Equity in camn – December 2020

Hello fellow Texas Master Naturalists! Caroline here, to continue our series on what our revitalized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is working through right now.

Our December committee meeting continued inspecting our reflections on the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, with a focus on Individualism. I chose this topic because I know that rugged individualism is a thread I’ve always associated with naturalists, and has informed how I show up to outdoor spaces: I wanted to climb to the very top of every rock! To find special, beautiful places that no one else knew about! To earn the most volunteer hours with CAMN so I could get those sweet, sweet pins to show off my dedication!

Yeah, it’s a little ridiculous. I see that now.

I’ll admit, though, the topic of individualism probably wasn’t the best topic for our budding anti-racist group. CAMN itself is a pretty cooperative organization, one that prioritizes transparent access to Board members, Board member rotation so things don’t get too stale, mentorship, group projects, connecting with fellow members-in-training, and connecting with nature through field trips, Advanced Training, and chapter meetings. So our conversation felt a little forced at times, perhaps a little too intellectual for where we, as a group, were at the moment. This doesn’t mean that CAMN doesn’t have work to do in this area, but with our still-early analysis, it was hard to find the patterns of individualism within the organization. That being said, I’m proud of the group for giving our most to the conversation.

Here was our agenda, for folks following along at home:

  1. Introductions – everyone got to share the story of how they came to be a Texas Master Naturalist
  2. Reading of a Land Acknowledgement (borrowed from UWSA until CAMN can establish our own)
  3. Grounding Exercise
  4. Group Discussions (no break-out rooms this time) on the following questions:
    • What are some examples of ways individualism shows up in CAMN? How might it show up in your own conservation work? Your enjoyment of the outdoors?
    • How might a norm of Individualism limit the audiences that CAMN serves? How might it serve to exclude some community members who do not benefit from white privilege?
    • How does a norm of individualism (and white supremacy culture) affect our relationships and the strength of the CAMN community?
  5. Grounding Exercise
  6. Close Out – everyone got to share something they’re taking away from the discussion

Really, the power of these three committee meeting since our revitalization in the Fall, has been in our building community and trust among one another. We are practicing talking about race, which is no small feat for folks who may have been brought up to believe that speaking about racism *was* racism, or that talking about race was counter-productive, or that racism was “over now”. We’re building the muscles required to be okay sitting in discomfort. We’re building up a racial analysis, and learning what it means and feels like to be anti-racist. We are practicing slowing down. Feeling full feelings that we’re used to pushing away. We’re confronting long held beliefs and unlearning those that no longer serve us.

We’re also, critically, learning to re-engage with the parts of our humanity that we lost when we decided, probably as young people, to embrace our white privilege and stop feeling deep empathy in response to racial harm.

Really, what I call the revitalization of our committee… it’s a hard pivot away from intellectual discussions and analysis and attempted action, toward heart work. I now believe this is a critical step that too many DEI teams miss out on, who may instead stay laser-focused on “outcomes” and “measurable impacts” and “just doing something already”. Notice how these tactics lean on the white supremacy characteristics of A Sense of Urgency, Quantity over Quality, Progress is Bigger/More, and perhaps Perfectionism. Oftentimes Paternalism.

This pivot away from the head and toward the heart means regaining our humanity. When we close ourselves off to feeling someone else’s pain, we’re protecting ourselves. And in the case of white privilege, we’re protecting our elevated position in society, which we did not earn. By not challenging white supremacy culture, we’re also protecting the systems that continually harm our friends who do not benefit from white privilege. And the truth is that everyone is harmed by white supremacy culture. Not just people of color. Take a look at the reading linked above and identify which of those norms and beliefs have hurt you in your life. For me, perfectionism stands out high above the rest.

By inspecting our own self-protective stance and allowing ourselves to feel all the feelings associated with looking at racial harm, it can hurt. It can hurt a lot. And yet, what a gift to ourselves and our peers, to feel it fully and to share that vulnerability. And what a deep privilege to have the *choice* to allow ourselves to feel those uncomfortable feelings, as opposed to being subjected to them day in and day out. To live into adulthood without having to feel them if we did not want to. Do you see how the Right to Comfort, explained in the link above may, be showing up in your life?

