Notes from the Canyon

The winter months at Chaetura Canyon are when we concentrate on habitat restoration and trail work.  This is the fallow time of year for avian productivity.  A time when we can safely trim trees, haul brush, chip slash into mulch and perform necessary trail maintenance without interfering with nesting activity.

This year we concentrated on the three most recent property acquisitions to the Sanctuary where no work had yet been done.  Fence work on Little Beaver Hill continued, and a couple of maintenance trails were opened up.  Much of the interior fence along the old property line was removed and used to fence the new extended property lines.  Several large Red Oaks that succumbed to the droughts of previous years were cut into manageable piecaes to be dealt with by volunteers from the Capital Area Master Naturalists (CAMN) in February.

The “Champaign Notch” (named for the libation that celebrated the acquisition of land surrounded on three sides by Chaetura Canyon property) was the target of the most effort.  Hard work resulted in a new trail and the beginnings of Juniper steps that lead into the Canyon at the headwaters of the western drainage that feeds into the main creek.  The area was littered with fallen brush from the monumental ice storm in 2001 and over-grown with Ligustrum, non-native Lantana and Chinaberry.  The new trail provided access to begin work on removing the brush and invasive non-native plants.  In addition to the undesirable plants, this area contains a healthy stand of Possum Haw dotted with Escarpment Cherry and a very large Cedar Elm.   The bottom of the Canyon also hosts Peonia, Cedar Sage, Boneset (White Mistflower) and Red Buckeye that will all thrive as a result of this year’s work.

Two Stewardship Days and a CAMN Advanced Training Day yielded 35 volunteers who moved more than 400 cubic yards of brush out of the Canyon and off of the Hill. The brush will be chipped into mulch at a later date for use on the trails.  We truly appreciate the help of the many great supporters who come out each year to help us with these tasks!

Rains were good this winter.  We recorded 7.29” from December through February.  Lake Travis remained full at 681’or slightly above.  Consequently the springs in the bottom of the Canyon continued to seep and actually flow with even modest additional rainfall.  We had a good freeze in January that lasted several days (we had no freeze at the Canyon in 2016). Freezes are beneficial in helping restore some balance in the growth of perennials – many of which never froze back in 2016.  However, February was the warmest in recorded history.   Many plants were breaking dormancy by March 1st, so spring came early this year.

Events at Chaetura Canyon begin in April with the Birdathon Brunch and continue through October. Events include Chalupas and Chimney Swifts in May, Second Saturday Swift Watches May thru July, the Mediterranean Feast and Master Birding in September and a new event: Second Saturday Canyon Crawl.  This will be a guided interpretive walking tour of the Chimney Swift Meadow and upper and lower Canyon trails the morning of each second Saturday of the month from May thru July.  Check the TAS calendar for specifics on all of these events.

We hope to see you in the Canyon soon!

Georgean and Paul Kyle are the Land Stewards at Chaetura Canyon. You can read more about Travis Audubon’s Chaetura Canyon Sanctuary here.