Category Archives: Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

Get to Know Austin’s Conservation Wildlands

Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Program Manager with the City of Austin’s Water Quality Protection Lands, talked with KXAN about converting the City of Austin’s wildlands back to their native state. In the video, you’ll learn about prescribed burns on the lands and how native people used the native Prickly Ash or toothache tree.

You’ll also learn about their efforts to get rid of invasive plants like King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem). (Sounds like a job for your friendly-neighborhood Amazing Invasive Hunter Man.)

The Austin conservation wildlands include the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), which includes habitat for the endangered Golden Cheek Warbler, and Water Quality Protection Lands (WQPL) that include lands that help to feed the Barton Springs Aquifer.

Water is so important to Central Texas. The Texas Water Resources Institute describes how protecting our land helps to protect our water. (The Colorado River Alliance also helps to keep the water in Lake Travis clean.)

I’ve had a chance to go on many hikes and volunteer with Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division. Here are a few of the posts on my past adventures on the BCP and WQPL:

Take a hike on Wildland Conservation Division lands

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

Spring is the best time to take a guided hike on the water quality lands. Plants are green. Flowers are blooming. Water’s flowing. There’s a lot of life, birds and insects.

Normally, the BCP and WQPL lands are not open to the public to protect the land for endangered species and water quality, but there are many hikes that you can take with experienced guides to enjoy the lands and learn about the diverse plants and animals that inhabit these unique ecosystems.

In the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, April guided hikes include:

  • 4/26 – Finding Austin’s Endangered ones

On the Water Quality Protection Lands, April guided hikes include:

  • 4/10 – Scenic Springs and Hidden Vistas
  • 4/11 – Onion Creek Exploration
  • 4/11 – Sunset at Slaughter Creek
  • 4/24 – Big Views at Little Barton
  • 4/25 – Insect Safari

Sign up for a guided hike with the Wildland Conservation Division.

You can also help to remove the Invasive Star Thistle and volunteer for other activities on Austin Wildland Conservation Lands.

To learn about upcoming events, be sure to join the Wildland Conservation Division email list to get the latest updates from Ms. Amanda Ross, volunteer coordinator with the City of Austin.

I hope you’ll have fun with one of these hikes this spring!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, City of Austin, Dr. Kevin Thuesen, King Ranch Bluestem, Water Quality Protection Land

Insurgent Chinese Privet Attempts Invasive Species Comeback

In October 2011, I had a chance to work with biologist Chis Warren and a group of Austin volunteers to help clear out Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) from the Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP). I talked about our exploits last year in Titanic Struggle with Chinese Privet Ends with Their Doom.

In August 2012, I returned to the Long Canyon portion of the BCP with volunteers from the Austin Invasive Species Corps to hunt down Chinese Privet plants that were attempting a comeback, such as from the stumps that we cut down earlier or from berries that were buried underground.

It’s important to remove Chinese Privet and other invasive species from the BCP to help protect the native habitat of the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

Commander Ben and biologist Chris Warren taking a break from battling Chinese Privet.

Mr. Warren talked with me about the progress that they made since last year, and in the video from our August 2012 adventures, he describes the Chinese Privet’s distinguishing features.

For example, did you know that in Central Texas, most invasive plants have leaves and branches that are strongly opposite from each other, and many native plants have alternating leaves and branches?

Cut stump of Chinese Privet, an invasive species on the Balcones Canyonland Preserve.

In the video, you’ll also learn why invasive species have a built in advantage over natives, such as cheap, quick growth and the lack of natural predators.

Learn more about my past adventures on the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve:

The Austin Invasive Species Corps Wants You

Would you like the enjoyment…ah…satisfaction of protecting your native ecosystem and pulling an invasive plant out of the ground with a weed wrench or other nature defense weapon of your choice?

You can!

On Saturday, September 29th, join Austin Wildlands and the Austin Parks Foundation to help clear invasive species from the BCP and around Austin as part of National Public Lands Day. You can also help to restore Black-capped Vireo habitat in the BCP, help prairie seeding restoration on Water Quality Protection Lands in Northern Hays County, and many other great volunteer activities!

