At the Vireo Preserve on March 5, 2017

(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.

The 2017 Bethany 4-H Club Butterfly Garden at Oak Springs Villas

(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 jloveelharim@gmail.com. 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.

News from the Vireo Preserve 2/3/17

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.

 

Lake Fail

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.

–JDMitchell

Love Notes:Long Canyon

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.

Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting Trip Report

tmn-abb


(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.

tpwd1

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:

http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/programs/landscape-ecology/team/

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:

http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/texas_nature_trackers/target_species/

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!

Love Notes: Stewardship at Wild Basin Preserve

On a bright, cool Saturday morning, October 22, a small group of folks joined Aaron Haynes, Land Steward at Wild Basin Creative Research Center, to remove invasive plant species from the creek area in Wild Basin. The plants of concern on this day were nandina (Nandina domestica), Japanese ligustrum (Ligustrum japonicum), and Chinese ligustrum (Ligustrum lucidum), and the tools of choice were an EZ Ject lance, a weed wrench, a hand saw, liquid poison, and elbow grease.

Nandina and both kinds of ligustrum are extremely invasive in central Texas, especially in riparian areas. These, like many other invasive species, have been imported and cultivated by humans, have very effective methods of reproduction, and are very hardy and well-adapted. Unfortunately nandina and ligustrum are still prominent in Central Texas landscapes, which makes them even more difficult to control in our wild, riparian areas.

Nandina is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that bears showy red fruit. Birds spread the seed, and new plants can grow from the strong, extensive root system. Japanese ligustrum can become a tree, has showy white flower heads, and produces black berries that birds love, especially cedar wax wings. The leaves are bright green with a smooth edge and are oppositely arranged on the stem. Chinese ligustrum also has an opposite leaf arrangement but much smaller leaves and grows as a shrub rather than a tree. It is often difficult to distinguish Chinese ligustrum from the native yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) since the leaves of these two species have the same size, shape, and color. The easiest way to know the difference is to look at the leaf margins and the arrangement of the leaves on the stem. The leaf margin of ligustrum is smooth, and the leaf margin of yaupon is usually slightly serrated. The most telling factor, however, is that yaupon leaves are alternate, not opposite, on the stem.

Although ligustrum seedlings can often be uprooted by hand, the larger plants need heftier tools than a firm grip and a strong back. The EZ Ject is a large (expensive) lance that injects a pellet of poison into the bark of the tree, killing it over time. On this day, our group used the EZ Ject only on large ligustrum trees that would have been hazardous to cut down. We also saw a dead chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach) still standing, with an EZ Ject pellet in the trunk, proof that this method works. Seedlings that were too big to pull out by hand were yanked up with a weed wrench or clipped and treated with liquid herbicide.

In a draw by the creek, we found ourselves in a thicket of head-high beauty berry (Callicarpa americana) with hundreds of Japanese ligustrum seedlings growing in the midst. Wondering if there was a mother tree nearby, generating seeds and creating this dense population of seedlings, we looked up, and higher in the draw, 20 feet in the air, almost hidden between tall junipers, we saw the tell-tale shiny green leaves. We located the mother tree, and Julie used a hand saw to cut it down and then treated the stump with herbicide.

At the end of the morning, walking back through the thickets of juniper, yaupon, and beauty berry, it was delightful to see seedlings of escarpment black cherry, wafer ash, oak, and many other natives, knowing that we were giving them a better chance of survival with every ligustrum and nandina we had eliminated.

Site Factors Involved in Texas Tree Mortality During Drought – Beth Crouchet

Beth Crouchet, CAMN member and recent Master's degree recipient
Beth Crouchet, CAMN member and recent Master’s degree recipient

On Wednesday night, CAMN member and recent Master’s degree recipient, Beth Crouchet, presented her research at our monthly public meeting. She outlined her methods of collecting field data over two years from 64 sites spread across Texas, focusing eventually on mostly Central Texas and o 9 tree species, including live oak (Quercus fusiformis), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei), Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), and others. Beth was interested in discovering some answers to what specific site factors affected trees when they encountered the intense Texas drought in 2011. Some of those site conditions include soil type, soil depth, slope, aspect, exposure, and site-specific weather data.

