Tree Girdling and Photographing

by Carolyn Henderson

Last Saturday morning was a busy one for a small group of El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists. The intrepid seven started out attending some previously girdled trees and finished by photographing everything they could find for the “Hotter than Hell BioBlitz” at Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron.

Liz Lewis inspects girdled Privet.

Original girdlers of the invasive Glossy Privet Liz Lewis, Marian Buegeler, and I did some follow-up work on the trees we originally performed girdling on back in March. Marian was armed with a hatchet and I had a tree trimmer device to remove any new growth below the girdles. Liz directed.

Marian Buegeler prepares to take hatchet to Privet.

I was surprised to find the trees dying because an inspection a month ago didn’t really show any significant dying off. They are showing plentiful evidence of their demise now. In case you’re new to this subject, tree girdling is a method to kill trees without herbicides or chain saws. You can find directions on how to do it from the March blog if interested. 

Privet dying

The drought and excessive heat may be hastening the death, but it’s all occurring above the girdle line, so the process works. We are now a little excited to see where they stand in late fall. 

The only green grass was close to the water.

We then proceeded to photograph what was still alive in the drought/heat wave at Wilson-Ledbetter. We managed to get 208 photos of nature surviving the weather. “Birdladymilam” Ann Collins posted the most photos on the project page on iNaturalist. Eric Neubuer found the most of one species (Wolf spiders in case you weren’t sure). Organizer Linda Jo Conn, Marian, Victoria St John, Liz and I also contributed. Blooming flowers were sparse, but there were a lot of trees, vines and grasses along with spiders, and birds. 

Pipevine Swallowtail looks for blooms in some very dry grass.

And it wasn’t hot that early in the morning. 

Silver leaf nightshade was one of two blooms I found there.

El Camino Real Chapter Members Attack! (More on Tree Girdling)

by Linda Jo Conn

While I and a couple of others watched, a group of hard-working El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist members and trainees girdled three of the large specimens of invasive Glossy Privets (Ligustrum lucidum) on the grounds of the Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron.  The weather cooperated. It was pleasant with a hint of a chill in the breeze. 

Cliff Tyllick, known to iNaturalists as “baldeagle”, is a self-appointed eradicator of invasive species.  He regularly leads volunteer groups in Austin at the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park to remove invasive plants.  Read Cliff’s profile at https://www.inaturalist.org/people/baldeagle

First, Cliff demonstrated the technique to the group and showed the proper use of each of the tools in his girdling kit. Several members came equipped with their own tools, some newly purchased, along with an eagerness to learn.  

Carolyn Henderson, ECR Chapter President and coordinator of the volunteer project, showed the determination that is necessary for the job. 

Cliff was always ready and eager to share his knowledge about tree growth and structure with the folks.  He explains the basics of a technique to trainee Linda Burgess.

Mike Conner, a well-seasoned warrior against invasive and aggressive species on his own property, attacked and conquered several large and difficult trunks of privet.

Mariann Buegler showed her grit and fortitude and is now at the final stages of the process using a spray bottle of 70% alcohol and a scrub pad.  

Catherine Johnson and Carolyn inspect the progress on a girdle. 

Debbie Sorenson and Liz Lewis are rightfully proud of their finished girdling job. Great work! 

For an instructional guide on girdling of invasive species, watch “Girdling Invasive Trees with Cliff Tyllick” below (this is the same one that our other tree girdling post featured): 

Not only did we learn about the technique of girdling to eliminate invasive species without the use of herbicides from Cliff, we also learned about the detrimental effects of invasive species in the natural ecology.  

Linda and Cliff

To view one of the Glossy Privets attacked by the group, see my iNat observation at: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/108564382.  The privet will be revisited several times in the future to document its demise and the success of the workday by a remarkable group of ECR volunteers. 

The tree I am tracking.

Tree Girdling at Wilson Ledbetter Park

by Carolyn Henderson

Ten troopers from the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist met up Saturday, March 12, to attempt to rid Wilson Ledbetter Park, in Cameron, Texas, of an invasive species. With the very experienced guidance of Cliff Tyllick, we managed to wear ourselves out after three hours of Glossy Privet girdling. I’m not so sure about the trees. 

Cliff Tyllick explains tree girdling

Tyllick has years of experience girdling trees in the Austin area. Much of his work is done through grants and conservation organizations in an attempt to hold back Glossy Privets and some other invasive species. He also has done a program on girdling for Texas Master Naturalist at the annual meeting in 2019. 

Tyllick draws lines on bark to be removed
Bark is removed between the lines

Is it more difficult than cutting down the tree and poisoning it? Yes! So why do it this way? Girdling doesn’t require the use of poisons that could contaminate nearby plants, animals, or water, and it eliminates noisy large equipment (as well as the need to carry it down long trails). It eliminates spreading of the trees by seed while killing it slowly. If it’s in a wooded area, you can let the tree decompose to fertilize the ground.

 All pulp material is removed to prevent regrowth

And why would there be a need to remove the invasive Glossy Privet that produces flowers and shade? They hinder the growth of native trees and flowers in the area. They outgrow native trees in height, which hinders the growth of native Texas species growing below them. Bees and butterflies do like the flowers, but that stops them from pollinating native Texas flowers.