In my mind, becoming anti-racist is a bit like therapy. We can’t “learn” or “think” or “analyze” our way into healing, personal or societal. We’ve got to say out loud deeply held (sometimes unconscious) beliefs. We’ve got to look at them, and consider whether they match up with our personal values. We’ve got to feel the emotions they bring up. Fully. We’ve got to be in community with people who will not judge us for the heinous things we’ve found out we believe. Who will hold us in deep regard because we had the bravery and wisdom to name them. Who will help us hold ourselves accountable to making the necessary adjustments to our beliefs and behavior.

We’ve got to build our own wisdom and knowing, our own racial analysis. Again, just learning about racial justice, it’s not going to get us to a place of anti-racism. We’ve got to feel and reckon.

I’m no expert. But I can tell you that I am in this place. This birth canal of feeling and vulnerability and building deep wisdom. It can be really uncomfortable and, frankly, it’s exhausting and sometimes isolating. AND it’s been deeply healing for me personally. It’s meant I now have a path to build deeper, more meaningful connections to all the people I love in my life. And it’s given me the push I needed to help bend my communities toward equity and inclusion.

I know that we’re all capable of walking this path and caring for one another as we do so. This is lifelong work that we’ll never truly finish. But we all deserve a world that is more equitable, just, and inclusive. The little steps we take today will make a big impact wherever we are.

Won’t you join us? Feel free to each out to the committee at diversity@camn.org or me directly at diversity-chair@camn.org to join the committee or to learn more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Confronting paternalism in conservation and camn

Greetings, fellow Master Naturalists! Caroline here, to continue our series on what our revitalized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is working through right now.

In our November committee meeting, we continued our education toward the goal of bending CAMN toward becoming a truly anti-racist organization. As a currently majority white member and white led organization, this requires a lot of upfront education. And a lot of unlearning of what got us here. Because make no mistake, majority white spaces did not end up that way accidentally or automatically.

No, there is a culture that permeates these spaces, including CAMN’s, that perpetuates itself and by definition excludes the wisdom and connection of people who do not fit within its idea of “normal” and “ideal”. To name it, this is called White Supremacy Culture. And the distinct characteristics of White Supremacy Culture are what the DEI Committee has begun to unpack as it relates to CAMN, the larger American conservation movement, and even our own lives outside of CAMN. We will leverage this list over the course of many months as we attempt to divest from this culture.

I’ll be honest, when I first read this list, which was introduced to me by the local organization Undoing White Supremacy Austin (UWSA), I had a pretty visceral reaction. These norms and unsaid rules are the air that I have been breathing my whole life as a white lady in the U.S. It was (and continues to be) really hard to extract these items from, well, what feels normal. And it has been extremely painful. Because these norms have ruled my life and they have caused me pain… and by wielding them, I have caused pain to many, many others. Some were strangers, some were my dearest loved ones. And knowing that I will never be perfect at anti-racism work, that I will continue to cause harm, that the best version of myself would only be able to minimize the harm I cause? Yeah, talk about a wake up call.

And what a daunting task: to dissect the very air that I breathe and to unlearn the characteristics that I have learned over a lifetime to expect and to idolize. To begin to divest from these norms. To learn how to counteract them. Whew. I’m tired just revisiting what a monumental task it is.

And yet, the people who suffer the most from White Supremacy Culture–Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color–need and deserve white people to begin and sustain this process of unlearning. White Supremacy is a problem created by white people. Therefore it is a problem for white people to solve. We must expel it from our personal lives, our conservation work, our paid workplaces, everywhere.

We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and care. White Supremacy Culture certainly doesn’t do that–it does the opposite. It punishes those who deviate from its unwritten rules. It isolates them and devours them. White people get devoured by it too. I know I have.

People of all kinds can perpetuate or choose to reject these cultural norms. I’m excited and, honestly, solemn and wary, about CAMN undertaking this unlearning process. It’s painstaking work to look at the harm we ourselves have caused. And again, it is so worthwhile and so necessary. Real lives are on the line and they deserve better.

