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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.

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!