Friday, May 16, 2014

First Fruits of Spring

After our long cold winter spring had a difficult time crawling out from the oppressive blanket of winter that covered the landscape. Now spring is really getting into the swing of things and we are beginning to see the first fruits of this season of abundance! Not only are we enjoying the fruits of this but we are being visit by a new array of wildlife! We have put up hummingbird feeders to attract these tiny floating birds, and we are visited every day by a large wild turkey who contributes to the soundscape with his loud gobble-gobbling.

If you’d like to sneak a peek, or get a picture of this large bird, come visit Bob Jones Nature Center early in the morning between 8-9 and sneak around to the back where you will most likely find him pecking at bird seed fallen from our feeders.

Wild Turkey

The landscape is being filled up with plants and flowers of both the wild and domestic varieties. Bright purple bull thistles are beginning to put out flowers, as well as the smaller lemon flavored wood sorrel. If you visit for a hike be sure to check on the mustang grapevine running along the back fence which is just starting to put out unripe fruit. And while on the trail definitely keep your eyes peeled for the delicious blackberries intermingled with their unripe red counterparts.

Bull Thistle

 Mustang Grapevine

 Wood Sorrel

Our garden and greenhouse, built by volunteers, is also seeing some activity and the freshly planted squash, melons, greens, herbs, and fruits will soon be sprouting! Until these plants are ripe for the picking, I have been enjoying bowlfuls of lamb’s quarters, a wild, spinach like green which grows in abundance at the back of our iconic red barn. If that is, the grasshoppers don’t get to it first.

New greenhouse

Freshly planted garden

Greenhouse tomato

Lamb's Quarters

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wild Plant Walk with Mark Suter

Spring is the season of renewal and growth, both metaphorically and physically! Here at the nature center spring, is marked by the sprouting forth of plants that have been in hibernation all winter. To welcome this spring season we had Mark Suter, an expert in wild plant identification, take us on a guided hike through the weaving trails of the nature center. This class had a focus on edible wild plants, as well as plants of medicinal, and practical values.

Identifying wild plants gives you an inherent appreciation for nature, something we strive for. Receiving sustenance from wild plants is not only rewarding, but exceedingly nutritional. Wild plants have been shown to possess more vitamins, mineral, phytochemichals (medicinal components), omega-3s, and fiber than our cultivated varieties.

Here is Mark showcasing wild mustard, a delicious and abundant salad green which can be seen running along major roadways. (Brassicaceae)

Showcasing stork's bill. (Erodium circutarium)

The group taking notes on a wild plant.

Pounding a magical puffball mushroom.

Everyone recognizes this wild edible. Wild onion! (Allium species)

Cleaver! No need to find this wild edible, it will find you when it sticks to your clothes. (Galium aparine)

The whole group after our invigorating hike.

This doesn't touch the surface of the plants Mark covered in this extensive class.

After taking this class you will have a new appreciation for the "weeds" in your yard and the wild plants of your local landscape. When you look out into a field rather than being intimidated by a sea of green, instead you will see a plethora of plant's you can recognize and utilize!

If you would like to learn more about wild edible plant identification come to one of Mark's classes or order his book Edible Wild Plants of Texas! The only complete guide to wild plants specifically designed for Texas.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Eagle Has Landed!

We have had a wonderful week here at Bob Jones Nature Center.  The birds are singing, the children are playing, and spring feels like it's just around the corner.

Many birds are beginning to nest, including our famous bluebirds here at the center.

Many birds of prey are doing the same.  Owls, hawks, and eagles are all residents of the cross timbers ecosystem.  This week, some lucky little ones got to learn all about them.

Soaring little eagles!

These regal eagles soared around for quite some time until they found the perfect nesting spot...just like their eagle kin are busy doing now.

Eagles nests need to be quite large!

This may require some thought and collaboration!

                                                                               Ta Da!

We had a few groups of children out this week and they all seemed to have a blast pretending to be large birds of prey, using binoculars to look for nests, and building their very own nest just like an eagle does.

 See you soon at BJNC!

photos by Kayla Nickells

Friday, January 31, 2014

Our Dirty Little Secret

We have a beautiful little trail loop that is right near the nature center called the Bluebird Trail.  It is very clean, full of interesting animal tracks, birds, lots of trees, deer, and more.  At at the far end of the trail loop, there is a gate that leads out to a much more extensive network of trails...more than 20 miles of trail in fact!
These trails offer a wonderful opportunity for people who would like to escape further into nature, be more physical, and maybe even find respite along the shores of Grapevine Lake.

These happen to be my favorite trails...except for one little thing...

Our Dirty Little Secret.

Okay, okay...some of you have visited the nature center, hiked our trails,  and have seen what I am about to expose here.  Some refer to this site as a piece of history.  While there is an interesting story as to where this all came's time to do better.  

A long-time BJNC devotee shared the story of the jars with me a few weeks ago.  So I would like to tell it here...and then,

it's time to restore nature as it should be!

