Spring is Turkey Time in Texas

February 22nd, 2017
A fine Tom turkey in Texas.

A fine Tom turkey in Texas.

This is Passport to Texas

Thanksgiving may be three months behind us—or nine months ahead of us depending upon how you view things—but that won’t stop turkey hunters from bagging big birds this spring.

There are going to be a lot of two-year-old gobblers for harvest this year.

Jason Hardin is Turkey Program Leader for Parks and Wildlife. Adequate rainfall statewide and excellent habitat conditions overall, add up to a good season ahead.

We had really good production across the Rio Grande range, which is the central portion of the state, so I would expect a really good season.

In addition to hunting Rio Grande Turkeys in Texas brush country, hunters can also find Eastern Turkey in the woodlands of East Texas.

The eastern is found in the eastern third of the state. It’s a little bit of a larger, darker colored, bird compared to the Rio, which is quite numerous. We have more Rios in Texas than anywhere else in the country. The bird’s a little bit smaller and has a little lighter coloration. But, other than that, they gobble fairly similarly and they’re both pretty tough to hunt.

There is a statewide bag limit of four turkeys in Texas with no more than one Eastern Turkey.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series; it’s funded by your purchase of fishing and hunting equipment and motor boat fuel.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Assisted Living: Attwater’s Prairie Chickens

February 21st, 2017
Baby Attwater's Prairie Chickens At Fossil Rim

Baby Attwater’s Prairie Chickens At Fossil Rim

This is Passport to Texas

We all need help sometimes. And in the case of the endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken, they’re getting it in the form of captive breeding programs, including one at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose.

Adding birds from the captive breeding program has allowed us to keep birds in the wild. Without the captive breeding program this species, undoubtedly, would have been extinct by now.

Biologists estimate there are fewer than 100 Attwater’s Prairie Chickens in existence today. Mike Morrow is a wildlife biologist at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake. The juvenile prairie chickens at Fossil rim are color banded and radio collared in preparation for release onto the refuge.

How many other species can we watch go extinct, before it starts making a difference the ability of the world to support us as a human species.

Juvenile birds take a long ride to the refuge and are kept in an outdoor enclosure until they’ve acclimated to their new habitat. After two weeks in their pen, they’re released onto the refuge.

Biologist Morrow says he knows not all the birds they release will survive, but those that do, represent the future. He says Texas Parks and Wildlife and partners will continue to build the population with wild birds. And that’s where he says we place the hope for the recovery of the species.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Most Endangered Bird in North America

February 20th, 2017
Attwater's Prairie Chicken

Attwater’s Prairie Chicken

This is Passport to Texas

The most endangered bird in North America is a chicken. No, it’s not your ordinary farmyard fowl. It’s the extraordinary Attwater’s Prairie Chicken—a species unique to Texas coastal prairies. Yet, over the past two decades fewer than 100 individuals have been reported in the wild.

For a species that only lives on average two years—that’s a very bad place to be.

Mike Morrow is a wildlife biologist at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake. He works with biologist Rebecca Chisholm.

You know, they’re [prairie chickens] an endangered species all over the rest of the country and the world. But this one here, lives only in Texas.

The birds are part of our natural heritage. At the refuge, Morrow and Chisholm work together to give the Prairie Chicken a chance at survival, which includes building predator deterrent fences around nest sites.

The idea of this predator deterrent fence Is to deflect predators away from the nest area so that hopefully they won’t find the nest and destroy it.

The fence doubles the chance of survival for the hens and chicks. And when there are fewer than 100 members in a population, you take those odds.

Working with—arguably the most endangered bird in North America—has its ups and downs. I mean, sometimes, it’s a little bit disappointing. Things don’t go quite as well as you want, but it’s also rewarding when things do. So I think everyone would agree that it’s worth it.

Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

TPW TV – Student Camper

February 17th, 2017
Palo Duro Canyon, where Lindsay Stroup is a Park Host.

Palo Duro Canyon, where Lindsay Stroup is a Park Host.

This is Passport to Texas

Lindsay Stroup started her college career intent on becoming a nurse. She spent two years completing her prerequisite classes.

And then right before I applied to nursing school I was just like “Nah.”

Instead she decided to study wildlife biology at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. She’d need a place to live, and found the rents in Canyon a bit out of her reach.

