Austin Invasive Species in the spotlight at St. Edward’s University 2014 Earth Week

Our Place in Space: Sustainability, Stewardship and Community - Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward's University

Our Place in Space: Sustainability, Stewardship and Community – Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward’s University

If you love nature and you’re in Austin tomorrow, April 22, 2014, join in the “Our Place in Space: Sustainability, Stewardship and Community” – Earth Week 2014 festivities at St. Edward’s University.

There will be lots of environmentally friendly organizations, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Car2Go, Sierra Club, ecoRise, LCRA, Wheatsville Food Coop, and Austin Youth River Watch. They’ll have lots of information and fun events.

Invasive Hunter Academy

Join the Invasive Hunter Academy and be one of the few. The proud. The fighting naturalists!

Join the Invasive Hunter Academy and be one of the few. The proud. The fighting naturalists!

I’ll be helping to teach kids from nearby elementary schools about invasive species with my Invasive Hunter Academy. Get ready, Austin invasive plants! There are going to be a lot more Invasive Hunters ready to help to protect our native ecosystem after tomorrow.

Thanks to Ms. Phoebe Anne Romero with St. Edward’s University for inviting me to join in their Earth Week fun! And thanks too to HEB, our local grocery store. They are a generous sponsor of this event and many great environmental events around Austin, including Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I enjoyed collecting many stickers from HEBuddy to win great prizes when I was a young naturalist.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Earth Day, Earth Week, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Phoebe Anne Romero, St Edward's University

Fun Activities for Young Texas Naturalists at the Milam County Nature Festival

The 2014 Annual Milam County Nature Festival has fun and free nature activities for kids of all ages

The 2014 Annual Milam County Nature Festival has fun and free nature activities for kids of all ages

It’s spring…yea!…bringing life to nature, including our native plants and…ugh!…invasive species too. Invasive species have both economic and environmental costs. They crowd out our native plants, including our beautiful Texas wildflowers, and compete with our crops. We’ve got to protect our native ecosystem!

Commander Ben and his Invasive Hunter Academy before the start of the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben and his Invasive Hunter Academy before the start of the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Young naturalists, join me and I’ll show you how to become an expert Invasive Hunter with my Invasive Hunter Academy at the 5th Annual Milam County Nature Festival, April 11-12, 2014, at the Rockdale Fair Park in Rockdale, Texas. The event is free with lots of activities for kids of all ages!

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

I had a great time training young invasive hunters at last year’s festival. There were a lot of fun events in 2013, including a booth on crayfish. They’re fascinating invertebrates that I’ve always enjoyed and learned more about in my freshman high school biology class this year. (The Texas Crawdads exhibit will be back in 2014 too!)

Habitat conservation

The 2014 Milam County Nature Festival focuses on habitat conservation. In keeping with the festival theme, you’ll enjoy nature songs from “Mr. Habitat” Bill Oliver, the “Environmental Troubadour”, and you’ll find Mr. Doug Phillips with the US Fish and Wildlife service talking about wildlife habitat improvement, including a discussion of prescribed fires and vegetation management. Ms. Linda Ruiz-McCall, with UT Austin, will also be there to talk about water conservation with a ground water simulator that I’m sure will be fun to interact with.

In addition to the speakers, there will be tons of kids activities, including:

  • Angler education – Have fun learning how to cast for fish
  • Archaeology digs – I always enjoyed digging for treasures when I was younger
  • Knapping demonstrations – Making arrowheads is another fun activity
  • Mammal pelts and paws – Learn about Texas animals, see and touch their skulls and pelts, and create animal tracks with molds

And lots more!

Talking with kids about invasive species and dyslexia

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School in 2013

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School in 2013

Last year, I had a fantastic time talking with the kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School about my adventures as Commander Ben, “The Invasive Hunter”, and my experiences with dyslexia. This year, I’m really looking forward to talking with the students at the Milano Elementary School on Friday.

Thanks, Dr. John Pruett, for inviting me back to this year’s festival! I love working with all the master naturalists in the El Camino Real Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists, and I especially enjoy having fun with all the kids.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Doug Phillips, El Camino Real Chapter, Habitat conservation, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Milano Elementary School, Rockdale Fair Park, Rockdale Intermediate School, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Water conservation

Stop Monkeying Around: Primate Social Behavior

Amazonian Primate (Photo credit: UT Austin - Environmental Science Institute.)

Amazonian Primate (Photo credit: UT Austin – Environmental Science Institute.)

Science is my favorite subject, and this spring in my high school freshman biology class, I’ve been learning about plants, the diversity of animals, evolution, and more.

We learned about the common characteristics that all primates share: fingers and toes with nails, not claws; arms that rotate around a shoulder joint; binocular vision; and a well-developed cerebrum, which is helpful for complex thinking.

