Archive for September, 2009

Prairie Plant-A-Thon

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Passport to Texas from Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Sportfish & Wildlife Restoration Program

If you’re a gardener, or just looking for a volunteer opportunity, then put November 14th on your calendar, and take part in the Sheldon Lake State Park Prairie Plant-a-thon.

And, we hope to get a hundred, a hundred and twenty-five people out here to spend the morning, and see if we can get three thousand or so plants planted in the ground. We got 26-hundred in, in a four hour period last November.

Robert Comstock is superintendent of Sheldon Lake State Park, which is outside of Houston. The Plant-A-Thon is part of an ongoing effort to replant 400 acres of the park with native tall grass species.

Hopefully in the next two to three years we’ll have all the prairies in the park restored to their former glory.

Many of the native grasses used during plant-a-thons, and weekly restoration projects, are rescued from construction sites around Houston by members of area Texas Master Naturalist Chapters.

They dig up clumps of native grass that they identify from projects all throughout the Houston area. And they’ll work out here and they’ll take these clumps of grasses, and break them apart and put them into one gallon pots where they’ll sit for about three months to get their roots established.

Then volunteers plant the grasses into the prairie. Find details about the Plant-A-Thon at

That’s our show…made possible by a grant from the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration program…working to restore native habitat in Texas.

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

November 14, 2009 — Sheldon Lake SP — Prairie Plant-a-thon Day — Join a biologist and staff as we introduce native grasses and plants into historic prairie lands in the park. Come prepared to dig in the dirt, and learn about our native tall grass prairie. Coyotes, bobcats, eagles, and hawks could be spotted. 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (281) 456-2800.

A Climate Story with a Ring to It

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Passport to Texas from Texas Parks and Wildlife

A tree is a living history book. By analyzing its rings, researchers can determine the climate conditions of each year the tree was alive.

Malcolm Cleaveland is a professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He and a team of researchers are trying to determine the climate patterns of central Texas.

On a recent day, they take samples from bald cypress trees in Guadalupe River State Park.

[Sounds of collecting samples]

That’s the researchers boring holes into the trees. It takes a while to collect the samples.

[Sounds of collecting samples]

Some of the trees aren’t old enough. Others, like this one have tree rot.

Well, Richard, thank you for trying…it’s all I can do…We have now bored this thing from almost every conceivable angle.

Cleaveland says if the results show that long droughts are fairly common, it will re-emphasize the need for water conservation.

These people who say we don’t need to conserve water cause we can pump as much as we want to out of the aquifer, they’re crazy. That’s the height of insanity. If we experienced a drought like the mega drought like 40 years of almost continuous hard drought pumping ground water would be an end game that would not work.

That’s our show. We had research and writing help from Gretchen Mahan. For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Troubled Waters: Whooping Cranes

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Passport to Texas from Texas Parks and Wildlife

[Whooping crane calls]

Last winter, twenty-three out of two hundred and seventy whooping cranes died after a decline in blue crab and wolfberries, two of the crane’s main food sources.

Tom Stehn is the whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. He says the decline is linked to two sources: drought and diversion of Texas rivers.

The human consumption of water has been increasing annually as the population of South Texas grows. This is a very critical issue for the bays that in some way we need to figure out a mechanism so sufficient freshwater inflows reach the bays to keep them productive.

Stehn says the fate of the whooping crane could rest in the hands of Texans.

There are management actions that people will have to do such as conserve water. And those are the choices that Texans have to make.

And many new threats are coming onto the scene.

As issues get worse for the whooping cranes, inflow issues, housing development issues, wind energy development, possibly taking away habitat from the cranes in migration. There’s a lot of threats out there right now, so I’m really leery of how the whooping cranes are going to do in the future.

The good news is there are sixty-one nesting pairs of cranes, which make some researchers hopeful that the population will increase next year.

That’s our show…with research and writing help from Gretchen Mahan. For Texas Parks and Wildlife I’m

Endangered Species: Houston Toad

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Passport to Texas from Texas Parks and Wildlife

[Call of the Houston toad]

That sound is the Houston toad. And it’s become a very rare sound over the past two decades. Years of drought and habitat destruction have diminished the Houston toad population to only a few hundred.

Michael Forstner is a professor at Texas State University. And through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Landowner Incentive Program (L.I.P.), he’s working with private landowners in Bastrop County to restore habitat for the Houston toad.

Most of the people in Bastrop want to live in Bastrop County because it looks a certain way. And if it keeps looking like the lost pines, we keep the toad.

So what do these “lost pines” look like?

Imagine a cathedral forest. Most of the habitat that we find Houston toads doing the best in, whatever that means for its current levels, are gallery forests. Those are the forests that you see in the images for computer desktop wallpapers. Those are large-trunked trees with open space beneath them.

By planting the fast-growing loblolly pine trees, a habitat can be restored in about twenty years.

So if current efforts are successful, Forstner says the Houston toad population could make a comeback.

The best thing about the Houston toad is they make 6,000 eggs at a time. Those babies just need a place to grow up.

That’s our show…with research and writing help from Gretchen Mahan. You can find more information on For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Invasive Species: European Starling

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Passport to Texas from Texas Parks and Wildlife

“Nay! I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak.”

According to legend, it was this brief reference to the European starling in one of Shakespeare’s plays that led Eugene Schieffelin to release starlings in Central Park in 1890.

There were several attempts, so we don’t know how many were brought in but several dozen is what I’ve read.

Cliff Shackelford is a Texas Parks and Wildlife non-game ornithologist. He says starlings have now multiplied to the tens of millions in Texas.

If you have the windows down at most intersections in Texas, you can probably hear one calling in the spring time.

[Starling calls]

But Shackelford says when he hears the starling, he doesn’t smile with joy.

For me the sound is annoying because I think of all the bad things that starlings have done and the main thing they’ve done is they’re cavity nesters and they’re looking for hollows and trees like woodpecker holes and there are a lot of native birds that are looking for those. Well the starling has done a good job at kicking birds out of their nest cavities so they can steal them.

The European starling is a fairly attractive, small black bird. But when they take over the nests of bluebirds and other native species, they lose their appeal. Still, starlings are here to stay, so the best thing to do is simply make sure they’re not nesting near your home.

That’s our show…with research and writing help from Gretchen Mahan. For Texas Parks and Wildlife I’m Cecilia Nasti.