July 2018 Dredge Update

April 9, 2014 Google imagery shows the 16-acre permitted pond before the Amphibex 400 work. Orange lines represent future or existing containment and the limits of the work area. The small-dredge acre was completed and growing.

January 16, 2016 Google imagery, 2 months after the NFWF project filled the remaining pond by the Amphibex 400 small dredge.

The most recent drone imagery on July 18, 2018 revealed a well evolved marsh restoration area after 2.5 years with new habitat and naturally developed waterways. The surrounding marsh benefited by sediment overflow and is more cohesive and vibrant. The reduced tidal prism (water trying to move in and out with the tide) has reduced the amount of scour and allowed the substrate to accumulate sediment and vegetative cover. A wet spring combined with low water levels was conducive to widespread marsh expansion throughout the area. The remaining, shallow and sheltered pond within the project area are highly utilized by a variety of birds and wildlife.

July 18, 2018 drone imagery, 2.5 years after fill.


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October 2016 – One year update for the NFWF Marsh Restoration site.

Figure 1. After one year, the NFWF Marsh Restoration Site sports 0.74 acres of new vegetation that has expanded from existing marsh or recruited by other propagules.

Figure 1. After one year, the NFWF Marsh Restoration Site sports 0.74 acres of new vegetation that has expanded from existing marsh or recruited on new mudflats by seeds or other propagules.

Figure 3. Bird use varies by water level and weather conditions. when the water drops to normal or below, the varied topography is utilized by a variety of avian representatives.

Figure 3. Bird use varies by water level and weather conditions. when the water drops to normal or below, the varied topography is utilized by a variety of avian representatives.



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Google Earth before/after 2014-2016

I recently discovered that Google Earth imagery was updated with January 2016 imagery of the Marsh Restoration by Small Dredge  Technology area. It revealed answers to many things we have been questioning, such as where the water flow through the marsh carries sediment and how the topography within the fill area is developing due to natural reworking. We have attempted to do this with the estimated status maps by triangulating views of the water level poles and what substrate was exposed by specific water levels. The aerial view has allowed us to make these maps much more accurate.

Here are some interesting visual comparisons. Figure 1 is April 9, 2014, showing the new grass spreading through the original small dredge project to the right and the test site in the middle just left of the boardwalk.

Figure 2 is January 16, 2016 and shows the pond 2 months after the Amphibex quit pumping. Natural forces have been at work from Day 1, with tidal flow, wind-driven waves, alligator and creature passage reworking the soft mobile sediment. It was quite interesting to observe the sediment plume through the marsh to the south because we had expected it to move more to the southeast through the small bayou and control structure.

Figure 3 is an interpretation of Figure 2, with elevations superimposed on the imagery based on observations of marker poles and exposed sediment at various water levels. We recently obtained bathymetry of the area outside of our containment to see if we have transferred significant fill outside of our target area.

Future imagery by drone will be used to clarify our map and increase accuracy in our measurements and conclusions.

Figure 1. This "before' imagery was from Google Earth imagery dated April 9, 2014.

Figure 2. This Google Earth imagery is date January 16, 2016 and is after the Amphibex 400 filled the remaining 15 acres of the dredge pond.

Figure 3. This is an interpretation of the 2016 imagery with elevations imposed based on observations in the field. The water levels are in relation to marsh substrate as our target level or "0", and -2" is still a good level to expect marsh growth. Natural drainage is developing as the tidal flow moves in and out, but you can see that a lot of material is flowing through the marsh to the south.


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February 29, 2016 – NFWF Project Update

Dredge and Rainey Report
NFWF Dredge Project Update

February 29, 2016


For the last 5 years, Audubon has owned and been operating a mini-dredge, the “John James” on its sanctuary property to build marsh and to explore the cost and feasibility of such equipment for use by other landowners.  Through a NFWF grant, we were recently presented a unique opportunity to demonstrate the use of another small dredge, the Amphibex 400 owned by Crosby Dredging Co., to create marsh in the same permitted area. Still considered a small dredge, the Amphibex is only 13 feet longer than our mini-dredge, but it can move 10 times more material in the same amount of time as the Audubon mini-dredge.

