Louisiana Master Naturalists and trainees convened on Camp Hardtner near Pollock, Lousiana for the Rendezvous 2018 event. It proved an ideal venue for the annual meeting of naturalists gathered from the various regions of Louisiana. Dr. Bette Kauffman, Ranger Nova Clarke, my wife Kimmie and I attended from the newly formed Northeast chapter. Kimmie and I are training for certification and learning as much as we can. We’ll be reflecting on what we heard and saw at this camp over the next few weeks as it was so intensive and factually rich.
We stayed in the hotel accommodation, which proved very comfortable and provided easy access to a diverse community of fungi, plants, scientists and other interesting wildlife. There were also a variety of attractive cabins offering shared accommodation. Volunteers from the LMN cooked the superb meals and washed up. Thank you very much! The food was delicious and healthy.
We arrived in advance of a powerful storm front and after a warm welcome we kicked off with an exploration of some of the camp’s some 160 acres and beside one of the pretty lakes laid out in series, we saw a Luna Moth, Actias luna, one of the largest moths in North America and one of the prettiest.
In the course of our exploration we bumped into Master Naturalist, Herpetologist and environmental educator Micha Petty returning with fresh images of mating Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) that he’d encountered on a woodpile by one of the lakes. Later I’d attend his lectures and see a slide of those romantic lizards. Micha runs an animal rescue center and is involved in environmental education through L.E.A.R.N. This the place to contact about an injured reptile or amphibian! They even help reconstruct cracked turtle shells with jewellers wire, God bless them!
After a very pleasant dinner we heard an informative and entertaining welcoming lecture by Dr. Bob Thomas on “The Thrill of the Pursuit: Some of the Top Nature Stories of Louisiana.” This could be the basis of a good popular science book really, it set the right mood for our explorations at the camp. From Ogre faced spiders, and the variety of irises here, to the bizarre structures and variety of galls, to evoloutionary ghosts, it was all pretty inspirational, mind-opening and focusing, but I particularly loved the revelations regarding the distribution of Honey Locust’s brutally large and highly pointy spikes in relation to pleistocene megafauna, specifically Mastodons! Also the amazing relationship between Jaguars and the survival of avocados after the demise of the Gompothere! Dr. Thomas recommended further reading too, so we could follow up our interest. Ghosts of Evolution! There’s a good article on this in the Smithsonian online. It was wonderful to hear about the insect galls on Friday night and then to see them on Sunday in the Bioblitz! He also delivered the great news that the Louisiana Pine Snake (Pituophis ruthveni) has been registered as a threatened species, effective as of May 7, 2018.
Check out the 2018 Rendezvous Program (detailed) for the breakdown of the weekend’s excellent schedule. As you can see it was an impressive range of lectures. We were cozy and dry while the storm broke outside, lightning flashed and thunder rolled.
The storm conditions calmed and the environment cooled down overnight. The following day was chilly, after a hearty breakfast we began a fascinating and entertaining series of lectures. As they ran concurrently three at a time, we couldn’t see them all, but hopefully we’ll get another chance to see the ones that we couldn’t attend this time. Kimmie and I decided to be strategic and select different ones so that afterwards we could pool our learning. I selected Birds and bird watching, Reptiles and amphibians, City Nature Challenge, Snakes, Interpreting nature and we both caught the end of the LDAf Feral Hog Control presentation. Also we could all enjoy the Keynote address by Professor Joydeep Bhattacharjee, specialist in restoration ecology and professor at ULM.
“What are their adaptive advantages?” and other important questions were raised.
The presentations we saw were brilliant. I was very pleased with breadth and depth of content and the fluent skill of the delivery. Each speaker could deliver a superb TED talk, of this I have no doubt. I had no idea that I didn’t know very much about birds, amongst a lot of other different things. Birds! I see them every day, but I knew very little about their remarkable anatomical adaptations, things like the wishbone, wing and feather structure. “What are their adaptive advantages?” and other important questions were raised. As well as learning a lot, I really enjoyed the presentations.
In the Snakes talk I learned a great deal too, and was particularly pleased to be taught about the research into defensive reactions in Cottonmouth vipers. It seems they do act defensively rather than aggressively (interesting figures on their unwillingness to strike in favour of escape or threat responses can be read here in Gibbons & Dorcas’s paper)
The advance of Citizen Science had been on my radar for a while with eBird, also in terms of archeological discoveries with Megalithic Portal , and recently diverse Zooniverse projects have become increasing entries in my inbox. What I didn’t realise was the vast range of the possible involvements and the positive impacts that Citizen science is already having. I will add examples to this article in coming days. The stunning array of technology within a mobile phone, coupled with online databases like INaturalist makes it possible for interested members of the public to make real contributions to science through “Research quality” observations. This means that an exploration of a natural area can have lasting scientific benefits, benefits that can be shared globally. Heady stuff!
We saw INaturalist in use this weekend for the Bioblitz. Click here to visit this project on INaturalist.
“What is a Bioblitz?” you might wonder, as I did. I hadn’t heard of this phenomenon before this weekend. It is an intensive exploration of an area with the purpose of finding out what lives there and recording the observations. Very interesting really! Something that you can conduct yourself, in the place where you are!
In addition to INaturalist here is the list of Citizen Science projects that Marty Floyd kindly shared:
This has the Big Day on May 5th and also a really cool migration tracker: “Real-time analysis maps show intensities of actual bird migration as detected by the US weather surveillance radar network. Migration traffic rate is defined as the number of birds that fly across a 1 km transect line per hour, with transect line running over the earth’s surface perpendicular to the direction of movement of the birds.” Last night, April 11, was a very busy one!
“Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program was designed to mobilize citizen scientists across the U.S. to bolster current research by documenting the feeding patterns of hummingbirds.” There are fears that climate change may cause some of the birds’ food plants to be opening sooner than the birds expect, possibly causing them to miss-time their migrations.
We can send in any pictures we have taken that show birds in the process of eating something recognizable.
Bee Spotter currently only collecting Bee Spottings in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio,
“Identification, Images, & Information for Insects, Spiders & Their Kin for the United States & Canada”
Here you can hear different identified songs.
It was in the Keynote presentation that I learned of the importance of large numbers of observations to scientific investigation. While one or two reports of observations might be interesting in their own right, one or two hundred have far greater statistical significance. The possibility of citizen naturalists to contribute their observations, backed up by supporting photographs is transformational. We learned from Dr. Bhattacharjee’s presentation how a networked climate study by Louisiana schools won funding and produced high quality data set, how a B&B owner in Assam published a report of a new species of beetle in an internationally prestigious Indian scientific journal, how a chap living in a hut in the Rockies (with a martin and a raccoon at times) contributed 40 years worth of climatic data that has featured in an increasing set of scientific studies and how Bhattacharjee is himself using infra-red drone photography to accumulate data on forest health at Russel Sage Wildlife Management Area in Monroe. Cutting edge science!
I found the whole Rendezvous experience very stimulating, for me it was a holiday break with a difference! I found the people very friendly and welcoming, the volunteers somehow made the huge amount of work involved in organization and laying on great meals and the superb educational programme seem effortless. The catering was fabulous and there were options for omnivores and vegetarians, thank you! The Bioblitz is still opening our eyes to the amazing range of biodiversity. Our thanks and Kudos to all involved!
One of the chief delights was my first encounter with the exquisite Calico Pennant dragonfly, a living jewel. The variety and form of the various insect galls was startling. Different insects, midges and wasps shape their host plant by injecting hormones that cause the plants’ tissues to develop into protective structures that also serve as food for the larva!
*Thank you Allan Sherman.