Forthcoming Events -Integrating Native Plantings With Roses, Sunflower Festival and More!

Giant Swallowtail butterfly. Learn how to integrate native plantings in gardening.

Giant Swallowtail butterfly. Learn how to integrate native plantings in gardening.

My thanks to Dr. Allen again for this interesting events news!

First, the 2018 GREEN THUMB SEMINAR

“Native Plants & Roses: A Love Affair in your Garden”

 

Shreveport, LA- The American Rose Center invites you to our third 2018 Green Thumb Educational Seminar on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

 

Date: June 16, 2018

Place: Klima Rose Hall, The American Rose Center, 8877 Jefferson Paige Road

Time: 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Cost: Seminar is FREE and open to the public. Registration is not necessary, but helpful, 318-938-5402

 

Schedule:

9:00 a.m. Welcome and Introduction of Program

9:05-10:35 a.m. Janet Creech – Native Plants and Roses

Though Janet has a degree in Fine Arts, she developed an interest for landscaping and native plants after moving into her grandparents Highland area home that had a mature landscape. Soon her interest became a passion which led to much self-study of botany, horticulture and ecological issues. Janet is a master Gardner with certification in ecological restoration. She has landscaped school grounds, parks and museums utilizing the principles she has learned. Currently Janet’s biggest volunteer project is developing the grounds at the headquarters of the Red River Wildlife Refuge using native plants.

 

Janet Creech will discuss the advantages of using native plants in your garden and suggest ways to combine natives with roses.

 

And not too far away is this interesting festival:

https://www.sbfunguide.com/event/sunflower-trail-%26-festival/4302/

 

The 20th Annual Sunflower Trail and Festival will take place, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, June 16 in Gilliam. The event will feature art and entertainment for all ages including handmade items for sale by heritage crafters and artists, hands-on arts and crafts activities for children, art exhibits, a sunflower photography contest and more. Food and refreshment vendors will be available at the festival, and lunch will be served at nearby businesses including Main Street Restaurant and Adger’s Store in Gilliam, as well as The Wild Petunia and D&I General Store in Belcher. Live music will be performed in the festival area. Admission is free and open to the public.

 

Festival activities will take place behind the Crossroads Museum in Gilliam, just off of Highway 3049. Highway 3049 (also known as Dixie/Shreveport Road) can be reached from Shreveport by heading north on Grimmett Drive and turning right onto Highway 3049. The physical address of the Crossroads Museum is 12797 Main Street (LA-3049) in Gilliam.

Wildopeneye opinion is there could be some great opportunities for photography, blue skies and sunflowers!

Also check out the   list of Louisiana Nature Events

Botanical Workshop Events

Indian pink, just one part of Louisiana's rich plant biodiversity.

Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica, is just one part of Louisiana’s rich plant biodiversity revealed to us by Dr. Charles Allen.

Dr. Allen's Plant Identification workshop in Kisatchie National forest was entertaining and informative. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Dr. Allen’s Plant Identification workshop in Kisatchie National forest was entertaining and informative. C. Paxton image and copyright.

I enjoyed our Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast Plants class with Dr. Charles Allen so much that I thought I’d blog his forthcoming events information here to spread the word.

Dr. Allen says “In Louisiana, the big event this week is the Cajun Prairie Meeting in Eunice on Sat May 12.

Check out the details http://www.cajunprairie.org/

 

 

Dr. Allen’s plant identification classes:

Tuesday May 15, on Graminoids.  graminoid class

“What on Earth’s a Graminoid?”, you might ask, as I did, and was informed that they are plants with grass-like morphology, the grasses, sedges and rushes. A massively important group of plants.

I’ve just learned that the Sat May 19th Plant Identification class at the Woodlands Conservancy in Belle Chase on  belle Chasse spring

and the Sunday May 20th  half day Edible Plants Workshop   edible belle chase  have been cancelled, but no doubt will be repeated at some stage because they’re popular courses.

The final one until the fall will be in Tylertown, Mississippi on Sat May 26th.

MS PLant ID Class Form

Dr. Charles Allen with students in the field.

Dr. Charles Allen with students in the field on a Plant identification course. Click here for detail.

 

For the Event Calendar Louisiana Nature see the attached events, lana

Please note that these fixtures are subject to possible change, please see Dr. Allen’s website http://www.nativeventures.net/ for the latest information on his courses and also eco-holidays at Allen Acres bed and breakfast and explore the biodiverse Kisatchie National Forest.