Jars Upon Jars

My guess is that the people who originally put these jars here, did not revere them in anyway.  It was simply a sign of the times and a matter of convenience.  Many years ago, the land that is now a nature preserve, was actually a hog farm.  If you come to see us, you can see many leftover glimpses of the past such as a retention pond once used for livestock, old fencing that used to keep the animals contained, and even the bermuda grass are all relics from another era.

Dilapidated Fencing
Our mission at Bob Jones Nature Center is to preserve both the environment and history and to educate the community on matters of conservation.  Sometimes there can be a blurry line between what constitutes as a historical site and what is simply an old garbage heap with a story worth mentioning.

So the story?  Apparently, when this was used as a hog farm, those that tended the hogs found a great free food resource to sustain their animals.  Namely...expired spaghetti sold in jars.  At this spot in the woods, the jars were unloaded, unscrewed, and dumped out as slop for the hogs to eat.  At the time, there was no dump, and in fact many people would simply haul their refuse into the woods and dump it.  Many of us remember that time.

The time when we thought that garbage thrown out a car window or left in the street would somehow magically disappear?  Yup, I remember that.  Or the thought that garbage dumped in the woods far away... was so far out there that no one would ever see it and the wildlife hardly came to mind.  It was simply a sign of the times.

Do you think they really meant for us to revere this site?

More and more people hike these trails every day.  Our children walk past these jars and must wonder why we have not spent the time to clean it up...return it to nature...return it to beauty..and all that is safe.

Well, now it's time.

Bob Jones and his family did leave an indelible mark on the community.  Bob Jones donated land and built a school for African American children who lived in the area in 1920.  He built a church in 1902 very near here. The family owned a cafe that welcomed everyone, whether black or white, to come sit at the counter and eat with dignity.

These are important milestones and significant events that happened in our history.  Let's not allow a huge field of spaghetti jars to overshadow the real history here.  

To read more about Bob Jones and his family, click here.

To join our volunteer crew to clean up the jars....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A New Twist on An Old Favorite!

Every Saturday at the nature center, we host Pin-It Projects.  For anyone who is as obsessed with Pinterest as I am, you get the idea.  These are quick and easy projects that you can do at home with little planning.
Ours are always nature googly eyes or glitter in sight.  We love crafts as much as the next person, but we are dedicated to providing the community with opportunities that are not only fun and creative, but that are also composed of items that are either upcycled, recycled, compostable, and in to keep our world a little greener.

Last Saturday, we had a great turn out for our bird feeder Pin-It Project.  Many people came in expecting the traditional pine cone covered in peanut butter and rolled in bird seed, but we like to be a little more creative around here.  So here is our simple twist on an old favorite.

First of all, I have to give a shout out to Central Market.  They donated these huge grapefruit to us.  They were a little past perfection and were going to be thrown out, but we saved them from the landfill by using them in this great project.

Second, Marshall Grain has been an incredible sponsor for us over the years.  That is where we get all our bird seed.  They sell all kinds of great gardening gear and more.  They have a large selection of bird seed and are always so helpful in helping us determine what kind of seed we need in order to attract certain birds.  If you live in the DFW metroplex, I highly recommend checking them out.  Such a fun place to shop!

So here is what you will need for these neat feeders....

  • Citrus fruit (we used grapefruit, but any citrus is fine)
  • Peanut butter, suet, or any other type of fat such as other nut butters, sunflower butter, etc.  Stick with something natural)
  • Bird seed, dried fruit, nuts, etc.
  • 1 wooden skewer or chop stick 
  • twine or wool yarn
  • cute kids and one adult helper

Let your child pick out which fruit he or she wants.  As adults, we just grab, but having done this project with children, I can tell you that fruit selection is important for many of them.  Plus it will buy you some time to get your bird seed organized.

Cut your fruit in half and then cut carefully around the inner peel.  This will allow your child to 'gut' the fruit a little easier.

I wasn't able to get pictures of the children when they gutted their grapefruits, but they did a fine job of it.  So instead of cute little kid fingers, you will have to settle for mine for now.
Get in there and get messy!  Keep a bowl nearby for the guts.

While you do the next part of the project, your kids can start mixing up what they would like to use for bird food.  At Bob Jones Nature Center, we use primarily five types of bird food for this time of year: peanuts, nyjer seed, mixed seed (millet, peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds), black oil sunflower seeds, and suet.

The blue jays and woodpeckers have been especially fond of the peanuts, but many other birds eat them as well.  The nyjer seed is almost exclusively eaten by the goldfinches.  The mixed seed attracts a wide variety of birds.  We put it in hanging feeders as well as on the ground.  Some birds will only eat from seed on the ground, while others will only eat from hanging feeders.  Tufted Titmouse, sparrows, wrens, blue jay, dove, crows, chickadees, grackle, and even the wild turkeys enjoy this mix.  The sunflower seeds are enjoyed by the cardinals and though not a bird...entertaining to watch...the squirrells.  Suet is a mixture of fat and other treats such as seed, citrus, and insects.  Many birds enjoy suet, in particular during the winter months.

