Tag Archives: nature

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,

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


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

Benjamin Shrader Receives 2013 International Young Eco Hero Award

actionfornature_ecoheroI am so excited to share with you the great news that I was named a 2013 International Young Eco-Hero by Action For Nature!

Action For Nature is an international non-profit organization that encourages young people to take personal action to better their environments and to foster love and respect for nature.  Their Young Eco-Hero Award program honors the work of kids and teens between the ages of 8 and 16 who have done creative environmental projects.

I was so surprised when I received notice that I had been named a 2013 Young Eco-Hero because this is an international award given to a small group of kids and teens from around the world.

Many thanks to Action for Nature for recognizing the work I do in Central Texas and across the country to help educate kids of all ages about invasive species and to protect and preserve our native species. I am so honored and humbled.

Visit the Action for Nature site to learn more about this great organization and also about what kids are doing everywhere to protect our natural world.

Your friend,


Filed under Action for Nature, Eco-Hero, Environmental, Invasive Species

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,

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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,


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

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,


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