Sunday, May 24, 2020


A virtual plant walk through Commons Ford Prairie
Amy Concilio
Environmental Science & Policy
St. Edward's University

Save Barton Springs Association Happy Hour Series
May 14, 2020

The Commons Ford prairie restoration was recently featured in the Save Barton Creek Association’s Happy Hour speaker series.  The speaker was Dr. Amy Concilio, a plant ecologist and professor of Environmental Science and Policy at St. Edward's University. Amy has been leading the vegetation sampling campaigns to monitor restoration success at Commons Ford prairie since 2017 with a team of enthusiastic students and volunteers. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Happy Hour was held over zoom and recorded. Amy took the group on a virtual tour of the restored prairie. She introduced some of the dominant and exciting rare grasses and wildflowers that have returned to the site, and discussed the implications of the restoration for ecosystem functioning and biodiversity conservation. She provided the audience with tips for how to identify commons grasses and wildflowers at the site and showed lots of pretty pictures- some of which came from the CFPRO Flickr page. You can watch the presentation by clicking on this link:

Additionally, Amy posted the plant profile slides from the presentation on the outreach page of her website, available here. You could use this to identify plants at the site!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dr. Amy Concilio's PowerPoint Tour of Commons Ford Prairie

PowerPoint from Dr. Concilio's Virtual Tour of Commons Ford Prairie
May 14, 2020

In her virtual tour, Amy takes us through the restored prairie, introducing some of the native grasses and wildflowers that have returned to the site, and discusses the implications of the restoration for ecosystem functioning and biodiversity conservation. In her PowerPoint slides below, see tons of amazing photos and come away with some tips for spotting and identifying them when you're able to visit the park in person!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Commons Ford Blog

Response of biodiversity and ecosystem services to restoration treatments 
at Commons Ford Prairie

A presentation of research findings

Amy Concilio, PhD, Assistant Professor at St. Edwards University and her environmental science students presented their findings on research conducted at a restored prairie to over 44 interested participants in a slide/lecture presentation at the offices of Travis Audubon Society on Thursday, January 9, 2020.

                 Amy Concilio, PhD, Assistant Professor at St. Edwards University, presents research conducted at Commons Ford Prairie

The presentation, sponsored by the Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Committee (CFPRO),  provided a platform for Dr. Concilio and her students to showcase the results of the research they have conducted since the spring of 2017 at Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park. 

Students enrolled in environmental science classes at St. Edwards University, have been conducting plant surveys and transect studies to determine the effects of restoring a prairie in an urban park. Slides and explanations of research were presented along with some questions and discussion from the audience.

The research documents and reinforces restoration efforts of the prairie committee.  Located in western Travis county, Commons Ford Metropolitan Park is a part of the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

                                                   Native Prairie grasses are thriving as part of restoration efforts at Commons Ford Prairie

As noted on the Commons Ford Blog page located at,

“Restoration of the 40 acre prairie began in 2010 and continues today through the efforts of the Commons Ford Prairie Committee, a subcommittee of Travis Audubon since 2016.  Travis Audubon and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department have partnered in their efforts to restore and maintain the prairie.  The results of which have increased the variety of native prairie grasses and wildflowers.  The increased numbers of native plants have attracted many birds and insects to the area.  Commons Ford Park is a popular spot for birdwatching, hiking and enjoying the outdoors.
As noted on the Travis Audubon web page, “The initial goal of the restoration effort was to increase native grasses and wildflowers while removing invasive plant species. The result has been amazing. Invasive plant species have decreased from 99% to 15% and native species, which provide food and shelter to attract prairie birds and other wildlife, have increased to 85%.  The percentage of prairie birds has increased exponentially.  The first pre-restoration survey identified a single bird while the first post-restoration survey indicated in excess of 90 individuals.
Travis Audubon is working with the City of Austin to manage the prairie and expand public programming to include field trips, bird and vegetation surveys, and new offerings for children and families.”
A brief summary of the research that was presented is as follows:

• The restoration treatment worked to increase plant diversity & greatly reduce the cover of invasive species

• There are a variety of pollinator friendly plants
• There is insect diversity
• Recreational value of the restored prairie was surveyed

• Comparisons between the restored prairie and a nearby reference site are almost certainly underestimating benefits of the prairie restoration

• Diversity at the reference site was much higher than that observed at the restoration site pre-treatment

• Seed dispersal from the restored prairie could have increased biodiversity in the region!

