News Categories: Featured

22 Aug
By: Communications 0

Chimney Swift Tower at KMP

Life would be difficult if humans couldn’t sit. Everything from driving to the way we work and eat would be affected.

For chimney swifts, perching is impossible. Nearly always in constant motion, the birds eat, drink, bathe, and mate in flight, only stopping to roost at night and nest. Contrary to popular belief, chimney swifts do have legs, but they are short — suitable only for clinging and incapable of supporting the swift.

Before humans came to North America, chimney swifts nested in tree hollows, but now almost exclusively nest in chimneys. In populated areas, these beneficial birds provide an important service. Despite their small size, chimney swifts can eat up to 12,000 mosquitoes, termites, flies, and other insects per day. Unfortunately, with limited nesting locations, the chimney swift population is in decline.

To help bring back chimney swifts, Boy Scout Corbin Doud volunteered to build a chimney swift tower at Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve in June. He consulted with Houston Audubon Society and their education director, Mary Anne Weber, to construct a tower that would accommodate the unique anatomy of the chimney swift. The tower is at the northeast corner of the main parking lot, near the fence line at the St. Luke’s Hospital retention pond. Look for these birds flitting through the preserve during the day. They resemble “flying cigars” with a short, curved body and a wingspan less than 13 inches.

Read more about chimney swifts in the Texas Park’s & Wildlife Department’s Chirrups in the Chimney or watch the video.

Become a swift steward by learning how to build them a nesting site with this basic tower design.

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Second Sunday Pickers’ Bill Hunn

Few scenarios test the skills of a musician like a public jam session. Unlike reading music, jam sessions require players to improvise while keeping time and tune with others. When players work well together, the experience can be transcendent.

“Playing with other people teaches musicians to keep time,” said Bill Hunn, the volunteer leader of the Second Sunday Pickers. “You either keep up or get left behind.”

Hunn has spent nearly 30 years leading public jam sessions at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. In that time, he’s met both novice and expert musicians looking to refine their skills.

“Various musicians have participated through the years, including a cellist,” said Hunn. “I’ve always hoped a flute player would join us.”

Hunn understands better than most the joy of a good jam session with close friends and family.

The son of a musician, Hunn grew up in suburban Philadelphia listening to his father play the piano, accordion, and guitar. In the evenings, his family sat around a campfire near the Chesapeake Bay playing music. Hunn’s father attended German and Polish clubs to learn how to play the music of different cultures. He even organized square dances in the room above their garage. As a treat, Hunn’s family visited the community theater to see local musical performances like Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore.

Despite his early exposure to music, Hunn didn’t develop an interest in playing the guitar until he was 20 years old. Once he learned a few songs, his friends invited him to attend the Philadelphia Folk Festival, a three-day outdoor musical festival. They spent the weekend wandering from campsite to campsite, meeting festival-goers, and playing the same three songs until Hunn grew sick of them. That’s when he decided to learn 10 new songs before next year’s festival. He challenged himself with that same goal every year for 23 years, and now he can play hundreds of songs by memory.

Hunn moved to the Houston area with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in February 1990. Soon after, they visited Old Town Spring on a shopping expedition. Bored with shopping, Hunn spotted a group of musicians playing in the courtyard and decided to pick up a guitar and join them.

It turned out the group of musicians was led by Louise Auclair, a music professor at North Harris Community College (now Lone Star College-North Harris) who encouraged her students to join a jam session to hone their skills. Hunn immediately became a regular at their monthly meetings.

When news of the group spread, Jones Park invited the musicians to host their monthly sessions at the Nature Center in fall 1990, marking the beginning of the Second Sunday Pickers jam sessions.

Although the group’s leadership has changed over the years, the Second Sunday Pickers remains one of the park’s longest-running programs. Even when the Nature Center was temporarily closed following the 1994 flood and Hurricane Harvey, Second Sunday Pickers played on, meeting on the porch or on the outdoor stage.

Sessions are open to musicians of all abilities at the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and play along on the second Sunday of every month.

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Going Native: Planting Wildflowers at Home

By Matt Abernathy, Assistant Park Director

Mowing, pruning, planting, mulching, and fertilizing – sound familiar? For many homeowners, springtime means birds, butterflies, flowers, new growth – and countless hours and dollars spent preparing yards and flowerbeds. What many people don’t realize is that you can avoid the chores and still have a spectacular garden. Wondering how? Look no further than native plants.

Homeowners who choose native plants for their gardens are often rewarded with long bloom periods and significant cost savings. These plants often come back year after year from the stem or root and don’t require mulching and supplemental watering. Because native plants have adapted to our climate, they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and rainfall amounts.

These low-maintenance plants not only add color to your landscape, but they also support native wildlife and pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. Savvy gardeners can experiment with different plant varieties to attract a variety of pollinators. Pollinators are more likely to visit fruit and vegetable gardens boasting native flowers. With the extra pollinator attention, the plants are more likely to produce fruits and vegetables. Lastly, native flowers come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Whether you are looking for ground cover, traditional flowers, or larger shrubs, you can find a native variety to plant. Ready to get started?

