MAGAZINE OF THE TEXAS WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION
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CEO COMMENTS D AV I D Y E AT E S
anuary is always welcomed by me. As fun as the holiday season may be, it is always nice to settle back into a seminormal schedule and get back to work. The kids are back in school, the Christmas tree ornaments are boxed up, and the sudden, urgent priorities of regional deer ruts are behind us. January is a great time to focus on setting goals for the year and to get busy accomplishing them. Here at TWA, we are doing just that. Along the way, we will be fitting in a late season duck or dove hunt and always a quail hunt or two. This month’s cover story explores land management practices in context of maintaining sustainable quail populations in West Texas. There are few things in the field more nostalgic for me than West Texas quail. The flurry of a covey rise, the blistering cold, the landscape’s muted palette of browns and grays. It stirs some of my fondest memories. Of course, none of this is possible without sound land management practices. Texas is blessed with the very best of the best in quail research initiatives. They span across the entire state and represent the very essence of public-private partnerships. These very bright minds study very big issues like habitat fragmentation and very small issues like microscopic parasites. It all has a cumulative impact on Texas quail populations. One particular finding that caught my attention was in a presentation delivered by Dr. Matthew Schnupp. Dr. Schnupp is the head wildlife biologist for King Ranch and a member of TWA’s Executive Committee. Every year, he performs technical wildlife surveys, including some on quail populations, on King Ranch. He generated a heat map of quail densities and compared them year over year. The results were astounding. One very, very large tract of quality habitat had quail densities move from one end to the other, virtually abandoning the “hot spot” from the previous year. The take away was that quail need or can at least use much more habitat range than what we may realize. Quail are not alone in that regard. The wildlife of Texas need as much quality habitat as they can get to maintain balanced populations, cope with predation, disease and nutritional needs, while maintaining genetic diversity. In today’s world of smaller land holdings and urbanization pressures that is a very real challenge. Thankfully, there is an elegant solution in the form of Wildlife Management Associations, or what is often referred to as “wildlife co-ops.” This issue highlights a particularly engaged example in the Lee County Wildlife Management Association. We hope they serve as a model to landowners of what can be achieved through working with your neighbors towards a common goal. From all of us at TWA, Happy New Year! Let’s make it a productive one for land, water and wildlife.
Texas Wildlife Association Mission Statement Serving Texas wildlife and its habitat, while protecting property rights, hunting heritage, and the conservation efforts of those who value and steward wildlife resources.
OFFICERS J. David Anderson, President, Houston Tom Vandivier, Vice President, Dripping Springs Dr. Louis Harveson, Second Vice President for Programs, Alpine Dr. Neal Wilkins, Secretary/Treasurer, San Antonio For a complete list of TWA Directors, go to www.texas-wildlife.org
PROFESSIONAL STAFF/CONTRACT ASSOCIATES Administration & Operation David Yeates, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Lisa Flowers, Director of Programs Quita Hill, Director of Finance and Operations Cheryl McPherson, Office Administrator
Outreach & Member Services David Brimager, CWB®, Director of Public Relations Luke Sammons, Director of Communications Kristin Parma, Membership Coordinator
Conservation Legacy and Hunting Heritage Programs Kassi Scheffer, Director of Education – L.A.N.D.S. Outreach Program Elanor Dean, Education Program Specialist Adrienne Paquette, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Jo Picken, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Phil Salonek, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Elisa Velador, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Marla Wolf, Curriculum Writer Leslie Wittenburg, Director of Education – L.A.N.D.S. Intensive Program Sarah Grella, Education Program Specialist Brian Robert, Education Program Specialist Courtney Brittain, Website Consultant COL(R) Chris Mitchell, Texas Youth Hunting Program Director Bryan Jones, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Bob Barnette, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Briana Miles, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Kim Hodges, TYHP Program Coordinator Kara Starr, Texas Big Game Awards Program Coordinator
Advocacy Joey Park, Legislative Program Coordinator
Texas Wildlife Association TEXAS WILDLIFE is published monthly by the Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. E-mail address: email@example.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. The Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) was organized in 1985 for the purpose of serving as an advocate for the benefit of wildlife and for the rights of wildlife managers, landowners and hunters in educational, scientific, political, regulatory and legislative arenas. TEXAS WILDLIFE is the official TWA publication and has widespread circulation throughout Texas and the United States. All rights reserved. No parts of these magazines may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without express written permission from the publisher. Copyrighted 2018 Texas Wildlife Association. Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the Texas Wildlife Association. Similarities between the name Texas Wildlife Association and those of advertisers or state agencies are coincidental, and do not indicate mutual affiliation, unless clearly noted. TWA reserves the right to refuse advertising.
3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126 San Antonio, TX 78247 www.texas-wildlife.org (210) 826-2904 FAX (210) 826-4933 (800) 839-9453 (TEX-WILD)
MAGAZINE OF THE TEXAS WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION
JANUARY VOLUME 33
8 West Texas Ranchers Sustaining
Northern Bobwhite Quail Populations by ROBERT FEARS
34 Borderland News
Survival of Trans-Pecos Gambel's Quail by RON JANKOWIAK and RYAN LUNA, PH.D.
38 Shoot Like a Pro
16 Hunting Heritage
Fill the Frame
Community Hunter Education
by WADE GRASSEDONIO
by COL(R) CHRIS MITCHELL
40 The Rolling Plains Quail
18 Lessons from Leopold
Balance of Nature
by RUSSELL A. GRAVES
by STEVE NELLE
22 Lee County Cooperative Conservation by JOHN JEFFERSON
46 Important Waterfowl Foods Along The Gulf Coast And Effects Of Hurricane Harvey by TODD J. STEELE
28 Guns & Shooting
Winter Doves Can Require 12 Gauge Change to Hunting Tactics
54 Back at the Ranch
by RALPH WININGHAM
10 New Year's Resolutions for the Outdoor Enthusiast by WHITNEY KLENZENDORF
30 Pond Management WHATIZIT?
by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM Photo by Dick Wilberforce
MAGAZINE OF THE TEXAS WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION
MAGAZINE CORPS David Yeates, Executive Editor Kim Rothe, Consulting Publications Coordinator/Editor David Brimager, CWB®, Advertising Director Lorie A. Woodward, Special Projects Editor Publication Printers Corp., Printing, Denver, CO
On the Cover
Hunting the Northern Bobwhite Quail is popular in Texas, and it can provide additional income to ranches and rural communities. A lot of time and money are allocated to learning how to sustain bobwhite populations. The Anchor Ranch Program, being conducted within a 38-county area primarily in the Rolling Plains, is committed to reversing quail decline. Participating ranches are demonstrating that bobwhite populations can be sustained with proper habitat management and supplemental feeding. Read more in Robert Fear’s article West Texas Ranchers Sustaining Northern Bobwhite Quail Populations on page 8. Photo by Dick Wilberforce
MEETINGS AND EVENTS
FOR INFORMATION ON HUNTING SEASONS, call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112, consult the 2017-2018 Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, or visit the TPWD website at tpwd.state.tx.us.
JANUARY 12-FEBRUARY 3
Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. For more information, visit www. fwssr.com
Kids Gone WILD Event, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. For more information, visit www.fwssr.com.
Texas Big Game Awards Sportsman’s Celebration, Regions 5-7, Pitser Garrison Convention Center, Lufkin. For more information, contact Kara Starr at (210) 236-9761 or firstname.lastname@example.org
JUNE JUNE 3-5
FEBRUARY FEBRUARY 8-25
San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, featuring the Texas Wildlife Expo. For more information, visit www. sarodeo.com.
QuailMasters Course, Session 2, Breckenridge. See details on page 20. For more information, contact Amanda Gobeli at email@example.com.
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Ranching & Wildlife Expo. For more information, visit www. rodeohouston.com.
Texas Big Game Awards Sportsman’s Celebration, Regions 1-3, Abilene Civic Center, Abilene. For more information, contact Kara Starr at (210) 236-9761 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 18
FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 3
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. For more information, visit www. rodeohouston.com.
MARCH MARCH 15
Texas Brigades Application Deadline. See Texas Brigades application deadline and camp dates in the brown box on this page, and apply online at www.texasbrigades.org.
Texas Big Game Awards Sportsman’s Celebration, Regions 4-8, Willie DeLeon Civic Center, Uvalde. For more information, contact Kara Starr at (210) 236-9761 or email@example.com
JULY JULY 12-15
WildLife 2018, J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. For more information contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or firstname.lastname@example.org
QuailMasters Course, Sesssion 1, Roby. See details on page 20. For more information, contact Amanda Gobeli at email@example.com.
Statewide Texas Big Game Awards Banquet, during TWA’s Annual Convention,WildLife 2018, J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. For more information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texas Brigades Experience, during TWA’s Annual Convention, WildLife 2018. J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. Register during TWA Convention. For more information, contact Texas Brigades at email@example.com.
AUGUST AUGUST 5-7
QuailMasters Course, Session 3, Location TBD. See details on page 20. For more information, contact Amanda Gobeli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEPTEMBER SEPTEMBER 30-OCTOBER 2
QuailMasters Course, Session 4, Hebbronville. See details on page 20. For more information, contact Amanda Gobeli at email@example.com.
2018 TEXAS BRIGADES Application & Camp Dates (Application deadline is March 15, 2018. Apply online at www.texasbrigades.org.)
Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade June 2-6 South Texas Buckskin Brigade June 17-21 South Texas Bobwhite Brigade June 22-26 Bass Brigade July 6-10 Ranch Brigade July 16-20 Coastal Brigade July 17-21 North Texas Buckskin Brigade July 22-26
Photo by Wyman Meinzer
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
Bobwhites under good cover with space for travel.
WEST TEXAS RANCHERS SUSTAINING NORTHERN BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS Article by ROBERT FEARS
unting the Northern Bobwhite Quail is popular in Texas, and it can provide additional income to ranches and rural communities. The problem is that quail populations decrease during dry years and increase during periods of normal or above normal rainfall. Since rainfall patterns vary considerably in Texas, so do quail populations. A lot of time and money is allocated toward learning how to sustain bobwhite populations in a more stable manner and progress has occurred. One of the successes was achieved by the Quail-Alliance Anchor Ranch Program initiated in January 2010. The program’s mission is to reverse the quail decline. Quail-Tech is a research and demonstration project coordinated between Quail
First, a 501(c)(3) organization, and the Department of Natural Resources Management of Texas Tech University. The Anchor Ranch Program is conducted within a 38-county area, primarily in the Rolling Plains. Participating ranches are called “anchor ranches” because they anchor quality quail habitat throughout the study area. Research conducted in the Anchor Ranch Program is funded by the Burnett Foundation and the Park Cities and Cross Timbers Chapters of the Quail Coalition. Many reasons for quail decline have been proposed and studied including fire ants, predators, land fragmentation and drought. All these factors can have a negative effect on quail populations, but the essentials for survival are good habitat and an ample yearround food supply.
