Monday, August 30, 2010

Restoration Begins Last Week of September

Habitat restoration begins!!

The Willowbrook Reach is about to get its first installment of trees, shrubs and seeds to begin the habitat restoration process. Beginning on Sept 27 2010 and lasting through Oct 8 (two weeks), the Watershed Protection Department and Austin Youth Works will begin planting native shrubs and trees along the upper 1/3 of the Reach. This coincides roughly with the area from the the intersection of Half Penny and Sycamore upstream to Cherrywood. The restoration project will occur on both sides of the greenbelt. We're calling this Phase I of the restoration.

WPD will reseed the entire Phase I area with native wildflowers and grasses. And, they will be installing a temporary sprinkler system (temporary meaning two to three years) to water all these new plants. Watering will occur in the wee hours of the morning, probably from 2 - 5 am in order to minimize evaporation and interference with human activities (like enjoying the Reach). Sprinklers will probably cycle on in intervals of about 5 minutes on and 15 minutes off. This is so no water builds up and causes erosion. Small amounts of water will be applied in pulses over the several hour period.

The lower 2/3 of the Reach will continue to be mown 2-3 times per year (details are still being worked out) from the street to the trail. So they will come and mow that area during this time as well. (So long Johnson grass!)

A plan is emerging!

CLICK HERE to view a map of the Phase I Restoration planting and mowing regime.

Legend for the map above:
  • PZ1 - ground cover, upper canopy
  • PZ2 - ground cover, understory, upper canopy
  • PZ3 - riparian
  • PZ4 - ground cover
  • PZ5 - ground cover, understory
WPD has not yet generated plant lists for these zones, but they are on the way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Snakes Among Us

Snakes: for some people, the reptiles constitute one of the joys of living near a Texas stream. For others, they are hair raising, slithering creatures that must be dealt with using a shovel with a long handle. Off with their heads!

Personally, I'm one of the former. I love seeing snakes around the Reach and the neighborhood. That doesn't mean that they don't give me the heebie-jeebies when I come across one. We must be pre-programmed genetically to give fright at their sight.

Knowing more about snakes is one way to fear them less. We should be particularly grateful that we aren't likely to find any of the poisonous snakes native to our area at the Reach. Everything's possible of course, but cottonmouths tend to like shallow, stagnant stretches of water that we don't have. Think big pools and ponds. Rattlesnakes aren't likely to find their way past all the roads and freeways, and they generally prefer rockier areas. Coral snakes are very rare.

Around the Reach, we have two very common snakes, both non-poisonous. There's the blotched water snake and the Texas rate snake.

All snakes provide good food for the hawks and owls, and are predators of frogs and rodents. Just one part of the important food chain here.

The Blotched Water Snake

These snakes are quite common down in the stream, though during drought they can be found wandering about on land. When scared, they can flatten their heads, which makes them look a bit more like the cottonmouth. One way to tell the difference is that cottonmouths float across the surface when swimming. When the water snakes swim, only their head is above water.

The Texas Rat Snake

These snakes are great consumers of all our nastiest little rodents, but they love chicken eggs too (just ask the Choates). They can get large (4 to 6 feet long) and climb vertical surfaces. That means they can be found lounging vertically on your house wall. And of course, craziness will then ensue! Mostly, we see the young snakes around the hood, and often they are found squashed in the road, but larger ones are about. These snakes can be aggressive when cornered, they may even hiss and bite. It'll hurt, but remember: no poison. Best just to give them some respect as they move on their way to find a meal.

All of this information and these photos come from the Austin Area Snake Identification Pages.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wastewater Plan Option 4 Supported by FLWR/CNA


We had a very informative meeting last night with City reps about the various wastewater pipe realignment proposals for the Willowbrook Reach-Sycamore-Willowbrook St. area. (

Here's a summary of what we learned:

- Alternative 3 is not an option, and has been pulled off the table.
- Alternative 1 does not have any support and was voted out.
- Alternative 2 would result in a pipe crossing the creek that is about 6 inches above the bottom of the creek.
- Alternative 4 would result in a pipe crossing the creek that is about 2 feet above the bottom of the creek.
- In either 2 or 4, the pipe will be encased in cement and covered in rocks ("rip rap") to look more natural. There will be a gentle slope over the pipe, so wildlife will still have the ability to move up and down stream.
- The height of the reinforced pipe in Alternative 4 could result in a deeper pool. It's possible that this kind of crossing will not be permitted after review, because the height could effect water flow too greatly for Watershed to approve of the crossing.

At our meeting with City representatives last night, a motion was issued that the we support Alternative 4, and that we will support Alternative 2 if Alternative 4 is not viable due to permitting issues. The vote at the meeting was unanimous in support of this recommendation, with 9 attendees and voters. The results from the online survey also largely support this view. A majority of respondents (61%) supported either Alternative 2 or 4.

The Steering Committee will take up this issue tomorrow (Wed), and it will be presented again at next Wednesday CNA Quarterly General Meeting. City representatives will be on hand. If you have any detailed questions about any of the above, I recommend that you attend the Cherrywood Quarterly!

UPDATE: The CNA also expressed support for Alternative 4 at the neighborhood quarterly meeting.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Upper Boggy Creek Before Us

[Click photo to enlarge]

WPD environmental scientist Staryn Wagner sifted through old photos and found this cool aerial shot from the 1940s of how the Upper Boggy Creek and surrounding area looked before the neighborhood was built. He then carefully overlaid the current street grid, for perspective.

All the old timers in the neighborhood say that this area used to be a big dairy farm. They are faint, but you can cattle trails (the cattle and deer were making trails before we were!).

Neat perspective.