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Buggin’ Out!

Mason bees (genus Osmia) do not sting! They also don’t make honey, and in spite of their name, they do not drill holes in wood. They occupy already made holes, and they pollinate. Like crazy. So, you want more pollinators for your flowers and vegetable garden? Get or make yourself a mason bee hotel!

A mason bee hotel can be a piece of wood with holes drilled into the end of it or a collection of bamboo tubes stuck into soup can. Be aware that some of the cute ones available online, like the one above, are too shallow. The holes must be at least 5 to 6 inches deep and capped at one end.

This is just one of the tidbits of interesting and valuable information we got from Stacy Blomquist of the U.S. Forest Service at our Saturday workshop. It was a very hot day, so we spent just a short time outside netting and examining bugs, but Stacy’s presentations kept us enthralled. I am deeply grateful to Erin Cox for allowing us to use the Conservation Learning Center for the day, and to Jim, the volunteer who unlocked for us.

Stacy’s presentation of taxonomy was one of the clearest I have heard. We all came away with a better understanding and handouts that provide a framework for us to continue to learn on our own.

The critters we tend to call “bugs” comprise the phylum Arthropoda, in turn comprised of 30-32 orders, of which we learned a bit about 24. The critters that make up all of these orders range from tiny “springtails” of the order Collembola that live in the dirt and are mostly unknown to us, to much more recognizable Lepidoptera–moths and butterflies–which we know and love.

Stacy brought a few exotic specimens with her. These are giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Now here’s what I found most helpful. These scientific names that many of us find so confusing, in fact have meaning. “Lepido” means “scale” and “ptera” means “wing.” Did you know that the beautiful colors and patterns in the wings of moths and butterflies are created by tiny scales of different colors that cover the wings? Hmmm. Makes me think we need a workshop on taxonomic Latin!

In fact, it is challenging and often impossible to get to the species level of identification when dealing with many of the orders of Arthropoda. One reason for that is sheer numbers. For example, the order Orthoptera (ortho=straight, ptera=wing), which includes grasshoppers, crickets and katydids, contains 20,000 species worldwide. Ooops! I can’t image learning that many.

Another reason is that sometimes the differences between critters that determine species identification are too small to see with the naked eye or cannot be seen without dissecting the critter. But we also learned that Arthropoda have open circulatory systems with pumped blood–that is, bugs have a heart! So we really weren’t in the mood to take any apart.

One of our outdoor captures: a male Great Blue Skimmer (Libelulla vibrans). The mason jar does not do him justice, but we kept him only long enough to confirm the identification, and then he flew free again.

As always, so much more could be said about a great workshop. And so will the next one be. Yes, the Oct. 3 fungi workshop is on. I am currently making plans with our instructor Tod Maggio, so stay tuned!

What’s Buggin’ You?

At long last, a certification workshop!

Our instructor for “What’s Buggin’ You?” is Stacy Blomquist, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service. It’s scheduled Saturday, August 29, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. I realize for those of you who drive from a distance, that’s early, but since we will be spending the day outside, we need to get a leg up on the heat–if that’s possible in August in Louisiana!

Blomquist
Stacy Blomquist being “bugged”!

We will meet in the amphitheatre at Black Bayou Lake NWR for the classroom portion, do a bit of fieldwork right after lunch, and end with Stacy’s Native Bees and Butterflies & Moths PowerPoints in the amphitheatre.

Speaking of heat, if you can bring a box fan, do. That will help us keep air moving, an aid to overcoming both heat and Covid-19. And speaking of that, yes, we will take every precaution. Stacy can’t lecture with a mask on, but we can and will wear ours while seated in the amphitheatre.

Registration for the workshop is open. Click on the “Certification” tab at the top of the page. Here’s the flyer for this workshop that repeats this info, plus provides more detail: Workshop 5 Flyer.

Bring your lupe (magnifier) and bug net, should you have one. Bring a jar or clear plastic container with holes poked in the lid so we can observe the bugs up close and personal. As usual, everyone brings their own food and beverages.

If you registered and paid for the bugs workshop this spring when we had to postpone, or if you have a credit coming for any reason, please remind me in an email. I will check the records and put you on the list. And if you prefer to pay in person rather than online, I will be onsite early for that purpose.

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Looking forward to buggin’ out on bugs!

News & Updates

So.. not a lot happening right now, but let’s stay in touch! What are you doing to stay in touch with nature during this time of physical distancing? Send me a few words and a photo or two; I’ll share them in a blog post.

Here’s a bit of news: The Louisiana Master Naturalist Association, out statewide parent organization, now has a video channel thanks to Charles Paxton, one of our chapter representatives and the Board’s communications officer. Click here to learn about the channel and how you might want to contribute: LMNA Channel. A link to the channel, which is on YouTube, is also on the page.

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Videos already on the channel include our chapter’s recorded presentation of the Dormon Award to Kelby Ouchley and the statewide zoom interview of our state president, Bob Thomas. And if you don’t feel competent about making a video, you know that Charles is our go-to video guy. Feed him your ideas or seek advice from him!

And here’s an update: You might recall that we have graduated six Master Naturalists. You might not know that we have six more who have completed seven or more workshops and need only to do their final interpretive projects:

  • David Hoover
  • Arthur Liles
  • Roselie Overby
  • Frances Rogers
  • Ann B. Smith
  • Amy Ouchley

Amy lacks only the field work portion of the Phenology Workshop, so I am counting her in the six. I will develop an assignment she can do on her own to finish and I know she’s working on a project.

I encourage you six to develop a project a) that can be presented online in a zoom conference, or b) that an be done all outdoors–like take us on an instructional hike. LMNA has a zoom account available for our use, and we all know outdoors is much safer.

BTW, those of us who hiked at Camp Hardtner a few weeks ago wore our masks the whole time, even outdoors. It’s just not that bad. Nothing will keep me indoors!

Swarming Fire Ants
Here’s an example of when I should have turned to the video record feature of my camera. I was walking through a recently burned portion of the Little River WMA when I noticed that the ground in front of me appeared to be moving. The fire ants were swarming! Each of those rice-like specks in the photo is a fire ant with wings, but you really don’t get the full effect of the ground moving from a still photo. 

It is discouraging that Louisiana has gone backwards in the fight against Covid-19. I trust we are not contributing to the problem. Please, please wear your masks when you leave the house, but be aware that this is also a “family disease.” Two of our state board members from CENLA currently are battling Covid-19 and they’re pretty sure they got it from a family member.

Our chapter board will meet via zoom the last Sunday in July to plot our way forward. Let us be safe but not abandon what we have built. Stay “in touch” safely!

 

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.