(Photo Marc Opperman)
(Photo Marc Opperman)

In her research, Beth defined some basics, such as what actually constitutes a dead tree – how much of the crown must be dead?  Does a re-sprouted tree count? And how recently can it have died? With extensive data mining derived from her data set, Beth was able to demonstrate that certain species, for example ashe juniper, showed more likelihood to die back during extended hot drought – periods not only of little precipitation, but ongoing high temperatures. While this was an expected outcome, her data revealed a few interesting conclusions. Some species, including yaupon holly, showed a striking ability to thrive over extended hot drought conditions, while others were not as noticeably impacted.

In some ways, Beth’s talk and her research opened many questions, inviting audience members to wonder what trees might fare better in intentional landscape conditions, or what ongoing drought might mean for future forest species diversity.

While the work outlined in the talk covered a somewhat specific look into tree mortality – Beth purposefully stayed away from aggravating factors linked to insects, fire, lightning, etc. – a parallel view of her presentation might reveal the process behind field research and deriving meaning. Not just the glimpse of what kills trees, but the work it takes to turn a big question into answers. One gets a sense of the painstaking work… the parameters to be defined, second-guessed, re-defined, the amount of time spent in hiking boots on Texas hillsides and plains, the statistical analyses done late at night while the kids sleep, the singular devotion to following something to a conclusion at the expense of many of life’s other demands and desires.

Giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada range can grow to be 250 feet tall — or more
Giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada range can grow to be 250 feet tall — or more (Credit NPR)

Coincidentally, it turns out, Beth’s not the only one looking at similar factors. The day after the meeting, NPR posted a story about the canopy-swinging biologists – and their drones – researching how certain giant sequoias are surviving California’s hot drought. Read more about it here.

Love Notes: A Hike at Bright Leaf Preserve

Saturday, October 8 was a cool, bright morning for our hike at Bright Leaf Preserve, located off 2222 between MoPac and 360. Our guide, Nancy Woolley, is a Capital Area Master Naturalist and Program Director for Bright Leaf Preserve. The hike began at 9:00, and for two and a half hours, we hiked over the hills and through the canyons of this 216-acre juniper and oak, hill country wilderness in the heart of Austin.

The Bright Leaf Preserve is the gift of Georgia B. Lucas, 1918 -1994. Ms. Lucas was inspired by the beauty, spirituality, and poetry of the land and wanted to preserve it for posterity, undeveloped and made available to the public through guided hikes. Formerly managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Preserve has been managed by the Friends of Bright Leaf and Austin Community Foundation since 2006.

For more information about Bright Leaf Preserve and the schedule of guided hikes, visit the Friends of Bright Leaf website: http://brightleaf.org/index.html

Grass Seed Collecting on WQPL

Grass seed collecting at an Austin Water Water Quality Protection Land preserve yielded a nice collection of Silver Bluestem, Tridens, and Sideoats Gamma. Eleven volunteers, with some representing the Capital Area and Hays County Master Naturalists chapters, worked two hours on a sunny mid-day. Volunteers are trained to collect ripe seed from native forbs and grasses. The seed is cleaned, stored and eventually used to replant areas nearby that have been managed with prescribed fire. 

Using seed collected close to where it will be replanted not only helps ensure optimal conditions for its regrowth, but saves quite a bit of money, too. Devin Grobert, a City of Austin biologist who oversees the seed collection efforts, estimated the worth of volunteer-collected seed from these workdays at over a thousand dollars, while noting some had limited or no commercial availability.

Photo courtesy of R. Lance JonesHays County Master Naturalists.

Image may contain: 9 people , people smiling , tree, sky, plant, cloud, outdoor and nature

Central Texas volunteers devoted to ecological stewardship, education and outreach.

%d bloggers like this: