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.


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:

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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:

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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.).