Camp Hardtner, near Pollock. Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018. Kimmie photographing a Luna moth.

Hello mother, hello father, here we all are at Camp Hardtner, it’s in Pollock, central Louisiana. This excellent camp hosted Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018. Kimmie photographing a Luna moth.

Some of the Rendezvous 2018 participants gathered for a group photograph. Our thanks to all who helped make it such a success! Kimmie Paxton image.

A great bunch of people! Some of the Rendezvous 2018 participants gathered for a group photograph. Our thanks to all who helped make it such a success! Kimmie Paxton image.

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.

The Christian Camp Hardtner has a very high biodiversity and great conference facilities with halls, classrooms and well appointed kitchen. Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

The Christian Camp Hardtner has a very high biodiversity and great conference facilities with halls, classrooms and well appointed kitchen. Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

The exquisite Luna moth with its startling faux eye decoration and fresh mint and milk and white chocolate colour coordination. K. Paxton photo and copyright.

The exquisite Luna moth with its startling faux eye decoration and fresh mint and milk & white chocolate colour coordination. K. Paxton photo and copyright taken on Panasonic Lumix GX-8 with 100-300mm lens at 600mm equivalent.

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!

Dr. Bob Thomas, conveying knowledge and inspiring at Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous

Dr. Bob Thomas, conveying knowledge and inspiring at Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

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.

Wool Sower at Camp Hardtner, Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

A wealth of Wool Sower galls revealed in the bioblitz at Camp Hardtner, Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 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.

Drs. Thomas and Kauffman at Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

Drs. Thomas (right) and Kauffman (left) at Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

“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.

Kimmie attended Ranger Nova Clarke's course on Environmental ethics amongst others.

Kimmie attended Ranger Nova Clarke’s course on Environmental ethics amongst others.

Rough Green Snake revealed in the Bioblitz at Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

Rough Green Snake revealed in the Bioblitz at Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

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:

LABird.org

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Breeding Bird Survey

Feederwatch.org

NestWatch.org

eBird.org

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!

The Institute For Bird Population Studies

Hummingbirdsathome.org

“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.

What do birds eat?

We can send in any pictures we have taken that show birds in the process of eating something recognizable.

North American Butterfly Association butterfly counts

The Clemson Vanishing Firefly Project

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Bee Spotter currently only collecting Bee Spottings in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio,

bumblebeewatch.org

bugguide.net

“Identification, Images, & Information for Insects, Spiders & Their Kin for the United States & Canada”

Singing insects of North America

songsofinsects.com

Here you can hear different identified songs.

Frog Watch

 

Dr. Bette Kauffman showing an American Beautyberry bush , while guiding the bioblitz with Dr. Bob Thomas.

Dr. Bette Kauffman showing an American Beautyberry bush , while guiding the bioblitz with Dr. Bob Thomas.

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!

A lady and a living jewel. One of the chief delights was my first encounter with the exquisite Calico Pennant dragonfly, a living jewel. Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

A lady and a living jewel. One of the chief delights was my first encounter with the exquisite Calico Pennant dragonfly, a living jewel. Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

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!

The interior structure of a gall revealed! We saw multiple varieties and instances of galls on the same Cherry oak tree! Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018

The interior structure of a gall revealed by Irvin Louque of Louisiana Master Naturalists Southwest, one of the speakers at Rendezvous 2018!  The insect larva is on the left. We saw multiple varieties and instances of galls on the same Cherry oak tree! Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous 2018.  K. Paxton image

Flowering Dwarf Sundews (Drosera brevifolia) proliferate around natural seeps on the hillside above the lakes and camp buildings in a focus-merged composite photo that shows an enhanced depth of field. These carnivorous plants supplement their mineral intake from the roots by catching small insects in sticky droplets exuded on their leaf bristles, liquifying them and digesting their fluid. They are North America's smallest native sundews. This image taken by C. Paxton on Pentax K-1 with Sigma 70-300mm zoom at macro setting. Processed from two images in Affinity by focus merge then tone mapped.

Flowering Dwarf Sundews (Drosera brevifolia) proliferate around a natural seep on the hillside above the lakes and camp buildings pictured here in a focus-merged composite photo that allows an enhanced depth of field. Otherwise I couldn’t have included the flowers and the foliage in one shot at this resolution. These carnivorous plants supplement their mineral intake from the roots by catching small insects in sticky droplets exuded on their leaf bristles, liquifying them and digesting their fluid. They are North America’s smallest native sundews. This image taken by C. Paxton on Pentax K-1 with Sigma 70-300mm zoom at macro setting. Processed from two images in Affinity by focus merge then tone mapped.

*Thank you Allan Sherman.