Update: Because of heavy rain expected on September 29, the clean up for National Public Lands Day was postponed to October 6.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

2 Comments

Filed under Austin Invasive Species Corps, Austin Parks Foundation, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Barton Creek Greenbelt, BCP, BCP wildland conservation, Black-capped Vireo, Chinese Privet, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, Endangered Species, Golden Cheeked Warbler, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Ligustrum, Long Canyon, Mr. Chris Warren, National Public Lands Day 2012, Water Quality Protection Land, Weed wrench

Adventures with Austin’s Invasive Species Corps

Last weekend, I joined the Austin Invasive Species Corps to identify locations of Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense), an invasive species invading in the Long Canyon portion of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP).

I was happy to talk again with Mr. Chris Warren, a biologist with the BCP, and see the area that we helped to clear last year in my video, Titanic Struggle with Chinese Privet Ends with their Doom. (I’ll post another great video interview with him soon!)

Commander Ben and Biologist Chris Warren examine a small Chinese Privet.

It was nice to see a lot of native plants starting to grow back in the open spaces that the Chinese Privet plants used to occupy. We had pulled up a lot, but more were starting to creep back in and there were other areas too where the Ligustrum overran the native plants. (Sometimes the biologists in our group would call Chinese Privet by its scientific name, Ligustrum.)

Pulling up Chinese Privet with a weed wrench.

We used special weed wrenches to hand pull as much Chinese Privet as we could find. These heavy tools help to pull up the plant, roots and all, otherwise it could grow back from a stump.

It was a fun day filled with hunting invasives, hard work, and listening also to some wonderful presentations from many different people who are experts in the field of invasive species.

Know your invasive species: Chinese Privet

Small Chinese Privet plant (But they get much bigger!)

Chinese Privet is a woody bush with green leaves that break off easily and has lots of shoots growing out from the stalk.  It can sometimes be confused with the following native plants:

  • Elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens)
    How to tell them apart: Elbow Bush has branches that grow at 90 degree angles
  • Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)
    How to tell them apart: The Yaupon has a tooth edge leaf instead of smooth edge leaf like the Chinese privet.

Unfortunately, Chinese Privet invaded the lower area of Long Canyon where it crowded out the native plants to create a monoculture.  Seeds from “Godzilla” sized Chinese Privet that were planted in the landscapes of homes up on a ridge, washed downhill, grew, and quickly multiplied.  This process happens over and over again when it rains and when birds carry the seed berries too.

In Asia, Chinese Privet’s native home, it stays in check because it has to contend with disease, parasites, and wildlife “eaters”.  Here in the U.S., Chinese Privet is essentially free of predators, and this allows it to spread aggressively.  Even our deer don’t like to eat it!  They prefer our native Texas plants instead.

As a non-native and pioneer species, this invasive plant can grow and spread quickly.

So why is it a problem if Chinese Privet establishes a monoculture in our area?

Know your Endangered Species: Golden cheeked warbler

Golden-Cheeked Warbler
Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Well, it all has to do with water and the cute…and endangered…Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

The Golden-Cheeked Warbler, is a native bird and it uses the bark of the Ashe Juniper (Cedar) tree to make its nests.  These birds eat the larva of moths and butterflies that live on the Texas Live Oak trees.  Unfortunately, the Chinese Privet hogs the water and crowds out the the Cedars and the Oaks, and this eliminates the habitat and food for the Warbler.

This is especially troubling because the Golden-Cheeked Warbler is the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Texas from Palo Pinto County southwestward along the eastern and southern edge of the Edwards Plateau to Kinney County. The Balcones Canyonland Preserve is part of the Warblers’ habitat.

By clearing the Chinese Privet, we hope to create more habitat and food for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

Another opportunity to clear invasive species next month

Mark your calendars on Saturday, September 29, when the Austin Invasive Species Corps will get together again for a land management workday to fight against invasive plants in a new area of Long Canyon. This time, they’ll grapple with a team of two villains:

This is your chance to be an Invasive Hunter in action to battle against invasive species and help save the Golden-Cheeked Warbler!

