Saturday, July 30, 2011

Two five-minute nature videos recorded on 28 July 2011 to be run on Fayetteville Public Television from Monday, August 1, 2011, through Friday, August 5, 2011

The bee with the golden leg

Subject: the bee with the golden leg(s)

Our native post oaks and big bluestem grass can take the
high heat and drought. So can prairie natives like blazing star
and compass plants. Birds that nest in our former prairie land,
like Dickcissels, take this weather in stride. At the very least,
they aren't obviously wearing any big floppy sun hats and none
I've seen recently were lathered up with sunscreen.
This is their time.
It's like there are whole different worlds that exist side-by-side.
I was reminded of this on a visit to Searles Prairie Natural Area
in Rogers this morning. Searles is just 10 acres, and it is all that
is left of what was about 25 square miles of native Ozark prairie,
now rebranded as Rogers and Bentonville.
I park my car off highway 102. Yards and fields outside Searles
look just like yards and fields all over northwest Arkansas:
brown, crisp, overdone, burned up. Except, that is, where lawn
or flowerbed is still being watered.
By comparison, Searles is seriously green. Native prairie plants
there -- the same that settlers who came here in the 1830s
saw -- put down roots and evolved strategies to deal with July
and August. A true green zone it is.
You see big swaths of purple. These are blazing stars, with
stout straight stalks maybe three feet high. In the middle
of this high heat and drought, it's all about lush purple flowers.
They are doing this without water piped from Beaver Lake.
Midst the purple are patches of tall compass plants, marked
by bright yellow flowers, many on a single stout stalk
six feet high. Each stalk has a few to maybe a dozen flowers,
4-5 inches in diameter, and these are natural magnets.
American Goldfinches perch up there, brilliantly,
as do Dickcissels.
Bring on the heat.
Through my spotting scope I see bees with golden hind legs.
They radiate pure gold in flight. Turns out this is another part
of what makes Searles a green zone. Their bodies are hairy
and the hind legs are big and flat. When they visit flowers
the pollen sticks to hairs on their bodies. They periodically
comb the pollen onto these special hind legs. So who is
this bee who spins gold from dogdays?
I ran this question by Amber Tripodi, PhD candidate
in entomology at UA-Fayetteville, AKA "the bee gal."
Her answer: Svastra obliqua, a long-horned bee
(in the Apidae family with honey bee, bumble bees,
and carpenter bees). Some just call it the sunflower bee,
because it is so fond of them.
There is a fair amount of concern that we are losing
our bees because many agricultural crops require their
service as pollinators. To my untrained eye, bee
population looks pretty healthy out in the green zone
of native prairie. I'm not so sure about what surrounds
it and our future in the asphalt zone. You have to wonder
whether or not we are clever enough to sustain our
ever extending way of life. To paraphrase the bard,
it may be something like "To bee or not to bee,
that is the question."
What I mean is:
what impacts bees, impacts birds, impacts people.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Joe Neal reports from Ninestone Land Trust along the Piney Creek and invites all to a bird walk at Chesney Prairie at 8 a.m. July 10, 2011

