It’s Time: Phenology

Four weeks ago on my way to the Louisiana Native Plant Society meeting in Woodworth, I grabbed a couple hours to hike at the ULM Biological Station, Charles Allen Nature Preserve near Columbia.

I was anxious to see if the Trillium had popped out of the ground yet, and I was not disappointed. I walked straight to the area where I had found them before in early February, and…. dozens! Lots of Trillium!

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Trillium ludovicianum

The vast majority were just leaves, as expected. A few had buds, tightly closed. One bud had a slim opening down the side such that I caught a glimpse of the dark purpley-red petals inside. And then, surprise! One, just one, in full bloom!

When I say, “That’s early for a Trillium to be in full bloom,” I’m making a phenological statement, albeit a rather vague and unscientific one.

March 14, 2020, Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee of the ULM Biology program will teach us how to make precise scientific ones. As usual, this certification workshop will run from 9 a.m. until about 3 p.m. You can register NOW. There’s a PayPal link on the “Certification” tab above, or you can pay on site if you email me in advance. ($25)

Folks, I have good reason to say this is going to be a popular workshop. So please don’t delay. Register or contact me ASAP. If necessary, priority will be given to members who are working toward certification.

Please note, this workshop is tentatively scheduled at Black Bayou Lake NWR. However, I have been delayed by travel and horrendously painful tendonitis in getting certain things done. I will get a flyer with the details in your hands asap, but in the meantime, do not delay. Register!

The Lord God Bird!

“Have any of you actually seen an ivory-bill?”

Matt Courtman posed his question to a packed room at the Black Bayou Lake NWR Visitors’ Center. It was the educational portion of the 1st Quarter Meeting of Louisiana Master Naturalists – Northeast.

Matt Courtman
Matt discusses the differences between the ivory-bill and pileated woodpeckers.

One hand went up. One man in attendance believed he had. He described the bird he had seen and guessed it to be about a third larger than a crow.

To put his assertion into perspective, it is not like claiming to have seen sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster or a Yeti. It is more like claiming to have seen a live Passenger Pigeon, but more likely to be true. The doomed pigeon flew in great flocks in plain sight, so survivors would be easily detected.

In contrast, the ivory-billed woodpecker was solitary and a deep forest dweller. It had the habit of appearing suddenly and startling people, and for that reason was nick-named “the Lord God Bird.” If only a few survive today, locating them would require patience, persistence and a lot of searching.

And if they are to be found, Matt Courtman is the most likely person to find them. His presentation to LMN–NE was informed by extensive research into museum collections, books, scientific journals and personal accounts, and he has spent hours in the field.

He is convinced that he has seen ivory-bills on a couple of occasions, and he has a recording he believes to be the call of ivory-bills. Blue jay calls are sometimes confused with ivory-bill calls, but Matt enlisted an opera singer to help him describe the difference in sound characteristics between the two. The ivory-bill call is more “sonorous.”

The ivory-bill has long been believed to be extinct due to loss of habitat, specifically the lumbering of virgin hardwood forests. The Singer Tract in what is now the Tensas River NWR was one of the last refuges of ivory-bills and Ranger Jesse Laird was their protector.

Suzanne Laird-Dartez speaks about her great-grandfather Jesse, protector of the ivory-bill.

Jesse’s great-granddaughter Suzanne Laird-Dartez, a Master Naturalist and member of the LMN–NE Board, brought a human element into Matt’s presentation by telling of her great-grandfather’s passion for conservation and the ivory-bill. He was monitoring the last known survivor, a female, checking on her daily. Then a storm blew down the tree that held her nest cavity and she was never seen again.

Matt Courtman is working on a website for his ivory-bill project. He strongly believes the bird was more adaptable in terms of habitat that the literature indicates. And so he searches on, expecting one day to document with incontrovertible evidence a living ivory-bill. We’ll be the first to report it here!

Our 2nd Quarter meeting is scheduled at 2 p.m., May 3, at Black Bayou Lake NWR Visitor Center. Stuart Hodnett of Ouachita Green will be our speaker.

Story and photos by Charles Paxton.

Basic Field Skills

Registration is now open for the third workshop of our second cycle: Basic Field Skills. This is a required workshop for those who wish to become certified Master Naturalists. If you missed our first offering of it back in March 2018, don’t miss this opportunity.

The workshop is scheduled Saturday, January 25, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Education Center at Black Bayou Lake NWR. It will include classroom and field work on the Refuge, so come prepared to be outdoors. The cost is $25.

Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018
When we are in the Education Center at the Refuge, it is entirely possible Grumpy the pine snake will make an appearance!     (Photo by Charles Paxton)

For those who took our first offering of this workshop back in 2018, some of the material will be new, as our instructors have continue to develop their own knowledge and skills. However, 1) you may not take the workshop a second time to count toward certification, but 2) you may take it again for continuing education credit.

