Category Archives: City of Austin

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

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

Invasive Species Are No Match for Austin Citizen Scientists

Johnson grass is no match to the invasive hunter moves of Austin citizen scientists

Johnson Grass is no match for the invasive hunter moves of Austin citizen scientists

This summer, I trained as a citizen scientist with the City of Austin and the Wildflower Center to learn how to hunt the top 24 invasive plants in Austin, and I also joined other volunteers to map the locations of invasive species around Slaughter Creek.

Here are some pictures from our volunteer expedition:

Some ducks waddled up to join our Austin citizen scientist team

Some ducks waddled up to join our Austin citizen scientist team

We used ropes to divide the area into quadrants to report the invasive species that we found and the City of Austin team leaders recorded the locations on their iPad

We used ropes to divide the area into quadrants to report the invasive species that we found and the City of Austin team leaders recorded the locations on their iPad

A Chinaberry, an invasive plant, apprehensively eyes our mapping of Austin invasive species

A Chinaberry, an invasive plant, apprehensively eyes our mapping of Austin invasive species

We gave a thumbs down to the invasive species, Johnson Grass

We gave a thumbs down to the invasive species, Johnson Grass

We had a great time as Austin citizen scientist volunteers to help identify invasive species

We had a great time as Austin citizen scientist volunteers to help identify invasive species

Help identify and map Austin Invasive Species

If you haven’t had a chance to join with other Austin citizen scientists, August 15, 2013, is the last day to help the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department collect data about the invasive species in the parks and lands around Austin.

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Ms. Jessica Strickland recently moved to California. She was the Invasive Species Program Manager with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You did a great job helping to educate citizen scientists across Texas about invasive species, and I’ll miss you! Best wishes with your next adventures! 🙂

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Filed under Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, Jessica Strickland, Johnson Grass, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Slaughter Creek, Uncategorized, Wildflower Center

Citizen scientists train to hunt the top 24 invasive plants in Austin

My sketchbook of the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin, Texas

My sketchbook of the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin, Texas

As the Invasive Hunter, I always have to keep my skills sharp, so on a Saturday in May, I attended an invasive species workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This workshop was designed especially for citizen scientists who are working with the city of Austin as part of the Austin Invasive Plants Management Plan.

The city of Austin and the Invaders of Texas Program teamed up to train local volunteers how to identify and monitor invasive plants. Citizen scientists who volunteer with this program get to work side by side with city staff to develop a map of where invasive plant species are located, and the city of Austin will use this map to determine how to best treat or remove the invaders.

Learning up close how to identify invasive plants

Learning up close how to identify invasive plants

Ms. Jessica Wilson, Wildland Conservation education manager with the city of Austin, welcomed us to the workshop, and Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager with the Wildflower Center, gave a great talk about invasive species in Texas and those around Austin, the Invaders of Texas Program, and how to report sightings of invasive species online and through the TX Invaders mobile app.

Top 24 invasive plant species in the city of Austin

Top 24 invasive plant species in the city of Austin

We learned about the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin from samples in the Wildflower Center’s library, and got to know them better by being able to see them, feel their leaves and other identifying features, and sketch samples of them to help us remember them when we’re out in the field.

A sample of kudzu, a nasty invasive species

A sample of kudzu, a nasty invasive species

The top 24 invasive plants in Austin cover herbaceous, woody, vines, and aquatic species and include my nemesis, the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)!

We practiced identifying sample invasive plants in a field outside of the Wildflower Center

We practiced identifying sample invasive plants in a field outside of the Wildflower Center

Besides polishing up my knowledge about invasive plants, I also got to spend some time with other citizen scientists (excuse me, future invasive hunters!) and staff from the city of Austin who were a lot of fun.

Commander Ben and Austin invasive species volunteers getting ready for action

Commander Ben and Austin invasive species volunteers getting ready for action

The workshop I attended was part of a series of volunteer workshops that the city of Austin and the Wildflower Center have been holding during the spring of this year.

Here is a great video all about the day created by the City of Austin:

Their goal is to train 180 citizen scientists who are willing to volunteer time during the summer monitoring season.  The next Invasive Species Identification and Monitoring workshop is coming up this weekend, June 8 and 9.  Don’t miss out because this is the last workshop for the season!

I look forward to seeing you in the hunt for invasive species! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Invasive Plants Management Plan, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, City of Austin Invaders, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, Giant Reed, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Jessica Strickland, Jessica Wilson, Kudzu, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mobile app, Texas Invaders, Texas Invasives, TX Invaders, Wildland Conservation Division

Invasive Species vs Texas Invaders iPhone App

For too long, invasive species have crowded out native plants and chased away citizen scientists seeking to report them with pen and paper. Now, the Texas Invaders mobile app brings new technologies to help invasive hunters protect their ecosystems in the Lone Star state and beyond.

Download the Texas Invaders app featured in the video, attend an Invaders of Texas Workshop, and get started reporting invasive species:

Other invasive species app blog posts:

Become a citizen scientist at an Invaders of Texas Workshop

If you’re in Central Texas, learn more about the City of Austin’s volunteer training for invasive species monitoring and the City of Austin Invaders satellite group, and sign up for an upcoming Invaders of Texas Workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

  • March 23, 2013
  • May 11, 2013
  • May 18, 2013

Hope to see you at one of the workshops soon! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Android, Apple, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Battles with Invasive Species, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, City of Austin Invaders, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mobile app, Texas Invaders, Wildflower Center

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

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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

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

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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

Giant Reed’s Fighting Retreat on Lady Bird Lake

Ms. Mary Gilroy talks about efforts to hunt down and eradicate the Giant Reed (Arundo Donax) around Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. Learn how data collected from citizen scientists as part of the Invaders of Texas Program helped map the locations of this invasive species and the multiyear campaign to remove this obstinate invasive and restore native plants. Ms. Gilroy is an environmental scientist 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…

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, Giant Reed, Invaders of Texas, Lady Bird Lake, Mary Gilroy