Mammal Monday - Common Scents

Who doesn't love a baby animal — even when it may not be the most welcome in our yard? In this week's Mammal Monday our Editorial Intern, Landry Allred, explains the why behind that distinctive whiff.

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© Bobby Middleton | #InTheWildHood  

Our smelly companions often get a bad reputation for their secret weapon of odor, but the more you learn about them, the better you’ll be able to coexist with them.

There are 12 species of skunks in the world, and five species occur in Texas. Skunks used to be considered in the same family as weasels, but recently, taxonomists have put them in their own family, along with the Asian stink badger.

Most of the skunks we see are probably striped skunks, found statewide. Their markings can be highly variable. Two other species in Texas are the eastern and western spotted skunk, marked by spots and broken stripes. Many people imagine skunks as black animals with a white stripe running from the top of their head to their tail tip, but this represents only the hog-nosed skunk of the Edwards Plateau and Trans-Pecos region and the rare hooded skunk, which is found only in the Big Bend region.

Skunks and smells always go together. They are known for the foul-smelling odor they dispel from their rear to ward off predators. Most people believe just being near a skunk will cause it to spray, but this is a common misconception. Skunks spray only when feeling threatened as a means of self-defense.

© Jenn Bauer | #InTheWildHood  

Spraying is often a last resort for a skunk, and skunks will give multiple warnings before spraying, such as stomping their front feet, lifting their tail up and (if it’s a spotted skunk) even doing a handstand. If feeling an immediate danger, however, they will spray without warning.

Another misconception is that skunks spray in a broad area and can do it only once. However, skunks can target shoot in any direction. They can also spray more than once, as each gland they spray from holds a tablespoon of spray. This fluid can be released in controlled amounts, and it takes several days to completely refill.

The spray is a foul-smelling fluid known as n-butyl mercaptan that often causes burning and stinging on a person’s skin. The smell in the area will go away in a few days, and with humans, all it takes is a long, hot shower to rid the odor. However, pets are much more difficult to handle if they are sprayed.

It is a common belief that tomato juice gets rid of the smell. However, the skunk smell will still linger after the tomato juice odor wears off. A mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish detergent will often do the trick.

Another common idea is that holding a skunk by its tail deters it from spraying. While this hasn’t technically been proven, it is unwise to be that close to a skunk. Skunks are also known to be primary carriers of rabies.

Skunks are non-aggressive animals, and the best thing to do to avoid being sprayed is to leave them alone.

Skunks are actually quite beneficial for farmers and gardeners because they eat rodents, insects and other animals that are considered agricultural pests.

So next time you catch a glimpse of our black and white friend, a simple nod will do to let them know you’re not a threat worth spraying.

To learn more about native Texas 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!

Mammal Monday - Texas Outlaw

Probably the most ubiquitous of our larger mammals, this masked bandit is a mainstay of suburban backyard as well as urban downtowns. In this week's Mammal Monday our Editorial Intern, Landry Allred, extols the virtues of our native outlaw.

It's not to late to get in your photos! Enter In the Wild Hood and your photo may appear in a future Mammal Monday post!

© Mark Dietz. | #InTheWildHood  

These furry bandits are known for their black fur around their eyes resembling a robber’s mask. However, raccoons are much more fascinating than we make them out to be.

Raccoons are highly adaptable and can live in wooded areas near waterways, as well as urban spaces. They are common throughout Texas with about 22 subspecies in the world. Despite the common idea that they are similar to rodents, they are actually more closely related to bears.

The word “raccoon” originated from the Algonquian Indian word arakun (arakunem), meaning “he scratches with his hands.” In the 1700s, American settlers dropped the first vowel and the name “raccoon” was born.

Seen as curious critters, they are quite intelligent and adaptable.

When near water, raccoons appear to be washing their hands and washing food for consumption. This is a common misconception; they are actually moistening their hands and food to heighten their sense of touch. Raccoons are very tactile animals and have dexterous hands, making them agile climbers and strong swimmers. When they douse their hands and food in water, it enhances their touch receptors and their understanding of what they’re about to consume. They couldn’t care less about hygiene.

Another myth surrounding raccoons is that they are only nocturnal. While they are more active at night, and have excellent night vision to aid them, they can and will make daytime appearances if need be.

