Newsletter title

March 2012

In This Edition

Buck Ranch Fence Removal—April 14

—Dennis Bires

All Tallgrass Docents are welcome to participate in another fence removal workday at the Buck Ranch site, also known as the Florence Jones homestead, near the southern boundary of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve on Saturday, April 14, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. No expertise is required, just leather gloves, tough work clothes, and hardy outdoor shoes. Bring wire cutters if you have them.

Bring a lunch for the noon lunch break at the John Joseph Mathews cabin nearby. Those who attended our first Docent Reorientation session this year heard a fascinating account of the Osage Indian Mathews family and the tribal historian and novelist who resided there. [See embedded video below, Ed.]

Volunteers will assemble at the ranch gate on the west side of the road from Pawhuska, just a few hundred feet south of the cattle guard at the south end of the Preserve at 10:00 a.m. on April 14.

Road Clean-up, Cookout, and Hike—May 19

—Dennis Bires

Tallgrass Docents will not want to miss this year’s Road Clean-up, Cookout, and Hike on Saturday, May 19, at the Preserve, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Meet at the Visitor’s Center at 10:00 for equipment and assignments, or just start on litter pick-up at a county road location of your choice.

At noon, be at the Foreman’s (Stucco) House for our annual Cookout. Food and beverages will be provided.

Then, at about 1:30 we will caravan by car to a group hike location on the Tallgrass Preserve. The hike will be off-trail, but not strenuous. Be ready for possible muddy spots and rocky ground. The hike will conclude by 4:00 p.m.

Just-Doing-That Moon

—John Joseph Mathews

The Osage say that the moon is a woman and that she makes her appearance twelve times a year. With this periodicity and the tremendous effects she has upon the earth and its children, it is natural that she should be a woman. When she attains full glory and dominates the ridges, there is never any disturbance by the male element, and all is tranquil as under the soothing hand of a great mother. Grandfather the Sun has gone to rest, and even Father the Fire is dim in her presence, as though out of a traditional understanding and deference, like a great warrior in camp where woman is supreme…. [Excerpt from Chapter III of Mathews’ book Talking To The Moon, available at the Visitor’s Center of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.]

Docent Reorientation

—Andrew Donovan-Shead

Anita Springer convened the Docent Reorientation at 10 a.m. on Saturday, 18 & 25 February 2012. This year there were two meetings separated by a week; the idea was to give docents more opportunity to fit the reorientation into their schedules. About twenty-eight docents attended on the 18th followed by another twenty-five or so on the 25th; overall, about fifty of us were present with a few present on both days.

On the 18th, Anita announced Harvey Payne as the guest speaker. She acknowledged Andrew Donovan-Shead who edits the newsletter, Dennis Bires who coordinates the road cleanup, Barbara Bates who coordinates the annual docent recruiting in Tulsa, Betty Turner who coordinates annual recruiting in Bartlesville, and George Pierson who maintains the docent website.

Anita said that we enjoyed a record setting year last year during which we had more docent days covered since record keeping began, twelve or fifteen years ago. What is amazing is that we are doing it with less people than we have had in the past. In 2011, we were six days short of 100-percent coverage. Anita recognized Dwight Thomas who monitors the schedule; she made special mention of the excellent photography that accompanies Dwight’s email solicitations to fill the vacant days. Anita yielded the floor to Harvey Payne who stepped up to give us news of The Nature Conservancy and the Preserve.

Harvey Payne reports news of Tallgrass Prairie Preserve:

Harvey reiterated that attending the reorientation is much like a family reunion in that through the years many of us have become good friends and unlike a family reunion there are no family members that you never could stand. Harvey took a moment to recognize Anne Whitehorn and Anita Springer for providing the refreshments, commenting that one didn’t really need breakfast on these days as there is always plenty to eat.

Harvey said that there hasn’t been too much happening at the Preserve as we have been doing it for a long time to the point where there aren’t many sudden changes or new developments. Harvey said that Jenk Jones telephoned to ask him to say that he is absent today because of his health and that he sends us all his best wishes and would like us to know that he wants to continue as an active participant in the Docent Program and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

Jenk Jones wrote the coffee table book describing the first twenty years of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve; he covered the salient points in very readable prose. For a new docent, this book is an excellent resource. Harvey said that only 1,000 copies were printed and that we should buy one before they are sold out. Jenk was instrumental in getting the Preserve started and has made significant financial donations in addition to his time and energy. In fact Jenk Jones and his family have been intimately involved with the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve since before its inception and throughout its young life. So, though Jenk was absent his is a large presence on the Preserve.

