Archive for October, 2017

Foraging for Food in the Wild

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
Merriwether, from his Facebook page,

Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen. Image is from his Facebook page:

This is Passport to Texas

By day, Mark Vorderbruggen is a chemist who works in research and development in Houston. By night he is Merriwether – plant forager extraordinaire.

Foraging is how we used to get food before HEB or Krogers or agriculture.

Foraging involves finding and harvesting food from the wild plants around you. Merriwether teaches people how to identify edible plants via his website Foraging Texas, and during workshops.

The running joke for years [was] that my classes were 50% hippies and 50% survivalists. In both cases, they were people that had some concerns about their food sources. It spread out from that into people who are just looking for new experiences, new flavors – looking for new ways to impress their friends.

Before you head outdoors to forage your next snack…

First thing you have to keep in mind is in the state of Texas, it is illegal to take plant material from a piece of property without the property owner’s permission. I will tell you right now: state parks, city parks – you will never get permission there. They don’t want people ripping up the plants.

Yet, state parks, Like Washington-on-the-Brazos, invite Merriwether to facilitate edible plant identification walks.

He has two coming up November 4th, find details in the calendar section of the Texas Parks and Wildlife website or on tomorrow’s show.

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

Circle the Birders and Start Counting

Monday, October 30th, 2017
Christmas Bird Count participants. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Christmas Bird Count participants. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

This is Passport to Texas

The annual Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, takes place any day between, and including, December 14th and January 5th.

There are over a hundred count circles in Texas, and they have them on different days where people can move around and visit multiple Christmas counts during that Christmas count season.

Nongame ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford says many of the 15-mile diameter count circles are decades old.

Teams of birders go in that circle and they repeat that every year. And after decades, you have some really neat data to look at. You can see trends.

Bird count circles for 2017-18. Image from counting circles.

You can see which ducks are maybe on the increase – or on the decline. You can [even] see certain species that we can irruptive species – like red breasted nuthatch and purple finch.

A compiler picks a day for participants to count birds within a specific circle over a 24-hour period.

We use that information to determine where hot spots are for certain species.

It’s easy to get involved. Just go to

Look for a Christmas Bird Count circle near you. And associated with that circle will be the compiler. Contact that person and say, ‘Hey. I’d like to contribute. I’d like to be partnered with a team that maybe has some experts.’ And that to me is the best way to learn birds: go out with experienced people. You will learn so much more than from a book.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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

Christmas Bird Count: From Killing to Counting

Friday, October 27th, 2017
Christmas Bird Count -- the early years.

Christmas Bird Count — the early years.

This is Passport to Texas

No 19th Century American hunting family’s Christmas was complete without taking to forests and fields to binge kill birds and other woodland creatures, called the Christmas Side Hunt.

You competed against neighbors [to see] who had the biggest pile of birds.

Nongame ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, says no feathered animal was off limits in this competition of carnage.

We’re not talking about things you eat. We’re talking about all birds. Even predators like owls and hawks. Songbirds. Just wasted.

It was the early days of conservation then, and scientists and bird lovers, alike, expressed their concern.

The bird people said: ‘This is not sustainable. Let’s try something different. Let’s get people out with binoculars, and count birds, and maybe compare numbers on a datasheet, instead of piles of dead birds.

Frank Chapman, an early ornithologist and officer of a new organization called the Audubon Society, proposed The Christmas Bird Census for a new century.

So that’s how the Christmas Bird Count came about 118 years ago.

There were 25 Christmas Bird Counts the first year, with 90 species tallied on all counts combined. It continues even now, and we tell you how to get involved next week.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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

Taking Back the Dark Skies

Thursday, October 26th, 2017
The Milky Way.

The Milky Way.

This is Passport to Texas

The night sky once offered stunning displays of twinkling stars and planets. These marvels still exist, but light pollution masks their brilliance.

Often what we see that in is the form of what we call skyglow.

Folks in urban areas know it best as a haze of light that hangs over their cities. John Barentine is with the International Dark Sky Association.

Our mission as the IDSA is to preserve and protect that nighttime environment and heritage that we have of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.

Awareness and simple fixes can help take back the night.

Some of the things that we try to do, is to get people to look at the quality of the lighting that they’re using…to think about [whether] the amount of light that’s being put on the ground sensible for the task at hand…and are all the lights fully shielded so we’re not always blasting light [up into the night sky] from the ground.

Experience dark skies at some Texas State Parks.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Hill Country, and Copper Breaks State Park in North Texas. We have a very active chapter of our organization in Texas. I would say that the reason that this has all come about, is that Texas being largely rural, and having this tradition where — the stars at night are big and bright – that a lot of people consider the dark night sky to be part of the cultural history of the state, and find it worth preserving.

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

Dark Skies for Healthier Lives

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017
A clear and dark night sky bursting with stars.

A clear and dark night sky bursting with stars.

This is Passport to Texas

Few of us experience dark skies anymore because of light pollution.

Most often we see that [light pollution] in the form of what we call skyglow…[something] that people who live in or near cities will be familiar with.

Skyglow is hazy reflected light hovering over cities at night, disrupting nature’s day/night cycle. John Barentine, with the International Dark Sky Association says light pollution isn’t exactly benign.

It turns out that there are hormonal pathways throughout the body that are governed by that [day/night] cycle, and when we start disrupting them by putting light in at unusual times of the day, we disrupt those pathways and that’s what we think leads to some of the [potential health] problems.

Blue light (in the spectrum), associated most with sunlight, is most disruptive to our internal clocks.

Blue light triggers this hormone that’s called melatonin; in the daytime when the sun comes up that relatively blue sunlight turns down the production of melatonin and tells us to wake up. And then at night, the result is that the production of melatonin goes up, and that’s the cue that tells us to go to sleep. It’s also regulating all these sub systems throughout the body.

We have a link to The American Medical Association’s report on light pollution at What’s being done to prevent light pollution. That’s tomorrow.

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