Tag Archives: Nature Nights

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

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

Fun Summer Events at the Wildflower Center Culminate with a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson

Commander Ben during a Nature Nights events at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

It was a great summer of events at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center! Tomorrow brings the Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Tribute Day, and the last two Nature Nights events were held in the latter half of July.

Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Tribute Day

Tomorrow, July 29, the Wildflower Center is having a special Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Tribute Day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mrs. Johnson’s birth and a new exhibit on her conservation efforts.

Admission is free for the entire family, and activities include:

  • Lady Bird’s Wildflowers, a children’s play by the ZACH Theatre
  • Music with Lucas Miller, the singing zoologist
  • Storytelling, and much more!

Mrs. Johnson has done a lot for nature! In addition to my frequent visits to the Wildflower Center, I also hiked on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail through the California Redwoods in the Spring.

Nature Nights events

What a wonderful summer for Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center. The last two events in July focused on bats and snakes, and I had a great time earlier this month helping to teach kids about invasive species and become invasive hunters as part of my Invasive Hunter Academy during the Power of Plants event.

Bats

I learned about bats at a very young age. My kindergarten class took a field trip to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper office, and in the twilight, we watched hundreds of bats fly out from the Congress Avenue bridge. I remember using a flashlight with red cellophane over the light, so as to not disturb the bat’s night vision.

Highlights from the Nature Night’s evening on July 19 included:

Snakes

When I visited Onion Creek’s whirlpool springs earlier this year as part of a hike led by the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, I heard and saw rattlesnakes.

During the hike, someone told me that if your group is walking in a single file line, the third person in the line is the one most commonly bitten. Why? Because when the first person walks by the rattlesnake, it gets mad. When the second person walks by, it’s furious, and by the time the third person walks by, the snake can’t control itself any longer!

Is it truth, legend, or maybe a little of both?

Highlights from the Nature Night’s evening on July 26 included:

I can’t wait until the Wildflower Center’s fall events, including the wonderful Luminations celebration in December.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Bats, Congress Avenue Bridge, Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Snakes, Wildflower center

Plants and Birds Take Flight at Nature Nights

Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Photo credit: User Stemonitis on Wikipedia

I really enjoy Nature Nights because it’s a great way to educate kids about science. There are a lot of hands-on crafts and activities and that’s a great way for kids to learn.

Last week’s nature night was on the Power of Plants. I had a great time teaching kids about invasive plants with my Invasive Hunter Academy. I look forward to joining the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center again.

Plants in the garden

I like to work with my hands in nature, especially with plants, cultivating, growing, and harvesting them. I’ve grown chili peppers and tomatoes this year.

I attempted to grow corn too, but the corn was very twisted, probably due to the heat before our recent rains. Aphids and other insects really attacked it too. So instead I composted it.

I’m looking forward to the ginger, potatoes, onions, and leaks that I’m still growing.

Birds of Prey

When I was younger, I went to a Nature Nights where they were teaching kids about birds of prey. They had a man showing a hawk there. The talons were sharp and scary, and he had to wear gloves, otherwise they would have cut up his hands.

I find raptors and owls amazing because they can spot their prey from so far way. With their huge eyes and soft feathers, owls can fly so silently that mice have no chance.

Yesterday’s nature night was also on Birds of Prey, and they had fun activities in the evening too:

Don’t miss next week’s Nature Night on Thursday, July 19, on Bats.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Birds of Prey, Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, Earth Native Wilderness School, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Travis Audubon, Wildflower center

Kids Learn about Invasive Species and Become Invasive Hunters at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben with future Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

On July 5, I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Power of Plants event during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Here are some great pictures of the night’s event.

Pictures from the Invasive Hunter Academy

Commander Ben and Ms. Alice Nance with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I am before the start of the Nature Nights event with Ms. Alice Nance, Wildflower Center Education Manager. She and Ms. Julie Graham made me feel very welcome. They gave me a great location to set up with lots of room for the future Invasive Hunters to practice their moves to take down invasives.

After the event started, there were so many kids enrolled in the academy that they had to get me another table so the kids could have room to create their action diorama.

Kids learning about Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), an invasive species, with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I am teaching kids about invasive species. The first part of the academy is learning about your enemy, and I’m showing a picture of Elephant Ear to this future Invasive Hunter.

Learn more about Elephant Ear with my In an Ecesis Far, Far Away video, part of the Battles with Invasive Species video series.

Kids learning how to take down the Giant Reed, an invasive species, with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I’m teaching future Invasive Hunters the swallow hand stalk strike move. It’s to take down the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). As the Giant Reed attacks, block with one hand above your head and strike with the other.

Learn more about the Giant Reed with my Invasive Hunter Academy launches during National Invasive Species Awareness Week video, part of the Battles with Invasive Species video series.

Example of an action diorama that kids can create with the Invasive Hunter Academy

Here’s an example one of the action dioramas that the kids can make as part of the academy. This is a great craft 🙂 because it really gets the kids thinking about invasives as they make their action scene. They got to pick one of three invasives species to battle: Elephant Ear, English Ivy, or Giant Reed.

I noticed that when the boys made their action scene, it really looked like a real battle was going on…very messy, like my own diorama! When the girls created their dioramas, they were perfectly done. There were no scissor marks, no glue smears, and the people were perfectly drawn, but I’m sure there was a great battle against invasives going on there too!

