Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Talking Turkey on Thanksgiving, Giving Thanks for what Nature Provides

Today we’re hearing from Tom Decker about turkeys and his gratitude for the bounty that nature provides to him, his family, and his community. Tom is a certified wildlife biologist with our regional Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program, as well as a Fellow with The Wildlife Society.  

While I recognize Thanksgiving as a time to give thanks, springtime is when I reflect most on the things I’m grateful for in my life.  Coincidentally, these spring reflections also revolve around turkeys, the wild kind that roam the forests and fields of New England.  

I spend many days in the field each spring picking fiddleheads, mushrooms, leeks, and trying to harvest a turkey (or two).  My family relies on the bounty of the outdoors and my household generally has moose, deer, turkey, geese and snowshoe hare in the freezer, as well as ample stocks of fish.

Each springtime hunt brings me back to my youth when I lived and worked on farms owned by German and Russian immigrants.  My family had owned and farmed these lands since the mid 1800s, yet we never got to experience the sights or sounds of wild turkeys as they were virtually non-existent in much of the northeast when I was growing up.  Turkeys  were plentiful when the English, Dutch and French colonists arrived in the region, but they were virtually eliminated from New England by the early 1800s. Unregulated hunting and the clearing of forests for farming were so drastic that a plentiful population of turkeys virtually disappeared in short period of time. Thus, generations of my family had never heard turkeys gobble, seen flocks of birds, or found their nests in the woods, even though we worked the land for decades.

That all changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  State fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service, and chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation began a restoration program to bring turkeys back to New England.  Initial efforts releasing turkeys grown on “game farms” failed as these birds lacked the “wildness” needed to survive in nature.

With the advent of a tool called a “rocket net,” wildlife biologists were able to capture turkeys where they were plentiful in the south and transport entire flocks to new areas in the northeast that had good turkey habitat. Over a period of several decades, this technique restored robust numbers of turkeys to areas where they had been absent for over 100 years.  

Wild Turkey release

Over time, turkey populations became abundant enough that a limited hunting season was allowed under state licensing and regulations in the spring, and in some states in the fall as well.  Today, wildlife biologists track turkey harvests, examine their habitat needs, monitor their health and diseases and ensure these populations are sustainable for the future.

It’s estimated that 200,000 turkeys now roam the forests and fields of New England. The wild turkey….local food from the forest….and their calls in the chorus of birds in the spring can once again be enjoyed.  

Seeing flocks of turkeys is now as commonplace as it was during colonial times.  In fact, in 2016 21,640 turkeys were legally harvested during spring and fall seasons by hunters in our region. This equates to 239,100 pounds of edible meat for local households.  

Displaying tom wild turkey at woodland edge by Bill Byrne /MassWildlfe

We know from studies of the public who hunt, most successful hunters share their game with their family and neighbors, another cultural practice that is hundreds of years old.  I know at my house that includes wild turkey, wrapped in bacon, cooked on the grill with fiddleheads and leek salad on Mother’s Day…. another important day when I am thankful for the things in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Preparing for Winter by Giving Thanks

On a misty, frost covered morning in Cortland, NY I’ve found myself planted amongst biologists of all backgrounds and expertise with a common thread of purpose; to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. If you would have told me four years ago, when I started veterinary school, that I would be here now I would not have believed you. My quest for promoting wildlife conservation prompted me toward veterinary school and through my (crazy intense!) four years I realized that I wanted to reach a broader audience. I found my passion through educational outreach and by gaining powerful experiences from a diverse range of professionals including wildlife rehabilitation clinics in Massachusetts, Florida, and New York. My journey has been anything but direct, but I feel for the first time like I’m finally connecting to the kind of work I want to pursue.

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Me in Arizona – remembering a time of warmth and sun!

The New York Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered me the position of educational outreach coordinator and I jumped at the opportunity. Being an Ithaca native I consider this neck of the woods home. To be a direct partner in protecting and promoting wildlife conservation through education is where I’m meant to be. There are so many experts, amazing research, and vast community connections happening right here that I want to highlight. I hope my time here will showcase the amazing work and individuals honestly just trying to make our world a better place.

