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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.

Beauty & Truth

Prairie Notes #51
March 1, 2011

1) Field Report
2) Big 'ol sprawling event
3) Royalty with a capital "R"
4) Snow birds
5) Bluebirds
6) WANTED: Plein air artists
7) Prairie fest posters are...
8) Prairie Proverb

1) Field Report

February is the most raggedy month of the year at Tandy Hills Natural Area. It's messy out there with downed trees, dead grass and mud. Halfway between Fall grass splendor and Spring wildflower glory, the February color spectrum tends to browns and grays. But February is also like the unprepossessing cocoon that holds the enigmatic butterfly that is April.

February 2011 was also a month of weather extremes. Snow, ice and ultra-cold temps one week, Spring-like-t-shirt-weather-to-die-for, the next. Some of the early Spring growth was nipped by the sub-freezing weather but I doubt that will seriously impact the wildflower season. As I wrote this report, a big prairie wind was whistling through the Tandy Hills "space needle", knocking over dead Texas Ash trees like so many Prairie Fest tents.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Storksbill (Erodium texanum) and Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) have made their usual early appearance along the fringes of THNA. They paved the way for the magical Trout Lily, harbinger of Spring that arrived on February 16. All are in ample supply in the weeks leading up to March 20, the Spring Equinox.

Not long after the snow and ice melted, I began seeing insects again at THNA. Various spiders, wasps, bees, ants and flies have come alive. Even fire ants are back. On the mammalian front, there are signs of rabbits afoot. I saw only one but, Olive the Prairie Dog knows of many more. A growing number of Homo sapiens have been spotted, as well.

Cedar Waxwings returned to my neck of the prairie on February 16. They are busy eating every berry in sight and getting royally drunk in the process. See more bird reporting below.

A bitterly cold February sunset at Tandy Hills Natural Area.

2) Big 'ol sprawling event

Prairie Fest is a big 'ol sprawling event that's getting bigger (and better) every year. The thing is really a small city of 4,000+ people that we create for a single, ten hour event, one day a year, at the mercy of Mother Nature. Why would anyone do such nutty thing? We do it for one reason:

-To bring awareness to Tandy Hills Natural Area in order to protect and restore it for you and your family for now and forever.

We rely heavily on people like you to create and manage this small city on that one day. Will you spare a few hours on April 23rd to help out? >>> EZ sign-up HERE.

"Ask not what Prairie Fest can do for you. Ask what you can do for Prairie Fest."

Prairie Fest has gotten much bigger. Volunteers are needed more than ever.

3) Royalty with a capital "R"

If Henbit, Cranesbill and Shepherd's Purse make up the commoners at Tandy Hills Natural Area in late February, the Trout Lily is surely Lord of the Realm. Royalty with a capital "R". Why is the tiny Trout Lily so special? Does beauty need an explanation? Like Keats wrote in 1819:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
(Sounds like a guy who needs a scientist for a girlfriend.)

Well, for some of us beauty alone is not enough. We do need to know more about Trout Lilies. Count Master Naturalist, Jim Varnum, among them. Here's what he wrote in, Jim's This and That, newsletter from 2/22/11:

Why so special? Trout lilies grow from a bulbs located about 3-4 inches below ground level. In the fist 6 years of its life it puts up single leaf. In the 7th year it puts up 2 leaves and stalk (scape). A single flower grows from the stalk. Eventually the plant produces a seed which is deposited on the ground to form a new plant. The means only about one-seventh of the TLs in a large area will have flowers at one time.

Jim will lead a Trout Lily walk at Tandy Hills on March 6 @ 1:00 pm. Come learn from THE expert. Bring your camera. Get on his newsletter list here:

Lord of the realm, all 3" of it, a Trout Lily in full bloom at Tandy Hills on 2/15/2011.

4) Snow birds

The most recent Ice Age (last month) blew in a few bird species not often seen around here. In my perch across from Tandy Hills, I observed a few Spotted Towhee, some charming Black-throated Sparrow and a group of single-minded, Dark-eyed Junco. Watching them scuffle over sunflower seeds was a joy and helped pass the the time on those cold, snowbound days.

Spotted Towhee makes a colorful contrast to the snow that fell in early February.

Aerial ballet: A Cardinal and a Bluejay react to falling snow while Mr. Squirrel awaits the fallout..

5) Bluebirds

On the other side of town, Bluebird aficionado and FOTHNA bookkeeper par excellence, Jim Marshall, is helping restore nesting Bluebirds in Fort Worth along the Trinity Trail. Jim reports that the first egg in the 2011 Project Bluebird arrived several weeks earlier than last year. That is a positive sign that 2011 will be another good year for bluebirds along the trail west of Trinity Trees.

Like swallows to Capistrano, Bluebirds return every Spring to Jim Marshall's boxes on the Trinity Trail.

6) WANTED: Plein air painters

One of the fun things about Prairie Fest is watching plein air artists set up on the prairie with their easels. The artists like it too, from what I hear. It is also an important part of fundraising for Friends of Tandy Hills. Sales of the paintings are split between the artist and FOTHNA. If you would like to participate this year please contact Tonya Ferguson for all the details.

7) Prairie Fest posters are... positively peerless!

Prairie Fest posters are now available and in need of wide distribution. Contact Don Young if you want to plaster your neighborhood with these graphically gorgeous posters designed by the estimably talented, Tim Hall. Need one pronto? Print you own HERE.

8) Prairie Proverb

I often advocate for Tandy Hills as a place to untangle the mind from the pressures of modern life - a place to tune in to a new frequency - a place to replace Facebooking with daydreaming - a place to put your head in the clouds as a way to get grounded. The poet, Emily Dickinson, understood what I mean. Her sly poem, To Make a Prairie, speaks to beauty and truth in its five little lines.

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few."

Live dangerously. Turn off your digital device and come to the meadow for an afternoon daydream.