Thursday, December 23, 2010

Desert bighorn relocation project

Solstice Moon and Sunrise, Elephant Mountain WMA, Texas.
Copyright (c) Dec 21, 2010 Wendee Holtcamp

I just got back from a short but amazing short trip to West Texas near the Mexico border to report on a desert bighorn sheep relocation project. I drove to Austin and then carpooled with some folks from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and the first and third evenings we stayed at the gorgeous Lajitas Resort in between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The second evening we stayed in Alpine, Texas because there was a safety and sheep briefing at Sul Ross University. The second day we arrived at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area at 6am and as soon as the sun came up got to work. A helicopter crew - they're freaking amazing - captured the sheep on the mountain using nets and then transported them down to the staging area below where we got to work on the animals.

Talk about alien abduction! You can imagine what the sheep is thinking - there is nothing in their evolution or natural history to comprehend flying through the air suspended by rope, then being placed in a stretcher, blood taken, poop taken and a collar placed around their neck. BUT it's truly for a good cause. People helped cause the extirpation of desert bighorn sheep from Texas by the 1950s but now have re-established them over the past couple of decades to a population of around 1100 in Texas. This particular project was about moving them to a mountain range they formerly inhabited but have not re-established themselves on, in Big Bend Ranch State Park. We had a phenomenally successful two days, reintroducing 46 bighorn sheep - 12 rams and the rest ewes. I was only there for the first day. Here are some photos! Next adventure- Christmas and Lake Texoma.

On the drive to Lajitas the first day, I took this image on the roadside. I took all photos (all copyright) below except the helicopter one.
Tom Harvey, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Media Communications Group Leader
We stayed at Lajitas Resort the first and third nights. It's really a gorgeous place. It's between Big Bend National Park & Big Bend Ranch State Park (which are next to one another).
Quicksilver air pilots capture the bighorns using nets, and then carefully set them down in the staging area. They're amazing! Isn't this shot incredible?! This photo is Copyright (c) Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. You can see their Flick photostream here:
After the helicopter captures the sheep on Elephant Mountain (Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA)), they gently lay them down at the staging area, where a crew carries them over to where we processed them as quickly as possible.
'Processing' a desert bighorn ram before placing him in the carton/trailer for transport to Big Bend Ranch State Park. They're blindfolded because it helps calm them. Blood, fur and fecal samples are taken for DNA/genetic work and to check for parasites, and they're outfitted with a radio transmitter.
That's me in the background and to the right is Mike Janis who is a TPWD wildlife biologist I happened to have worked with almost 20 years ago at EG&G when we were seasonal field biologists on the Nevada Test Site. Small world!
A couple of the ewes in the trailer. I peered through the slats in the side and they kind of made a huffing sound at me, but that was it. They didn't mew or make any other noises.
They look a bit scared, but I would be too. We did everything possible to minimize stress on the animals, including keeping them cool if their temperature started to rise, and doing the entire handling process in approximately 5 minutes.
The release site at Big Bend Ranch St Park is right on the Rio Grande River, so technically the sheep could just walk on over to Mexico... And in fact TPWD just signed a binational Memorandum of Understanding with CEMEX (a cement company that owns land on the border) and some other entities to manage the species cooperatively across the border. A couple of their biologists - Billy Pat and Bonnie McKinney - formerly worked with TPWD at the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area where one of our state's herds of desert bighorn sheep are.
A shot of the insanely beautiful Panther Canyon area where we released the bighorns. They have to compete with exotic Aoudad (or Barbary) sheep, introduced from Saharan Africa. They're larger and can survive anywhere... they've had to try to control the Aoudad's population to ensure the bighorns will survive and thrive.
Another shot of the area where the bighorns were released.
The biologists released the group of ewes first. This is one of the ewes jumping nimbly to her freedom in her new home. They all went straight up the mountain.
Next the rams were released.
And there they go!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Deep corals, tiny plankton and other recent pubs

I've had a few articles come out that I wanted to mention.

  • The cover feature of Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine's December issue is on the Gulf spill and Texas. It is a two-feature series, written by myself and my colleague and friend Melissa Gaskill. My article is
    The Forgotten Deep: The Gulf’s little-seen deep-water ecosystems may bear the brunt of the BP oil spill’s damage.

    I focused on the deepwater corals that so few people even know about and they have received scant media attention. The feature also includes a sidebar on "Texas' forgotten spill" about the Eagle Otome which dumped over 400,000 of crude oil off Port Arthur in January. I wrote this piece in January just after the Texas spill occurred, but right before it was to go to press, the Gulf spill occurred and it seemed almost irrelevant while so much oil was gushing into the Gulf on a daily basis. But the Eagle Otome was a substantial spill, and I'm happy that we got to use an updated version of it for the Gulf oil spill article. Melissa's article is The Pain of the Spill. (Remember we went on the Great Gulf Coast Road Trip - day 1-2, day 3, day 4 and day 5)?

  • The Tiniest Catch: Marine scientists are prowling the Bering Sea to learn how climate affects minute sea creatures and the lucrative fishery that depends on them.

    This is the feature I wrote for Nature on research I learned about on the Bering Sea trip - it finally came out! You may remember that in June through July I spent a month in the Bering Sea, during which I blogged for Nature. I have another feature coming out in BioScience Feb 2011 issue on the Bering Sea.

  • Putting Numbers to Nature. My piece on the Natural Capital Project for Momentum Magazine's Fall Biodiversity issue.

  • The "Wendee Holtcamp Report" on Adventures in Climate Change has reprinted some of my older articles in new ways, and they look great.

    • Silence of the Pikas -Will the American pika become the first species in the lower 48 states to be listed under the Endangered Species Act owing to global warming? This is only part I and the other two segments of the article will be posted soon.
    • Mimicking Mother Nature. A feature on biomimicry, the concept of learning from and being inspired by nature's designs - via evolution - to create innovative, sustainable products. Originally published in National Wildlife Magazine.
    • A Grass Roofs Effort. A piece on rooftop gardens, aka green roofs, originally published in Sierra Magazine.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Doug, me, and the kiddos at the Gaylord Texan Ice! ice sculpture exhibit. They give out these giant parkas for everyone since it is inside a tent kept at 9 degrees F!

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving at my mom and stepdad's place in Dallas. Doug came with me, plus I had the kiddos this year for the Thanksgiving holiday. As I've mentioned here before my mom and I sometimes butt heads (or should I say, we can't be around eachother for more than 48 hours without driving eachother completely crazy). But this trip went amazingly well. I've been hoping for my spiritual growth and patience to rub off on how I am around my maternal unit, and I think perhaps it's finally kicking in. Or maybe it's just that Doug was there and his energy diffused everything that could potentially have arisen - he makes my kids laugh, and makes everyone laugh, and we had a lot of fun. Or maybe it's because we only stayed 3 and a half days. Regardless, it was a success!

We drove up Wednesday, and worked out with my mom at her gym. She lives in a suburb made for people 55 and older, which has its own workout facility. Mom and Skip got out a 1000 piece puzzle and they all started working on it, while watching the movie Air Force One. On Thursday was spent the day preparing the turkey, mashed potatoes and other goodies and we watched The Bucket List (I'd seen it before but the kids hadn't) and played Trivial Pursuit. Skip's mom, Jane, came over for turkey dinner and we said a prayer and went around and said a couple of things we were thankful for. On Friday, mom and Skip treated us to the Ice! exhibit at the Gaylord Texan, which was really quite interesting - see pics below.

Honestly it was pretty expensive for what you see, and it's like 50 minutes of standing in line for 15-20 minutes of walking through the ice sculptures, but the story behind it is amazing. First we were herded into a room where you stand and watch an 8-minute movie about the making of the ice sculptures. Apparently there's an outdoor ice festival in Northern China where these artisans sculpt ice into incredible things - now that is something I'd like to see. It's called the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Because it's so cold, the ice stays there on its own, but in Texas, that won't happen, so instead they create the sculptures in a huge air-conditioned tent at 9 to 12 degrees F.

It was darn cold in there! And yes, we're causing global warming to see ice sculptures. They bring the Chinese artisans to the U.S. to sculpt the ice into various things. This year's theme was A Charlie Brown Christmas. Honestly, I'm not a huge Charlie Brown fan. I don't dislike it, but I'm just not a super huge fan so it was not as exciting as say, sculptures of dragons and castles like they have in China. But honestly the skill and time that goes into creating them is quite amazing. They use colored blocks of ice. And there's a big ice slide that we all went down at the end. And we took some fun photos. That evening, my mom took the kiddos out to dinner and Doug & I went to hang out with some friends and had a blast playing games, like Things! I'd never heard of it but it was so much fun! I will have to get a game so we can have some couple game nights around here. It reminded me of Balderdash, and some of my life's fondest memories are laughing my butt off with my friends Laurie & Jason playing Balderdash during Thanksgivings in Mississippi in my "other life."

Great grandma Jane, grandpa Skip (my stepdad), me and Doug, and Sam and Savi at my mom and Skip's place for Thanksgiving dinner
Savi making one of her beautiful faces! This is standing in line for the Ice! exhibit. Savi decided to make as miserable of a face as she could (since she always either makes faces or refuses to smile for pics! I promise she really wasn't as unhappy as she looks!) Doug and I in the Ice exhibit. :) My mom took this pic of us near the Snoopy house, and then ...
And 5 seconds later I slipped and we fell!
My mom and I.
Doug and the kids looking through the ice wreath.
Me and the kiddos.
The perfect background for us - Lucy's Psychiatric Help booth.
The Gaylord Texan hotel had a big holiday/Christmas decor all throughout in addition to the Ice exibit so this is Doug and I in front of one of the trees.
A closer up view. I like this pic.
Nikki and I were buds from high school who reconnected years later online. We've gotten together a few times when I come to Dallas.
The pictures didn't turn out great because they were out of focus, but this is Nikki in her beautiful new home, her friend Tiffany, me and Doug. Tiffanys boyfriend and Nikki's husband were also there just not in the picture. And I'll leave you with my favorite apple pie recipe: Bottom-Crust Apple Pie, which I made for Thanksgiving! I didn't make my own crust but bought them.

