Category Archives: Invasive Hunter Academy

Austin Kids Become Invasive Hunters at the Wildflower Center

Setting up the Invasive Hunter Academy with samples of edible invasive plant species

Setting up the Invasive Hunter Academy with samples of edible invasive plant species

It was wonderful bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Thursday, June 11, 2015, to help teach kids about invasive species as part of this summer’s Nature Nights events.

I previewed the event along with some videos in my Yum! Edible Invasive Species at the Wildflower Center during Nature Nights blog post.

The Nature Nights event that I attended focused on edible plants, so naturally, I found some varieties of edible invasive plants for the kids to try:

What a hit they were! The Taro chips went fast, but many agreed that the Bamboo was an acquired taste.

Here are some pictures from the event:

Lots of plant activities for kids during Nature Nights 2015

Lots of plant activities for kids during Nature Nights 2015

The young Austin naturalists found a great spot near the academy table to sample invasive plant species and work on their Invasive Hunter action diorama.

The young Austin naturalists found a great spot near the academy table to sample invasive plant species and work on their Invasive Hunter action diorama.

Remember that to become an Invasive Hunter, you need to learn the action moves to take down your opponent.

Remember that to become an Invasive Hunter, you need to learn the action moves to take down your opponent.

I enjoyed talking with kids about invasive species as they picked the invasive plant they wanted to battle for their action diorama.

I enjoyed talking with kids about invasive species as they picked the invasive plant they wanted to battle for their action diorama.

Thanks, Ms. Julie Graham, Wildflower Center Education Specialist, for inviting me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights this year! We had a lot of Austin kids graduate as Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystem from non-native plants.

Nature Nights in July

There are more opportunities to enjoy the Wildflower Center this summer! Nature Nights continues with more fun, family-friendly events in July:

  • July 9 – Springs, Streams and Ponds Ecology
  • July 16 – Harnessing Fire
  • July 23 – Birds of Prey

I hope that you’re having a wonderful summer!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Elephant Ear, Golden Bamboo, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights

Kid Talk Panel at the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015

Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

I’m excited to be part of this week’s Children and Nature Network Conference (C&NN) from April 7-9, 2015, at the Hyatt Lost Pines.

This conference brings together worldwide leaders to learn about what visionaries, policy makers, scientists, naturalists, and technology enthusiasts are doing to promote nature and nature-rich communities for children and families.

There’s no question technology is important to our everyday lives. Since I have dyslexia, I use technology on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac everyday to help me learn in high school, take pictures, research topics, enjoy entertainment, and keep up with current events.

But it’s important not to lose our love of nature. There’s nothing that can replace exploring the animal and plant life in our streams and waterways, walking through the majestic Redwood forests, and seeing our beautiful Texas wildflowers. Kids need technology to help them be successful in their everyday lives, but we don’t want them to lose their love of and appreciation for the natural world.

Adventures with Invasive Species

I’m part of the Kid Talk panel during the first day of the conference. During my “Adventures with Invasive Species” presentation, I’ll talk about how I battled with invasives by bringing together technology and nature through my blog commanderben.com and my YouTube channel. My blog posts and Battles with Invasive Species video series entertain and teach kids of all ages about nature by helping kids learn about and how to stop the spread of invasive species.

As part of my presentation, I’ll also share my experiences in the digital world, as a citizen scientist with the Invaders of Texas Program, which is part of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

I’ll also share my experiences in the physical world about bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to nature events across Texas and to the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC.

With the Invasive Hunter Academy, kids can learn about invasive species through visual means, actions moves, and physical crafts. With my dyslexia, I have a special fondness for the academy because it helps kids with different learning styles learn in different ways.

Kid Talk panel

As part of the panel, I’m with two innovative kids who will be talking about how they’re bringing together technology and nature:

  • Minecraft and Biophilic Design – Andy Kuhlken will talk about how biophilic design principles can be incorporated into Minecraft. He’ll also show examples of how nature can be involved while playing a computer game. Andy is an eighth grader at the Austin Montessori School.
  • Who Is a Scientist? A Fifth Grader Finds a Voice Through iNaturalist – Sahil Shah will talk about his eight-week ecology-based service learning project, where his interests led him to iNaturalist and how he realized the value of his own voice. Sahil is now a sixth grader at Canyon Vista Middle School.

