Open House at Discovery Hill Learning Center

Blog Update: Due to what looks like the chances of a grand soaking over the next 24 hours or so, we are cancelling the Discovery Hill Open House tomorrow in Austin.

Save the Date - Discovery Hill Open House, September 21

Join us on September 21st at the new demonstration schoolyard habitat in Central Texas! National Wildlife Federation and Austin ISD invites the community to attend the free Open House at Discovery Hill Learning Center.

Tour this beautiful habitat and:

  • Learn about AISD’s curriculum and instructional goals for the habitat.
  • Learn first-hand how the habitat was built from conception to installation.
  • Learn about the ecological value of the habitat.
  • Experience the vast array of native plants and the wildlife that is already visiting the habitat.


WHAT: Discovery Hill Learning Center (aka Rocks to Roots) Open House

WHEN: Saturday, September 21, 2013, 9:00am – noon

WHERE: AISD Science and Health Resource Center (SHRC)
305 North Bluff Drive
Austin, TX 78745 [map]

RSVP Online

The morning will start with a short presentation from Austin ISD Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Pauline Dow, followed by an opportunity to tour the garden with designer, Judy Walther, from Environmental Survey Consulting. We hope you can join us!


Honoring Earth Day with Native Plants

We hope you took a moment this week to do something good for our planet in honor of Earth Day.

We’ve spent the past couple weekends putting in native plants. Upon completion, over 150 different native Texas species will make up this habitat – a veritable wildlife buffet!


native plants1

Why are native plants such a good idea? Native plants are an important addition to any wildlife garden. They are well adapted to survive in a particular geographic area according to the climate, soils, rainfall and availability of pollinators and seed dispersers. Because they are indigenous to a specific region, native plants usually require less maintenance and are welcomed by wildlife, serving an important role in the local ecosystem.

How can I learn more about native plants in Texas? There are a number of wonderful resources for learning more about native plants in your area. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a helpful database of native plants. Another great organization is the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Volunteer Days Resume for National Wildlife Week

I am listening to the wind howl around our house and enjoying a quiet evening at home. As we are taking a hiatus from the volunteer work days for the habitat project for a while, I wanted to thank our volunteers again for how generous they have been with their time and also for their continued commitment to helping connect kids with nature and of course providing much needed habitat for wildlife.

NWW-logo-412x204We will resume volunteer work at the habitat on Saturday March 23rd, which also happens to coincide with National Wildlife Week (March 18-24). As our theme for National Wildlife Week this year is Branching Out for Wildlife: Trees and their value for people and wildlife, we will have a special presentation on March 23 from the City of Austin’s Forestry Department.

We will also be planting some gorgeous plants and adding the very important shrub or understory layer to our habitat. We will be adding the groundcover made up of forbs and grasses later. Some of the species we will be planting on the 23rd include:

  • Flame Acanthus
  • Texas Lantana
  • Shrubby Boneset
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • American Beautyberry
  • Rock Rose
  • Kidneywood
  • Roughleaf Dogwood
  • And more….

EasternScreechOwl-Rufous_300Layered vegetation is very important when creating a habitat because different layers provide food and cover for different species. For example, owls, woodpeckers, thrushes and warblers hang out at the canopy layer (in the taller trees) provided by Cedar Elms, Burr Oaks and Pecans. Mockingbirds, cardinals and wrens prefer the under-story or shrub layer provided by Agarita, American Beautyberry, and Roughleaf Dogwood, and finally seed eating birds such as finches will enjoy what we call the groundcover which is made up of various native forbs and grasses.

As we have much of the infrastructure in place- thanks in large part to the efforts of our terrific volunteers-we are now beginning to add the bulk of the plants. Before we know it, the habitat will begin to take on a life of its own. I look forward to sharing some more colorful photos!

I hope to see you there!

VIDEO: Schoolyard Habitats Matter

Check out this great video introduction to schoolyard habitats. The video shows kids excitedly exploring a lush habitat as butterflies flutter around. One little girl comments “When I saw that butterfly, I thought how nature really IS beautiful…” Watch to learn why Schoolyard Habitats, like the project here in Austin, are important to wildlife and children.

We can’t wait for Austin schoolchildren to experience the same thrill at the Rocks to Roots demonstration habitat!

The Schoolyard Habitats program was created in 1996 to meet the growing interest and distinct needs of schools and school districts in creating and restoring wildlife habitat on school grounds. These wildlife habitats become places where students not only learn about wildlife species and ecosystems, but also outdoor classrooms where they hone their academic skills and nurture their innate curiosity and creativity.

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Happy New Year!


Happy New Year Everyone! We are so thankful for the donations we have received over the holidays, and we have great plans for the demonstration habitat/outdoor classroom at AISD for 2013. We have received a generous donation from Geo-Growers of soil and decomposed granite for our pathways, and we have received enough donations to purchase additional cedar logs to edge the pathways. 

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to this project! Our first volunteer day is schedule for Saturday, January 12th.


Please help us keep the momentum going! We still need your support. Consider a new year’s  tax-deductible gift to NWF’s Rocks to Roots project!