Some have included photos that were misidentified eels, yet other reports were more mysterious.
Sea snakes are not indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic so these reports are quite controversial to say the least.
I recently received an email with an interesting and (fairly) clear photo of a snake caught on Galveston Island, TX.
The people who caught it thought it might be a sea snake.
After all, it was on the beach and did not look like snakes commonly seen by most citizens in the region.
The snake in the photo however is a Gulf salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii clarkii).
I never thought of these being the source of some Gulf region sea snake sightings until receiving this photo.
It does makes sense for numerous reports I have received in open bays and beaches in the region.
Very few people know of this snake and they are very aquatic.
According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Gulf salt marsh snake grows to a length of 15 to 30 inches.
Distinguishing characteristics include two longitudinal tan or yellow stripes on each side of the body, making up the dorsal (top) pattern of the snake. It has a reddish-brown or grayish-black ventral (bottom) color with one to three rows of large pale spots along the center of the belly. This snake is flat headed.
They added that as a way to avoid predators, salt marsh snakes are nocturnal (active at night) and often hide in shoreline debris and in crab burrows in the mud or sand.
The Gulf salt marsh snake does not have salt glands to help rid itself of the salt it eats so it must be very careful not to drink salt water. It gets moisture from rainfall and from the animals it eats.
Interestingly, their name is Nerodia clarkii, but it is a subspecies of this group so the actual name is Nerodia clarkii clarkii according to the University of Florida.
The other two subspecies are found in Florida. The Mangrove salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda) is found from central Gulf coast of Florida, around the Keys to Indian River County on the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata) has a very small range.
These snakes are nonvenomous but will bite if handled.
It’s best to leave them alone especially noting that TPWD officials and other researchers believe their numbers are on the decline.
These unique snakes will not account for all of the “sea snake”sightings in the Gulf region but I now believe they are part of the equation.
Wild Wishes® grants wildlife encounters for children who have a terminal or critical illness or have lost a parent or sibling. It’s a project of Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® based out of Pinehurst, TX (Orange area).
Since 2014 the organization has granted 92 of these wishes and also works with children in the foster system and families who have children struggling with various issues.
“This was a very special encounter because these two girls have been part of our program for a year and a half. They are both volunteering as interns this summer, and this was the big send-off before college classes begin. We have been teaching them how to promote wildlife conservation, and this is an incredible inspiration for them,” said Lisa Moore, co-founder of Wild Wishes® and Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center®.
The other co-founder, her husband Chester is an award-winning wildlife journalist and said the story here is the ability to learn about wild cats so intimately.
“These girls got to interact with Siberian lynxes, Florida panthers, bobcats and servals and each time Jim and Bertie Broaddus educated them about these great animals and their place in the wild,” Moore said
“Since coming into our program Reannah changed her major to wildlife conservation and Lauren is getting an education degree to become an elementary teacher. We believe they will have a major impact on wildlife and wildlife education in the future and a catalyst for that will be these experiences.”
Bear Creek Feline Center is one of the few facilities in America to house jaguarundis.
Sometimes called the “otter cat” because unusual, low-profile look, these cats were of particular interest to the girls and they spent extended time photographing them.
“The photos will be used for future writings and social media activity where we will not only mention this great facility but also the conservation status of jaguarundis, which is a bit mysterious. We think featuring them will be an engaging way to educate people about wild cats in the Americas,” Chester said.
Safe, interactive wildlife encounters are crucial to inspiring people to appreciate wildlife and become advocates for species and habitat conservation.
“We’re appreciative of our partners at Bear Creek Feline Center for helping us take our mentoring program to a new level and for in a big way make Wild Wishes® come true for some special young ladies,” Lisa said.
In a technology-driven world where man seems to get more disconnected to nature by the day, opportunities like this can cause one to pause and ponder Creation.
Sure, the girls might have been taking cell phone photos of the cats and posting to Instagram, but they exposed people to wildlife in inspiring fashion in the process.
That’s a win for wildlife and young people facing challenges alike.
Award-winning wildlife journalist and conservationist Chester Moore and his wife Lisa are giving away a month-long North American Wild Sheep curriculum to any educator whether home, private or public school.
“We are fully committed to wildlife and sheep conservation is right there at the top of the list for us. We want to do our part to see young people get an engaging education on wild sheep. They need to understand these great animals and know the role hunter-conservationists have played to ensure their future,” Chester said.
The curriculum will be available beginning Aug. 15.