We’re now studying the different systems of the human body, including the nervous and skeletal systems. (We have 206 bones in our adult human skeleton!)

Primate evolution and the evolution of senses

When I was a young naturalist (younger than I am now), I had the chance to interview Dr. Chris Kirk before his “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye” presentation. Dr. Kirk is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and his talk was part of the Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute.

Primate social behavior

There are more awesome anthropological presentations in store with Hot Science – Cool Talks! You can learn more about primate social behavior with Dr. Anthony Di Fiore during his presentation this Friday, April 4, 2014. A Professor of Biological Anthropology and the Chair of the UT Austin Department of Anthropology, Dr. Di Fiore will talk about the monkeys that he’s studying in the Amazonian Ecuador and how their native ecosystem helps to shape their behavior and society.

His presentation starts at 7:00 pm in Welch Hall on the UT Austin campus, but be sure to arrive early, because the pre-lecture fair, full of fun kids activities and learning, starts at 5:45 pm.

It’s the last Hot Science event of the spring 2014 semester, so don’t monkey around and miss out on this Cool Talk!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Anthony Di Fiore, Department of Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Chris Kirk, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Hot Science - Cool Talks, My Eye Your Eye and the Eye of the Aye-Aye, Primate social behavior

Invasive Hunters and Surprises at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

I had such a great time at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference that was held last month at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. I gave my invasive species presentation in the institute’s auditorium, talked with lots of scientists, and received such a great surprise!

Adventures with invasive species presentation

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

My presentation at this year’s conference was entitled, “Adventures with Invasive Species and the Invasive Hunter Academy”. I talked about how I use social media and my many science videos to educate kids about invasive species. With each of my Battles with Invasive Species videos, I created a character and focused on a specific invasive species that kids could learn from and remember.

For example, you’ve heard of grumpy cat. Here’s my grumpy scientist character who starred in two of my invasive species videos:

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character's wide range of emotions

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character’s wide range of emotions

Looking for a fun activity for in-person events led me to create the Invasive Hunter Academy, which I described in my presentation. Since I’m dyslexic, I talked about how I wanted to create a multi-sensory approach to helping kids learn through visual matching, physical activities, and creative crafts. I shared my many successes taking the academy to the US Botanic Gardens in Washington D.C. and to many nature events across Texas.

Graduates from the academy have fun, create an action diorama they can bring home, and become official Invasive Hunters!

I fielded many great questions from the audience, including how my videos can be used in school science classrooms. (Please feel free to use them to help kids learn more about invasive species!) I also received a warm invitation from Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager with the Texas Military Department, to bring my academy to Camp Mabry!

Scientists gathered from across Texas and the nation

There were many great talks from scientists who are helping to research and control invasive species in Texas. Here are just a few of the presentations from some of the scientists that I had a chance to talk with at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference and at the 2011 conference.

Adding species to Texas’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

At this year’s conference, Dr. Damon Waitt led the Leadership and Coordination sessions and he gave a presentation on The Texas Invasive Plant Inventory and Efforts to Add Plant Species to TDA’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List.

Dr. Waitt is the Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, and he talked about the successes and challenges for listing invasive species for inclusion on the State of Texas’ Noxious and Invasive Plants list.

Dr. Waitt talked about two invasive plant species that were added to the state’s list:

Dr. Waitt has been a great mentor to me as I’ve learned about invasive species. Here are a few of my blog posts with Dr. Waitt:

Update on invasive species in Texas

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

As with the 2011 conference, Dr. Earl W. Chilton gave a wonderful status update on invasive species in Texas with a special focus on aquatic invasives, including the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Dr. Chilton is the Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program Director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Around Central Texas, Dr. Chilton talked about Austin’s successful efforts to bring Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) under control in Lake Austin. He also talked about how scientists found Salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima) near Lake Travis. Unfortunately, fire ants are attacking the larva of the leaf beetles that have been helping to control the spread of Salt cedar across Texas.

At the last conference when I was just a budding invasive hunter, Dr. Chilton talked with me about Reeling in the Top Aquatic Invasive Species in Texas.

Institute for the Study of Invasive Species

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook is the Associate Vice President for Research at Sam Houston State University. He served as the program chair for this year’s conference, and he talked about the university’s Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS). He was also part of two presentations at the conference:

I was happy to catch up with Dr. Cook at this year’s conference. I had a chance to create a video interview with him at the 2011 conference to talk about his New Institute for the Study of Invasive Species: Early Detection, Rapid Response.

Coordinating invasive species across Texas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

During the conference and at the evening dinner, I had a great time talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He has a background working on controlling aquatic and terrestrial invasive species and on habitat restoration projects.

