It was fun, really!

I was sweating so profusely that I couldn’t keep my glasses on my face. But it wasn’t a problem. The privet I was pulling out of the sandbar was easy to distinguish from the native ferns also growing there.

And there was something deeply gratifying–even fun–about whacking invasive plants!

Carey King, one of Saturday’s work crew, stands on a sandbar in Tunica Hills WMA with a loess bluff behind him. Photo by Amber King.

The work day I participated in this past Saturday was organized by Dan Strecker as a project of the Louisiana Native Plant Society, Capital Area chapter. The target of his project and the place we put in our sweat equity Saturday is Tunica Hills WMA, a place that stands out in my mind as one of our most beautiful WMAs.

Dan is also a Master Naturalist and began his work in habitat restoration a few years ago with the Greater Baton Rouge chapter of Louisiana Master Naturalists. The project he started for LMNGBR is now run by Karen Pinsonat, the statewide winner of our recent Rendezvous 2021 Scavenger Hunt.

Tunica Hills is extraordinary in my eyes because of its ridges and deep ravines, many of them featuring a stream at the bottom. The sandbar I worked Saturday was at the bottom of a ravine on Trail A. The stream was dry on this day, but the sandbar was well-shaded. In addition to pulling privet, I cut trifoliate orange–several big clumps of it–with a big lopper, then Dan came along with his spray bottle and treated the cut stems with a chemical that will kill the roots.

Two reasons I find Tunica Hills special: It’s the only place I’ve ever photographed Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela) and this particular species of Trillium (Trillium foetidissimum). (Photos by BJK from 2019.)

People who know me best might be surprised to learn that I took not a single photo! I was too focused on the work and throwing all my energy into whacking invasives.

So… the Northeast chapter of Louisiana Master Naturalists Board of Directors met on zoom yesterday evening and we will organize to do something like this in our corner of the state. The places I know of that all have invasive species issues include Camp Hardtner (near Pollock), Kiroli Park and Restoration Park in West Monroe, and Black Bayou Lake NWR.

Of course, there are protocols for removing invasive species properly and safely. We will learn them and follow them. If you’re interested in joining this good work, let us know. It’s cathartic!

Worth the Wait!

So today turned out to be the perfect day for the Trillium Walk! Sometimes frustrating delays are for the better.

In fact, the trillium have also been delayed by the weather. We found lots of them, but the plants are still small and most had not yet formed a flower bud. Nevertheless, we found a few open flowers to appreciate. I’d say two weeks from today would be a perfect day to go back to see lots of flowers!

This trillium grew right next to the sunny side of a tree, so it came through the cold weather relatively unscathed.

Cranefly orchid leaves were also in abundance. I marked about 5 spots and didn’t even find some of the spots I have seen previous years. The leaves are easy to identify, but by the time they bloom in August, the leaves are gone and flower spikes are slender and pale. Hunter orange trail tape hanging nearby is a big help finding them!

A duskywing for sure, but E. juvenalis or E. horatius?

Other highlights of the day include my first butterfly of the season, a duskywing of the Erynnis genus. I assumed it was a Horace’s, but iNat prefers E. juvenalis, so I posted it at the genus level. We’ll see what the experts say.

A barge makes a sharp turn on the bend in the Ouachita River below the Courtman Overlook on the ridge that runs the length of the Charles Allen Nature Preserve.

Near the end of our hike, we paused at the Courtman Overlook to admire the view and rest for a minute before heading back to our vehicles. Suddenly someone noticed a barge coming down the river–a very large barge coming down the river. The Ouachita River makes a sharp bend right at the overlook. We watched in amazement as the captain maneuvered the barge, turning it in a much shorter distance than you would think possible in order to stay in the channel, which runs close to the opposite bank. I should have video taped it!

Finally, a shout out to the town of Columbia, which owns this wonderful Preserve and wants people to come enjoy it and learn. They gave us a great welcome.

An Estuarine Reserve for Louisiana

And it’s past time! The most surprising thing I learned in Monday night’s zoom presentation to Louisiana Master Naturalists was that every other state in the union with a coast line already has an Estuarine Reserve, some more than one. So why don’t we? Because Louisiana politics. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised!

But we’re going to have one. Gov. John Bel Edwards has written the required letter and the National Estuarine Research Reserve folks are actively working with experts within Louisiana to pick a site. They are still in the early stages, but Monday’s presenter, Dr. Robert Willey, Director of Sea Grants and renowned coastal preservation scientist, hopes we might be close to choosing a site by fall of this year.

What is the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System and what are the benefits of a NERR in Louisiana? To me, that’s kind of a no-brainer. A program designed to focus scientific and public attention on conserving the coast and it’s related wetlands is surely just what Louisiana needs.

But I came away from Dr. Willey’s presentation with much greater clarity about what a LaNERR (Louisiana National Estuarine Research Reserve) has to offer, what’s involved in getting one, and why we should. And we in northeast Louisiana need to be just as informed and gung ho as the folks in south Louisiana. Our coast and it’s rich habitats and biodiversity affects us all.

Louisiana is glaringly absent from the line-up of state’s having oceanic coastlines that already have a NERR.

So… statewide communication officer Charles Paxton recorded our zoom “Roadshow Presentation” and put a link to the recording on our statewide website. Click here to go watch it. Dr. Willey puts everything in terms all can understand. I’m guessing you’ll come away informed and enthusiastic.

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.