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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

The Essence of Autumn-ness

Prairie Notes #118
October 1, 2016

1) The Essence of Autumn-ness
2) Field Report - September
3) The Bats of Tandy Hills
4) October Two-fer
5) Giving Day Report
6) SPECIAL Announcement: Tandy Hills Pavilion Project
7) Strange Tales of Tandy Hills
8) Prairie Proverb

1) The Essence of Autumn-ness

April and May are to Tandy Hills in the spring what September and October are in the fall. Those are the four best months to appreciate the beauty of Tandy Hills. As much as I love the dazzling show of spring wildflowers, my soul yearns for the profound stillness, the limited palette, the savory smells of damp earth and limestone, the deeper shadows, cooler temps and shorter days, that is autumn. 

Everyone likes the turning of leaves in the fall, but the essence of autumn-ness at Tandy Hills are the grasses. In spring they are nowhere to be seen. But by October, they nearly overwhelm the senses by sheer variety, alone. Tandy Hills is gifted to have several dozen varieties of native grass. Many of them will reach their highest potential in October, and each one has its own special charm in both appearance and common name. 

Indian GrassBig Bluestem (aka: Turkey Foot), Little BluestemSeep Muhly (aka: Ghost Grass), Hairy GramaSideoats GramaSwitchgrass and Slim Tridens are some of my favorites. They all set their seed this time of year, setting up an incredible cycle of life which nourishes birds, insects and small mammals. Some, like Hairy Grama, are short grasses and others, like Indain Grass, can grow up to 6' tall.

To walk among these grasses on a cool, fall evening is better for you than psycotherapy. Throw in the occasional brilliance of a Maximillian Sunflower or Gayfeather, the distant cawing of Crows, add a light breeze, and the prairie becomes animated in an elemental way that can only be described as autumn-ness. Awesome autumn-ness. 


Here's a photo gallery of some of my favorite fall grasses at Tandy Hills:

Big Bluestem is nicknamed Turkey Foot for it's distinctive seed head.

Seep Muhly with its airy look, pinkish fall coloring is nicknamed, Ghost Grass.

Hairy Grama grass is one of the shorter grasses blooming right now.

Note the pointed, "hairy" tip of each seed head. Some people call it, moustache grass.

Don't mistake, Switch Grass, for Johnson Grass. The delictaetly filigreed native has blu-ish-green leaves and a spangle of light-colored seeds.

Indian Grass reminds me of feathered arrows shot into of the prairie.

Slim Tridens (Tridens muticus) is a fall favorite.

A prairie full of Slim Tridens casts a delicate spell when backlit by the setting sun. Autumn-ness, indeed.

2) Field Report - September

The amazing autumn grasses dominated the scene at Tandy Hills in September, but there were other eye-catching signs of autumn-ness on the post-equinox prairie. Here's a few I observed in the month of September.

Prairie False Willow (Baccharis texana) is most attractive when releasing seed in the fall.

Wand-like flowers open up one-by-one to unleash the rounded seed vehicles.

Prairie Onion (Allium stellatum)

Fall-bloomimg Gayfeather (Liatris sp.) is almost shocking to observe amongst the fall grasses.

Funnel Weaver Spider setting the dinner table for unsuspecting guests.

Down near the bottom of Tandy Hills are carpets of lush green moss where tiny beings live. No, not leprechauns. 

Microscopic critters called, Tardigrades, aka: Water Bears or Moss PIglets (Macrobiotus sapiens) dwell inside of moss like this.

Water Bear, aka: Moss Piglet, up really close. They are virtually immortal, critters. (Credit: Eye of Science)

A beautiful example of Side-cluster Milkweed growing almost on the curb bordering Tandy Hills.

It's that time of year when strange things occur at Tandy Hills.

What's cool about Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is the tiny size (1/4" dia.) of the daisy-like flowers.

One of the many cloudy days in September presented me with this enchanmted, silhouetted scene.

This big fat patch of Eryngo is still in bloom as of October 1.

Something about the light in autumn makes the hills look so inviting, unless you suffer from agoraphobia, that is.
The heavy rains of 2016 have helped the False Gaura plants reach as high as an elephant's eye.

3) The Bats of Tandy Hills

Local bat expert, Dr. Victoria "Tory" Bennett, tells me there are six species of bats in North Central Texas. As one of the experts at the Tandy Hills BioBlitz last April, Tory recorded five of those species at TH. Wow, five species! I was full of pride for Tandy Hills when I saw her recently posted observations on the Tandy Hills iNaturalist project page, HERE.

Just how does one observe and identify bats anyway? Tory explains that, it's more about sound than sight:

"Bat walks are relatively simple - we walked along three 1 km stretch of trails (i.e., a transect) in the park. On each transect we equipped one volunteer with an Echo Meter Touch acoustic bat detector (Wildlife Acoustics, MA – see picture below) to collect high quality recordings of the bat calls so I could ID species and get GPS locations and all other volunteers with a BatBox IIID acoustic detector and a clicker. This count allowed us to measure activity levels of bat. And many of the calls you cannot hear in real time, but if they are slowed down you can hear the bats (this is called time expansion)."

