Category Archives: Field Notes

Texas Amphibian Watch Monitoring in 2014

By Sandie Mayfield, Sue Anderson, Beth Duncan, and Kathy McCormack

CAMN Amphibian Watch team from 2013
CAMN Amphibian Watch team from prior year. Photo by Maggie Mayfield

The Capital Area Master Naturalists (CAMN) had five teams performing TPWD’s Texas Amphibian Watch (TAW) Adopt-A-Frog-Pond monitoring in 2014. Nocturnal frog and toad calls were monitored on a monthly basis at Bauerle Ranch Park (formerly Slaughter Creek Greenbelt) and Mary Moore Searight Park in south Austin, Lake Creek Dam in north Austin, Devine Lake in Leander, and Berry Springs Preserve in north Georgetown. Bauerle Ranch Park is 306 acres of mostly unimproved city park land with a small pond formed by an old ranch road spillway and fed by a tributary creek to Slaughter Creek. Mary Moore Searight Park is a city park that includes a portion of Slaughter Creek. The Lake Creek site is a dammed up natural creek drainage area. Devine Lake is a 16-acre Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) lake next to a 45-acre city park. Berry Springs Preserve is a passive county park with a spring-fed pond and nearby creek. Water levels were generally below average this year due to lingering drought conditions.

Continue reading Texas Amphibian Watch Monitoring in 2014

Trail Building at the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

IMG_1110 IMG_1111Nine hard-working members of the Central Texas Trail Tamers and Capital Area Master Naturalists had a fun and productive day at the City of Austin’s BCP Reicher Tract Saturday, February 14th (Valentine’s Day). We worked on an old trail originally put in by volunteer groups in the 1990’s. Frequently used for docent-led hikes (many of the docents are CAMN’ers), the trail had been blocked for at least two years by a massive tree fall. The trail was beginning to erode due to short cuts and drainage problems.

The group cleared much of the dead wood and then constructed new steps where the trail had to be re-routed. We all learned to operate grip hoists, rock bars, picks and straps to work big rocks down the slope from the rock harvesting area.  The steps were then moved into place to replace a switchback blocked by a massive stump that had pulled loose and destroyed the trail.  We also re-routed some lower canyon sections that were falling down slope. We also moved out some old limbs and brush to help with fire control, and cleaned up the slopes where we had worked the rock down.

It was a great day and lots of fun. The group included three new Trail Tamers and two members of the 2015 CAMN class.  Check out other Trail Tamers work projects at


Text and photos by Mark Wilson. 

Blanco River–Trinity Aquifer-Barton Springs Connection

Nico Hauwert, CoA’s Watershed Protection Department senior hydrologist and teacher of Geology for the current CAMN trainees, provided us some links concerning the connections between the Hays County instance of the Trinity Aquifer, the Blanco River, and their roles in keeping area springs – including Barton – flowing during times of drought.

Nico Hauwert demonstrating basic aquifer concepts. Photo by Marc Opperman
Nico Hauwert demonstrating basic aquifer concepts. Photo by Marc Opperman

Previous thinking linked Barton solely to the Edwards, but dye-trace evidence disproves this and highlights important characteristics of critical interchange between the watersheds and aquifers in our area. Continue reading Blanco River–Trinity Aquifer-Barton Springs Connection

Canyon Lake Gorge Advanced Training Trip Recap

Eighteen CAMN’ers and enthusiastic friends and family members had a successful Advanced Training trip to the Canyon Lake Gorge  Saturday, 1/24. We were hosted by the Gorge Preservation Society. Great hike and lecture on the canyon and its geology.

Thanks to Jaynellen Ladd at the Society for helping set this up. And a special shout-out to our excellent volunteer docents… Pete Bryant, Cathy Downs, Gracie Waggener.

Photos and text by Mark Wilson, CAMN Field Trips Co-coordinator.


[This is a post I originally wrote for my personal site,]

I never really thought about it until now, but translucency is a pretty efficient form of camouflage. Why waste energy on pigments that may not meet all your needs?

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

I spotted this common green darner (iNaturalist) in my tomato vines on a cold morning. It took me a little bit to realize what was right in front of me. Then my Master Naturalist brain kicked in.

My daily ritual of inspecting my vegetable garden includes some time spent looking for these:

Tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata)
Tomato hornworm
(Manduca quinquemaculata)

As most growers of solanaceous plants know, a single one of these caterpillars can do a significant amount of damage to a tomato plant. And yet, due to their perfect coloration and patterns, they almost exactly mimic the curls, veins and shading of tomato leaves. Finding them can be difficult.

Can you spot the worm?
Can you spot the worm?

It’s a trick. There isn’t a hornworm in that photo, as far as I know. (I tend to look for the damage the hornworm does first, then find the worm from that.)

But take the hornworm off the tomato plant, and it sticks out like a… meal for a voracious wasp.

Tomato hornworm
Paper wasp makes a meal of tomato hornworm
Paper wasp makes a meal of tomato hornworm (a compelling argument for leaving wasps under the eaves of your roof!)

