Monday, February 2, 2009

CAMN at Commons Ford Ranch

Commons Ford Ranch House

I had to go over my notes from class this weekend because there were so many speakers and the information was so varied I needed to come to a clear understanding about how it all tied together...because, it always does. We met out at Commons Ford Ranch, a city park that was acquired in 1983. It's a 215 acre lakeside property boasting two short hiking trails: Waterfall Trail that is a fairly easy, unpaved 1.25 mile stroll and the slightly shorter Pecan Trail loop.

This impressive Live Oak stands just outside the 2500sq. ft Ranch House that is available to rent for special occasions. It was cold inside so someone lit a fire and we sat; 35 of us in a relatively small room gasping for air while trying to focus on the wonderful speakers. First up was Bill Carr, enthusiastic botanist with the Nature Conservancy of Texas who recently co-authored the field guide "Rare Plants of Texas" available at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center. According to recent surveys there are about 225 species or candidates for listing, as endangered, imperiled or declining plants in need of help. He came equipped with slides of a few that are located right here in Austin for us to try and find. New species are evolving and being discovered all the time as some are getting harder and harder to find. There are many reasons why a plant becomes scarce, weather being a main reason this year with low rainfall but also encroaching development
and invasive species crowding out the natives. I spent the time trying to sketch the flowers and take as many notes as possible about the seemingly endless list of diamonds in the rough. I'm most excited to learn about rare plants that are edible and medicinal and was tickled to find that I have one in my own yard! I can't wait for it to berry-out!

Next up we had MN Wallace Stapp '05 speak on his passion: The History of Master Naturalists in Texas, of which he has collected some 300 books on the subject and shared with us who he believed to be the most important and the most entertaining to read. He brought along some rare books for us to peruse and gave an open invitation to check out his findings! It was just the nudge for me to finally get into reading about the philosphers down at the rock outside Barton Springs.

Kevin "Fish-head" Hutchinson owner of Hill Country Flyfishers got us outside to breath some fresh air and took us down for our first hike and talk along the tributary of Lady Bird Lake to explain what a lifetime of being on the river has taught him about riparian life. "Fish-head," (I'm using that in a friendly way) Kevin, stands 6'4" and is probably the most conscious fisherman I've ever met...that says a lot, before you go wondering about the validity of my statement...I grew up on the Kenai River in Alaska and fished with my brothers and worked the canneries every summer from the time I was 15 until I went away my second year of college...I've caught, dip-netted, cleaned, smoked, baked, souffled and eaten my share of salmon and after I hiked the Resurrection Trail and saw them spawn by the hundreds, gave up eating them for many years. He pointed out with clear understanding what the naked eye might view as trash...broken trees and brush that may look unsightly but help slow things down in a flood and provide a safe haven for fish to bury their eggs and for invertebrates to hang out. He was a lively speaker with a booming voice, bursting character who clearly could fall on the other end of the political debate on preservation, but is able to see the whole picture. I can see why he's been in business so long, I'd go fishing with him in a minute...just to hear him wax on about how much he loves what he does and the world we live in. Man, was that walk n' talk mind clearing, and I got to learn about noodling...more than I think I ever wanted to know actually...

MN Patricia McGee, BCP guide

After lunch we heard Daniel Dietz speak briefly about the Balcones Canyonlands Preserves, he is the Environmental Conservation Information Specialist and he covered the history of the Preserve as well as volunteer opportunities...which are many! We then had the option of taking one of 3 separate hikes, which really annoyed me because I wanted to do them all and was forced to make a split decision! I wanted to take the Texas Trees in Winter walk lead by a certified forester with Austin Parks and Rec but ended up being swayed over to the hills hike because I was tired of sitting and needed to get some blood flowing...I'm happy to say that I enjoyed my walk with Patricia McGee, who has lived in the neighborhood for 8 years and she was very knowledgeable.

We started straight up the hillside, this is a view looking toward Lady Bird Lake which lies just beyond the trees.
Mostly a cedar forest, there was also Red Oak, Persimmon, Black Escarpment Cherry...which I have never seen with cherries and she told us of a place farther than we were going that had a few stellar Texas Madrones. The terrain was quite steep and the trees were growing at an angle, a little hard to see here.

I never tire of the forest, even in the middle of the winter, when most of the leaves are gone it's still magical.

Skat! Patricia was quick to identify it as fox. It was full of berries...where are those berries?

I've been falling in love with the clumping grasses and this gentle slope normally has a seep, but was dried up. The grasses look pretty good considering the drought.

We finally got to a lovely space where Patricia said she had never in her 8 years of hiking this trail seen was today, save a sweaty area under this rock sporting a few Maiden Fern fronds.

This is what was left of the Waterfall hike. A murky puddle, but you can see the floating fence that rises to accommodate rushing water but keeps the cattle out.

This is the view from the other direction...up stream...the water was only about 6 inches deep, on the left there is some pretty sticky mud. When we got back we had one speaker left, Krista McDermid of Zara Environmental LLC who spoke with us about the sensitive cave ecosystems around the world, and especially here in central Texas. Each speaker we listened told the story of our biodiversity dwindling in the fragile ecosystems of Texas down to the littlest flower, fish, insect or critter and what we can do to be part of securing their safety in a slowly disappearing wildscape. Another great class! I'm ready to go and hope you'll consider volunteering too, you don't have to be a Master Naturalist to count bugs or find plants just step lightly and have a good time!
Happy Gardening...and hiking!


Frances said...

Hi Cheryl, what an enjoyable read. I felt like I was there with you. You gave us a taste of what the speakers said and how they said it. I think you made the right choice to go on the hike, too much sitting dulls the brain! :-)

tina said...

I could never imagine seeing such a huge and beautiful tree as that live oak. It is spectacular. I hope some rains return to your neck of the woods. I know if you get some, we do too:) Anyhow, have the nicest day!