 

 

An Interview with a Pine Snake

Louisiana Pine Snake with award winning environmental educator, Ranger Nova Clarke

Louisiana Pine Snake with award winning environmental educator, Ranger Nova Clarke

by C. Paxton

The Louisiana Pine Snake is Officially Listed by US Wildlife and Fisheries as Threatened as of May 7th, 2018

Monroe, Louisiana. It was my birthday. To celebrate we’re standing in front of  Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Reserve’s modern and well-appointed Visitors’ center about five yards away from a majestic bronze statue of an Alligator Snapping Turtle, it’s big enough for a toddler to ride, it’s life-sized.  A warm gentle breeze is lightly blowing Wildlife and Fisheries Ranger Nova Clarke’s hair. Around both her arms entwines a lithe, beautiful snake about five feet long. “This is ‘Brother’, Nova explains, “Our other Pine Snake, ‘Grouchy’ declined to be interviewed today as he’s shedding.”

Our laughter subsides. “So, you’re North America’s rarest snake then?” I opened the interview, feeling rather awed by my proximity to this living national treasure.

Louisiana Pine Snake with Ranger Nova Clarke

Louisiana Pine Snake with award winning environmental educator, Ranger Nova Clarke

“Well, obviously.” Brother responded languidly. He would have rolled his beautiful dark brown eyes, if he could, but instead he flicked out his quick tongue to taste the air around his interviewer.

Fancy being sensed by such a celebrity! “Congratulations upon your newly designated status as an threatened species effective as of May 7th 2017,” I blurted self-consciously, wondering what I tasted like.

Awkward silence ensued.

I broke it with a piercing question, “How do we know that you really are Pituophis ruthveni, the rare and endangered IUCN Red-listed Louisiana Pine snake and not some sort of cheap foreign copy?”

"Brother", one of the Louisiana Pine Snake ambassadors at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“Brother”, senses his environment with his tongue and Jacobsons’ organ.

“Phew! That’s a relief.” Brother answered, “For a moment I thought you were going to ask, ‘how do we know that you’re a male?’ That would have been a tough one! There’s very little to distinguish between us visually you see, and I can see from your somewhat less useful tongue that you wouldn’t detect the pheremonal difference. My tongue is forked so that I can smell in stereo. What I do is flick my tongue out gather the significant molecules and whip them back in to my mouth to my Jacobson’s organ. Then I know what I’m dealing with. Well, to answer your question, in lieu of a driver’s licence or other form of ID, I’d have thought that my clean lines, slightly up-turned nose and smooth, cool dry skin of creamy ivory marked with bronze-brown patches would serve to prove that I am Pituophis ruthveni and none other. The more common Pituophis has more black on him you see.”

“Ah. There’s nothing common about you, I can see. You seem very good-natured and harmless. One of Louisiana’s model residents, I’d say. Wouldn’t hurt a fly I expect?” I thought he looked gentle as my camera clicked away. His pupils are round, not vertical slits like the venomous vipers, and nobody could confuse him with the stripey (‘red and yellow can kill a fellow’), venomous Coral snake. I stroked his skin gently with two fingers, it’s wonderfully silky.

“Yes. We’re nonvenomous, good neighbors really, unless you happen to be a Baird’s Pocket Gopher, or the occasional small bird. We tend to strike the birds and wrap them in our coils and sqeeeeze them tight before we eat them whole. We live in the gophers’ burrows. We squeeze them against the burrow wall before swallowing them whole.”

“Well, why not? A snake has to eat after all and have somewhere to lay its head.” I shrugged. “What do you eat here?”

“Here, dinner consists of frozen white mice, defrosted in hot water. Every six weeks. Totally hygienic and kosher.”

No wonder he keeps his figure, I thought, “Not microwaved?” I joked.

“Cook out the vitamins? Please! That would be gross.”

“So it would, yes.” I conceded, “Now could you tell us a bit about your native habitat?”

“Give me the rolling hills with sandy soils and Long leaf Pine trees every time. These days we’re only found in a few places in western Louisiana and eastern Texas. We live in Kisatchie National Forest so you don’t have to trespass on private property to visit us. ”

Kisatchie National Forest's rich botanical diversity being explored by Louisiana Master Naturalists' Plant Workshop with Dr. Charles Allen. 2018

Kisatchie National Forest’s rich botanical diversity being explored by Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast Plant Workshop with Dr. Charles Allen who runs a variety of Botanical courses, 2018. There were over 486 entries on our checklist and we added some!