Figure 1. The Amphibex 400 (top) is only 13 ft longer than Audubon’s mini-dredge (bottom), but can move 10 times more material.

We were given this opportunity, in large part, because we had an area already permitted for marsh restoration by a small dredge, and could get started immediately. Our small dredge had only filled a little over an acre of a 16 acre permitted area (Figure 2), and we had just renewed the permit to start another project. Bertucci had just acquired the Amphibex dredge and were eager to test its capabilities, so worked with us to make the proposal to NFWF possible. They agreed to give us 30 days of 24 hr/day dredging and a lot of in-kind services to train their crew and see what the Amphibex could do. We wrote the proposal in June, it was accepted in September and we started work in October. The quick turn-around was necessary to get the dredging done before the usual winter weather lowered water levels that would prevent access.

Figure 2. The 16-acre pond that was permitted for marsh creation by small dredge is outlined in green. The yellow areas represent the areas filled by Audubon's mini-dredge. 15 acres remained that were available to test out the Amphibex 400 capabilities.

Pond Preparation

Prior to dredging, we place a number of tools into the pond to keep track of water levels and mud fill. PVC poles with color marks were used as water level poles and were placed on a grid to visually check fill level (Figure 3). The green mark was at the average level of the surrounding marsh (ML) which is approximately 1 foot above Mean Sea Level and was considered the end goal for optimum marsh growth. The center of the color marks was 2 or 4 inches above or below ML. The top of the pole is +12” ML. Because the churned up sediment would dewater and settle lower than the initial placement height, we hoped for anything between 3 and 8 inches above marsh level. If too low, marsh plants could not thrive; if too high, it would more than likely result in bushes instead of marsh.

In addition to the water level poles, 30 settling disks were placed randomly throughout the pond to measure fill and monitor compaction over time (Figure 4). Perforated metal disks were placed with a snow pole through one of the holes so that the metal disk would lay on the bottom. When covered by mud, we could probe through the mud with a measuring stick to the pan to measure height of fill and amount of depression of the bottom by the overlying weight. In addition, the bottom blue portion was at ML and could also be used to watch waterlevel and mud level.

Both of these instruments were used to visually estimate the progress of the fill, and later the progress of settling. Along with a known water level, maps could be created showing the estimated status of the target pond.

Figure 3. Water level poles were placed on a grid to visually check fill level. The green mark was at Marsh Level (ML) which is approximately 1 foot above Mean Sea Level. The center of the color marks was 2 or 4 inches above or below ML. The top of the pole is +12” ML.

Figure 4. 30 settling disks were placed randomly throughout the pond to measure fill and monitor compaction. The top of the bottom blue portion was at ML. When covered by mud, we could probe with a measuring stick to the pan to measure height of fill and amount of depression by overlying weight.

Audubon owns a GPS linked fathometer system for measuring shallow water depths. It can be mounted on any boat including our airboat. We used it to obtain data on the depths of the borrow canal and the target pond before dredging, and measured the canal immediately after dredging (figures 5 & 6). Not wanting to disturb the new unconsolidated fill in the pond, we have not measured it yet, but will wait for high water at a later time. The canal will be surveyed every six months to monitor the refill rate.

Figure 5. A GPS-linked fathometer was used to acquire 3D depth measurements of the canal before and after dredging.

Figure 6. A GPS-linked fathometer was attached to the airboat to map the bottom configuration of the target pond before dredge fill commenced. These measurements were referenced to sea level, so the deepest parts were actually only about 3.5 feet deep.


Our mini-dredge was a great little machine and had created an acre of mudflat in 220 hours of dredging. This was spread over 2 years as Timmy and I had time to operate it, and after 3 years the vegetation had almost completely filled it in (Figure 3). We learned a lot about how mud moves, how high to stack our fine material to make marsh level, and what conditions were good for retention. All of the operation was detailed in weekly or monthly updates on the “Dredge blog.”

Figure 7. 220 hours of dredging spread over 2 years as we had time restored 1 acre of marsh. Left: Before dredging on October 29, 2010; Right: June 25, 2015 after 3 years of vegetative growth.

