Category Archives: Giant Reed

Mud and Paintball: That’s a Summer Adventure

I still cant believe I was in so much mud.

I still can’t believe I was in so much mud.

I hope everyone is having a great summer. I’ve been having a lot of fun this summer and wanted to check in with everyone to say hi and to fill you in on what I’ve been up to.

So far this summer, I have been to a great week long camp that was incredible. I went with two of my friends, which made it doubly fun. We did all sorts of amazing activities, including an obstacle course where we had to slog through waist deep mud. We also played paintball. At the end of the game, everyone was calling me “Mr. Polk-a-Dots” because I was covered in paint ball hits that I received as I charged the opposing team when I was the only one left on my side!

Next, about a week after I got home from camp, I volunteered to serve as a counselor at my church’s camp for kids ages Pre-K to 5th grade. This was my first year to be a camp counselor and it was SO MUCH fun. The camp had a theme called “Wacky Animals” and I got to play a character called “Dr. Paws” who was an animal specialist. He was very funny and the kids really liked him. It was great fun for me, and I look forward to volunteering as a camp counselor again next year.

That Arundo donax is messing with the wrong Segway rider.

That Arundo donax is messing with the wrong Segway rider.

I also went rafting, horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, and lots of fun outdoor stuff too, including taking a a fun Segway tour around Austin. Highly recommended!

I hope you’ve been having fun this summer too. I’ll be catching up on my blog posts on invasive species, science, and dyslexia before starting school this fall. I’ll be a high school sophomore! Wow! Where did the summer go?

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Arundo donax, Summer camp

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

Commander Ben Celebrates Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben joins St Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Commander Ben joins St Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

I’ve had an exciting last few weeks that I look forward to talking with you about, but I first want to catch up on some of the great events that I had a chance to be part of in April.

Last year, I was invited to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, to give a talk about Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy as part of St. Edward’s 2012 Earth Day events. I had a great time and was honored to be invited to bring the Invasive Hunter Academy back on Monday, April 22, to St. Edward’s 2013 Earth Day celebrations.

Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy at St. Edward's University

Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy at St. Edward’s University

It was a beautiful sunny day and turnout for the event was great. Along with my Invasive Hunter Academy display and poster board about my invasive species nemesis, the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), there were lots of great people there with all sorts of Earth Day activities and information. I enjoyed visiting all the tables and meeting some very interesting folks.

Some of the groups I had a chance to speak with on Earth Day included:

Agana Rainwater at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Agana Rainwater at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

Car2Go at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Car2Go at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

Johnson's Backyard Garden at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Johnson’s Backyard Garden at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

Sustainable Food Center at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Sustainable Food Center at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

I want to thank all the people at St. Edward’s for another great Earth Day celebration, and a special thank you to Mr. Mitch Robinson, Education and Land Management Coordinator for Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, and Ms. Cristina Bordin, Special Assistant to the President and Sustainability Coordinator for St. Edward’s University, who invited me to be a part of this great event.

Commander Ben and Mitch Robinson at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Commander Ben and Mitch Robinson at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

I’ll have more posts coming up about my other April adventures. Talk with you again soon! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Agana rainwater, Arundo donax, Car2Go, Christina Bordin, Earth Day, Giant Reed, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Mitch Robinson, St Edward's University, Sustainable Food Center, Uncategorized, Wild Basin Preserve, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

An Invasive Species’ Worst Nightmare: Texas Co-Op Power Magazine and Commander Ben Team Up

Commander Ben:  An Invasive's Worst Nightmare. (Photo Credit:  Will van Derbeek)

Commander Ben: An Invasive’s Worst Nightmare. (Photo Credit: Will van Overbeek)

I have great news to share with you today!  There is a story about me in the March issue of the Texas Power Co-Op magazine and it’s titled, Commander Ben: An Invasive’s Worst Nightmare, and it was written by Texas Master Naturalist Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rogers.

Awhile back I met Mrs. Sheryl on the telephone when she interviewed me for her article. She wanted to write about me and my fight against invasive species.   Then, when I was presenting my Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Nature Nights event, she was very kind to drive up from Blanco to meet me in person!  She is so nice and a great writer.  She even invited me to speak to her Highland Lakes Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.

Once the story was sent off to her editor, the magazine contacted me to meet with the photographer, Mr. Will van Overbeek.  We hunted down an invasion of invasive Giant Reed (Arundo donax—my arch enemy!) plants, and as I battled them, Mr. van Overbeek took my picture. (Thanks for the great picture Mr. van Overbeek!) It was a lot of fun, especially when other people walked by and stared, wondering what was going on! 🙂

Hope you enjoy the article!

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Thanks Mrs. Sheryl! You’re a fantastic writer, and you have a great Window on a Texas Wildscape nature blog!

