Our Events Committee has been at work! And they have a lot of great ideas. Here’s what’s coming:

Feb. 13, 9:45 – Noonish: Trillium Walk & GBBC – Calling all birders to join us on the Trillium Walk! It turns out that Saturday, Feb. 13, falls within the dates of the Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count. So we’re going to participate. In addition to spotting trillium, red buckeye and crane fly orchids (see header photo), we will be looking and listening for birds.

I plan to be at the entrance to the Charles Allen Nature Preserve by 9:30 a.m. We want to walk into the woods at 10 sharp. Please see my earlier post here for a map and details. Again I encourage some of you to make plans to meet in Columbia to leave a vehicle in the parking lot there and carpool out to the Preserve, where parking is limited.

BTW, I called the town of Columbia, which bought the property from ULM last year. They are excited that we are using this natural area as intended.

March 7, 2020, 2 p.m.: First Quarter Meeting – Zoom will be the venue for our first quarter meeting this year. (It is my hope and prayer that by 2nd Quarter we will be able to meet in person! But we will stay safe…)

That’s Erin with the giant scissors opening the newly refurbished alligator exhibit at Black Bayou Lake NWR. Photo by the News Star.

The Events Committee has invited Erin Cox, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Refuge Coordinator over several refuges in our area to be our speaker. Erin will give us an overview of the USFWS, then zero in on the refuges she manages and what we can do to help in fulfilling our mission as conservationists and educators on conservation. After Erin’s presentation, we will have a brief business meeting.

In planning: The Events Committee shared ideas they are working on and I am delighted and excited. These include:

Dec. 5 – Fourth Quarter meeting at Kiroli Park, hosted by our own Stuart Hodnett, who now is parks coordinator for West Monroe. In addition to our meeting, we will go birding in the park. Of course, some of us will also be distracted by the other flora and fauna of the park! Details to come.

Second & Third Quarterly Meetings – These will probably be in May and October respectively. Ideas being considered include asking our own Kelby Ouchley and his brother Keith Ouchley of the Nature Conservancy to lead us on an expedition to the Molicy Unit. Yes!

Additional ideas for meetings or seasonal events include asking Gary Stringer to tell us about his whales at the ULM Museum and inviting the new manager at Tensas NWR to talk about the refuge and the bears.

Is there anything in the above that does not totally excite you? I am so on board with all of this and deeply grateful to the Events Committee for their leadership. Here’s who they are: Charles Paxton, Chair, Suzanne Laird Dartez, Stuart Hodnett, Amy Ouchley, Ann Smith. Kim Paxton took notes for them because, you know, with the Paxtons you usually get a two-fer!

Woohoo! It’s gonna be a good year.

Trillium Walk

A few years ago, I began making an annual pilgrimage to the Charles Allen Nature Preserve near Columbia to see trillium in bloom. I love them! So beautiful and so ephemeral. The window for seeing them is short.

Trillium (Trillium sp.)

This year, in part because we have not been able to get together much, it occurred to me to invite y’all to come along. We will be outdoors. I am happy to wear a mask outdoors if that will make you more comfortable. We can physically distance without a problem.

So…. Saturday, February 13, is the day. The entrance to the Charles Allen Nature Preserve is on Fisher Road, a bit south and east of Columbia. There’s a map below because I do not believe your phone GPS will recognize that name. Meet me there. I will get there at 9:45 a.m. and plan to head into the woods at 10 a.m.

In fact, there’s not a lot of parking at the entrance and Fisher Road doesn’t have much in the way of shoulders, so if you are comfortable carpooling with someone or meeting someone in Columbia and just carpooling the short distance out to the site, that would be good. There’s a school along the route through Columbia and leaving a car there would be easy.

Hiking in the preserve is not extremely difficult but it does involve somewhat steep climbing on layers of leaves and pine straw for short distances. Wear suitable shoes. After we’ve seen the trillum, we’ll hike to the river overlook for a fab view. I estimate we will be in the woods for about two hours.

In addition to trillium, we will see red buckeye just starting to bloom and, if we look carefully, perhaps violets in bloom and crane fly orchid leaves, which I plan to mark with plastic tape so we can come back in August and look for flowers.

And who knows what else? I have invited Dr. Charles Allen, after whom the place is named. He didn’t promise but he said he’d try to come. If he makes it, I promise, you will get an impromptu lesson in native plants of Louisiana.

I have also invited the CenLa Master Naturalists and… this is a family fun day! Your kids old enough to hike are welcome! And bring a friend.

Directions from Monroe: Drive south on Hwy 165. Shortly after crossing the Ouachita River into Columbia, turn left onto Church St. Go 4 blocks and turn right onto Boatner St. Go one block and turn left onto Fisher Rd. Fisher Rd. goes straight to the edge of the swamp (Brandon Lake) then curves right, as you can see on the map. From the intersection of Fisher Rd. and Boatner St, it’s about 2.5 miles to the entrance to the Preserve.

If you have trouble finding the place, call me: 318-372-8117.

Rendezvous 2021

We’re going to have some fun AND stay completely safe while doing it!

The Louisiana Master Naturalist Association Board of Directors recently decided that a face-to-face Rendezvous in April of 2021 was still too dangerous. Not enough of us are vaccinated yet!

So we postponed the face-to-face gathering for another year but decided to do some fun things anyway, all completely safely. April will be Rendevous month. We will have three zoom meetings of an hour and a half each spread out over the month of April, at least one of which will feature a keynote address by our Dorman Award winner.

Other activities we are working on include a photo/video competition, a scavenger hunt and a citizen science project. These will be designed so that you can do them individually or with small groups outdoors using proper pandemic precautions.

Screenshot of Rendezvous 2021 FB Group

Please note that the Facebook group is a private group because only Louisiana Master Naturalists can participate in Rendezvous. When you get to it, you will be asked to confirm that you are a member of an LMN chapter before you will be admitted to the group.

I and Charles & Kim Paxton are on the planning committee and much planning remains to be done. For the moment, however, I urge each of our members to go to the Rendezvous 2021 Facebook page and ask to join. That is where we will post info as plans develop and where we will feature activities as they happen.

Here’s a link to the group: LMNA Rendezvous 2021.


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.).

1st Q Mtg: The Ivory-Bill!

Is the ivory-billed woodpecker gone forever? Matt Courtman says, “No!”

The Louisiana Master Naturalists – Northeast first quarter 2020 meeting is scheduled Sunday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m. in the Black Bayou Lake NWR Education Center. As always we begin with a speaker on a natural history subject. This time it will be Matt, and, yes, he will make a case that the ivory-bill can and will be found alive and well in Louisiana.

Sonny Boy and JJ Kuhn
Sonny Boy and J.J. Kuhn

Matt has been fascinated with the ivory-bill since he was 8 years old. He will inform us about the ivory-bill’s unique place in Louisiana’s natural history and will lay out varies theories about its disappearance.

But the driving force behind all of that will be his hope and determination to find that the ivory-bill has persisted and still lives in Louisiana. So come, join the discussion and find out about Matt’s statewide collaborative effort to find, document and protect the ivory-bill.

McIlhenny specimens
McIlhenny Specimens

Certified LMN-NE members, you can count this as continuing ed. I will have our tracking app up and running by then. At about 3 p.m., we will engage in a brief business meeting, and after that…. the Refuge awaits! Yay!

This program is brought to you by the LMN-NE Quarterly Meeting Planning Committee, Stuart Hodnett, Suzanne Laird-Dartez and Charles Paxton. Please direct your feedback and suggestions for future meetings to them.