“We love wild sheep in the Moore household, and we want to educate young people about these great animals. This is our gift to wild sheep and to kids who love wildlife,” said Lisa Moore, a certified teacher of 22 years.
The Moore’s said they have been inspired by conservation groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and others that have contributed so much to wild sheep. This curriculum is the first step in their forthcoming Conservation Campus that will bring cutting-edge wildlife conservation to home and private schools.
“We decided to do this while at 10,000 feet photographing bighorns in Colorado on our 20th anniversary. It was a dream come true moment for us, and we wanted to do something to inspire young people to get involved in sheep conservation. It’s a great privilege to contribute even a small bit to help secure the future of wild sheep,” Chester said.
Sarasota, FL–-The swamps along the edge of Florida’s Myakka River are teeming with life.
From alligators to Seminole whitetail to mottled ducks, the wildlands just outside of Sarasota are rich in biodiversity.
The short, thin pines reminded me a bit of the habitat on the Upper Coast of Texas where I live, but it looked uniquely Florida. With scattered palms and thick palmetto, this place looked subtropical.
It would have been easy to get lost in the majesty of it all, but I was on a mission.
That mission was to get a photo of an Osceola turkey.
Turkey Revolution is a project I founded to raise awareness of turkey conservation. As turkeys go so do America’s forests.
This year I set out to get quality photos of the “Grand Slam” of turkeys which are the Rio Grande, eastern, Osceola and Merriam’s.
This was number three to scratch off the list as I had already gotten the Rio Grande and eastern but in my mind those made sense in terms of location.
I found the Rio Grande along a very remote roadway among many hundreds of thousands of undeveloped acres in the Texas Hill Country.
The eastern came from rolling hills and farmland new Auburn, NY in an area that any turkey hunter would mark as a prime location.
While Florida has plenty of forested lands, it also has many highways, subdivisions, businesses, and tourist destinations.
That made it feel a little off during the research process and the epic travel from Orange, TX.
Things changed once I found myself along the banks of the Myakka River. It felt wild although I was only three miles away from a subdivision.
It was an interesting dichotomy-tourist Florida vs. turkey Florida.
I had done many studies to end up in this location to find Osceola turkeys.
And since I am doing this all on my coin, I was low on time. I had from sunrise to noon to make something happen.
One particular area looked seriously promising, and within 30 minutes there I spied my prize.
A hen Osceola turkey gave me a curious look on the edge of a palmetto thicket and shortly after that followed another hen and a brood.
They made their way into a clearing and fed down toward the edge of the river. It was great to see a brood because much of this habitat was thicker than I suspected it would be. Prime turkey habitat has relatively open forest. The suppression of natural fires has created enormous undergrowth, and that allows predators a better shot at turkeys and destroys some of the turkey’s best forage opportunities.
Something else that caught my attention was a great blue heron struggling to eats a plecostomus (think suckerfish in your aquarium) just past the feeding turkeys.
It was a picture of a very determined bird trying to eat an exotic that has had an impact on this ecosystem at the aquatic level. Florida is full of land-dwelling exotics too from Burmese pythons to feral hogs and even monkeys. Add that to the pressures of human development in the Sunshine State, and I was concerned about this turkey’s status.
That is why I consulted David Nicholson, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in Florida.
I inquired specifically about population trends.
“Unfortunately, there is not a reliable/accurate way to estimate wild
turkey populations at a large-scale and therefore the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) does not currently estimate wild turkey population size in Florida,” he said.
“Instead, the FWC utilizes spring turkey season harvest estimates from an annual mail survey as an index to population size. These harvest estimates are either on a statewide scale or a regional scale, so, therefore, do not necessarily track harvest rates of the Eastern and Osceola subspecies separately in Florida.
Nicholson said that given this data is derived from mail surveys, and the harvest estimates are currently only available through the spring of 2018 and information is not yet available for 2019.
“In examining the spring turkey harvest estimates provided by FWC, it appears populations in Florida have been stable to slightly declining over the last decade depending on the region.”
Harvest data suggests the slight declines were observed more in Northern Florida coinciding more with the Eastern subspecies and harvest rates since that time have been more stable in Central & South Florida where the Osceola subspecies occurs.
Nicholson said research is being conducted to determine the cause.
“While no exact cause has been determined yet, it is likely due to many factors, which may be different for certain areas. Factors likely include: decreasing habitat quality, changing land use, and land conversion (e.g., development), but may also include other factors we don’t fully understand yet, but active/planned research is looking into them.”
