Saturday, we welcomed our newest members to the Capital Area Chapter for class orientation. Such great smiles seen on the patio of the Laura Bush Community Library. We look forward to meeting you out in the field, and learning of all the great work you do!
(Or at least outside Austin!)
On April 22 (Earth Day, a super-holiday for conservationists), I had the chance to travel east to the Caddo Lakes region of Texas – nearly Louisiana – and meet up with some of the Texas Master Naturalists in the Cypress Basin Chapter. Their event – the 5th Annual Flotilla held in Uncertain, TX – raises money for their conservation efforts within the lake region, and consists of charity food sales, a silent auction, a scavenger hunt, and a chance to explore their work in maintaining the paddling trails in the lake and bayous surrounding it. I got to paddle around some of the extensive trails through the magical forest, try some local mayhaw jelly, and brought home a gorgeous coneflower grown by a member and sold at the auction for $7 – a bargain for a healthy, 5-gallon plant grown with Master Naturalist love and care.
It was comfortably cool, bright, and dry for our hike on May 6. Lots of plants are blooming now: Engelmann’s Sage (Salvia engelmannii ), Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia caespitosa ), Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), and Devil’s Shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana), and the Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) on the east side of the Canyon is putting on seed pods that look like star fruit.
The visitors this morning raised questions that led to the telling of two stories related to the Canyon. The first question was about the old Nike missile site in the very near vicinity. During the cold war, Austin was considered a high priority target because of its two airports. To provide air defense of Bergstrom Air Force Base, United States Army Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile sites were constructed during 1959. One of two Nike missile sites in the Austin area, BG-80,was located on the hill just east of the Canyon. After the missile site was shut down, the property was given to the University of Texas System and is now the UT Bee Caves Research Center.
The other question arose when I pointed out the grapevine (Vitis cinerea, synonym Vitis berlandieri) growing on a small juniper near the Canyon rim, telling the visitors that “this was the Texas grapevine that saved the French wine industry.” In 1880, the phylloxera insect was destroying the vineyards of France. The French scientist Pierre Viala was named to find a way to save the vineyards. Viala came to Denison, Texas and met with Thomas Volney Munson. Because Munson knew the Texas rootstocks were resistant to phylloxera, he suggested that the only way to save the French vineyards was to graft the Texas rootstocks with the French vines. Viala agreed and Munson organized the collection of thousands of bundles of dormant stem cutting from native grapes in Central Texas and shipped them to France. The vines were the breeding stock for the rootstocks which saved the European wine industry. For this effort, the French government awarded Munson the Legion of Honor, Chevalier du Merite Agricole. The rootstocks used throughout the world today originated in Europe from the Texas native grape material that Munson gathered in Texas.
All are welcome to come on a guided hike through the Madrone Canyon on the first Saturday of any month. For more information, visit http://www.westbanklibrary.com/madrone-canyon.
Author: Jean Love
The first workday for the Vireo Preserve Nursery, April 3, 2017 was great fun. The fence around the nursery area was completed just last week, and we are ready to continue to build our stock of plants destined mostly for planting in the Vireo Preserve and other parcels of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.
This morning we made two mother pots, one of white yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and one with a mixture of native wildflowers. The mother pots will be kept in the nursery so we can enjoy the blooms and the butterflies that will come and then gather seeds and cuttings for further propagation.
We transplanted some native passion vine seedlings (Passiflora lutea) into 4” and 1-gallon pots and put them in a circle of rabbit wire to protect them from predation.
An interesting chrysalis was attached to one of the paper pots and a mushroom was growing from another.
In our version of an Easter egg hunt, we used colored flags to mark plants that are growing up in the mulch in the nursery area so we can try to not step on them.
Vireo Preserve Nursery workdays will be every Monday from 10-12. See the CAMN Weekly Reader for more information.
(Article by Jean Love. Photos by Marc Opperman)
Volunteers who came to work at the Vireo Preserve on Sunday, March 5 participated in inoculating logs with spores of reishi, oyster, and turkey tail mushrooms.
We had a large group of volunteers, and Jim O’Donnell, biologist with the City of Austin, brought all the tools and equipment: bags of spore-filled sawdust, an electric drill, containers of wax, and colored flags.
The logs to be inoculated had already been placed on the slope where they will slow the flow of rainwater as the mushrooms aid in their decomposition.
To make sure each log was inoculated with only one kind of mushroom, the group was divided into three teams, each with their own pot of wax, bag of spores, and tools. CAMN volunteer Terry Southwell drilled holes in the logs and flagged each log to indicate which type of spore to use. CAMN volunteer Marc Opperman took pictures of volunteers packing each hole with sawdust and then sealing in the spores with a plug of wax. It will take about 8 months for the spores to germinate, for the mycelia to permeate the logs, and for the fruiting bodies—the mushrooms—to appear.
To register to participate in a Sunday or Tuesday land stewardship workday at the Vireo Preserve, visit the City of Austin Wildlands page at http://www.austintexas.gov/water/wildland_vol/index.cfm?action=hike.eventregistration.