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
“Ideal habitat for chicks is an area with green leafy forbs to provide overhead protection and to attract insects. The cover should have sufficient bare ground beneath the canopy to allow chicks uninhibited movement and access to food. Ragweed, broomweed, partridge pea and croton provide excellent brood rearing cover and serve as an important seed source during fall and winter. Brood rearing habitat must be close to loafing cover for adults.” Adult feeding and travel cover are similar to that of brood rearing with a few exceptions. Adult bobwhites eat a variety of foods so feeding cover should contain a mosaic of different plants. Feeding cover should include grasses interspersed with forbs, brushy/woody cover and a small amount of bare ground to allow for scratching, dust baths and mobility. Vegetation density should allow for concealment from predators. “Loafing cover can encompass multiple vegetation types depending upon local conditions,” Dabbert said. “Bobwhites will rest in the protection of perennial bunchgrasses and tall multistemmed forbs, but tend to favor woody haunts. Shrubs such as
Photo by Robert Fears
QUAIL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS Sufficient nesting cover is one of the primary habitat requirements for the sustainability of bobwhite quail. “On the Texas Rolling Plains, it is usually supplied by native perennial bunchgrasses such as little bluestem, big bluestem, indiangrass and various gramas,” said Dr. Brad Dabbert, Burnett Foundation Endowed Professor, Texas Tech University. “Residual growth from the previous year is crucial and often the only thing available during the early nesting season or during drought. Hens will also nest under or within a variety of other plants including prickly pear cactus, yucca and tasajillo. Bobwhites need large blocks of nesting cover to make their nests harder for predators to find.” “Cover requirements are different for brood rearing,” Dabbert continued. “Chicks, only an inch tall at hatch, must have space between plants to allow them to move freely with protection of overhead concealment. They also require vegetation hosting large quantities of insects, such as grasshoppers, in order to satisfy their high requirements for protein-rich food.
Broomweed, green plants underneath tall perennial grass, provide good quail cover.
Photo by Wyman Meinzer
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
Quail are vulnerable to numerous predators at all stages of life. The most tried and tested approach to reduce predator effects on bobwhite quail is to improve habitat quality, especially escape and loafing cover.
Photo by Byron Buckley
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
Photo by Robert Fears
A quail chick fitted with a radio transmitter so it can be tracked by QuailTech researchers.
Quail normally meet their water needs from rain puddles, natural areas and succulent plants; however, during drought, supplemental watering devices are sometimes needed.
redberry juniper, ashe juniper, sand plum, lotebush, sand shinnery oak and spiny hackberry all provide good loafing concealment. Bare ground, shade, overhead protection from predators and the near year-round availability makes this vegetation desirable. Woody plants can also serve as a major food source.” Roosting cover is an especially easy requirement to fulfill for bobwhites. The quail will generally roost anywhere there is vegetation that does not obstruct a quick burst of flight. Roosting in a circle with their heads facing outward allows for an immediate escape when rousted by a predator. Roosting cover is often in the open with limited or no shelter in direct proximity to allow for unobstructed flight in all directions. SURVIVAL FROM PREDATORS “Quail are vulnerable to numerous predators during all their life stages,” Dabbert said. “Small and medium-sized mammals such as cotton rats, striped skunks, raccoons and coyotes are nest predators. Ground dwelling birds and snakes will eat an entire clutch of quail eggs. Until two weeks of age, bobwhite chicks are vulnerable to several species of reptiles, small mammals and carnivorous birds including ravens, hawks and road runners. Even carnivorous insects, such as centipedes, are chick predators. After two weeks of age, quail are able to fly and escape predators.” Adult quail are susceptible to a wide array of raptors including Cooper’s, sharp-shinned, Swainson’s and red-tailed hawks. They are also preyed on by mammalian predators such as coyotes and bobcats. “Success in sustaining quail nesting through mammalian predator reduction depends on the original predator population,” explained Dabbert. “If the initial concentration is low, removal will not increase nesting success. Mammalian predator removal has been effective in the Southeastern United States, but not in Texas.” The most tried and tested approach to reduce predator effects on bobwhite quail is to improve habitat quality, especially escape and loafing cover. Quail have evolved to compensate for widely variable annual mortality and nest losses by producing large clutches of eggs and attempting to nest up to three times during each season. This is possible if sufficient food is available. AMPLE FOOD SUPPLY “Due to many different types of rangeland plants and insects across the Rolling Plains, the bobwhite’s diet is diverse,” Dabbert said. “Seeds, foliage, insects, berries and agricultural grains comprise their typical menu. Quality nutritional forage produces heavier birds with added body fat. This provides bobwhites a greater likelihood of withstanding inclement weather such as severe winters and drought. Body fat also allows quail to enter the breeding season in good condition and reduces their physiological stress.” Regardless of good habitat management, quail food supplies will dwindle during dry periods especially in prolonged drought. When natural foods are not available, it becomes necessary to feed supplements in order to sustain populations. Supplemental feed is more effective when broadcast along roadsides or feeding trails into the adjacent vegetation in contrast to food plots and stationary feeders. Broadcasting distributes grain over a large
Controlled burning is a good tool for creating plant diversity and decreasing grass density.
Photo by Robert Fears
area and allows quail to remain concealed in nearby vegetation while feeding. FOUR SIXES RANCH One of the anchor ranches is the Four Sixes near Guthrie, Texas, which has had great success in reversing quail decline. The Quail-Tech research team estimated one 14,000-acre pasture on the ranch to contain more than a bird per acre during the fall of 2013. Birds flushed in the pasture supported this estimate. Joe Leathers, Four Sixes Ranch manager, reported flushing 2,000 bobwhites while working pointing dogs with no shooting. These data were gathered during about 52 hours in the field spread over three weeks. Leathers averaged three conveys per hour. These numbers were achieved at the end of a severe threeyear drought through good management. “A desire to increase native grasses prompted the ranch to reduce juniper (cedar) stems in 2009,” Dabbert said. “Stems left in the pastures provide important cover for bobwhites, especially during times of extreme heat and cold. “The Four Sixes also disks 120 linear miles per year to promote forb growth when sufficient timely precipitation occurs. When successful, these disk lanes contain a combination of croton, ragweed and other species excellent for brood habitat in spring and providing seeds in the fall.” “Grazing management is the foundation for bobwhite population growth on the Four Sixes,” Leathers said. “By
Photo by Robert Fears
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
Many of the Anchor Ranches disk or rototill strips across pastures to encourage growth of forbs.
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
supplemental feed suffered 10 times greater mortality than birds that were supplemental fed.” “The Four Sixes Ranch uses the hunting management principle that killing fewer birds today will result in more for the future,” Leathers said. “We have not harvested bobwhites in more than three years. We believe that harvest should be managed on a pasture-to-pasture basis with a long-term focus.” “Managers should understand that while Texas’ bobwhite hunting regulations are designed to protect quail populations on a statewide basis, it is possible to have too much hunting pressure on individual pastures,” Dabbert said. “Consequently, landowners should take a conservative approach and limit the total kill to 20 to 30 percent of the population within pastures with sufficient populations for hunting. Population size is estimated using fall covey counts and limits are set on a pasture by pasture basis. During drought years, when there are no replacement birds produced, we encourage landowners to forego shooting quail and just enjoy watching dogs point coveys.” CIRCLE A RANCH Another anchor ranch is the Circle A near Archer City, owned and operated by George Allen. The ranch is primarily managed
Photo by Robert Fears
comparing quail abundance with vegetation height, it was determined that a minimum vegetation height of 16 inches is required for good quail protection and 30 inches is optimal. We have been able to maintain vegetation height above 30 inches which has had a large positive effect on quail numbers.” “We have also taken a proactive approach to quail nutrition,” Leathers continued. “In 2009, we began providing supplemental feed consisting of 90 percent milo and 10 percent corn. The ranch switched from stationary feeders to broadcasting feed from the edge of the road to a distance of 60 feet into the vegetation. Three hundred pounds of feed per mile is broadcast once every two weeks throughout the year. Compared to birds not fed, survival rates increased by 10.6 percent during the 2010-2011 season and 21.9 percent in 2011-2012. Physical condition improved going into the breeding season allowing the hens to nest earlier and longer which increased their likelihood to re-nest.” “A major winter storm hit the Four Sixes in 2014,” Dabbert said. “Birds outside the supplemental feeding area suffered a 48 percent mortality rate while supplemental fed birds averaged only five percent mortality. These numbers show that quail without
Maintaining vegetation height at 16 to 30 inches high with cattle grazing creates travel lanes for quail, yet leaving sufficient cover.
Photo by Wyman Meinzer
BOBWHITE QUAIL POPULATIONS
Conservative hunting of quail helps maintain populations.
for bobwhite quail supplemented with a stocker cattle operation. When the ranch was purchased in 1998, the quail population was average. As a result of good habitat establishment and supplemental feeding, nine coveys were flushed during a six-hour period during the 2010/2011 drought and 25 coveys during a year with spring rainfall. “We use a variety of land management practices to establish and maintain quail habitat,” Allen said. “Our first task was to reduce the amount of brush by sculpting, and then we began maintaining forb production and plant diversity with controlled burns and grazing with the stockers. “We start stocking calves in October and by the following June, they have been shipped. The stockers are rotated through pastures in a manner to prevent grass from becoming too dense for quail travel. Winter wheat is raised for supplemental grazing in the event sufficient pasture forage isn’t available. A portion of the wheat is allowed to seed to provide feed for the quail.”
Forb production and plant diversity is encouraged by alternate strips disked across pastures during the fall. Seventy-five-foot wide strips are disked with the plowed lanes placed 75 yards apart across the pasture. “I sincerely believe that good habitat is the first prerequisite for quail sustainability,” Allen said. “Second, I feel that supplemental feeding is required for sustaining populations through dry periods and cold winters. We broadcast milo along 20 miles of road every week through the entire year. The broadcast feeder spreads grain from the edge of the road into the vegetation to allow the birds to feed under the safety of cover.” The above described habitat improvement and quail sustainability techniques used on the Four Sixes and Circle A are employed on many other anchor ranches and results are similar. Research and demonstrations by Dabbert and his crew show that Northern Bobwhite Quail populations can be sustained with proper habitat management and supplemental feeding.
