Herps this Saturday

This Saturday, June 10, we’ll convene at 9 a.m. at the Black Bayou Lake Environmental Education Center for our herps workshop with Dr. John Carr.

Herps is a huge topic, so this round Dr. Carr will focus Saturday’s lecture on turtles and snakes. After the classroom portion of the workshop, we will do field work at BBL, most likely walking the photo blind trail around the pond.

A Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) hatchling beelines for the water upon being released on a sand bar of the Ouachita River. The egg was incubated and hatched in Dr. John Carr’s research lab.

For those who might not know, Dr. John does extensive turtle research and has hatched many clutches of turtle eggs in his lab. A couple summers ago, several of us participated in a release of hatchlings back into the Ouachita River, near where the eggs were collected to save them from foraging raccoons and other egg eaters.

One very wet spring of high water, this Mississippi Green (Nerodia cyclopion) took to the trees to dry off and bask at BBLNWR.

This workshop is the 6th in our third series of certification workshops and the last one planned for this spring. Those working toward certification have priority seating. Everyone else is welcome, including non-members who are interested in finding out more about Master Naturalists, up to 20 participants.

Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, lunch/snacks, and note-taking materials. Dress to be outdoors on what could be a rather warm day. The weather channel currently predicts 93 degrees and partly cloudy skies. The day will end no later than 3 p.m.

Click on the “Certification” tab on our website to enroll and find a printable flyer with all the details. See you Saturday!

Ecosystems & Restoration Ecology

You have heard that a butterfly beats its wings in Louisiana and the weather changes in Beijing. This May 13 workshop is all about how that is a telling statement and a necessary perspective for a naturalist to have.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) photographed in Restoration Park during our first restoration ecology instruction there.

We will meet Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee in the STEAM Room of the Museum of Natural History in Hanna Hall on the ULM Campus at 9 a.m. for Part 1 of the workshop. (Hint: It’s not a sauna!) The morning will be divided into three sessions featuring basic ecology concepts from a naturalists’ perspective, with activities we will do during and/or between sessions. We will need pen/pencil and a notebook.

If the weather permits, we will reconvene at 12:30 p.m. in the gazebo at the entrance to Restoration Park, 700 Downing Pines Rd., West Monroe. Bring lunch to eat in the gazebo while Dr. Joydeep tells us a bit about the park, before we walk the perimeter trail–a wide, well-maintained trail and boardwalk. (Sneakers will do.)

Right now, scattered thunderstorms are predicted for Saturday, May 13. We will go ahead with Part 1 regardless of the weather. If rain prohibits fieldwork that day, we will reschedule Part 2 when Dr. Joydeep can join us.

So this photo was taken in autumn, not spring, and it was not a workshop. But it is one of my faves. I had gone to Restoration Park alone and was standing on the edge of the wetland area when other hikers spooked a deer out of the woods on the other side of the open water. I managed to collect my wits enough to get just one shot before the deer disappeared into the woods to the right.

The Little Things

That’s what Dr. Anna Hill subtitles her “Aquatic Life” workshop, and getting to see “the little things” is always fun and informative. It’s kind of hard to believe how much is going on in water until you take a closer look.

Damselfly Naiad

Among my favorites are the damselfly and dragonfly naiads. At our workshop two weeks ago, we captured one of each. I was able to get this reasonably good photo in part because LMN-NE made a good investment in a fiber optic lamp to use with one of the simple microscopes at Black Bayou Lake NWR.

This little critter is maybe an inch long. Those three blades at the end of its abdomen are gills for its watery life only. They will be shed when the naiad crawls out of the water and onto a cypress knee or plant, where the exoskeleton will split down the back and an adult damselfly with wet, crumpled wings will emerge and sit to dry before flying off. Out at BBL you will see cypress knees sticking out of the water with several damselfly exoskeletons still stuck to them.

Our nets yielded a multitude of grass shrimp and water beetles, plus a few water mites, isopods, and other critters. Again with the help of the fiber optic light, I was able to get good enough photos of two of the beetles for them to be conclusively identified at species level on iNaturalist. Too cool! BTW, these full-macro photos are deceiving. These guys are tiny: black dots swimming around in your collecting bucket.

