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!
The word rodent generally has a negative connotation. We've been conditioned to associate it with vermin that carry disease and infest domestic and commercial buildings. But the order Rodentia is a massive one, with members that fill practically every habitat on earth. And despite an irrational antipathy towards rats and mice, people can't help but be captivated by the social nature, curiosity and interesting behaviors of the wide variety of rodents found in nature.
Case in point — the Prairie Dog.
Even if you've never seen a colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs in person, you've likely seen them featured in documentaries or on a much smaller scale in zoo exhibits. The thing you'll notice immediately is that they never seem to be alone. Prairie Dogs are extraordinarily social animals, with an amazingly structured society. Their "towns" are complex undergrown burrow systems that span hundreds of acres of Panhandle and West Texas soil. Each town is made up of wards (think suburban subdivisions) and within the wards are multiple coteries — extended families made up of an adult male, a group of females and young offspring.
Territory within the burrow complex is based on these coteries and wards. Specific burrows are for their own use and recognition is an important aspect of all social interaction.
Two individuals coming upon one another will bare their teeth and touch them. If one isn't a member of the coterie it's a swift goodbye! If the two are from the same coterie the teeth touching becomes more extended, likened to kissing, and then play generally ensues. It is their playful antics that make Black-tailed Prairie Dogs so engaging to watch. They nuzzle, wrestle and groom each other, reinforcing the bonds of their coterie.
Of course, one of the behaviors that makes them so endearing isn't a play behavior at all but rather an alarm. Prairie dogs foraging outside their burrows are constantly in communication with one another, alert to the dangers presented by their many predators. At least one sentry will remain on duty ready to cry out an alarm at the first sign of danger. The others then run back to burrow openings and take up the warning call, dashing into burrows if the danger is extreme.
The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is relatively common in the areas of Texas where they are still found. But the numbers today represent less than 1% of their historic populations. This is due primarily to habitat loss to ranching and farming. They remain, however, a keystone species. Other animals depend on them for shelter — burrowing owls, endangered black-footed ferrets, and a various fox species all co-opt their burrows. And of course they are an important prey item for rattlesnakes, hawks and coyotes.
Pennsylvania Dutch. Most people have heard that phrase, usually in conjunction with the Old Order religious communities such as Amish or Mennonite that live in and around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Those that aren't terribly familiar with what it means likely assume they speak Dutch. They would be wrong. The word Dutch is actually Deitsch or Deutsch, and refers to the Palatine German spoken by settlers who began arriving in the 17th century. Later settlers spoke other German dialects and these blended to create, over time, the hybrid Pennsylvania Dutch. Because of it's close association with insular Old Order communities, the language is still in use today.
Now, would it surprise you to learn that here in Texas we also have our own German dialect?
It makes sense really. German immigration into Texas introduced hundreds of thousands of German speakers that settled in an area so specific that we refer to it as the German Belt. Towns like Bulverde, New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, Pflugerville, Walburg, Comfort, Westphalia, Gruene, Luckenbach, Schulenburg, Brenham and Weimar were safe places to speak, write and teach in a language familiar to the first generation that came to Texas.
In 2001 Hans Boas, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas, overheard diners in a restaurant speaking a version of German he couldn't quite pinpoint. What he was hearing was Texas German. Thus was born the Texas German Dialect Project, which collects oral histories and conducts research in order to preserve Texas German and the culture and traditions it represents.
It wasn't until 1909 that the state began mandating English only teaching in public schools. Add to that open hostility and anti-German sentiment during both World War I and World War II, and the construction of the highway system in the 1950s that opened up previously isolated communities, and the language that had evolved into Texas German over the course of a century began to die out. Today likely fewer than 5,000 people still speak Texas German fluently, most over the age of 60.
But what does Texas German sound like? Dr. Boas likens it to a mix of 19th century German dialects, with about 5% English loanwords. It's so individualized however, that, "Hardly any of the Texas Germans speak alike."
Some of the commonly noted changes are grammatical — changes in tenses, object use, and the like — as well as moving away from formal pronouns to informal. Language became more casual as strangers became neighbors and friends. But, by far the greatest change was in vocabulary. In some cases Texas Germans used words they heard every day from their English speaking neighbors even though there were already German counterparts. Thus in Texas German rope and fence remain rope and fence, whereas in standard German the words Seil and Zaun are used. In other cases, separated from Germany by an ocean and a century of technological advances, Texas German and standard German evolved in parallel. Words like car, roundup and cultivator remain the same in Texas German as they do in English.