With the Wildflower Center, he works on invasive species projects in Texas and on many parts of the Texas Invasives website, including reviewing pictures and sightings of invasive species uploaded by citizen scientists in their Invasives database.

Mr. Bush helped organize the many workshops for this year’s conference. He was very kind and encouraging, and I’m excited to work with Mr. Bush and the Wildflower Center in the future.

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More invasive species presentations

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Since I could only attend one day of the conference (since I didn’t want to miss my high school biology class!), I didn’t get a chance to talk with all of the scientists. Here are just a few of the presenters and session chairs with links to videos where I had a chance to interview them during the last 2011 conference.

There were so many great presentations and sessions at the conference that I can’t list them all. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful conference, including everyone I’ve already mentioned, plus Jim Houser, Alex Mathes, Scott Walker, Trey Wyatt, Mike Murphrey, Autumn Smith-Herron, and Sara Pelleteri.

Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

I received such a wonderful surprise at Thursday night’s conference dinner! In addition to receiving a presentation award, the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council presented me with the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award!

Wow! I was so honored to receive this award and for all the kind words. It was so heartwarming to hear from a scientist that I was “one of the team!”

Thanks, TIPPC, for the award! I’m so happy that my work to help educate kids about invasive species has had an impact, and I’ll continue to train more invasive hunters to help protect and treasure our native ecosystems.

Invasive Hunter Academy: Spring events

Speaking of the Invasive Hunter Academy, I’m excited to announce that there will be lots of chances for you be part of the academy this spring:

These events are a great chance for kids of all ages to learn about invasive species, have fun with nature, and learn about Texas history. Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2014 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Camp Mabry, Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Dr. Stephen Clarke, Earl Chilton, Hydrilla, Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS), Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Japanese Climbing Fern, Jerry Cook, Justin Bush, Karen Clary, Luci Cook-Hildreth, Marine Science Institute, Milam County Nature Festival, Ronald Billings, Saltcedar, Sam Houston State University, Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council, Texas Invasives, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, University of Texas, Zebra Mussel

Invasive Species Are on the Run at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

Commander Ben searches his Sherlock mind palace for ways to defeat invasive species

Commander Ben searches his Sherlock Mind Palace for ways to defeat invasive species

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be presenting at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference this month!

I’ll be talking about “Adventures with Invasive Species and the Invasive Hunter Academy” in the auditorium at the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas, on February 27, 2014.

If you’re a scientist, citizen scientist, Texas naturalist, or Taekwondo-wearing invasive hunter, this is a conference that you won’t want to miss! The conference is a great opportunity to learn about invasive plants, insects, and other pests across Texas.

2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest conference

Commander Ben rallies scientists at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

I was privileged to attend and present at the last Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference that was held at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center from November 8-10, 2011. I had started creating my Battles with Invasive Species video series earlier that year and receiving great feedback from kids and scientists across the country.

My presentation was entitled, “Origin of an invasive hunter: Educating kids of all ages about invasives”. Apple’s Siri had just come out, and I used the then new iPhone 4s to invite my invasive species loving nemesis, Baron Neb, to lunch with me at the conference. (He was too scared to attend.)

I had a great time at the conference. Many scientists were very friendly and generous with their time to create videos with me and talk about their work with invasive species.

Here are some previous posts about the 2011 conference:

2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest conference

Since my 2011 talk, I’ve learned more about invasive species and created the Invasive Hunter Academy. (Also started high school in the fall of 2013!) With the Academy, I’ve been able to bring fun activities to help educate kids about invasive species at in-person events in Texas and across the country.

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reed invasive plants.

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reeds

Because of my successful outreach to help budding naturalists appreciate their native ecosystems and learn about the problems of invasive species, I was honored in 2013 to be awarded the “Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer” from the National Invasive Species Council. (Terrestrial sounds cool. It means on the land, where I’ve battled many invasive species. Although I must confess straying into riparian habitats from time to time in my pursuit of the Giant Reed too.)

Unfortunately, the government had shut down just before the start of National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW), and I wasn’t able to go to Washington D.C. to attend the festivities and meet other scientists. I also missed not going back to the U.S. Botanic Gardens or the International Spy Museum. Drat! :-(

Eco-Hero Commander Ben talks about his work with invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

Eco-Hero Commander Ben talks about his work with invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

In 2013, I also was honored to receive an International Young Eco Hero award from Action for Nature. I had a great time meeting other scientists and young naturalists and talking at their annual conference at the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco, California.

For my 2014 conference presentation, I’ll talk about my experiences creating the Invasive Hunter Academy, filming Battle with Invasive Species videos, and educating kids about invasive species. As part of the Academy, kids can create an action diorama showing themselves battling an invasive plant. Which plant do they pick most often? You’ll have to come to my presentation to find out. :-)

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Do you have a favorite (I mean worse) invasive species in Texas? If so, let me know in the comments below!

