Category Archives: King Ranch Bluestem

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

Invasive Species Can’t Hide During SXSW Eco

Commander Ben and Ms. Jessica Strickland ready to hunt invasive species during SXSW Eco

I had a great adventure on Thursday when I joined Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, to help map the location of invasive plants along Waller Creek.

The special SXSW Eco “Green Army” event began at the Congress Avenue Kayaks building located at the end of Trinity Street in downtown Austin. The building is on Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) and Waller Creek. All the participants for the event gathered here before we headed out on our adventures. Mr. Justin Murrill, Global Sustainability Manager for AMD and coordinator of the event, welcomed us all and explained the importance of volunteer efforts like this to help keep Austin beautiful.

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Murrill, Global Sustainability Manager for AMD at SXSW Eco Green Army Event

Some people were going to clean up the trash in the creek, others were going to make seed balls (which were going to be donated to Bastrop State Park to help replant their area after last years wildfires), and others—including me—were going to identify invasive species for future removal or containment projects.

Ms. Strickland and I found many invasive plants along Waller Creek including:

Pictures from the SXSW Eco Invasive Species Mapping

Photographing invasive plants against a white background makes them easier to identify later.

A photographer from the Austin American-Statesman snaps a picture of our tactical reports.

Invasive English Ivy begins to suffocate a tree along Waller Creek.

King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem) at our feet. Unfortunately, you can find them all over Texas, especially on roadsides.

A close up of KR Bluestem. Alas. Their seeds spread easily.

Can you spot the Elephant Ear on Waller Creek?

You can run Elephant Ear, but you can’t hide!

Super villian team up: Elephant Ear next to Heavenly Bamboo

Here I am mapping Johnson Grass. Humm. For amount, where can I circle “beaucoup”?

I sense a disturbance in the ecosystem. Is the Giant Reed trying to sneak up on me again?

We had a nice audience of turtles during our great day of mapping!

All in all it was a great day!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under AMD, Austin, Austin American Statesman, Bastrop State Park, Chinese Privet, Elephant Ear, English Ivy, Giant Reed, Green Army, Heavenly Bamboo, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Jessica Strickland, Johnson Grass, Justin Murrill, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lady Bird Lake, Ligustrum, SXSW, SXSW Eco, Texas Invasives, Tree of Heaven, Waller Creek, Wildflower Center

The Amazing Invasive Hunter Man

An accidental encounter with a plant grafting experiment transforms a geeky biology student into the Invasive Hunter, a hero to the ecosystem’s native species.

The Invasive Hunter returns to battle King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem), an invasive species overrunning roadsides and fields and stealing lunch money. His powers, however, do not go unnoticed by his cranky professor.

This video is part of Commander Ben’s “Battles with Invasive Species” video series.

Learn more about the plants talked about in this video:

And don’t miss seeing your friendly neighborhood spider-man at the movies too!

Your friend,
Ben

1 Comment

Filed under Battles with Invasive Species, Giant Reed, Grafting, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Species, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Spider-man, Texas Bluebonnets, Texas Live Oak, Texas Mountain Laurel

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

Hydrilla and King Ranch Bluestem Create Devastating Monocultures on Water and Land

Ms. Mary Gilroy describes two invasive plants that have raided Texas waterways and prairies. Learn how Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) creates massive monocultures in lakes and how King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem – Bothriochloa ischaemum) outcompetes native vegetation in the Central Texas Hill Country. 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.

Also, watch this YouTube video to see how the City of Austin and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have teamed up to release sterile grass carp to hunt down and munch away at Hydrilla on Lake Austin.

Commander Ben signing off…

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Hydrilla, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, King Ranch Bluestem, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mary Gilroy, Monoculture, Texas Hill Country

Rare Texas Plants Struggle Against Invasive Species

Dr. Karen Clary describes the threat that invasive species pose to our rare Texas plants and recounts the ground-running, native Prostrate Milkweed’s struggle against the tall, invasive King Ranch Bluestem. She also talks about her two most disliked invasive plants, Giant Salvania and Heavenly Bamboo. Dr. Clary is a biologist with the Wildlife Habitat Assessment Program for the Wildlife Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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

Learn more about our Central Texas ecosystem

Dr. Clary is also an instructor with Go Native U, which provides a great set of classes to learn more about our native environment. The classes on the flora and fauna of central Texas look really neat, especially those on our native wildflowers, plants, insects, mammals, birds, and reptiles. I look forward to attending these classes in the future!

Commander Ben signing off…

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Giant Salvinia, Go Native U, Heavenly Bamboo, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Karen Clary, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Prostrate Milkweed, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department