In talking about the dedication of the docents to the program and the Preserve, Harvey was somewhat awed by it all. He spoke again of Jenk Jones who was due to speak at a reorientation held about seven or eight years ago at the senior citizens center in Pawhuska; that morning, Jenk telephoned him to say that he wouldn’t be able to attend as his house had burned down during the night—that’s dedication! David Turner stood up to interject that Jenk had also had the forethought to get his truck out of the garage so that he could salvage the handouts that he passed to someone for delivery to us that afternoon. Harvey said that similar dedication is evident in the time and talents that the docents give to help further the cause of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Though he said that he and the The Nature Conservancy staff say it every year, with each passing year it becomes even more so that the docents are the face of the Preserve; often people telephone the Pawhuska office to ask if the Preserve is open and if there will be a docent present to interact with them. Harvey thanked us again for what you do.

On Wednesday, 15 February 2012, Harvey said that a significant development occurred, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve closed on the acquisition of the Helen Stewart Trust property, 200 acres on the southern end of Wild Hog Creek, just above the confluence of Wild Hog and Sand Creeks. This was an acquisition beneficial to the Preserve surrounding the property, also attractive to other buyers for the hunting and fishing rights, which increased the price that the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve had to pay. Fortunately, the money was readily available. Harvey said that he feels that the docents indirectly and often directly have a positive influence on the financial health of the Preserve.

Harvey was prompted to talk about the John Joseph Mathews’ cabin. Instead of your reporter getting in the way of of Harvey, let’s hear and see him speak for himself in the video window to the right of this text. If you have the impression that we on the deck of ship at sea, it is because the camera is handheld, moving in time with my breathing.

Harvey talked about the resurgence in oil and gas drilling on the Preserve. Twelve new wells have been drilled in the last year, in areas that were almost untouched. Most of the wells are horizontal that have a large footprint on the surface, resulting in new roads, electrical high-lines, and fast moving heavy trucks and tanker traffic from daylight to dark. Harvey said that Preserve Director Bob Hamilton will talk more about this at the next meeting. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve does not own the sub-surface mineral rights, which take precedence over the surface activity. There is nothing that the Preserve can do about the negative effects of the prospecting work, such as the gas-flares that attract the American Burying Beetle and the vertical structures that scare away the Greater Prairie Chickens, fragmenting their habitat.

Harvey concluded his remarks and yielded the floor to Brady Allred.

Brady Allred talks about grassland ecology, fire, bison, and Greater Prairie Chickens:

Brady is in his fourth year of a PhD program at Oklahoma State University, continuing from a Master’s Degree in grassland ecology. Good opportunities to work at the Preserve encouraged him to stay and work on his doctorate. Torre Hovick is Brady’s colleague and was scheduled to speak today about Greater Prairie Chickens, but couldn’t as he and his wife have just given birth to their first child. Torre is on the Preserve from March 15th to August, tracking the prairie chickens from a truck bristling with antennas; he wanted to spend as much time as he could to be with his wife and new daughter before the season starts. Brady agreed to speak in his stead.

On the day before Docent Reorientation, Brady Alred and Torre Hovick attended a meeting about Greater Prairie Chickens at the Research Station with people from The Nature Conservancy, from Kansas, from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and Conservation, during which they discussed conservation issues, their research, and the oil and gas activity that drills down vertically three thousand feet and then horizontally five thousand feet. The wells are big, requiring a lot of electrical power to operate, which means that poles to carry the electrical lines must be installed to each wellhead. These vertical structures drive away the Greater Prairie Chicken because the bird has an inbred fear of objects that can be used as perches by predators such as hawks. Wind turbines have a similar effect, except magnified as the towers supporting the turbines can be three-hundred and fifty feet tall. A wind turbine tower has the effect of preventing the chickens from nesting within a mile radius, but in fact has a negative effect within a five-mile radius of each tower. Turbine towers are usually clustered together, which means the combined effect is magnified over a very large area.