See photos below of the five species observed at Tandy Hills. (Only the Mexican Free-tailed bat was absent the week of BioBlitz.) Tory said that, finding five species was not unusual, however, finding so many of the Hoary bats was something of a shocker.

"We rarely get more than one during a survey. I guess for bats, activity patterns and distribution is more interesting than whether they are there or not. Hoary bats migrate through the area in spring and fall, so we must have caught them during the migration, which is really amazing because we don’t really know much about bat migration (i.e., we kind of guess at when it happens). I would be very interested to see activity patterns in October."

Ah, October, the witching month at Tandy Hills. A perfect time to come out to listen and watch for the Tandy Hills bats. 

Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis)  7 observations

Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)  21 observations    (Credit: Tanya Dewey)

Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)  7 observations (Credit: Karen Powers)

Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans)  2 observations  (Credit: Larisa Bishop-Boros)

Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus)  1 observation

Special software program used to identify bat species by sound. This is a representation of an Evening Bat.

Dr. Victoria "Tory" Bennett, Assistant Prof. TCU

4) October Two-fer

Bring the whole dang family out to Tandy Hills on October 8th and get a free Two-fer:

Friends of Tandy Hills will participate in the Texas Pollinator BioBlitz (TPBB) starting at 5 p.m. and running until 11 p.m. Pollinator expert, Sam Kieschnick, will be here to help you identify pollinators such as moths, butterflies, wasps and bees. After dark, Sam will have his special night lights to attract all sorts of nocturnal flying things. Learn more about the TPBB here:

At sunset, the monthly PrairieSky / StarParty will begin with experts from Fort Worth Astronomical Society on hand to show you the night sky through telescopes. Funky Town Food Truck and Steel City Pops will be on-site selling their delicious wares. Learn more about the star party here:

Tandy Hills is an official Monarch Waystation.

5) Giving Day Report

Woo hoo! Friends of Tandy Hills raised $2,370. on North Texas Giving Day. Thanks to the 31 wonderful folks who contributed to our outdoor education and restoration programs incuding, Bill Webb, Roxanne Pillar, Jen Schultes, Ray Regal, Jill & Doug Black, Pamela Campbell, Suzanne & Steve Tuttle, Marsha McLaughlin, Jan Miller, Barb Ohlman, GreatWater Irrigation & Ecoscapes, Jim Penn, Deborah Lightfoot-Sizemore, Don Ferrier, Jim Marshall, Erin Taylor-Fenner & Terrell Fenner, Erin Arendt, Donna S. & Jon R. Kruse, Don Wheeler, Pat Brown, Michelle Schneider, Dainne Anthony, Colleen Butterfield, Dick & Sharon Schoech, Libby Gilmore, Barbara Koerble, Sandy Lamm, Heather Foote and Anonymous.

We are grateful for your support

6) Special Announcement: Tandy Hills Pavilion Project

AIA Fort Worth is partnering with Friends Of Tandy Hills Natural Area (FOTHNA) for a Pavilion Design Competition. All entries will be evaluated for design excellence. The proposed construction budget is $100,000. We are also proud to announce that three distinguished Texas-based architects have agreed to judge the competition entries. Willis Winters, Mark Wellen and Natalye Appel will lead the jury.

This specially-designed public pavilion/shelter will be the first of its kind in a Fort Worth park. We are hoping to have the winning design built by 2018. Stay tuned for more details.

The circle at the end of the sidewalk, in this aerial photo, is the proposed site of the new Tandy Hills pavilion.

7) Strange Tales of Tandy Hills

Macabre tales of strange happenings at Tandy Hills tend to pop up in the month of October. The place tends to draw weirdos this time of year. Chilling stuff can happen unexpectedly. Like, a murder of crows suddenly taking wing and cawing loudly when you are quietly hiking the hills, minding your own business. Dang! I hate it when that happens. Or running face first, after dark, smack into a wobbly bat or a sticky spider's web. Then there's the story of the "Sun-Man". How well I remember that one.

It was just two years ago on a clear, cool October evening as I was finishing up a long hike. I was flat out of breath when I looked up in the gathering darkness to see a strange man on the trail just ahead of me. He was staring into the setting Sun, standing stock-still, with a horrified look on his unblinking, sun burnt face. I walked on by trying not to stare but, man, it spooked the bejesus out of me. I returned the next morning to find him still standing there, like a rigid statue. There's more to the tale but...

Here's two more chilling tales from Tandy Hills that may interest you. The Legend of the Witchey Tree and The Engulfed Death Car of Tandy Creek. Read with the lights on, please.

8) Prairie Proverb

After the sunset on the prairie, there are only the stars.

- Carl Sandburg

Harvest moon, clouds and stars above the Tandy Hills on a warm, wild and windy night in September, 2016.


Prairie Notes© is the official newsletter of Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. All content by Don Young except where otherwis