All of those factors seem entirely plausible, and the word “decline” has been omnipresent during this Turkey Revolution quest. Louisiana and New York have both seen significant declines, and now Florida seems to be on the down swing.
What is going on with turkeys and how widespread is the problem? That’s something we will be investigating heavily.
As both a wildlife journalist and a turkey hunter it is concerning.
This is not a situation of birds becoming threatened, but we could be seeing a trend that ends badly if exact reasons for decline are not determined.
I genuinely believe that as wild turkeys go America’s forests go with them. Poorly managed forests equal minimal turkey numbers. Highly managed forests see optimal turkey numbers.
And many other factors-some which we may not even understand yet are at play. I am glad they have dedicated people at the NWTF and in state fish and game agencies investigating this phenomenon.
And speak of a phenomenon I was able to get my fourth species of turkey this month-the Merriam’s but there is something very unique about it. I am getting the photograph examined to learn more.
You will see something on it here within the coming month and it is worth the wait.
Big things are happening with Turkey Revolution, and I believe we have just begun what may an epic journey.
The Stark Museum of Art is bringing the great outdoors inside with Conservation Art: Federal Duck Stamps & Prints.
The exhibition opens July 13 and continues through January 4, 2020. This exhibition celebrates the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, popularly known as the Duck Stamp.
A set of stamps and prints, from the beginning in 1934-1935 through 2000-2001, is on view. In addition to viewing the stamps and prints, visitors can go on a virtual Duck Hunt and enjoy other activities.
Started in 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp program links hunting with conservation. Sales of stamps support wildlife habitat. Choosing artists to design the stamps added visual drama. Artists’ prints increased the impact of the program.
With this exhibition, the Stark Museum of Art traces the history of the Federal Duck Stamp. The United States government created the stamp to address a problem. In the 1930s, the numbers of ducks and geese had fallen to dangerously low levels.
Loss of habitat and over-hunting contributed to the decline. Hunters and conservationists sought remedies. To raise funds for waterfowl habitat, the government required hunters to buy a Migratory Bird stamp. The U.S. uses the revenue to purchase and maintain wildlife refuges.
Every year the government selects an artist to create the image and issues a new stamp. They depict ducks, geese, and swans. The beauty of the stamps has inspired collecting. It has also prompted the artists to make prints from their stamp art.
The exhibition begins with the 1934-35 Stamp and its accompanying print by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. Darling was a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, a hunter, and a conservationist.
Franklin Roosevelt appointed him as Chief of the Biological Survey. Darling drew two mallards flying onto the water for the first stamp, and then made an etching based on his design.
The exhibition includes etchings, lithographs, and photolithographs by fifty-two artists, including Frank W. Benson, Maynard Reece, and the Hautman brothers.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to view a digital exhibit of the 2018-19 Federal Junior Duck Stamp in Texas winners. The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design program began in 1993. Each state holds a contest.
A best of show for the state is selected. These works advance to the national contest. The digital exhibit features the top twelve Texas artists in Kindergarten through twelfth grades in the 2018-19 contest. It is presented in cooperation with the Federal Junior Duck Stamp in Texas program.
The exhibition includes a number of hands-on learning opportunities. The interactives include viewing recent years’ duck stamps up closely using magnifying tools, drawing and displaying a duck stamp, and playing the Nintendo Entertainment System pop culture classic Duck Hunt.
Adjacent to the main exhibition will be Waterfowl Art with the flourishing images of ducks and geese as seen in Steuben glass, Limoges plates, Boehm porcelain, and other forms.
An Opening Reception and Insights Lecture will be held 2-4 p.m. Sat. July 13. at the Stark Museum of Art.
Celeste Rickert, a 2018 Federal Duck Stamp Finalist from Katy, TX, will speak on her experience as an artist participating in the Federal Duck Stamp competition.
Light refreshments will be served following the talk. The Opening Reception and Insights Lecture are open to the public.
So, what happens when whitetail and mule deer meet up?
It’s a question I have long been intrigued with since I heard stories of mysterious whitetail/mule deer hybrids at a hunting camp in my home state of Texas.
While on a mission to photograph Merriam’s turkey in Colorado for my Turkey Revolution quest two weeks ago my wife Lisa and I stopped at a beautiful location to look for mule deer.
We found a big bachelor group with some large males feeding in a meadow.
And then from the distance came more deer.
I assumed they were muleys too but after glassing, I realized they were whitetail.