On October 9, 2015, the Amphibex 400 began pumping into the permitted pond from the permitted canal, dredging material from the entrance to North Canal on the east and moving backwards toward the west.

Timmy and I discovered that the mud movement was similar to what we knew, but the volume of it coming out of a 10” pipe instead of our 4” pipe made some things very different. For one thing, the material actually stacked higher than we expected — the volume building high before its weight would cause it to slump and spread. Timmy went every day in the airboat to level the mound and spread it into areas it was reluctant to go. The heavier material falls out closest to the discharge, and material won’t fill areas where water has no outlet. We went into the pond twice a day to see how the fill was progressing, and to assess when to move the discharge end of the pipe to spread the heavier material around.

Another thing we discovered was that the Amphibex could move A LOT more material. The 220 hours that marked the end of the mini dredge project that took 2 years, was reached by the Amphibex in 10 days! In 220 hours, where we filled a little over one acre, it had created 9 acres of soft mudflat! Bertucci had promised us at least 8 acres and they still had 20 more days to dredge, so at this point we realized the entire pond would likely be filled (Figure 6).

Figure 8. In the same amount of dredge-time that it took the Audubon mini-dredge to make an acre (far right) - 220 hours - the Amphibex had created 9 acres of soft mudflat above marsh level; but it was 10 days instead of 2 years.

The second half of the dredging period was plagued with high water, making visual assessments of the fill difficult. At times, I would stick my arm over the side of the airboat to feel for the soft, fluffy sediment layer to help in our determination of when the pond was full. We needed enough fill so that it would dewater and be high enough for plants to grow, but not so high that all we would get is bushes.

By November 5, we decided the pond was full. There were about 3 acres in the west end that completely covered all of the marker poles, so we knew it was at least 12 inches above marsh level in that area. The containment we had installed was rather flimsy, and we were afraid too much mud against it would blow it out. It was functioning very well as a wind and wave buffer and we didn’t want to lose it. Therefore, at 22 days with a total of 338 hours of dredging, the Amphibex 400 had effectively filled the remaining portion of our permitted pond to well above marsh level (figure 7). The post-dredging fathometer survey confirmed Bertucci’s assessment that 24,000 cubic yards of material was moved from the canal to the pond.

Figure 9.In a total of 338 hours – 22 days, the Amphibex filled the remaining 15 acres of our permit above marsh level.


As the Amphibex pulled out, our job was just beginning. This marked the beginning of the two-year monitoring stage, and we planned to watch and measure mud settlement, bird use, vegetation growth and refill rate of the borrow area. November 6 was considered “Day 1.”

Marshbird and bird use monitoring is being done roughly every two weeks, along with photographic documentation of the water level and mud exposure. Two trail cams were set up at either end of the pond to monitor wildlife movement. They became even more important for monitoring environmental conditions, showing water level changes as well as storm events, explaining and illustrating what was occurring with the soft mud fill.

During the dredging operation, wading birds were attracted to the new mud, would fly over but could find no solid place to land. Egrets would perch on the marsh edge, the pipe itself, any floating object, and even pick things off the surface in flight. The new, soft mud was rich in food items, forcing fish, shrimp and crabs to the surface and exposing many benthic creatures pumped from the bottom of the canal.

High water, low water, in and out. Tidal movement, with flooding and draining, redistributes the sediment creating waterways to accommodate the flow. In time, the fine grained sediments either flush out or settle and dewater to become more firm. After 2 months, the exposed mudflats started developing a thin layer of bright green algae, proving that at least the sediment surface is stabilized enough for it to grow. Nature is reforming what humans have disturbed.

As time passed, the tide moved in and out, and the mud settled and became more firm, birds could finally walk on parts that were more solid. After a month, medium sized birds such as Black-necked Stilts and Avocets moved in. Later, dowitchers, a little shorter, arrived, then the short-legged peeps. Green-winged Teal discovered the shallow open water when the tide came up. By the end of 3 months, pelicans, cormorants, Roseate Spoonbills, Caspian Terns, and all the others find their own niche in the diversity provided by the settling mud and moving water.

Figure 10. Day 9 – the water level finally dropped enough to show the extent of fill, including mud into the outer cell of the previous mini-dredge study site.

