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.

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Enhancing Rainwater for Native Plants on an Austin Preserve

Rainwater collection structure above Terry Town on BCP Vireo Preserve
Rainwater collection structure above Terry Town on BCP Vireo Preserve

Some people think I, as president, do nothing in CAMN but send emails and run some meetings. Today I offer a spot of proof to prove otherwise. I was photographed in the wild at a work session on Austin Water/Wildland Conservation Division’s Vireo Preserve at the completion of one of the last steps of finishing our rainwater collection system. This remote-canyon roof structure will help free volunteers from having to haul water a quarter-mile each week over narrow trails to a staging area known as “Terry Town” (after longtime Wildland volunteer, Terry Southwell—also from the CAMN class of 2013.) The water is used, mostly by Terry, to help get newly-planted native forbs, grasses and shrubs established. While the property does feature a spring that runs most of the year, volunteers take great pains to avoid disturbing its natural flow and the plants and wildlife that have become established around them.

img_6998Today we completed the pads for the pair of 150-gallon tanks, and attached gutters to the roof. The last remaining step in the all-volunteer construction project will involve running PVC pipes from the downspout to the first tank, adding overflows, and attaching spigots. Then, the process can be turned over to the whims of Central Texas weather. The roof, at 128 square feet, will collect enough water to fill the two tanks after 4 inches of rain.

For those interested in less-remote rainwater use systems, a good resource for Central Texas is at http://rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu

And, if you’re interested in some of the fun projects Wildland Conservation and Austin Water dream up to help protect critical habitat for endangered species, and the water quality of our local segment of the Edwards Aquifer, please see http://austintexas.gov/department/wildland-conservation-division Members of the public can sign up for guided hikes on protected preserves, or volunteer to help in a wide array of conservation efforts, from public outreach to land stewardship.

Honey Bee Swarms, and Other Stinging Insects

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) may not be a species endemic to Central Texas, but there is no disputing the powerhouse role they play in pollinating our native flora and our agricultural crops. It’s no wonder seeing them in action is quite fascinating to many naturalists, be they curious adults or schoolchildren. As such, the Austin Nature and Science Center has long kept a demonstration hive just inside its main building where visitors can see the inner workings through its plexiglass walls.

Brandon Fehrenkamp, owner at Austin Bees, has been the manager of that hive for some time. Continue reading Honey Bee Swarms, and Other Stinging Insects

On finding our volunteer motivations…

(Adapted from our internal newsletter for members.)

herbertia lahue... included apropos to nothing.
herbertia lahue… included apropos of nothing.

CAMN is an incredibly diverse group, with not only a lot of moving organizational parts, but dedicated people who take on many tasks to help run our business. Some of them serve on the board. But many without recognized titles quietly help with organizational tasks like reviewing applications, coordinating classes, and setting up or taking down our meetings and events. While much of this is not the field work or natural interpretation work we love – because who loves a good meeting more than a hike in the woods?? – the work should nonetheless fulfill a personal sense of mission and pride at whatever level we choose to engage. And because no one—not me, not the board, not another member—commands anyone else to do anything, we each serve doing what we can as best we can. When we have exquisite successes, we sometimes may only get modest outside recognition. When we don’t always follow through with certain tasks, we should never beat ourselves up too much. This is first-and-foremost a labor of love and not something we’re chained to.

Continue reading On finding our volunteer motivations…

Wildland Restoration, and the World of Talking Trees

Ligustrum log inoculated with turkey tail fungus.
Turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor).
Ligustrum log inoculated with turkey tail fungus.
Ligustrum log inoculated with turkey tail fungus.
Volunteers on a recent August work day
Volunteers on a recent August work day

On one particular 209-acre preserve in West Austin – one that abuts the well-known Wild Basin Preserve – a City of Austin biologist, Jim O’Donnell, has been leading almost-weekly volunteer work groups to restore natural areas that had been historically mismanaged by clear-cutting and scorching fires that damaged the soils.

