Category Archives: Field Notes

Love Notes: Forest Ridge Land Steward Orientation

On May 14, Cait M and Mark S. who work for City of Austin Wildlands Conservation offered a training for land stewards on the Bull Creek Forest Ridge trail of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). This training brought into clear focus the delicate balance between the purposes of public trails through protected habitats. The primary purpose of the BCP is to protect the habitat of endangered species. To serve this purpose, ideally, the land would be left entirely undisturbed, isolated from human interaction. Another purpose is to allow recreational use of the trails through the habitat, encouraging people to appreciate this wild space and all that lives here, in the knowledge that people are more likely to value and protect what they know and love, while realizing that every footstep off the trail will be crushing some living thing, altering the natural environment. Volunteer BCP land stewards are needed to help keep the trails safe for visitors, to help keep the visitors on the trail, to watch for things that could negatively impact the preserve, and to share their observations with Cait and Mark.

Removing invasive plant species is one thing stewards can do. Mark pointed out Beggars Lice (Torilis arvensis) and Malta Star Thistle (Centaurea melitensis) at the entryway, saying that it would be appreciated if stewards were to pull these invasive species and put them in the trash if they have seeds.

Along the path, a young cedar was partly leaning into the path. Mark simply pushed it back the other direction, out of the path. Another cedar had fallen across the path, and this one Mark sawed off at the base, first making sure that there were no nests in the branches. Then he laid the branches across the beginnings of an adventitious path to help remind visitors to stay on the marked trails. As stewards, we would not ordinarily be cutting down trees, but part of our job would be to remove obstacles from trails and to discourage creation of unauthorized paths.

Another part of the steward’s job is to check the water bars, long cedar logs laid across the trail to channel water runoff away from the trail and mitigate erosion. Stewards are authorized to dig or scrape away gravel, rocks, and leaves that have accumulated above water bars so that rainwater flow is properly diverted from the trail.
As we cultivated our sense of responsibility, we also enjoyed the sights and sounds. Standing quietly for a moment, we could hear the songs of many birds. Butterflies escorted us all along the trail, and we saw grapes and wildflowers in bloom.

Visit the Wildlands page to learn about future steward training opportunities.

Love Notes: Madrone Canyon Preserve

On April 30, the morning after an overnight rain, the trail is alive with wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. Moments along the trail, still at the rim of the canyon, three mocking birds are having a disagreement about territory, calling threats at each other and chasing from tree to tree. White Barbara’s buttons, lavender Engelmann’s sage, and bright yellow Missouri primrose are among the many wildflowers blooming along the trail. Down onto the old road bed, now a wide path of wildflowers, two buckeye butterflies settle to enjoy a good sip in the mud.

Continue reading Love Notes: Madrone Canyon Preserve

Love Notes: Finding Austin’s Endangered Ones – A BCP Hike

On Sunday, April 24, Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division organized a hike on the Aralia trail, part of the Bull Creek parcel of the BCP, especially for the purpose of sighting golden-cheeked warblers. The hike was led by Jonny Scalise, a biologist with the City of Austin, and volunteers Robert Reeves and Gloria Wilson.

Continue reading Love Notes: Finding Austin’s Endangered Ones – A BCP Hike

Love Notes: Hike at the Concordia University Preserve

Saturday morning, April 9th, was a cool and cloudy day with a threat of rain, but Dr. Meissner, our guide through the Concordia University Preserve, made every moment a step into a world apart. He began the hike by pointing out that the hill country terrain of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve has a special feature: small canyons that start out wide and come to a point, providing a special habitat for endangered species such as the Jollyville salamander. He also noted that we would be going through four ecosystems over the course of the next two hours: a slope community, a riparian community, an upland community, and a pond community.

Continue reading Love Notes: Hike at the Concordia University Preserve

Footsteps Through Time

into the woodsOn March 5, Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division volunteers Lila, Gloria, Chris, and Audrey led a group on a hike in the Butler Ecological Preserve, an area at the end of Jester Boulevard that is otherwise closed to the public. The beginning of the hike is down a wagon trail through shrubby live oak and evergreen sumac under power lines, suitable habitat for black-capped vireo. Lila stops to tell about the brown-headed cowbird trap before guiding us off the trail and through the woods. She notes that we are now walking through golden-cheeked warbler habitat, mature juniper and oak woodland, pausing on a rocky slope that is in fact a field of cretaceous era fossils. At the bottom of the slope is a running creek, and from the side of the creek bubbles Tenacio Spring, named for the previous caretaker of the land. The base of a tree trunk forms a fiercely guarding gargoyle above the spring. Then back up the trail, past a deep ravine we come to Kiki’s Spring, named for Kent Butler’s childhood moniker.