Before planting, make sure to identify a location for your flowerbed and study the environment. Knowing the type of soil, moisture levels, and the amount of sun your plants need can affect the success of your project. Make sure you thoroughly prepare your flowerbed by weeding, tilling, and aerating the soil to minimize weed growth. Plant selection is the most fun, yet challenging, part of the process. When selecting plants, you have four options:

Option 1. Research, research, research. Determine what species works for you and then research the best local sources for plants and seeds. This method gives you the best opportunity to customize your garden. The biggest drawback is that you will inevitably choose some plants that are extremely hard to come by in the commercial plant trade.

Option 2. Search local native plant nurseries online and reach out to them for recommendations and a list of available plants. Unfortunately, the salespeople may not be as knowledgeable of native plants as they claim to be, and they will likely steer you to their specific stock. This could lead you to plants you don’t necessarily want or even cause you to buy misidentified plants.

Option 3. Reach out to local experts. A quick internet search can help you find experts

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Rare Finds at Jones Park: Crested Coralroot Orchid and Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Featuring bold colors in shades of red, yellow, and orange, the eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) is no wallflower.

Known for its awkward movements and large size, the grasshopper is flightless and slow, mostly traveling by walking and crawling. In fact, the insect derives its name from “lubber,” a term sailors used to describe those who hadn’t developed their sea legs.

To ward away predators, the grasshopper relies on its colorful appearance and defensive behaviors, including spreading its wings, hissing, secreting a foul-smelling liquid, and vomiting.

Despite its showy colors, sightings of the insect are rare. iNaturalist documents that this giant insect has only been spotted nine times in Harris County. Fortunately, Jones Park Forester David Jamar recently found one at Jones Park and snapped this photo.

You can look for these insects hiding in leaves and open areas of the forest. Be sure to document your find on iNaturalist to help other citizen scientists find this fascinating grasshopper.

Orchid

Take a walk through Jones Park and you may notice rare native orchids sprouting like mushrooms from decaying material along the forest floor. With light brown stems that tend to blend with leaf litter, the crested coralroot orchid (Hexalectris spicata) is easily overlooked. But those lucky enough to view the orchid up close are treated to flowers with creamy yellow petals veined in magenta and purple. Up to 25 small flowers grow from a single spike that ranges in size from 6 inches to more than 18 inches.

Unlike orchids typically sold in stores, the plant doesn’t grow leaves or contain chlorophyll, the chemical that gives plants their rich green color, so photosynthesis isn’t possible. Instead, the plant feeds on fungi and decaying organic matter.

Native to Texas and much of the Southern United States, this orchid prefers well-drained woodland areas but can grow in swamps, desert canyons, and over limestone and sandstone. Although the plant is listed as globally secure, it is still endangered or threatened in many native states.

 

 

 

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24 Jun
By: Communications 0

Precinct 4 Events to Keep You Cool This Summer

If summers in Houston make you want to draw the blinds and turn up the air, you’re not alone. The summer heat may be miserable, but Precinct 4 staff have a plan to keep you cool. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, we offer a variety of activities to keep you entertained and away from the heat.

T’ai Chi at Jones Park

Visit Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center for a relaxing morning of T’ai Chi. This centuries-old martial arts class has been shown to reduce osteoarthritis pain and improve quality of life, reasoning ability, balance, and stability. John Spencer, a volunteer T’ai Chi instructor, leads this class based on the 24-step Yang form of T’ai Chi. The one-hour class includes low-impact stretching, breathing, and range of motion exercises. Class begins Wednesday, July 3, at 9 a.m. in the outdoor classroom near the Nature Center.

Art of the Hunt and “Moon” Exhibits at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Cool off indoors at the Houston Museum of Natural Science during this Precinct 4 Encore! trip on Friday, July 5, at 10:15 a.m. Adults above 50 are invited to view more than six centuries’ worth of firearms. From finely chiseled steel to intricate wood carvings, the antique firearms in Art of the Hunt illustrate 16th, 17th and 18th century decorative art. Also, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the museum brings Luke Jerram’s sculpture of the moon to HMNS. Lunar features, such as Tycho, Apollo 11’s landing spot and even the elusive “dark side of the moon” are displayed in stunning resolution on this unique sculpture.

Watch Frozen Under the Stars During Summer Movie Nights

Watching Frozen is even better in July! Catch a showing of Frozen on the following dates and locations:

• Tuesday, July 16, at Bane Park
• Wednesday, July 17, at Matzke Park
• Thursday, July 18, at Burroughs Park
• Friday, July 19, at Collins Park

Blankets, lawn chairs, and picnics are welcome! Popcorn and drinks will be provided. The movie begins at dusk. Be sure to arrive early to enjoy the pre-movie special activity for all ages. For more information, visit www.hcp4.net/p4movies or call Harris County Precinct 4’s Special Events Division at 281-893-3726.

Park After Dark

As the sun sets, a new world awakens. Explore bats, spiders, and other nocturnal creatures during these unique nighttime activities with Precinct 4’s Trails As Parks program. Close-toed shoes required. A flashlight is recommended.

• Bat Chat: June 28 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Treaschwig Bridge.
• Spider Sniffing: July 11 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Fritsche Park.
• Full Moon Hike: July 16 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Pundt Park.
• Bat Chat: July 26 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Participants should meet at Dennis Johnston Park to be shuttled to Waugh Bridge.
• Herp Hunt: July 29 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Pundt Park.

Reservations are required at www.hcp4.net/tapevents.

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