I highly recommend going to Marshall Grain to purchase bird seed.  If you have any questions about which birds eat what or how to attract particular birds to your yard...they know.  They are super friendly and will make sure you get the right kind of seed for your needs.

The children really enjoyed coming up with their own special mix from the seeds I provided.  For a real treat, you might consider adding some unsweetened and unsulphured dried fruit.  Just make sure that ants do not invade your bird feeder!

Next, have the kids add a dollop of peanut butter or other natural, bird approved fat.  You want just enough to stick the seeds together.  Mix, mix, mix!

While the kids are making the seed mixture, you will need to poke four holes in the grapefruit rind.  Then use the blunt end of the skewer to thread your twine or yarn through the holes.  You should end up with an 'x' in the middle of the fruit rind.

Tie up the loose ends at the top so that the fruit remains level.

Now, let your kiddos pack their special seed mixture into the fruit rind.


Now go hang it outside and be patient.  If you already have birds frequenting your yard, they should find this quickly.  If not, it will take some patience.

Happy Pinning...and Happy Birding everyone!

We have Pin-It Projects every Saturday.  Please register on our website for the next event!

Did you make this project?  We would love to see photos.  

What did you put inside your special seed mix?  

What birds were you able to attract?  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Busy Days at Bob Jones Nature Center!

For the past week, I have been yearning to get out on the trail, but we have been so busy at the center, that I have been unable to go out on any major excursions. 

How lucky I was today that one adventurous young man brought a little excitement back from the hike he took with his sister and grandparents.

I asked his grandparents if he should remain anonymous since I wanted to post his find online, but he was ready for his moment in the spotlight and all agreed it was a good thing. 


So without further ado.......

Here's Triztyn!

It's an Alligator Gar skull!
Not only did 7 year old Triztyn find this skull, he knew exactly what creature it came from.
Nice find, kiddo!  Not to mention...impressive knowledge base.  I hope you come back to visit soon.

Look at those teeth!

If you would like to check out it out in person...come on down!  Triztyn has kindly donated this fine specimen to the nature center. 

Come find your own adventure on our trails. 
See you soon!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Hunting We Will Goooo!

No wait...not THAT type of hunting.  We are after all a nature center.  How does a nature scavenger hunt sound though?  Bring your kids.  Bring your cameras.  Let us know if you can find these things!

First of all, let me tell you where I went today.  I started at the trail head beginning at Bob Jones Nature Center.  If you come out and don't know what I mean by this, please stop in!  That's what we are here for.  I started down the Bluebird Trail and went all the way to the gate that leads out to the more than twenty miles of trail that connects us to all sorts of interesting destinations.

My destination today...Grapevine Lake!  There are a number of forks in the trail once you head out the gate.  The trail I took today to find all of the goodies in this post was as such:

Walk down the main trail until you see a fork in the trail, go left.  Go on the main trail until there in another very obvious fork in the trail and go left.  Walk until you come to a three way area and stay to the left.  Keep going until another obvious fork and again, go left.  On the way back, do the opposite.

I then came back through the gate, went to the right and continued the loop on Bluebird Trail all the way back to the nature center.

So Onward We Go!

1.  Can you find feathery leaves like these?


    Keep in mind that this tree will soon be completely bare so come out and look for it soon.  

   Another way to tell if you have the right tree is to check for thorns.

                                                     (these are from a Mesquite tree)

     2.  What about this's full of blue waxy berries this time of year.  Can you find it?

    This is a Red Cedar.
 Both the Mesquite tree and Red Cedar are a valuable food source for a variety of  wildlife.


     3.  Look for animal tracks.  Can you find some like this?


     4.  Or how about this?

      5.  How many are you able to find?


    (deer, coyote, turkey)

     6.  Look at this beautiful little seed pod.  I found these near the lake.  There isn't much left of them, but I am pretty sure they are English Plantain.  See if you can find them!

     7.  Here are some prickly pads among the trees...CACTUS!  Find them, take a picture, but  don't touch...ouch!

     8.  Shells!  I saw regular shells and fossilized shells.  Can you find some too?

     9.  This delicate beauty is a leaf skeleton.  You will have to look very carefully to find one of these.

     and drum roll....number ten....


10.  The mystery plant.  These were really neat and I really have no idea what they are.  Can you  figure it out?  They have mesmerizing seed pods and there are many of them along the beach.  If you walk gently through them, they softly rattle.  Try it!


Bonus Material....

first of all, the good stuff...Look at this view!

The not so good?

Well, I found these other items on my treasure hunt too.

They weren't pretty, but they were the ONLY thing I collected.  I hope if you see anything that doesn't belong, you will collect it too.  Throw it in the garbage or bring it back to the nature center and recycle anything that can be.

If you get a chance to do this treasure hunt, please send us some of your photos.  I would love to post them on our blog and along with any anecdotes you'd like to share about your own adventure.  Bonus points to whomever identifies our mystery plant!


What is your favorite natural 'treasure'?