Brady turned to his presentation, saying that the Preserve is a wonderful place for a grassland ecologist to work for many reasons, one of which is to study the importance of fire and the interaction it has with grazing. In North America, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the prime place for studying fire-grazing interactions. William Bond, an eminent South African ecologist, had an opportunity to visit the Great Plains and specifically asked to visit the Preserve because of the ecological work being done here on how fire and grazing influences the land.

Brady showed the first slide of his presentation, a grainy image of a Snowy Owl perched on top of a utility pole taken with Torre Hovik’s smartphone the day before the Reorientation just west of Foraker. Snowy Owls are rare in Oklahoma. Brady said that what he knows about birds he learned from the birders with whom he works; apparently, birders are quite excited by the owl’s appearance and Brady wanted to share the image with us. Nick Del Grosso interjected that the increase in Snowy Owl sightings is due to a good breeding season that produced a lot of young owls that are then driven from the parents’ territory when they reach breeding age; what we are seeing is Snowy Owls looking for their own territory.

On the topic of fire, Brady said that it is currently viewed as a management tool to get rid of trees, such as Eastern Red Cedar that will encroach grassland. Brady displayed a map that was published in the journal Science a couple of years ago by David Bowman, a fire ecologist from Australia, that shows the annual average number of fires observed by satellite for the year 2008; fire is revealed to be a worldwide phenomenon that has occurred for millions of years on the planet. Brady said that fire is an important part of the ecology yet is seen as undesirable by humanity and generally suppressed.

Brady’s next slide showed the distribution of rangeland worldwide, revealing that rangelands comprise 70-percent of land surface area. At OSU, Brady and others make intensive study of fire-grazing interaction, how these two influence each other and drive the ecosystem, determining what flora and fauna can exist.

Patch-burns 2005-2007

Rangeland managers use fire to remove woody growth and promote new nutritious growth for the benefit of their grazing herds. Brady reminded us that traditional rangeland management razes the entire landscape in March and April of each year, thus promoting the same rangeland conditions everywhere. At the Preserve, research into more natural patch-burning is showing how to improve biodiversity of the ecosystem while maintaining effective management of herds comparable to traditional methods, using less fencing and less supplemental feeding. Brady showed an animation of patch burning that is similar to the one shown here to the right.

Patch-burning results is a gradient across the landscape. Recently burned areas attract bison and cattle that will intensively graze the nutritious new growth and shun the older unburned areas. In a patch-burned landscape there is a mosaic of vegetation at different stages of growth that support a much wider variety of animals, plants, and insects than can be found on more uniform land, which is very beneficial to the general health of the ecosystem. Brady said that some of his earlier research was focused on photosynthesis; he has results that show improved photosynthesis on land that is patch-burned.

Many scientific papers are published based on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve fire-grazing research and the model is being replicated in other parts of the world: In Africa—Cameroon, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe—where it affects a suite of grazing animals from rabbits, to rhinoceros, to elephants in the same way it does bison and cattle: In Asia—India, and Nepal—where the effect on grazing animals is the same: In Australia where kangaroos are similarly influenced: In Europe—Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, and Scotland—sheep and rabbits: Domestic livestock in Israel. In North America, black-tailed prairie dogs, elk, mountain sheep, deer, and gophers respond in the same way bison and cattle do to the effects of fire on the land. Brady stressed the importance of fire, saying that it had long been overlooked.

Someone asked why gophers aren’t killed by fire. Brady said that the fires move swiftly and don’t linger long enough to heat the ground to killing temperatures. Suppressing fires result in increases in the fuel load that can sustain longer more intense burns.

To investigate the strength of the fire-grazing interaction, Brady used GPS collars to track the movement of bison and cattle by recording position every twelve minutes throughout the year, with accuracy to within a meter. One result of this work is that the GPS measurements revealed that bison avoid trees and cattle seek shade. Cattle, Angus and Hereford, like to linger near water whereas bison go for a drink and then leave. Both cattle and bison are strongly influenced by fire, this became apparent while analyzing the GPS data. This research has dispelled a lot of dogma about the differences between cattle and bison.