There are also many examples of compound words made of English and German in Texas German, similar to the English-Spanish mixture that we call Spanglish. Examples include Stacheldrahtfence for barbed wire fence, Mesquitebaum for mesquite tree or Sattelbags for saddlebags.
Texas German can be found nowhere else in the country or the world. If the language itself dies out by 2035 as Dr. Boas fears, the Texas German Dialect Project archives may become the only place to hear examples of this unique dialect spoken.
Here are a few more translations:
Texas German English Standard German
Bungis pumpkin Kurbis
Eichkatze squirrel Eichhorchen
Luftschiff airplane Flugzeug
Stinkkatze skunk Stinktier
Wasserkrahn faucet Wasserhahn
Blanket blanket Decke
all gone leer
hiedas this dieses
mitaus without ohne
wasever whatever was auch immer
Photos used in this post are available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, unless otherwise credited.
Hunting season in Texas has begun! For many, hunting season conjures up memories of cold days wrapped in layered camouflage clothing while sitting in a tree stand, waiting for a white-tailed deer to step into the sunrise. That image is certainly accurate for trips to the field during the late fall season, but many Texas hunters begin heading into the dove fields on hot September days.
Following the summer months, conditions throughout the state remain hot, dry and windy as hunting season kicks off. These conditions require hunters, and all other outdoor enthusiasts, to use an extra level of wildfire awareness and safety.
Help take care of Texas and consider these tips when heading to your hunt camp, lease or Texas Public Hunting Lands:
- Check with local officials or the Texas A&M Forest Service for county burn bans and other outdoor burning restrictions.
- If towing a trailer, make sure to secure all safety chains to ensure they will not come in contact with the road. Dragging chains can produce sparks that can fly into dry grass along a roadside, potentially starting a fire.
- Maintain off-road vehicles and ensure they are in proper working order.
- Avoid parking or idling vehicles over dry vegetation. A vehicle’s catalytic converter can become so hot that it ignites the grass underneath.
- Avoid shooting near tall, dry grass or rocks and avoid using full metal jacket or tracer ammunition.
Be smart, don’t let a wildfire start!
If you want to learn more about conservation efforts 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!
The last softball game of the night had just finished playing at the city complex on the banks of the Colorado River. Lights on the eleven fields were going out one by one as chairs and ice chests were packed up into cars. In the soft glow of the headlights a slender creature raced up a tree just fast enough to catch the eye.
I immediately stopped what I was doing to look up into the branches of the medium sized live oak. I was agog. "That's a RINGTAIL!" I remember saying, when my friend Rachelle insisted it was simply a raccoon.
I'd never seen a ringtail in the wild before that night, and despite living directly on a greenbelt for the past two decades, I've never seen once since. In fact, the only reason I knew what I was looking at was from having seen ringtails being rehabbed at nature centers. But it was hard to mistake what I was looking at in that tree.
Ringtails are distinct from raccoons when you take more than a casual glance. While they are related to raccoons (as are coatis and kinkajous) and have a striped tail, the similarities really end there. They weigh a scant couple of pounds, three at most, whereas even a small adult raccoon weighs in at a hefty 10 pounds. Their bodies are long and gracile, more akin to a ferret or small fox than the ponderous shape of a raccoon. In contrast to the rather squat tail of the raccoon, the ringtail's tail is long, about the same length as their body, and provide balance when climbing.
And their faces are adorable. Large, oversized ears and eyes lend them the appearance of a child's toy. But don't let that cute face fool you. Ringtails are active carnivores when necessary, taking birds, smaller mammals, reptiles and insects, although fruit and berries also make up a large portion of its diet. The large eyes and ears are necessary for the ringtail to be effective hunters and foragers in the dark of night.
Although seeing a ringtail seems something of a novelty, they aren't particularly rare. Ringtails are found throughout Texas — although most commonly in areas with rocky habitat that accommodate their ability to climb and preference for setting up dens in crevasses in the rock face. But given their solitary nature, and primarily nocturnal habits, most people are simply never in the right place at the right time to see one. I consider myself lucky to have been.