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….!


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!

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!

IMGP8452 72-15
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.