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Filed under Arundo donax, Giant Reed, Highland Lakes Chapter, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Ms. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Nature Nights, Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Texas Co-Op Power, Texas Master Naturalists, Wildflower Center, Will van Derbeek

Ghosts of Invasive Species Past, Present, and Future in A Christmas Carol

This Christmas Carol tale begins on Christmas Eve with Ebenezer Scrooge, a man with a stingy heart, a disdain of native plants, and a phobia of dirty feet. His former business partner, Jacob Marley warns Scrooge of visits by three spirits.

Overnight, the ghosts lead Scrooge through his innocent past, misguided present, and possible dire future overrun by invasive species. They help to transform him into a man of joy and compassion, both with the family of his impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his diverse ecosystem.

I hope you enjoy my video from last year based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption!

Merry Christmas and happy new year everyone! I look forward to more adventures with you as we learn more about invasive species, science, and dyslexia in 2013!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under A Christmas Carol, An Invasive Species Carol, Battles with Invasive Species, Bob Cratchit, Charles Dickens, Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge, Giant Reed, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Jacob Marley, Redtip Photinia, Texas Live Oak

Invasive Hunter Academy Thrives at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben talks with high school students about invasive species at Hot Science – Cool Talks
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

The UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has a great Hot Science – Cool Talks series that brings scientists from UT Austin and across the country to talk about their neat science research. Kids of all ages are invited to attend.

Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to their most recent event with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

I was excited to, but I wanted to add more information for high school students, since I knew they enjoyed coming to the Hot Science presentations. So I researched about some of the water problems caused by invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy Grows

I really liked the new info that I added to the Invasive Hunter Academy. I still have the three fun original steps to becoming an invasive hunter:

  • Know your enemy – Match up pictures of native and invasive plants
  • Know your action moves – Practice the three cool taekwondo moves to take down invasive plants
  • Create your action scene – Build a great diorama to take home

For Dr. Famiglietti’s Cool Talks event, I created a new presentation for young adults with some great information about my nemesis, the Giant Reed. I talked about:

Recorded locations of the Giant Reed around Austin
Source: Texas Invasives website

(1) What invasive species are and specifically the problems of the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). I showed how easy it is to find sightings of the Giant Reed and other invasive species that citizen scientists reported around the state by using the Texas Invasives database.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River near Big Bend National Park
Credit: Mr. John Goolsby, USDA

(2) The EPA is considering using the Giant Reed for biofuel because it grows fast and doesn’t impact the food industry. That’s great for a biofuel plant, but the Giant Reed can easily escape into the native ecosystem and take over as an invasive species.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of the Giant Reed to could create an economic and environmental disaster, and for that reason it should not be used as a biofuel.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River
Photo Credit: Center for Invasive Species Research

(3) Especially for Dr. Famiglietti’s freshwater talk, I added information about how the Giant Reed is a threat to the survival of the Rio Grande River because it:

  • Reduces the available water supply
  • Chokes waterways
  • Inhibits with power generation
  • Interferes with agricultural irrigation
  • Degrades water quality
  • Threatens the of health of native plants and animals by creating a dense monoculture and crowding out native plants

QR Codes Help Presentations Jump to the Web

I added QR codes to make it easier for people to access the websites that I talk about in my poster presentation. I first added QR codes when I brought the academy to the Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights this summer.

I saw people use their iPhones and Android phones to scan the QR codes to access my website, so I wanted to add more codes for my Hot Science presentation to help bring people to where they could get more information on the web, like to learn more about the Giant Reed.

High School Students Graduate to the Academy

One of the Invasive Hunter Academy tables before the start of Hot Science – Cool Talks at UT Austin

The audience was older than my other academy presentations. There were many students from eighth graders to high school and college students. That was neat!

I enjoy bringing the original academy activities to kids all ages, but now I especially enjoy talking to the older students and teaching them about invasive species. (In these pictures, I still have my hand in a cast from when it got broken during a taekwondo sparring match. :-()

Commander Ben motions to how high (and higher!) the Giant Reed invasive plant can grow
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They found my posters very helpful, because a lot of students were there with their science classes, and they had notebooks that they were writing in for extra credit. I talked with them about the problems with the Giant Reed, and they took copious notes. I hope they all got great grades! 🙂

Invasive Hunter graduate shows off her “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker and Wildflower Center brochure
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They really liked my “I’m an invasive hunter'” stickers and went to my website on their phones to watch my videos too. They put the stickers on their shirts and books, and one of the high school freshman put it on his forehead. (Not recommended.)

