May 2022
Note from the Environmental Education Center

Spring is in the air, and the season always brings a fresh cheerfulness to the park. The pleasant temperatures are a delight and entice us to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. The warmer temperatures also stimulate the growth of new plants on the ground and new leaves on the trees. A succession of wildflowers brightens the park with blooms in a variety of colors, ever changing as the season advances. Migrant birds and butterflies add their own splash of color, and the air is filled with the songs of birds and the calls of frogs.
It is a great time to come out and enjoy all that John Paul Landing Park has to offer. Walk or bicycle on our paved trails, go fishing in the lake, or bird watch on one of our guided bird walks. The Environmental Education Center will be a polling location for the Uniform Election on Saturday, May 7, so you can cast your ballot and get a dose of nature at the same time! Center staff is always happy to answer questions and hear about your recent nature observations, so we hope you will stop by and visit when you are in the park. 

Photo by Megan Ahlgren
Test Your Knowledge
Which of the following is not true about dandelions?
They are edible, and almost every part of the plant can be consumed in some way.
They are an important early spring source of nectar for pollinators.
All our dandelions are native species.
Scroll to the bottom for the answer!
Backyard Naturalists – Surveying Purple Martin Houses

Saturday, May 14
from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Registration required. Contact John Paul Landing Environmental Education Center at johnpaullanding@hcp4.net or call 713-274-3131.
A Closer Look at Nature – The Cleverness of Crows

Wednesday, May 25
from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Registration required. Contact John Paul Landing Environmental Education Center at johnpaullanding@hcp4.net or call 713-274-3131.
Nature Discussion Group “A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds” by Scott Weidensaul

Thursday, May 26
from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Registration required. Contact John Paul Landing Environmental Education Center at johnpaullanding@hcp4.net or call 713-274-3131.
Lakeside Read
Purple Martins
Purple martins, North America’s largest species of swallow, are named for the dark bluish-purple sheen of the males. The females are duller than males, with gray on the head and chest, and a white belly. Purple martins winter in Brazil, Bolivia, and parts of Peru, and return north to the United States and Canada to breed.
They are one of our first spring migrants here in Texas, with some arriving as early as the end of January. Older birds, often called “scouts,” are the first to return to the breeding grounds. Like other swallows, purple martins are aerial insectivores, carrying out their feeding, drinking, and even bathing on the wing. As they fly through the air and return to nesting sites, their boisterous song is sure to get your attention. Purple martins are colonial nesters and have transitioned from using hollow trees in the wild to relying on human-provided nesting sites. These days, being a purple martin “landlord” has become quite popular. Since this species likes to be around water, John Paul Landing is the perfect place for these man-made martin houses. We added a number of such houses around the lake, and it didn’t take long for the purple martins to put nearly all of them to use. An annual survey of the houses during the peak of nesting season helps us determine which ones are being used. If you would like to help with this year’s survey and learn more about purple martins, join us for Backyard Naturalists, Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m. - 11 a.m.

Photo by Megan Algren
Discussion Preview:
Wonders of Bird Migration
Every year, billions of birds circumnavigate the globe. Some cross the oceans, some fly over the highest mountains, and others stay aloft for weeks on end. We are just beginning to understand these incredible journeys, how the birds navigate, and how they are physically capable of accomplishing what seems to us to be impossible. On Thursday, May 26, 12:30-1:30 p.m., we will review “A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds” by Scott Weidensaul. Join us as we discuss extraordinary feats of migration and the challenges faced by migratory birds.

Photo by Frank Farese
Did You Know?
Answer to Your Knowledge Test
Which of the following is not true about dandelions?
  • They are edible, and almost every part of the plant can be consumed in some way.
  • They are an important early spring source of nectar for pollinators.
  • All our dandelions are native species.

All our dandelions are native species.

Some of the flowers we call “dandelions” are native species, but the quintessential dandelion is not. 
The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is native to Europe and Asia. It was brought to North America in the mid-1600s by European settlers as a food crop and medicinal herb.
Other native species are sometimes mistaken for the common dandelion. One of these is the Texas dandelion, also called “false dandelion.” While this prevalent flower is in the dandelion tribe, it is technically a type of desert chicory.
Despite their reputation as weeds, these plants have a number of benefits. Their abundant early blooms provide an important source of nectar and pollen for insects, before many other wildflower species have begun to bloom.
Although bitter, dandelions can be consumed by humans. The leaves can be eaten or made into a salad, the flowers can be used to garnish a salad or made into wine, and the roots can be dried to make tea or a coffee substitute. 

Photo by Megan Ahlgren
Volunteer Spotlight
Our dedicated woodworker volunteers have put the finishing touch on a wingspan display in the Environmental Education Center. The final addition was a “What’s Your Wingspan?” title, mounted in the form of clouds that float above numerous bird silhouettes. Thanks to the hard work of these volunteers, visitors of all ages will enjoy comparing their “wingspan” with a variety of bird species. If you are interested in volunteering at John Paul Landing, contact the Environmental Education Center at 713-274-3131.
Photo by Kendra Kocab
Harris County Precinct 4
Commissioner R. Jack Cagle

Thank you for reading this monthly newsletter from the staff at John Paul Landing Park & Environmental Education Center. I hope you learned something new about our services, activities, and programs.

As your county commissioner, I’m proud of the work your Precinct 4 staff and volunteers perform every day to improve access to greenspaces. We pledge to continue this service in the future. 

Please stay tuned for our next issue to learn more about our events, activities, and news!