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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.

Closely Watched Prairie

Prairie Notes #102
June 1, 2015

1) Closely Watched Prairie
2) Field Report - May
3) Kids on the Prairie: Spring Update
4) Prairie Time Capsule
5) Buy This T-Shirt. Please.
6) Volunteer Op
7) Prairie Proverb


01) Closely Watched Prairie

There is a triple meaning to my title this month. Firstly, I’m constantly amazed by the increasing number of people now visiting and taking pics of this wildflower wonderland. It may be the most photographed prairie in Texas at this moment. 

I used to be pretty much a lone rangefinder before Chris Emory came along with his gifted and watchful eye. His extraordinary pics of Tandy Hills are posted on Facebook almost daily inspiring many others to follow suit.

Then on May 2nd, there was the congregation of 44 members of the North American Nature Photography Association and their 88 trained eyes who descended on the hills with enough tripods and macro lenses to stock a Mega Mart. Their pics will be posted on their website eventually. 

Secondly, all of this reminded me of how a prairie is different from say, a mountain range, forest, desert or seascape. It must be observed >up close, in situ< to be fully appreciated. Prairie landscape shots are nice but capture only a sliver of the diversity inside.

Nothing against those other ecosystems, but the aesthetics, the richness of a prairie require close scrutiny. That’s partly why most of my pics are close ups of the jewel-colored wildflowers that hide in and largely define the tall grass prairie.

Thirdly, and importantly, my title is inspired by the 1966 Czech New Wave film, Closely Watched Trains, an Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film in 1968. 

The title refers to German trains that were given priority passage through occupied Czechoslovakia to carry munitions and troops during World War II. But in the film that meaning is subverted, not unlike how Tandy Hills was closely watched by those seeking to exploit the Barnett Shale a decade ago. 

Given the state of politics and industrial warfare on the natural world these days, especially in Texas, Tandy Hills needs to be a closely watched prairie to remian a protected prairie. Vigilance is required. The amateur and professional photographers eyeing Tandy Hills with their cameras, sharing thier images on Facebook and other websites, are helping document and ultimately protect this little 160-acre postage stamp of the Earth that is vital to the web of our lives. 


A microcosm of Tandy Hills vast diversity in a Powderpuff bloom, aka: Sensitive Briar (Mimosa roemeriana)

02) Field Report - May

May 2015 might well be the rainiest May on record and has Tandy Hills creeks running Amazon-like on May 31. Even the trails are running with water long after the rain stopped. As a result, the flora is exceedingly lush. Many of the earliest spring wildflowers are still blooming including a few stray Purple Paintbrush. The grasses, too, are likely to have a record year.

Pollinator activity was definitely slowed by the near-daily showers. It was odd to observe the prairie in full bloom with only a handful of insects partaking of the windfall. I'm sure the birds who feed on the insects were equally perplexed. According to local pollinator expert, Anne Stine, "Butterflies strongly prefer to fly when it's sunny. Some native bees may tolerate a light drizzle, but they don't forage in a heavy downpour either." Note- The bees and butterflies are back in force as is the Sun on, May 31.

The sunny week ahead will be rewarding for those of you who don't mind a little mud. Here's a few pics from my May notebook.

Even the trails are running with rainwater hours after the rain stopped.

Prairie Brazoria (Warnockia scutellaioids)

Yellow Puff (Neptunia lutea)

Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea compacta)

White Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) heaven in mid-May 

Richly-colored and spicy-scented, Trailing Krameria (Krameria lanceolata), winds mysteriously through the grasses.

Showy Dodder (Cuscuta indecora = longisepala) hosting lunch for a few wildflowers.

White Wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana) is fairly uncommon at Tandy Hills.

Lance-leaf Loosetrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum)

Two-flower Milkvine (Matelea biflora): Not an actual milkweed but a close relative. Similar seed pods.

Matelea biflora was a new find for me at Tandy Hills in late May.

Spring at Tandy Hills offers magical views at every turn, rain or shine.

Pas de deux: A pair of Sleepy Orange butterflies "sleeping" together on a bed of Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora).

After the rain, an afterglow brightened the prairie

03) Kids on the Prairie Report

The rain and mud dampened but did not stop the fifth straight year of Kids on the Prairie. Nearly 50 Morningside Elementary School 4th graders had a memorable field trip on May12. A crack troop of Cross Timbers Master Naturalists led them in small groups across the hills. 

Renisha Williams, Lead Science Teacher at Meadowbrook Middle School, brought groups of 6th and 7th graders for field trips in less than ideal conditions the following week. More than 120 kids got to experience and document their visit to Tandy Hills.

Generous grants and donations from the FW Audubon Society, FASH Foundation and Prairie Fest Sponsors allowed us to update our STEAM standardized field journals with new info, drawings and photos on birding, fossils and animal tracks as well as adding hand magnifiers, specimen vials and LED flashlights to our field supplies. Special thanks to Dick & Sharon Schoech for donating new backpacks. 

KOP Director, Anne Alderfer would also like to recognize Suzanne Tuttle, Kathy Cash, Jen Schultes and Debora Young and all the hike leaders for their vital support.

Master Naturalist, Jay Hertzler, greets a busload of 4th graders from Morningside Elementary.

KOP Director, Anne Alderfer and her group get acquainted. With support from Debora Young.

Master Naturalist, Terry Austin, and his group prepping for their filed investigation.

Paul Rodman and group looking closely at the prairie.

Kathy Cash, r, and Anne Alderfer, l, made a KOP house call to Morningside 4th graders whose field trip was rained out.

Five years in, our outdoor ed program has benefitted thousands of Fort Worth kids. Nature mystics every one.

04) Prairie Time Capsule

I have been photographing Tandy Hills Natural Area from the exact same spot and about the same time of day, every day, since April 6. A time lapse-style video is coming later, but here are my pics, dated April 6, April 18, April 27, May 17, and May 30.

April 6

April 18

April 27

May 17

May 27

05) Buy This T-Shirt. Please.

Look cool this summer in a limited edition 10th anniversary Prairie Fest T-shirt. Bandanas are tres cool as well. Both are hand screen printed locally on organic cotton. Shrit on sale for $15. bandana, $10. Email your order HERE:

06) Volunteer Op

NEW:  Education Design Team for Tandy Hills Events

The Prairie Keepers group has enjoyed designing stealth learning games and hikes for Prairie Fest for five years.  We're forming an Education Design Team of collaborators to create education zone activities for future festivals and other events at Tandy Hills.  Educators, artists, Master Naturalists, geocachers, Master Gardeners, Prairie Seekers, hikers, neighbors…all who love volunteering to support THNA are welcome!  

Contact Heather Foote for details:

07) Prairie Proverb

I've got a hundred and sixty acres full of sunshine
Got a hundred and sixty million stars above
Got an old paint hoss, I'm the guy who's boss
On the hundred and sixty acres that I love!

From the song, One Hundred and Sixty Acres, sung by Marty Robbins, from his 1959 LP, Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs.

NOTE--Why is this here? Because Tandy Hills is ALSO 160 acres.

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 otherwise noted.