Tag Archives: Darrell Hutchinson

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

Austin Invasive Species Corps Aid Golden-Cheeked Warbler

Mr. Darrell Hutchinson describes his work helping to track and protect the habitat for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, an endangered species that breeds only in central Texas. He demonstrates how the weed wrench helps to remove invasive species that crowd out the native plants and trees in the warbler’s ecosystem.

Mr. Hutchinson is a biologist in Austin, Texas, and a member of Austin’s Invasive Species Corps. I interviewed “Corporal” Hutchinson during our invasive species volunteer day in August 2012. Learn more about my adventures with Austin’s Invasive Species Corps.

This video is part of my “Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed” series of interviews with scientists that I first started at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Invasive Species Corps, Citizen Scientist, Endangered Species, Golden Cheeked Warbler, Invasive Species, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Mr. Darrell Hutchinson, Volunteer, Weed wrench

Adventures with Austin’s Invasive Species Corps

Last weekend, I joined the Austin Invasive Species Corps to identify locations of Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense), an invasive species invading in the Long Canyon portion of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP).

I was happy to talk again with Mr. Chris Warren, a biologist with the BCP, and see the area that we helped to clear last year in my video, Titanic Struggle with Chinese Privet Ends with their Doom. (I’ll post another great video interview with him soon!)

Commander Ben and Biologist Chris Warren examine a small Chinese Privet.

It was nice to see a lot of native plants starting to grow back in the open spaces that the Chinese Privet plants used to occupy. We had pulled up a lot, but more were starting to creep back in and there were other areas too where the Ligustrum overran the native plants. (Sometimes the biologists in our group would call Chinese Privet by its scientific name, Ligustrum.)

Pulling up Chinese Privet with a weed wrench.

We used special weed wrenches to hand pull as much Chinese Privet as we could find. These heavy tools help to pull up the plant, roots and all, otherwise it could grow back from a stump.

It was a fun day filled with hunting invasives, hard work, and listening also to some wonderful presentations from many different people who are experts in the field of invasive species.

Know your invasive species: Chinese Privet

Small Chinese Privet plant (But they get much bigger!)

Chinese Privet is a woody bush with green leaves that break off easily and has lots of shoots growing out from the stalk.  It can sometimes be confused with the following native plants:

  • Elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens)
    How to tell them apart: Elbow Bush has branches that grow at 90 degree angles
  • Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)
    How to tell them apart: The Yaupon has a tooth edge leaf instead of smooth edge leaf like the Chinese privet.

Unfortunately, Chinese Privet invaded the lower area of Long Canyon where it crowded out the native plants to create a monoculture.  Seeds from “Godzilla” sized Chinese Privet that were planted in the landscapes of homes up on a ridge, washed downhill, grew, and quickly multiplied.  This process happens over and over again when it rains and when birds carry the seed berries too.

In Asia, Chinese Privet’s native home, it stays in check because it has to contend with disease, parasites, and wildlife “eaters”.  Here in the U.S., Chinese Privet is essentially free of predators, and this allows it to spread aggressively.  Even our deer don’t like to eat it!  They prefer our native Texas plants instead.

As a non-native and pioneer species, this invasive plant can grow and spread quickly.

So why is it a problem if Chinese Privet establishes a monoculture in our area?

Know your Endangered Species: Golden cheeked warbler

Golden-Cheeked Warbler
Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Well, it all has to do with water and the cute…and endangered…Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

The Golden-Cheeked Warbler, is a native bird and it uses the bark of the Ashe Juniper (Cedar) tree to make its nests.  These birds eat the larva of moths and butterflies that live on the Texas Live Oak trees.  Unfortunately, the Chinese Privet hogs the water and crowds out the the Cedars and the Oaks, and this eliminates the habitat and food for the Warbler.

This is especially troubling because the Golden-Cheeked Warbler is the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Texas from Palo Pinto County southwestward along the eastern and southern edge of the Edwards Plateau to Kinney County. The Balcones Canyonland Preserve is part of the Warblers’ habitat.

By clearing the Chinese Privet, we hope to create more habitat and food for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

Another opportunity to clear invasive species next month

Mark your calendars on Saturday, September 29, when the Austin Invasive Species Corps will get together again for a land management workday to fight against invasive plants in a new area of Long Canyon. This time, they’ll grapple with a team of two villains:

This is your chance to be an Invasive Hunter in action to battle against invasive species and help save the Golden-Cheeked Warbler!

Many thanks to Ms. Louise Liller, volunteer coordinator for the Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division; Mr. Chris Warren; Austin biologists Mr. Darrell Hutchinson and Mr. Matt McCaw; and the valiant voluteers of the Austin Invasive Species Corp for hosting this event and making a difference for our endangered songbird and our native ecosystem.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Ashe juniper, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, BCP, BCP wildland conservation, Chinese Privet, Edwards Plateau, Elbow bush, Endangered Species, Golden Cheeked Warbler, Ligustrum, Long Canyon, Mr. Chris Warren, Mr. Darrell Hutchinson, Mr. Matt McCaw, Ms. Louise Liller, Pioneer plant, Texas Live Oak, Wax Leaf Privet, Waxyleaf privet, Yaupon