Eventually, they made their way to the mule deer. Most passed by but a couple merged with them and began to feed. This is what you see in the included photo.
It was interesting to see this interaction.
I plan on returning to this location in the fall when the rut is on and see what type of activity occurs. Bucks could get along now but how about when their antlers are hard and testosterone is jacked up?
The whitetail will be fighting one another and the muleys battling it out as well. But will they fight one another?
Who will win?
Even more intriguing is the possibility of whitetail and mule deer mating.
Longstanding studies by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials show some interesting dynamics including hybridization.
“Where mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist, interbreeding does occur. The long-term effects are unknown, and for most areas, the extent of hybridization is not known. The highest incidence of hybridization in the Trans-Pecos occurs in the eastern part of the region where high populations of mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist. It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of deer may be hybrids where both species occupy the same range,” TPWD reported.
“DNA sequencing techniques were used to determine the extent of hybridization in the Panhandle (Donley County) where the ranges of both species overlap. Results indicated a hybridization frequency of eight percent. ”
TPWD reported antler characteristics, tail coloration, and ear length are not reliable in recognizing hybrids.
They said hybrids can be identified by the length of the metatarsal gland that is located on the outside of the rear leg between the hock and the hoof. It typically will measure about 3 /4 inch long in whitetail and about 4 inches long in mule deer.”
“The metatarsal gland of hybrids is intermediate in length, measuring about two inches long. It has been theorized that occurrences of hybridization are initiated by white-tailed bucks, but interbreeding also can occur between mule deer bucks and white-tailed does. Hybrids appear to have at least a limited degree of fertility. Hybridization is a concern to managers who see it as a threat to their mule deer herd.:
Whitetail numbers have reached historic highs in most of their range and are healthy virtually everywhere whereas mule deer are on the decline in many areas.
I will have more on the mule deer decline soon as well as hybridization.
For now, I am seeking photos of whitetail/mule deer hybrids.
The Wildlife Journalist® publisher and Texas Fish & Game Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore was honored by the Press Club of Southeast Texas for his “Be Texas Bear Aware” public service announcement that runs on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.
Moore took first place in the radio public service announcement category at the groups annual excellence in media awards.
“It’s a real honor to be awarded by such a great organization and especially for something so special to me,” Moore said.
“I had the opportunity to create public service announcements on wildlife for KLVI who are always great about supporting wildlife conservation and the first one I came up with was the issue of black bears.”
Moore said many outdoors lovers are not aware that black bears are moving in and out of Texas through Louisiana and Arkansas and a growing population exists in the Trans Pecos region.
“I want people to be aware of bears. Part of that is educating hog hunters to be careful of their targets as a bear and hog can appear similar at a distance especially if you have no idea bears are in the area. I also wanted to get the message across that killing a bear in Texas is illegal and comes with serious legal consequences. There aren’t enough bears to justify a hunting season yet.”
Moore has long worked to get the word out on bears creating a bear awareness poster, partnering with Texas Fish & Game beginning in 2007 that has went to thousands of readers, concerned citizens and students.
“Black bears are an important part of Texas’ legacy and as a lifelong hunter and wildlife lover seeing them come back is exciting. If the efforts of me and my media partners helps a little bit that makes me happy,” Moore said.
Moore was also honored in four other categories including radio talk show for “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and independent blog for The Wildlife Journalist.
The desert bighorn sheep is now officially a celebrity in Texas.
A new conservation license plate features a stunning bighorn image and those who purchase them for $30 get the satisfaction of knowing $22 goes directly to sheep conservation efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
The new plate design is a first for TPWD.
“Our longtime plate artist, Clemente Guzman, retired, so we decided to use a photograph of a majestic Bighorn Sheep proudly looking into the desert—and perhaps its future,” said Janis Johnson with the TPWD Conservation License Plate program.
“We conducted an online survey with thousands of hunters and conservationists and had them rank several designs for a Bighorn Sheep plate and a Pronghorn plate. The Bighorn Sheep was the overwhelming favorite.”
Diehard hunters and wildlife enthusiasts know bighorns are native to Texas. The mainstream of those user groups however have no idea about Texas rich bighorn legacy and the amazing conservation efforts it took to get them back on the mountains of the Trans-Pecos.
Wild sheep have been a source of interest to me since I clipped out a statistics chart from a TPWD magazine during my childhood and put it in my dream hunt scrapbook.
I did so to serve as a reminder that we should always put in more than we take.