These are going to be great presentations! Creating biomes in Minecraft is a lot of fun and a great way to learn about ecosystems. iNaturalist let’s you record what you see in nature, meet other naturalists, and learn about the natural world around you.

Keynote speakers

Keynote speakers at the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

Keynote speakers at the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

There will be a lot of outstanding speakers at the conference, including:

  • Richard Louv, Chairman Emeritus for the Children & Nature Network and author of many books, including the Last Child in the Woods, will talk about “The Case for Nature in a Virtual World”. Mr. Louv coined the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder”!
  • Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa, Founder and Board Chair of 8-80 Cities, will talk about “The Nature-Rich City: Creating Vibrant & Healthy Communities for All”.
  • Laura Turner Seydel, Chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, will talk as part of the “Increasing Nature Connections for Children: A Funder’s Perspective” panel. Ms. Seydel is also a co-founder of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
  • Dr. Scott D. Sampson, Vice President of Research & Collections and Chief Curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, will talk as part of the “Successful Nature-Connection Projects—’Getting Past the Grown-Ups'” panel. Dr. Sampson is also an author of many books.
  • Melina Gerosa Bellows, Chief Education Officer for the National Geographic Society, will talk about “Raising Tomorrow’s Explorers”. Ms. Bellows is also a best-selling author of children and adult outdoor adventure books.

Thanks to Mr. Trevor Hance, Outdoor Learning Specialist with Laurel Mountain Elementary; Mrs. Heather Kuhlken, Founder and Director of Austin Families in Nature; Ms. Addie Broussard, Natural science educator with the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center; and all the conference organizers for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event.

Hope to talk with you more at tomorrow’s conference!

Your friend,
Ben

Update: Watch Video Previews for the Kid Talk Panel at the Children and Nature Conference 2015

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Filed under Children and Nature Network Conference, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species

A Salute to Justin Bush, Invasive Hunter

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas

I was sad to receive an email from Mr. Justin Bush, letting me know that he will be leaving his position as Invasive Species Coordinator for Texasinvasives.org and the University of Texas at Austin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

This month’s iWire newsletter also announced the changing of the guard and Mr. Bush’s move from Austin, Texas, to Seattle, Washington, to work for the King County Noxious Weed Control Program.

I enjoyed getting to know Mr. Bush at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference and later had the chance to join forces with him at last year’s Camp Mabry Muster Days.

Muster Days adventures

During our Muster Days weekend, Mr. Bush shared the Texas A&M Forest Service table with Mr. Mike Murphrey. Mr. Bush talked with attendees about the Wildflower Center and invasive species, and Mr. Murphrey talked with them about our wonderful Texas trees.

I set up my Invasive Hunter Academy nearby to recruit kids of all ages as future Invasive Hunters. We had a great time and were thrilled by the exciting activities during the Muster Days weekend.

Throughout last year, we kept in touch and he provided me with many materials about Texas wildflowers and invasive species to hand out at my Invasive Hunter Academy events.

Mr. Bush is a wonderful man. What truly amazed me about Mr. Bush was his dedication to the fight against invasive species. Mr. Bush had a gift for two of the most important skills as an invasive hunter, early detection and rapid response. He helped to detect and manage invasive species with his leadership and by participating in and leading surveys and removals.

Like Dr. Damon Waitt, Mr. Bush was a great mentor to me and really helped me to learn more about invasive species and our wonderful Texas ecosystem.

Thank you! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Damon Waitt, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Invasives

Austin Kids Learn about Invasive Species at the Camp Fire Nature Festival

Thumbs up to Austin kids practicing their invasive hunter moves!

Thumbs up to Austin kids practicing their invasive hunter moves!

Happy New Year!