One specimen I pulled out of the water was spared the trip into the Environmental Learning Center for fear it would not survive. It was a large tadpole with fully developed hind legs but not yet front legs. We oo’d and ahh’d and put him right back in the lake. A tiny crawfish survived the trip indoors, but within seconds of being put in the fish tank, he became a large-mouth bass snack.

A good and educational time was had by all. Next up: Ecosystems and Restoration Ecology with Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjeeee, May 13, 9-3, at Kiroli and Restorations Parks in West Monroe. Stay tuned for details.

Mammal Fun, Really!

We didn’t find any skulls, so we didn’t get to practice one of our newest skills, namely creating a dental formula that could take us a long way in identifying a mammal species. But we did get to examine poop, and, yes, it was fun!

Dr. Kim Tolson identified this scat as coyote (Canis latrans) because it was full of hair. Of course. Coyotes eat small mammals.

Indeed, we could tell that the hair was “agouti” hair, which we had just learned in class means that the hair featured horizontal bands of color. Rabbits and some rodents have agouti hair and both are common meals for coyotes. We followed this coyote straight down the trail on top of a levee, seeing a nice big print in the soft, damp soil every few yards.

Getting to observe something in the field right after learning it in the classroom is gratifying and fun. The new “sticks” so much better!

We also learned to make a “taxonomic key” to help with identifying species. A key is a series of pairs of questions called “couplets,” with each pair featuring one characteristic of a species. The questions must have mutually exclusive answers, like present/absent or yes/no.

For example, if we had before us several rats, we could begin with a couplet like 1a. Does it have agouti hair? and 1b. Does it have solid color hair? And with that one question you could sort your rats into two groups and then go on to the next couplet, and on to the next. For rats, we learned, we might need 6 or 7 couplets to match one rat with a specific species.

Maybe you must have a fondness for mind-bending puzzles to say doing such a thing was fun. But I thought it was. I’ve become a bit obsessed with knowing the species of things!

Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis)

Of course, although our focus for a mammals workshop was mammal sign, a bunch of naturalists does not wonder through Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area without noticing many other things. So at one point the trees nearby filled with cedar waxwings. At another we were down on our knees examinging small fungi on a log. And at another point, I fell way behind photographing a damselfly, which iNaturalist says is a Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis). Cool! I don’t see very many spreadwings.

Mammals Workshop

This Saturday, March 18, we will gather at the Natural History Museum in Hanna Hall on the ULM Campus at 9 a.m. Biologist Kim Tolson is our workshop leader, a member of the ULM Biology faculty, and the director of the Museum.

Not to be overlooked: Kim will have a pot of coffee waiting for us caffeine addicted! I’ll pick up a box of donuts.

Canine, ursine, feline, or…? Studying mammals involves looking at lots of poop.

We will do our classroom work in the Museum, which has many wonderful mammalian specimens to study. We’ll break for lunch and reconvene somewhere in Russell Sage WMA for field work. A downloadable flyer with times and a few more details has been posted on the “Certification” page of our website.

We will see pretty things, too, like this Viola that was blooming Feb. 2019 when we did our field work in Russell Sage.

Carpooling to the WMA is advised, as long as carpool companions can agree on how to do lunch on the way! Boots will be needed, as well as the usual field gear: water, snacks, notebook, pencil, camera/phone. The weather is predicted to be partly sunny with only a 3% chance of rain, but it will rain Thursday and Friday.

Also important from the LDWF website: Either a WMA Access Annual or 5-day Permit is required for all users of LDWF administered lands, including wildlife management areas, refuges and wetlands conservation areas (LDWF website).

Hanna Hall is at the main entrance to the ULM Campus that has the huge Arkansas stone sign. It’s at 708 University Ave. and on a Saturday, parking in the u-shaped lot in front of the building should be readily available. The door to enter is marked with a “Natural History Museum” sign.