© James Eggers | #InTheWildHood

Raccoons may appear dangerous when they bare their teeth, but raccoons will mainly attack only if they feel threatened. Raccoons are known to carry bacteria and diseases such as rabies, which makes humans wary of them. While they are at higher risk for rabies than many other mammals, there has only been one documented case in the U.S. where someone has died from a raccoon with rabies.

These bandits can actually be fairly helpful, as they help with soil turnover, pollination and cleaning garbage and dead animals off of the streets. However, many people will still not want these visitors at their homes, so it is a best practice to clean up after feeding your pets outside and keep your garbage secure to prevent raccoons.

To learn more about native Texas 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!


Book Review: The Local Angler

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a river is worth a thousand fish. 

Aaron Reed dives into the depths of fly fishing in his new book The Local Angler: Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas, exploring the best spots in Central Texas to cast your line. Whether you’re a first-time fly fisher or veteran angler, you’re certain to leave this book with new knowledge and hopeful surprises.

Fly fishing poses its own set of challenges to an angler. In fly fishing, the angler has a close relationship with the body of water, as he or she must read the water carefully to visually see the fish and pay attention to water conditions. You have to be one with the water. To stand in a clear, flowing Hill Country stream, understand the water and the fish that swim within is to be a true Texas fly fisherman.

The book opens with Reed listing reasons for fishing, including family tradition, the adrenaline rush, the love for nature and the drive to master a discipline. Reed boils his own reason down to being a combination of all of those, along with a profound need for thoughtful redemption. He mentions traumatic or painful memories from his past, ranging from seeing a mass grave site in Srebrenica to his own divorce and regrettable mistakes.

“It could be that any one of those experiences, or the weight of all of them, has left me with an unquiet mind and a darkness that dogs me like a shadow,” Reed writes. “Or maybe I was born glum and anxious. Whatever the cause of my ailment, I have found fly fishing to be the perfect tonic.”

Reed moved to the Austin area in 1995, and though he often left to fish other places like the coast, he always found his way back. Fly fishing has a long history in Austin, and Reed mentions the closeness of the fishing community and how they’re so kind to the point that if a newbie angler posts in the Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing Facebook group, it’s a guarantee someone will offer to take the person fishing.

From there, he jumps into the basics of fly fishing, including ethics, safety precautions and fly fishing and river lingo. He also includes what gear to bring, exploring the different rods, reels and lines, along with types of flies to attract certain fish.

Reed then begins the real work: listing the fly fishing sites according to their region. He covers three main Central Texas regions in particular — northern, central and southern waters — mentioning around 11 bodies of water for fly fishing and specific spots in each chapter, such as the Colorado River, Salado Creek and the Blanco River.

Along with each region, he includes a map with each fishing spot labeled. He also lists coordinates, address, distance, driving duration and difficulty level for each spot. At the end of every chapter is a song to listen to, pulled from his “Fly Fishing Austin” playlist, and a hangout spot for celebrating your catch (or maybe not celebrating).

Fly fishing is often associated with trout, and Central Texas has a renowned trout fishery in the Guadalupe River below Canyon Dam. But there’s more here than trout. Reed offers sections featuring fish to look out for, including the Guadalupe bass, carp and Rio Grande cichlids.

The book isn’t all fishing. Reed peppers in some fun facts by recounting old river legends like the Hairy Man of Brushy Creek or by explaining the ghost neighborhoods of Onion Creek that used to be filled with houses. Scenes like this can pique the reader’s interest beyond just the thrill of catching a fish.

The book is full of beautiful photographs — whether it be the luscious images of rivers and creeks, the smooth skin of the Guadalupe bass or the shining scales of the golden river carpsucker.

After two years of writing this book, 2,500 miles of driving and 150 miles of paddling, Reed has experienced the challenge of water in Texas and the threats to its future. It’s not a one-day or even one-year fix. It will continue to appear generation after generation after generation. Thus, it’s up to us to always critically think about where we acquire our water and the means by which we use it so our fish and fly fishing can thrive.

To read more about the Texas outdoors, 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!


Mammal Monday - Armored Friends

If you see one baby there's bound to be more. In this week's Mammal Monday our Editorial Intern, Landry Allred, gives us some insight into an often misunderstood Texas habitue.