I had a great Christmas break and started my sophomore spring semester this month. I’ve been studying the Renaissance in World History, listening to the audiobook of All Quiet on the Western Front in English, performing Chemistry labs to measure reactants and products, and having a lot of fun times in high school.

Invasive Hunter Academy at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Getting ready for young Austin naturalists before the event.

Getting ready for young Austin naturalists before the event.

In November, I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Camp Fire Nature Celebration at Mueller Park in Austin, Texas.

As part of the academy, kids learn about invasive species through fun activities, including playing a flashcard game, practicing action moves, and creating a diorama where their character battles an invasive species.

The action diorama craft was very popular. I helped some of the younger kids glue cut out pictures of their invasive species to their action diorama backgrounds. It was a sticky situation!

When I gave one boy his “I’m an invasive hunter” sticker, he gave me a salute and said, “Thanks, Commander!” I had a good laugh. He was a very nice young man!

I was also teaching a group of kids who came up to my table about the environmental and economic harm that invasive species do to our wonderful native plants. I pointed out Elephant Ear plants that were growing nearby, and one boy turned to me with a face of shock and awe and said, “Wow! The stuff you’re talking about is really a problem!”

Here are some pictures from the event. (And here’s my Texas Invasive Species and the Camp Fire Nature Celebration blog post that originally announced the event.)

Austin kids having fun practicing action moves and creating dioramas to learn about invasive species

Austin kids having fun practicing action moves and creating dioramas to learn about invasive species

Future graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Future graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Flashcards help kids learn about the difference between invasive and native Texas plant species

Flashcards help kids learn about the difference between invasive and native Texas plant species

Practicing invasive hunter moves as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Practicing invasive hunter moves as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy

The nearby concrete wall made a nice platform for kids to create their invasive hunter diorama

The nearby concrete wall made a nice platform for kids to create their invasive hunter diorama

One of the fun parts about the academy is choosing the invasive species to battle for your action diorama

One of the fun parts about the academy is choosing the invasive species to battle for your action diorama

Graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy get goodies, including an "I'm an Invasive Hunter" sticker

Graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy get goodies, including an “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker

Creating your invasive species action diorama was a popular craft all morning!

Creating your invasive species action diorama was a popular craft all morning!

Watch out for the Elephant Ear!

Watch out for the Elephant Ear!

Commander Ben has a great day with the kids at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Commander Ben has a great day with the kids at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

More pictures from the event

Austin Camp Fire sign welcoming kids to the event

Austin Camp Fire sign welcoming kids to the event

Landon McNeely and Commander Ben at the Austin Camp Fire information booth

Landon McNeely and Commander Ben at the Austin Camp Fire information booth

Kids learned about the ecological food chain with the Texas Parks and Wildlife activity

Kids learned about the ecological food chain with the Texas Parks and Wildlife activity

Getting to know some of the critters at the Austin Nature and Science Center insect petting zoo

Getting to know some of the critters at the Austin Nature and Science Center insect petting zoo

I put up a poster about Zebra Mussels from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

I put up a poster about Zebra Mussels from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

More resources for kids to learn about invasive species

My thanks to Dominic Martinez, AmeriCorps VISTA Programs coordinator, and Landon McNeely, Americorps VISTA Policy and Volunteer coordinator, for inviting me to the event!

My thanks also to Justin Bush, invasive species coordinator for Texasinvasives.org, for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center handouts and for mentioning my event in the iWire newsletter.

I look forward to my next adventure helping to teach kids about invasive species!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Camp Fire Nature Celebration, Elephant Ear, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species

Texas Invasive Species and the Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Kids learn how to battle Texas Invasive Plant Species with the Invasive Hunter Academy

Kids learn how to battle Texas Invasive Plant Species with the Invasive Hunter Academy

The impact of invasive species in Texas has been in the news lately!

Invasive species are not native to our environment, and when they are brought to our native ecosystems, whether by accident or on purpose, they can cause both economic and environmental damage. Invasive species come in all types, including insects and animals.

Insects, such as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, can, yes, stink, but more importantly they can attack our fruits and vegetables.

