Category Archives: Malta star-thistle

Commander Ben Talks About Invasive Species with Highland Lakes Master Naturalists

Thanks to my friend, Miss Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, I recently had the honor of speaking to the Highland Lakes Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.

Commander Ben & Sheryl Smith-Rogers, Texas Master Naturalist, Highland Lakes Chapter

I had such a fun time giving my invasive species presentation to their group! Everyone was so nice to me, and they were passionate about protecting native plants. Plus, after my talk, they gave me a great goodie bag with some things to help me during my adventures fighting invasives.

Top three invasives for conversation starters

To start the day, the master naturalists group treated my Mom and me to a delicious lunch at an Italian restaurant in Marble Falls. It was a lot of fun chatting with everyone over a great meal (I had a salad) and luckily there were no invasives in sight there.

I had a good time talking with people over lunch about three invasives that they really dislike:

  • Bastard Cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum) – One lady talked with me about how her property is being over run by Bastard Cabbage, and how she is going to put it down Indian Blanket seeds to try and stop it.
  • Malta star-thistle (Centaurea melitensis) – Another person talked with me about how one day his property was great, but then invasives struck! His property was overrun by Malta star-thistle, KR Bluestem, and Johnson grass with a touch of Salt cedar…and don’t forget that insidious cursing plant…Bastard Cabbage.
  • Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) – Another lady talked about how Japanese honeysuckle is overrunning her property and how she and her husband just can’t stop it. It grows along their fence line so rapidly.

In my interview with biologist Mr. Darrell Hutchinson, “Austin Invasive Species Corps Aid Golden-Cheeked Warbler“, he talked with me about the web of interdependence in nature. I shared his insight with the group, and they found this analogy very interesting.

Next, I shared some information from my interview with with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Interview series with Dr. Jay Famiglietti“, how he explained to me about the water, energy, and food nexus. They also found this really cool.

Presenting with my trusty iPad

After lunch we headed over to the group’s meeting area where we started to set up. I was amazed by how many naturalists were there! It looked like about 75 people, maybe more! I was really excited.

I had my iPad with me where I had prepared my presentation using the Keynote app. The group provided me with a great projector so that I could show my Keynote slides and videos on the screen behind me.

When it was time to start, everyone quieted down and Miss Sheryl gave me a great introduction.

Miss Sheryl Smith-Rogers introduces Commander Ben to the Highland Lakes Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist

During my presentation, I talked about:

  • How I got started as Commander Ben – the Invasive Hunter
  • What invasive species are
  • Some examples of common invasive plants in Central Texas
  • How I fight invasives, and
  • Why I started the Invasive Hunter Academy.

Then I showed the group three videos from my “Battles with Invasive Species” series:

All the videos got a great reception, but I think everyone especially enjoyed seeing the grumpy scientist in the Amazing Invasive Hunter Man.

I ended my presentation by sharing with the group some of my experiences with dyslexia, and the technologies that I use to write my blog and make my videos. Plus, I gave them a glimpse into what’s next for Commander Ben: Working more with invasives, dyslexia, and high school!

Everyone loves stickers

When I finished, everyone applauded and then Miss Linda O’Nan, vice president of the group, presented me with a goodie bag including a great Texas Master Naturalist hat! I also got to meet Miss Fredi Franki, president of the group.

Great goodie bag! Thank you!

Love the hat! 🙂

Commander Ben and Linda O’Nan, Vice President of the Highland Lakes Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist

Commander Ben and Fredi Franki, President of the Highland Lakes Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist

After my presentation, I chatted with all the master naturalists as they came and looked at the Invasive Hunter Academy stuff I had brought along with me. I noticed even the adults loved the stickers. Who doesn’t love stickers!

Thanks to Miss Sheryl for the great blog post of the event, Commander Ben Enlightens Us.  Be sure to check it out.  Miss Sheryl has a fantastic nature blog!

Many thanks to all the Highland Lakes Chapter Texas Master Naturalists! I had a great day and look forward to seeing you all again…maybe out in the field!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Apple, Bastard Cabbage, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Dyslexia, Highland Lakes Chapter, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, iPad, Japanese honeysuckle, Keynote, Malta star-thistle, Marble Falls, Mr. Darrell Hutchinson, Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Texas Master Naturalists

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