MPF hosted 88 guests across five of our prairies during the last two weekends of October for our Picnics on the Prairie event series. Depending on the weekend, visitors braved the cold or enjoyed the sunshine to explore hundreds of acres of remnant and reconstructed prairie habitats. “Even if the weather is bad, those places make you feel warm and peaceful.” said a participant at Friendly Prairie, speaking about the cold wind on the prairie.
On October 24th, MPF’s Vice President of Science and Management, Bruce Schuette, led a walk through La Petite Gemme Prairie near Bolivar, MO, identifying plants and explaining about the management plan and ecology of the prairie.
The 37-acre prairie was covered in rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) seed heads, gray patches of ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) covering the hillside, and various goldenrods (Solidago spp.) providing warm yellow tones to the landscape. Highlights of the walk were a tall New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) plant adding vibrant purple to the colors of the prairie, and down close to the ground were various violet (Viola sp.) and downy gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) plants.
Birds were active during the event, and the most striking was a Northern Harrier that flew around the north end of the prairie, giving spectators fabulous views of his distinct white rump. At the exact same time the next weekend, presumably the same harrier came and gave an equally impressive show to the new crop of prairie visitors, who got to see this bird from all corners of the prairie while out walking!
While showy asters and bright goldenrods are the usual stars of fall prairie walks, gentians are harder to find treats. Gentian plants were found at many of the prairie sites, some closed up and gone to seed for the season, and others in their final days of blooming. MPF Technical Advisor Jeff Cantrell led prairie walks at Carver Prairie on October 31st, and finally found a gentian plant after many trips to MPF prairies looking for them this fall.
Guests were encouraged to post photos of prairie plants and animals to iNaturalist, where the observations populate our new Community Science Biodiversity Projects, set up for each prairie location that was part of the picnic series. You can see a sampling of what has been observed through iNaturalist at the following MPF prairies: Snowball Hill Prairie, Golden Prairie, Friendly Prairie, La Petite Gemme Prairie, and Carver Prairie. iNaturalist is a great tool for identifying plants and animals as well, since it can offer ID suggestions when a photo is uploaded.
–By Brooke Widmar
MPF Director of Administrative Operations & Member Engagement