Many thanks to Ms. Louise Liller, volunteer coordinator for the Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division; Mr. Chris Warren; Austin biologists Mr. Darrell Hutchinson and Mr. Matt McCaw; and the valiant voluteers of the Austin Invasive Species Corp for hosting this event and making a difference for our endangered songbird and our native ecosystem.

Your friend,
Ben

2 Comments

Filed under Ashe juniper, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, BCP, BCP wildland conservation, Chinese Privet, Edwards Plateau, Elbow bush, Endangered Species, Golden Cheeked Warbler, Ligustrum, Long Canyon, Mr. Chris Warren, Mr. Darrell Hutchinson, Mr. Matt McCaw, Ms. Louise Liller, Pioneer plant, Texas Live Oak, Wax Leaf Privet, Waxyleaf privet, Yaupon

Whirlpool Springs to Life in Onion Creek above Cripple Crawfish Cave

Commander Ben near the Cripple Crawfish Cave whirlpool in Onion Creek

As part of National Ground Water Awareness Week earlier this month, the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division scheduled a “wonderful whirlpool” hike along Onion Creek.

What a fantastic place and what a rare treat to see so much green vegetation and water. We’ve been under a terrible drought in Texas. (The water level on Lake Travis dropped so low that I was able to walk to the sometimes islands late last year. These islands are normally submerged when the Highland Lakes are full.)

We’ve been blessed with recent rains. The rainwater has given life back to our land, lakes, and creeks. I hope that we keep getting more rain.

Karst features help recharge the Edwards Aquifer

The Orr Track on Onion Creek is part of the Barton Springs recharge segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Water that falls on the savannah and prairie land in this area flows through karst features to reach the aquifer underneath.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the air and water (H20) combine to create carbonic acid H2CO3. This acid eats the calcite in the limestone under the soil to create the karst features, and these features consists of big and small cracks and caves under the surface.

Slowly draining karst feature near Onion Creek

Because of our recent rains, there’s water on the surface, but it’s slowly draining underground with the small cracks in this karst.

Dry karst feature with flint rocks

This karst feature has bigger cracks, which causes it to drain faster. There’s no standing water here, but there’s lots of flint. Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Environmental Conservation Program Manager, helped to lead our hike, and he said that there’s evidence of native Americas in this area who have tried out the different pieces of flint to see if any would be good to use.

(I had a chance to try out flintknapping and other great nature activities at the Wild Basin Preserve a few months ago.)

Karst feature with a huge draining crack

This karst feature has a huge crack to help water drain quickly to the aquifer. No standing water here.

Watch out for the rattlesnakes

We saw a few rattlesnakes on our hike, and Dr. Thuesen cautioned us to watch out for them. When the snake started rattling as I walked by, my heart jumped!

This one was near the karst feature with the huge crack, and it was very hard to see at first. (Can you spot the rattlesnake in this picture?)

No snake in this picture, but here’s evidence of feral hogs. They were digging for food (grubs?) in this area earlier. They’re omnivores and will eat just about anything.

Wonderful whirlpool!

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

The treat at the far end of the hike was the whirlpool that flows into Cripple Crawfish Cave (another karst feature!) in Onion Creek. They haven’t seen water in the creek for about a year, so this was a special occasion.

Dr. Thuesen said that they installed a screen over the cave opening to keep out debris and to help water flow more easily into the cave and eventually into the aquifer. Scientists have used a special dye to discover that water that flows down this whirlpool can reach Barton Springs Pool in about 22 days or so.

I’ve only seen a whirlpool in my bathtub before. It was great to see a real one in nature!

Thanks for the great hike!

Ms. Amanda Ross, Commander Ben, and Dr. Kevin Thuesen and the end of our wonderful whirlpool hike

Thank you Ms. Amanda Ross, Conservation Program Coordinator, Dr. Thuesen, and the other knowledgeable guides for the fantastic hike!

Ms. Ross has always been kind and helpful, and she had some neat posters. (I first met Ms. Ross when I learned about rare Texas plants and took a tour of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.)

I enjoyed talking with Dr. Thuesen about the different rattlesnakes. He also knew a lot about invasive plants and talked with me about some of the ones in the area, including the Malta star-thistle and King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem).

