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Dormon Award to Ouchley

by Charles Paxton

Sunday, June 14, 2020, at 3 pm an online award ceremony celebrated the awesome contributions Louisiana naturalist Kelby Ouchley has made and continues to make. The 2020 Caroline Dorman Outstanding Louisiana Naturalist Award was presented by Bob Thomas, president of the Louisiana Master Naturalist Association. The celebration was hosted on Zoom by Bette Kauffman, president of the Northeast Chapter of LMNA, who nominated Ouchley for the award.

Trophy

As the founder and president of LMNA, Thomas provided historical context about both the organization and the Dormon Award. Caroline Dormon was a highly accomplished and influential artist, teacher, author and naturalist born in Acadia in 1888. She developed a keen interest in Botany and amongst other accomplishments was the first female in the US Forestry Service. She is responsible for three Louisiana treasures: the Kisatchie National Forest, the Louisiana State Arboretum in Ville Platte, and Briarwood Nature Preserve. That’s an impressive resume!

Kauffman delivered an illustrated presentation celebrating Kelby Ouchley’s outstanding contributions to natural history in Louisiana. Ouchley has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Wildlife & Fisheries Science from Texas A&M and 30+ years of experience in wildlife management for the National Wildlife Refuge System of the U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Service.

Ouchley’s projects for the USFWS included working with American alligators in the coastal marshes and Canada geese in Hudson Bay. Locally, he established the highly popular Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe. He and his brother Keith of The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana led a 19,000 acre restoration project to reconnect the upper Ouachita River with its floodplain. The area is now called the Mollicy Unit and it is part of the Upper Ouachita River NWR. Ouchley also helped with improvements to the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.

Ouchley is an acclaimed author of six books and a popular media personality. His “Bayou-Diversity” program has run continuously on public radio since 1995.

LMNE Visit Heartwood
Kelby Ouchley guides members of the Northeast Chapter of Louisiana Master Naturalists through Heartwood Natural Area, a fragment of upland hardwood forest.

Kelby and his wife Amy now spend their time protecting Heartwood Natural Area, a fragment of upland hardwood forest designated a natural heritage site by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. Amy is also a naturalist, a children’s book author (“Swamper”) and an accomplished artist. Amongst other things of interest at Heartwood, they have recorded observations of rare dragonflies.

Family Fun Friday

So,,, some of you work full time and others need to be extremely cautious in this time of pandemic, but… a handful of us sure had a careful good time at our family fun outing last Friday. (By careful I mean we wore our masks outside!)

Arthur Liles responded to my call for a birder and produced a list, which I will put on eBird and add to my assessment lists for Camp Hardtner. Here’s what he saw and heard:

  • Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  • Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
  • Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
  • Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  • Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)
  • Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)
  • Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
  • Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
  • White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)
  • Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

LDWF field botanist Chris Doffitt was with us, so I got plant questions answered. Yes, I had correctly identified black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) trees at Camp Hardtner! Yay! Chris had identified water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) standing in Fish Creek in the northeast corner of Camp Hardtner back in December 2018 . Now I’m keeping an eye out for swamp tupelo (aka swamp black-gum) (Nyssa biflora). It would be cool to have all three Nyssa species at Hardtner.

Scarlet Pimpernel
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

We saw several lady’s tresses (Spiranthes sp,) wild orchids, lots of coreopsis (Coreopsis sp.), and in an interesting little corner near one of the lakes, a bunch of prairie plants: lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), blue salvia (Salvia azurea), narrowleaf mountainmint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) and wild petunia (Rhuellia sp.).

But perhaps my favorite of the wildflowers was the tiny scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) we found on a wooded path. I couldn’t come up with the name on my own. I just knew it involved a “P” and sounded British! And if you research this plant, be sure to specify “plant” because Google will inevitably bring up the novel first!

After lunch, Amanda Serio, her son Cedric, and I followed Chris up the road a bit to the Little River WMA. Friday was just two weeks post-prescribed burn by the LDWF and our mission was to see what was popping up out of the still blackened earth.

Almost immediately we spied drops of bright yellow against fresh green. Yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta) was a brand new plant to me, and it is easy to see why. This tiny plant will be among the first to “disappear” under the grasses, vines and shrubs that prescribed burning clears away.

A bit further on, we sampled the lemon-tart leaves of violet wood-sorrel (Oxalis violacea), a small native plant that can be mixed into salads for a pop of flavor. And…, yes! One tiny purple bloom!

So… these are just a few of the highlights of a fun, enlightening day. I close with two thoughts: 1) Amanda’s son Cedric is exactly why I so want a chapter of Junior Master Naturalists, and 2) we need to do these “family fun” outings more often.

 

Phenology Phun! (2)

For scientists tracking climate change, a weekly observation of one tree in one yard for 5 years is worth more than 50 unique observations of different trees in different yards. So says Dr. Joydeep, our certified phenologist who taught us so much in our March 14 workshop.

And who can’t do that? Sunday after the workshop I established a phenology trail in my yard. I’ve now made weekly observations of two trails, the one at BBL around the Education Center I wrote about in the earlier post and the one in my own yard. Here’s a smidgen of data from the “My Yard” trail:

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.07.21 PM

Interpretation: My willow oak tree went from tightly closed leaf buds March 15 to a full canopy of mostly full grown leaves by April 7. When I compare it to the same data for my buttonbush and American beautyberry, I see that the two shrubs are much slower. Indeed, they both still have breaking leaf buds and lots of leaves not full grown.

