Tag Archives: texas

Learning about Texas Invasive Species during Muster Days at Camp Mabry

You didn't have to walk far to find Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy during Muster Days at Camp Mabry

You didn’t have to walk far to find Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy
during Muster Days at Camp Mabry

This spring I was honored to be invited to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to 2014 American Heroes Days at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

This special weekend included the Muster Days event, and the academy was part of the Texas environmental section with activities and booths for kids and attendees. In addition to the Texas ecosystem activities, there were lots of military displays and reenactments, including a WWII battle.

Here are some pictures from the event:

 Austin kids creating their invasive species action dioramas as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry


Austin kids creating their invasive species action dioramas as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry

I always enjoy teaching kids about Texas invasive species through the Invasive Hunter Academy’s fun activities. This was the third academy event that I held this spring, including taking the academy on the road to Austin school kids for Earth Day at St. Edwards University.

 Justin Bush, Commander Ben, and Mike Murphrey in front of the Texas A&M Forest Service table. I'm holding my "May the forest be with you" bookmark.


Justin Bush, Commander Ben, and Mike Murphrey in front of the Texas A&M Forest Service table. I’m holding my “May the forest be with you” bookmark.

Justin Bush talking about the Wildflower Center and Mike Murphrey talking about Texas trees at Camp Mabry

Justin Bush talking about the Wildflower Center and Mike Murphrey talking about Texas trees at Camp Mabry

Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Mr. Mike Murphrey, Forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service, teamed up to talk about native Texas plants and trees.

Mr. Bush is a wonderful friend and great speaker. He has traveled across the state giving talks and workshops to train citizen scientists how to spot invasive species. He gave me a bunch of Wildflower Center and invasive species brochures to hand out at my academy events. (Thanks, Justin!) Be sure to sign up for the iWire newsletter to stay in touch with the latest Texas invasive species news.

Mr. Murphrey loves Texas trees, and it shows every time he talked with attendees at the event. He explained how trees are renewable resources and how important they are to our ecosystem and economy. He brought a large cross section of a Texas tree to show everyone the rings, the differences between heartwood and sapwood, and how xylem and phloem moved water and nutrients throughout the tree. (I learned a lot about plants in my high school freshman biology class.)

Commander Ben visiting with the Austin Zoo at Camp Mabry

Commander Ben visiting with the Austin Zoo at Camp Mabry

 Safari Greg and Commander Ben want you to hop over to the Austin Zoo


Safari Greg and Commander Ben want you to hop over to the Austin Zoo

Safari Greg with the Austin Zoo brought a lot of animals, including an adorable tortoise and this cute baby kangaroo, to show kids on Sunday. The Austin Zoo helps many animals in need, rescuing and rehabilitating them. I had fun visiting their southwest Austin location when I was younger.

Lots of goodies from Texas Military Forces to commemorate Army Earth Day

Lots of goodies from Texas Military Forces to commemorate Army Earth Day

Notice those large colored rocks to help hold down the papers in the Army Earth Day booth in case of wind. That’s a great idea! I used large binder clips to help keep my academy materials from blowing away during the 2014 Milam County Nature festival.

Petroglyphs wall activity at the beginning of the Muster Days event before kids started adding their cave drawings

Petroglyphs wall activity at the beginning of the Muster Days event before kids started adding their cave drawings

 Local Plant Source also had a booth at Camp Mabry's event


Local Plant Source also had a booth at Camp Mabry’s event

Many examples of native plants at Camp Mabry to help people avoid planting invasives

Many examples of native plants at Camp Mabry to help people avoid planting invasives

 Did you know you can fish at Camp Mabry? I didn't, but it's true!


Did you know you can fish at Camp Mabry? I didn’t, but it’s true!

The secret nature boxes activity is always a lot of fun for kids

The secret nature boxes activity is always a lot of fun for kids

Texas Military Forces: The Power of Partnerships. What an honor to be listed with a lot of great nature organizations!

Texas Military Forces: The Power of Partnerships.
What an honor to be listed with a lot of great nature organizations!

 Humvee parked outside the Texas Military Forces Museum


Humvee parked outside the Texas Military Forces Museum

You never know who might helicopter in during Muster Days

You never know who might helicopter in during Muster Days

Where did that Sherman Tank go? It was here just a minute ago.

Where did that Sherman Tank go? It was here just a minute ago.

The Sherman Tank that I took a picture with at the Texas Military Forces Museum was gone! But it wasn’t MIA. Instead, it was leading the charge during the WWII battle reenactment during Muster Days at Camp Mabry. The Axis powers were no match!

I really love dogs, so it was great to find a booth for the canine corps and the police force dogs. These dogs are great because they can enter buildings to quickly find threats or hostages. They really help to protect our soldiers, and I got a neat t-shirt from them.

