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.

Earth Day’s Promise

LMN-NE is pleased to share our member Anne Frazer’s letter that was published in the Ouachita Citizen, April 21, 2022. Thank you, Citizen!

Earth Day is a hopeful celebration held around the world on April 22nd. More than a billion people participate to “change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.” The theme for 2022 is ‘Invest in our Planet.’ It recognizes that “this is the moment to change it all — the business climate, the political climate, and how we take action on climate” (www.earthday.org).

This theme is especially timely in 2022. Congress enacted bipartisan climate legislation in the omnibus bill at the end of 2020. This is an excellent start, but not sufficient to mitigate the climate harms we increasingly experience. It’s time to address the major driver of climate instability – the burning of fossil fuels, which releases climate warming carbon dioxide and other pollutants to the air.

Congress now has the opportunity to enact a crucial carbon fee and dividend policy. It’s similar to a policy proposed on January 17, 2019, in the Wall Street Journal opinion piece: Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends.*

It provides incentive to transition away from the combustion of fossil fuels. It does this by levying a gradually rising fee on fossil fuels. It also delivers a cashback to individuals and keeps U.S. businesses competitive internationally. It’s administered in a transparent fashion that doesn’t grow government.

A summary of H.R.2307, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, is available on the http://www.congress.gov website.

This is the time to go big on climate policy. After all, Earth is our only home.

*This link will bypass the WSJ paywall and take you to the article on another website.

Swamp Night

It’s a different world. For one thing, as dark falls, the swamp comes alive with sound. The frog chorus can be deafening.

Our Earth Day Frog Walk kicked off from the Environmental Education center at Black Bayou Lake NWR at about 7:15 p.m. Once on the trail among the trees, darkness fell quickly.

Near the beginning of the boardwalk we heard the banjo sound of bronze frogs, but they were soon drowned out by the steady chatter of the bird-voiced tree frog, the tiny frog with a big voice that really does sound like a bird.

A few yards farther on, the “cheep, cheep, cheep” of many cricket frogs filled the air with a softer sound. And whatever else was calling, the deep-throated croak of a bullfrog interrupted every so often.

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

We went to hear and see frogs and were not disappointed, but the swamp had another treat for us. When we got to open water, a 6-foot ‘gator was waiting to give us the eye. In fact at one point, he (or she) came closer to the boardwalk to get a good look at us!

BTW, the “red eye” is totally due to my speed light, but I love the slightly spooky effect in this photo. ‘Gators have black eyes.

Of course, at nightfall the mosquitos also made their presence known, ensuring that we didn’t linger too late on the boardwalk.

Black Bayou Lake NWR closes at sundown every day. It is necessary to get permission to be out there at night, so if you want to do a night walk in the swamp with your group, contact Louisiana Master Naturalists–Northeast or Friends of Black Bayou. We had a blast leading this frog walk and will do it again!

Herp Success!

photos & report by Charles Paxton

The Earth Day morning walk at Black Bayou Lake NWR went very well despite being a bit windy on the lake. We saw a nice lot of herps!

About 35 hikers came out. We were interviewed by a KNOE journalist. BBLNWR volunteer Jim opened up the education center and showed off the Louisiana Pine Snakes and the ‘gator, turtles and an unusual Corn Snake native to north Louisiana and southern Arkansas. Professor Emeritus John Carr of ULM was a massive help.

Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) and an egg mass in the lower left.

The Scouts were delightfully perky and sparky, full of questions and observations. Amy Ouchley kindly read out a special Earth Day letter from Swamper* to us and we all loved it!

Among us we saw at least 2 sliders (turtles), 2 bronze frogs, 8 broadbanded watersnakes, multiple skinks and anoles, a leopard frog, a cricket frog, a rough green snake and a cottonmouth viper.  Kimmie Paxton saw and photographed mating prothonotary warblers. Her pictures are amazing!!

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus)

We heard bullfrogs, bronze frogs, leopard frogs and green treefrogs. We weren’t bothered by mosquitos.  I shot stills and videos of the herps. Some of my shots are ‘my bests’ too: bronze frog and rough green snake. The conditions were excellent!

All in all, it was a great trip!

Earth Day Hikes!

It’s Earth Day and Herp Day at Black Bayou Lake NWR. Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB) and Louisiana Master Naturalists–Northeast (LMNNE) are pleased to offer a pair of hikes that will get you moving and learning.

A green frog (Lithobates clamitans), wonderfully camouflaged against the muddy bottom of Black Bayou Lake near the boardwalk on a recent LMNNE outing.

The first hike will kick off from the Visitor Center at 10 a.m. This hike was initiated by Girl Scouts but is open to families who want to join in. Several Master Naturalists and Friends of Black Bayou will accompany the hikers to point out interesting flora and fauna along the boardwalk and answer questions.

The second hike will begin at 6:45 p.m. in the Environmental Education Center with a short talk about frogs and frog sounds–with examples to tune our ears. The hikers will then circumnavigate the pond in front of the Visitor Center, then, as dark is falling, head down the boardwalk.

Daytime hikers are more likely to catch a glimpse of this western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus).

The frog chorus at night is a thing to behold. This hike is open to all who are curious about night in the swamp and interested in learning to identify frog sounds and other night critters. Herpetologist John Carr will be with us, as well as a number of Master Naturalists and Friends of BBL.

So come on out, day or night or both! Right now, the forecast for Saturday is partly cloudy, but protection from the sun is recommended for the day walk. For both walks: bring plenty of water, bug screen, and snacks if you need them, plus wear walking shoes.

See you Saturday to celebrate our Mother Earth!