Paternalism, specifically, is deeply intertwined with American conservation. The movement’s early heroes supported and participated in forcibly removing Native Peoples from their historic homeland in order to make national parklands more accessible to white Americans. Many supported Eugenics, and actively perpetuated White Supremacy Culture. This legacy impacts our outdoor spaces today, often making them physically and emotionally unsafe for our peers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The legacy endures in what outdoorsey people are expected to look like, in which conservation organizations get the majority of funding, in who gets harassed in public parks, in who is rarely hired for job opportunities in the sciences. We’ve got a lot of work to do to counteract these oppressive ideas, practices, and norms. Join us, won’t you?

The DEI Committee November meeting centered two readings:

1. The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture (focus on Paternalism)
2. Reckoning with the Racist History of American Environmentalism

And the agenda looked like this, if you’d like to follow along:

  1. Introductions – everyone gets to introduce themselves, their identities, and how they’re feeling at the moment
  2. Land Acknowledgement (borrowed from UWSA until we can establish our own)
  3. What is white identity? A brief history, based on learnings from the book Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
  4. Grounding Exercise
  5. Break Out Discussions on the following questions:
    1. Initial reactions to the readings, White Supremacy culture, and the topic of paternalism
    2. Discuss examples of environmental paternalism
    3. How might CAMN and other majority white environmental groups cause paternalistic harm? How have we?
    4. What antidotes should we keep top of mind when attempting to support and engage with Black, Indigenous, and communities of color?
    5. How do we minimize our harm so that we do more good than harm? How will we know when we’re being successful in this?
  6. Grounding Exercise
  7. Close Out

Won’t you join us? Feel free to each out to the committee at diversity@camn.org or me directly at diversity-chair@camn.org to join the committee or to learn more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Creation of camn’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (dei) committee

In 2017, CAMN created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee to ensure that CAMN is serving our WHOLE community by focusing on diversity and inclusion where we haven’t done so actively before. Currently we are in the planning stages. Our proposed timeline includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Identifying and communicating the issues (we did a presentation… more below)
  • Defining a Diversity and Inclusion chairperson role with a vote on our board of directors, as well as an interested committee
  • Developing some discussion tools for sharing ideas and reference materials
  • Drafting a Diversity and Inclusion statement for our chapter
  • Creating a document to outline our chapter’s approach to identifying inclusivity issues, reaching out to people of color or other communities not typically included in leadership or membership of conservation organizations, and finding ways to engage more of our community at many levels
  • Codifying this in our Chapter Operating Handbook
  • Reviewing the processes and guidelines regularly
  • Presenting at the 2018 TMN Annual Meeting in Georgetown, TX.

Presentation

Presentation creators at 2017 TMN Annual Meeting. l-r Caroline Taylor, Monica Ramirez, Marc Opperman. Not pictured: Virginia Palacios.

A few of us got together because we share some beliefs about where our organization can grow and expand. We believe we can’t fulfill the mission of the Texas Master Naturalist Program – the part where it says “…within their communities” – without reaching out to underserved segments of Austin and our surrounding counties, and including everyone in our conservation and outreach efforts. We want our membership, board of directors, new-member training, and public meetings to be welcoming to people of color, the LGTBQ community, and people of any age group (to name a few). Every segment of our membership should do its best to represent the community we live in. We believe  the very future of conservation initiatives in Texas and the United States depends on engaging more diverse members as the demographics of the country shift toward Latinos and other non-White populations.

As such, we presented at the Texas Master Naturalist 2017 Annual Meeting on diversity in conservation and serving the whole community. You can find that presentation here: Diversity in Conservation – TXMN Annual Meeting 2017

Introducing CAMN’s Revitalized diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee

Greetings, fellow Capital Area Master Naturalists! As the new Chairperson of our revitalized Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Committee, I’d like to introduce our new blog series to give CAMN’ers insight into what the DEI Committee is learning about and doing right now.