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© Gator2020 | #InTheWildHood  

When you think of Texas, do you see a scaly critter with a shell for an outfit?

The armadillo is an official state animal of Texas, designated in 1927. There are 20 armadillo species in the world (mostly in Latin America) but only one species in the United States. The nine-banded armadillo can be found throughout Texas, except in the western Trans-Pecos area.

Its name is Spanish for “little armored one,” which serves true, as it is the only living mammal that sports such a shell. Armadillos are closely related to anteaters and sloths, and they love to dig in the dirt for insects to munch on.

While they have poor eyesight, they have a keen sense of smell and also use hairs on their belly to sense the surrounding area. Armadillos are great swimmers, and they can hold their breath for up to six minutes or inflate their stomachs to buoyantly swim across a body of water. They can walk underwater to cross streams as well.

When giving birth, nine-banded armadillos produce identical quadruplets.

Armadillos have a sour reputation because they are known to carry leprosy. They have a slow metabolism leading to a lower body temperature, making them susceptible to the bacteria causing leprosy. However, cases of humans contracting leprosy by handling armadillos are extremely rare.

© Cooper Daniels | #InTheWildHood  

One common misconception about armadillos is that they can roll up in their shell, similar to pillbugs, when frightened. However, only two species can roll up completely, and both are types of three-banded armadillos.

Instead, when frightened, armadillos leap 3 to 4 feet vertically into the air, which is why they are often hit by cars. Though they are small enough for cars to pass over them, they get scared and jump into the car’s undercarriage. This unfortunate yet frequent cause of death is the origin behind their nickname as the “hillbilly speed bump.”

Some people also think of armadillos as “grave diggers,” but that is only because they prefer looser soil, such as that around a gravesite, to hunt for insects. Others think their shell is bulletproof, and while armadillos have been known to survive low-caliber weapons, their shells don’t stand a chance against weapons with high penetration power.

Despite the negative associations people may have with armadillos, they are quite friendly yet cautious animals. Upon being startled, they simply run away and mind their business elsewhere.

To learn more about native Texas 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!


Latino Conservation Week: Keeping the RGV Wild and Beautiful

To celebrate Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine’s 75th anniversary in 2017, the magazine staff embedded ourselves in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley to put out a special issue. It was the best week of our “magazine” lives, without a doubt. We were so warmly welcomed by our Estero Llano Grande State Park host Javier de Leon and other Valley colleagues, as well as many old partners and new friends.

December 2017 wrap-around cover art  — click to enlarge
© Clemente Guzman | TPWD  

And by staff, we don't mean just our writers. We brought the business team and interns and artists and designers and, of course, our fabulous photographers. Our buddy Hector Astorga, South Texas imagery guru, took us under his wing and helped the crew capture the images they needed, including a visit to his Santa Clara Ranch and a fajita feast with us at the Estero Bunkhouse.

And just look at that cover art inspired by our journey. Now-retired TPWD fine artist Clemente Guzman spent his days observing and sketching and then created this masterpiece of a wraparound cover. We think it's utterly beautiful, just like the Rio Grande Valley.

Since it's Latino Conservation Week, we knew we wanted to go back in the archives and share stories from some of our favorite RGV conservationists. The Valley is rich in culture and friendly people who love the incredible diversity of animal and plant species that thrive there. We can’t wait to go back one day soon.

The Park Boss, Javier De Leon

Javier de Leon started his career in the outdoors as an intern at the National Butterfly Center in Mission; he later got hired there full time as a naturalist. After that, it was the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands. Then came Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

When the superintendent job came open at Estero Llano Grande State Park, he decided to go for it. He’s been superintendent there since 2014.

“I think it’s important to teach as many locals as we can,” he says. “The more people in the Valley who are educated about our nature — the more people know about green jays and chachalacas and kiskadees and how special they are — the more powerful of a voice we can create to keep the Valley green.”

The Valley is growing, and de Leon wants the new development to be responsible development. 

“Development should include green space,” he says. “There has to be a balanced quality of life. They need to think about how it will negatively affect wildlife.”

The Historian, Ruben Reyna

Park guide Ruben Reyna looks so resplendent in his uniform, we just have to catch a shot of him in the morning sun at the Palo Alto Battlefield in Brownsville. Hired for his technological wizardry, Reyna shows us how technology makes the battlefield experience more satisfyingly interactive for park visitors. 

