Friday, March 27, 2009

CAMN at Hornsby Bend

It was a blustery day at Hornsby Bend, which isn't supposed to be good birdwatching weather but it was the first time for me, and it seemed fine. It helps that Hornsby Bend is the best place in the country to see birds for a few it's the central flyway for bird migration and is on the edge of an ecosystem and two, the poop...which draws insects, which birds love to eat. For those of you not from around Austin, Hornsby Bend is where ALL of the one million gallons of sludge, and yard waste in Austin go to be converted into a product known as "Dillo Dirt" via composting. The facility is huge...there are 3 giant ponds filled with birds, and not just flycatchers...but everything!

Pipevine Swallowtail on Redbud Blossoms

The first birds we learned about are the Purple Martins. There is a colony of 48 houses that need weekly care, which takes about an hour. The Martins are endangered and you can help support the PMCA, Purple Martin Conservation Association by purchasing housing and various items to help care for and attract Martins.
Julia and Andy Balinksy, Capital Area Master Naturalists who care for the birds took the time to explain a little about the nesting requirements, pests and responsibility involved.

The standard gourd shaped colony

There were several Purple Martins flying around. They scavenge flying insects and do not feast primarily on mosquito's, as touted by many manufacturers of the popular houses.

Carol, on the left is our CAMN bird expert from our class, and on the right is our gung-ho birding teacher for the day Kathy McCormick...check out those duds!

We listened to a brief talk on the how to's of birding, and and some general information about flycatchers, vireos and warblers before heading out to pond#2. Kathy pointed out several species and I was amazed at how much fun it was. I had always wondered what the draw could be, and for me it is learning about the character of the birds...this made everything they did come alive!

The Duck Blind.

Look at this crazy construction...the bench is lower than the windows, therefore literally blinding you from the ducks!

The view from inside...the Yucca were blooming and covered with insects!

A Chimney Swift home. In my neighborhood we have a watch at the local elementary school, Brentwood. The Chimney Swifts have been coming for over 50 years and it's a wonderful opportunity to meet your neighbors!

Tiger Swallowtail on Redbud Blossoms

Here's our group heading out for a short hike, the best part of each CAMN class as far as I'm concerned...too much butt to chair puts the mind to sleep.

We were looking for owls and woodpecker holes in this grand, dead, old tree. Not removing dead wood is essential to bird habitats.
A slow spot on the Bend.

Here we saw a Red Shoulder Hawk, some Turkey Vultures and a Great Egret.

The thicket was a weekend volunteer project.
Mustang grape! Yum, I've got some growing in my yard...if it's a rainy year we'll have jam!
This place was spooky! It's one of the holding ponds, and strangely the place doesn't smell.

Duckweed, up close. The smallest blooming plant which remove phosphates, nitrogen and especially ammonia from water. Duckweed is found all over the world off fast moving rivers and can be transplanted by birds going from pond to pond.

What ever ate this salad, didn't chew 30 times. tsk-tsk.
Coyote who dined on bunny.
Coyote that dined on deer. Hungry coyote.

The yucca almost don't look real they are so waxy and perfect!
Northern Shovelers, Green, Blue and Cinnamon Teal and some American Coots.
After our outing we were treated to a few hours of Kevin Anderson talking about Urban Ecology, Sustainability and the history of Hornsby Bend. We also collected tons of information on birding in Texas, compliments of the Travis Audubon Society and walked away thoroughly enthusiastic about learning bird calls and coming back for the annual Christmas Day Bird Count which covers a 10 mile area around the Bend.

Hornsby Bend has won several awards for it's sustainability efforts and we are the only city in America to compost all it's sludge! There are several volunteer opportunities and bird watching events for adults and teens, Austin Youth River Watch is a high school program that's been going on since '92 and the bird survey happens on the second Saturday of each month at 7am, beginners welcome, you'll be paired with an expert. The third Saturday is a Bird Walk, 7:30-11am and is open to the public as well.

If your interested in learning more check out their website

We only have a few classes of CAMN left, they just keep getting more interesting all the time!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring has Sprung

We went to Boulder to take the girls snowboarding for Spring Break and I missed the GBBD but caught a few photos of the yard before and after. I've been having the hardest time staying focused this spring...or maybe it's every Spring...due to the wind, or that's my story. Anyway, it rained the day we left and then again today and I'm starting to feel like this is an actual spring and all. There is so much going on in the garden that I just have to share!

