By C. Paxton
My commentary on Bette’s article follows here. I thought this was a very enjoyable and full event, with two field trips and a lecture! I have picknicked and cycled in Kiroli before, but this time I was able to learn a lot more about the popular park in West Monroe. Our thanks to Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast Chair Dr. Bette Kauffmann for organizing another fantastic learning experience for us.
We congregated at a gazebo and heard a brief introduction to Dr. Joydeep Bhattercharjee, a brilliant and very approachable young Professor of Restoration Ecology at ULM, Monroe and his important work in studying ecological systems here and at Russell Sage WMA where he’s engaged with cutting edge forest ecology studies creating a spectral library of southern forest using a highly specialist camera drone!
Originally from Bhutan and trained in Texas, mongst other notable achievements Prof. Bhattercharjee also GPS-mapped this forest with graduate students in 2012-14 using equipment with just a 10 cm margin of error, so we couldn’t have had better guide to our local ecology! He explained that ecologists have the unique perspective of never viewing anything in isolation — his holistic vision has developed over ten years of studying post-doctorate ecology.
The information flowed thick and fast as we explored the nature trail. This area is uniquely located between the Mississippi river to the east, the southern coastal prairie the Ozarks to the north and the Texan plains to the west, he explained. Later in the library he showed the Biome as seasonal tropical forest and prairie.
A good quality tarmac pathway winds through some nice mature woodland with mixed pine and hardwood and bottomland hardwood forest with streams and a diverse native flora and fauna. There are areas with distinct populations, e.g. pines near the gazebo drop needles that acidify the soil, keeping the area clear of other vegetation to suit the pines. At the same time this suits a particular subset of plants and animals like blackberry briars, Eastern Fence lizzards, birds, cat squirrels and fungi etc. that are adapted to this habitat. This is termed a wildlife community.
It’s a special needs community. Pine cones won’t open without intense heat, the new Mayor has approved selective, controlled burning. This is a progessive measure because burning resets succession — that crucial ecological process of passage in vegetation type from grassland to forest.
Grassland is ony found in conditions that don’t suit forest, if prevailing conditions are too dry, for example — otherwise, all things being equal, there is forest! The progress from grassland to forest is called succession. This process can be arrested by an overgrowth of ground-hugging vegetation like vines that chokes tree seedlings. We learned about canopy gap dynamics, canopy shyness, the edge effect and that scouring (from flooding, tornado etc.) is also good for regeneration. The green blur of woodland vegetation rapidly came into focus with intelligent interpretation, we were introduced to an impressive floral diversity of oaks, Witch-hazel, Chain ferns, Jack-in-the pulpit, Beech drops, Partridge berries, Ginko biloba, Elephant’s foot! Also to invasive Privet and the toxic Chinese Tallow Trees that reproduce by suckers and seeds very efficiently while releasing toxic allelopathic chemicals that suppress neighboring vegetation —bad neighbors.
Within the park there are also a wildflower meadow and some moisture loving plants on ridges which suggests that there may be seeps there, or that they possibly mark the ephemeral passage of rainwater run-off (K.Paxton’s reflection). I was very excited to be using my new Yongnuo TTL flash on my Pentax and I think you’ll agree that it did pretty well for the most part on my Pentax K-1 in a fill flash role coupled with a soft-box attachment and my Pentax 28-90mm zoom. The only trouble I had was when it began firing off like a disco light when I was photographing an unusual spider! Whether it was the high humidity, heat, or something I was doing wrong, I don’t know.
Anyway, back to the wildlife! The unusual web was like a diving bell with an entrance at the bottom and constructed of complex strands of web, possibly intended to guard against predatory wasps – many spiders’ worst nightmare.
My favourite encounter was with a Three-toed Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis. Amy Ouchley, environmental educator and author of Swamper spotted it in a ravine beside one of the bridges. She then swiftly collected an assortment of trash along the river including the remains of a doll’s house! I want to be like her when I grow up!
You can read up about what else we saw in the iNaturalist Kiroli Park page
Our party then visited West Monroe’s Ouachita Parish Library where we attended a great introductory lecture to ecology in a classroom by Ecosystems and Restoration Ecology Professor Bhattercharjee. When we asked librarian referred to him fondly as Dr. B. We learned principles of nutrient cycles, energy flows, ecosystem structural components and organization. We were also introduced to his system of recording observation data by mobile phone. He reiterated the importance of people engaging with citizen science for recording a wealth of observations in an age of shrinking research budgets and increasing need for data for such things as ethology (animal behaviour) and phenology — the study of seasonal and cyclical natural phenomena, in an era of climate change. Climate is changing and things are changing with it. If we don’t pay attention, we’ll likely miss something critical and fail to act appropriately.
After this class we were ready for lunch in West Monroe’s remarkable Restoration Park, famous for its urban beavers. London has urban foxes, Brasov has urban bears, West Monroe has urban beavers and they’re living in Restoration Park near the I20. Formerly one of the city’s waste dumps, the park is now a popular forested recreation area with a network of paths winding around a fish-filled stream and two lakes with two beavers’ lodges and probably what is one of the world’s most accessible beavers’ dams. Walking along the wooden board walk you are effectively following the course of a dam. There’s a wide expanse of lily pads haunted by dragonflies, Bronze frogs, egrets, herons and Belted Kingfishers on either side. Look straight down and you can see beavers’ foot-prints and clumps of faeces.
In the evenings watching with binoculars from the path just 50 yds from the metal Crane sculpture will reveal motion among the lily pads in the form of beavery swimmers! Magical.
Again there was a non-stop exchange of information among the members of our group. View some of our observations at Restoration Park on iNaturalist by clicking here.
And it all added up to a fabulous Ecosystems and Restoration Ecology certification workshop!
A baby skink (Plestiodon sp.) tries to hide in the gravel of the path in Restoration Park. Sorry, not enough info here for a species ID. (photo by Bette J.Kauffman)
We met Dr. Joydeep at Kiroli Park and hiked the Wildflower Trail, then went to the Ouachita Valley Branch Library to learn some basics of ecology, and ended the afternoon at Restoration Park just south of I-20, all in West Monroe.
And we came away with new questions to ask about the natural world. What happens over time when a hole opens in the forest canopy and shrubs and vines are allowed to grow unchecked? How does a beaver dam affect not only the flow of water but the plant and animal life that surrounds it?
Netted chain fern (Woodwardia areolata) in Kiroli Park. (photo by…
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