The new vision for the DEI Committee is that we start taking the necessary steps to help CAMN develop a culture and practice of anti-racism. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “anti-racism,” all that really means is that CAMN members are trained to see evidence of racism (which often hides in plain sight!) in our normal volunteerism and that we take action against it because we *don’t* want racism to continue unchecked in the spaces where we have influence (and that’s a lot of spaces!). Racism shows up in institutional policies, practices, and procedures. It shows up in the culture that we all contribute to. It shows up in our work places and in our personal lives. And yes, it is still tangibly affecting us and our loved ones today and every day.

Why is anti racism applicable to CAMN, you might ask? We are a nature-based volunteer group, after all. Well, as a consultant with the City of Austin’s Equity Office so poignantly put it last month, we certainly wouldn’t want any CAMN member to be sexually harassing members of the public on a hike. And just as critically, we don’t want any CAMN members causing racial harm on a public hike either. Both kinds of misbehavior cause real harm to real people. And that’s not what CAMN is about.

For the sake of transparency, I’ll be sharing each committee meeting’s pre-read materials, agendas, and take-aways as committee members brave the urgent, vital, and sometimes painful reality of the racial equity work that lays ahead for CAMN. We can’t change what we don’t understand. And we can’t claim to be on a particular side of history if we’re not actively working toward it.

Because CAMN is a majority white organization led by mostly white-privileged people, our (virtual) October committee meeting was centered around whiteness and white privilege. Our pre-reading material was the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh. In it, you’ll find a list of 50 privileges that those of us who appear to be white experience on a regular basis. If you choose to engage with this material, I encourage you to read it not as an intellectual exercise, but with your heart fully engaged. If you are white or white-passing, consider with each item, what would your life be like if this statement was not true for you and your loved ones? What feelings does it bring up? Where in your body do you notice sensation when you feel those feelings? For me, it’s oftentimes sadness that shows up as a lump in my throat or anger that arises as a burning pit in my stomach.

In this month’s committee meeting, we discussed the article as well as our reactions to it. We broke out into small groups that discussed the questions listed below. These kinds of discussions can be challenging and unsettling, and they may bring up unexpected emotions. It’s important to breathe and check in with our bodies in these moments. These reactions can always teach us something very important. We shared a brief grounding exercise at the start and end of the discussion so that we could settle our bodies and minds. Here’s a 1 minute grounding exercise for you to try out!

Discussion questions based on the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege:

  1. Which items on the list apply in your life?
  2. Are there any from the list that you didn’t connect with?
  3. How did reading the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege make you feel?
  4. How comfortable are you talking about race generally?
  5. What about this committee’s work excites you the most?
  6. What about this committee’s work are you most nervous about?

As we closed out the meeting, I heard committee members share hope that we can make real change together. I heard folks say that they were less afraid of what lay ahead and felt accepted on their learning journey, even if they felt like beginners. And an appreciation for having a community that is committed to making our outdoor spaces physically and emotionally safer for the people of color in our service area.

Members of this committee are not expected to be experts on racism or white privilege. They’re expected to come to the work with open minds and hearts and a willingness to engage in a meaningful way. We can make our outdoor spaces tangibly safer for those who do not benefit from white privilege. It’ll take a lot of work from a lot of us to do it. And I for one believe that we can and that we will.

I invite you to share and discuss this reading with your loved ones, and remember that no reactions or feelings are off limits. Just remember to breathe through it 🙂

Interested in joining our committee? Have feedback for us? Email Caroline at diversity-chair@camn.org any time. Please expect responses to take up to one week.

Connecting People with Nature

Dirt, water and gravity.  Backslope, outslope, brushing, grade reversals, and tread.  McLeods, picks and Pulaskis.  
When you are hiking a trail, how much attention do you pay to the actual trail?  If a trail is well built, the engineering of the trail likely never crosses your mind.  As it should be. The purpose of a trail is to allow people to be in natural surroundings, soothing their psyches, stimulating their senses and challenging their bodies.  If the trail is poorly designed or if you have experience building a trail, the engineering of the trail may very likely be foremost on your mind.

Building a trail requires training, surveying, planning, mapping and lots of physical effort to achieve the goal of keeping water off the tread and people on the tread.  This is where the Central Texas Trail Tamers come in. Since 1993, the Trail Tamers have worked with public and private non-profit groups on hundreds of projects both large and small to plan, build and maintain sustainable trails to ensure that current and future generations will have access to nature. 