Community Hunter Education Article by COL(R) CHRIS MITCHELL Photos by KRISTEN SATTERFIELD
Game Wardens Ran the Range
or the second year in a row, a unique hunter education opportunity has been offered and will continue to be offered thanks to the innovative actions of Kristen Satterfield of Rocksprings. Satterfield called the Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP) in 2016 with an interesting idea. She had learned about TYHP and wanted to offer a hunter
education course at the Gilmer Memorial Library where she is a librarian. Libraries regularly offer education opportunities to their communities, and Satterfield, who is an avid bow hunter, decided she wanted to give her community the chance to take Hunter Education. While Rocksprings has an established hunting culture, Satterfield had discovered
that many young people in town had not completed a hunter education course. Because Satterfield had generated a lot of interest, we began coordinating and decided on a date. In 2013, changes to hunter education had reduced class sizes. The introduction of the online hunter education course for those over 17 resulted in the shrinking of the physical hunter education classes, with fewer adults attending. Prior to that, class sizes regularly averaged 10 students, show were a mix of kids and adults. Satterfield called in December 2016 and we decided to offer Hunter Education a month later. Although deer season would be all almost complete by that time, the course would get hunters ready for 2017 TYHP turkey hunts, and the 2017-2018 deer season. More than 20 signed up for the class. It was great news since finding a hunter education class late in the season can be difficult. Many of the participants were from Rocksprings, but hunters from as far away as Pecos County, almost 200 miles away, attended the class. It can also be difficult in far West Texas to find hunter education courses. Participants appreciated the opportunity to attend the class. This hunter education course had another unique aspect that also posed a possible challenge. The Rocksprings Public Library is on the school grounds. As the hunter education instructor, I was concerned I would not be able to teach the class the way I normally do. I have learned students really respond well to hands-on education. They especially like to see real firearms. Part of the course involves teaching the different kinds of firearm actions.
COMMUNITY HUNTER EDUCATION
First of Many Gilmore Library Hunter Education Courses
For those unfamiliar with firearm terminology, the action is the part of the gun or pistol that loads, fires and ejects the ammunition. You can show people pictures but when they get to see the five different actions, hold them and work with them, their understanding is much better. When I asked the Rocksprings School superintendent if it was ok to bring firearms onto school property, he said it was not a problem. He even went so far as to print off a portion of the Texas Code that addressed this situation. I found the same excerpt in a Texas Association of School Boards legal Services document titled “Firearms on School District Property” (2017). It states: “Texas school districts often authorize the possession of firearms or other weapons on campus for approved activities such as gun safety or hunter training, historical reenactments and ROTC.” It goes on to explain that “If the firearm is used in a program approved by the school the Federal Gun-Free Safe Zone Act (FGSZA) does not apply. 18 U.S.C. 922 (q)(2)(B)(iv), (v)" Relieved and armed (pardon the pun) with that new and useful information,
we were able to conduct hunter education as planned. We also ran a firearm handling exercise with air rifles designed to let participants demonstrate their understanding of the four fundamentals of safe firearm handling. 1. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. 2. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. 3. Be aware of your target and what is beyond it. 4. Keep your finger off the trigger until just before you are ready to fire. The best part of this particular hunter education was the positive community response. The library provided lunch and several Rockspringers made homemade desserts and/or donated drinks. The day of hunter education was cold, so the meals were especially well received. We certified all attendees that day, and with the success, we planned another class for August 2017. Again, the community came together. There was another great turnout despite Hurricane Harvey’s pending landfall. Rocksprings was spared heavy rainfall, and we had the added bonus of the rain holding off until after the outdoor activities were completed.
The highlight of this particular course was the participation of two Texas Game Wardens. Blake Satterfield, who had recently graduated the Game Warden Academy in August 2017, and Carson Wardlow assisted with Hunter Education. The game wardens ran the range and answered questions from the class. In the midst of conducting the class, the wardens were waiting to find out when and where they would be sent to assist with the hurricane. They knew they might be gone from their families for a while, and yet they stayed with the class until we finished and congratulated the students as they learned their test scores. While libraries across the state offer all sorts of education, you might inquire with your local library to find out if they have considered offering Hunter Education. They might not have the facilities and space to accommodate a full course such as the one conducted in Rocksprings, but most have computers and Internet so students can at least complete the online portion. Who knows? Your community might band together as Rocksprings did, thanks to an enterprising librarian.
Photo courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation (www.aldoleopold.org)
Balance of Nature BY STEVE NELLE
The ‘balance of nature’ is a mental image for land and life which grew up before the era of modern ecological thought. To the ecological mind, balance of nature has merits and also defects. Its merits are that it conceives of a collective total, that it imputes some utility to all species and that it implies oscillations when balance is disturbed. Its defects are that there is only one point at which balance occurs and that balance is normally static ~Aldo Leopold, 1939
ost children learn about the balance of nature in elementary school and it can be a good start into understanding the natural world. Mom taught me about the balance of nature before I ever learned it in school. She suggested that it would make a good science fair project, so with her help I demonstrated a balanced ecological system. It consisted of a small aquarium with a few fish and a few plants. Fish need oxygen and plants need carbon dioxide. Sunlight provided the energy for plants to generate oxygen through photosynthesis, while the fish consumed the oxygen and gave back carbon dioxide to sustain the plants. Microscopic algae provided food for the small fish and the algae in turn were nourished by the waste from the fish. The system was balanced, at least for the project’s duration. The simplest kind of balance can be visualized like a seesaw. Even if the two children are of equal weight, the idea of a seesaw is not stationary balance but constant movement. As Leopold points out, the only time a true balance exists is the brief moment the beam is horizontal. So, in reality, imbalance is much more frequent and more normal than balance.
A more accurate analogy would be to think of nature as an intricate machine with many spinning and oscillating parts. In this case, balance occurs as long as the interconnected parts continue to spin and oscillate as designed. If a large flywheel is added to the machine, it provides the inertia and gyroscopic effect to keep the machine running and balanced even during minor disruptions. It is still a crude analogy but perhaps more representative of a natural system. Humans are obviously a part of the machine and can either help maintain a balance or can hinder and upset the balance. Leopold has said that proper human management “lubricates the engine we call nature.” Taking humans out of the equation can be one of the ways that the balance is upset. In many ways, nature needs man just as much as man needs nature. If we tinker with the machine too severely or damage the parts, it gets out of adjustment or worse. It may continue to run, but inefficiently and with a lack of power. The V-6 engine in my Silverado will run on three cylinders, but it won’t run well. A balanced natural system is one in which all necessary parts are retained and their movements stay within normal limits. Normal disturbances are easily accommodated in a balanced natural
system, and disturbances such as fire or grazing are often necessary or beneficial to sustain the natural balance. When abnormal disturbances occur, the system becomes temporarily impaired. Think of the 2011 drought which was extremely damaging to plant life. Damage to vegetation resulted in damage to soils, water resources, animals and humans. When the balance is upset, there is always a domino effect. However, even after extreme or abnormal disturbances, nature sooner or later begins to repair and rebalance damaged systems. Weeds, brush, pests and parasites, are things that agriculture has tried to eradicate or control, and in many cases for logical reasons. But sometimes we have gone too far in trying to get rid of things which are part of the balance. In other cases, we tolerate an overabundance which can also upset the balance. This includes chronic overgrazing, excess wildlife populations or aggressive species that dominate at the expense of natural diversity. The balance of nature is a useful concept even if we cannot fully explain it. For landowners, the key is to continually strive to manage in sync with the natural balance. When upsets do occur, we can marvel at and cooperate with nature’s ability to repair itself.
WRITER’S NOTE: Aldo Leopold (1887—1948) is considered the father of modern wildlife management. More importantly, he developed and described many of the concepts of conservation, ecology and stewardship of natural resources. Leopold was an amazingly astute observer of the land and man’s relationship to the land. His writings have endured the test of time and have proven to be remarkably prophetic and relevant to today’s issues. This bimonthly column will feature thought-provoking philosophies of Aldo Leopold, as well as commentary.
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brought to you by Texas Wildlife Association, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
LEARN YOUR QUAIL INSIDE AND OUT: ECOLOGY, ANATOMY, AND HABITAT MANAGEMENT. QuailMasters is an intensive, hands-on training designed to expose participants to the art and science of quality management in the best of the best habitat in the state of Texas. The QM course will enhance decision making skills relative to the three phases of quail management: habitat, population and people. Who will benefit from attending the course? LANDOWNERS/MANAGERS
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Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service The Lee County Wildlife Association Extravaganza is a popular summertime event providing information on topics like deer nutrition, prescribed burning (1 CEU), pond management (1 CEU), archery, Texas Youth Hunting Program, Range Management (1 CEU), new MLD regulations and bee basics. It is sponsored by the association and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. It’s open to the public for $20 and includes lunch.
Lee County Cooperative Conservation Article by JOHN JEFFERSON
onservation begins on the land. And that’s found in Texas in 254 counties from the Red to the Rio Grande, from El Paso to Orange. With that blinding glimpse of the obvious, (and apologies to Dr. Dale Rollins for stealing his line), what happens there, on the ground, is the true profile of conservation in Texas, for good, bad, or otherwise. What local landowners are doing defines conservation. Take Lee County, for instance. If you live in, say, Loving County, you may have trouble putting your finger on Lee County on the state map. It’s not famous for the most devastating flood in history, for the county with the most deer, the one where the Battle of the Alamo was fought, or the one where Box 13 was stuffed to keep alive the political career of a future U.S. president. But it is a county northeast of Austin and Bastrop and southwest of College Station. Bass fishermen know it as
bordering Lake Somerville. Its county seat is Giddings. Like a lot of Texas counties, its economy is based heavily on agriculture with some manufacturing, coal mining and a little oil play. Agriculture includes raising cattle, horses, goats and poultry as well as crops like corn, peanuts and nursery plants. If you call it rural, you probably ought to say that with respect. The 16,000-plus Lee County residents are rightfully proud of being referred to as something other than “metropolitan.” Most wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Today, deer play a large and growing part of the Lee County economy, too. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the mid-90s, there were no high fences and few, if any, deer leases. But landowners began questioning what they saw as a decline in white-tailed deer. They took their concerns to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas A&M
AgriLife Extension Service. A group numbering 18 landowners met to discuss declining deer numbers in July 1996. Meeting with the group to hear their concerns were Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Technical Guidance Biologist Gary Homerstad from Victoria, TPWD Wildlife Technician Robert Lehmann from neighboring Washington County, and Lee County Agricultural Extension Agent Billy Gillum, who lived in Giddings. From all accounts, these three men with a unique combination of deer knowledge, habitat management and an understanding of landowners in a farm and ranch community were key to the future success of the co-op. Landowners hungry for knowledge and information and receptive of the professional help the three provided completed the equation. The time was right, too. Phrases like “wildlife management” and “management plan” had crept into the Texas vocabulary.
Little did most realize that those words were here to stay, nor the effect they would have. With the assistance of those three local experts named above, the 18 landowners formed a county-wide wildlife management association, or co-op, as it’s more properly known, to avoid confusing a wildlife management association (WMA) with a TPWD Wildlife Management Area (also referred to as WMA). To keep the group local to their respective communities in a county that ranges 24 miles from south to north and 28 miles from west to east, they formed five wildlife co-ops within the county association to better maintain an attitude of neighbors working with neighbors to do something about the deer problem. That also facilitated co-op meetings within each of the five areas. Soon, the five co-ops each elected two representatives to the countywide association, which served as the administrative parent, handling clerical duties and coordinating field days and speakers. Game wardens provided game law information and helped control poaching. Ag Extension Service personnel collected dues, kept membership rolls, scheduled meetings and events, and handled publicity. Land fragmentation and misuse had taken a toll, and TPWD wildlife personnel worked one-on-one with landowners to improve wildlife habitat—the most likely remedy for a declining deer population—which was the catalyst that brought them all together. Statewide officers were elected, and Allen Wolf, from the South Lee Co-op, became the first president. If his name sounds familiar, it may be due to the fact that his son, Clayton, is now the director of the TPWD Wildlife Division. Texas landowners are an independent breed. In the early days of co-ops, there was some understandable distrust of an organization that was being established by government agencies. There was also the perplexing question of whether other co-op members would abide by practices encouraged by the new association. It was not uncommon for members to wonder whether they should refrain from shooting young bucks since they weren’t sure their neighbors would do the same.