It’s eerie indeed to listen to recounts of the battle while gazing over the huge expanse as the sun rises. The battle between United States and Mexican troops was the first in a two-year long war that changed the map of North America.

The Man Who Took Jimmy Carter Birding, Roy Rodriguez

Roy Rodriguez worked for years as a professional birding guide, leading trips around South Texas and Mexico. He also leads groups of blind birders, who identify birds by their call. 

When Jimmy Carter, a dedicated bird watcher with more than 1,000 birds on his life list, decided to take a bird-watching trip to the Rio Grande Valley in 2004, Rodriguez got tapped to lead him around. 

“I said ‘Jimmy Carter? Like the president Jimmy Carter?’” he recalls.

Rodriguez took Carter to some of his special birding spots such as the McAllen sewage ponds — places the Secret Service had not assessed for security risks. 

“They were not happy with me, but I got him 35 lifers,” he said, referring to bird species Carter had not previously seen.

Resaca Keeper, Pablo de Yturbe

Resaca de la Palma State Park isn’t even open when we show up for a surprise visit, but the staff happily drops their work to lead us on a tour. The heat is building quickly on this September morning at the Rio Grande delta, but there’s a breeze wafting through the tangle of ebony and mesquite and anacua trees, their branches intertwined in a race up to the sunlight.

Superintendent Pablo de Yturbe and colleagues Lauren Acevedo and John Wagman recount the history of the 1,200-acre park that’s also the largest World Birding Center location, opened in 2008. Plants that grow nowhere else in the U.S. are found here in this subtropical habitat. Acevedo points out a hidden ribbon snake in a mesquite tree; Wagman tells us how huisache blooms are used to make perfume in Europe. 

“You’re always watching something different going on,” de Yturbe says of their love for this place. “The forest calms you, gives you a good vibe, good energy.”

Though the park has been open less than a decade, much has been accomplished. Where invasive guinea grass once dominated and choked the landscape, native trees and plants now rise up. Wagman leads native plant tours on the weekends; he has already identified 73 different species in the park.

Our walk leads us to one of four decks that overlook the resaca, and we admire the new interpretive “touch” panels, beautifully illustrated and with Spanish translations. Since the resaca is dry on this day, most of the birds we see are in the trees across the way, but we dream of the common yellowthroat, black-bellied whistling ducks and great kiskadees the water attracts.

If you enjoy articles about people and places in Texas 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!


Mammal Monday - The Outdoor Housekeeper

Don't let their grimace fool you. In this week's Mammal Monday our Editorial Intern, Landry Allred, tells how those sharp teeth are some of the most beneficial to visit your yard.

It's not to late to get in your photos! Enter In the Wild Hood and your photo may appear in a future Mammal Monday post!

© Robert Silva | #InTheWildHood  

We see them at night, waddling along the roadside seeking their next meal. We see their glowing eyes when we shine a flashlight on them to discover the true identity of the moving shadow. We point them out to our friends when we’re out for an evening stroll.

These opossums are the creatures of the night, and their beady eyes and rat-like tails mean they won’t win any cuteness contests. However, these mammals are actually extremely helpful and quite misunderstood.

Opossums are the only marsupial native to the U.S. and are closely related to kangaroos and koala bears. Texas has only one opossum species — the Virginia opossum. They are commonly found throughout Texas, except in the Trans-Pecos and Llano Estacado of the Panhandle. In urban areas, you can usually find opossums roaming the streets at night alone.

They have a flexible tail that can be used as a fifth hand. Some people have reported seeing them gather grass and material with it. They are the only mammal aside from primates that have opposable thumbs.

Many people believe opossums are destructive, imagining that they dig up soil and destroy property. However, they are quite helpful to landowners, as they eat pests such as ticks, cockroaches, rodents, snakes and even dead animals. Think of it like a natural clean-up crew or an outdoor housekeeper!

© ImagesByOutlaw | #InTheWildHood  

Despite having 50 sharp teeth, which is more than any other mammal in North America, they are quite peaceful (but will sometimes hiss when in danger). Typically, if they feel threatened, they “play dead” and lie down with their eyes closed or open, staring into space. Playing dead is an involuntary response, and they will remain unconscious for some time until the threat is gone. They might even give off a dead animal smell, or foam at the mouth.