Our instructors are Amy Ouchley on writing and sketching, Bette Kauffman on photography and iNaturalist, and Nova Clarke on natural history interpretation. Amy has been involved with LMN-NE since it’s beginning and is nearing completion of her Master Naturalist coursework, Bette Kauffman is co-founder and president of LMN-NE and one of our first certified Master Naturalists, and Nova Clark is Ranger at Black Bayou Lake NWR.

Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018
Amy Ouchley teaching at our first version of this workshop.     (Photo by Charles Paxton)

Click on the Certification tab at the top of this web page. There you will find a link to a flyer giving more details on the workshop, a PayPal button to pay for the workshop online (you are automatically registered), and a link to a registration form you can print and mail in with a check if you prefer. You may also make arrangements with Bette Kauffman to pay on site.

Finally, if you have credit due to paying for a workshop that was cancelled, OR if you have completed six workshops and wish to claim this one as your free 7th, let Bette Kauffman know and that will be arranged.

See you the 25th! In the meantime, don’t forget our 1st Quarter Mtg this Sunday, the 19th.

1st Q Mtg: The Ivory-Bill!

Is the ivory-billed woodpecker gone forever? Matt Courtman says, “No!”

The Louisiana Master Naturalists – Northeast first quarter 2020 meeting is scheduled Sunday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m. in the Black Bayou Lake NWR Education Center. As always we begin with a speaker on a natural history subject. This time it will be Matt, and, yes, he will make a case that the ivory-bill can and will be found alive and well in Louisiana.

Sonny Boy and JJ Kuhn
Sonny Boy and J.J. Kuhn

Matt has been fascinated with the ivory-bill since he was 8 years old. He will inform us about the ivory-bill’s unique place in Louisiana’s natural history and will lay out varies theories about its disappearance.

But the driving force behind all of that will be his hope and determination to find that the ivory-bill has persisted and still lives in Louisiana. So come, join the discussion and find out about Matt’s statewide collaborative effort to find, document and protect the ivory-bill.

McIlhenny specimens
McIlhenny Specimens

Certified LMN-NE members, you can count this as continuing ed. I will have our tracking app up and running by then. At about 3 p.m., we will engage in a brief business meeting, and after that…. the Refuge awaits! Yay!

This program is brought to you by the LMN-NE Quarterly Meeting Planning Committee, Stuart Hodnett, Suzanne Laird-Dartez and Charles Paxton. Please direct your feedback and suggestions for future meetings to them.


Spring Schedule

Need to complete your certification requirements? Need to begin accumulating continuing ed hours? LMN-NE has a lot to offer!

January 25, Basic Field Skills – Nova Clark, Amy Ouchley and Bette Kauffman will reprise their basic field skills workshop but with some important differences. Amy will present a draft of her certification project on observing, writing and sketching. Bette will demonstrate how photography and iNaturalist can enhance your knowledge. Nova will present on interpretation, which is what we all must do for our certification projects.

Although this workshop will contain some new material, if you used the first one we offered in early 2018 toward certification, this one will count as continuing ed credit.

March 14, PhenologyDr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee has developed a new specialty and is anxious to present it to us! This is an entirely new topic, thus will count for certification credit even if you took one of Dr. Joydeep’s ecology workshops. If you are already certified, it will count as continuing ed.

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Dr. Joydeep

As some of you recall, Dr. Joydeep is a big fan of citizen science. When I asked him to pick a date for this workshop, he picked early March because he wants to get us started collecting data ASAP.

April 11, BugsWe are going to make this happen. Yay! When the Trammells were here to participate in our graduation, they gave me a new lead and I am happy to report that Stacy Blomquist eagerly accepted my invitation. She works for the National Forest Service, developed her workshop for the CENLA chapter, and–icing on the cake–has a relative living in our corner of the state. We win!

Judging by the photo she sent me, she’s going to fit right in with our chapter! 🙂

Again, this is a brand new one for us, so…. if you’re working toward certification, be there! And if you’re already certified, continuing ed, of course.

Stacy Blomquist is attacked by the Orkin roach.

April 25, Mammals Back by popular demand, Dr. Kim Tolson is looking forward to repeating her workshop with us, but she too is thinking about some new ways to create a learning experience for us. Whatever she comes up with, I’m sure it will be fun and informative.

Soooo….. there you have it, folks! Get these dates into your planner now. It’s going to be a great spring series, and I hope to continue it into May and June. A few general reminders:

1. Details will be forthcoming on all of these. Stay tuned!

2. Our workshops cost $25 each. They are for adults only. Although non-members can attend, members seeking certification will get priority.

3. Your 7th workshop is free, so if I forget to let you know that it’s your 7th, please remind me.