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
LEE COUNTY COOPERATIVE CONSERVATION
Billy Gillum, a retired Lee County extension agent with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, provides fishing instruction for a young future sportsman and wildlife enthusiast. Gillum is a popular Lee County resident and was one of the three wildlife professionals that helped form and nurture the Lee County Wildlife Management Association. Pond management is one of the areas for which the association has provided landowner assistance.
The comment that “that might be the only deer I see,” was heard more than once. This wasn’t confined to Lee County; that matter was brought up in other areas. That’s where the word “cooperation” comes into play. According to Homerstad, it wasn’t until the 1990s that co-ops began to organize and flourish. Landowners finally had to face the fact that they had to cooperate with each other to properly manage deer populations. The co-ops, themselves, had a lot to do with dispelling those doubts. Meeting neighbors for the first time helped landowners realize they had a mutual problem, and working together just might help them arrive at a mutual resolution.
Some who haven’t ever lived in a small community might not appreciate the social value of getting to know the guys living on the other side of the fence, but I’ve witnessed it first-hand. Instead of taking my word for it, though, let the Lee County Wildlife Association’s history speak for itself. That first group of 18 landowners met in July 1996. They planned to hold their first annual meeting a year later. Out of that group of 18, only 200 showed up for the annual meeting! Lee County Commissioner Otto Becker was quoted as saying, “Never in all my years as a county official have I seen a program generate so much interest in such a short time.” The annual meeting is
Photo courtesy of Gary Homerstad
LEE COUNTY COOPERATIVE CONSERVATION
Photo courtesy of Laura Sherrod
TPWD Technical Guidance Biologist Gary Homerstad, center, facing camera with microphone, was one of the three wildlife authorities that were instrumental in forming the Lee County Wildlife Association.
Laura Sherrod is the TPWD technical guidance biologist in Lee County and works directly with landowners on wildlife management plans and related items. She is also the “Snake Lady” who presents reptile programs to school groups. Sherrod is holding a Burmese python (l) and a Brazilian rainbow boa (r).
now held on the first Friday in February. Attendance has been as high as 600. Laura Sherrod, the TPWD wildlife technical guidance biologist for Lee County, said, “Some don’t even hunt.” They’re there for socializing among the landowner-members. In addition to a rib eye dinner, there are eight auction tables of guns, fishing tackle and other items of interest to sportsmen and women. Revenue generated at the annual meeting goes to fund scholarship for high school students, sending kids to the Texas Brigades wildlife boot camps held throughout the state and other activities of the association. Activities are the life blood of any organization, and when it comes to wildlife, there are countless opportunities. Through the years, the association has been involved in over 20 different activities, ranging from instructional programs on drought-survival wildlife food, feral hog control, to tree planting and brush management. They’ve taught hunter education, led gun training for high school kids, conducted youth hunts,
quail workshops, waterfowl identification studies and the 4-H archery program… the list goes on. There were even firearms training classes for women. To assist with the growing interest and activity in wildlife, TPWD assigned Greg Pleasant to Lee County as wildlife technical guidance biologist. Billy Gillum said that Pleasant “jumped in with both feet,” working with the five co-ops in the county for 13 years, conducting spotlight surveys, working on food plots and planning before leaving to take another job. Laura Sherrod became his replacement in 2014 and has picked up where Pleasant left off. Gillum, himself, has now retired and turned over the wildlife association’s work to Trevor Dickschat, the new county agent. In addition to the staff mentioned earlier, speakers like Drs. Dale Rollins, Don Steinbach and Billy Higginbotham as well as Larry Weishuhn have shared their knowledge with the co-ops. Other speakers, such as TWA Vice President and Lone Star Land Steward recipient Tom Vandivier, have also addressed them.
Interestingly, the concern over whitetailed deer in south central Texas that spurred the formation of the Lee County Wildlife Assn. has also had a nearstatewide impact. Around the turn of the century, wildlife biologists, landowners and hunters began discussing the fact that too many deer in the area were being shot before they had a chance to mature. This affected antler growth and perhaps even breeding. Research data supported the concerns. A proposal was floated to restrict harvesting bucks with less than a 13-inch antler spread, which would protect at least the two youngest age-classes of bucks. The TPW Commission adopted the proposal and the new regulation became effective as an experimental season in six southcentral Texas counties for the 2002-2003 deer season. Lee County was one of those six counties, along with Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca and Washington counties. Before the 2005-2006 season, the antler restrictions were made permanent in the six experimental counties, more counties were added, and a second buck was permitted to be taken, but only if it had at least one un-forked antler (a spike). Now, 117 counties are under antler restrictions. Some opposed the antler restriction regulation, fearing it would negatively affect young hunters. After the second year of the experimental season, most opponents saw the benefits and the lack of negative effects and ceased objecting. Fewer young bucks are being taken today, and with more mature bucks being harvested, antlers have had a chance to develop, increasing in size, in the counties now under antler restrictions. Wildlife co-ops didn’t originate in Lee County. Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management in the United States, helped start one of the first ones in Wisconsin in 1931. According to Homerstad, the TPWD technical guidance biologist who helped with the founding of the Lee County Co-op and who also has the records of the now-idle Texas Organization of Wildlife Management Associations, the first co-op in Texas was a tri-county entity including Bee, Goliad and Karnes counties, in 1955. It was followed by one in Gonzales in 1973 and
Photo contributed by the Wolf family
LEE COUNTY COOPERATIVE CONSERVATION
Allen Wolf, a respected Lee County landowner, became the first president of the Lee County Wildlife Assn. Mr. Wolf was active in native grass restoration. His work speaks for itself in the picture.
one in Gillespie in 1983. Most of the early co-ops have gone dormant. The Gonzales co-op attracted considerable attention for a while. Al Brothers, TWA member, noted deer manager and co-author of Producing Quality Whitetails, grew up in Gonzales. He often spoke about how hunters in the county went from shooting underaged deer with meager antlers to bagging bucks with 20-inch spreads in just a few years after the co-op was formed. According to Homerstad, it wasn’t until the 1990s that co-ops began to organize and flourish. Landowners finally had to face the fact that they had to cooperate with each other to properly manage deer populations. Brothers managed the H.B. Zachry Ranches in Webb County. Under his leadership, one of the first high fences was constructed, and he instituted intense, habitat-oriented deer management. He has often said the high fence was as much to keep other deer out as much as it was to keep the deer that he was managing in. He knew that his population control efforts and habitat work could only be effective if there were no outside influences beyond his control. It might seem odd that a high-fence, intense deer manager on a large ranch could apply his work to small-acreage landowners, but Brothers realized that
his successes could only be duplicated on similar-sized deer range. In the 2001-2002 Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, Brothers wrote, “In the future, if whitetail deer and the habitat they require are to be maintained, more landowners will have to be enrolled in cooperative agreements with adjacent landowners and others in the vicinity. These wildlife co-ops simply gather as many contiguous tracts of land into a unit of sufficient size to manage the deer herd effectively. Success of the management effort, however, is dependent not only on the size of the co-op, but also on the good-faith involvement of all local landowners, land managers and hunters. Paying lip service only would be an exercise in futility.” “The whitetail,” Brothers continued, “is a remarkably adaptive animal and, if given the opportunity, will flourish in a variety of habitat conditions, including marginal habitats. Individual deer bucks during breeding season may range over relatively large areas. Their territories may include numerous properties with diverse harvest strategies. Therefore, it is a foregone conclusion that when a deer herd is in a free-ranging situation, a cooperative agreement and effort is the only management solution to harvest problems.”
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GUNS & SHOOTING
Hunting near food magnets like this picked corn field can be the key to some hot wingshooting action during the cool months of the winter dove season.
Winter Doves Can Require 12 Gauge Change to Hunting Tactics Article and photos by RALPH WININGHAM
he few, the proud, the winter season hunters can be a different breed of wingshooting enthusiasts who are required to tweak their birdbusting techniques to handle higher, faster and bigger doves. Tactical adjustments can range from hunting different locations than the typical fall hot spots and ramping up the old smokepole to put a 12 gauge into play, rather than bringing back a sub-gauge that met the needs of the early season. “A lot of guys like to go to a larger sized shot—moving up from No. 8s to No. 6s for the winter doves, in addition to switching to a bigger gauge,” said Bud Council at Bud's Bait & Tackle Shop in Three Rivers. “The birds in the winter are bigger and a lot more gun shy,” making them harder
to bring down than the young doves of fall, said the veteran guide who specializes in cast and blast trips during the late dove season. “Typically, the late season birds don’t come in to the Mojo (motorized) decoys as well, so hunters have to adapt to a different kind of shooting situation. Sitting on the tailgate of a truck to wait for birds to drift into a tank just doesn’t work so well in the winter,” he said. Putting outdoor enthusiasts on red hot early morning crappie action at Choke Canyon Reservoir, where he has picked up the moniker of “Mr. Crappie,” followed by some prime time wingshooting in the afternoons has provided Council with a wealth of knowledge about both angling and hunting in the colder months.
