Friday, April 28, 2006

Tensas River Basin

We spent the week of 4/17 – 4/21 working based out of Tallulah, Madison Parish. Madison Parish is located in extreme northeast Louisiana, one parish south of the Arkansas border. We were working in the Tensas River Basin, setting out frogloggers in various locations. Even this far north, migration was quite apparent. The bulk of the migrants were Orchard Orioles, but we had a decent selection of other migrants as well. In the cotton fields of Winnsboro, it was a real treat to see Horned Larks on their breeding grounds; something I’ve never witnessed in Louisiana. I have seen them on breeding territory in New Mexico. Also in Winnsboro, Susan Walls and I came across a very large cottonmouth hunting a ditch for frogs. At this site we heard Cope’s gray treefrog, northern cricket frog, bronze frog and bullfrog.

By far my favorite place we visited was the Tensas NWR. This vast expanse of hardwood bottomland is home to loads of breeding birds and interesting insects, but also home to another population of Black Bears. Susan, Mike Baldwin and I got to see a bear on Thursday, as we were riding into one of our study site on the north end of the NWR. We rounded a corner, and after studying some scat along the road, I spotted an adult bear at the edge of a meadow full of flowering vetch. When the bear saw us coming on the four-wheeler, it took off for the forest without looking back. Samantha Hill and Chad Case had just run back to the truck to retrieve another froglogger, so unfortunately they missed the bear. Migrants here were Tennessee Warbler, Dickcissel and Blue Grosbeak. Many others were around too, but species like Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Swainson’s Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat were likely local breeders.

My favorite experience at the refuge (besides the bear) was a full chorus of bird-voiced treefrogs (Hyla avivoca) at the big lake. (at right) Just before hearing this large chorus, I had found a ring-necked snake, but it proved to be very difficult to photograph, and consequently zero out of six pictures came out worth keeping.

Before we set up shop in Tensas NWR, we visited Buckhorn NWR. As we were unloading the ATVs, we noticed a problem with one of the trailer tires. It would turn out that Chad and I would have to bring the trailer into town to have the problem fixed. So, we missed out on setting out the frogloggers at Buckhorn, but not before I heard a Prairie Warbler singing!

Overall, we had a great trip and saw lots of neat things. Most of the animal pictures didn’t come out worth keeping, but the scenery pictures did. I have included pictures at the end here of some of the oddly-shaped cypress knees in the swampy area on the north end of the Tensas NWR.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Weekend in Washington

Beautiful historic Washington, LA is located in St. Landry Parish, north of Opelousas. I have a friend whose family owns a nice chunk of undeveloped land in the gorgeous hilly countryside. The habitat includes agricultural fields bordered by second-growth forest, which leads down to a man-made pond surrounded by mature hardwood bottomland. I went up Friday night with my friend Jon Colletti, planning on camping for the night and returning the next afternoon. There were lots of things to see; dragonflies were abundant, snakes, frogs, birds. While we were setting up camp, a vehicle pulled up. It was Michael Barney and Travis Huval. Steven and Michael Barney are my friends whose family owns the property. Originally local, Michael now resides in Florida, and Steven in Broussard with his wife Nikki daughter Emma. Travis Huval hails from Sunset. All the aboved mentioned are admitted bug geeks, so naturally, their company is always welcome. Jon Colletti lives in Coteau with his wife Lea and son Beau-man.

Now that everyone has been formally introduced, we can focus on the sightings/findings of the weekend. Around the pond, dragonflies ruled the air: common whitetails (above) were most abundant, with fewer numbers of eastern pondhawk, blue dasher, common green darner & black saddlebags. I did notice one female Amanda's pennant. On the first night, we found a few water scorpions and one water measurer. That night, while patrolling the edge of the pond, I found a young mud snake consuming a bullfrog tadpole in the water. I wanted to capture the snake and get measurements, but before I could even consider the snake being disrupted from its meal, it submerged-meal and all.