Animals, such as the Eurasian collared dove, can crowd out our native dove populations, such as the mourning dove and white-winged dove.

Zebra mussels are a big concern. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with great partners like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, are trying to stop their spread through Texas lakes and waterways. Their larva are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, but they grow rapidly into a tremendous problem, hurt aquatic life, and can threaten our water supply.

Invasive plants are also a big problem to our native plant species and crops.

Camp Fire Nature Celebration in Austin

To help kids learn more about plant invasive species, I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Camp Fire Nature Celebration on Saturday, November 8, 2014, at Mueller Park in Austin, Texas. The event is free and lasts from 9:00-11:00 a.m.

Not only will you have fun creating your own battles with invasive species action diorama, you’ll also get a chance to have fun with nature with many activities, including:

It’ll be lots of fun for Central Texas kids and families. This Saturday morning will be a perfect time for young naturalists to learn about nature and invasive species. I hope to see you there!

Your friend,

Ben

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Filed under Camp Fire Nature Celebration, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Zebra Mussel

Austin School Kids Learn about Invasive Species at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben and Austin school kids practice the moves to take down invasive species during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

Commander Ben and Austin school kids practice the moves to take down invasive species during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

I was honored to be invited back to St. Edward’s University to celebrate Earth Day 2014 with them this spring. I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy along with me and entertained 200 kids on a field trip from Travis Heights Elementary School.

As always, the kids enjoyed going through the Academy and graduating as official Invasive Hunters. Upon graduation, the kids loved picking out a nature prize along with some candy to fill their field trip goodie bags! And of course they each received their official “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker. Who doesn’t love stickers?!?

Here are some fun pictures from the event:

Knife hand attack is superb for taking down invasive plants like the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)

Knife hand attack is superb for taking down invasive plants like the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)

And let's not forget about swallow hand stalk strike! I see an invasive plant going down!

And let’s not forget about swallow hand stalk strike! I see an invasive plant going down!

Austin school kids eager to work on their invasive hunter dioramas

Austin school kids eager to work on their invasive hunter dioramas

Future invasive hunters thinking about which invasive species to battle

Future invasive hunters thinking about which invasive species to battle

Young Austin naturalists working on their Invasive Hunter Academy action dioramas

Young Austin naturalists working on their Invasive Hunter Academy action dioramas

HEBuddy joined in the fun on Earth Day too

HEBuddy joined in the fun on Earth Day too

National Wildlife Federation booth during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

National Wildlife Federation booth during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben trying out Car2Go's electric car at St. Edwards University

Commander Ben trying out Car2Go’s electric car at St. Edward’s University

On a quick break, I visited the Car2Go booth and decided to sit in the car and get a feel for what it’s like to be behind the driver’s wheel…especially since I’ll be getting my driver’s license soon!

Wild Basin Creative Research Center booth during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

Wild Basin Creative Research Center booth during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

I enjoyed talking with the representative at the Wild Basin Creative Research Center table. The center’s also called the Wild Basin Preserve, and St. Edward’s University acquired the preserve that’s along Austin’s loop 360 in 2009. Here are some of my previous posts about Wild Basin:

Now is the time for all invasive hunters to dance!

Now is the time for all invasive hunters to dance!

And just when I thought Earth Day was winding down, the music cranked up, thanks to Topper Radio, and I led a dance party with all the elementary kids. It was so much fun and a great way to end the day. I think we’ll have to add a new move to the Academy to take out invasives. Maybe a dance move…and we’ll call it the invasive stomp!

Commander Ben and Phoebe Anne Romero meet in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy before Earth Day festivities

Commander Ben and Phoebe Anne Romero meet in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy before Earth Day festivities

Thanks to Phoebe Anne Romero for inviting me to bring the Invasive Hunter Academy back to St. Edward’s for this year’s Earth Day celebrations! I had a lot of fun with Austin’s young naturalists!

Ready for action during Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward's University

Ready for action during Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward’s University

Previous Earth Day celebrations at St. Edward’s

It’s been a summer of adventure for me! I hope you’re having a great one too!

Your friend,
Ben

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

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