Dr. Linda Brown and Commander Ben in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry

Dr. Linda Brown and Commander Ben in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry

My thanks to Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager with the Texas Military Department, for inviting me to the event. I met Dr. Brown during the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest conference in Port Aransas earlier this year.

Dr. Brown made me feel at home, and we talked about our wonderful Texas ecosystem and how I’ve enjoyed visiting Camp Mabry and attending previous Muster Days since I was a young naturalist. (I guess I still am, but a little older than before!)

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Heroes Day, Camp Mabry, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Linda Brown, Mike Murphrey, Muster Days, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Military Forces Museum

Commander Ben calls for reinforcements to battle invasive species during American Heroes Days

I'm calling in the big guns for the battle against invasive species

I’m calling in the big guns for the battle against invasive species

Calling all Austin Invasive Hunters! Your native ecosystem needs you!

Join me this weekend (April 26-27) in Austin, Texas, during Camp Mabry’s 2014 American Heroes Days, which includes the Muster Days event and the Texas Military Forces Museum open house. This event traces its roots back to the days when Texas was still a republic and troops were “mustered” or called to report.

During American Heroes Days you’ll meet reenactors from all periods of Texas history and get to know their historical uniforms and equipment.

On both Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, you won’t want to miss the WWII battle reenactment, where you’ll find out about the troops and tactics that were used. I’ve been to these reenactments when I was younger and they are amazing!

Focus on Texas native species and cultural heritage

My thanks to Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager, for inviting me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to be part of event’s environmental section, focusing on Texas’ native species and cultural heritage. In addition to learning about our American heroes at Camp Mabry, young naturalists can also learn about invasive species and become official Invasive Hunters!

Parents and adults won’t want to miss talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He’ll also have a table to talk about the ways that you can treasure our native Texas plants and protect our native ecosystem.

This weekend’s going to be action packed!

Whirlwind of activity

I’ve brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to so many great events these last few weeks, that I haven’t had a chance to talk about them with you.

Look for my posts in the coming weeks where I share some of my experiences working with young naturalists and the Invasive Hunter Academy.

Hope to see you this weekend! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Heroes Day, Camp Mabry, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Linda Brown, Muster Days

Invasive Hunters and Surprises at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

I had such a great time at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference that was held last month at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. I gave my invasive species presentation in the institute’s auditorium, talked with lots of scientists, and received such a great surprise!

Adventures with invasive species presentation

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

My presentation at this year’s conference was entitled, “Adventures with Invasive Species and the Invasive Hunter Academy”. I talked about how I use social media and my many science videos to educate kids about invasive species. With each of my Battles with Invasive Species videos, I created a character and focused on a specific invasive species that kids could learn from and remember.

For example, you’ve heard of grumpy cat. Here’s my grumpy scientist character who starred in two of my invasive species videos:

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character's wide range of emotions

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character’s wide range of emotions

Looking for a fun activity for in-person events led me to create the Invasive Hunter Academy, which I described in my presentation. Since I’m dyslexic, I talked about how I wanted to create a multi-sensory approach to helping kids learn through visual matching, physical activities, and creative crafts. I shared my many successes taking the academy to the US Botanic Gardens in Washington D.C. and to many nature events across Texas.

Graduates from the academy have fun, create an action diorama they can bring home, and become official Invasive Hunters!

I fielded many great questions from the audience, including how my videos can be used in school science classrooms. (Please feel free to use them to help kids learn more about invasive species!) I also received a warm invitation from Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager with the Texas Military Department, to bring my academy to Camp Mabry!

Scientists gathered from across Texas and the nation

There were many great talks from scientists who are helping to research and control invasive species in Texas. Here are just a few of the presentations from some of the scientists that I had a chance to talk with at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference and at the 2011 conference.

Adding species to Texas’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

At this year’s conference, Dr. Damon Waitt led the Leadership and Coordination sessions and he gave a presentation on The Texas Invasive Plant Inventory and Efforts to Add Plant Species to TDA’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List.

Dr. Waitt is the Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, and he talked about the successes and challenges for listing invasive species for inclusion on the State of Texas’ Noxious and Invasive Plants list.

Dr. Waitt talked about two invasive plant species that were added to the state’s list:

Dr. Waitt has been a great mentor to me as I’ve learned about invasive species. Here are a few of my blog posts with Dr. Waitt:

Update on invasive species in Texas

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

As with the 2011 conference, Dr. Earl W. Chilton gave a wonderful status update on invasive species in Texas with a special focus on aquatic invasives, including the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Dr. Chilton is the Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program Director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Around Central Texas, Dr. Chilton talked about Austin’s successful efforts to bring Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) under control in Lake Austin. He also talked about how scientists found Salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima) near Lake Travis. Unfortunately, fire ants are attacking the larva of the leaf beetles that have been helping to control the spread of Salt cedar across Texas.

