Wildflower Center Family Garden Welcomes Young Invasive Hunters

Young Austin naturalists train in the Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Young Austin naturalists train in the Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This month I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Plants and Play event—the first Nature Nights of the summer at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center! This was the first time that a Nature Nights event was held outdoors at the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden. I had a great time and here’s a collection of pictures from that night.

Kids training to become Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights

Kids training to become Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights

Lots of great kids came to visit with me to learn how to become invasive hunters.  They especially enjoyed picking out a prize upon their “graduation” from the Academy.

Kids training in the visual identification of invasive species

Kids training in the visual identification of invasive species

It’s always so much fun to play the identification game with the kids where they have to guess whether a plant is an invasive or a native.  Many times they guess right about identifying native plants, especially when it comes to the Texas Bluebonnet!  Even the parents get involved and are often surprised that they have an invasive growing in their yard.  And it’s often Elephant Ear!

Kids practicing their invasive hunter moves

Kids practicing their invasive hunter moves

As the kids and I progress through the Academy, I teach them the Taekwondo moves that they are going to need to take down those pesky invasives.

Kids working on their invasive hunter action dioramas

Kids working on their invasive hunter action dioramas

The final step of the Academy is where the kids get to create their own action diorama with their character battling an invasive plant species.

Kids learning how to create the popup feature for their invasive hunter action dioramas

Kids learning how to create the popup feature for their invasive hunter action dioramas

As I explained to the future invasive hunters how to make the dioramas, I described the invasive hunter character as a “he”…but then one of the girls piped up…”or a she!”  How right she was.  Anyone can be an invasive hunter and her enthusiasm proved it!

Invasive Hunter graduate (yea!) points out invasive species he's seen

Invasive Hunter graduate (yea!) points out invasive species he’s seen

Thanks Mr. Justin Bush, invasive species coordinator for the Wildflower Center, for the invasive species books and brochures that I could pass out to kids. This young invasive hunter talked with me about the invasive species that he saw around Austin.

HEB volunteers couldn't resist joining the fight against invasive species

HEB volunteers couldn’t resist joining the fight against invasive species

Our HEB supermarket chain is a generous sponsor of Nature Nights and of other Austin nature events for kids, including Earth Week at St. Edwards University.

Play or hop across dinosaur creek at the Wildflower Center

Play or hop across dinosaur creek at the Wildflower Center

I loved the creek at the Wildflower Center. It’s as much fun for kids to wander along (or play in) as the water features at the Austin Nature Center.

Waterfall at the Wildflower Center's Luci and Ian Family Garden

Waterfall at the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden

The waterfall in the Hill Country Grotto that’s part of the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden is a great place to hide.

Coyote statues at the Wildflower Center

Coyote statues at the Wildflower Center

The bronze coyote statues were popular for kids to play on during the night. My Invasive Hunter Academy was set up near these coyotes, and I remember one boy telling his mom that Medusa was here.

I love dogs. Here’s my dog, Obi Wan.

It's fun to relax in the huge bird nests at the Wildflower Center

It’s fun to relax in the huge bird nests at the Wildflower Center

When you visit the Luci and Ian Family Garden don’t forget to visit “The Nests”.  They were one of the highlights of the new garden.

Bill Oliver and the Otter Space Band join Commander Ben to help protect our native ecosystem

Bill Oliver and the Otter Space Band join Commander Ben to help protect our native ecosystem

It was great to see Bill Oliver (“Mr. Habitat”) and his Otter Space Band performing at the Wildflower Center. I first met Mr. Habitat at this year’s Milam County Nature Festival.

Past Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben and Julie Graham prepare their Invasive Hunter moves during the Wildflower Center's Nature Nights

Commander Ben and Julie Graham prepare their Invasive Hunter moves during the Wildflower Center’s Nature Nights

Thanks, Ms. Julie Graham, Education Specialist at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, for inviting me to be part of my third Nature Nights. What a wonderful honor!

Wildflower Center Nature Nights - Plant and Play event information on the web

Wildflower Center Nature Nights – Plant and Play event information on the web

Here’s my blog post previewing my 2014 visit to Nature Nights:

Wildflower Center Nature Nights - Plant and Play event sign

Wildflower Center Nature Nights – Plant and Play event sign

And here are posts from my previous Nature Nights visits:

More adventures for Austin kids this summer

There are lots more Nature Nights to enjoy this summer through July 24 (with a break for the Fourth of July week). Here’s a full list of events, including tonight’s event on water, which should be lots of fun with the waterfall and Dinosaur Creek that’s part of the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden.

  • June 12: Plants and play
  • June 19: Fossils
  • June 26: Wondrous water
  • July 10: Snakes
  • July 17: Wildlife tracking
  • July 24: Birds of Prey

Hope you’re having a great summer!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Nature and Science Center, Invasive Hunter Academy, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights

Which invasive species will you battle at the Wildflower Center?

Wanted: Invasive species - Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

Wanted: Invasive species – Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

This week starts a summer of fun at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. On Thursday, June 12, from 5-8 p.m. the Wildflower Center kicks off the first Nature Nights of 2014 with a focus on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. (The garden is new to the Wildflower Center this year, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it with all the kids.)

