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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.

A Twig on the Tree of Life

Prairie Notes #113
May 1, 2016

1) A Twig on the Tree of Life
2) Field Report - April
3) Cowtown Clean-up Report
4) BioBlitz Notes
5) Kids on the Prairie: Year 6 Report
6) In Memoriam: Jim Varnum
7) Prairie Proverb

1) A Twig on the Tree of Life

Just two weeks before the Tandy HIlls BioBlitz, a team of scientists unveiled a new tree of life, a diagram outlining the evolution of all living things, and with it, thousands of new species. It looks more like an image taken of a distant galaxy by the Hubble telescope than a tree. What grabbed my attention, though, was this assertion by one of the lead reserarchers, Dr. Laura Hug: 

"Meadow soil is one of the most microbially complex environments on the planet."

Wow! That fits with my many years of anecdotal observations of the meadows of Tandy Hills, where an astonishing diversity of flora and other species have thrived for millenia on limestone soil. I'm simply a layman naturalist with a lot of passion for Tandy Hills, but the recent BioBlitz will no doubt back up what seems obvious to anyone who just walks the prairie meadows and looks down at their feet. A short walk there, especially this time of year, will convince you that Tandy Hills is special. 

Emily Dickinson wisely observed that, "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." ("...if bees are few..."Boy, talk about an oracle!) Emily is right. We need bees and butterflies and revery, too but, according to Mz. Hug, prairie soil's microbial complexity, may be the secret spice of Earth that allows everthing else to thrive. The life giving soil at Tandy HIlls, with its variying elevations are home to an ever-expanding list of species, making the land more valuable than anyplace in Fort Worth. Maybe anyplace.

Come to the meadow, right now, and see almost everything blooming in all its wild, tangled glory at your local twig on the tree of life.

The new Tree of Life

Our local twig on the Tree of Life is bursting with life.

2) Field Report - April

There were probably more phots taken at Tandy HIlls in April 2016, than any time in history. It feels almost superfluous to add more, but here's a small sampling of what I observed in April. 

Winecup (Callirhoe pedata) (purple variation)

Young Winecup buds are a vision of beauty.

Winecup (white variation)

Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) are uncommon at Tandy Hills.

Wavyleaf Thistle

Sundrops (Oenothera berlandieri) being watched over by a honeybee.

Milkwort (Polygala alba) with Olive the (missing) Prairie Dog as backdrop.

Slender False Pennyroyal (Hedeoma acinoides)

False Foxglove (Penstemon cobaea)

Fluttermill (Oenothera macrocarpa)

3) Cowtown Cleanup Report

A large group of folks of all ages descended on Tandy Hills on April 2nd, sweeping the park of trash. One group of 19 enterprising young professionals from, STEER - Fort Worth, used gps coordinates to locate 12 trash sites. They helped to bag up 20+ huge trash bags and a dozen more recycling bags, including eight old tires left there since the 60's. Troop 12 Boy Scouts also got lots of other trash out of the tree line and drainages. Thanks to all who helped clean up the park for BioBlitz.

Special thanks to, Joseph Lippert, who removed a wide swath of invasive species along the iconic View Street "front door" prior to BioBlitz. Well done!

These ladies from STEER-FW unearthed a bunch of tires in remote sections of the park using GPS coordinates.

STEER-FW volunteers being welcomed to Tandy Hills by Debora & Don Young.

4) BioBlitz Notes

- The inaugural Tandy HIlls BioBlitz was an amazing event on many levels, unlike any in the history of Fort Worth. A big scoop of science and an unprecedented convergence of people interested in protecting and understanding the 160-acres known as Tandy HIlls Natural Area.

Among the participants were Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept., Texas Wesleyan University, TCU, BRIT, FW Audubon Society, Fort Worth Chapter of Native Prairies Assoc., Native Plant Society of Texas (NCT Chapter), FW Park & Recreation Dept., Corsstimers Connection, Texas Master Naturalists, Texas Nature Trackers, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge and teachers, scientists and naturalists from across Texas. Even FW Mayor Betsy Price, a biology major in college, was there. It was magical. Here's a snapsot of what it looked like. Many more photos and video, coming next month.

Event HQ

Data gathering in the field: Butterfly nets were a common sight at BioBlitz.

Despite the down home appearance, BioBlitz Field HQ was a techno marvel.

BioBlitz leader, Rob Denkhaus checking data while Keith Kubal monitors the wi-fi signal.

Scientists and assistants gathering data from the field.

Our nifty new projection microsope allowed scientists and public to see specimens up-close.

Birding was very popular. A nesting Painted Bunting was observed.

Twice Upon a Time Storytellers sat trailside, spinning yarns in their down-home style.