Figure 11. Day 13. Water stayed high for days with only minor wave energy. Top: west end of pond showed water high enough for cormorants to swim; Bottom: showed relatively unbroken calm water for the length of the pond.

Figure 12. Day 17 - Lower water and the wading birds are able to walk on the soft mud.

Figure 13. Day 19 - Low water showed similar mud distribution to Day 5, so tidal movement had little effect so far.

Figure 14. Day 38 – High water and high waves.

Figure 15. Day 44. Dec 19, 2015. Black-necked Stilt migration (Changed batteries and didn’t reset date. Subtract 27 days and add 10 hours).

Figure 16. Day 52. Dec 28, 2015. High water and high wind day.

Figure 17. Day 56 at B06 (west side). Dec 31, 2015. Low water exposed mud across entire pond, with the only free water was at the containment and along south shore. Other wildlife was captured on the image as well. See the Bobcat?

Figure 18. Day 60 – Jan 4, 2016. Low water exposes mud still in Cell 1 of the Study site and shows Black-necked stilts and shorebirds feeding.

Figure 19. Day 66. Jan 10, 2016. Teal arrive. Followed by more high water, low water, high winds, etc.

Figure 20. Day 85 (west end). Jan 29, 2016. Low water exposed mudflat almost to containment and the far shore.

Figure 21. Day 88 (east end). Feb 1, 2016. Low water still shows mud in Cell 1. Green-winged Teal, Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Long-billed Dowitchers.

Figure 22. The trailcam also caught wildlife other than birds using the perimeter of the mudflat. The two rabbits (top) were at the same location as the bobcat (lower left) and coyote (lower right), thankfully before and after these photos.

The following two figures illustrate how natural processes have been redistributing the dredge fill into a more natural configuration. The sheer weight of the soft mud caused it to self-level while unconsolidated, with the high areas pushing down and out on the surrounding mud until pressures are equalized. Therefore it isn’t surprising that the high areas settled so quickly to match most of the fill area (Figures 23 & 24). The areas near the outfall locations are composed of larger particles and are more dense than other areas, so should spread and dewater less to stay somewhat more elevated. Tidal flow moves through the area from the west end where the containment is located, and from two major areas through the marsh on the east side, reforming the fill into waterways that can accommodate the flow.

If the west end stabilizes and vegetates quickly, it will act as a buffer for the eastern parts of the pond to stabilize, retaining the desired high diversity of water and mud elevations for a more natural, marsh-ecosystem restoration scenario.

Figure 23. Estimated status at end of pumping on November 5, 2015. Unconsolidated sediments were well above marsh level.

Figure 24. Rough estimated status as of February 18, 2016 (Day 105), after 3 months. The sediment has settled and been redistributed by high water, wind and daily tidal movement. Brown colors are above Marsh Level, and blue is still within the marsh growth zone. The diversity is welcome and the higher western area should vegetate quickly and protect the eastern area.

Figure 25. Avocets, Dowitchers and ducks.

Figure 26. Long-billed Dowitchers coming in for lunch.

Figure 27. January 21, 2016, a variety of birds use different parts of the filled pond.

Figure 28. January 21, 2016, Green-winged Teal and Dowitchers enjoy the shallow water.

Figure 29. January 21, 2016, a cormorant and Caspian Terns enjoy the perches provided by containment posts.

Figure 30. January 21, 2016, a bright green sheen of algae on the exposed mud surface proves the stability for plant growth.

Figure 31. Boat-tailed Grackles inspecting the edge of the mud.

Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society
Audubon Louisiana and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge
5615 Corporate Blvd, Suite 200B, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0921x202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org
Posted in Bird Related, Dredge Reports, Marsh Restoration, Marshbird Survey, The Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary | Leave a comment

Timeline of work for Amphibex at the Paul J Rainey Sanctuary

For the last 5 years, Audubon has owned and been operating a mini-dredge, the “John James” on its sanctuary property to build marsh.  Through a NFWF grant, we have recently been presented with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the use of another small dredge, the Amphibex 400 owned by Crosby Dredging Co., to create marsh in the same permitted area. The Amphibex is only 13 feet longer than our mini-dredge but can move 10 times more material in the same amount of time as the Audubon mini-dredge. A new Audubon-owned, GPS-linked fathometer system will allow us to monitor and document the refill rate of the borrow area.