He uses that knowledge and experience to provide seasoned advice to the limited crowd of hunters who take advantage of the late season that started Dec. 18 throughout Texas. The North and Central Zone hunting ended Jan. 1 and the South Zone opportunity continues through Jan. 22. For the select few hunters—Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials estimate that 80 percent of the doves downed by hunters each year are killed during the first two weeks of the September season— who take advantage of the late season dove hunting, shooting action can be fast and furious or a complete bust. Cooler temperatures, afternoon highs in the 50s and 60s rather than the 90s and 100s of the fall season, make for a more
GUNS & SHOOTING
pleasant winter shooting experience when good numbers of the migrating birds are in the air. In most cases, the birds that test the wingshooting skills of late season hunters in the Lone Star State are hardy fliers that have dodged shot patterns all the way down from the frozen Midwest. The newly hatched doves that often foolishly fall to the shotguns of September have either ended up as grilled dove poppers or, like Elvis, have left the building. Colder weather in states north of Texas in the Central Flyway, generally the area from the Rocky Mountains east to the Mississippi River, tend to push the migrating birds south through the Lone Star State during the winter season. Rather than travelling in pairs like locally born-and-raised birds, the migrating flocks can move into the area in healthy numbers providing hunters with ample shooting opportunities. Biologists insist that the migrating birds do not have the ability to learn to avoid wingshooters, but hunters who find the birds flying higher, faster and farther out of range as the season wears on may disagree. Both mourning doves and their whitewinged cousins are known for their exceptional vision and have the ability to see hunters, particularly those that move about at the wrong time, from quite a distance. Successful hunters should move into shooting position and bring their shotgun to their shoulder only after birds are within range in order to keep the doves from flaring. While the motorized decoys may not attract incoming flights of birds as well as the birds of September, putting a few of the decoys on the ground or on fence posts within shotgun range of the concealed hunter does not hinder shooting opportunities. Even static (non-moving) decoys in the top of bushes or along a fence line near where the motorized models have been placed can help draw the attention of passing birds. In addition to being bigger and more hunter savvy, winter birds are healthier and fly in larger groups than the mostly juvenile birds that hunters encounter
during the September through October hunting season. “They do seem to want to stay wherever they find food. A little rain shower that might send the birds packing in September does not seem to have that effect in the late season,” Council said. “If you have a good pasture with lots of seed, you should have some quality shooting for a long time,” he said. “We have a lot of good cast and blast trips this time of year when we catch crappie or catfish in the morning and hit the birds hard in the afternoon. “But you have to change your hunting tactics in order to be successful in the late season.” Focusing on one of Council’s recommendations, one of the ways to help bring down the hardy doves of the winter is to switch to a 12-gauge shotgun such as the recently introduced Winchester Super X4 semiautomatic. The shotgun packs a bigger punch that can be needed to knock down the migrating birds from the north without punishing the shooter with a lot of shoulder shock. An upgraded version of the very popular Winchester Super X3—billed as the fastest cycling semiautomatic shotgun on the market today—the Super X4 was introduced in 2017 as a lighter model with a slimmer pistol grip that helps provide the shooter with a smoother, more fluid swing and better target tracking ability. These features are a big plus when attempting to put a shot pattern in the path of winter birds that seem to know just how to dart and dive to avoid ending up in a hunter’s game bag. In addition, the new Super X4 features a larger bolt handle and oversized bolt release for easier operation during the winter weather where cold and wet conditions, or the use of heavy gloves, can cause the shooter to fumble away a potential kill shot. The trigger guard is also larger to allow for the use of heavy gloves during the cold weather shooting session. For those shooters concerned about the typically heavier recoil of a 12 gauge shotgun compared to the subgauges that might have been their tool of choice in
Bringing down winter birds that are more hunter savvy can be just a little easier when a big gun like this Winchester Super X4 12 gauge semiautomatic is put to good use by late season hunters.
September, the Super X4 features an Inflex Technology recoil pad to reduce felt recoil. This is accomplished through the use of specially shaped rib structures inside the pad that direct and channel recoil away from the shooter’s cheek. To allow for comfortable use of heavier loads that might be required for winter birds, the Super X4 also cycles shells with an active valve gas system that automatically adjusts to allocate the exact gas pressure necessary for everything from light dove to heavy waterfowl loads. Probably the most important factor for a large segment of the dove hunting community is the price of the new smokepole, which ranges from $799 to just over $1,000. With the limited hit to the wallet and the potential for bagging more birds, the Super X4 might be just the right 12 gauge shooting tool for those hunters who take to the fields during the late dove season.
Ponds and the Weird Stuff They Harbor Article and photos by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM, Professor Emeritus, The Texas A&M University System
onds and “weird stuff” just go together naturally. I have been amazed at some of the photos and occurrences pond owners have shared with me over the past 40 years. Perhaps to celebrate the weirdness or more likely to broaden our thinking a little, I created an on-line (email) training tool called “WHATIZIT?” for county extension agents (CEAs) with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service about a year and a half ago. I took photos that I have collected over the years and created a monthly competition for the CEAs. The goal was to correctly identify the critter or situation captured by camera, but it was also to give them some real-world training on researching a topic as they
would if they were fielding similar type questions from pond owners on a routine basis. See if you can correctly identify the critter or situation in the following photos taken from WHATIZIT?. As you will see, some of these images aren’t the best quality, but in the real world this is how they come in, so you learn very quickly to work with what you have. (The answer key for WHATIZIT can be found on page 32.) If you score 100 percent, I can’t promise you that I will send you 10 copies of my Wildlife and Fisheries Management Calendar for Texas and the Southeast like I did for the CEAs but you will at least gain bragging rights among your fellow TWAers.
1. While this non-native species has made southeast Texas home for some time, it has only recently appeared in northeast Texas. Can you name it?
2. Anxious pond owners often call when they spot one of these floating in their pond or attached to a dock piling or submerged tree limb. What is it?
3. Look very closely in the water. Do you see them? I have only seen these in one private pond in all my years as a fisheries biologist. Can you identify them?
4. As sure as the winter comes to Texas, these “snowbirds” travel south each fall and eat as many fish as they possibly can before returning in the spring to their Yankee roots. They are…
5. These two species locked in a life and death struggle can often be found around pond margins and other moist soil areas of our ponds. What are they?
6. This brightly colored substance looks like paint floating on the surface of some Texas ponds, particularly in late summer when rainfall is scarce and the temperatures soar. It is…
ANSWER KEY WHATIZIT? Ponds and the Weird Stuff They Harbor 1. Egyptian geese. This species was domesticated in Egypt but feral populations have flourished in areas where they have been introduced. This interesting species looks like a cross between a goose and a duck and can frequently be found in park and golf course ponds in the Houston area. 2. Bryrozoans. a.k.a. “moss animals,” a colony (individuals are called “zooids”) of microscopic invertebrate animals that cause no harm and need no control but spark considerable conversation whenever they are spotted in our ponds and lakes. 3. Freshwater jellyfish. Over my fourdecade long career, I have spotted these beautiful creatures (Craspedacusta spp.) in exactly one farm pond. The pond owner has indicated that the nickel to quarter-sized critters a.k.a. hydromedusa appear in great numbers almost every summer in the three-acre pond. Swarms of these jellyfish can appear occasionally, but this is just one form it takes during its life cycle.
4. Double-crested cormorants. Largely absent from Texas prior to the 1970s, these feathered fish gluttons a.k.a. “water turkeys” visit public and private impoundments in Texas for several months each winter and can negatively impact fish populations. Texas Parks and Wildlife can permit landowners to control certain numbers of this otherwise protected migratory species. Too bad they can’t just stay up in the Great Lakes region where they nest and produce more of their kind each spring. 5. Southern leopard frog and Western ribbon snake. In this photograph, these species are locked in a classic predator-prey life and death struggle. This frog often inhabits shoreline areas of private impoundments as well as creek banks or anywhere else standing water with vegetation can be found. The western ribbon snake is very closely related to garter snakes. Other snake species frequenting aquatic habitats, as well as wading shorebirds
such as the Great blue heron, also dine on Southern leopard frogs. 6. Blue-green algae/Cyanobacteria. When ponds become stagnant and water temperatures climb across the state, this group of alga/bacteria is often found. Many pond owners see the blooms or the oily residue left from die-offs collect on the downwind side of their ponds. It is often described as a bluish-green “paint-like” substance floating on the water’s surface. Unfortunately, certain species of this group can produce toxins that can and do lead to livestock deaths each year in the state. If a water source is suspected as a potential cause of livestock losses (particularly during the warmer months), a water sample should be submitted to a lab such as the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab at Texas A&M University for analysis. Until a determination is made, livestock producers should shift to an alternative water source if possible.
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B ORDERL ANDS NEWS BORDERLANDS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Survival of Trans-Pecos Gambel’s Quail Article by RON JANKOWIAK and RYAN LUNA, PH.D. Photos by BILL BROYLES
The Trans-Pecos allows for unique research opportunities on desert quail species, such as Gambel’s Quail. This male Gambel's Quail is equipped with a leg band so that researchers can monitor its survival and movements.
LYSSY & ECKEL FEEDS 34
ver the years, Texas has developed a reputation for being a mecca for quail hunting. During the last decade, quail hunting has contributed millions of dollars to rural Texas communities and should continue to do so if our quail populations remain at current levels. Of the four quail species that inhabit Texas, the Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii), is one of the lesser known and the least widespread. Heavily vegetated riparian areas such as draws, creeks, washes and arroyos generally typify Gambel’s Quail habitat. Gambel’s Quail are known to populate the upper Rio Grande Valley as far east as the Chisos Mountains in Texas and westward into New Mexico, where they inhabit the valleys and drainages of the Rio Grande River. Their range extends further west and northward into Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. In Texas, Gambel’s Quail are restricted to the Rio Grande corridor and its major tributaries and drainages in the TransPecos. The Trans-Pecos allows for unique research opportunities on desert quail species, such as Gambel’s Quail.
Supplementing the Habitat www.lefeeds.com
BORDERL ANDS NEWS
Although the species has been studied quite thoroughly across the Southwestern U.S. in other states, the Texas subspecies of Gambel’s Quail (C.g. ignoscens) has received little attention from biologists, managers and researchers because of its limited distribution in the state. The majority of information we have regarding Gambel’s Quail is from research conducted in Arizona and New Mexico. Reproductive success is widely known as the driving force in sustaining all quail populations. Because annual fluctuations of quail populations directly coincide with oscillations in annual precipitation, most aspects of quail ecology (i.e. reproductive success, abundance, recruitment and survivability) can vary drastically from year to year. Quail tend to follow a “boom or bust” population model which is usually highly correlated with the timing and abundance of precipitation. Ample rainfall before and during the nesting and brooding season typically results in successful quail production. Nonetheless, other factors, such as predation, may influence quail populations and survival. Predation accounts for a high proportion of mortalities for both young and adult quail. Some bobwhite studies suggest that mammalian predators are responsible for the majority of nest predation; while avian predators such as hawks and owls frequently consume adults. Reptilian predation usually comprises the remaining percentage of quail nest depredation, with snakes being the main culprits. With respect to Texas quail, the majority of the predation research has been conducted on the bobwhite. Little is known about Gambel’s Quail predation; therefore, we set out to identify some of the major predators of this species. This research was conducted on a private ranch located within Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties. The ranch is primarily comprised of creosote flats, rolling basalt hills, desert grasslands, grass-shrub land areas and is situated in the Van Horn Mountains. Many valleys, washes, draws and arroyos traverse the ranch creating numerous riparian areas, which are prime habitat for Gambel’s Quail.
A radio telemetry unit was recovered in the nest of this fledgling Great Horned Owl. Great Horned Owls have been known to depredate quail during the breeding season, and raptors are considered one of the most efficient quail predators.
BORDERL ANDS NEWS
A pair of Gambel's Quail at the study site (the male is on the left) where Borderland Research Institute researchers set out to identify some of the major predators of this species.
Gambel’s Quail were captured in two consecutive spring trapping seasons, February – April 2014 and March – April 2015. Upon successful trapping, female Gambel’s Quail were fitted with a leg band and a mortality sensitive radio transmitter to monitor survival and movements during the breeding season. Once the pairing of quail commenced and the nesting season began (April – May), birds equipped with radio transmitters were monitored and tracked via radio telemetry using a yagi antenna. Quail were tracked and located by triangulation and a GPS unit was used to document the quail location. All radio-collared quail were tracked and located at least twice per week throughout the summer nesting season.