What additional benefits have been gained by restoring plant diversity at Commons Ford?

• Floral resources – the variety of wildflowers and the abundance of spectacular color is beautiful and attracts a variety of birds and insects to the prairie

• Water holding capacity—long roots of prairie grasses help plants in the prairie hold water underground

• Infiltration-long roots of prairie grasses help to filter impurities in ground water

• Soil nutrients increased

Possible future research:

• Does applied nucleation work to increase benefits of prairie restoration beyond the treated area? To what extent?

• What are the social and psychological benefits of restoration of biodiversity in urban environments?

Standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) and horsemint (Monarda citriodora) wildflowers were abundant in the spring of 2019.

The 40 acre restored prairie site in Commons Ford Park was dominated by a mix of invasive grasses including King Ranch bluestem, Johnsongrass, and crabgrass, until a large restoration effort occurred in 2011-12, which included prescribed fire, herbicides, and seeding more than 70 species of native Texas grassland plants. Dr. Concilio’s work has focused on quantifying plant diversity responses and seeding success, whereas her students have looked at a variety of topics such as insect diversity and abundance in the restored prairie compared to a nearby reference site (Fall ‘18), social ecosystem services of the restoration (Fall ‘18), and differences in soil moisture and organic matter in the restored prairie and reference site (Fall ‘19). Other student research quantified abundance of pollinator-friendly plants and compared productivity in the restored versus reference meadows.

Dr. Concilio is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at St. Edwards University in Austin.

                                                     Dr Concilio and her students at Commons Ford Prairie

                                                                                                                                          February 5, 2020
                                                                                                                                                                                        Janice Sturrock

Sunday, June 30, 2019


“Rusty’s Perch” 
Bird Blind dedicated at Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park

On Sunday morning, June 23, 2019, family and friends of Rusty Osborne gathered near the prairie at Commons Ford Park to officially dedicate “Rusty’s Perch.”  The perch is a bird blind tucked away among the purple horsemint and orange standing cypress wildflowers on the northwestern end of Commons Ford Prairie.   The inspiring, peaceful space is dedicated to the memory of Rusty Osborne, a lover of nature and frequent visitor to the park before his passing in June of 2016.  A botanist by training and a lifelong lover of the natural world, Rusty so enjoyed spending time at Commons Ford Park, watching the birds, identifying the beautiful prairie flowers and walking the trails with family and friends.  

Family and friends meet in the park before visiting the bird blind.
As a crowd of family and friends gathered on the early summer morning to share in conversation and memories of Rusty, the dedication ceremony began with opening remarks by Sheila Hargis, co-chair of the Commons Ford Prairie Committee.  After providing a brief history of the bird blind project, Sheila introduced Cecelia Green who read a poem dedicated to her late husband.  Cecelia was joined in her reading by her son, Robin Osborne and her daughter, Lauren Osborne.     

After the reading, people dispersed and walked down the road to the bird blind.  Once at the blind, a plaque was unveiled.  All admired the blind, the beautifully constructed benches, the water storage tank and the drip.  Many photos were taken and there was much conversation between friends old and new.
  Plaque in the bird blind.

The beautifully constructed bird blind is a project recently completed by the Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization, a committee of Travis Audubon Society. The simple and elegant wooden structure provides a quiet, comfortable space for birders and photographers to spend time observing birds that are attracted to the drip for water and rest.  The 8 by 12 foot structure blends into the surrounding brush and landscape.  It has a metal roof for rainwater collection and gutters on the front direct water into an adjacent water storage tank. A tube from the tank carries water about 20 feet away to a gravity-fed drip and small basin where birds can drink and bathe.
Family and friends gather at “Rusty’s Perch” in the Commons Ford Prairie.

Even though the prairie and the park have Lake Austin frontage, which provides plenty of water for birds and other wildlife, a water drip and a bird blind provide easy accessibility to water for birds.  A small shallow basin offers a safe place for bathing and the drip provides much needed water on hot, dry days.  The blind also provides a great place for birders, photographers and park visitors to observe nature in action.
Robin Osborne, Cecilia Green and Lauren Osborne at the drip.