 From the edge of Piney Creek, a Louisiana Waterthrush chips, soon  followed by song. An Indigo Bunting delivers bright doublets from a shortleaf pine on the sandstone bluff above. Judy Griffith, Joan Reynolds, and I are in cool shallows at Ninestone Land Trust, in southern Carroll County. Looking above, way above, two Turkey Vultures and one Black Vulture soar over our well-baked, mountainous Ozark landscape. It is really good to be here now. How can you beat sounds of birds and rushing water, minnows schooling and flashing as they swim in a deep pool? From our spot directly below Judy's home, the waterthrush is almost, but not quite, out sung by spring flows cutting through a smooth sandstone bluff. Here we are in July and the flow remains clear, smooth, unhurried, well-groomed. As it passes over and falls, it separates like wind-blown hair into thin streams and droplets. Quiet water gone wild, now grayish rather than clear. And it slams into the deep, rocky pool below, spreading frenzy and energy of white bubbles. Well, slams is too much of a word for a fall of six feet, but it roils the pool's surface. No matter to crawfish, easy to see in the water, waiting on rocks below. Welcome to waterthrush country, a great place anytime, but most especially now, when vegetation is curling brown, earth cracking, SWEPCO electrical generating plant burning hundreds of railroad cars of Wyoming coal to satiate our ravenous urban AC appetites.
Standing there admiring falling water, trying to see the waterthrush, we are surrounded by marvels. Joan notices pines successfully rooted in shallow holes pocking the almost vertical sandstone bluffs. I start examining the bases of these pines when suddenly something stunning green and black crosses my binocular view. Perched then on a spicebush shrub, I see polished emerald green, prominent dark eyes, clear wings black at the tip, and set off extraordinarily by a prominent white spot. Like a Greek chorus well-steeped in the natural history of the Ozarks, Judy and Joan respond "female ebony jewelwing," a damselfly. And we have the males too, with impossibly black wings. Piney Creek had massive spring floods taking out parts of banks. Big sycamores now lean across the water, what Judy calls raccoon bridges. While root wads are partially exposed, the trees continue their duties; much remains in gravelly soil. They adapt to this unexpected lean in life by sending branches and fresh leaves up and vertical from horizontal trunks. I'm thinking this may be something to consider myself, blown out of my comfort zone by a variety of storms. Maybe I too have the sap for some new leaves out of the old trunk?
OK, strange musings these are. Why waste my time here in private murk? I understand completely that I've fallen far from center. At least a half-bubble off, as one of my co-workers noticed years ago. But as I wander in a curious mental state, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls unseen nearby. I realize, for maybe the 1000th time, I've come here to the creek to be called back. It may be oppressively humid and lethargic, but undeterred, Red-eyed Vireos keep up songs, a steady chorus, with dogday cicadas, and that is good enough. As Thoreau said in his last breaths, one life at a time, and as I think now, we will have this one right here, thank you, and with whatever roots available. And now Joan has spotted an artistic caddis fly egg case constructed and well-disguised between short plant stems. The fly larva is at home. This marvel noted, Judy and Joan head up the creek to look at a special liverwort. I remain behind, piled down on a boulder and listening in on the pines above the bluffline. I hear a Yellow-throated Warbler and much louder, persistent, and insistent, wheezy HER REE! HER REE! begging calls of a fledgling Red-tailed Hawk. Closer, a Yellow-throated Vireo delivers its burry song in a walnut tree right along the creek.
 JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
Chesney Prairie field trip begins in eight hours!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Three important events of interest this week

Three Interesting Events

Tomorrow, Thursday July 7th at 1:00     A Tree Hug    Lemonade and Tea provided.  Bring a chair if you'd like to sit and enjoy the shade provided by
 this 100 plus year old tree.  Where--at the old Summercorn Tofu Factory....just west of the railroad track on the north side of Cato Springs Road.
     Cato Springs Road is being widened, sidewalks added, etc.  All good.  The event is to raise awareness about how to keep from killing the tree during construction. Hopefully the information relayed at this Tree Party will be conveyed to other construction projects. Tree deaths could often be prevented, if a few precautions are taken.

Saturday Night at Nightbird Books at 7:00 PM   Dr. Joanie Patterson and Audubon will be showing a half hour powerpoint done by National Audubon about the BP spill, loss of wetlands, and effort to restore the coast to a more natural state. The powerpoint is really well done, fascinating, educational. We need to get 100 postcards signed and sent to Congress urging funding for the restoration of the wetlands.  Come learn how what happens in the wetlands affects your life. If you can't come, but would like to sign a postcard, just email       We want to mail all 100 together, so it will be a couple of weeks before I get them all collected.

And on Sunday morning Joe Neal will be leading a bird walk at Chesney Prairie, near Siloam Springs. For more information go to NWAAS web site at and follow the link on the left : Places to bird in northwest Arkansas

Louise  Mann