Brady turned his attention to Torre Hovick’s presentation that he had been given to share with us.

Instead of transcribing Brady’s remarks, which is a bit of a sweat for me, I thought Torre might be interested in seeing and hearing Brady speak on his behalf, so it’s time to saddle-up the technology and drive the electrons into that corral over thar to the right.

Brady Allred concluded his remarks and yielded the floor to Anita Springer who finished with some administrative announcements.

Anita Springer makes administrative announcements:

This year, Management of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve require an original signed copy of the liability release form from each docent. Faxed, scanned, or photocopies are unacceptable.

Tony Brown has produced a new map for the porch of the Visitor’s Center. Anita encourages us all to familiarize ourselves with it during our first shift this year as it contains more information than was provided by the previous map.

This year, in addition to requiring that a minimum of three shifts be worked, new docents are required to work with an experienced docent all year. Also, Anne Whitehorn will be present in the Visitor’s Center more this year than previously, available to answer questions and be a local resource.

Bob Hamilton published summary statistics for the 2011, 18th Annual Roundup. You can download a copy from this location↓. A discussion ensued about the precise meaning of the Bob-speak noun dinker. Steve Forsythe illuminated the darkness by explaining that a dinker is a cattleman’s term describing a yearling calf that has been orphaned, is late-born, or is just a runt that needs extra care to help it survive. Being small and insignificant, cattlemen applied the American colloquialism dinky to these calves, changing the adjective into the noun dinker. Without help, a dinker doesn’t develop and grow like a normal calf.

Bob Hamilton has scheduled the 2012 roundup. The schedule for working the bison is available for download from this location↓. As usual, the roundup is closed to the public.

Anita Springer took David Turner’s Frequently Asked Questions about the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and condensed them to four pages that she thought are the most commonly asked questions. A copy can be downloaded from this location↓.

Anita reminded us to warn visitors to be careful on the county roads as there is a large increase in fast moving heavy vehicles due to the the oil and gas production activity. Added to this traffic is that due to seasonal cattle shipments. Anne Whitehorn reminded us to warn visitors to stop in the scenic turnouts only, as there is a significant danger from stopping on the roadside, especially when visibility is reduced by dust and smoke in the air.

Anita reminded us to keep our opinions to ourselves when interacting with the public. We should be apolitical at all times, especially when any discussion turns to the politically sensitive topic of wind-farms in Osage county. The same applies to the oil and gas activity; the sub-surface estate takes precedence over the surface rights. The Nature Conservancy has no control over the oil and gas production.

Anita said that we are welcome to bring laptop computers as long as they are used in the office and not in the public area of the Visitor’s Center. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve has no plans to install WiFi at the Visitor’s Center. Mobile telephone reception in the headquarters area is good for AT&T, so using a telephone to connect to the Internet does work though data transmission speeds are slow, much less than 3G and inadequate for streaming video.

If anyone asks, there is no hunting or fishing, or camping, or off-road travel allowed on the Preserve. Basically, anyone who is off the county road is trespassing.

Some of the ponds have been cleaned and deepened to collect more water. This activity is visible from the road and may prompt questions from visitors.

If we see any activity that looks strange or illegal then we should report it to a member of staff.

If a visitor behaves in a threatening manner or who's presence makes you feel nervous or uncomfortable then you should excuse yourself, seek safety, and get help from the staff.

If you get a question that you can’t answer, write it down and get contact information from the visitor. Tell the visitor that we will get an answer from a subject matter expert who will respond to the visitor’s question.

Anita announced that the Jubilee Quilt Guild of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, has got a grant of $1,500 to replace the quilts in the bunkhouse with period reproductions. The quilts will be reversable and bed skirts will be included.

Anita closed the meeting at about 2 p.m. We will save Bob Hamilton’s remarks for the newsletter next month.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

—George Pierson

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Next to the Monarch, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is probably the most recognizable butterfly at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. They are large, with a wingspan ranging from about 2½ to 4½ inches. Their bright yellow color and black tiger stripes catch the eye and they can be seen from spring until fall. Females can take two forms, a yellow and black version and an all black version. The females have very bright blue shading on the upper hindwing, which is separated by a black stripe. Shadows of the tiger stripes can be seen on the black females if you catch them in the right light. Males are always yellow and black with very little blue on the upper hindwing. The larval host plants include black cherry, linden, tulip tree, and others. Eastern Tigers seek nectar on a variety of plants at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, including milkweeds, joe-pye weed and black cherry. An excellent place find them is a grove of plums when they are blooming in the spring.