- You can help allay some of the costs of the BioBlitz by making a donation of any amount here: 


- It will take some time to organize and interpret all the data collected, but by all reports, the blitz was an enormous blast. According to Sam Kieschnick, Urban Biologist wirh Texas Parks & Wildlife,

"I’ve done a few bioblitzes before (led and participated), and by far, Tandy Hills BioBlitz was the most successful and engaging that I’ve been a part of. So many folks engaged with citizen science, so many leaders guiding these nature enthusiasts, so many tangible results from the data collection as well. It was truly magnificent."

Check out the iNaturalist website for a current look at what's been accumulated, so far, inculding some game camera pics. Here's a couple of links to get you started:

> Link to the iNat Tandy Hills Project:
> Link to all 623 species found, so far, at Tandy Hills: 


- You gotta see this funky little video snapshot of the BioBlitz shot by, Andrew Brinker, a participant in the BioBlitz: 


- One of the most exciting night time events of the BioBlitz was, Mothing 'til Midnight, on the evening of April 22. Sam Kieschnick and Rachel Richter invited the public to observe and participate in moth data gathering after dark. See the cool pics below. 

Mr. Sam Kieschnick, ladies and gentlemen!

Texas Parks & Wildlife Urban Biologist, Rachel Richter doing some moth observations.

- A BioBlitz highlight was the appearance of Fort Worth Mayor, Betsy Price. After a grand tour of the BioBlitz HQ, meeting with various scientists and naturalists in action, she formally signed the Mayor's Monacrh Pledge. It was a moment to remember.

Mayor Betsy Price visiting with Rob Denkhaus at BioBlitz Field HQ.

Don Young, Greg Hughes and Debora Young welcoming Mayor Price to the Mayors Monarch Pledge signing ceremony

The Mayor insisted on wearing wildflowers in her hair.

The deal is done. Thank you Mayor Price.

Mayor Price with her personal copy of the pledge.

Group photo-op with many of the BioBlitz participants/witnesses to the pledge.

- After the Mayor signed the pledge and we gathered for a group photo, a look skyward revealed a drone aircraft belonging to Chris Jenseth of Skycraft APV, hovering above, witnessing and recording the event. Skcraft APV, aerial-mapped the entire park with specialized cameras during the blitz. The results are as dazzling as the data is useful.

Skycraft ATV provided stunning hi-res images of the signing ceremony from above.

The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) is a simple graphical indicator that can be used to analyze remote sensing
measurements and assess whether the target being observed contains live green vegetation or not.
Photo by Skcraft APV, 2016. Used with permission

- You humble core staff of Tandy HIlls BioBlitz organizers thank you for participating in whatever capacity you were able. Our hats are off to you. We are: Anne Alderfer, Bruce Benz, Rob Denkhaus, Heather Foote, Sam Kieschnick, Karly Robinson, John Tandy, Michelle Villafranca, Debora Young and Don Young.

- I'll sign off with a little BioBlitz, science-y music videos to inspire the citizen scientist in you. Go ahead. Click away!:

5) Kids on the Prairie: Year 6 Report

The Kids on the Prairie spring 2016 class from Meadowbrook Elementary School had a roaring good day of learning and fun at Tandy Hills outdoor classroom on a damp day in April. They got to learn about iNaturalist and what is a BioBlitz. Thanks to the dedicated volunteer staff including, Crosstimbers Master Naturalists, who worked hard to foster a new crop of nature mystics and radical environmentalists.
> Special shout-out to KOP Director, Anne Alderfer, ladies and gentlemen!

Here's a brand new Press Release and slideshow issued by Fort Worth ISD about the field trip:

Kids on the Prairie Class of 2016 was the first to get iNaturalist training.

6) In Memoriam: Jim Varnum

Jim Varnum, Master Naturalist, nature speaker and walk leader passed away on April 25. Jim was the Trout Lily expert, par excellance, and led our Trout Lily Walks since 2009. (Due to illness, Sam Kieschnick kindly agreed to sub for him in 2016.) My last email exchange with Jim on April 21, was about the TH BioBlitz. He was very excited about participating and did so with joyful enthusiasm. He died a few days later. Jim was a one of a kind and will be missed.

Here's a report from fellow Master Naturalist, Carol Clark:

"It is with a heavy heart that I share the sad news that Jim Varnum,, has passed away. He was a dear friend to many, excellent botanist, wonderful mentor to some, and the best of field companions. His talks amused, inspired and educated in equal measure, and his contributions to the Master Naturalist and Native Plant Society communities are immeasurable. His Jim's This 'n' That newsletter served as a hub for nature event publicity and was distributed to a list of thousands every two weeks. Every issue was a labor of love, rounding up information from diverse groups so that the maximum number of people could find events in their area and get outdoors. We will miss his gentle humor, wisdom and knowledge, and we will look fondly back on the hours spent learning by his side in the field."

Here's a sweet Prairie Lulaby in memory of our departed compadre:

Jim Varnum in his element with a receptive audience.

In situ doing what he loved most: sharing knowledge of his beloved Trout Lilies.

7) Prairie Proverb

April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.

- William ShakespeareSonnet #98, 1609

Skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) in a field of joy.


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.