Pine snake in the grassAt this point Nova let him down onto the short grass for some free exercise.

“That’s handy, yes, but why are you endangered anyway? You look like you can take care of yourself.”

Brother showed us how well he could conceal himself in the very short grass. When coiled, his five-and-a half foot length disappeared in a two-foot square area of grass and daisies.

“We have to watch out for hawks and eagles, we are diurnal and spend much of our lives hidden or underground. Changing forestry practices have reduced our habitat, we can only live where the gophers are. Frequent forest fires opened up the woodland and made space for the herbaceous plants that the gophers like to eat. More fires mean more gophers and in turn, more of us. Ironically, modern fire safety hurts us as it reduces our food supply. ”

Louisiana Pine snake mounting a curb

Controled burn of understorey in native Long-leaf Pine forest at Kisatchie National Forest. K.Paxton image

Controled burn of understorey in native Long-leaf Pine forest at Kisatchie National Forest allows space for plants that sustain the food web. C.Paxton image and copyright.

He then approached the kerb of the pavement. “We are found in a few other forest types that border the pines, like Blackjack Oak, but it’s mostly Longleaf Pine that suits us. We like basking on warm roads, so watch out for us, please, in our home area. Please avoid running us over or stepping on us, because our bones are delicate and we can easily suffer internal injuries.”

“We’ll bear that in mind. I’ve heard that you can sometimes hiss quite loudly when riled up. It’s not nice to scare people, you know.”

“Hiding’s my first line of defense, running away is my second – I don’t start hissing until I’m scared for my life! If people stay still when they see a snake and give us some space and due respect, then there’ll be no unpleasantness. We don’t want to bite you. We can’t eat you.”

Following the kerb, he was now fully stretched out and I was flat on the ground in front of him.  Just then a family of visitors approaching the center paused to admire him and I saw ‘Brother’ serving in his ambassadorial role, not just for his species, but for the whole snake family. Nova quickly scooped him up to control the encounter, introduced him and said that he could be gently touched.

The magic of bonding!The flaxen-haired toddler Bryson fearlessly reached out to stroke him. I saw the magic happen. The adults were warier, but allowed the contact. Bryson was gentle, Brother was unphased, he has met thousands of people including many school trips.

“You’re a star!” I praised him.

“Well, maybe, but Bryson’s family is the bright hope, because of his parents’ trust today he’ll grow up free of prejudice and maybe he won’t throw rocks at snakes or shoot them gratuitously. I don’t think his folks will either for that matter.”

Hopefully the new designation will help protect his species long into the future.

If you would like to see Louisiana Pine Snakes for yourself please visit Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge off Highway 165 in Monroe, Louisiana.

Kisatchie National Forest

Kisatchie National Forest after dawn in late April. Wonderful camping conditions.

Kisatchie National Forest near Georgetown, Louisiana after dawn in late April. Wonderful basic camping conditions, very quiet and tranquil.

You can find most of Kisatchi Forest in central and central western Louisiana and a section in north eastern Louisiana that includes Corney Lake. It has a variety of great camping opportunities including basic campsites for primitive camping in lovely woodland scenery.

 

Check out The Friends of Black Bayou group on Facebook to see some lovely wildlife pictures taken at this super nature conservation area and be advised of forthcoming events!

Charles Paxton was not paid for any of these endorsements.

Louisiana Master Naturalists’ Rendezvous 2018

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.

The Northeast Louisiana Master Naturalists’ Program Explained

Inspecting a wax cap fungus near Farmerville, Louisiana.

Inspecting a wax cap fungus at Crawfish Springs near Farmerville, Louisiana. K.Paxton image and copyright.

Here’s a date for your diaries next Saturday! Are you a keen naturalist? Would you like to learn more about the Northeast Louisiana Master Naturalists’ Program? If so, why not come along and hear all about it at the Union Museum of History and Art on Saturday, February 17th at 13.00 where Bette Kauffman will show you how you can join in various educational and conservation activities and how to become one.

For more information please see the dedicated website Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast.

Welcome

Blazing sunset at D'Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Blazing sunset at D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge. C.Paxton image and copyright.