(By Jean Love)
On Saturday, February 25 the Bethany 4-H Club dug and planted the 2017 Bethany 4-H Club Butterfly Garden at Oak Springs Villas. The parent advisor of the 4-H Club, Ms. Valerie Queen, had ordered a butterfly garden kit that included bulbs and roots of several kinds of butterfly host and nectar plants. To get them in the ground as soon as possible, we met at Oak Springs Villas at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday and broke ground. Almost as soon as we started, a giant swallowtail butterfly came floating among us in the cool air like a blessing, settling in the sun on the grass near us for a while.
A videographer, Ms. Jaha Wilder, founder of The Young Journey Foundation, came to record our ground-breaking ceremony.
During the day, there were 8 of us working: Mrs. Metria Adams, Mr. Adams, their son Caleb, who is president of the Bethany 4-H Club, their daughter Baushah and son Jordan who are also members of the 4-H Club, and Jean Love. Residents of the Villas would come by to greet, thank, and encourage us from time to time. Ms. Ida Herrera, who had come to visit a relative at Oak Springs Villas, walked over to us in the morning, picked up a shovel, and started helping to remove the grass. By noon we had removed all the grass from the area we had marked and had begun double-digging. Mr. Adams kindly brought us a hearty lunch, and after a bit of a rest, we had the energy to get back to work. In the afternoon, Ms. Connie Boyer, the manager of Oak Springs Villas, joined us to help finish the digging, spread mulch, and water. Mr. and Mrs. Adams followed the diagram that had come with the butterfly garden kit to help us lay out the bulbs and roots, and at 5:15 p.m., we were planting the last one.
What a joy to be outside working with a delightful group of people, all hands in the dirt, from early morning to late afternoon, watching the sun move west across the sky and the shade of the trees move east on the ground. What a huge sense of accomplishment to have started and finished this big project in one day. Now, all we have to do is watch the garden for signs of life and dream of butterflies to come.
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact Jean Love, CAMN volunteer working on this project, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to participate in helping the Bethany 4-H Club maintain and keep track of the 2017 garden or help plan and create the 2018 Bethany 4-H Club Butterfly Garden at Oak Springs Villas, please contact Mrs. Adams at 512-909-6593.
Even with a small crew, we got a lot done this morning:
- Took the temperature of the compost piles. One was cooking at 150 degrees!
- Built up another compost pile with leaves, coffee grounds, and water.
- Spread dirt in another space for wildflower seeds.
- Gathered dormant hardwood cuttings of escarpment black cherry to root for the Vireo Preserve Nursery.
- Planted a donated red buckeye in a newly cleared area down in the canyon.
- Added to a brush berm that Jim is building halfway down the hillside to slow the water flow during rain events.
- Dug a hole to plant a madrone seedling another day.
You can find more information about how to participate in activities at the Vireo Preserve in the Weekly Reader.
Cars cruise in the sky from 183 to Mopac then brakes squeal as commuters try to make the turn for hamburgers. A train roars, its cargo creaking angrily as it disturbs a flock of red-winged blackbirds. A kestrel alights on a telephone wire with a mouse and begins to eat. The nearby pigeons look nervous. Gadwalls quack nervously. There’s a northern harrier lurking nearby, no cause for alarm but certainly says something about the neighborhood. A coot, seeing two humans armed with fishing poles makes for the middle of the pond. Err, lake. The big puddle I’m looking at through my binoculars at the northeast corner of 183 and Mopac is a lake. Lake Fail it’s called on ebird, and it’s my new favorite place to bird in Austin.
I can’t say what made this place come to be, but I am thankful it exists. There are no sidewalks around it save one at its end, but as I clutch my binoculars trying to spot the ruby crown of a kinglet, I realize that the concrete I stand upon was far more likely poured for the convenience of big mechanical earth movers that might need to dredge this place or bulldoze the impressive mass of vegetation at Lake Fail’s southern end. Another square of concrete on the east side of the pond gives us a pretty good view of the area. I have no idea this one concrete’s purpose, but use it to keep clear of fire ants as my friends count gadwalls and I scribble notes.
Lake Fail is a natural place hidden in plain sight. Seen by millions, known only by a select few: the couple fishing, a man grinning shirtless who waves at us, probably happy to see our binoculars point somewhere besides his torso. My wife Raquel and my good friend Tam are here as well, lured here because of promise of a canvasback. Personally I was hoping to see marsh wren that refused to come out into the open last time.
I can’t say who was more out of place in this forgotten pond, the birders, the sunbather, the fishermen, the ducks, but we all came here for more or less the same reason. We came seeking nature, be it the kiss of the sunshine, the nibble of a fish, or the song of bird. Often we plan these wild trips to Bastrop state park, The Guadalupe Mountains, The Grand Canton! But it’s not always that practical, especially with a three month old son. And besides, everyone knows birds can survive in those places, they’re out in nature after all. For me, there’s something special about the surprise of these forgotten places tucked in the corners of the urban sprawl. I relish the least grebes that live in the pond at the triangle, the yellow shafted northern flicker at Laguna Gloria, the ridiculous number of species at Hornsby Bend. I find these creature’s existence despite the rampant urbanization, resilient, brave, arrogant even. They’re here for the same reason I am, all those ‘natural’ places are just too far. More convenient to make do here in the city, in a backyard, a drainage ditch, a swath of forest that’s not worth developing. This is the nature that I am most familiar with, and the nature that surrounds most of us most of the time. It is a nature that, while often lacking the brilliant assortment of species in those Great Natural Places, still holds pleasant reminders that the natural world is not going anywhere. The population of creatures at Lake Fail is thriving because they are forgotten. They need no rules established to protect them, just to left alone.
