flipping and sliding into the water. They are active throughout the year but are seldom seen because of their secretive, mostly nocturnal nature. Otter dens are typically located near water and have two entrances, one on land and one submerged. They are not finicky eaters; their diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians and invertebrates.
If you've never wandered around Wurstfest in New Braunfels dipping your Kartoffelpuffers in apple sauce you're definitely missing out.
New Braunfels, like many Texas cities with a strong German heritage, celebrates with a festival honoring its founders' rich traditions. New Braunfels is unique in calling it Wurstfest rather than Oktoberfest, but the general idea is the same. Unfortunately in 2020 many of these celebrations have been canceled or are being held online due to COVID-19. And yes, we'll miss the music, the color, the fanfare. But we'll also miss the food.
German immigrants brought with them an array of native recipes, and as it turns out their hearty meat and potatoes diet was a perfect match for Texas. Most of their staples could be grown or raised here as they were on German soil. In fact, two of the foods we think of today as quintessentially Texan likely owe their very existence to German immigrants.
Chicken-fried steak bears more than a passing resemblance to Schnitzel — a tenderized slab of meat, breaded and fried. Germany has a number of specific Schnitzel dishes, as the word itself simply means meat cutlet. But chicken-fried steak seems most like a Jägerschnitzel, commonly served with a mushroom sauce, or Rahmschnitzel, which is served with a cream sauce. Either way, it's clear that the much beloved CFS has its roots firmly in a German tradition.
And of course we can't talk about the German-Texas food connection without discussing smoked meats. We tend to think of Germany + smoked meats = sausage. Move that equation to Texas and you get German Texans + smoked meats = brisket. That's right. Texans owe that smoky, salty, fatty, bark encrusted beefy goodness to German American butchers who decided to pop a brisket in the smoker, instead of in a dutch oven.
Clearly we owe a lot to German food.
Which brings us back to Kartoffelpuffer. They're a kind of potato pancake or fritter. More substantial than a hashbrown, but not precisely an entrée either. While some like there's topped with sour cream, I prefer mine with a tart applesauce. Yum!