To register to go on this and other hikes, visit Wildland Conservation Division’s online calendar of events at


Fire in Central Texas

“Prescribed burning will do more to improve habitat for deer and numerous other wildlife than any other practice. Prescribed burning is also considered the ‘cheapest, most effective habitat management technique.’ ” – TPWD website


CbcuIrtVAAAF92ZWildfires were once essential to Texas. Grasses and understory plants used to burn at intervals of two to five years. Those fires not only determined the mix of flora and fauna that made up the ecosystem, they also regenerated the land.

When humans with property, houses, and ranches arrived, humans began to suppress any fire that came upon the landscape. They protected their property. Now, a group of Central Texas specialists are bringing fire back. Depending on their mission, they seek to sustain habitat for endangered animals and/or enhance water’s infiltration of the aquifer.

While catastrophic fires cause untold damage to life and property, carefully controlled burns help keep wildfire fuel in check. Different types of prescribed burns are used in Central Texas, depending on what the fire managers want to accomplish. Some of these missions and lands present unique challenges to the fire starters.

I recently spoke with Carl Schwope, the Fire Management Officer at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Located west of Austin, the refuge’s primary purpose is to protect the nesting habitat of two endangered migratory birds — the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. These birds have two different habitats. Keeping the birds happy with their area of the forest is Schwope’s job.

Continue reading Fire in Central Texas

Jacob’s Well Natural Area

Following my retirement I have been spending most of my time at our family ranch in Fischer, which is ten miles west of Wimberley. While trying to work out how to continue with CAMN volunteer hours I became involved with Jacobs Well Natural Area. Since the property is located in Hays County, and our ranch is located in Comal, that resolved the eligibility status since Hays is contiguous to Travis. In the process I have become intimately involved in a beautiful natural area and have met some dedicated, wonderful people who are passionate about protecting this well, located on Cypress Creek, and the surrounding land.

If you think of a well as a hole in the ground out of which we pump water, we should rightfully call this Jacobs Spring. As a result of geological events during the cretaceous period, land along the creek bed shifted, causing a blockage in the bedrock and forcing water upward, creating an artesian spring. It is sacred to the American Indian; one tribe believes the well is the womb of their birth.

Through a series of economic maneuvers, the property surrounding the well is now owned by Hays County and is their premier natural area. Over-visitation during 2014 created the need for controlled access by the county and there is now a reservation system in place which limits the numbers of swimmers at one time. Fees are charged for swimming during summer months, and reservations are not required October through winter.

Human history at Wimberley has been based on this water source, which is now in danger of being over-pumped. Our mission is to educate visitors in the importance of having the water remain healthy, clean, clear and flowing as it meanders southward into the Gulf of Mexico.

I would like to invite any of you who want to spend a little time in Wimberley, doing something with a purpose, to come join us on the volunteer guide corps. Tours are offered mid morning each Saturday and last about an hour. Training is offered, you will receive volunteers hours for TMN via CAMN, you will work with a very friendly and helpful group of volunteers and your knowledge of the hill country will deepen.. If you want to learn more, go to visitwimberley. org then click on “jacobs well” shown in the menu, or come join us on a Saturday morning to experience the tour first hand. You may also contact me personally and I will be happy to answer any questions.

Oh–did I mention the divers? Described by some as “the most dangerous place in the world” (we assume for diving only!), some divers have lost their lives here in the past. Jacobs Well is the second longest water cave in Texas with over a mile having been explored. Today only teams of certified divers are allowed into the cave thus we we do not encourage that activity but the area is a great place to spend a morning or afternoon in our beautiful fall weather!

A CAMN Reading List

Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife
Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife

One of our long-time members, Jeri P., has compiled a fabulous list of the books she loves as a Master Naturalist. Some of the books here are seminal works for the Texas Master Naturalist, as close to required reading as it gets. Like Roy Bedichek’s Adventures With A Texas Naturalist or Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Some are written by CAMN members, like Nature Watch Austin by Jim and Lynne Weber, or Kelly Simon’s Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife.

Nature Watch Austin
Nature Watch Austin

Whatever your interest in the natural world, there’s probably a book (or three) on Jeri’s list that’ll scratch the itch. Her list is broken into four sections.

Got your own favorites? We’d love to hear what they are!

