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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 New Day

Prairie Notes: #60
December 1, 2011

1) A New Day
2) Hiking with Heather
3) Field Report
4) Wildflower of the Moment
5) What are "Friends" for?
6) Kids on the Prairie
7) Prairie Plant Puzzler
8) Tandy Hills on TV
9) Prairie Proverb(s)

1) A New Day

Standing on the brink of 2012, the first Prairie Fest seems long ago and far away. Our modest, first event in 2006 set the template for what would soon become the largest "green" festival in the region attracting hundreds of green vendors and thousands of new visitors to Tandy Hills. Mission accomplished, but with a new set of unexpected challenges.

Larger crowds meant complex permit requirements, traffic concerns, increased operational headaches and the endless need for volunteers. And then... there's, the weather. A small, core staff worked year round for an event that could be cancelled by Mother Nature at a moment's notice. Something had to give, as last year's event-ending thunderstorm reminded us.

For 2012, Prairie Fest has been re-imagined and re-focused back to discovery and enjoyment of Tandy Hills, itself. Instead of a single event, there will be three festivals throughout the Spring on the last Saturdays of March, April and May. Event hours will be from 4 PM - Dusk. We call it Prairie Festx3.

The main event will be enhanced Prairie-Wildflower Hikes for kids and adults, specially designed by Heather Foote, a Master Naturalist and schoolteacher in Grapevine. More on that below. There will also be the usual, unstructured wildflower tours led by Suzanne Tuttle of the FW Nature Center & refuge.

In the re-imagined fest for 2012, we have eliminated Exhibitor booths. ("Virtual booths" will be available. Stay tuned for details.) There will still be live music and other entertainment, food, beverage and friends. The festival site will be a wide-open, kid-friendly playground for kite-flying, frisbee-tossing, stilt-walking, picnicking, guitar-picking, dog-running and other impromptu activities.

As the principal fundraising event for Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, Prairie Fest is essential to funding our conservation and education programs. Without exhibitor income, we are more dependent than ever on Memberships and Sponsorships. Your support is critical. Read #5 below about how you can contribute.

DY

2) Hiking with Heather

Prairie Festx3 will have a renewed focus on education. We asked, Heather Foote, the director of Prairie Keepers, to create a few new hikes for children and families. Heather is a member of the National Science Teachers Association, an associate of the Institute for Earth Education and has taught science at Colleyville Middle School for seven years. She was the 2010 CMS teacher of the year, and trained as a Master Naturalist with the Cross Timbers Chapter. Here's a brief description of the new hikes.

---> Food Factory on the Prairie offers 4th-5th graders a chance to learn to build a simple sugar molecule while exploring the inside of an 8 x 8 foot leaf. We'll need volunteers to act as Chlorophyll Control Center announcers helping participants discover how to assemble the sugar model.

---> Chronos on the Prairie (all ages and family groups)
Time passes...things change. How long ago were the hills covered in a shallow inland sea? Hikers will randomly select a small canister from the Time Tube, returning it once its contents and story are revealed. At the end of the hike, participants put the canisters in chronological order to tell the story of Tandy Hills in correct sequence. The hike resolves at a surprise picnic site where participants discover picnic blankets just as they realize they need a place to sit and arrange the canisters in correct time-sequence. We'll need volunteers to help with picnic baskets, blankets and with leading hikes.

---> iPrairie Adventures uses smart phone technology to scan coded messages hidden along a prairie trail. Participants gather clues in a scavenger hunt that requires them to learn about prairie plants and decode a hidden message. Those who are able to unscramble the hidden message may enter a drawing for a prize. This is a self paced adventure, but volunteers may be needed to check stability of QR coded markers. QR stands for QuickResponse. The codes are simple and free to make at many websites. Delivr.com offers free QR codes that track the number of times they've been scanned. Heather would like some feedback on this activity before using it at the festival, and will only use it if the QR codes are considered inconspicuous.


The "leaf" prop that Heather Foote will use in the Food Factory on the Prairie at PFx3.


Heather Foote, in April 2011, leading a gaggle of 4th graders at the FOTHNA-funded, Kids on the Prairie.

3) Field Report

-Lots of rain and mild temps in early November made Tandy Hills seem downright tropical compared to the preceding few months. The weather progressed from Spring to Fall and finally, Winter, causing a bit of freak-out to many plant species. New Jersey Tea (Caenothus herbaceus) aka, Prairie Redroot was fooled into blooming as were a few Purple Paintbrush (Castilleja purpurea var. purpurea) and others. By November 30, however, the prairie seemed tired of this game and ready for a Winter's nap.

