Category Archives: Volunteer Opportunities

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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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.



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.

April 2016 CAMN Opportunity Listing in VMS

Trying to locate the correct opportunity from the 98 items in VMS’s dropdown list can be very challenging. Download the 2016-04-12-CAMN_OpportunityListings to help you locate the opportunity you are looking to use  in VMS. The document is ordered by partner organization. You can also use “My Placements” on the VMS dashboard to see the full list.

Categories have changed slightly for experienced CAMN members. View the State program’s category definitions to understand the two letter categories found on CAMN opportunities.

As CAMN evolves as an organization so will our opportunities list. We will be evaluating how often our opportunities are used and where new opportunities could ease logging for the members.  If you know of a missing opportunity that several members would use provide the details by using “New Opportunity-Capital Area Master Naturalist” from the dropdown menu where you log your hours.

Any suggestions, questions or concerns should be directed to 


At the Vireo Preserve

The Vireo Preserve, on the east side of Loop 360 at the intersection of Pascal Lane, is a great place to volunteer. This 212-acre tract of land, just north of Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) that is managed by the City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division.

Jim O’Donnell, who works and volunteers for the City of Austin, regularly organizes volunteer workdays at the Vireo Preserve on Sundays and Tuesdays. On these days, volunteers help build trails through the wooded areas and revitalize the habitat that was devastated by years of goat grazing before it became part of BCP. Volunteers have planted natives that are beneficial to wildlife, for example Carolina Buckthorn, Chile Pequin, and Gregg’s Blue Mistflower. Some of the transplants, Big Red Sage, Canyon Mock Orange, and Sycamore-leaf Snowbell for example, are rare. All of the new transplants are protected with wire cages to give them a start in life before they are “released” to fend for themselves against the deer that forage through the land. Volunteers create swales and berms to retain rainfall, allowing it to infiltrate or channel into karst features to replenish the aquifer. Terry Southwell, our own superstar Master Naturalist, noted that partly due to good land management, the stream that runs through the preserve did not go dry all summer. One day we removed patches of King Ranch Bluestem, an invasive grass, and another day we collected seeds of liatris and senna that grow there to sow on the newly created berms and in bare patches in the preserve. As we work we hear the chips and calls of cardinals, and occasionally see a flash of red in the evergreen sumac.
Every workday is also an occasion to learn more about the habitat. Jim took us on a walk through the woods, naming various plant species—Texas Red Oak, Escarpment Black Cherry, Flame-leaf Sumac, Silktassel—and describing the barren state of the hillsides before he and other volunteers created the many berms and swales that now host a great variety of flourishing natives. He showed us the structure that was used to catch the cowbirds that were causing a sharp decline in the vireo population and explained how the cowbirds were caught. A story in itself.

The Vireo Preserve and the company are always delightful, and no two workdays are the same. To learn more about BCP, see a video of Jim O’Donnell telling about banding Golden-cheeked Warblers, and register to volunteer at the Vireo Preserve, visit the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve webpage at

Hope to see you there in 2016.

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.

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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. 

Volunteer Opportunities

©2015 Marc Opperman
©2015 Marc Opperman. Roadrunner, Big Bend National Park

A question came in from one of the new trainees in the Class of 2015 about whether some work they would do could count toward their 2015 requirements. I didn’t actually know offhand. (I often don’t know the answer to a lot of good questions, but fortunately I’m surrounded by a lot of smart advisors). The two organizations in question were not ones I’d really considered before – Wildlife Rescue, Inc., and the feral cat clinic at the Humane Society. While Wildlife Rescue seemed an obvious green light, the Humane Society wasn’t immediately obvious.

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