8 firm McIntosh or Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, pinch mace, pinch nutmeg
1/4 cup flour

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Center pastry shell in pie plate. Place the apple slices in the pastry and sprinkle with sugar, flour and spices mix (I actually tossed the apples in the mix before dumping it into the pie pans. I also didn't have Mace - you can sub pumpkin pie spice, allspice, or cloves. I used allspice).
3. Top with crumb topping.
4. Bake ~ 45 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Crumb topping
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats

In food processor, cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Mix in sugar and oats, and spoon over apple filling. Yum!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Houston Toads and Houston Travel!

I have not had time to give an update on the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Missoula, Montana, or my trip to Oregon due to some intense deadline pressures and getting back in the groove at home... but I wanted to post a couple of my latest articles!

I wrote the November cover story of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine on federally endangered Houston toads- I love the cover image! I also shot one of the images that appears in the magazine of the little princess girl - so cute!

A Kiss for a Toad: A ‘head start’ project could save the endangered Houston toad.

It’s the Houston Zoo’s first Princess Day, a benefit for the conservation of Houston toads, and dozens of girls dressed in pink and purple have gathered to celebrate. The theme plays off Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, in which a girl kisses a frog hoping to get her prince, but instead is transformed into a frog herself. On prominent display at the event is a terrarium housing four Houston toads, almost invisibly camouflaged under pine straw and sand. A princess peers inside, and a reddish-brown toad wriggles and blinks its big eyes.

“Can I kiss him?” she asks.

The AOL Travel Guide to Houston which I wrote is also out/online! It is all online (no byline) and I wrote everything - the 10 best hotels, restaurants, places to visit in town, shopping spots, a 3 and 7-day itinerary, and more. Check it out - I had a lot of fun writing it! Here's part of my "Overview:"

If you're a first-time visitor, Houston travel can be an eye-opening experience. Most outsiders know Houston—the fourth most populous city in the U.S.—as the Space City, with NASA’s Johnson Space Center bringing a major aeronautics component to the city’s economy since it opened in 1961. Locals know “H-town” as the Bayou City: over 2,500 miles of waterways wind their way through the metroplex, which lies in a floodplain merely 43 feet above sea level.

And my favorite fact is that the 10-county greater metroplex region is - get this - at 9,000 square miles, bigger than New Jersey!

As always check out my weekly Animal Planet blog! One that got a LOT of attention was this: 9/11 Tribute Traps 10,000 Birds. And one of my faves is from my road trip to the Gulf Coast: Oil & Louisiana swamp gators. It's just a fun post about a swamp tour Melissa and I took, and how the oil impacts more than just the coast and Gulf of Mexico - its impacts can impact tourism in spots like inland Louisiana. This tour is pretty cool! I got some great gator shots.

At any rate, I also have an oil spill article coming out in the December issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife mag about the spill's impacts on the "forgotten deep" - the amazing, gorgeous and almost completely forgotten deepwater corals right near the oil geyser.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Olympic National Park adventures

Here are some photos from my 3-day trip to Olympic National Park on Washington's Olympic peninsula, and the stupendously beautiful temperate coastal rainforest and beaches. I would label more but my dad is picking me up to go to his log cabin and I have to go! (And here's a link from my previous road trip here in the winter wonderland of 2008)

The town made famous by the Twilight series! I talked to someone who told me it was a sleepy, dying logging town, until the Twilight series, and now 70,000 people come through a year. Some like this - it's good for the economy. Others aren't so crazy about the previously undiscovered secret being revealed to the world. What do you think?
Dad and Bev on the beach near Kalaloch Lodge.

I found bigfoot! He likes to hug, like me. Who knew?
We stopped here for a late afternoon lunch. It was on the way back from a hike in the Hoh Rainforest area of Olympic.
Me hugging the world's largest spruce tree! It is estimated to be over 1,000 years old. It's near Lake Quinalt, an area of the park that has a lot of giant, ancient trees - including several of the world's largest!
She felt wise and loving. I sat on her and rested for a while, listening to her wisdom.
A gazebo at Lake Quinalt Lodge, where we stayed for 2 nights. There was a wedding there and I thought the lights were lovely.
Another view of Lake Quinalt

Sunset over Lake Quinalt (shot through a window...). We watched the sunset as we ate dinner at the Salmon House restaurant.
Stellar's jay at Lake Quinalt Lodge

Willaby Creek