Many thanks to all of the Commons Ford Prairie Committee members for their work in creating such a beautiful space for wildlife.  Committee members include:  co-chairs Sheila Hargis and Ellen Filtness; members Andy Filtness, Mark Lyon, Deb Wallace, Lee Wallace, Janice Sturrock, Kirsti Harms, Terri Seigenthaler, Michael Sims, and Ed Fair, in absentia.  Funding for the bird blind was provided by the family of Rusty Osborne.  Thanks also to the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department for their assistance in the construction of the bird blind.  

As the last of the visitors were gathering up ice chests and binoculars and preparing to leave the park, someone spotted a blue grosbeak on a stalk in the prairie.  His striking blue color stood out and the female of the nesting pair sat on a branch below.  

Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park is part of the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.  
For more information about Commons Ford Prairie and Park, click on the link below.  From the blog page, you can click on the Flickr link to see photo documentation of the impressive diversity of birds and plants at this beautiful park.

Rusty Osborne

Not Gone - For Rusty                    

The water.
Coyotes crying.
Shifting of light.
Everything you planted.
Softness in the changing hours of day.
All you gave.

How to say the beacon one person becomes?

When visible widens to horizon 

      -where did you go? -  

we will still sit with you on the porch.
Gazing into dark, night birds marking the rim.
Through trees, watching for something to move.  
Stars blinking mystery.
In us as you are.

Comforted by layers, known and unknown,
Breathing curiosity, wonder, care,  
that fill the air you walked through,
took in delightedly, shared. 

How long to make a rock?

And here it is, in hand.

poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

photos-Lee Wallace
article-Janice Sturrock

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Recent Educational Events at CFP: Learning about Monarch Butterflies and the Travis Audubon Master Birders Program

If you have been out on the prairie lately, you may have noticed groups participating in educational opportunities uniquely suited to the native environment established at Commons Ford Prairie. 

On October 13th, one of Dr. Amy Contillo's classes from St. Edwards University visited the prairie to learn about the monarch butterfly migration and its habits from Steven (Chip) Harris, a Commons Ford Prairie Committee member. The monarch butterfly migrates an amazing +2,500 miles from Canada to Central Mexico each fall. The insect passes through Central Texas in mid-October, where it is often witnessed in mass numbers looking for blooming, native wildflowers on which to feed. Chip explained the life-cycle of the butterfly to students, discussed the importance of the plants as a source of fuel, and caught and tagged one insect at the end of the tour. A tagging and tracking system for the monarchs has been in place for many years by Monarch Watch, an organization dedicated to the science behind the monarch life-cycle and migration. If the tagged insect is found later, the number on the tag will be traced back to records showing it was caught, tagged, and recorded at the prairie in October in Central Texas. Monarch Watch can then determine the movements of the butterfly, helping to understand the incredible migratory habits of this insect. 
Steven (Chip) Harris tagging a monarch butterfly. Tags can be obtained through

On October 21, Shelia Hargis and Ed Fair led a field trip for this fall's Travis Audubon Society's Master Birder Program (TAMBP). The Master Birder Program at Travis Audubon Society is designed to help participants increase their understanding of birds and their habitats, while also developing the skills and opportunities for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for birds and the natural world with others.

This year's group witnessed a Hepatic Tanger, which has been recently spotted at the prairie. Additionally, an Eastern Phoebe became friendly with one of the participants and Ed was able to photograph the bird in an unusual display of man-bird communion. 
Hepatic Tanger

Eastern Phoebe on a participant's cap

Travis Audubon launched their program in fall 2016. The training, similar to that of the Master Gardener’s Program, includes a series of in-class sessions, study assignments, several field trips, and volunteering and keeping up with continuing education credits for the first three years after completing the curriculum. The instruction is designed to focus on native habitat and vegetation, the distribution of bird species in the area, and conservation issues affecting those communities and species in Central Texas. Participants also receive special instruction on flight and bird behavior, anatomy, and migration.  
Master Birders participate in a recent field trip at CFP