Recent Educational Events at Commons Ford Prairie

Learning about Monarch Butterflies and the Travis Audubon Master Birder Program

If you have been out on the prairie lately, you may have noticed groups participating in educational opportunities uniquely suited to the native environment established at Commons Ford Prairie.

On October 13th, one of Dr. Amy Contillo’s classes from St. Edwards University visited the prairie to learn about the monarch butterfly migration and its habits from Steven (Chip) Harris, a Commons Ford Prairie Committee member. The monarch butterfly migrates an amazing +2,500 miles from Canada to Central Mexico each fall. The insect passes through Central Texas in mid-October, where it is often witnessed in mass numbers looking for blooming, native wildflowers on which to feed. Chip explained the life-cycle of the butterfly to students, discussed the importance of the plants as a source of fuel, and caught and tagged one insect at the end of the tour. A tagging and tracking system for the monarchs has been in place for many years by Monarch Watch, an organization dedicated to the science behind the monarch life-cycle and migration. If the tagged insect is found later, the number on the tag will be traced back to records showing it was caught, tagged, and recorded at the prairie in October in Central Texas. Monarch Watch can then determine the movements of the butterfly, helping to understand the incredible migratory habits of this insect.

Steven (Chip) Harris tagging a monarch butterfly. Tags can be obtained through

On October 21, Shelia Hargis and Ed Fair led a field trip for this fall’s Travis Audubon Society’s Master Birder Program (TAMBP). The Master Birder Program at Travis Audubon Society is designed to help participants increase their understanding of birds and their habitats, while also developing the skills and opportunities for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for birds and the natural world with others.This year’s group witnessed a Hepatic Tanger, which has been recently spotted at the prairie. Additionally, an Eastern Phoebe became friendly with one of the participants and Ed was able to photograph the bird in an unusual display of man-bird communion.

Eastern Phoebe on a participant’s cap

Travis Audubon launched their program in fall 2016. The training, similar to that of the Master Gardener’s Program, includes a series of in-class sessions, study assignments, several field trips, and volunteering and keeping up with continuing education credits for the first three years after completing the curriculum. The instruction is designed to focus on native habitat and vegetation, the distribution of bird species in the area, and conservation issues affecting those communities and species in Central Texas. Participants also receive special instruction on flight and bird behavior, anatomy, and migration.

Master Birders participate in a recent field trip at CFP