Predation events of radio-collared quail were scrutinized when a mortality signal was detected. Upon location of the carcass, cause of death was determined. Mortality sites and the carcass were examined for physical signs of what type of predator may have caused the mortality. The radio transmitter was also inspected for damage or evidence left from the predation event. In the spring of 2014 and 2015, a total of 134 female Gambel’s Quail were caught. Breeding season survival rates computed with program MARK were 43 percent and 62 percent respectively for 2014 and 2015. Of the Gambel’s Quail mortalities, 18 percent were attributed to avian predators, 18 percent to mammalian predators, 47 percent of the predations could not be
attributed to a specific predator and 17 percent had an unknown cause of death. Of the avian induced mortalities, one predator species was positively identified due to where the radio transmitter was retrieved. A radio telemetry unit from a Gambel’s Quail female was recovered from a Great Horned Owl’s (Bubo virginianus) nest, which was occupied by two fledgling owls. Great Horned Owls have been known to depredate quail during the breeding season, and raptors are considered one of the most efficient quail predators. Regarding the mammalian predators, the predatory species couldn’t be discerned for most mammalian induced mortalities due to absence of credible sign. However, there were mortalities attributed to bobcat
BORDERL ANDS NEWS
(Lynx rufus), coyote (Canis latrans) and grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). For this study, mortality rates were similar between avian and mammalian predators. Unknown predation accounted for the greatest number of mortalities and could have likely identified the major predatory group at the study site if we were able to classify all these predation events. Overall, during the study period, survival rates for these Gambel’s Quail were 53 percent, which was representative of most Gambel’s Quail studies. Survival rates reported during this study were similar to survival investigations conducted on Gambel’s Quail in other states where they occur. Although survival rates were relatively high, predation was still a factor. Even though predation is generally the primary source of mortality for quail throughout their life cycle, predator control has traditionally been disregarded as a primary management tool for quail. It is more widely accepted that habitat, not predators, limit quail populations. Therefore, habitat management may be a more applicable management strategy for increasing quail populations. By managing the habitat, one can also increase concealment cover which should reduce potential predation events. Gambel’s Quail are often associated with riparian areas and the subsequent associations of thick, brushy and thorny vegetation. An increase in screening and loafing cover could decrease avian opportunities to depredate Gambel’s Quail. It is suggested that certain brush species such as catclaw mimosa or mesquite are favored by Gambel’s Quail for screening and escape cover. Riparian areas in which these are found are naturally well apt for providing protection from avian predators, because of the ample overhead cover. These habitats also provide thermal protection, especially in the summer when temperatures can exceed 100°F. These drainages, arroyos and riparian areas are focal points for suitable Gambel’s Quail habitat. Conservation of these riparian habitats may be essential for implementing sound Gambel’s Quail management
This female Gambel's Quail was ready for release after being fitted with a radio telemetry unit and leg band.
strategies. One of the recommendations includes utilizing fencing as a barrier to help protect these areas from livestock disturbance and habitat degradation. Implementing management strategies to promote forb production such as deferred rotational grazing, as well as increasing the availability of water during dry spells by proper distribution and overflow of water sources can also benefit Gambel’s Quail. Facilitating Gambel’s Quail survival may be as elementary as preserving and maintaining the quality of their existing
habitat by employing these rudimentary practices. Many wildlife species fall into the “field of dreams” habitat management program which states: “if you build it, they will come.” Maintaining suitable habitat can decrease predation and bolster populations by providing adequate cover for nesting, loafing and roosting. Supplementary research may be crucial to determine how predators, environmental factors, ecological variables, habitat quality and the employment of different management strategies affect survival of Gambel’s Quail in the Trans-Pecos.
SHOOT LIKE A PRO WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY MADE SIMPLE
Go from shooting like this
Fill The Frame! Article and photos by WADE GRASSEDONIO Here is an great way to get dramatic and instant improvements in your wildlife images. It’s simple, easy and anyone can do it. All the photographer has to do is fill the frame! Oftentimes, the difference between a soso photo and a great photo is determined by the size of the subject in the image. As you can see in the images above, the size of the subject makes a huge difference. The subject in the image on the left, a Purple Gallinule, is so small that it is not very interesting. The image on the right, also a Purple Gallinule, has a much bigger subject and begs the observer to study the intricacies of the bird and its perch. Filling the frame draws the observer into the scene.
Three ways to fill the frame: 1. Get close. Then, get closer. Once you are close enough, get even closer. Just make sure not to cause the subject undue stress or harm of any kind. 2. Invest in a lens that will give you the ability to fill the frame. The size of the required lens will vary with different subjects and situations. Bird photography, for example, will require a lens from 300mm to 600mm. Cost can be prohibitive, so do your homework before you purchase a lens. It is possible to rent lenses and try them out before you make a purchase. I recommend this highly. Look for more about lenses in future columns.
3. One way to “cheat” a little without buying a high dollar lens is to crop in on the subject when using Photoshop, Lightroom or other processing software. Be extremely careful when cropping, however, because the more the image is cropped, the lower the quality of the image. Cropping too much reduces sharpness (focus) and increases grain (grittiness). The next time you are shooting wildlife images, remember to fill the frame. It’s easy, fun and you will love the results. Enjoy nature….and shoot it when you can.
CLINT ORMS SAN JACINTO-1892
22 Waugh Drive
CLINT ORMS SAN JACINTO-2007
Houston, Texas 77007
THE ROLLING PLAINS QUAIL RESEARCH RANCH
THE ROLLING PLAINS QUAIL RESEARCH RANCH Article and photos by RUSSELL A. GRAVES “We’ll start a fire on both sides of this field, and it will eventually burn together,” says Dale Rollins as we ride his side-by-side utility vehicle along the ranch’s interior roads monitoring the bustle of activity that’s around. Spread out around the 40-some-odd acre field, interns, researchers and prescribed fire experts carefully coordinate their plan so that winter-cured prairie grasses and diesel-fueled drip torch are brought together to create a conflagration that (albeit contradictory to conventional wisdom) will actually benefit this land and its inhabitants therein. Rollins is articulate and animated as he talks. He’s a natural and relaxed speaker and dedicated teacher and has often been called the “Will Rogers of Wildlife Biologists.” As such, he’s dedicated his entire career to understanding the idiosyncrasies of quail and the nuanced land management they require to thrive on harsh and often inhospitable rangeland environs.
When the technician inverts the torch that spurts out a stream of orange hot flame, the dried and dormant grass crackles and pops—its stores of energy built from sunlight, rain and photosynthesis turn to flame and heat in an instant. Dirty white smoke drifts high and pushes lazily to the north as the fire advances at a safe and manageable pace across the field. I feel uneasy about the fire at first as it seems unnatural to start a blaze during the peak, late winter wildfire season and in country that’s been plagued with raging and out of control wildfires over the past decade. Rollins and his crew, however, are studied and knowledgeable about fire science, and the flames behave exactly as his burn leader said they would during the safety briefing earlier in the day. A perfect mix of temperature, humidity and wind speed makes the fire behave predictably. When you can control a fire,
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it becomes a valuable tool for wildlife managers and the team assembled to administer prescribed burns on the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch (RPQRR) this season wields their powers deftly. “We do these burns to monitor the longterm effects of burning on the ranch and to help create better habitat for the quail,” says Rollins. On this burn, they hope to bite back encroaching brush and prickly pear but burn at such a temperate that, with some timely spring rains, the grass and beneficial forbs will spring back to life in no time and provide the diminutive, gallinaceous birds with a fine mix of nesting, brooding and loafing cover so they’ll thrive. In the process, Rollins and his research team will add to the knowledge they’ve already collected by studying this land and learning how man can manipulate it to the point where it becomes a well-oiled quail producing machine. GENESIS OF A RESEARCH RANCH The Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch is a 4,720-acre ranch in Fisher County, Texas that lies about 10 miles west
of Roby off of US Highway 180. Speeding past on the highway the encyclopedia of knowledge that’s been garnered from the gently rolling hills is not obvious. Ultimately, the ranch’s aim is providing land managers and other stakeholders, with timely, relevant technology and management schemes for enhancing quail populations in the Rolling Plains of Texas. In doing so, the ranch hopes to sustain the “quail dynasty” that has supported hunters, ranchers, local economies, hunters and the quail themselves. The ranch is the research arm of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation, a charitable effort designed to provide resources to study the economically important game species. The idea for the ranch came in 2005 when a group of quail hunters were celebrating a momentous season but lamenting how the Bobwhite Quail’s range had shrunk so precipitously over contemporary quail hunter’s lifetime. Gone were the robust quail populations in East Texas and the traditionally strong pine plantations of the southeastern United States. By 2005, strong Bobwhite Quail populations were relegated to
mostly South Texas and the Texas Rolling Plains and Scaled Quail were all but gone in places in the Rolling Plains where they were once common. The group decided that they’d try to stave off the western flank of the population decline and establish a research ranch that would provide relevant and actionable research and management techniques so that other area landowners and students of quail could follow suit. By doing so, they’d create a research station dedicated solely to the Texas Rolling Plains. Furthermore, they’d create an army of quail enthusiasts and managers who’d work concurrently using contemporary and proven management practices to help slow the species decline and help stave off the extreme boom and bust population cycles that had come to define Bobwhite Quail in the Texas Rolling Plains. According to the group’s website, “…as fate would have it, the W.T. Martin Ranch was just about to come on the market near Roby. It was prime land, not grazed too heavily and featured a landscape dotted with ‘quail houses’ (brush cover)—the site was indeed a ‘plum’ for our purposes. The Conservation Fund stepped up to hold the property while the intricacies of the nonprofit application process were sorted out. In March 2007, the Ranch was granted its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status as a charitable foundation. The Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch fledged. The deed was transferred on December 30, 2007.” Ten years later, their small idea is yielding big results. CANARY OF THE PRAIRIE “I often refer to the bobwhite as the ‘Canary of the Prairie’,” says Rollins. “Let's think about that just a minute: the coal miners used to use the canary as a barometer to the conditions of the mine. They knew that if the canary died then the oxygen situation was threatening them…” Rollins says that bobwhites can be used a marker to gauge rangeland health in the vast grasslands that run up the nation’s spine from South Texas to Canada. “So I contend that as we manage country for quail, we’re benefiting a lot of species that are never hunted. So these non-hunted species are the recipients of
THE ROLLING PLAINS QUAIL RESEARCH RANCH
a lot of generosity and a lot of manpower, and they're riding on the coattails of the bobwhite,” Rollins contends. He shows me a graph of the long term abundance of bobwhite quail in the United States. Starting just before 1970, bobwhites take a roller coaster ride of sorts—their populations booming and busting during the ensuing 50 years. Disturbing, however, is the trend line that’s clearly seen without having to conduct any additional macro-data analysis—the bobwhites are disappearing. Remarkably, when you compare the population trend lines of grasshopper sparrows and eastern meadowlark to that of the bobwhite quail, the graphs read almost identically. Not only is the bobwhite disappearing but so are other grassland bird species. It doesn’t take a scientist to see these population trends as disturbing. But what’s happening to the birds? While there are plenty of culprits to blame for the loss of Bobwhite Quail and Scaled Quail populations, habitat loss seems to be the most logical to explain. What was once vast stretches of grassland ecosystem pocked with groves of trees and intermittent brush supported a vast grassland ecosystem from birds and mammals to soil microorganisms. The great prairie ecosystem consisted of vast grassland communities that collectively, protected the land from the vagaries of annual rainfall and temperature fluctuations. Beneath the soil, vast networks of roots veined through the dirt supporting macro and micro organisms and created pore space in the soil that soaks up and holds rainfall. The grass provides a mechanism for water conservation at its most banal level. Above the soil, a variety of grasses provides cover, nesting and brooding for an astonishing array of wildlife despite the sameness of the landscape. As Texas was settled, the landscape was fragmented and changed to improved grasses that were suitable for livestock grazing but created a monoculture that proved to be the demise of many of the grassland species. In the 1960s legendary quail biologist A.S. Jackson wrote, “Few Texans live far from bobwhite territory. Only in the high,
short grass plains and the Trans-Pecos region does the bobwhite fail to find at least a minimum of desirable habitat. Anywhere else in Texas, stop your car on a road any early June morning and you will hear the whistled ‘bobwhite’ that signals another nesting season underway.” Unfortunately, those days are long gone. In 1967, the mean number of quail seen on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey routes were 40 birds per route. By 2002, that number was down to 18 per route. The TPWD report, Where Have all the Quail Gone? The Texas Quail Conservation Initiative: A proactive approach to restoring quail populations by restoring wildlife habitat, states, “Since 1980, bobwhite populations in Texas have declined at a rate of about 5.6 percent per year. Scaled quail populations have declined at a rate of about 2.9 percent per year. These numbers add up—or down to be more correct—to a 75 percent loss in bobwhites.” THE REASON FOR THE RESEARCH On the research ranch, there is always a bustle of activity. Research ranges from quail counts to monitoring long-term population trends or studying the effects
of predation on quail ecology. One of their most ambitious projects that’s currently underway is to trap and trans-locate scaled quail and in an attempt to establish them in areas where they been extirpated. “The RPQRR operates under the maxim that everything points towards quail,” says Brad Kubecka, who recently defended his master’s thesis and has done research work at the research ranch since 2013, first as an intern and then as a graduate student. “Everything in an ecosystem is interrelated,” he says. “As such, RPQRR began collecting data on not only quail, but the wildlife community at the ranch. This includes data collected on small mammal populations, raptors, predators and vegetation.” Kubecka says that very few graduate projects can truly understand an ecological system from a two or even three-year study. Fortunately, one of RPQRR's goals is to develop a long-term data set to help understand what makes quail populations tick. “There are two main demographic parameters that help us understand how populations operate,” he advises. “Survival and reproduction. As such,
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interns and technicians monitor Bobwhite Quail and Scaled Quail using radio-telemetry and GPS transmitters throughout the year.” To that extent, the RPQRR has one of the most intensive trapping program for bobwhites in the country. In the past 10 years, the RPQRR has trapped and banded over 14,000 bobwhite and scaled quail— placing radio-tags on approximately 10 of those caught. Much of the research is funded by concerned hunters who are members of Park Cities Quail, a Quail Coalition affiliate. With more than $2.7 million donated to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch alone, Park Cities Quail has solidified its position as a leader in conservation funding. As a chapter of the statewide Quail Coalition conservation group, Park Cities Quail is a non-profit group that consists solely of Dallas Area volunteers who “…are passionate about our sporting tradition and are determined to make it available to future generations.” Since its inception eight years ago, Park Cities Quail has raised more than $4.5 million with virtually every penny going to assist in quail research such as that being conducted at the RPQRR. “Park Cities Quail has been the wind under our wings at the RPQRR,” admits Rollins, saying that the research that Parks Cities Quail has funded helps provide insight to unlocking the mystery of declining quail populations. “Much of the research we fund contradicts the popular theory that quail decline revolves solely around habitat loss,” says Jay Stein, Director of Shared Services for the Quail Coalition and a Park Cities Quail Member. “While suitable habitat is necessary as the key component for quail survival and nesting, there are many properties with excellent habitat and plunging quail populations. We believe that our financial support of operations at the ranch and specific research projects will prove or disprove a full range of theories. With the findings from this research, we hope to provide our members with solutions and guidance on how to sustain and restore quail for generations to come.”
THE ROLLING PLAINS QUAIL RESEARCH RANCH
CLOSING IN ON THE CULPRIT In the fall of 2010, I joined Rick Snipes as we toured his Stonewall County Ranch. By all accounts Rick has perhaps one of the finest Bobwhite Quail ranches in the country. Spread across a vast patch of Rolling Plains countryside, the land is a perfect mix of sandy country that grows shinoak, little bluestem, western ragweed and a variety of other plants that fit perfectly into the quail’s biological cornucopia. The Snipes’ property was a stronghold of good quail country and a living example of what Rolling Plains quail hunting used to be. The 2009-2010 season was a banner one and one year later, the quail were gone and no one knew why. So the RPQRR wanted to find out. “For the first time in 80 years we took a broad scientific study of all the things that could be impacting the quail population outside of weather and habitat,” explains Snipes, who had served as the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation’s president since its inception until November 2017. “After two years of that study it became readily apparent to us that the real issues we might have are
parasites. So we embarked on a three-year program of really studying parasites and their effects on quail, and we've come to the conclusion that the eyeworm and the cecal worm is a grave threat.” The research study dubbed Operation Idiopathic Decline was an ambitious, three-year collaborative effort aimed as uncovering possible reasons behind the quail’s decline. Through the study period hundreds of birds were necropsied in search of evidence that would prove the existence of a hidden factor affecting the bird’s well being. It was discovered that most of the birds examined during the study period suffered from some degree of eyeworm infestation. The eyeworm is a parasitic nematode that ingests blood from the quail and feeds predominantly in ducts behind the eye. The infestation causes swelling and inflammation in the eye and renders a quail essentially blind. Once affected, it is postulated that the infestation severely hampers a quail’s ability to survive predation and otherwise thrive. This could be the smoking gun in which Snipes, Rollins and their band of researchers were
searching. As a result, the RPQRR group has worked with scientists at Texas Tech University to develop a medicated feed to help combat the effects of a parasitic influence on quail survivability. “We're in the final stages of getting that feed approved by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA],” says Snipes. “At that point we feel like we really accomplished a lot because we will have given ranchers and hunters a way to make sure that their birds are as healthy as they can be. They’re still going to be subject to weather, but at least they'll have a better fighting chance if they're not being affected by parasites.” When approved in 2018, the medicated feed will be the first ever approved by the FDA for use on wild game birds. “What we're going to be able to do in Texas is to keep the bottom from falling out of quail populations,” says Snipes. “We're never going to be able to eliminate the ups and downs of the cyclical nature of quail population, but we hope to be able to dramatically impact how low the bottom gets.”
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IMPORTANT WATERFOWL FOODS ALONG THE GULF COAST AND EFFECTS OF HURRICANE HARVEY Article and photos by TODD J. STEELE
ly anywhere over the Texas Gulf Coast and one can realize a “birds-eye” view of the landscape. Muddy chocolate-soup waters generally mean less wild foodstuffs and probably no significant waterfowl, but clear waters generally mean food to the birds especially if the waters have been properly cultivated or environmental conditions allowed good growth of beneficial plants and invertebrates. Birds flying high over the vast wetlands of Coastal Texas can instantly tell if wetlands or ponds—either manmade or natural—are worthy of further “buffet” inspection. A POND FILLED WITH WATER IS NOT A “DUCK POND” Water dispersed over a parcel of land does not make it good waterfowl habitat, especially when it comes to moist-soil units common along the Gulf Coast. Moist-soil units are generally ephemeral along the Gulf Coast, requiring constant, sometimes yearly manipulation to prevent succession of undesirable plant types for waterfowl. Manipulation includes man-made disking, shredding, burning, herbicide applications and natural manipulations such as freshwater flooding and saltwater intrusion. Timing of the man-made manipulation varies from area to area and even pond to pond. As Todd Merendino, Manager of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited, said, “Management of waterfowl habitat is not rocket science…it is much harder!” This is because Mother Nature is so unpredictable and the variables are extensive—rains, drought, temperature fluctuations, plant germination, timing of wetlands manipulation, sunlight penetration and lengths, all play into how a wetland will develop, especially when it is ephemeral. But when wetlands are managed right the results can lead to extraordinary variety of critical
biomass for wintering waterfowl of many species, many with specific dietary preferences. Along the Texas Gulf Coast, Canvasbacks will favor sago pondweed of larger bodies of freshwater; Redheads migrate every year in mass to the shoal grass of the middle and lower coasts; Gadwalls relish aquatics like southern naiad; and, Snow Geese prefer seed-producing manmade crops such as rice and corn. There are six different types of food sources that wintering waterfowl forage on along the Gulf Coast: algae, floating plants, submerged plants, emerged plants, cultivated crops and invertebrates. ALGAE Algae can be both a beneficial and harmful plant to waterfowl. Muskgrass (chara), with its musty garlic-like odor, is both readily consumed by many species of ducks along with providing habitat and detritus for many aquatic invertebrates. Harmful algae include planktonic and filamentous types, both of which can readily block out sunlight for desirable aquatics and emergents. Additionally heavy “blooms” of planktonic algae can cause oxygen depletion that can be lethal to aquatic organisms. FLOATING PLANTS True floating plants are defined as green plants not attached to the bottom. Most floating plants are not consumed by waterfowl— with the exception of the duckweeds—and are detrimental to the development of beneficial foods by blocking sunlight and causing dissolved oxygen depletion. Many floating plants are non-native aggressive invader species—giant salvinia, common salvinia, water hyacinth, water lettuce—all of which should be controlled and reported to Texas Invasives at www.texasinvasives.org.
