Value of Fire on Turkey Habitat

April 18th, 2019

Working on a prescribed burn.

This is Passport to Texas

We welcome rain in Texas as it promotes lush vegetative growth. Yet, in the absence of fire, such growth can become a problem.

The lack of fire on the landscape has been a big issue. Especially in East Texas, but across the state. We’re seeing a lot of our habitat go from those grasslands to being more dominated by woody vegetation.

Jason Hardin, Turkey Program Leader at Texas Parks and Wildlife, says woody vegetation with an open understory is good turkey habitat.

A turkey’s main defense is its eyesight. Its sense of smell isn’t much better than ours; it’s sense of hearing is good—but it’s not going to keep them alive. So, their vision is most critical for them. So, they need to be able to see where they’re going. If they can’t see through it and move through it easily, it’s not good habitat.

Fire creates an open understory, which affords usable space for turkey, especially in rainy East Texas.

When you see forty, fifty, sixty inches of rainfall a year—you’re going to get a lot of rapid growth on that woody cover. So, burning those forests is essential. We don’t have a fire culture in Texas; people know it’s important, but they’re scared of it. So, we’re trying to provide funding where we can, and work with partners to try and get fire on the ground with certified prescribed burn bosses doing that fire—some of our staff as well—to educate those landowners. And try to—as much as we can—begin to develop a culture that if they’re not willing to burn it themselves, at least they can support fire as a management tool.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

Habitat and Turkey Restoration

April 17th, 2019
A fine looking turkey gobbler.

A gobbler in its natural habitat.

This is Passport to Texas

Texas has three sub-species of Turkey: the Rio Grande is the most abundant, followed by the Eastern and then by the Merriam. Without good habitat, none will thrive.

They have to have good structural cover.

Jason Hardin, Turkey Program Leader at TPW, says this may include low-growing, woody cover for nesting.

It provides like an umbrella that they sit underneath to protect from avian predators and then also weather elements. And then also, grasses, weeds, forbes growing up to provide vertical cover.

Think of woody cover as you would a deer blind: you can see out, but nothing sees in. This feature is critical when hens are on nests and raising poults. The biggest threat to good turkey recruitment (nest success and poult survival) overall is weather.

Because that nesting rate, re-nesting rate, poult survival—all that’s driven essentially by moisture and the climate. So, if we have three years of drought, you’re going to see that Rio Grande type turkey population begin to decline. So, it’s something we try to pay attention to. And over a long term—five ten years—is there something beyond weather that’s causing a shift in that population.

In addition, the lack of fire to burn out dense understory growth from an abundance of rain, impacts Eastern turkey habitat. The value of fire when managing habitat—that’s tomorrow.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

Wild Turkeys Making Comeback

April 16th, 2019
Wild turkey in Palo Duro

Wild turkey in Palo Duro

This is Passport to Texas

Unregulated hunting and loss of habitat nearly caused Turkeys to disappear from Texas. Jason Hardin, Turkey Program Leader at TPW, says thanks to hunter and landowner support, bag limits and a restocking program, they’re making a comeback.

In Texas, we’ve been working hard since the 1930s and 40s to put turkeys back on the landscape in Texas. We’ve been tremendously successful with the Rio Grande—500 to 600-thousand birds in the state today. But with the Eastern sub-species, we haven’t been as successful.

Nevertheless, TPW and its partners continued eastern turkey restoration efforts in the state.

In 1979, we brought our first eastern wild turkeys over from Louisiana—put them in Tyler County—they did pretty good. In 1987, we worked with the National Wild Turkey Federation, their Making Tracks program. We started working with lots of states, bringing turkeys into east Texas. Using what we referred to at the time, using a block stocking approach.

That involved releasing 15 – 20 birds at five to 10 locations in a county; they’d work in that county for two years, and then move to the next.

During the latter part of that block stocking era—mid-nineties, Dr. Raul Lopez was doing some research, and he found that we were doing two things that he thought we could improve on: we could put larger number of birds on the ground—increase that up to 70 or 80 [birds]; he referred to it as super stocking.

The second area for improvement was the habitat into which they released the birds. More on that tomorrow.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

NOTE: Find our 30 minute podcast on turkey conservation, turkey calling and cooking wild turkey when you visit Under the Texas Sky.org

TPW TV–Green Jay Study in Rio Grande Valley

April 11th, 2019
Green Jay

Green Jay

This is Passport to Texas

A new study in South Texas focuses on the Green Jay.

We don’t know a lot about green jays, first of all, so it’s important to know what they’re doing, if we want to be able to manage for them, and we want to manage for them because we have a lot of birdwatchers that come into the Valley and one of the species that they really want to see are green jays.

Tony Henehan is a Wildlife Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Green Jay occurs from South America, north to Texas.

The Rio Grande Valley is, I think, the third fastest growing urban area in the country. It’s expanding at a rapid rate. A lot of urbanization, a lot of habitat change is going on, and so these birds have been able to adapt to a certain extent.

To understand how Green Jays are adapting to the rapidly changing environment of The Valley, Tony plans to trap, tag and track up to ten birds a year. RGV resident, Donna McCowan let Tony place a trap in her backyard.

Well, Tony brought this cage to me about a week and a half ago and had me set it up here under the shade. With the cage door open we were putting corn and peanuts in it, so the birds would get used to it and just assume it’s supposed to be there, and they had no problem with getting in and out of it. This morning, we’re going close the top of it and watch and wait for the birds to show up.

Find out if Tony and Donna trapped a Green Jay when you watch the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS the week of April 14.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

Why We Fear Bats

April 10th, 2019

Photo courtesy: Merlin Tuttle

This is Passport to Texas

On a nightly basis, bats devour tons of agricultural pests and biting insects, like mosquitoes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the benefits they provide. Nevertheless, we remain leery of them, and even afraid. But why?

The big problem they face is they’re active only at night.

Merlin Tuttle founded Bat Conservation International; he currently oversees Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, which he also founded. He says we fear what we cannot see…or do we?

Even humans, if you work the night shift and you’re walking home at night instead of in the daytime, God knows how much more likely someone will think you’re probably up to no good. So, being nocturnal, flying erratically, living in places people are already a little spooked of sometimes—there’s this whole aura of mystique and misunderstanding. We don’t know much about bats. Ironically, what’s fascinating is that where bats have almost six-foot wing spans and are right out there where people can see them—people don’t fear them! But, in places where we have little tiny bats that couldn’t possibly do any significant damage to you—people fear them!

Find a link to Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation website at passporttotexas.org.

[Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation: https://www.merlintuttle.org/]

We receive support in part from RAM Trucks: built to serve.

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