Recently, the Trail Tamers (TT) teamed up with Ecology Action to build a new trail in Ecology Action’s Circle Acres Preserve.  The TT taught an introductory class covering the basics of trail building and safety and took the class out to apply the principles in the field.  Circle Acres is ten acres of former landfill that has been successfully restored as one of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the City. Circle Acres is surrounded by Roy G. Guerrero Park and backs up to the Montopolis neighborhood. The Montopolis neighborhood, while rich in history, is now isolated, under-served and socioeconomically disadvantaged. 

The new trail, built on January 11-12, 2020, allows residents of the neighborhood to directly access the park.  It reduces walking time to the park by 25 minutes. The trail building efforts met with challenges. When I-35 was constructed, the cement from the demolished East Avenue was moved to make an enormous pile on the edge of what would become the preserve. Sand was dumped on top of the detritus and plant life grew up among the debris. Over the years, this land was used as a quarry, then as a landfill by the City of Austin and later, when the landfill was decommissioned, it was used as an illegal dump site.  When Ecology Action acquired the site they removed over a four-foot deep layer of garbage from the hillside on which the trail was built. Remnants of an old social/game trail existed but it was seriously degraded and long closed off for safety reasons. The steep hillside and the unstable soil allowed the group to practice many principles of sustainable trail building. The trail still needs some finishing touches but residents of the neighborhood are already using it and giving the trail a thumbs-up.

The motto of the Trail Tamers is “Get Dirty, Build Trails and Have Fun!” They are currently seeking people to join them on their next mission to the Nature Conservancy’s 33,075-acre Davis Mountains Preserve. They will perform maintenance on the Madera Canyon and Tobe Canyon Trails which they built and which are very popular among hikers.  No experience necessary as training will be conducted for persons new to the business of trail work. The trip will run from 4/19/2020 to 4/25/2020 and the TT are seeking both trail builders and support staff for the event. For more information or to register, click here.

Urban Birding at Stormwater Ponds in Austin

As part of the Central Flyway, Texas will be the wintering home for over 90% of the ducks that use the this flyway1.  While a majority of the waterfowl, including the endangered Whooping Crane, will head for the Gulf Coast Wetlands, several species will make Austin their winter home.  Hornsby Bend is the most popular waterfowl viewing area in the Central Texas region, but I personally have a fond spot in my heart for bird watching in the lowly and regularly forgotten urban retention ponds.

Retention ponds, also known as detention or stormwater ponds, are build in urban areas to help reduce flooding during heavy rain events, reduce pollutant loads and allow for increased groundwater recharge in certain areas.  All new developments within cities in Texas have to build stormwater management systems, with the size and type of system defined by the local ecology/geology, city regulations and expected water issues.   Of the seven different types of stormwater management new developments can use, this article will center on “wet ponds,” which are permanent to semi-permanent pools of water.  Most of these features have the additional purpose of providing wildlife habitat for local animals and migrating birds2.  All wet or retention ponds within a city limit are inspected, and in the City of Austin there are more than 850 residential areas ponds and over 6300 privately maintained commercial area ponds3.  The City of Austin maintains a open data portal of all the retention ponds in the Austin and surrounding areas at https://data.austintexas.gov/Locations-and-Maps/Stormwater-Ponds/fckq-xnpy.

Now back to the birds. I have my favorite ponds that I like to visit, mainly because there is easy parking, plenty of wildlife to see and fairly easy access to good viewing spots.  I have visited each recently and hope you will also take a minute and stop by.  That is the best part of bird watching in retention ponds, you can just stop by for a few minutes and get some bird watching in as you run around doing chores!  Please forgive this north Austin bias – if you have a favorite retention pond in the South Austin area, please share.

