Our park naturalists have the answers. We encourage friends of Hardberger Park to ask questions about plants, trails, restoration or wildlife in PHP. Read answers to "Ask a Park Naturalist" questions below.
Why is there so much Whitebrush in PHP East, but not in PHP West?
What a great question! The answer to the question relates to soil types, depth, moisture, and soil disturbance. Whitebrush or Aloysia gratissima is found typically in draws or other areas receiving extra runoff and areas that have deep (or in our case deeper soils). Whitebrush is found on PHP West. You just haven't seen it yet because we currently do not have an open trail through the Whitebrush thickets but that will change in September. Areas with "LvA" for Lewisville silty clay are areas with the highest density of Whitebrush in the park. Only LvA and LvB soil types (where most of the Whitebrush is found) have soil profiles down to 62 inches, other soil types at the park are much less or more shallow.
Finally, if all these conditions are met, Whitebrush can be associated with highly disturbed and overgrazed areas. We know the property was heavily grazed by cattle in the Voelcker dairy farms days and probably up until a few years before the city purchased the property.
Whitebrush is truly a remarkable plant that you will be hard pressed to find at the north side parks! We get a lot of questions on this plant when it is blooming and the air has a sweet aroma to attract bees and butterflies from far off. It is a true gem of the park!
What does a Park Naturalist do?
Most park naturalists in general are tasked with developing and conducting interpretive programs for either local, state, or national parks. These programs are focused on the historical or natural features of the park. The natural areas within San Antonio have two Education Coordinators that facilitate this need, so the majority of my job consists of managing plant communities to maintain maximum species diversity. Most of this work targets non-native, invasive plants. I also monitor rare and endangered species like the bracted twistflower, the golden-cheeked warbler, and the black-capped vireo. I conduct surveys on these species as well as on karst/cave features to satisfy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements. Finally, I help manage wildlife at the park including certain bird species and feral hogs.
Why does Hardberger Park have a Park Naturalist?
Hardberger Park is in the demographic heart of the city and is surrounded by development. This urban setting has presented many challenges to the ecological “health” of the park. Many people in the neighboring communities install landscape plants that are exotic and can escape cultivation and form self-propagating populations within the park. These plants compete with and will eventually exclude good, native plants. Also, this urban setting presents challenges for wildlife. In 2012, two black vultures, one crested caracara (Mexican eagle), a baby cotton-tail rabbit, and a cotton-tail rabbit family in the dog park were all rescued and either taken to a rehabilitation facility or relocated to a safer area. It is the Park Naturalist job to make sure that native plant communities are maintained and not compromised by exotic invasive plants and that any wildlife issues are dealt with in a timely, humane manner.
How many different species of birds have you seen in PHP?
Hardberger Park is an important stop for migratory birds. We have seen some unusual migrants in the park including the sage thrasher, golden-cheeked warbler, warbling vireo, blue-headed vireo, and one of my favorites, the blackburnian warbler. Bird sightings for the park are documented on ebirds. So far, 70 different bird species have been documented on the Blanco Road entrance or north side of the park and 59 species have been documented on the NW Military entrance or south side of the park.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve found in Hardberger Park?
The most unusual thing I have found in the park was the golden-cheeked warbler in spring 2012. Unfortunately, the warbler only stayed around for a day before moving on to territory further north. Golden-cheeked warblers are endangered song birds who nest only in central Texas. Every spring, they fly up from their wintering grounds in Central America to raise young right here in Texas. They have specific habitat requirements so their presence in the park was exciting to say the least.