Follow this link to the Butterfly of the Month in the species section of the Docent web-site, for more pictures with descriptive captions.

Visitor Count

—Iris McPherson

Visitor Counts

Since I have three months of visitor counts to report, as well as the total for 2011, I will use tables to display the data. During these three months there were our first visitors from Hong Kong, the Bahamas, and Zimbabwe.

The table displays the total counts for October, November and December for 2011 with those months in previous years. Also the total for each year is shown.

The only year with a lower count than 2011 was 2006. In 2006 the counts were not started until April. Even though the first three months of the year have low counts, 2006 would have probably have had a count about the same as 2011, if all the data had been available. As you all know, the extreme heat during the summer of 2011 was a major cause for the drop in the count for the year. In 2011 the only state not represented by visitors was North Dakota. That is often one of the one or two states that are missing, so it wasn’t a surprise.

I would encourage each of you, as we are about to start a new year of staffing the Visitor’s Center, that you make sure to ask our visitors to sign the guest book. I think you’ve been doing a good job. Just keep it up. Here’s to a high visitor count in 2012 and a great year for the prairie!

Docent Coverage Of Season Days

—Andrew Donovan-Shead

Last year was a seven-year record for keeping the Visitor’s Center open. The chart below shows our performance since the Docent Work Schedule became available on-line.

Docent Coverage of Season Days


Other Places to Visit

Here we provide some links to other places worth visiting.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Visitor’s Center Latitude & Longitude

Here is the latitude and longitude of the Visitor’s Center that you can give to visitors for entry into their GPS navigation device.

Kiosk Maintenance

The manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the touch-screen recommend use of a soft dry cloth only. This proved inadequate for smeared fingerprints. Soft-paper kitchen towels work well, slightly damp with a small drop of soft handsoap. Application of a dry kichen towel removes any residual moisture.

Over time, a matter of several weeks continuous operation, I have noticed that calibration of the touch-screen drifts away from the initial set-point. If you notice that the cursor isn’t under your finger when you touch the screen then restart the kiosk by unplugging it from the wall, waiting a few moments and then re-inserting the power plug. It will restart and recalibrate.

This link points to the complete Kiosk Maintenance Manual.

Back Issues

Some printed back issues of the Docent Newsletter, to February 2009, can be found in the two green and one blue-black zip-binders, stored in the Perspex rack by the file cabinet in the office of the Visitor’s Center.

All back issues are available electronically via the links shown below. All newsletters prior to December 2007 are available in Portable Document Format (PDF), which means that you will need Adobe Reader installed on your computer to read these files. All newsletters from December 2007 onwards are in HTML format that is easily read using your web-browser.

2012January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December—2012
2011January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2011
2010January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2010
2009January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2009
2008January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2008
2007January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2007
2006—January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2006
2005January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2005
2004—January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2004
2003—January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December—2003
2002—January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2002
2001January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2001
2000January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December2000
1999January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December1999
1998January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December1998
1997January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December1997
1996—January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December1996
1995—January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December1995

Selected Topics Index

This persistent index of selected topics should make finding articles of interest easier. The list will grow as I move further into the past and it will grow as I add interesting topics from each new newsletter. Iris McPherson lent me the paper copies of the newsletter from the very early years of the docent program; I ran them through a scanner equipped with a document feeder, saving them as PDF files, then added them to Back Issues section above. Let me know of any dead links that you discover. Also, please lend me any paper copies of the newsletter that are missing so that I can scan and add them to the list of back issues.

Newsletter Publication

Deadline for submission of articles for inclusion in the newsletter is the 10th of each month. Publication date is on the 15th. All docents, Nature Conservancy staff, university scientists, philosophers, and historians are welcome to submit articles and pictures about the various preserves in Oklahoma, but of course the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in particular.