Battles with Invasive Species Videos

Commander Ben before the start of the Hot Science – Cool Talks prelecture fun with the Native Plant Avengers video playing in the background

Mr. Hensgen is just the best! I want to thank him for inviting me to be part of the prelecture fun and the interview with Dr. Famiglietti. He gave me the best table because it was near the entrance to the auditorium, and he gave me a projector to play my Battles with Invasive Species videos on the wall during the event.

During the event, I played two videos:

One Freshman high school girl came back another time for two reasons: she was interested to learn more about invasive species and she had also left her iPod. 🙂

It was also great to talk again with Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. I saw him being filmed for the Longhorn Network during the event. Thanks, Dr. Banner, for mentioning me during your prelecture slides!

Last Call at the Oasis

Dr. Jay Famiglietti’s Last Call at the Oasis presentation at Hot Science – Cool Talks

I also had a great time chatting with Dr. Famiglietti before his talk. I wished him good luck, but he didn’t need it because he did a great job!

I found one of the reserved chairs in the auditorium. (Thanks Mr. Hensgen!) and I noticed that they were much, much more comfortable than the regular chairs. (They were the same as the other chairs, but since they were reserved, they were extra comfy!)

Dr. Famiglietti talked about the making of his video, Last Call at the Oasis. It was released on DVD on November 8th, so be sure to check it out!

At the end of his talk, he showed a funny video with Jack Black about their drinkable, treated sewage water, porcelain springs.

Learn More about Invasive Species

Ms. Jessica Strickland and Commander Ben mapping invasive species at SXSWEco

My thanks to Ms. Jessica Strickland for all her help teaching me more about invasive species on the Texas Invasives website and at SXSW Eco. (I learned about the EPA considering to use the Giant Reed as biofuel from the Texas Invasives iWire newsletter. If you don’t already receive this monthly email newsletter, be sure to subscribe to iWire today.) I also learned about the Rio Grande River’s problem with the Giant Reed from presentations during the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

I also want to thank Ms. Alice Nance, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Education Manager. She gave me a lot of goodies to pass out during the prelecture fun. I had Wildflower Center brochures with discount coupons and Plant Hero badges and certificates. (Kids had a lot of fun with Plant Heroes too when I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center this summer.)

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti wrap up Hot Science – Cool Talks on a humorous note

Thank you again Dr. Banner, Mr. Hensgen, and Dr. Famiglietti for everything! 🙂 If you missed the event, watch my video interview series with Dr. Famiglietti and check out the webcast replay of Dr Famiglietti’s presentation. (It was ESI’s 80th Hot Science – Cool Talks event!)

I had a fantastic time, and I can’t wait until the next Hot Science – Cool Talks event on November 30, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, with Dr. Mark Clanton.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Arundo donax, Bastard Cabbage, Battles with Invasive Species, Big Bend National Park, Biofuel, Center for Invasive Species Research, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Science Institute, EPA, ESI, Extra credit, Geoff Hensgen, Giant Reed, High school, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Last Call at the Oasis, Lights. Camera. Help., Monoculture, Ms. Alice Nance, Native ecosystem, Native Plant Avengers, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Porcelain springs, QR codes, Rio Grande River, Science class, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology, water supply, Wildflower Center

Will There Be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

Dr. Jay Famiglietti and Commander Ben at the Environmental Science Institute at UT Austin

Today, I had a great time interviewing Dr. Jay Famiglietti. I talked with him about the potential water problems that we might face in the future. We also talked about the different ways that we can conserve water. I’ll be posting these fascinating and insightful videos soon.

I’m looking forward to Dr. Famiglietti’s talk, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?“, tomorrow, Friday, October 26, 2012, at 7:00 pm CT.

Mr. Famiglietti is a Earth System Science Professor with the University of California – Irvine. His presentation is part of the great Hot Science – Cool Talks series. It’ll be in the UT Austin Student Activity Center where Dr. Andrew Howell’s talk was earlier this year.

Invasive Hunter Academy and the Giant Reed

Be sure to get there early, because I’ll bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the prelecture fun starting at 5:45 pm. Not only will you have a great time learning about invasive species and creating an action diorama, but you’ll also learn about the Giant Reed’s (Arundo donax) threat to our water supply, especially along the Rio Grande.

If you notice something different about me tomorrow, I broke my hand fighting the Giant Reed (again!). It was trying to stop me from presenting at Hot Science – Cool Talks, but it’ll take more than a few moves from an invasive plant (and one of the world’s top 100 worst invasive species) from stopping me.

(Well, actually, I broke it during a recent Taekwondo sparring match. Ouch! But I still have a good hand if Arundo gives me any trouble! 🙂 )

Hope to see you tomorrow. It’s going to be a boatload of fun!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Arundo donax, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Giant Reed, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Last Call at the Oasis, Rio Grande, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water supply