Members walk toward the ill-fated Privets.

There is a specific format to do the girdling in so that it will take out the plant in one effort. The outer bark must be removed for about the length of a hand. Then the pulpy matter left must be removed by using tools to scrape it away. Once it’s removed, it is washed with soap and water then cleaned with an alcohol and water mixture. This combination keeps it from regenerating what was removed. If you’d like to see it in action, check out this video:

It was hard work, and most of us were worn out, but learning a new process was interesting, and we got to enjoy the company of our chapter members. As an aside, Tyllick’s wife, Karen is an archeologist by training and a PhD. She found some relics in the park. Thanks to her for our group picture. We were all smiling because we said “Girdling” instead of “cheese”. It was really funny at the time, which was at the end of the day.

ECR chapter members smile big after all the girdling.

When a Four-Year-Old Takes Hold of Your Camera

by Carolyn Henderson

On Sunday, November 21, I discovered that four-year-olds have a natural eye for photographing nature. It started on the Saturday evening before when a friend asked me what I was going to do on Sunday, and I said I was going to go “iNating” at Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron. And she said she and her daughter (the 4-year-old), would like to go with me. 

Vivi and the lady beetle.

Around noon on Sunday, we met at the park. Spring (the friend) had printed a nature scavenger hunt for Vivi (the 4-year-old). The idea was to keep Vivi occupied while learning about nature. It didn’t take Vivi long to find everything pictured except two with the help of Spring. A pinecone was not going to be found at Wilson-Ledbetter, because there is no pine tree there. We didn’t see a squirrel either. 

Wilson-Ledbetter Park bridge

She had been interested in me taking pictures of Birds-eye Speedwells, Straggler Daisies, Santa Maria Feverfew, Docks, and a Black Willow sporting yellow fall leaves. She asked me what each one was, and luckily I knew them – so far. This is when she decided to help me take pictures. Spring tried to divert her by offering her cell phone, but Vivi wanted the camera, and I was willing to share. It’s old and I need a new one, anyway. 

These seeds are not delicious.

After a few times reminding her to keep her fingers from in front of the lens, she had it down. She took a particular interest in holes in the ground, anything that had a “V” shape, because she knows that’s the first letter of her name (and the other letters, too), the blue seeds on an Eastern Cedar (which we had to dissuade her from tasting), Carolina Snailseed, Frostweed (which was still blooming), dandelions, and Lady Beetles, which she could also catch.  She had as difficult a time as I do trying to get some little yellow butterflies to be still for a minute. 

Carolina snailseed

All the pictures shown except for her holding the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle were taken by Vivi. She asked me to tell Santa Claus that she wants a camera for Christmas. I quickly sent the message to Santa. ; )

Bioblitz! The First of Many!

This morning, a semi-hardy group of Master Naturalists met at Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron to see if we can actually DO a bioblitz. What’s a bioblitz? It’s when people get together and see how many observations they can make on the iNaturalist citizen science platform in a defined area during a specific time.

Do we look chilly? We are!

Our goal is to have as many observations as possible today, February 22, at the park. That means anyone who observes after our group blitz will also count.

Goofy selfie in which I could not fit everyone in.

Twelve of us came to the event, which is a great turnout! We gave some handouts to the people who were new to iNaturalist, showed folks how to join the project I’d set up the day before, and set off in groups, where experienced and inexperienced people were together. Our instructions were to take as many pictures as possible of the flora and fauna you encountered.

Different groups did their observations differently, with some people uploading photos as they took them and others choosing to take the pictures on their phones then upload them later. We also had a couple of people using cameras, and a couple of spotters/observers. Below are some action shots and a couple of the photos we took. Thanks to Meghan Land and Dorothy Mayer for sharing their photos.

One thing I discovered is that we have some great nature observers in our new class. One found a domestic cat carcass (no photo available, thankfully) and another found some beautiful eggs in a nest by an oak tree (perhaps from the nearby ducks).

Eggs found under a tree. Sparkly finger to show size.

Long-time members shared stories about previous projects our group has done in the park and helped identify some of those pesky forbs that were everywhere. It’s quite a challenge when so little is blooming, and many woody plants have no leaves yet.

We were much warmer in the conference room, with coffee.

After about an hour of photographing, we went back to the warmth of the Hermit Haus and practiced using the iNaturalist app to upload photos. It’s a bit of a learning curve, especially if you have an android phone and all your “experts” have iPhones. But, folks are already adding their observations to the project, and people are out there identifying them.

Here is what we have as of mid afternoon. We will certainly have more later!
Here are all the observations from our bioblitz, as of 3 pm today. The key to the colors is in the image above.

Just a few hours after the bioblitz started, we have over a hundred observations, and half the team has uploaded content. Not bad at all! Check the project page to see how many more observations have been uploaded. They will be trickling in over the next few days.

Where shall we go for our next bioblitz? Will you join us? Our goal is to visit all the parks in the county, so suggestions are welcome! Remember, Tania Homayoun of Nature Trackers, and our state iNaturalist expert, will be joining us April 18 for a special training with both an indoor and an outdoor component. We will let you know which park we’ll be holding that one at!

Want to Learn More?

Read more on using iNaturalist for bioblitzes at this link.