Don’t miss these wonderful hikes to learn about the native ecosystems of Central Texas. Check out the latest events on the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division event page and be sure to join their email list to learn about upcoming events.

Commander Ben signing off

2 Comments

Filed under Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, Cripple Crawfish Cave, Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Edwards Aquifer, Flintknapping, Karst features, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Lake Travis, Malta star-thistle, Ms. Amanda Ross, Onion Creek, Rattlesnakes, Texas Drought, Texas Invasives, Whirlpool

Strategy and Tactics for Combatting Invasive Plant Species

Mr. Matt McCaw talks about his work, helping to manage conservation lands and improve the quality of water entering aquifers. He describes the different physical and mechanical ways to combat privets (genus Ligustrum) in Central Texas and when necessary, what types of targeted herbicides are the most effective. Learn why he likes felling Chinaberries and why Saltcedars are so difficult to take down. Mr. McCaw is a biologist in Austin, Texas.

This video is part of Commander Ben’s “Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed” series of interviews from the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

Commander Ben signing off…

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Aquifer, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Chinaberry, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Ligustrum, Matt McCaw, Privet, Saltcedar

Flintknapping and Great Nature Activities at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Commander Ben joins flintknapping craftsman JC Pollard and Kim Johnson at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Earlier this month, I had a great time at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, learning all about flintknapping from JC Pollard, a talented craftsman.

He taught our group how to create an arrowhead from flint and talked about how heat treating a piece of flint in a kiln makes it easier to flake pieces of the flint off and shape your arrowhead. He also warned us not to put a piece of flint directly in a fire since it would just pop and break apart.

I created two arrowheads from larger pieces of flint. Mr. Pollard let us borrow his tools, and Kim Johnson, who is the volunteer and administrative coordinator at the preserve, also let us use safety glasses for the activity. Mr. Pollard said that copper is much better to use than other flintknapping tools since it is similar in density to a deer antler, which is what the native Indian tribes would have used.

Thanks, Mr. Pollard, for the wonderful experience! With my spearpoint, now I’m armed and ready for those invasives!

A nature jewel in the Texas Hill Country under siege by invasive species

The preserve helps to keep a wonderful part of Austin undeveloped and available for habitat and enjoyment. It’s part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), but it too is under siege by invasive species.

Mr. Mitch Robinson talked with me about how the preserve was being invaded by ornamentals that are not native to Texas. The invasive plants are moving in from properties surrounding the preserve, and these invasives crowd out native species, create dense monocultures, and present a fire hazard.

Fortunately, he’s helping to teach neighbors to the preserve about the harm that invasive species bring to our ecosystem and to encourage them to plant native species. A dedicated team of volunteers also come out during land management workdays each month to help remove invasive species. That’s great!

During the 2011 Texas invasives conference, I had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Robinson and found out which easy-to-grow ornamental is his least favorite invasive plant.

Many great activities at the preserve

I remember one of my first visits to the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve many years ago. My Dad and Mom drove down a dirt road from loop 360 in Austin to the main house at the preserve, and I spent the afternoon with a crowd of kids learning about insects. The entire open area was filled with different insect exhibits.

I think I remember touching a hissing cockroach. (There were a lot of bugs to look at or handle there!) I remember a bee keeper talking about the loss of bees because of a mite or some environmental problems which lead to the collapse of many bee colonies.

I’d encourage you to visit the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve and be a part of one of the many upcoming activities. I loved flintknapping, and in the future, I’m looking forward to stargazing on the preserve (which is hosted by the Austin Astronomical Society), removing invasives, and learning more about the wonder and beauty of our environment.

Commander Ben signing off…

1 Comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Austin Astronomical Society, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Flintknapping, Mitch Robinson, Ms. Kim Johnson, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve Fends Off Invasive Species

Mr. Mitch Robinson describes the history of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve and the unique challenges that this hill country nature jewel faces from invasive species escaping from surrounding properties.  Find out what easy-to-grow ornamental tops his least favorite invasive. Mr. Mitch Robinson is the Land Management and Education Coordinator of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.

This video is part of Commander Ben’s “Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed” series of interviews from the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

Commander Ben signing off…

1 Comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mitch Robinson, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve