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.

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 7.45.46 PM

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.

Trophy

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.

 

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.

Lairds
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)