Most Endangered Bird in North America

February 20th, 2017
Attwater's Prairie Chicken

Attwater’s Prairie Chicken

This is Passport to Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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

TPW TV – Student Camper

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

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

This is Passport to Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking up Cottontail Carnitas

February 16th, 2017
Cottontail carnitas a la Evin Cooper

Cottontail carnitas a la Evin Cooper

This is Passport to Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe, Successful Rabbit Hunting

February 15th, 2017
Hunting rabbits and hares can be a rewarding challenge.

Hunting rabbits and hares can be a rewarding challenge.

This is Passport to Texas

Deer hunters are used to sitting quietly in a blind for—sometimes—hours before a buck or doe saunters into view. If they ever do. Increase your odds of harvesting game by hunting rabbits.

I mean, there is an abundance of rabbits across Texas.

Rabbit hunting is year-round and statewide. Heidi Rao, a hunter education specialist says rabbits don’t often stray into the wide open spaces, and suggests hunting the edges of their territory, such as fence lines or tree lines.

 A lot of people use .22 rifles, .22 pistols. Some people use 410 shotgun or 20-guage.

Rao recommends sticking with the .22s; shotguns are loud and can cause other rabbits to run erratically, reducing your odds of taking a safe shot.

The do zigzag. We always recommend making sure you have a safe background and that you can identify your target. So, we always want to make sure that you have a good still shot. So, make sure that they stop. Because it’s always difficult to hit a moving target if you don’t have a spray of pellets like a shotgun.

Besides, it was that shotgun blast that made the rabbits zigzag in the first place. Plus, a single shot from a .22 will go further to preserve the integrity of the meat.

Tomorrow—a recipe for making cottontail carnitas.

The Wildlife restoration program supports our series and works to promote shooting sports and hunting in Texas.

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

Hunting Rabbits and Hares in Texas

February 14th, 2017
Jackrabbit hiding behind prickly pear cactus.

Jackrabbit hiding behind prickly pear cactus.

This is Passport to Texas

People who hunt rabbits say they find it more engaging than waiting hours in a blind for a deer to visit a feeder.

Sometimes when you’re deer hunting, you might be sitting in a blind just being quiet and waiting and not see anything.

You don’t have to “bait and wait” with rabbits; they’re everywhere. Heidi Rao, a hunter education specialist, says rabbits and hares may be hunted year round, statewide.

In West Texas, you do have the larger jackrabbits. We do have some larger rabbits and hares down in South Texas. There is an abundance of rabbits across Texas.

A hunting license is still necessary. Rao says you can use a shotgun when rabbit hunting, but they tend to be loud.

If you plan on doing a day of rabbit hunting, and you’re using a shotgun, you could scare away some of the other rabbits in the area. They could hunker down and hide because of the noise. A .22 rifle or pistol is a lot quieter.

Heidi Rao offers tips on hunting rabbits.

The best way to hunt rabbits—they love cover. They hide near their food source. So that’s a great way to hunt rabbit, along what we call edge. Which is the edge of their habitat versus the open area.

Find hunting information by species on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife restoration program supports our series and works to promote shooting sports and hunting in Texas.

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