There will be lots of free kids activities, including habitat hikes, a scavenger hunt, big bubbles (oooh! I’m liking this!), ring toss, and lots more. You’ll even meet local nature celebrities, including Bill Oliver and The Otter Space Band. (I first met Mr. Oliver at this spring’s Milam County Nature Festival.)

Invasive species at the Wildflower Center?

There are a few plants that I’m sure will not be part of the plant petting zoo during Nature Nights, and they’re all invasives!

You can do your part to help stop the spread of these non-native plant species from overrunning our native ecosystem.

As part of my Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights, kids will get the chance to learn about invasive species and their impact on our environment through these fun activities:

  • Visual activities (Is that an invasive or native plant that I see?)
  • Action moves (I attended my taekwondo class last night to brush up on the moves that I’ll teach you!)
  • Creating an action diorama featuring you battling an invasive species (You can take this home along with some other surprises!)

Graduates from the academy become Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystems. We need young naturalists (like you and kids you know!) to become guardians of our central Texas galaxy!

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Wildflower Center

Young Naturalists, Buffalo Grass, and the Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben talks about invasive species at Milano Elementary School

Commander Ben talks about invasive species at Milano Elementary School

This spring, I was honored to be invited back to the Milam County Nature Festival by Dr. John Pruett, a Texas Master Naturalist and a wonderful friend. I was happy to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to the festival to help train more kids to become protectors of our native ecosystem.

A visit to talk with young naturalists at Milano Elementary School

Young naturalists ask questions at Milano Elementary School

Young naturalists ask questions at Milano Elementary School

On Friday, April 11, I talked with students from the Milano Elementary School prior to the nature festival on Saturday. With help from the school’s Apple tech guru, I hooked up my iPad to the school’s projector and readied my Keynote presentation as the kids filled the gymnasium.

Principal Ruth Davenport gave me a wonderful introduction, and I talked to the students about invasive species and how I learned about them, especially in the field. I also showed videos from my Battles with Invasive Species series. At the end of my presentation, the kids had a lot of questions. (A few of them reminded me of the fun questions that kids asked during my invasive species talk last year at the Rockdale Intermediate School.)

Principal Ruth Davenport, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett

Principal Ruth Davenport, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett

Thanks, Principal Davenport and Dr. Pruett, for inviting me to talk to the kids at the Milano Elementary School. I had an enjoyable time and I hope the kids did too.

What are good native grasses for Central Texas?

Buffalo grass: A great native Texas grass (Photo credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Buffalo grass: A great native Texas grass (Photo credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

One of the student’s parents asked me if there were any good native grasses that could replace St. Augustine.

Buffalo grass is an excellent replacement for the water loving St. Augustine, and there are two varieties: 609 or Stampede. Both need full sun, and they don’t require much water. That’s good news, because we’re still in a drought in Texas!

Learn more about native plants:

5th Annual Milam County Nature Festival

Young invasive hunters working on their battle diorama

Young invasive hunters working on their battle diorama

On Saturday, April 12th, I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Milam County Nature Festival at Rockdale Fair Park. I had another great time like last year and saw the crayfish exhibit again too!

Learn how to build a butterfly garden

Learn how to build a butterfly garden

There were many exhibits at the festival where you could learn about nature. As part of this year’s habitat conservation theme, you could learn about building a butterfly garden and another where you could match up birds on an electronic board.

Bill Oliver, his catfish, and Commander Ben

Bill Oliver, his catfish, and Commander Ben

I met “Mr. Habitat” Bill Oliver with his Otter Space Band. They entertained the crowd with their music and gave warm shout outs to people at the festival.

Lions Clubs of Milam County provided eye screening for children

Lions Clubs of Milam County provided eye screening for children

During the festival, Dr. Pruett worked with the Lions Clubs of Milam County to perform free eye screenings, called Spot Vision, for children ranging in ages from 9 months to 5 years. Their eye device would provide a printout that parents could take to eye doctors for more review or action.

Read more about my 2013 visit to the nature festival:

Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center

Speaking of the Wildflower Center, if you didn’t get a chance to attend nature festivals earlier this year and want to learn more about plants and invasive species, join me on Thursday, June 12, at the Wildflower Center.

I’ll be bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights, and the first night of the free summer long series focuses on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. There will be lots of fun activities for kids of all ages, and kids under 12 will want to stop by the gift shop to receive something special during each event.

I had a great time with the kids at Nature Nights last year, and I hope to see you there next week!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Milano Elementary School, Nature Nights, Rockdale Fair Park, Uncategorized

How I Learned Biology with my Textbook, iBook and Audiobook

Miller and Levine Biology book on the iPad - A must!

Miller and Levine Biology book on the iPad – A must!

I finished up my high school freshman finals yesterday with a 100 on my biology final exam. Yea! My favorite subject this year was..yes, you guessed it…biology!