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SUBMERGED PLANTS Submerged plants—aquatics—are one of the most important food sources for ducks. In order for aquatics to flourish, they need healthy wetlands with clear water where the sunlight can penetrate in part or in whole to the bottom of the pond, generally in shallow water that is protected from strong disturbances of wind and current. Wetlands are constantly in succession and require periodic manipulation of undesirable plants and stimulation of desirable plants. Important common aquatic plants of the Texas Gulf Coast include coontail, naiad, various species of pondweed and widgeon grass. EMERGED PLANTS Emerged plants are defined as rooted plants that grow above the water’s surface, mostly in shallow waters or moist shorelines. Common and beneficial foods for waterfowl include arrowhead, barnyard grass, cow lily, dollar bonnet, duck potato, duck salad, frog’s-bit, pickerelweed, various varieties of sedges, smartweed,
soft and spike rush, three-square and summer primrose. CULTIVATED CROPS While the Texas Gulf Coast has lost a significant amount of its rice base due to many factors such as development, drought, lack of Lower Colorado River Authority waters and low commodity prices, it is still an important food for migrating and wintering waterfowl along the coast with 10,000 acres of flooded rice supporting upwards of 120,000 waterfowl. Bluewinged Teal flock to flooded second-cropped rice, and Northern Pintails also favor rice fields flooded after harvest. Both Snow Geese and White-fronted Geese seek areas with large-scale rice production around towns such as Eagle Lake, Garwood, El Campo and Bay City. AQUATIC INVERTEBRATES Aquatic invertebrates, which include snails, leeches, mollusks, worms, crustaceans and insects, are a very important food source for ducks late in the winter and early in the springtime prior to
Muskgrass, although resembling submerged plants, is actually a multicellular algae plant, readily consumed by waterfowl.
Duck Salad is a common aquatic emergent plant often found growing in ponds grown in rice along the mid-coast of Texas.
Duck Potato is a valuable food source for waterfowl which consume the tubers and seeds.
A variety of different species of Pondweeds provide fruits and tubers for waterfowl.
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their migration north. They play a very crucial role in the diet of female ducks of all species as they prepare for the breeding and nesting season. Invertebrates are a rich source of protein, calcium for eggshells and other key nutrients for overall health. Overuse of pesticides has been shown to be very detrimental to aquatic invertebrates of all types. MANAGEMENT OF MOIST-SOIL WETLANDS Periodic manipulation of the wetlands is a must along the Gulf Coast in order to keep wetlands healthy. Four keys elements that are essential to the management of moist-soil units. First, there must be clear enough water to allow sunlight to penetrate the water column and reach the bottom to allow plant growth. Second, it is imperative that noxious plants, including unwanted grasses and undesirable floating plants such as water lilies, are controlled. Third, the wetlands must be ideally flooded no later than September to maximize plant growth in the extended hours of daylight along with higher temperatures.
Southern Naiad is a very common submerged aquatic of moist-soil units and favored by Gadwalls and Widgeon.
Barnyard grass is an important plant species for seed loving ducks such as Green-winged Teal and Pintails.
Fourth, the wetlands must be maintained with moisture, as allowing them to dry out late in the season will kill the “crop” of grown vegetation. IMPACTS OF HURRICANE HARVEY ON WATERFOWL HABITAT While Hurricane Harvey had shattering effects on families along its long swath from the Coastal Bend area of Rockport to the Sabine River in East Texas, there may be a silver lining when it comes to waterfowl habitat. Surfeit water across landscape appears to have helped many wetlands flourish. The approach and magnitude of Hurricane Harvey had many waterfowl managers worried including Kevin Kraai, Waterfowl Program Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “At first I thought this was not looking good for our waterfowl habitat along the coast but as the water receded and reports started trickling in from various areas along the coast, I was pleasantly surprised,” Kraai said. “The water drained off the
Spike Rush provides food to waterfowl from its seeds, rhizomes and tubers.
Smartweed is a perennial plant that provides seeds eaten by a variety of wetlands wildlife.
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Healthy wetlands include a variety of species of both submerged and emergent plants. In turn, they provide a substrate for late season invertebrates.
Developing and maintaining healthy wetlands along the Texas Gulf Coast is paramount to assure waterfowl return to their nesting grounds in excellent shape.
Flooded rice fields provide valuable waterfowl habitat, and for every 10,000 acres flooded it supports 120,000 waterfowl.
landscape quicker than expected and overall the marsh did a good job in recovering relatively quickly and in time for the arrival of the main push of waterfowl in November.” He continued, “In many cases the waters from Hurricane Harvey helped the waterfowl habitat and things look like they are turning out for the better along the coast. The ducks seem to like it, and numbers are currently outstanding for the opening of waterfowl season.” Inland moist-soil units common along the Gulf Coast were jump-started for those who had their land prepared in time. Taylor Abshier, Ducks Unlimited Conservation Biologist, said that he feels like Hurricane Harvey “reset the clock” on wetlands along the middle Gulf Coast. Initially, a 5-to-6-foot surge of saltwater hit the coast, followed by a flooding of the bay system by heavy rains and rivers coming out of their banks. “It freshened things, killing undesirable plants such as cattails, while at the same time appearing to have stimulated good aquatics,” Abshier said. The “reset button” may be beneficial for a number of years to come and not just for inland wetlands, but bay ecosystems as well, he said. “However, just four short weeks after the storm we were kicking up dust on the dirt roads as the landscape was quickly desiccated,” Abshier said. “It would have been nice to have rain showers every week or so after Harvey to keep the wetlands alive and only those fortunate enough to have water wells did so in many parts of the region.” Travis Peterson with the Thunderbird Hunting Club located near Bay City agreed. “Duck veggies were jump-started all at once with the abundance of hurricane-related water on our land, but shortly afterwards we started to dry out quickly and turned on every one of our water wells to keep our moist-soil units alive and well,” Peterson said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Technician Ervin Hart, working at Matagorda Island, reported that the shoal grass, so important to the estimated 80 percent of wintering Redheads in Texas, is thick and comparable to other years. Michael Rezsutek, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Project Director for the Upper Coast Wetlands, said the J. D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, an immense 24,498-acre tract of fresh, intermediate and brackish water coastal marsh on the upper coast of Texas, had an extra 7 feet of water over their impoundments to the north, but they were able to pump out all the extra water, receiving only minor damage to their units. But to the south of the Intercoastal Canal, the marsh sustained some significant damage to its vast areas of widgeon grass in the marsh, most likely due to the turbidity of the water. Private waterfowl clubs in the area suffered damage to their outside levees. One of the cruel ironies of having too much water is that it breaches levees and one day you have way too much water and the next day the levees blow out, leaving one high and dry. Matt Nelson saw more than two feet of water lay for weeks over the saltwater marsh of Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area near Freeport.
WAT E R F OW L F O O D S
“The marsh has been badly burned from all the freshwater and of concern is the possible vegetation die-off, which could lead to erosion of the marsh ecosystem, Nelson said. “Time will tell this spring, but surprisingly there are a lot of ducks in the area, and it is speculated that they are feeding on invertebrates. Other WMAs along the mid-coast were in good shape—such as Mad Island near Collegeport—with no major setbacks.” David Butler, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department waterfowl specialist for the mid-coast of Texas, found floodwaters from the San Bernard and Brazos rivers had also burned much of the saltmarsh downstream, but he was confident that things would bounce back. “The good news is that the effects of the flooding will open up areas in the marsh that we normally could not open up with conventional means such as disking and burning," Butler said. The Texas Gulf Coast has been defined as an important and crucial wintering ground for both ducks and geese. Developing and maintaining healthy wetlands along the Texas Gulf Coast is paramount to assure waterfowl return to their nesting grounds in excellent shape for the rigors of producing the next generation of birds. An excellent source of waterfowl food types and management can be found at Texas A&M University website www.aquaplant. tamu.edu/plant-identification/ and the Natural Resources Conservation Services document www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/ FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_016986.pdf.
Harmful filamentous algae blocks sunlight for the growth other aquatics and depletes oxygen in wetlands.
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10 New Year’s Resolutions for the Outdoor Enthusiast
Article by WHITNEY KLENZENDORF
appy New Year, everyone! Hope you had a great holiday and enjoyed some time outside, either hunting or stretching your legs in this crisp weather. As someone who loves to make New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been spending some of my idle time in the deer blind planning for the coming year. In case you’re looking for inspiration, here are some resolutions for outdoor enthusiasts. 1. Purge your gear closet. With adventures of the past year fresh on your mind, now is the time to sort out what worked and what didn’t. Get rid of those items that don’t work for you anymore. It’s also a good time to clean and organize everything, from the inside of your various bags to your knives and guns. 2. Plan outdoor adventures for the coming year. If you don’t have an “Outdoor Bucket List,” you need to make one! Look at your nearby state parks and small towns and plan a camping trip, a day hike or a hunt. For those trips or hunts that require more than a year of advance planning, set a reminder on your calendar to start booking. 3. Hike one trail a month. Science proves exercise outdoors is better for you than going to a gym. The key to doing this successfully is picking out the trail or park in advance and putting it on your calendar with a time block of about two to four hours. 4. Become a better shot. Even seasoned shots need practice. In addition to perfecting your aim, spending time out at the range is a “shot” of relaxation into your everyday life. If you prefer to shoot with a camera, sign up for photography lessons to develop that skill. 5. Push yourself to try something new. Have you ever kayaked before? Have you ever fly fished the Guadalupe River? What about cleared brush with a bulldozer? (TWA’s Advanced Women of the Land program will give you a dose of that!) If you love the outdoors—and I am pretty sure most of you do— you will probably relish the new perspective each activity will bring. 6. Set goals for your land. Talk to your NRCS agent about programs you could implement in the coming year which can help you clear invasive brush, plant natives, improve rotational
grazing and conduct other measures to enhance wildlife habitat. You might also consider legacy and estate planning for your property and how you can conserve it for generations to come. Or, consider contacting TWA’s Conservation Legacy Team to find out how you can volunteer your ranch as a destination for local schools to bring students to your property for a day of learning. Or, contact TWA’s Hunting Heritage staff to volunteer your ranch for a Texas Youth Hunting Program youth hunt. 7. Try hunting an animal you haven’t pursued before. Hunting a new animal takes me back to the excitement of my first hunt, and it’s a feeling I love. Learning the habits and behavior of different species from the perspective of a hunter makes a person get to know the natural world better and have greater appreciation for different species. 8. Start a savings plan for your dream hunt or outdoor trip. The start of a new year is a great opportunity to reassess your budget. It may be hard to say “no” to things, but just remember—all will be worth it when you’re on that dream safari. 9. Support wildlife conservation and outdoor education by donating to TWA or to the Texas Wildlife Association Foundation. Set up a recurring monthly donation to support TWA’s adult and youth education programs. If you can’t give money, then give your time. Sign up to be an adult leader at a Texas Brigades camp, assist as a Huntmaster in the Texas Youth Hunting Program or serve as a volunteer at one of TWA’s many programs. 10. Make an album of your favorite outdoor adventures from the past year. I recommend taking your pictures off SD cards and storing them on a cloud server. Use one of the many free services online to make a memory book which you can enjoy for years to come. Best of luck sticking to whatever goals you set—and here’s to a wonderful 2018! Whitney Klenzendorf ’s blog Whit’s Wilderness (www. whitswilderness.com) encourages women to get outside for hiking, hunting, camping, outdoor cooking and shotgun sports. Follow her outdoor adventures on social media @whitswilderness.
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Hunting the Northern Bobwhite Quail is popular in Texas, and it can provide additional income to ranches and rural communities. The problem...
Published on Jan 1, 2018
Hunting the Northern Bobwhite Quail is popular in Texas, and it can provide additional income to ranches and rural communities. The problem...