Nature Readings
Adventures With a Texas Naturalist Bedichek, Roy
Austin Nature Watch Weber, Jim & Lynne
Bird in the Waterfall Dennis & Wolff
Botany of Desire Pollan, Michael
Forgotten Pollinators Pollan, Michael
Future of Life Wilson, E.O.
Green History of the World Ponting, Clive
Messages From the Wild Gehlback, Frederich
Noah's Garden Stein, Sarah
Paddling the Guadalupe McAlister, Wayne
Rembunctious Garden Marris, Emma
Sand County Almanac Leopold, Aldo
The Geography of Childhood Nebhan & Trimble
Walden Thoreau, Henry David
Wilderness World of John Muir Teale, Edward
Field Guides
Amphibians Amphibians & Reptiles of Texas Dixon, James
Amphibians Familiar Reptiles & Amphibians of North America Audubon Society Pocket Guide
Birds Birds of texas Rappole & Blacklock
Birds Field Guide to the Birds of Easter North America Sibley, David
Birds Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America Sibley, David
Butterflies Butterflies of North America Brock & Kaufmann
Butterflies Butterflies through Binoculars (A field guide of the West) Glassberg, Jeffrey
Dragonflies Dragonflies Through Binoculars Dunkel, Sidney
Birds A Field Guide to Birds Peterson
Gardening with Natives Native Texas Plants by Region Wasowski, Sally & Andy
Geology Roadside Geology of Texas Spearing, Darwin
Grasses Common Texas Grasses Gould, Frank
Insects Insects of the Texas Lost Pines Taber & Fleenor
Journaling/identification Bird Tracks and Sign Elbroch, Mark & Boretos, Diane 0-81177-2696-7
Journaling/identification Mammal Tracks & Sign Elbroch, Mark 0-8117-2626-6
Journaling/identification Nature Observation and Tracking Brown, Jr., Tom 0-4250-9966-0
Mammals Mammals of Texas Schmedley, David
Plants Native & Naturalized Woody Plants of Austin & the Hill Country Bro. Daniel Lynch
Plants Wildflowers of Texas Ajilvsgi, Geyata
Plants Texas Wildflowers Loughmiller, Campbell & Lynn
Plants A Field Guide to Wildflowers, Trees & Shrubs of Texas Tull & Miller
Plants Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country Enquist, Marshall
Plants Texas Wildscapes:Gardening for Wildlife Damunde & Bender
Plants Field Guide to the Broad-Leaved & Herbaceous Plants of S.Texas Everett, Drawe & Lonard
Reptiles A Field Guide to Texas Reptiles & Amphibians Bartlett, R.D. & Patricia
Reptiles A Field Guide to Texas Snakes Tenant, Alan
Reptiles Amphibians & Reptiles of Texas Dixon, James
Reptiles Familiar Reptiles & Amphibians of North America Audubon Society Pocket Guide
Reptiles Horned Lizard Manaster, Jane
Reptiles Intro. to Horned Lizards of North America Sherbrooke, Wade
Snakes Poisonous Snakes of Texas Price, Andy
Snakes Texas Snakes Werler & Dixon
Just Good Reading
Title Author
Aransas Harrigan, Stephen
Cadillac Desert Reisner, Mark
Caprock Canyonlands Flores
Captured Zesch, Scott
Desert Solitaire Abbey, Edward
Empire of the Summer Moon Gwynne, S.C.
Enchanted Rock Allred, Lance
Goodby to a River Graves, John
Hard Scrabble Graves, John
Illuminations in the Flatwoods Hutto, Joe
Indian Life In Texas Shawn, Charles
John Graves Reader Graves, John
Lone Star Fehrenbach, T.R.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Dillar, Annie
Prodigal Summer Kingsolver, Barbara
Texas State Parks and the CCC Brandimarte & Reed
Touching the Wild Hutto, Joe
Water From Stone Bamberger, David
Woodswoman LaBastille, Anne
General Reading
Title Author ISBN #
Butterfly Gardening for the South Ajilvsgi, Geyata
Texas Bug Book Beck & Garrett
Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife Damunde & Bender
How to Grow Native Plants ofTexas & the Southwest Nokes, Jill
Rare Plants of Texas Poole, Carr, Price, etc.

Advice on Blanco River Restoration

CAMN volunteers played a part in helping re-establish pine forests in parts of Bastrop after the Labor Day fires in 2011. I have no doubt CAMN will play a part in helping with the Blanco River recovery from the Memorial Day flooding this year. This alternative view of river “cleanup” comes along via our CAMN volunteer, Jeri Porter:

There’s been massive destruction of trees along the Blanco River, which is just disheartening.  This gives us a different perspective and maybe it will be useful to some of the folks in Austin who experienced loss of trees as well.

Mark Lundy, an ISA certified arborist and long-time resident of Wimberley, is featured giving sound advice to participants on the Blanco River restoration:

Patience in interpretation – turning around destructive attitudes

I had a couple experiences lately that made me think of the value of CAMN training, and that of patience in interpretation and outreach. The first experience happened while I collected trail use data at Sculptured Falls on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The data is being correlated with golden-cheeked warbler sightings and nesting data on the preserve uphill to determine the effects of human activity on the GCW. A pair of swimmers leaving the site asked me why I was posted there with a city badge and clipboard. When I explained I was collecting trail use data, their first reaction was, “That’s the first step before the city does something stupid.”

The second experience – a little closer to home (literally) – was when my neighbor knocked on my door after killing a two-foot coral snake in her back yard. Wanted help in disposing of it. It had been a third of the way under the fence and into my yard when she used her garden shovel on it. Continue reading Patience in interpretation – turning around destructive attitudes