That graph showed 100 bighorns in Texas in 1928 and 40 in 1976, just a few years before I made this clipping.
For a six year old who was already knew about the Grand Slam of sheep this was frightening.
Now according to TPWD Desert Bighorn Program Leader Froylan Hernandez there are around, 1,500 which is at historical highs.
It will take a broader awareness of their presence in the arid Trans Pecos to support things like proper domestic sheep grazing practices so their diseases do not impact the easily infected bighorns.
This license plate along with the media blitz that has introduced it will go a long way and creating a path for bighorns to find their way into the mainstream Texas wildlife consciousness.
New generations must learn of these great animals and be inspired to help them.
Through our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center me and my wife Lisa work with children in the foster system and those with terminal illness and who have lost a parent or sibling. We give them the wildlife encounter of their dreams through our Wild Wishes program.
The license plate has given me a chance to integrate wild sheep conservation awareness into our programs.
When I showed a group of kids at foster children’s home e a monster set Gobi argali horns I asked them what type of animal they came from.
A couple said deer, while one said antelope.
Most of the others said it was a ram.
When told that a ram is a male of a particular kind of animal none of them knew it was a sheep.
Several expectedly thought rams were male goats. (This seems to be a common belief-even among adults.)
When I told them we had wild rams in Texas in the form of the desert bighorn sheep they lit up. And they thought it was even cooler that we will have a special conservation license plate to help them.
That’s just a tiny example of the kind of conversations the new license plate will generate.
Impactful conservation takes awareness, money and creativity and all of those are present in this project.
In the long run the bighorns of Texas will benefit greatly from this small step toward the mainstream.
Did you know bighorn sheep are slowly moving back into Oklahoma?
How cool is that?
Have you ever heard of Asia’s Marco Polo Sheep-a massive mountain dweller that lives exclusively in elevations of 12-15,000 feet?
Oh and by the way , the rams sport horns upwards of 60 inches in length.
Learn about this and much, much more in the podcast of my radio program “Moore Outdoors” (May 25 edition) as I interview Gray Thornton, President & CEO of The Wild Sheep Foundation.
Wild sheep have a deep personal meaning in my life dating back to early childhood when I would sit with my Dad and cut out photos of wildlife from Sports Afield,Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and place them in a scrapbook.
Wild sheep and wild turkeys were my favorites.
Dad passed away of natural causes on a hunting trip with me five years ago but the memories of sitting in his lap and clipping out those photos will never fade.
A recent discovery of one of these scrapbooks in a storage vault brought back a flood of emotions and reminded me that a love of wild sheep has been with me my whole life.
The interview is just one of what will be many broadcasts, articles and investigations on wild sheep and their conservation moving forward.
This includes a forthcoming major feature story on desert bighorn in Texas Fish & Game magazine in the August 2019 issue.
For now check out the podcast. It’s one of the best interviews I have had in 20 years of radio.
Listen to learn about wild sheep of the world and to be inspired by their amazing conservation story.
Seeing a feral hog in thick snow was surreal to me.
I had seen thousands in swamps, cactus thickets and rocky canyons in Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Florida but seeing one bust out from behind a tree on a snow-covered hill in Michigan was wild.
This was back in 2001, just 20 years after the first feral hogs were spotted in Michigan. Now they are in virtually every county in the state.
The feral hog issue is definitely most pronounced in the South but hogs are becoming increasingly common in the North.
A decade ago I did an interview with a radio station in New Jersey because they had just opened a hog hunting season and the host wanted advice of dealing with these invasive exotics.
If states on the northern tier of their range in America do not take action then hogs will gain a permanent foothold above the Mason-Dixon line.
Some states have taken an unusual stance on dealing with hogs. They have made hunting them illegal.
It seems counterintuitive to eliminate a potential method of removing many hogs from the landscape.
The reasoning in states like New York, Minnesota and Kansas is the spread of feral hogs has had much to do with ranches that put them behind high fences for hunting. Hogs of course escape and the population outside fences spreads.
I have no doubt this has contributed greatly to the spread of hogs in my native Texas and have written on this in Texas Fish & Game.
It’s a bizarre idea to prohibit a hunter who is out to seek deer for example from killing one when at the end of the day state officials will have to kill hogs to stop their spread.
Perhaps simply banning importing them or transporting live pigs would be better.
It will be interesting to see how management of hogs changes as they multiply.
Will states that ban hunting them see success in their fight against this foreign invader? Or will they have to change their tactics?