I researched the volunteer opportunities, and I came across being a park host. And in the description it said you can keep your camper up there; you get a camp spot while you’re working. And I thought: Hmmm. That’s interesting.

The distance between the park and school was about 10 minutes, so Lindsey applied for and was accepted into the Park Host program at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Everybody thought I was crazy. ’What do you mean you’re going to live in a camper?’ I was real fortunate that my grandparents let me use their camper. Since it’s just me and my dog and my snake, it’s really all the space we need. It’s a great way to go through college.

Park superintendent, Shannon Blalock, is glad to have Lindsay as a volunteer.

Lindsay is not jaded by some of the boundaries of life that some people know because of their experiences. She knows no bounds at this point. So it’s been wonderful for my staff.

See Lindsay ’s path from Campus to Camper the week of February 19th on the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS. Funding provided in part by Ram Trucks. Guts. Glory. Ram.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Cooking up Cottontail Carnitas

February 16th, 2017
Cottontail carnitas a la Evin Cooper

Cottontail carnitas a la Evin Cooper

This is Passport to Texas

I think the late chef and cookbook author, Julia Child coined the expression: Easter Bunny Syndrome. It’s when we decide which animals not to eat based on their perceived cuteness. Rabbits fall into that category.

As Central Texas writer, cook and mom, Evin Cooper tells us, rabbits are as delicious as they are cute, and even better than pork in carnitas. She says her first attempt using cottontails was a success, and began with two rabbits in a slow cooker.

And, I stewed them all day with some beer and some homemade salsa, and let them cook and cook and cook. And then, let them cool—and then I deboned the meat. Then, I let the meat sit in the fridge overnight, and the next day I seasoned it up a little bit more with chili powder and cumin and all those wonderful Mexican spices. And I fried them in some hot oil—just the shredded meat—almost like hash browns. It got really crispy on the bottom, and I flipped it over and got it crispy on the other side—almost to the point of burnt. Then, I put it in warm corn tortillas with avocado slices and lime juice. It was so good. I mean, I’ve given up pork for my carnitas. And I want to use almost entirely cottontail now. It’s just delicious.

Find Evin Cooper’s Cottontail Carnitas recipe at passporttotexas.org.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.
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Rabbit Carnitas
Evin Cooper says to make this flavorful dish is a two-day process, and well worth the effort.

Day One
• 2-3* good size jackrabbits/cottontails, skinned and cleaned
• 1 cup salsa
• 1 beer
Day Two
• Corn or canola oil
• taco seasoning**
• prepared rabbit meat
• corn tortillas
• cilantro
• diced onion
• avocado
• lime

For the meat:
The day before you want to serve the tacos, wash the rabbits and pat dry. In a crockpot or a large stock pot, add the rabbits, salsa and beer. Use both your favorite salsa and beer. (Stick with a lighter beer. Dark beers will overpower the flavor of the meat.) Cook the rabbits until they are fall-off-the-bone tender (3-4 hours on the stove, 4-6 hours in a crockpot) and allow to cool a bit. When you can handle the rabbits, pull the meat off the bone and discard the bones. Add the juices from the pot to the shredded meat and refrigerate overnight.
To prepare the tacos:
Heat about ½ inch of oil in a shallow, wide skillet. Toss the cold meat with the taco seasoning and the reserved juices until well combined – use your hands for even distribution. When the oil shimmers, grab a handful of the shredded rabbit and squeeze out most of the juice and put it into the hot oil. Repeat the squeezing process until there is an even layer of meat in the pan, and press down with a spatula once, then leave it alone. Let the bottom get crispy, then toss the meat and press the non-crispy side into the pan to crisp. When crispy, remove from the pan and drain, and repeat with the rest of the meat until all the rabbit has had a turn in the hot oil.
Meanwhile warm corn tortillas on a comal (or in a heavy skillet), dice red onions, chop cilantro, slice limes and cube some avocado, crumble some cotija cheese (optional)
Top a warm corn tortilla with about ¼ cup of the crispy meat, and the toppings of your choice.

*I got about 8 tacos per rabbit, but it really depends on the size of your kill and how stuffed you like your tacos!
**Please don’t use a packet from the grocery store! If you don’t already have a taco mix recipe that you love, find one! Or, you can just season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, Mexican oregano and chile.