-A possible Panther sighting was reported on 11/10/11. Bobcats are sometimes mistaken for Panthers. The short bob-tail of the Bobcat is one way to tell the difference in the two cats. Panthers have very long tails. If you see wildlife at Tandy Hills, please send me a note.

-As Autumn leaves fall, signs of the drought are more visible. The stark color (and smell) of dead and dying, Cedar-Juniper trees are evident throughout the park.

-The lower depths and some of the drainage folds of Tandy Hills have belts of Oak trees that are just now turning. The drought and unseasonable weather have slightly delayed Fall colors this year.


New Jersey Tea fooled into blooming out of season.


Purple Paintbrush sprouted, unseasonably, on the November prairie.


Drought made visible by dead (and very aromatic) Juniper trees.


One of the Oak savannas brightening up Tandy Hills in late November.

4) Wildflower of the Moment

This is a tough one this month because Mother Nature is still reeling from record drought. But if you look close, you can spot a few Skydrop Asters (Symphyotrichum patens), one of the few (and far between) bright spots of color at Tandy Hills right now.


Asters are a welcome sight on the bleak, November prairie.

5) What are "Friends" for?

IMPORTANT! A Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area membership helps pay for our crucial education and conservation efforts. What exactly is that? Our primary goal is to fully realize the Master Plan for Tandy Hills which includes year-round restoration efforts including, trail building and, eventually, a visitors center.

Helping us restore the Tandy Hills prairie and getting school kids outside to discover it, are the lasting benefits that your dollars support. Please become a "Friend" today.

Memberships are set up on the calendar year, January-December, and start at $10. Membership benefits include, eco-tote bags, bandanas, caps, T-shirts and/or Prairie Wildflower books, depending on your level of support.


The Master Plan for Tandy Hills includes a proposed visitors center and cistern/observation tower.


Membership perks are nothing to sneeze at.

6) Kids on the Prairie

We are especially proud of our, Kids on the Prairie, partnership with the FWISD. The inaugural program in 2011 was a ringing success that we are building on. Big things are already funded and in the works for 2012. Here's a note from Master Naturalist, Anne Aldefer, the Tandy Hills-FWISD liaison:

Meadowbrook Middle School has signed on for the 2012 May Spring Tours. Texas Master Naturalists, under the direction of Suzanne Tuttle, will once again take 70 school children for an adventure on the prairie. Later this month our scholarship school will be selected. FOTHNA will pay bus travel expenses for a deserving but budget-poor school. Out-door restrooms and custom tailored printed material are also a gift from FOTHNA.

Kathy Cash, FWISD Exploratory Learning Specialist and Anne Alderfer for Tandy Hills have developed a curriculum to help TH's first steps in becoming a permanent children's outdoor learning center. "Avatar," the FWISD's internal teacher resource locator, will now have Tandy Hll's Planned Development Program. April 14 will be the first PD Day for teachers where we will host a learning and training event for teachers to use the prairie for their own future field trips.

---> BTW, if you have skills or talents for being a tour leader for the program, contact us. Site specific training is provided and the 2011 crew said it was one of their most rewarding volunteer experiences ever.


FOTHNA funded Tandy Hills field trips provide an opportunity otherwise not available due to FWISD budget cuts.


With the help of Boy Scouts, outdoor classrooms similar to this one are coming soon to Tandy Hills.

7) Tandy Hills on TV

On November 9, Tandy Hills was featured on KXAS/NBC-5's "Where in North Texas?" segment on the morning news. This is a local take-off of the Today Show's segment, "Where in the World is Matt Laurer?". Watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABTlfXsOL-w

8) Prairie Plant Puzzler

...is on vacation this month.

9) Prairie Proverb(s)

"The prairie in all its expressions, is a massive, subtle place, with a long history of contradiction and misunderstanding. But it's worth the effort at comprehension. It is, after all, the center of our national identity."

Wayne Fields
Lost Horizon (1988)

"... while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls and the Upper Yellowstone, and the like afford the greatest shows, I am not so sure but the prairies and the plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the aesthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America's characteristic landscape."

Walt Whitman
Specimen Days (1879)


Get yourself to Tandy Hills while Autumn leaves are still bright.

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