At the last conference when I was just a budding invasive hunter, Dr. Chilton talked with me about Reeling in the Top Aquatic Invasive Species in Texas.

Institute for the Study of Invasive Species

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook is the Associate Vice President for Research at Sam Houston State University. He served as the program chair for this year’s conference, and he talked about the university’s Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS). He was also part of two presentations at the conference:

I was happy to catch up with Dr. Cook at this year’s conference. I had a chance to create a video interview with him at the 2011 conference to talk about his New Institute for the Study of Invasive Species: Early Detection, Rapid Response.

Coordinating invasive species across Texas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

During the conference and at the evening dinner, I had a great time talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He has a background working on controlling aquatic and terrestrial invasive species and on habitat restoration projects.

With the Wildflower Center, he works on invasive species projects in Texas and on many parts of the Texas Invasives website, including reviewing pictures and sightings of invasive species uploaded by citizen scientists in their Invasives database.

Mr. Bush helped organize the many workshops for this year’s conference. He was very kind and encouraging, and I’m excited to work with Mr. Bush and the Wildflower Center in the future.

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More invasive species presentations

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Since I could only attend one day of the conference (since I didn’t want to miss my high school biology class!), I didn’t get a chance to talk with all of the scientists. Here are just a few of the presenters and session chairs with links to videos where I had a chance to interview them during the last 2011 conference.

There were so many great presentations and sessions at the conference that I can’t list them all. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful conference, including everyone I’ve already mentioned, plus Jim Houser, Alex Mathes, Scott Walker, Trey Wyatt, Mike Murphrey, Autumn Smith-Herron, and Sara Pelleteri.

Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

I received such a wonderful surprise at Thursday night’s conference dinner! In addition to receiving a presentation award, the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council presented me with the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award!

Wow! I was so honored to receive this award and for all the kind words. It was so heartwarming to hear from a scientist that I was “one of the team!”

Thanks, TIPPC, for the award! I’m so happy that my work to help educate kids about invasive species has had an impact, and I’ll continue to train more invasive hunters to help protect and treasure our native ecosystems.

Invasive Hunter Academy: Spring events

Speaking of the Invasive Hunter Academy, I’m excited to announce that there will be lots of chances for you be part of the academy this spring:

These events are a great chance for kids of all ages to learn about invasive species, have fun with nature, and learn about Texas history. Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2014 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Camp Mabry, Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Dr. Stephen Clarke, Earl Chilton, Hydrilla, Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS), Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Japanese Climbing Fern, Jerry Cook, Justin Bush, Karen Clary, Luci Cook-Hildreth, Marine Science Institute, Milam County Nature Festival, Ronald Billings, Saltcedar, Sam Houston State University, Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council, Texas Invasives, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, University of Texas, Zebra Mussel

Learn more about the future of hurricanes on the Texas Gulf Coast

You may know about how hurricanes are formed, but do you know why they can be more destructive when they come ashore in the shallow waters of the Texas Gulf Coast? The 1900 Galveston hurricane is an example of what can happen.  It was the worst natural disaster in the United States.

I recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel between sessions of the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. In the video above, you will learn more about hurricanes with Dr. Emanuel, as he talks about the role of El Nino and La Nina on hurricanes, hurricane preparedness, and the effect of “superstorms” or more appropriately termed – hybrid storms – like hurricane Sandy.

Dr. Emanuel is one of the world’s leading authorities on hurricanes. He is a professor in the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Don’t miss Dr. Emanuel’s talk, “Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico: The History and Future of the Texas Coast“, tomorrow. (You can also watch a replay of it too.) His presentation is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 1900 Galveston hurricane, American Meteorological Society, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, El Nino, Environmental Science Institute, Gulf coast, Gulf of Mexico, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hurricane, Hurricane preparedness, Hybrid storm, La Nina, Superstorm, Texas, University of Texas, UT Austin

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

Dr. Damon Waitt predicts the next big invasive species to threaten Texas rangelands

Last year, Dr. Damon Waitt predicted the onslaught of Bastard Cabbage, an invasive species with mustard flowers that overran our Texas Wildflowers. With my latest interview with Dr. Waitt, you can learn more about Yellow Star-Thistle, the next big invasive species to threaten our Texas pastures, roadsides, and rangelands.

Dr. Waitt is a Senior Botanist and Director of the Native Plant Information Network at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

I interviewed Dr. Waitt for this video during the Invasive Species Workshop for Citizen Scientists in June 2012 at the Wildflower Center.

It’s been only a few months, but I look much younger in my first video with Dr. Waitt, Advances in the fight against invasive species in Texas, that I filmed during the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference in November 2011.

Learn more about the invasive species that Dr. Waitt has talked about:

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Bastard Cabbage, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wildflower center, Yellow Star-Thistle