After a while of walking around flipping cover, we found a nice western ribbon snake (picture at right). There were a few bronze and leopard frogs around the bayou that splits the property, but after walking for a couple of hours, we were ready to head back to camp. Around the pond, I caught a fiesty yellow-bellied watersnake followed shortly by a banded watersnake. Steven and Michael turned up a Stinkpot, so I was able to get some decent shots of this unusual turtle. (photo below)

The weekend certainly belonged to the bugs. Forest tent caterpillars (see photo below) dominated the scene. They were literally falling from the trees. They covered our tent (no, that's NOT why they're called tent caterpillars...), the Jeep and just about everywhere else you looked. For those who know these little furry guys, know well that they are harmless, unless you are tree leaves. Tent caterpillars can be quite damaging to a population of tree species. They begin to emerge when fresh, green leaves start to bud out. They have been known to eat willow, oak, maple, hawthorn, ligustrum and more! Anyway, along with the caterpillars were caterpillar hunters. These large, metallic green beetles were in no way as common as the prey they seeked, but that's the way a nicely balanced ecosystem works; fewer predators than prey. I did not take any photos of these beetles, but perhaps Steven did and I might obtain a picture from him for posting purposes.

Just as the night was coming to an end, I noticed (around 1:45 a.m.) that I was missing my one and only Jeep key! Had I let Jon use it? Nope, he didn't have it. After a frantic scamper around camp, I realized I was in serious trouble. I called Steven and Michael (who had left by now) and they very graciously turned around from north Lafayette to come back and help me look the key. We looked until 3:30 a.m., and decided to call it quits and resume the search the next morning....after sunrise. Now, I already felt bad that they had to turn around to help me look for the stupid thing the night before, but now I felt really bad because they had cancelled a trip to Kisatchie they had planned to help me again. Let's put a long story in the making to rest. Case in point, we never found the key. I had to have the Jeep towed out and brought to a dealership in Opelousas so that another key could be made.

I did make a new aquaintance over the weekend; Ed Harris (at right) of Washington. He and his family live just down the road from the Barney property, and according to Ed, his land is full of snakes. Now of course, when we walked over to his property with him, we didn't find a single snake. I do believe him though...there's lots of good looking habitat and he's invited us back any time we want! Some nice folks.

Well, in closing, I suppose the best thing I experienced this weekend was the great friendship that I have. I want to thank everyone who came out and help look for my damn key, including my wife Ellen and Steven's wife Nikki.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring has arrived

Well, despite our lack of rain, spring has finally arrived. In the Basin, there are plenty of migrants and newly arrived local breeders. Yellow-crowned Night and Little Blue Herons are back en masse, as well as Yellow-throated, White-eyed & Red-eyed Vireos. Last week in addition to the Swallow-tailed Kites, there were tons of Prothonotary & Hooded Warblers, with also a few Yellow-throated Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes. This week I picked up my first Great Crested Flycatchers & Eastern Kingbirds for the year. There have been reports this week of large numbers of Buff-breasted Sandpipers SW of Maurice with smaller numbers of Upland Sandpipers. I think I'll make a run out there this afternoon to check out the shorebird situation.

As far as frogs go, Northern cricket frogs continue singing, and I heard my first bullfrog of the season yesterday while taking tree trunk measurements at the zoo.

On the bug front, June beetles (not june bugs...) have started emerging, and there are thousands flying each night at my home in Broussard. On the ponds out front of the NOAA building here next to the Wetlands Center, I caught a waterboatman (Corixa sp.), two backswimmers (Notonecta sp.) & a water scavenger beetle (Hydrophilus sp.). I brought them home, and placed in my "native Louisiana" ponds. It's a simple 3' diameter pond with Ludwigia palustris, Alternanthera philoxeroides and a couple of other native plants. I also collected a water strider (Gerris sp.) and a long-jawed orb-weaver (Tetragnatha) to place in the pond. Nice native microhabitat I've got going there.

Well, that's about it for now...more spring notes coming soon!