Baker Sanctuary News By Christopher Murray

Every year Baker Sanctuary hosts an Open House as an interactive way to engage the local community and Travis Audubon members. This year the Open House was held on May 7 and was graced with beautiful weather and, due to copious rain, the unusually verdant Firewheels and Mexican Hats provided a visually arresting background to the festivities as an added bonus. Over 250 visitors participated in the Open House but in case you missed it, it is my hope the following description of the event will entice you into visiting us next year!


Youngsters to observe and identify. All photos by Heather Valey.

One of the most popular activities was the guided nature hike. While some folks were intent on seeing our local celebrity, the Golden-cheeked Warbler (GCWA), many others were new to hiking and just wanted an introduction to the local ecology and landscape. Our four hike leaders were kept quite busy throughout the day as they tirelessly led multiple short hikes into the juniper/oak uplands and answered a stream of questions from excited children and adults alike. Golden-cheeked Warblers were reliably spotted as well as other crowd pleasers such as Painted Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and Carolina Chickadees.


Sky King Falconry educate and entertain with their raptors.

Concurrent with the hikes a veritable smorgasbord of family friendly activities was held at the Jackie Arnold Education Center (JAEC). Kids could use shredded paper and a cookie cutter to craft a native seed ball or construct a bird feeder from peanut butter, pine cones, and seeds. For the more tool-oriented, nest box kits were available for purchase which could be built on site with help from a volunteer or transported home to be assembled at a later date. Children (and adults) learned common bird species at two stations, one which focused on visual identification and binoculars and another where an interactive display had participants matching bird songs to the correct species. Another popular station was the owl pellet dissection activity where folks received a barn owl pellet and dissected out the rodent bones. Some kids took it to the next level and, with the aid of a reference sheet, assembled some fairly complete rodent skeletons from their pellets! It seemed skulls were in short supply and the discovery of one elicited quite a bit of excitement when it occurred. To round out the activities, a Golden-cheeked Warbler themed bean bag toss was set-up near the pavilion as well as a station where kids could color and make their own bird masks.


Amanda Ross shows visitors how to make pine cone feeders,

New for this year, several vendors hosted tables and activities which turned out to be crowd pleasers. The good folks of Austin Wildlife Rescue hosted a table with
abundant wildlife rehabilitation information and they also brought their mascot, Tito the ten-pound tortoise. Tito wandered about the pavilion area and contently munched grass while surrounded by a gaggle of kids. Emma Dietrich led families on several ‘bug walks’ where participants used nets to collect and then identify insects and spiders found near the Baker Cemetery. Finally, and arguably the most well attended activity of the day, Sky King Falconry put on an educational program with their raptors. They had hawks, owls, falcons, vultures, and my favorite, a Kookaburra. At the end, attendees had the option to take a selfie with a raptor and Tito could only look on in jealousy as the birds stole his limelight.


Volunteer Bob Vaughn helps children build nest boxes.

Thanks to Our Volunteers
The Open House would not have been possible without the efforts of a cadre of twenty volunteers, many of whom stayed for the entire four-hour day. Not only did the volunteers lead the hikes and staff the activities, others worked behind the scenes to set-up the JAEC, coordinate hikes, facilitate parking, and help with the snack table and visitor sign-in. I cannot give enough thanks to those who volunteered and made the day possible. If you are reading this, please give yourself a pat on the back and know you are appreciated and valued. The next Open House will be in April/May 2017. If you have not made it out in the past, please consider a visit as a participant, volunteer, or both!


Nathan Sloey stands beside his Eagle Scout project, our new sign.

While on the subject of volunteerism, hikers to the Sanctuary will notice a new Travis Audubon sign gracing the parking lot gate at 12221 Lime Creek Road. The old Baker Sanctuary sign, which was not very visible and had begun to rot, was replaced by Nathan Sloey as his Eagle Scout project. The new sign is two-sided and set at an angle to the road to make it more visible to drivers. The sign features the Travis Audubon logo with the ‘Listen. Look. Learn.’ motto. Many thanks to Nathan and the troop who helped him install it! Observant readers will notice that the GCWA has a brown belly instead of white —don’t worry, it will be white; there was a paint oversight during the installation but it is in the process of being corrected. In any event, the new sign is a wonderful new addition to the Sanctuary and greatly appreciated, thanks again Boy Scouts!

Sanctuary Work Days
We greatly appreciate our Sanctuary Work Day volunteers! Please join Travis Audubon Land Steward and Educator, Christopher Murray, to help us improve and maintain our special sanctuaries.