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.

Wings, Wings, More Wings

For the first time ever, I spent two and a half days out with my camera last week and took virtually NO plant photos! Instead, it was wings, wings and more wings. And, of course, I have a new obsession….

Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) (female)
Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) (female)     (photo by Bette J. Kauffman)

I arrived at Allen Acres a few miles south of Cravens, La., last Thursday afternoon at about 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., I started the dragonfly count with my first hour and a half to two-hour walk in the natural areas and gardens that surround the Bed & Breakfast and the Allen home.

On that very first circuit of the property, I focused totally on dragonflies. Thereafter, I found myself unable to resist the butterflies and other winged critters, and began to photograph whatever perched near me, without losing my focus on dragonflies. These other winged critters included numerous robber flies, a few bees and wasps, and, of course, the plentiful butterflies.

Indiana Robber Fly (Promachus hinei) (female
Indiana Robber Fly (Promachus hinei) (female)     (photo by Bette J. Kauffman)

If I saw a dragonfly while out with Dr. Allen checking his moth sheets or just walking between the house and B&B, I made note of them as well. The results are gratifying! I documented nine species of dragonfly, both male and female of six of the species. Several of the species had not been observed at Allen Acres before. A few were new to me, too, like the Common Sanddragon above.

Saturday I was joined at Allen Acres by a lot of folks there to help with a butterfly count lead by Craig Marks, who has just published a wonderful guide, “Butterflies of Louisiana.” Of course, I continued to count dragonflies as well.

I spoke with Craig about coming to Northeast Louisiana to do a butterfly count with Master Naturalists and he is eager to come. We just have to come up with a good place to do it! So be thinking about that and we’ll talk about it at our 3rd Quarter meeting, now on the events calendar. More on that later!

I’m still processing photos, but if you want to see more dragonflies, plus the many other critters I documented, go to iNaturalist and search for Allen Acres BioBlitz 2018. More to come!

Carolina Sphinx (Manduca sexta)
Carolina Sphinx (Manduca sexta)     (photo by Bette J. Kauffman)

BioBlitz at Allen Acres

This is National Moth Week and for the third or fourth year running–can’t remember for sure–Charles Allen is running a week-long BioBlitz at Allen Acres, located a few miles south of Cravens, La. on Hwy 399.

The week’s events started last Saturday with a fungi inventory lead by experts David and Pat Lewis. It’s been a bit dry, but as Charles says, the Lewises could “find mushrooms in a desert.”

Red-patched Emerald (Nemoria saturiba)
Red-patched Emerald (Nemoria saturiba) on sheet at Allen Acres     (photo by Bette J. Kauffman)

Of course, the week long event really began at 5:30 a.m. last Saturday when Charles checked his numerous mothing sheets to see what the night had brought. Last I heard, Charles had identified over 700 species of moths at Allen Acres, faithfully checking his sheets most evenings and early mornings.


This coming Saturday, Craig Marks will conduct a butterfly count, first at Allen Acres, then at a couple sites in the Kisatchie National Forest. Craig does this every year and can use lots of help. I will take my copy of his new book along to get signed.

I am heading to Allen Acres Thursday and will be there through Saturday late afternoon. In addition to mothing, plant identifying and helping count butterflies, I will count dragonflies and damsel flies, recording species and numbers to the best of my limited ability, until I leave some time late Saturday afternoon.

Yes, it’s hot. So we will take plenty of breaks indoors, keep hydrated, and have a blast, I’m sure!

BTW, Allen Acres includes a lovely B&B at a reasonable price and Susan Allen’s meals are beyond delicious. Lunch and dinner are just $10 a pop. And if you prefer, you can camp on the grounds for a very modest price. Check it out here.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) at Allen Acres     (photo by Bette J. Kauffman)

Odds & Ends

The month of July is going to be a bit of a blur. I will be out of town several times for a few days each, plus other aspects of my life are being particularly demanding right now. So this post consists of a few things you might need to know, the first of which is, you won’t be hearing much from me for the next few weeks!

Certification: Prof. Gerry Click is a geologist at LaTech and is excited to do a workshop for us. No details yet, but it will be scheduled in the fall after school resumes.

The PayPal link for the August 4 Ecosystems & Restoration Ecology workshop with Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee is ready. Click on the Certification tab at the top of the page. Dr. Joydeep is out of the country right now, so I can’t give details on that one yet either, but go ahead and get registered.

The species list for our Aquatic Life workshop is in process, but this is an especially hard one! Roselie has provided a list of birds she saw and heard while we are out on the lake. I know a few of the things we saw with the microscopes, but not nearly all.

red-eyed beetle 72-10

For example, the above really cool-looking red-eyed beetle: What is it called? Those who participated, please go through your notes and send me a list of what you were able to identify–even if it was not a very specific identification.

3rd Quarter Meeting: I have not had time to work on this much yet. It might have to be in August rather than July, since July has turned into a whirlwind for me.

T-shirt: I really, really hope someone will step up to the plate and take on the t-shirt project. We need someone to figure out the best place to get them made and take on ordering, inventory control, sales and so forth. I thought the idea of making a collage of drawings was interesting, but I’m thinking we need to start simpler.

Fall Celebration: Don’t forget that FoBB’s Fall Celebration is Oct. 13 and we will be there. I hope to have some displays of certification interpretive projects. Let me know if you’re thinking about doing that. And, yes, I do remember promising a blog post with some guidelines, but don’t wait for me to start thinking and planning! 🙂

Stay cool and have a fun July.

damselfly naiad 72-10
Damselfly naiad missing one of it’s gill appendages but a cool critter nonetheless.


Everyone needs a few from time to time, right? So here’s a few.

+Aquatic Life – It’s the Little Things, our 4th certification workshop, is next Saturday, June 23rd. A few seats remain!

+Rendezvous 2019 is scheduled March 15-17 at Fountainbleu State Park on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Yes, that’s a ways for us to drive, but ever since our state board discussion of the possibilities there, I can’t wait! So plan now.

+Species Lists – are linked to the “Observe…” tab of our website. I have posted the one for our 2nd quarter meeting hike at Heartwood, but have one correction to make. I’ll soon post one for the herps workshop.

+Blog posts archive – Please note that every word I post here is available to you in perpetuity. (Perhaps not good news? Sorry!) Go to the right hand column and scroll down for the archive. It’s a drop-down menu right under “Photo of the Week.” Of course, if you have no idea in which month I posted something, you’ll have to do a bit of searching, but it is all there.

+Kids – Please be reminded that kids are welcome at our meetings and any “family fun days” we plan, but not at certification workshops. I mention this because I heard of a rumor that kids were at a certification workshop. Not true. No one under 18 allowed at a certification workshop.

Cypress @ Chemin 10"
Magnificent Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) on Chemin-A-Haut Creek     (photo by Jeff Barnhill)