Indian Mound Pond  (30.405635, -97.676654)

This two-pond system is on either side of Indian Mound and can be accessed by parking at either the Frank Fickett Scout Center or behind the Hilton Garden Inn Austin North.   In the past few days, the area has hosted a great blue egret, great white egret, and a mallard duck.   A number of turtles can also be seen regularly sunning on the rocks of the pond.  At one time, a family of beavers lived in the pond and made a dam out of the cattails but were removed several years ago.  Yellow crowned warblers, cedar waxwings and swamp sparrows can also be found in the trees behind the Scout Center during this time of year.   Around 2-4pm is not a good time to visit this pond, in that the local school uses the walking trail around it and most of the birds leave.

McCallen Pass Pond  (30.407139, -97.664741)

Parking for this pond is in the back of the Homewood Suites by Hilton Techridge off of Center Lake Drive.   There is also a new restaurant that has opened overlooking this pond on the other end of Center Lake Drive.  From the Homewood Suites parking area, you can walk along the berm for a better view but going all the way down the water’s edge is not advised.  Being a larger pond, this area annually gets a large number of water fowl including coots, double crested cormorants, ring neck ducks, and canvas back ducks.   Harris hawks are often on the power lines near this pond or flying over the nearly field.  Last week during one visit, I counted 39 ducks (mostly ring neck and canvas backs) and 18 coots around 1pm.  

Mopac Service Road Pond (30.384569, -97.734483)

To access this pond, park behind Mimi’s Café or the Firestone Complete Auto Care.  You can walk along the edge of the parking area, but going down the water’s edge is not advised.  Security vehicles or even the police (only once) will sometimes stop by to see what you are doing, but once you explain your intentions, they either go on about their way or hang out to learn about ducks for a bit.   At this pond I have found coots, northern shovelers, great blue herons, ring neck ducks and loons.  Usually there are around 10-20 waterfowl using this pond any given winter day.

References:

  1. https://www.ducks.org/conservation/where-ducks-unlimited-works/waterfowl-migration-flyways
  2. https://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Watershed/field_operations/WQP_Brochure_2015_web.pdf
  3. https://www.austintexas.gov/department/field-operations

Contributed by Jessica Snider, Class of 2014

White Christmas in Austin, Texas

Christmas in Austin came wrapped in fog this year.  Except for a trace of snow in 1939, weather records going back to the 1890s show Austin has never had a White Christmas.  So the combination of humid air, warm daytime temperatures and cool nights that shrouded the city in a gauzy whiteness is the closest we will get to a White Christmas. 
Fog is actually a cloud that touches the ground, formed when water vapor in the air condenses around microscopic dust, salt or other particles and changes into suspended water droplets or ice crystals.  But did you know there are seven different kinds of fog?

Radiation fog occurs as the ground releases thermal energy absorbed during the day into the cooling night-air causing water vapor in the air to condense.  It produces the fog that made Christmas spooky.

Advection fog is produced when warm moist air blows over a cool surface, usually water.  This process produces San Francisco’s famously foggy weather.

Upslope or hill fog occurs when winds blow warm moist air up a slope.  As the air expands adiabatically it cools and its moisture condenses. This process produces the spring and winter fogs on the Rocky and Appalachian Mountain ranges.

Freezing fog occurs when the water droplets in fog freezes and ices the surface of everything it touches.  It typically occurs at night; people wake up to a “Winter Wonderland.” Beautiful views but dangerous driving conditions!

Frozen fog is different from freezing fog.  Frozen fog occurs when the water droplets in fog are super-cooled below the liquid state and the ice crystals are suspended in the air.  You will need to go to northern Alaska to see this type of fog in the USA.

Steam fog or sea smoke occurs when cool air moves over water that is still warm from the summer.  Most often seen in fall and winter, another name for it is evaporation fog because water evaporates from the water body into the cooler air and condenses.

Valley fog occurs as air from higher elevations cools.  The air becomes denser as it cools and flows down a slope where it is trapped in lower elevations under a layer of lighter, warmer air.  Most common in fall and spring and densest in the early morning, this fog may last for days.

Information courtesy of the US Weather Service.

Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count

A popular Christmas Day tradition in the late 1800’s was the competitive “Side Hunt.”  The “side” of sport hunters that amassed the largest pile of dead birds at the end of the day won.  The conservation movement was young then but early conservationists and scientists were becoming concerned by the decline in bird populations as a result of the lucrative millinery trade and unrestricted hunting.