Jim has been following the principles laid out in Paul Stamet’s work Mycelium Running to rebuild the mycorrhizal networks that are increasingly understood to be the backbone not only of healthy ecosystems, but of plant communication and survival, as well. Through application of compost, compost tea, sheet mulching, berms and swales, and mass plantings of seedings of native forb, grass, shrub and tree species, the preserve has undergone a remarkable transformation in a relatively short period of time. Volunteers – many of them CAMN or other Texas Master Naturalist members – haul water for the newly-placed plants, help build restoration trails, and will shortly begin constructing a rainwater collection system to aid in getting water down into the canyons. One of the more intriguing experiments at the preserve has shown some vibrant results. The logs taken from cut invasive ligustrum trees were drilled and inoculated with the spores of the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor)Placed in the woods along the restoration trails, these logs have sprouted some of the colorful fruiting bodies of these fungi.

If you spend any time reading about mycelial networks, and then wander through a healthy forest, it can be a little mind-boggling to imagine the vast and complex interchanges between plants that are taking place right below your feet, aided by fungal networks. Much of this wasn’t even known until about 20 years ago, and even now, we’re only beginning to understand the magnitude of these networks and their impact on ecosystems. If you’re wanting to get a good glimpse into some of the science, there are many resources available – from books to TED Talks to articles in popular journals. One of the most accessible, however, might be from the science-reporting superheroes at Radiolab. Catch their podcast From Tree to Shining Tree… good for an inspiring morning run or commute.

 

 

2017 Class Application To Open August 1

DSC_9323Want to be a Texas Master Naturalist in the Austin area? Capital Area Master Naturalist (CAMN) volunteers learn from experts in the natural sciences – including Texas Parks and Wildlife natural resource scientists, City of Austin hydrologists, University of Texas mammalogists, and NOAA meteorologists – about the unique characteristics of the Central Texas ecoregion and how to give back to their community through public outreach and the stewardship of our natural surroundings. Crawl through caves, sample river water quality, hike preserves restored by prescribed fire, learn plant identification, or document your findings through photography and journaling… all while sharing with a like-minded group who often go on to become life-long friends.

Applications for the Capital Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program open August 1, 2016 for the orientation and training classes that begin in November. Our 2017 class will run on ten selected Saturdays through April, 2017. Successful trainees give back to their community by completing at least 48 hours of volunteer service and continuing education each year to receive their certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.

To learn more, or to apply after August 1, visit CAMN on the web at camn.org. No previous experience is required other than a passion to learn and a commitment to volunteering.

CAMN is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and is a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program, a partnership of Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. Our mission is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. Since our foundation in 1998, we have trained nearly 600 volunteers who have provided around 120,000 hours of service in the Austin area.

The application will be avaialble at http://camn.org/sample-page/become-a-master-naturalist/application/

History of the Kent Butler Ecological Reserve

In 2011, the Kent Butler Ecological Reserve was named in honor of Dr. Kent Butler, a prominent environmental advocate in Central Texas. The Reserve, 942 acres between 2222 and the top of Jester Boulevard in northwest Austin, has some of the best golden-cheeked warbler habitat within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system, due partly to the gentle use of the land since settlers came into the area that was to become Austin.

Continue reading History of the Kent Butler Ecological Reserve

Our Desired Future, a Story of Texas Water

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.56.25 AMSharlene Leurig, Director, Texas Environmental Flows, brought a compelling story of Texas water to our Monthly Meeting last night, documented beautifully in the multimedia project, Our Desired Future. The rich photography, deep fact-based writing, familiar locations, original charts and graphs, animations, and movies tell the story of our water from deep underground to its life at the surface. Stories of use, overuse, demise, compromise, regulation, new ideas, conservation, and human impact at all levels make this a must-explore site, and a fount (pardon the pun!) of knowledge for any Texan concerned about our most critical resource.

See http://www.ourdesiredfuture.com if you’ve got time to click and explore, or http://www.ourdesiredfuture.com/listen.html if you’d love a podcast-style tour of the presentation last night.

Jacob’s Well cave diver photo from the site, others from a recent CAMN trip to Devils River State Natural Area.

6398518_origDSC_9835DSC_9845 DSC_9834

 

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

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

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