Monday, March 30, 2009

Two Days In March

My home hunting ground lies along tributaries of the Red River, in Grayson County - or what used to be the Red before Lake Texoma backed up behind the dam.

Ecologists call the narrow stretch of hardwood bottomland that runs adjacent to the Red, between the Arkansas border and the western boundary of Grayson County, the Red River Area and generally consider it part of East Texas, a categorization I agree with. Culturally and ecologically, the Red River Area feels like the South.

I feel at home here.

West of Grayson County, the Red River country takes on characteristics of the much drier Cross Timbers and Prairie Region. Just to the south, out of the river breaks but still in Grayson County, the terrain opens up into Blackland Prairie.

Although squirrel season never closes in Grayson County, fox squirrels start breeding in late winter and stay busy with their young until late April or so. For me, the season is closed until May 1, the traditional opening day of spring squirrel season in East Texas.

Week before last, Cate and I spent two consecutive afternoons scouting our bottoms. Had I been inclined, I could have taken 10-squirrel limits both days. Things are looking up for May.

Spring is upon us, although the woods still have a open, raw, late winter look.

I think of these woods as mine. I'm occasionally reminded that others stake their own claims...

.... and employ their own methods. A homemade deer feeder, hidden on public land. We are, after all, in Texas.

Each to his own. I'll take this any day:

They're rarely this easy to spot.

In areas more exposed to wind, post oaks and blackjack oaks predominate - fine, gnarled old- timers, stocky, bent, and thinning on top, much chewed and drilled by their tenants, worthless to lumbermen....

... but benison to a transplanted Kentuckian.

Trees grow straighter down in the sheltered creek bottoms. There are giants here. My photos never do these woods justice.

High fiber diet? Actually, she's after the chewy center, which, seconds after I snapped this photo, shot out the end of the log...

... and disappeared here.

This piece of country suits me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Texas's Best Wine Writer

My buddy Russ Kane, an indefatigable wine blogger, writer, and all-around good guy, has won this year's Press Award from the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. I met Russ this past September at a press event hosted by several South Plains wineries, grape growers and Texas Department of Agriculture. After two days of tastings, I was reduced to making comments like, "Hmmm...fruity," while Russ held forth on acidity, balance, texture, and all those other things guys like me have to fake. He took pity on on me, and we've been friends ever since.

Russ paid me a visit a few weeks ago during his North Texas Wine Tour. As we unloaded his car, I noticed a large Rubbermaid container full of books. He said, "Oh, that's my traveling library." Yet another reason we get along.

Be sure to check out Vintage Texas, Russ's wine blog.

I'll go ahead spill the beans and hope Russ will forgive me: He's working on what will be the Texas wine book for at least the next dozen years or so. Just remember, you heard it here first.

Take that, water hustlers!

Great news from the front lines of the Texas Water Wars:

For immediate release from Texas Conservation Alliance

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Neches River National Wildlife Refuge
Contact: Janice Bezanson, 512-921-1230

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday affirmed the July 2008 decision by Judge Jorge A. Solis in favor of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. The City of Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board had filed suit hoping to overturn creation of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge and make way for a reservoir Dallas predicts might be needed in fifty years. Instead, Judge Solis upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 creation of the refuge.

“This is wonderful news!” said Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance. “The Neches River Refuge is exceptional wildlife habitat -- one of the most important wildlife areas left in Texas. Thousands of Texans wrote letters or signed petitions in support of its creation.”

Dallas and TWDB contended that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act by failing in several ways to do an adequate environmental assessment and by failing to cooperate with state and local officials.

After careful review, Judge Solis disagreed with the allegations and denied motions by Dallas and TWDB to require a more detailed environmental study. Dallas and TWDB appealed Judge Solis’ decision. Thursday a three-judge panel affirmed the lower court ruling.

Biologists say the land within the boundaries of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is some of the least disturbed and highest-quality bottomland hardwood forest left in Texas, rated Priority 1 for acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By contrast, the reservoir proposed for the site is one of many water supply options available to Dallas Water Utilities.

Bezanson described the hardwood forests to be protected in the Refuge as “fabulous”. Towering oaks and hickories shelter wildlife and provide the nuts and acorns that deer, squirrel, turkey, and other animals depend on in winter. Bushes, smaller plants, and understory trees such as dogwoods provide a diverse array of food for resident animals. The Refuge is located in the heart of the North American Central Flyway, the major “highway” for and migrating ducks and songbirds. The waters of the Neches River sustain the exceptional habitat of the Big Thicket National Preserve, the Davy Crockett and Angelina National Forests, various state parks and wildlife management areas, and the Sabine Lake estuary.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has been barred from acquiring land for the refuge, pending outcome of the appeal,” Bezanson continued. “Conservationists are poised to donate several thousand acres to the refuge as soon as the ruling is final. We look forward to celebrating a wonderful new refuge on the Neches!”

Texas Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Neches River, and a number of other organizations are proposing that the Neches River be studied for potential inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Designating the Neches as a Wild and Scenic River would protect the river and enhance its value for tourism.

I suspect Dallas and the North Texas Municipal Water District will now go after the Sulphur River like a junkies looking for a fix.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blogger Meet-up Continued

Matt and Ernie

Matt has already covered our late February blogger meet-up at Gregg and Soo Barrow's place, but, late as usual, I thought I'd add a few more thoughts and photos.

Turns out, you can glean a lot from folks by reading their blogs and comments. When I met Gregg and Matt for the first time, in the Barrow driveway, I felt like I'd known them for years. A couple bottles of stout and a walk with the dogs only strengthened the feeling.

This was my first time afield with hawk and falconer, and I have to admit that I was surprised at the efficiency. I know that Matt is a fine falconer and, by extension, that Ernie is a fine hawk. I just didn't expect such a high success rate. Right before I left to head back to Plano, I told Matt that if I truly had to feed myself, I'd learn to fly a Harris hawk.
I have to admit that I get a real kick out of touching a hawk.

Hawkers don't need a hunting lease - even in Texas

Working a field

Gregg and Caleb

In short, a great trip with great friends and great conversation about dogs, books, and hawks. Gregg, thanks for all of the solid dog training advice. Soo, thanks a million for putting up with me.