This time of year is one where we give thanks for where we are in our lives. We give thanks for our families, friends, and the natural resources we have at our disposal. This got me thinking, what does this time of year mean to most wildlife? Are crows giving thanks for the cold and dark days? Not so much. As we transition from fall in to winter many species are preparing for the winter months with specific behaviors. Bats go through a period of hibernation where they can actually lower their body temperature and metabolic rate as an effort to conserve energy during a period of time where food sources are scarce. Reptiles experience a similar metabolic process called brumation. This time period is triggered by a lack of heat and a decrease in sunlight. Fish are no different in that they go in to a period of less activity. Their metabolism drops and they tend to pool in the deepest parts of different bodies of water. Many migratory birds have flown south for the winter (not a bad idea) while those avian species who stick around fortify their reserves in consuming as much food as possible. Winter is coming and all the wildlife around here are in major preparation mode. We could all take a lesson here while eating our turkeys and stuffing to remember that our resources, while at times plentiful, are not bottomless. There is a delicate balance going on all around you and our choices and actions greatly impact our natural world.

The Buzz About Healthy Foods

Today we are hearing from Chef Larry Washington, and how he uses his incredible talent as a chef to teach about the importance of healthy foods and the pollinators that make it all possible!

In 2008, when the economy was on the financial downturn I was forced to close my family restaurant. In a state of depression, my family discovered the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. The wildlife refuge became our sanctuary. It represented an escape from my daily tasks. We ran here every chance we could.  We were often greeted by the wild turkeys, the sweet call of the frogs and the nonchalant ease of the turtles. It became a place that we talked about our plans for the future and created family memories.  It was our place right in the middle of the city that was magical, raw and a living laboratory of what was and what should remain.

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The view of the Philadelphia skyline from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

Fast forward to October 1, 2016 also known as the Philly Fall Nature Fest at Tinicum. It was a great honor to be invited back for the second year to do a cooking demonstration as my alter ego the Grill Sergeant Tabasco.  Grill Sergeant Tabasco is who I dreamed about during those long walks at the wildlife refuge. He represents a series of workshops and a healthy cooking demonstration that uses a disciplined approach to attack the problem of childhood obesity.

Philadelphia has the second-highest rate of obesity among the 10 counties containing the nation’s largest cities, according to a 2009 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 68 percent of adults — and 41 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 — are overweight or obese. Read more at this Philly Magazine article.

For the Philly Fall Nature Fest, I did a cooking demonstration which discussed the importance of and connection between pollinators and healthy foods.

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Grill Sergeant Tabasco and his team prepare wild rice!

Pollinators are small animals or insects that are necessary in the production of many fruits, vegetables, and nuts! Hummingbirds, bees, bats, butterflies, flies, beetles, and moths can all help pollinate different plants. About 75 percent of the healthy foods we cook up every day require pollination!

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Monarch butterflies were also displayed at the Philly Fall Nature Fest!

Now for the fun part. If you missed it, I’m sharing the wild rice recipe we cooked below. Items with an asterisk require pollination!  Serves 4-6 people. Enjoy!
1/3 cup sweet peas *
1/3 cup zucchini *
1/3 cup yellow squash *
1/3 cup red onion *
1/3 cup red peppers *
1/3 cup green peppers *
1/3 cup carrots  *
2 cups cooked diced chicken, optional
4 cups pre-cooked wild rice
2 tablespoons canola oil *
1/2 cup Grill Sergeant Pad Sauce

Grill Sergeant Pad Thai sauce
1 cup soy oil
1/2 cup sesame oil *
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh chopped garlic
1/4 cup fresh chopped ginger
1/2 cup honey *
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes *
1/2 cup scallions
Mix all ingredients together
Store in refrigerator
P.S.- Don’t use all of this tasty sauce in one sitting! A small amount will do and the remainder should last about a month.

Place canola oil in pan and heat oil
Add all veggies and quick cook
Add chicken
Add rice
Slowly add Pad Thai sauce and Chicken.
Enjoy!

Click here to learn more about how you can protect pollinators like the monarch butterfly!

What foods do you cook that require pollination? Sound off in the comments!