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award, 2014 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Action for Nature, Battles with Invasive Species, Eco-Hero, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species Award, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Marine Science Institute, National Invasive Species Council, University of Texas

Calling All Young Eco-Heroes – Action for Nature Needs You

Eco-Hero Commander Ben talks about his work with invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

Eco-Hero Commander Ben talks about his work with invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

Last year, I was honored to be selected as an International Young Eco-Hero by Action for Nature.

I was invited to talk at their 11th annual awards ceremony in October at the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco, California. I gave a presentation about my work protecting our native ecosystem and educating kids of all ages about invasive species in a fun and engaging way, through my Commander Ben blog, InvasiveHunter Twitter account, YouTube channel, and Invasive Hunter Academy.

Getting ready to talk about invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

Getting ready to talk about invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

Here I am getting ready for my invasive species presentation. Two other Eco-hero winners, Malcom Barnard and Eric Bear, also talked about their work as environmental role models. I was also glad to meet 2009 Eco-Hero Kevin Huo who talked about his latest work.

Ben Shrader, Brent Plater, and Kevin Huo during the Action for Nature Awards Reception

Ben Shrader, Brent Plater, and Kevin Huo during the Action for Nature Awards Reception

Mr. Brent Plater, Executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute, gave an inspiring keynote, “From I to We: Building a just and sustainable world for people, plants, and animals that accompany us on earth.”

Adrienne Scroggie, Benjamin Shrader, and Shimon Schwarzschild

Adrienne Scroggie, Benjamin Shrader, and Shimon Schwarzschild

I met many great naturalists there including Action for Nature Founder Shimon Schwarzschild, President Beryl Kay, and board member Adrienne Scroggie. I enjoyed talking with Mr. Shimon Schwarzschild about his environmental work with birds and nature preserves and about St. Francis’ special connection with nature.

Action for Nature President Beryl Kay with Benjamin Shrader

Action for Nature President Beryl Kay with Benjamin Shrader

Thanks President Beryl Kay and the Action for Nature board for selecting me to join the distinguished ranks of the Eco-Heroes!

Become a 2014 International Young Eco-Hero

actionfornature_ecohero

Are you a young naturalist between the ages of 8-16 whose work has helped to protect our environment? If so, then don’t miss out on applying to become a 2014 Eco-Hero! Submit your application before January 31, 2014, and describe your environmental work and how you’ve helped to protect the plants, animals, and ecosystems that we all share.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Action for Nature, Adrienne Scroggie, Beryl Kay, Eco-Hero, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Shimon Schwarzschild

How the Embracing Dyslexia Film Found Success with Kickstarter

The Embracing Dyslexia film found success with Kickstarter, but not right away. Director Luis Macias shared his experiences with crowd funding during my interview with him during the Texas Book Festival.

Failing the first time

When he first set out planning for his film, Mr. Macias knew about Kickstarter and crowd funding, but his first foray with a Kickstarter project met with failure.

He just had a video of himself looking at the camera explaining what his project was and what he wanted to accomplish. He raised about only $7000 out of his $24,000 goal.  Not having met his goal, his fundraising efforts failed and he would have to start all over again.

But his first project’s failure provided him with valuable experience. He discovered that it was important to have your base, people who know about you and your project. You also want to have a video to show some of the work that you’ve done.

Success the second time around

After his first project ended without funding, he reached out to the people who had initially supported his project to see if they were still interested in donating. If so, they could do so through his website, and Mr. Macias raised about $5500 that way.

That was enough to help him get started and take the first trip for his film.

When he tried his second Kickstarter project, he had Twitter and Facebook up and running, as well as people who already knew about the project. He also had some filming that he already took and he was able to put together a trailer for his project pitch.

At the end of his funding period, he raised $13,600.  $1,600 over his new goal of $12,000, making his Kickstarter project a success, which helped him finish his film.

Film experience

Mr. Macias loves films, and he is a video editor with many years of producing documentaries and corporate videos.

To film Embracing Dyslexia, he didn’t want to go the regular video camera route because he couldn’t get the film quality he wanted. Instead, he shot his film with two DSLRs, still cameras that also record HD video.

Mr. Macias he went out with his cinematographer, who handled the cameras. Mr. Macias handled the sound and helped with the lighting.

Video interviews with the Embracing Dyslexia film director

Watch the entire video series with Luis Macias and learn more about his film and dyslexia.

Additional posts and videos with students from the Rawson Saunders School during the Texas Book Festival:

Thanks, Mr. Macias, for creating your Embracing Dyslexia film to help educate parents, students, and educators about dyslexia.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Dyslexia, Dyslexic, Embracing Dyslexia, Kickstarter, Luis Macias