I will to return to Lake Fail to do science, to study its humble coots and pied-bill grebes, its clandestine marsh wren and harrier. I want to see what sort of creatures survive here, if it’s a long term residence to them or if it serves the same purpose the area does for humans, just a flyover. I want data on the resilience of these birds and thanks to CAMN, I know how to get it for myself. And hey, this second best of all about studying this bizarre urban puddle (the first being the marsh wren) is once I’ve finished with my counts, a hamburger joint is on the other end of the parking lot.
Happy volunteering y’all! And no matter where you go outside, be it your backyard or Big Bend, don’t forget your binoculars.
On a cold and gray Saturday morning in December, Gloria and Robert–volunteers with the City of Austin Wildlands Division– guided us on a hike in the Long Canyon parcel of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, west of 360 and south of 2222.
Rainwater runoff had formed the thick juniper duff into natural berms and swales in several places. Lichens of various colors and shapes decorated the branches and rocks, and patches of bright green star moss grew by the path.
A circle of stones protected a colony of tiny barrel cactus growing right in the middle of the path. One stream crossing had garlands of maidenhair fern, and at another crossing of the same stream, dried brown sycamore leaves floated in a clear blue pool.
To learn about and participate in hikes and other activities organized by the City of Austin Wildlands Division, go to the Wildlands Event Registration page, create a user account, and register for an event in the drop-down menu of scheduled activities.
Hikes in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve are also often posted on the Friends of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Meetup site.
(Trip report submitted by Mikael Behrens)
I was fortunate to be able to attend the Texas Master Naturalist 17th Annual Meeting (October 21-23, 2016), and boy did it give me a lot to think about! The meeting was held at a resort on Lake Conroe, just north of Houston. Ironically, I and so many other naturalist attendants spent most of the weekend indoors watching Powerpoint presentations, but it was very worthwhile. Here are highlights from some of the sessions I attended that left an impression on me.
The only field trip I attended was on Friday afternoon to the nearby WG Jones State Forest. This has become an island of pine forest habitat in a sea of suburban development, with people’s backyards coming right up to some of the fence lines! Challenges this State Forest face include increased flooding and increased use by entitled neighbors who don’t understand what’s best for the forest and its endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.
Saturday morning I finally got to attend the Texas Stream Team’s Standard LaMotte Kit water quality training. This is something I’ve wanted to do since our 2016 CAMN class water training at The Meadows Center in San Marcos. I plan on monitoring creek on Lake Creek Trail in my northwest Austin neighborhood. During the training we assumed my monitoring partner association was going to be the LCRA, but it turns out Lake Creek ultimately feeds the the San Gabriel River. I discovered the Good-Water Master Naturalists are monitoring the same watershed, so I’ve contacted them to see where I go from here.
In the Texas Ecosystems and Virtual Mapping presentation, Laura Clark with TPWD demonstrated an amazing online app that maps Texas by 398 different plant types at a 10 meter spatial resolution. See their TEAM application here:
And Laura or someone on her team will train you in its use if you ask!
The Texas Nature Tracker presentation by Marsha May with TPWD interested me because I wanted to learn specifically what kinds of citizen science field research was most desired by them. It turns out, they are most interested in anything involving the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) list for our state. Browse this list and get inspired here:
Also, Marsha specifically mentioned how successful Austin’s Amphibian Watch project has been. We need to publicize it more!
In a presentation called “A New Era for Wildlife Management,” Richard Heilbrun with TPWD gave a brief history of conservation legislation and information about a new bill which could ultimately provide Texas with $50-64 million annually to fund our state conservation plan, laser-focused on our SGCN list. It’s HR 5650 introduced by Alaskan congressman Don Young. Richard is spreading the word about this intriguing proposed legislation!
The last presentation I attended was truly inspiring. Long-time Texas birder and conservationist (and old friend) Stennie Meadours had been monitoring American Oystercatcher breeding success on the coast near Galveston, when one of the birds they had banded as a chick died from ingesting a wad of monofilament fishing line. She was inspired to start her master naturalist chapter’s Plastic Pollution Prevention project. It monitors sensitive sites for plastic litter, organizes cleanups, and spreads the word about how damaging plastic (and in particular monofilament line) is to wildlife. An idea she had at the meeting was that maybe something similar to hunting ethics could be taught about fishing. The Texas Stream Team is also starting efforts to clean up and collect data about monofilament litter.
In the evenings it was great to do a little socializing with fellow CAMN members who also attended this year’s meeting. I feel more connected with them and more willing to reach out when questions or new ideas come to mind!