I had a fantastic time learning about biology, and here are just some of the topics that we studied during the year:

  • Ecology: Plants are autotrophs, which means they produce food from solar energy. They’re primary producers and very tasty to heterotrophs like us, since we get our food from consuming plants and other living things.
  • Cells: We have eukaryotic cells, which means our DNA is enclosed in a nucleus, unlike prokaryotic cells.
  • Genetics: A round of applause to Father Gregor Mendel for founding the science of modern genetics and for his experiments with pea plants. (They were easy to grow for the study dominant and recessive genes.)
  • Evolution: Ah. What fun it would have been to be on the HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin in 1831 and be able to explore nature, so new and mysterious. (I learned about Darwin’s Finches at a Science Under the Stars activity at the UT Brackenridge Field Lab a few years ago.)
  • Plants: CO2 + H2O — sunlight –> C6H12O6 + O2 (Photosynthesis, need I say more?)
  • Animals: Who knew cladograms could be so interesting? Cnidarians, like jelly fish and sea anemones, are the simplest animals to have radial body symmetry.
  • Human body: Thanks hypothalamus for monitoring concentrations of water in my blood and releasing more antidiuretic hormone (ADH) to let me know I’m thirsty.

Miller and Levine Biology Textbook, iBook, and Audiobook

We used the Biology textbook by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine. Although the book is wonderfully written with great illustrations, it wasn’t easy for me to learn from with my dyslexia. Fortunately, I was able to to get the iBook version from iTunes and the audiobook version from Learning Ally.

I liked being able to select portions of the iBook version and have my iPad read the text out loud to me. Unfortunately, it couldn’t read the text on pictures or diagrams, and that’s why it was helpful to have real people describing the drawings and reading the text in the Learning Ally audiobook that I also listened to using the Learning Ally iPhone app.

Miller and Levine Biology iBook quiz

Miller and Levine Biology iBook quiz

I also liked being able to take the quizzes with each iBook chapter to practice for my tests. (The iPad version is a lot lighter in the backpack too!)

Try this setup to be surrounded by all things biology: Have your printed biology textbook in front of you, your iBook on the iPad on your right, and your audiobook on your Learning Ally iPhone app to your left. Oh, and your herbarium on the wall in front of your desk!

(If you want to learn more about Learning Ally and what they and their many wonderful volunteers have done to help dyslexics and those with reading challenges, watch my YouTube video, The Sound of Reading.)

The iBook version of Miller and Levine’s biology book is only $15 on iTunes. Even if you’re not in high school, but you would like to learn about Biology in a fun and easy to understand way, the iBook version is well worth it.

As much as I love my iPad and audiobooks, I’m always going to treasure my printed textbook with all my notes, highlights, and well worn pages. Thank you Miller and Levine!

An awesome summer ahead

I’d also like to thank my wonderful teachers, especially my biology teacher, and my parents for all their help and encouragement this school year. I took a lot of walks with my Dad where we talked about what I learned in class, studied upcoming quizzes and tests, and talked about new advances in science. It was a great school year!

I really love science and I’m going to miss all the fun biology labs. (But I’m looking forward to some amazing chemistry labs coming up during my sophomore year.)

I hope you’ll join me for an awesome summer as I get caught up on my blog posts and videos on science, invasive species, and dyslexia. And I also hope you’ll help me kick off the summer at the first Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Thursday, June 12. I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to help train future invasive hunters and have fun with plants at the same time!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Biology, Dyslexia, High school, iBooks, Invasive Hunter Academy, iPad, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Learning Ally app, Nature Nights

Commander Ben calls for reinforcements to battle invasive species during American Heroes Days

I'm calling in the big guns for the battle against invasive species

I’m calling in the big guns for the battle against invasive species

Calling all Austin Invasive Hunters! Your native ecosystem needs you!

Join me this weekend (April 26-27) in Austin, Texas, during Camp Mabry’s 2014 American Heroes Days, which includes the Muster Days event and the Texas Military Forces Museum open house. This event traces its roots back to the days when Texas was still a republic and troops were “mustered” or called to report.

During American Heroes Days you’ll meet reenactors from all periods of Texas history and get to know their historical uniforms and equipment.

On both Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, you won’t want to miss the WWII battle reenactment, where you’ll find out about the troops and tactics that were used. I’ve been to these reenactments when I was younger and they are amazing!

Focus on Texas native species and cultural heritage

My thanks to Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager, for inviting me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to be part of event’s environmental section, focusing on Texas’ native species and cultural heritage. In addition to learning about our American heroes at Camp Mabry, young naturalists can also learn about invasive species and become official Invasive Hunters!

Parents and adults won’t want to miss talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He’ll also have a table to talk about the ways that you can treasure our native Texas plants and protect our native ecosystem.

This weekend’s going to be action packed!

Whirlwind of activity

I’ve brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to so many great events these last few weeks, that I haven’t had a chance to talk about them with you.

Look for my posts in the coming weeks where I share some of my experiences working with young naturalists and the Invasive Hunter Academy.

Hope to see you this weekend! :-)

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Heroes Day, Camp Mabry, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Linda Brown, Muster Days

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