WILD Art Exhibition and Events at Union Museum of History and Art

Alan Futch, Dean of Flowers, has again amazed us and produced an exciting layout of varied high quality art work from a range of talented artists, this time on a natural theme

Alan Futch, Dean of Flowers, has again amazed us and produced an exciting layout, this time of varied high quality art work from a range of talented artists on a natural theme.

I loved seeing my work exhibited alongside some truly breathtaking wood sculptures, taxidermy tableaux, oil paintings, photographs, mixed media and pencil and water colour pictures. I submitted images of Southern wildlife alongside some very accomplished artists, many of these works are available for sale via the museum, mine printed in full colour at high resolution on foam core by ABP Associated Business Printing in West Monroe.

Today my short wildlife film “Fins, Feathers, Fur and Fangs” made its public debut running as a loop at the exhibition. At 33 minutes, it provides a quick taste of some of the region’s glorious biodiversity. Furthermore, if you are a landowner with prime wildlife habitat that you want to conserve you can read up about how to register your land with the protected areas program.

Exhibiting artists gathered for the opening party at Union Museum of History and Art in Farmerville. K. Paxton image

Exhibiting artists gathered for the opening party at Union Museum of History and Art in Farmerville. K. Paxton image

Together with this fabulous display of art on the theme of the natural world, Union Museum of History and Art will also be hosting the following events which promise to be very good indeed.

Thursday, Feb. 1, 4:30 p.m. – Kelby Ouchley, wildlife biologist and author, will discuss “American Alligator: Ancient Predator in the Modern World.” *


Saturday, Feb. 17, 1 p.m. – Bette Kauffman will discuss the Louisiana Master Naturalists program. She is president of the newly formed Northeast Louisiana chapter of the organization.


Wednesday, Feb. 28, 3:30 p.m. – Children’s program on “Louisiana Wild Things” by Nova Clarke, Black Bayou Lake Wildlife Refuge ranger.


Wednesday, March 7, 3:30 p.m. – Children’s program on “Raptors: Deadly Hunters,” by Kim Dooley of the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe.

You can keep up with the latest museum developments at their Facebook Page

 

*See my earlier review of this superb book here.

Many Types of US Snakes Targeted by Killer Fungus

Blue Ribbon Snake in the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. In 2008 the pathogenic fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola was discovered, it is now thought to be capable of afflicting any kind of snake in the southeastern and southcentral USA with lesions that hamper them and can even lead to death from infection according to the article in Science News online.

Wildopeneye is alarmed by this news that all types of US snakes within the area are being injured and ultimately weakened to death from secondary infections by a killer fungus that was first discovered in 2008.

See https://www.sciencenews.org/article/deadly-fungus-infecting-snake-species-seemingly-random? for more details.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library

By C. Paxton

Illustration of an Alligator Gar

Illustration of an Alligator Gar from The Alligator Gar by Alfred C. Weed

Wildopeneye stretched a bit wider this morning and watered a little when I learned via an article on Open Culture that there are now over two million images of nature available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)! What a wonderful resource for writers, teachers and students worldwide! It is not just the images that are available either, the associated scientific literature is also there.

According to the Biodiversity Heritage Library STRATEGIC PLAN: 2015-2017, the goal is identified in BHL’s Mission statement as “Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge” and the improvement of “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.”

I ran a search on “Alligator Gar” and have become engrossed in The Alligator Gar by Alfred C. Weed, Curator of Fishes originally published by the FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY in CHICAGO in 1923. It’s great stuff! On page 67,  Weed mentions a fascinating link between the gar and the local mother-of-pearl industry in the Mississippi drainage region:

“The total value of gars as food, as game or as
scavengers may not be very great but it is, at least,
worth mentioning. Their value to the pearl button industry
is probably as great, but the connection is so
obscure that it has not been suspected until very recently.
The relation between a pearl-handled knife
and an Alligator Gar may not seem very close and yet
the best shells for making knife handles and other
novelties could not live without the gars.”

Some local clam species, some of them of economic importance in the shell industry depend upon a parasitic relationship with the gar in their reproduction, free-floating eggs lodge within the gills of the fish and hatch into larvae that remain there, embedded for differing periods of their development. He goes on to say that the Alligator gar “is one of the three species that seem to be neccessary for the breeding of the best button shell.”

What an amazing environmental education resource.  I am going to explore it further before saying anything more on the subject!