Window on a Texas Wildscape with Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Commander Ben and Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers and her husband James, during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I met Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers and her husband James at Nature Nights. They are very nice people, and they love nature. Mrs. Smith-Rodgers is a wonderful writer. Thanks for mentioning me on your great blog, Window on a Texas Wildscape.

Nature crafts with the Teenage Ecowarriors

Commander Ben and the Teenage Ecowarriors during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I finally got the chance to meet the Teenage Ecowarriors. They help kids create art treasures from recyclables. At the Butterflies event, they helped kids make a butterfly sock puppet. At the Power of Plants event, they helped kids make a newspaper flower. They’ll be coming back to the Bats event on July 19, so be sure to go see them when you’re there.

Wood shingles with JC Pollard

Commander Ben and Mr. JC Pollard during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I was happy to meet Mr. JC Pollard again at Nature Nights. I met Mr. Pollard last year for Flintknapping and Great Nature Activities at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.

Mr. Pollard was helping kids make wood shingles by breaking off pieces of wood from a tree ring. I didn’t get a chance to create a shingle, but it looked really fun. I saw the shingles that kids made when they came to the Invasive Hunter Academy, and one boy gave me one.

Thanks Future Invasive Hunters!

Thanks to all the enthusiastic kids who enrolled in the Invasive Hunter Academy! Together, we’re helping to stop the spread of invasives. Education and awareness is very important. I really enjoy these events, because I feel that I’m helping to give back to our community by educating people about invasive species.

I look forward to bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy to more events in the future!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Battles with Invasive Species, Elephant Ear, English Ivy, Giant Reed, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mr. JC Pollard, Ms. Alice Nance, Ms. Julie Graham, Ms. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Teenage Ecowarriors, Wildflower center

Invasive Hunter Academy Helps Kids Learn About Invasive Species

Happy Independence Day from me and my dog, Obi-wan!

I’m looking forward to meeting kids, families, and everyone who loves nature at the Invasive Hunter Academy tomorrow during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This free event on Thursday, July 5, at 6:00 p.m. focuses on the “Power of Plants”.

I can’t wait to teach kids of all ages about invasive species, the problems that they cause, and what you can do about them. Learn cool combat moves and create an action diorama to take home with you.

Check out the other fun activities during the evening too:

  • Take a special behind the scenes tour of the seed lab herbarium and nursery
  • Learn about edible native plants and make rope and tools using plants
  • Hear about traditional uses of local native plants from Mark Blumenthal, Founder and Executive Director of the American Botanical Council
  • Hike the Wildflower Center gardens with experts, including Ellen Zimmerman with the Austin School of Herbal Studies, botanist Flo Oxley, and Native Plant Society of Texas members, who will teach you about how native plants can be used as medicines
  • Go on a garden scavenger hunt and make seed balls with Master Naturalists
  • Create a paper version of the Venus flytrap using recycled materials with the Teenage Ecowarriors

So be sure to come to Nature Nights and join the elite ranks of the Invasive Hunters! I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Botanical Council, Austin School of Herbal Studies, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Master naturalist, Native Plant Society of Texas, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Wildflower center

Hummingbirds and Bees as Pollinators and the Threat of Colony Collapse Disorder

At last week’s Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I was delighted to meet Ms. Becky Ruppel, who has done graduate work in biology and is a volunteer at the Wildflower Center.

She also studied the Yellow Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), an invasive species from the Mediterranean that threatens the native diversity and rangeland in Colorado.

Hummingbirds see red

Ms. Ruppel talked with me about how important pollinators are to our ecosystem to help plants reproduce. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds can see red, and that’s why they are attracted to plants with red flowers, such as Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii).

When hummingbirds go to feed on nectar, the pollen from the male part of the flower (the anther) collects on their bills. When they fly over to feed with another flower, they pass the pollen to the female part of the flower (the pistil) as part of the pollination process to help the flower form a seed.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD)

We also talked about colony collapse disorder. A few years ago, I saw a PBS Nature program, Silence of the Bees, about this tragedy affecting our honey bees who are pollinators and that live in colonies.

Beginning in 2006, for some unknown reason, honey bees from entire hives began to disappear. They just get sick and fly off to die. Since bees are a major pollinator, this puts many of our plants, especially our food crops, at risk.

Ms. Ruppel mentioned some of the factors scientists think might be causing it, such as pesticides, diseases, or mites, but she said that they haven’t been able to pinpoint one cause and be able to treat it yet. CCD may be due to many factors.

If honey bees are in decline, she said that our native solitary bees may be able to take their place as pollinators, such as mason bees. Landowners could leave areas of their property in a natural state and place ground features such as pieces of wood to help encourage the mason bees to make their homes there.

I hope they are able to help our honeybees soon!

Nature Nights: Power of Plants coming this week

Don’t forget that I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights on Thursday, July 5, at 6:00 p.m.  Bring your entire family to this free event and learn more about the Power of Plants!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Bees, Colony Collapse Disorder, Hummingbirds, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mason Bees, Ms. Becky Ruppel, Nature Nights, Pollination, Power of Plants, Wildflower center, Yellow Toadflax