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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.

Looking Up

Prairie Notes #68
August 1, 2012

1) Looking Up
2) Field Report
3) Birdbath Drama
4) More Birding News
5) Death at Gateway Park
6) Evolution of a Festival
7) Wildflower of the Moment
8) Prairie Plant Puzzler
9) Prairie Proverb

1) Looking Up

Only the hard core are taking to the Hills in this heat. Most everything on the ground (except bad stuff like Privet) is either dead or dormant as is normal for this part of the world in August. I do worry about the grasses. Something needs to look alive out there for the upcoming Fall version of Kids on the Prairie. A little T-storm from above would be a welcome relief about now.

Speaking of above, that's where the main action is right now at Tandy Hills. But while Mother Earth is heating up and slowing down, Father Sky put on an captivating show in July that had me looking up at the big wide open above Tandy Hills.

A couple of brief but intense Summer thunderstorms left behind some spectacular cloud formations and sunsets. The July sky also displayed an increase in raptors such as Owls and Hawks that have become more noticeable as the temperature rises. Perhaps the heat has made them more desperate and less shy (as you can see from the Hawk story below) or maybe their prey is more desperate. Lovely, Queen Butterflies, have also increased in numbers, their orange and black wings contrasting sharply with the blue-blue Summer sky.

The next time it looks like rain or any evening after 7 pm it would do you good to visit Tandy Hills. Bring your binocs, umbrella, beverage of choice and find a quiet, shady side of a hill and simply look up. This air show is always free.


Post-T-storm July sunset

A searing east wind in July split the clouds above THNA into interesting shapes and shades on a wild blue yonder.

2) Field Report

- Yes, it's hot out there but see Prairie Proverb, #9 below for a quick cool-down.

- Despite the heat and dryness a few wildflowers such as White Prairie Clover and Gayfeather are looking fresh as a daisy. Their secret: Deeper soils. The rocky areas along View Street, by contrast, are shallow soils that are perfect for Spring wildflowers but not deep Summer. You'll have to walk in a bit to find the bloomers.

- Even in death some plants like American Basketflower retain their natural beauty. The east side of the hill on the Main Trail is covered in thousands of them.

- Glossiness in plants is rare. I can't think of any plant that has the high-gloss wet-look of Saw-leaf Daisy. The backside of the yellow petals looks almost oily but are dry. See photo below.

- Giant Blue Sage plants are not yet blooming, but the plant stands are more widespread, thicker and taller than I've seen in recent years.

- A 54 year-old woman who had walked away from a nearby care center was found dead at Tandy Hills on July 18. She apparently died of natural causes. Always bring water when hiking at THNA.

American Basketflowers

Even in death, American Basketflowers look grand.

American Basketflowers

Basketflower seed heads look handsome into the Fall.

Saw-leaf Daisy

The natural hi-gloss sheen of Saw-leaf Daisy appears wet but is not.

3) Birdbath Drama

Coopers Hawks are the most common raptor found at Tandy Hills. They have learned over the years to take advantage of the proximity of our bird-feeders to prey on songbirds and Doves that flock to the black-oil sunflower seeds we put out. They usually just snatch their prey right out of the air.

But one blistering afternoon in July a hungry Cooper's held a bunch of thirsty Cardinals hostage by sitting regally in their favorite birdbath. The Cardinals wanted the water and the Hawk wanted a sacrifice. He wasn't about to move until he got what he wanted.

I watched this fascinating drama for more than an hour waiting for someone to flinch at which point I would have interrupted the game. When it didn't, I gave up and went back to work, choosing not to violate the Prime Directive. The next day we found red feathers scattered in the area.


Hawks are the definition of patience and alertness.


Cooper's Hawks live at THNA but shop in the West Meadowbrook neighborhood.

4) More Birding News

Attention birding enthusiasts. The Tandy Hills Ornithological Assessment by Tom Stevens is available for free download at the Tandy Hills website. Here's the link:

5) Death at Gateway Park

Before Interstate-30 was created in 1957, the Tandy Hills expanded north all the way to the winding Trinity River and the heavily wooded riparian habitat that is now dotted with natural gas wells and adjacent to Gateway Park. Despite the busy highway and park facilities, a variety of wildlife still roams the area searching for food, water and shelter. Sometimes they come into contact with a brutal and dangerous predator known as, Homo sapiens.

The blogger, Durango, recently reported finding a Nine-banded Armadillo shot to death at Gateway, apparently for the hell of it. This beautiful and mostly harmless animal is also the Official Texas State Small Animal. It angers me to see any member of our wildlife community, already stressed out by habitat destruction and fragmentation, slaughtered for sport. If you've got the stomach for it, Durango's blog report is here:


6) Evolution of a Festival

I was honored to be invited by Native Prairies Association of Texas to submit a report on Prairie Fest for the Summer 2012 edition of Texas Prairie News. The issue features many other interesting articles and useful info. Check it out here:


Prairie Fest poster, 2006. Design by Mimi

7) Wildflower of the Moment

... is on vacation.

8) Prairie Plant Puzzler

The round fuzzy spheres you see in the pic below are a far cry from my late Spring colors that blanketed the Tandy Hills. The rounded heads, full of seed, will be blowing in the prairie wind through Indian Summer. Guess my name and win a prize.

Guess my name and win a prize.

➤ There was no July Puzzler.

9) Prairie Proverb

"I'd like to sup with my baby tonight
Refill the cup with my baby tonight
But I ain't up to my baby tonight
'Cause it's too darn hot"

- from Kiss Me Kate, 1948, by prairie-born composer, Cole Porter


All photographs by Don Young except where otherwise noted.

Don Young