Lousiana Master Naturalists Northeast Flock To Black Bayou For General Interest Meeting

A flock of ibises heading to roost over Black BayouYesterday evening (Oct 3) Kimmie and I went to The Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge to attend the first open meeting of the group that aims to serve as the northeastern chapter of the statewide Louisiana Master Naturalists.

As if to salute the formation of the group,  a flock of 20 Ibises performed a fly-by as the sun set over the woods and water.

We had to get back shortly after the meeting ended, but it seemed that there were a good mixture of people interested in the group including specialist ornithologists and aquatic biologists, botanists and generalists, kayakers and photographers like us. So, it seems to be off to a good start.

This group is open to anybody:

  • who is interested in the natural world,
  • wants to learn more about it,
  • is commited to conservation,

and lives in the northeastern portion of Louisiana who wishes to join.

It costs $20 and requires 20 hrs annually devoted to a range of environmental conservation and education activities.

For more information, check out the northeastern chapter of the statewide Louisiana Master Naturalists’ website

and ses their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/737231253137306/about/

 

 

 

Book Review: American Alligator, Ancient Predator in the Modern World

American Alligator Feeding at Black Bayou, Monroe Louisiana. C.Paxton image and copyright

American Alligator Alligator Mississippiensis Feeding at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, Monroe, Louisiana. Cropped image from Panasonic Lumix GX8 with Lumix G Vario 100-300mm zoom. C . Paxton image and copyright.

by C.Paxton for wildopeneye.

When it comes to environmental education there’s nothing like a good book, and the one I’m reading at the moment called American Alligator, Ancient Predator in the Modern World by Kelby Ouchley is superb. Full of interesting facts and anecdotes and good clear images that not only illustrate key points in the text, but also effectively convey the spirit of this iconic key-stone species, I’d say this book is ideal for anyone wanting to become better acquainted with these fascinating creatures.

I like my literature to read easily and above all to clarify my understanding as there’s plenty of mystery in the natural world as it is, and I like Ouchley’s well researched, no-nonsence treatment of these powerful, resilient, amphibious reptiles.   This book conveys their long and distinguished natural history, intriguing biology and ethology, their essential roles as prey, apex predators and ecological engineers, their shorter history of interaction with mankind so far, their recovery from over-exploitation and the relationship between trade and conservation, and the future promise for their role in immunoscience.

To the best ability of the available research this book answers many and varied questions that arise about these apex-predators and keystone species of North America’s southern freshwaters. Interestingly, the book also reaveals areas where our scientific understanding of these creatures can be improved. I thought I knew a lot about them before, but I really didn’t, I learned a huge amount more from this book and revised the many falsehoods that I had believed to be facts.

Admirable qualities – parental care, fisheries maintenance, hydological engineering and a great chomp!

I was at first particularly interested to learn about their biology and behaviours, but the author maintained my interest to the end of the book and I found myself turned from disliking gator farming for fashion accessories to approving of it as I learned of the annual replenishment of the wild stock by the farms and the economic inducement to maintain prime swamp habitat enjoyed by so many other creatures, and people.

There is much to admire about these creatures.

  • They are tender, devoted parents and protect their young long after hatching. It is exciting to come upon youngsters but we don’t hang around them for more than a few pictures because they call out to their mama to come and eat you!
  • They benefit a wide range of wildlife by digging out ‘gator holes that can be up to 50ft wide and deep enough to sustain fish through drought periods, clearing access channels in the swamps and heaping up mud and vegetation to inadvertently provide flood-free nesting habitat for turtles and wading birds!
  • They play an important role in protecting fisheries, yes counter-intuitively, if you want more fish then maintain the alligator population because, as babies they eat crawfish that in turn eat masses of fish eggs and later on they eat the powerful gar fish that take out adult fish.
  • Their curvaceous jaw-line, reminiscent of the more powerful garden loppers looks so much more business-like than the straighter jaws of the crocodile and their bite has been measured as the most forceful in the animal kingdom. A large adult male ‘gator can exert almost three times the force of a hyena’s in terms of psi, and hyenas can chew up light aircraft tyres!