One of the most popular myths of opossums is that they carry diseases. In fact, they carry fewer diseases than dogs and cats because their low body temperature doesn’t allow infections to thrive. The rabies virus is very rare in opossums.

Despite the bad reputation opossums have, they are fascinating animals, as they are some of the oldest and most primitive animals of the New World. Scientists have referred to them as “living fossils” because they’ve remained relatively unchanged for at least 50 million years.

So next time you see an opossum, take a moment to remember that they’ve been around for a long time and all the good they’ve done in the world.

To learn more about native Texas 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!


#InTheWildHood - The Snake Edition

There seems to be no middle ground with them. You love them or you hate them. You run away from them screaming or stoop closer for a better look. But no matter which side you take there's no doubt that snakes pull some primal emotion out of all of us.

© Loren L. | #InTheWildHood

Roughly 115 snake species and subspecies call Texas home, more than any other state in the country. Some, like the Indigo and Louisiana Pine, are threatened species. Most, like the Hognose or the Rat snake, may look frightening but are completely harmless and absolutely beneficial to our ecosystems. 

In Texas we have only four varieties of venomous snake — the marvelously camouflaged Copperhead, the hefty Rattlesnake, the water loving Cottonmouth, and the colorful Coral Snake. Yet even these, specifically their venom, have beneficial use in medical research.

© Denise R. | #InTheWildHood  

Snakes experience many of the same threats as other wildlife — habitat loss, disease and natural disasters, for example — but perhaps the biggest threat they face is that they are so often viewed through a negative lens. July 16 is World Snake Day, a day to celebrate the snake and spread a positive message to change attitudes and encourage their conservation. 

© Adrian M. | #InTheWildHood

Certainly it makes sense to be cautious when you see a snake in your yard, shed or garage. But you don't have to immediately run for a weapon. Odds are the snake you found is harmless and doing it's best to help you by keeping down pest populations around your home. Instead, like these photographers in our In The Wild Hood summer photo contestpick up your camera or camera phone and snap a picture. Entering the contest is quick and easy.

Take a picture. Save a snake. Change the narrative. What better way to observe World Snake Day?

© Ashley B. | #InTheWildHood 

For more great content on Texas 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!


Mammal Monday - Texas Cat

Our In The Wild Hood summer photo contest is in full swing and some of the most intriguing submissions received have been of the larger mammals with which share our urban and suburban spaces. To highlight some of these intriguing creatures we are launching Mammal Mondays on the blog! Each Monday we will pick a specific species and use photos curated from contest submissions, and content written by Editorial Intern, Landry Allred. 

It's not to late to get in your photos! Enter In the Wild Hood and your photo may appear in a future Mammal Monday post!

© F. McGlinn | #InTheWildHood  

They are the most common wild cat in Texas. They are mascots for high schools and colleges. They are a feline both feared and admired.

Bobcats are found throughout the U.S. and are particularly abundant in Texas. Texas has two subspecies — the desert bobcat in the west and northwest and the Texas bobcat whose scope reaches across the state. These felines, about twice the size of a household cat, have been around for almost 1.8 million years and are named for their short tail.

Humans may see bobcats as a threat, but bobcat attacks are practically nonexistent. A bobcat’s diet consists mostly of rodents, rabbits, squirrels, birds and other small animals. Household pets are not their main meals, but of course, it can still happen. Bobcats are quite secretive and shy, and they are easily spooked by humans. The only time a bobcat would aggressively approach a human is if it has rabies or is cornered into self-defense.

© covebirder | #InTheWildHood  

Bobcats are extremely intelligent and have adapted to cities. They can survive in a variety of environments, such as swamps, deserts, forests, grasslands, mountain ranges and even on the outskirts of suburban neighborhoods. They are mainly active at night to avoid humans, and they rarely make their presence known. A study of bobcats in the Dallas-Fort Worth area found them to be living mainly along creeks, floodplains and parks.

Bobcats are out there, but you may not know it. Sometimes, the only way people can tell if a bobcat has been in the area is if there are scratches on the trees from their claws.

To learn more about native Texas 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!


#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.