A billboard advertises the Tandy Hills BioBlitz, in an effort to recruit public participation on Friday and Saturday. Photo courtesy of Don Young.

April 19, 2016

This week, biology experts from across the state are scouring a prairie remnant in Fort Worth in an all-out effort to record every living species onsite. The BioBlitz is being held at Tandy Hills Natural Area. On Earth Day Friday and Saturday, the public is invited to bring their smart phones and laptops to join in the fun. 

Tandy Hills Natural Area wildflowersRob Denkhaus, the natural resource manager for the Fort Worth Nature Center, is organizing the biological blowout, with help from Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and Texas Wesleyan University

Denkhaus said the project is crucial for long term conservation efforts for Tandy Hills, a 160-acre wildspace owned by the city of Fort Worth.

“One of the challenges of managing any property is not knowing what the heck is out there,” said Denkhaus. “If you think of Tandy Hills as a museum, you know you can’t do a lot as a curator until you know the inventory.”

“One of the challenges of managing any property is not knowing what the heck is out there,” said Denkhaus. “If you think of Tandy Hills as a museum, you know you can’t do a lot as a curator until you know the inventory.”

According to Denkaus, the location of the undeveloped landscape next to a busy metropolitan area makes it special. The property runs adjacent to Interstate 30 in the shadow of downtown Fort Worth yet it contains the city's biggest wildflower patch and is home to screech owls, turtles and coyotes. He said its hilly terrain and varied topography create its rich ecology. 

“Soil changes lead to diversity of plant life, insects and birds. It’s such an unusual place. Really I can’t say enough about it.”

For the event, Denkhaus booked nearly 40 scientists who specialize in everything from fungi to grasshoppers to ants. At night, researchers will even be tracking nocturnal insects and bats while as many as 50 wildlife cams will be recording mammals who walk through the park. In addition, a high-end microscope has been purchased and will be set up in a tent, where the images can be projected on a screen.

Tandy Hills Natural Area bunny“We’re trying harder than most people do,” said Denkhaus. “I think this will prove to be the biggest BioBlitz ever done in the state.”

Every bunny is being counted during the BioBlitz.

They’re using iNaturalist, a website where amateurs and professionals upload their findings using a smart phone app. Denkhaus said they’ve already recorded 600 observations for Tandy Hills Natural Area and he expects to have as many 3,000 by the end of the week. 

Denkhaus said the website has become an invaluable tool that he’s used both at the Fort Worth Nature Center and TCU, where he’s an adjunct professor. All the local activity recently prompted a call from the California Academy of Sciences, which manages the site. 

“They wanted to know what the heck was going on in Tarrant County,” he joked.

While the scientists got a head start on Sunday, at the end of the week, the public is invited to participate starting Friday at 6 a.m. till Saturday at 6 p.m. They've hoping intrepid master naturalists, birders and nature lovers will provide additional observations. 

Tandy Hills Natural Area caterpillarDenkhaus said the public aspect of the event is a throwback to early data collection when Audubon Society members scouted for birds and postmen driving rural roads documented roadkill. 

A queen caterpillar on milkweed at Tandy Hills.

“We’ve gone full circle,” he said. 

Participating is easy, especially with the iNaturalist smart phone app, which Denkhaus said even a novice should be able to figure out, refering to himself.

“I got my first smart phone two weeks ago,” he admitted.

As for what researchers expect to find, he’s keeping an open mind. There may be surprises. 

“If nothing else it will give us a baseline. We’ll know where the privet is. We may see other problems that are worse. We’ll be able to ID sensitive communities in the area.” 

Don Young, the founder of Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, said this is an important step in conserving the wildspace. Findings could help them build a case for buying adjacent parcels and preventing ecologically destructive activities such as gas drilling. About 100 additional acres surrounding the property are owned by Chesapeake, XTO Energy and others.

“It’s part of our master plan to build awareness and help us protect it.”


Tandy Hills Bio Blitz

When: Earth Day, April 22 at 6 a.m. to April 23 at 6 p.m.

What: Everyone is invited to come out and observe, collect data or tag along with experts on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, there will family friendly activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., including wildflower hikes, seed bombs, storytellers and solar viewing telescopes. Friday night, there’s a moth hike at 7:30 pm. See website for complete schedule.

At 11 a.m on Saturday, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price will be signing the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, promising to enact monarch conservation efforts.

Where: Tandy Hills Natural Area, 3400 View St, Fort Worth

Cost: Free


Go to the Tandy Hills Natural Area iNaturalist page to see the flora and fauna documented.

Contribute to the BioBlitz Go Fund Me campaign

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