The Vireo Preserve, on the east side of Loop 360 at the intersection of Pascal Lane, is a great place to volunteer. This 212-acre tract of land, just north of Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) that is managed by the City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division.
Jim O’Donnell, who works and volunteers for the City of Austin, regularly organizes volunteer workdays at the Vireo Preserve on Sundays and Tuesdays. On these days, volunteers help build trails through the wooded areas and revitalize the habitat that was devastated by years of goat grazing before it became part of BCP. Volunteers have planted natives that are beneficial to wildlife, for example Carolina Buckthorn, Chile Pequin, and Gregg’s Blue Mistflower. Some of the transplants, Big Red Sage, Canyon Mock Orange, and Sycamore-leaf Snowbell for example, are rare. All of the new transplants are protected with wire cages to give them a start in life before they are “released” to fend for themselves against the deer that forage through the land. Volunteers create swales and berms to retain rainfall, allowing it to infiltrate or channel into karst features to replenish the aquifer. Terry Southwell, our own superstar Master Naturalist, noted that partly due to good land management, the stream that runs through the preserve did not go dry all summer. One day we removed patches of King Ranch Bluestem, an invasive grass, and another day we collected seeds of liatris and senna that grow there to sow on the newly created berms and in bare patches in the preserve. As we work we hear the chips and calls of cardinals, and occasionally see a flash of red in the evergreen sumac.
Every workday is also an occasion to learn more about the habitat. Jim took us on a walk through the woods, naming various plant species—Texas Red Oak, Escarpment Black Cherry, Flame-leaf Sumac, Silktassel—and describing the barren state of the hillsides before he and other volunteers created the many berms and swales that now host a great variety of flourishing natives. He showed us the structure that was used to catch the cowbirds that were causing a sharp decline in the vireo population and explained how the cowbirds were caught. A story in itself.
The Vireo Preserve and the company are always delightful, and no two workdays are the same. To learn more about BCP, see a video of Jim O’Donnell telling about banding Golden-cheeked Warblers, and register to volunteer at the Vireo Preserve, visit the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve webpage at http://www.austintexas.gov/bcp.
Hope to see you there in 2016.