About ten years ago I bought a tiny plant in a 2 inch square pot and it was labeled "Desert Flower" it at the former Tex Zen Garden on Burnet. I've since found out that the real name is Hymenoxis or Four nerve Daisy. This is what 10 years of ignoring the little flower looks like. If you can't grow anything in a tough (notice it's right on the street) spot...try this beauty.
3 year old "Old Blush" climber on the porch has been blooming non stop.
This photo doesn't do the pinks justice...Indian Hawthorne, Oxalis and Autumn Sage.
The Heartleaf Scull-cap is knee high and spreading like an invasive species...we can't say that though since it's a's just a little aggressive.
Close up of the Cross-vine...I still don't know the difference between Trumpet and Cross?
The little side garden is plumping up...they're all transplants.
The peach across the street has 22 peaches...mine just put out it's first bloom...go figure?
Mexican of my favorites!
The Arugula gone to bloom along with Swiss Chard and Mustard greens
I love the onions bursting into bloom! Symmetrical perfection with an asymmetrical strip-tease.
My neighbor Hai's mother propagated these Loquats. It's the third year in the ground...right on time with the fruit! Yum, I can't wait to make jam!
The Cassia was blooming when I put it in the ground and has been blooming ever since.
Cheese and Wine Iris's, still no buds!
Spider wort.
Mini-pom buds.

Cross-vine gone wild! Each year it seems more spectacular!
Greg's little cousin Shelby and my hen Florance Jean.

My sweet Autumn Sage is so great with little kids! Shelby was very proud to have held onto Florence Jean...not an easy task!

Here's the mystery mold. Two mornings in a row this crumbly day-glo yellow slime showed up on my mulch not far from some mushrooms. I'd love to know what and why this is happening?
Anyone out there a mold fan?
Hoping for rain...Happy Gardening!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"I Saw the Number 5 in Scat" CAMN Class on Mammals

I saw the Figure 5 in Gold, Charles Demuth is a reference to a classic American artwork, but this is the 5th class and we did in fact create scat and I was elected to be the artist in my group...which will be my answer the next time someone asks me if I'm still making art. This past week we had another class out at Hornsby Bend...even more poop talk there, but we had a chance to visit about the value of the poop making exercise and for those of us who got messy...we remembered the shape and size and found it applicable.
Rodents, I passed on handling the rats but was drawn to the bats! I'd never been close to one and they do look a bit like flying rats but with a more interesting face.

What's missing? The Mexican Free tail...the one I really wanted to investigate! We learned about the 33 bat species in Texas and how they break down into 4 major groups: New World Leaf-nosed Bats, pollen and nectar collectors including the Vampire Bat, Vesper or Evening Bats, the furry Tree Bats who are mostly solitary and the bonnet eared Free-tailed Bats, of which we have here under the Congress St. Bridge...btw, those are mostly females as that's a nursery.

Dr. Pamela Owen, Evolutionary Biologist with a "major carnivore bias." Dr. Owen's enthusiasm caught on immediately, and the props made the day come alive, even before we visited the animal rehab at the Austin Science and Nature Center.

Shrews, moles, gophers and badgers have orange front teeth making them easy to identify in the wild. The front teeth don't have enamel and continue to grow throughout the lifespan.

Unmistakable shape of the Armadillo skull.
The Nine-banded Armadillo is moving north into the U.S. via waterways but won't get too far without some serious evolving. Their keratinous plated armor isn't solid like the turtle and they can't thermoregulate. The other cool thing about them is that they always have identical quadruplets, which makes them an easy target for scientific investigation and their fossil record goes back to the Ice Age!

The night before, Kris set up a square meter of find sand, flour or bentonite to check for animal prints. In the center she poured out some rancid sardine oil to attract critters. After we had a bit of time to try and figure out what had visited the area, Dr. Owens demonstrated how to prepare a track for making a mold. She simply cut a two inch strip of cardboard from an office folder bent around into a circle and held it with a paperclip. Then she mixed plaster of Paris with water to a cake batter consistency and poured it into the track print after spraying it with cooking oil.

Can you guess who visited this Scent Station?

Kris Thorne is one of our class coordinators, and Scat Expert. She investigated the area and came up with a few additional samples of visitors from the night before, vegetarians who weren't interested in the sardine oil but who left behind some seedy byproduct!

Old scat samples
I was on team 3, and here's our scat made from chocolate cookie dough and various seeds and candies to represent the diet of our's skunk-scat!

We then had a contest to see who knows their scat.

The big pond outside at the Nature Center.

More big was buzzing with life!

I do believe we're all gathered around the Coati (commonly called the hog-nosed coon, Brazilian aardvark or snookum-bear) are endangered in Texas and will most likely disappear with the introduction of "the fence."

Sweet scavenger coyote.

This is the fattest Bob Cat I've ever seen. All the animals are rescued and injured. They won't be able to be released into the wild so they've made them as comfortable as possible. I wasn't able to capture them all, and there are quite a few wild and rare species worth seeing.

The Austin Nature and Science Center(ANSC) is best described as a "living museum" with an educational agenda. They are located at 301 Nature Center Drive, which is behind Zilker Botanical Gardens, parking beneath the Mopac Bridge. They offer all kinds of camps for kids and programs for adults and are always looking for volunteers! Contact the manager (seen here) at (512)327.8181 if you'd like to get involved and be sure to check their website for upcoming events!