Unsavoury habits

The book doesn’t gloss over what we might consider to be alligators’ bad habits, cannibalism probably being their worst in all honesty, as it seems they eat far more of each other than they do of us, they don’t actually eat many people when you consider the numbers. The book has a lot of interesting historical material and also an interesting section on alligators’ attacks upon humans. It seems you can reduce your chances of adverse experience by:

  • keeping kids and dogs away from their reach, i.e. the waters edge, as their relatively smaller size makes them potential prey for relatively smaller alligators. A six footer might consider tackling a toddler.
  • avoiding splashing, swimming, wading, putting hands or limbs in the water where they eat and when they eat. Late afternoon, evening and night they more often hunt. They hunt more in the warmer times of year as they have to put on weight in order to survive bumation in the cooler months of winter.

    Adult male American Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. C.Paxton image and copyright.

    Adult male American Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Alligator conservation and threats

The author describes alligators as key indicator species for the ecological health of their home swamps, Mr. Ouchely describes them as “canaries in the coal mine” and presents a good case for their continued conservation as they are a key-stone species in one of America’s richest ecological biomes,  a group of animals upon which the well-being of many other species depend including a good many humans. It comforts me to know that they are protected by law, and by strong economic incentives, with wildlife harvests carefully restricted in order to maintain healthy populations. Read the book for a compelling picture of how commercial trade in alligators for their meat and hides is actually good for this species and their cohabiatant other species in the swamps, rivers and coastal marshes, as the farms are obliged to return the same percentage of adolescents to the wild as would have survived naturally to that age from the selection of eggs, to maintain the wild population. As long as landowners can make money this way, they won’t need to develop the wetlands for other purposes in ways that reduce biodiversity.

The book describes that though some gators are killed by traffic and drown in nets, habitat loss and extreme climate events represent the greatest threats to these amazing creatures. Harsh cold snaps and strong hurricanes can be lethal apparently. While Climate change might eventually extend their living range by a certain degree it actually presents more risks than benefits to alligators, because stronger storms threaten coastal marshes with storm surge and alligators are actually stressed by salt water. Apart from being battered to death, strong hurricanes wreck their habitat, drown nests and also disperse individuals. So climate change and coastal erosion hurt alligators.

Adult bull alligator chasing off a young pretender at Texas's awesome Brazos Bend State Park. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Adult bull alligator chasing off a young pretender at Texas’s awesome Brazos Bend State Park. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Where we’ve seen alligators

As a kayaker, I must confess that I love seeing alligators despite being rather nervous of them. I know that I am not their first choice of food, but I also know that they’d eat me if

Young American Alligator at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Young American Alligator facing right at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. C.Paxton image and copyright.

they could and that knowledge instills a healthy respect for them. The swamp is their kingdom and it is I who am the stranger in it.

An encounter with an alligator of any size elevates an excursion from the pedestrian to the extraordinary. These primordial creatures have survived the dinosaurian extinction and the depredations of the C19th and C20th centuries, kudos to them!

When photographing alligators use your telephoto lens rather than trying to get a close-up, remember that they make their living as ambush predators and their acceleration is remarkable, they can swim very fast and lunge quickly over short distances. On land they can sprint short distances in a straight line.

Where to go in the US to see American Alligators? They occur naturally from coastal parts of North Carolina down through Florida and west to southern Texas. Florida is famous for them, but in terms of numbers, Louisiana takes the crown. Louisiana has the most ‘gators, there are over two million alligators throughout the state and they can live in every naturally occuring fresh water and brackish water body, but they dislike sea water.

We’ve seen them at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Bayou De Loutre, Corney Creek, Bayou Bartholomew and the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge. We braked for a five footer crossing the road on the Creole Nature Trail. That was awe-inspiring!

At Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge in July we enjoyed over a dozen sightings of young alligators within the first twenty minutes in the brackish canals. Fantastic!

It isn’t essential to be waterborne yourselves to see them. We have had wonderful encounters on river banks, boardwalks and beside ponds.

Southern Texas

Texas is great for alligator watching and for seeing BIG ‘gators! We’ve seen big adults at Brazos Bend State Park and Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, a pod of babies at San Benardino National Wildlife Refuge and they’re also at Brazzoria and Anhuac National Wildlife Refuges.

Having read this book it is impossible not to respect alligators,  marvel at how perfectly adapted to their watery world they really are and delight at the opportunities that they represent as photographic subjects.

My brother will be getting a copy this Christmas, it will hasten his visit to these parts, I’m sure!

Young adult American Alligator at Trinity River Wildlife Refuge near Dayton, Texas.

Young adult American Alligator at Trinity River Wildlife Refuge near Dayton, Texas.

 

 

 

The author received no financial or other reward for this blog article.

 

 

 

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