But if you can swing transparency like the dragonfly, your camouflage is almost perfectly adaptive without pigments or fancy mechanisms to change your coloration. Roost in any shrub or tree, and you’re mostly hidden provided your body also looks something like a twig or branch. Great for a wide-ranging generalist like the dragonfly. No need to spend time searching for the right host plants. Like this southern pink moth:

Southern pink moth (Pyrausta inornatalis)
Southern pink moth (Pyrausta inornatalis)

Winter Rains

The weather has been somewhat cold and soggy over the past few weeks, and cabin fever has been a nagging companion at least to some (says the guy who has rearranged his garage at least twice this past month).

But there are the upsides to it. While our local rains haven’t done much to change the state of regional drought, it should ensure – at least locally – a spectacular wildflower display in a couple short months. It certainly hasn’t hurt if you’re a winter gardener, either.

And, it’s brought back steady flow to many of our area creeks. Here’s a photo captured recently on Bear Creek by Kevin Thuesen, program manager for Austin Water Utility’s Water Quality Protection Land preserves. Bear Creek passes through a property I have visited a lot, and have found as dry as a bone many times, particularly in the last few years. Good to be reminded of the intrinsic beauty of a landscape where water flows, even if it is the middle of winter.

Nothing like wild places and clear water…

A photo posted by Kevin Thuesen (@ktzen) on


Integrating Nature into the City with ImagineAustin

Imagine Austin is a 30-year plan established by the City of Austin aiming to help Austin grow in a compact and connected way.  In order to involve the community in this effort, the ImagineAustin Speaker Series was born. Every few months, a collection of speakers from all over the country join one another to discuss quality of life issues pertinent to our favorite city. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an ImagineAustin Speaker Series on Integrating Nature into the City.

The night’s first speaker, Dr. Ming Kuo, is Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She presented very convincing evidence for the prevalence of (the not quite medically diagnosable, but well documented) Nature Deficit Disorder. Her assertion was this: studies show that, without nature, people display all the symptoms that any animal does when it is living in an unfit environment; this includes social breakdown, psychological breakdown, and physical breakdown. She gave us a broad taste of the science that shows that the presence of nature in people’s lives improves focus, generosity, friendliness, feelings of well-being, and peace of mind, while it lowers the likelihood that people will litter, behave violently, and report feeling isolated.

Even as a fairly new field of study, in the last thirty years, the effects of nature on human health that have been shown are robust. Luckily for those in charge of keeping our communities happy and healthy, Dr. Ming noted that it is not only hiking through forests and mountains that have this effect on us. Small green spaces, neighborhood parks, and even pictures of natural scenes improve our health and happiness. So frame a picture of your favorite outdoor space, and place it somewhere that will lift your spirits!

Patrick Murphy, who recently served as the City of Austin’s Environmental Officer, and was Assistant Director of the Watershed Protection Department, spoke next. He gave the audience a feel for the unique treasures and challenges of Austin’s natural spaces. He told us that in the city of Austin, there are 65 creeks, 885,000 people, and a longstanding record of ground-breaking environmental decisions. Austin was the first city in the U.S. to protect its trees under law, and it’s one of the few that protects its creeks such that they are allowed to flow naturally.

With 2 million people in the greater Austin area today, he was happy to report that the city is growing exactly as city planners twenty years ago designed it to: with most of the population growth focused in the city core, Austin is able to keep its natural green spaces and protect the expansive preserve land that runs throughout the city. This helps drive land development to where the city can spare it, and ensures that the ecologically sensitive regions, like those that recharge our aquifers, remain less developed. Surely, just about everyone in Austin can appreciate that.

When Laine Cidlowski, Project Manager for the Sustainable Washington D.C. Initiative for the District’s Office of Planning, spoke, I got the feeling that the Austinites in the crowd were feeling pretty proud of how well Austin’s natural spaces are faring compared to so many others. But what Laine had to show us about her work in the District of Columbia show just how committed they are to sustainability. She asserted that any city that attempts to strengthen their green presence will struggle with how to quantify a given space’s degree of sustainability. So, D.C. did just that. They have developed the Green Area Ratio (GAR): an environmental sustainability zoning measure that development sites across the city are expected to meet. The GAR score expected for land developers differs based on the zone and intended use of the site being developed, and it does not yet apply to all development around the city.

For those land developers that are held to a minimum GAR score, the question is not, “should we add anything that’s ‘green’?” but, “how can we leverage our space to get the highest Green Area Ratio?” This calculation has pushed land developers to get creative with how they “green” their spaces, not if they will. Being only two years old, this will be interesting legislation to watch in the years to come.

To learn more about the panelists, see the ImagineAustin Speaker Series website.

Field Notes from WQPL Biologist Matt McCaw

Many CAMN volunteers contribute hours to Austin Water Utility’s Water Quality Protection Land preserves. This short reflection by WQPL field biologist Matt McCaw encapsulates a little of why these lands are so special to Central Texas and the City of Austin, and why so many of us work to make a difference there.

Biface axe tool, courtesy Matt McCaw, City of Austin WQPL
Biface axe tool, courtesy Matt McCaw, City of Austin WQPL