But the true value of this data is, again, in the long haul: How will this year’s timing compare to next year’s and the next year’s and 5 years down the road? That’s what the climate scientists need to know. And Dr. Joydeep also emphasized, there’s a real data gap for northeast Louisiana.

So… welcome to Northeast Louisiana Phenology Project, NLP2 for short. This is Dr. Joydeep’s vision: That we Master Naturalists will join in filling in the data gap for northeast Louisiana. I’m still learning, but I’ve started. Hope others will join me.

Be assured, I did not set up a spreadsheet and enter this data by hand. Rather, I entered and uploaded the data via the Nature’s Notebook app on my phone while walking my phenology trails. Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard for my Nature’s Notebook account, which is connected to the National Phenology Network website:

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.39.14 PM

Notice the “How-to-Observe Module” and the link to click to take it! These two interconnected websites, the NPN and Nature’s Notebook, are a treasure trove of information and instruction.

BTW, I have also signed up to take their online course this summer. But… don’t wait for me. We’re kind of confined to home, right now, right? So get your learning on….!

Updates

Today, I saw the whitest spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.) I have ever seen!

Spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.)

Walking our beautiful Black Bayou Lake NWR is one thing we can still do in this trying time. Yes, other people were there but there’s lots of trails and space. We all stayed a respectful distance from each other.

And I start with this spot of beauty because the updates I have for you are disappointing.

Rendezvous 2020 is canceled. In a telephone conference call a few days ago the statewide Louisiana Master Naturalist Association board made the difficult decision. After some online discussion ahead of time, we agreed that postponing it was not feasible, in part because right now, it is impossible to know when it would be safe to bring that many people together.

We could conceivably pick a weekend in September or October, but September is still mighty hot and October puts us just 6 months away from Rendezvous 2021–not enough time to plan for the kind of gathering we have.

So…. Rendezvous 2021 will take place at Camp Hardtner April 9-11, 2021. We plan to keep everything we’ve done and just move it a year out. The silver lining? The board will focus on other organizational needs in the coming year.

Bugs and Mammals Workshops. Our April 11 bugs workshop must be postponed and our April 25 mammals workshop will most likely have to be postponed. All of the credible sources I am reading, the CDC, the Louisiana Department of Health, medical professionals across the country, are predicting that the peak of this pandemic will not pass until early May… and that is IF we follow all the protocols we have been given. It is entirely possible that we will not be cleared to gather in groups until mid-May and some are saying mid-June.

I am in communication with Stacy Blomquist, our bugs wokshop instructor who works for the National Forest Service. As of right now, she has been sent home to work remotely. She does not know when she will be released from that limitation, but it is highly unlikely to be by April 11. She is anxious to reschedule and I will begin working on a date with her next week.

ULM is also closed and Kim Tolson is working from home. She needs graduate students for the workshop she is planning, but they have also been sent home. Current word is the campus will probably NOT reopen this spring. That workshop is still five weeks away, so I will wait a couple of weeks to see how it goes and talk with her about rescheduling.

Friends, I am as disappointed as you about all this, but Covid-19 is dangerous, more dangerous than any flu we have seen. I take consolation that what might feel like an over-reaction is, in fact, saving lives. And so I’ll close with another gift from the Refuge today.

Calligrapher fly (Toxomerus sp., a common genus of hover fly) on spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.).

Phenology Phun! (1)

And not just fun, but inspiring, compelling, highly educational. I knew phenology was important, but… now it’s a mission!

So… rather than try to summarize my extensive notes from Saturday’s Phenology workshop with Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee, I’m going to cut to the punch line: We learned to make sound phenological observations using “Nature’s Notebook,” a smartphone app available from your app store. It’s free.

Setting up an account for yourself is also free. Then you must create a “site” for observation. I created a site called “BBL Education Center” and picked 5 trees to observe at that site. The screen shot from my phone (below, right) shows most of them:

BBL Edu Ctr pheno trail 1Once you have created a site and selected plants (or animals) to observe, click “go to observe.” There you will find a checklist, like this one (below) for my observation yesterday of the pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) directly behind the BBL Education Center.

BBL Edu Ctr pheno trail 2

Notice that we estimated the number of “breaking leaf buds” on the tree, the percentage of the tree’s expected total leaves that were present at point of observation, and the percentage of leaves that were full size at point of observation. There’s a learning curve here, but it was less difficult than I expected. Nature’s Notebook offers sufficiently broad category choices that even an amateur can feel confident estimating.

For pawpaw, Nature’s Notebook offers 10 “phenophases” to rate. These include flower buds, open flowers, fruit and more. But it took just 3-5 minutes to make the observation and upload the data.

And here’s the coolest thing about this: The moment you upload, the data you have just created becomes part of a huge database used by scientists to track climate change and many other things important to the well-being of our Earth home.

Dr. Joydeep emphasized that consistency in observation is important to the quality of the database. That can be achieved in a couple of ways. Obviously, I can go back to this site on a weekly basis and observe each of the selected trees again. And I would love to be able to say I’ll do that, but I know better. However, YOU can download the app, locate the “BBL Education Center” site I created, go make a set of observations of those same trees, and Voila! We have another set of data points and are building consistency.

IMGP8759 72-15
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Watch for Phenology Phun! (2) in which I will introduce the Northeast Louisiana Phenology Project, whereby we will participate in closing the phenological data gap of northeast Louisiana!