3Q Meeting

We will meet Sunday, September 11, 3-6 p.m. This will be an all-members quarterly meeting, but as always friends who are interested are welcome to attend, observe and participate in every way except vote, should we need to vote.

We will meet at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 3706 Bon Aire Dr., in the pavilion overlooking Bayou Desiard. Many will recall that this is where we met in December for our holiday party and 2021 4Q meeting.

Our speaker will be one or more members of St. Thomas’, who will talk about the congregation’s goals in making their 2-lot site a natural area for the community. You might want to bring a lawn chair for the presentation and meeting.

Back in December, we talked about helping. The first step to doing that is assessing what is already there. To that end, we will spend some time after our meeting beginning to identify species of plants and critters. David and Bette will meet ahead of time to create an assessment project on iNaturalist so that we will have an official record of what’s there. David is also looking into natural history signage that would enhance the educational value of the site as a natural area.

I don’t know if the Cooper’s hawks have been sighted recently, but here’s hoping!

Right now, the forecast for Sunday includes 47% chance of scattered thunderstorms and 86 degrees, so we might not get a lot of identifying done. That’s fine. We can start!

See you the 11th! And please check on someone we haven’t seen for awhile. A phone call from another member can be the difference between someone drifting away and returning to active participation.

Upcoming

Sept. 11, 3:30 pm – Our 3rd Quarter meeting will be at St. Thomas’ on the Bayou, where we were for our Christmas Party last year. We will use the occasion to learn more about the church’s Care of Creation efforts and begin identifying species along the bayou and walking path.

At last year’s 4th Quarter meeting at St. Thomas’, Kelby Ouchley teaches us how to identify an Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) by its leaf petiole. This kind of information is a prime example of the educational signage this natural area needs.

Oct. 15, 10-1 – We will have a couple of tables at Friends of Black Bayou’s Fall Celebration, one with Master Naturalist items and another with Anne Frazer’s climate change information and activities. On the Master Naturalist table we’ll have t-shirts, coloring pages, and some new items like the “bingo” wildlife sightings game.

Oct. 29, 9-3 – Aquatic Life certification workshop, led by Dr. Anna Hill, at Black Bayou Lake NWR. This is a date change. It was previously scheduled Oct. 9, but I must be away that weekend at the annual conference of the national organization Louisiana Master Naturalist Association is a member of.

Dec. 11 – Our 4th Quarter meeting and Christmas Party will be at Heartwood, the home of Amy and Kelby Ouchley in Rocky Branch. A weiner roast, s’mores and other goodies planned, but I must admit I’m most looking forward to the opportunity to walk around Heartwood again. It is a wonderful natural area.

More information about each of these events will be forthcoming. For now, make sure they’re on your calendar!

2Q Meeting + Herps

Calling all members! This coming Sunday, June 12, at 2 p.m. at BBLNWR is our Second Quarter Members’ Meeting and educational event, and we need your participation.

Micha Petty

Micha Petty is our guest speaker. His talk will focus on snake identification, especially distinguishing between venomous and non-venomous snakes. But I know Micha well enough to know he’ll go wherever our questions and interests take him. Micha is knowledgeable and loves to talk about herps.

He also has a wonderful herps primer that has received high praise from scientists and ordinary citizen users alike. I told him to bring a few copies to sell. All naturalists should have one! The proceeds from the sale of these books benefit Micha’s herp rescue and rehab operation.

We’ll also have a short business meeting. The most important thing we have to talk about is that the Northeast Chapter will host the 2024 statewide gathering called Rendezvous. It’s never too early to start thinking about an event like that.

This Nerodia fasciata confluens (Broad-banded Water Snake) was well camouflaged in the leaf litter along the boardwalk.

Finally, we’ll cap off the afternoon with a herp walk. Micha will be along to help spot herps and answer questions. Here’s hoping the snake population at BBL shows up!

We’ll gather in the Environmental Education Center at BBL. Although I heard a reporter on air refer to our current situation as “post-pandemic,” in fact, it is not. I really, really would like to see participation in our meetings get back to pre-pandemic levels and I know some folks are still reluctant. Since we will all be together indoors for about an hour and a half, I urge that we all (except Micha, our speaker) wear masks while we are indoors.

See you Sunday!

Plants & Plant ID

This is the first workshop of our 3rd cycle of workshops for those who wish to become certified master naturalists. Our instructor is Dr. Charles Allen, a giant in the field, and basic knowledge of native plants and how to identify them is essential to being a naturalist.

Dr. Charles Allen

Dr. Allen will meet us at the gas station in Georgetown. Don’t worry, there’s only one! This particular gas station has a couple of picnic tables under a canopy just outside its front door, and the management has welcomed us again to meet there and use their restrooms. I, for one, will definitely show my appreciation by buying snacks and lunch there.

After Dr. Allen walks us through plant identification principles, we will drive to nearby sections of the Kisatchie National Forest for field work. I don’t know for sure where he will want to go, but we have plenty of options. The Catahoula Ranger District extends from behind the gas station south almost all the way to Ball.

Dr. Allen’s newest book.

I will have copies of Dr. Allen’s very valuable handouts available for all participants. I have also asked Dr. Allen to bring a few of his newest books to sell.

To whet your appetite, I went scouting on my way home from Camp Hardtner last Friday. I drove into the forest on Lincecum Village Road maybe a mile south of the gas station, and had not gone far until I saw a clump of narrowleaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) alongside the road.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the plant that put Charles Allen on the path to becoming a botanist. He calls it “grandma’s mountain mint.” As usual, it was covered with pollinators.


Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) on Narrowleaf Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)

Playing with Mud

That’s what we did! And learned a lot as well.

It was a very hands-on workshop. Our classroom was Marty Earnest’s farm in Caldwell Parish. Marty has a long history of experimenting with conservation farming methods that have enriched his soil and reduced the cost of farming, for example by reducing the number of tractor passes on his fields.

Rachel Stout-Evans, soil scientist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, laid out the basic principles of conservation farming that will improve soil health:

  • minimize disturbance
  • keep roots in the soil year-round
  • rotate crops
  • maximize plant diversity
  • incorporate livestock (the newest addition to the list)
Anne Frazer focuses on evaluating the texture of the ball of mud in her hand.

Most people know that soil erosion is a problem. Using simple field set-ups–like water in a tall cylinder–Rachel demonstrated the difference following these principles can make. The secret is protecting and feeding soil microbes that enable soil to absorb water rather than be washed downstream by every rainfall.

We dug our own soil plugs, and examined and rated them on a chart of soil qualities. Then La Tech forestry professor Bill Patterson taught us how to identify soil type from texture by making mud in our hands. I haven’t had so much fun since making mud pies as a child growing up on an Iowa farm!

We conducted a simple infiltration test in a field by pounding an aluminum ring a few inches into the soil, pouring in a measured amount of water, and timing how long it took to disappear into the ground. Marty Earnest’s soil performed pretty well.

While waiting for water to disappear into the soil in our infiltration test, I focused my macro lens on the critters popping out of the ground. You should see two in this photo.

It was, all in all, a most interesting morning, and we came away with knowledge and simple tests we can conduct to improve soil health in our own gardens and yards.