On Christmas Day, 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the recently formed Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition:  the Christmas Bird Census.  The first Christmas Bird Census was conducted by 27 birders at 25 different sites.  The birders counted 18,500 individuals from 89 species.   Last year’s Christmas Bird Count consisted of 79,425 volunteer birders at 2615 birding circles (sites) who observed 48,678,334 individual birds from 2638 species.  

Now in its 120th year, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), is the longest running citizen-science project in North America.  A century of collected data helps researchers assess the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.  This data, combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, shows changes in bird populations and provides a perspective for conservationists to use to identify environmental issues and propose strategies to protect birds, their habitat and their role in the larger ecosystem.

The annual CBC runs from December 14th through January 5th.  Birders of all levels are welcome and, as novice birders are partnered with experienced birders, the CBC is a good way to develop and improve birding skills.  It is not too late to join the 2020 Christmas Bird Count; ten Central Texas groups will conduct their CBC between now and January 5th.  

  • Balcones Canyonlands NWR (TXBC) | Monday, December 16, 2019
  • Westcave Preserve (TXWP) | Tuesday, December 17, 2019
  • Love Creek, Bandera County (TXLC) | Wednesday, December 18, 2019
  • Kerrville (TXKV) | Saturday, December 28, 2019
  • Lost Pines, Bastrop Area (TXLP) | Saturday, December 28, 2019
  • Round Rock (New Count) | Saturday, December 28, 2019
  • NewBraunfels (TXNB) | Sunday, December 29, 2019
  • West Kerr County (TXWK) | Monday, December 30, 2019
  • Bastrop-Buescher State Park (TXBB) | Wednesday, January 1, 2020
  • Burnet County (TXBN) | Friday, January 3, 2020

A list of CBC’s in other parts of Texas and additional  details of individual Central Texas CBCs including contact and registration information may be found here
VMS Category:  FR, Field Research

The Brackenridge Field Laboratory


George Washington Brackenridge had big plans for the 500-acres of Colorado Riverfront property he purchased.  It was downriver from the future site of the Austin Dam; the Austin Dam which would be built with stone quarried from his property and that was expected to generate the power needed to jumpstart industrial development in Austin.  Brackenridge planned to sell sites along the river to the cotton mills that were sure to come. But the Colorado River never provided the steady power needed to light the growing city of Austin, much less drive mills. Then in 1900 the dam spectacularly broke and attempts to rebuild it failed twice.  So Brackenridge, a regent at the University of Texas, donated the tract to the University in 1910 with the hope of moving the campus there where it would become known as “The University on the Lake.” Again his hopes were dashed when his longtime rival, George Littlefield, donated a million dollars to the University with the stipulation that the campus never be moved.

Amazingly, Brackenridge’s tract of now extremely-valuable riverfront property is still owned by UT. Most of the land was used for housing but in 1966, a biological field station was established on 82 acres of the land.  It was named the Brackenridge Field Lab (BFL). Fast forward to the present: for fifty years, data has been continuously collected on the BFL’s four main habitats: the Upper Terrace, the Old Quarry, the Pasture and the River Terrace.  There have been 1200 species of Lepidoptera, over 160 species of birds, 370 species of plants and 200 species of native bees documented on the BFL.  More than 500 students take courses every year at BFL and do research in its 18,000 square-foot laboratory. Research conducted at BFL has led to successful biocontrol measures against invasive fire ants (RIFA) with phorid flies and against Arundo donax with wasps. 

CAMN has entered into a partnership with BLF to provide assistance with field research, resource management and public outreach.  CAMN members conduct flora and fauna surveys to document arrivals, departures and behaviors related to seasonal changes. Decades of urban landscaping resulted in significant encroachment of invasive species which CAMN members are helping to mitigate.  CAMN members also plan to develop guided hikes curriculum to introduce the public to the wonders of this hidden urban ecological gem.  
 BFL is a unique site in Texas to study and observe how habitats, plants and animals respond to environmental changes and urban disturbance.  If you would like to be a part of this unique opportunity, check out the volunteer opportunities in the volunteer section.