  • October 7:       The Amphibex 400 arrived at the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • October 9:       Began pumping into the permitted pond from the entrance to North Canal
  • October 12:     Added 300 feet of pipe in the pond
  • October 16:     Amphibex was dredging level with the Study Site landing fluid mud to the water surface for approximately two-thirds of the 15-acre pond;
  • October 18:  Amphibex dredging hours totaled 200 and had created 9 acres of fluid mudflat; in 220 hours the mini-dredge created 1 acre of mudflat.
  • October 23-25: Coastal Flood Warning; High water from a combination of full moon, tropical depression in the western GOM, and strong easterly winds pushed waterlevel a good +4 feet above normal.
  • November 3: Water level finally dropped so that we could see mudflat filling 14 acres of the pond.
  • November 4: measured settling pans by airboat
  • November 5: Amphibex pulled all dredge pipe out of the pond and canal
  • November 7: Amphibex and Quarter boat left the Sanctuary.

This is an estimated status of the NFWF Marsh Restoration Project on November 4, 2015.

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November 4, 2015 – NFWF Marsh Restoration by small dredge Amphibex video

The link below is to a YouTube video of the small dredge, Amphibex 400, owned by Bertucci Corp, working to restore marsh by dredging the accumulated fill in the adjacent dead end canal. It has created 14 acres of marsh-ready mudflat in 24 days.

Our mini-dredge took 220 hours to create one acre of marsh – the Amphibex in a comparable amount of hours created 9 acres.


This is the estimated status of the 15-acre marsh restoration target area on November 3, 2015. This is the result of 338 hours of pumping.

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September 25, 2015 – Site Prep for new Project

Dredge and Rainey Report
New Dredge Project Site Preparation

September 25, 2015


We are fortunate to have received a NFWF grant to demonstrate another small dredge, the Amphibex 400, with greater pumping capacity than our mini-dredge at the Sanctuary (see new page explaining the new project). We are under a tight time constraint to begin pumping before the seasonal low water conditions set in. Before the Amphibex can arrive at the beginning of October, the site needs to be prepared. We need access corridors for equipment and the dredge pipe, and we need to place marker poles to help bring the mud up to the appropriate elevation for proper marsh growth. We also want to document as much of the pre-fill conditions as possible to compare with the result of our efforts in years to come. Timmy has been maintaining the current experimental site access at the east side of the permitted pond, so we decided to re-occupy the old test site access and then create another access at the west end of the pond. The three trails are roughly 500 feet apart.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

With several traffic delays coming in from Baton Rouge, by the time I got to the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary at 9:00, Timmy had been hard at work for two hours clearing the test site trail. Fortunately, the temperature was a bit cooler than it has been to facilitate all of our physical labor. I ran to the house to drop some of my gear and pick up my boots then back to meet Timmy. He was just returning from dumping brush at the end of the canal.

Figure 1. Timmy had most of the Test Site trail cleared by the time I got there.

Timmy used the weedeater to knock down the brush and a chainsaw to cut down bushes and trees, then ran the lawnmower over it all to mulch it. I pulled the brush out of the way and stacked it on the Goose. When we had it all loaded, we ran down to the end of the canal and I pulled the brush off.

There was a neon orange float with blue reflector tape on it right next to us and I could see a gar laying at the top of the water near it. Obviously, another poacher had been through last night.

Figure 2. Timmy used the weedeater to knock down the brush and a chainsaw to cut down bushes and trees, then ran the lawnmower over it all to mulch it. I loaded brush onto the Goose and hauled equipment around as it was needed.

At 12:30 or so, we moved down to find an access route at the west end of the pond. It took me a few circles in the boat looking at satellite imagery, my GPS and the tree density on the levee, but we did pick a site and got to work. Timmy used his blade weedeater to knock the brush and reeds down, and the chainsaw on the few small trees, then he unloaded the lawnmower and mulched everything. I helped with the chainsaw and moving the brush out of the way. It took a long time.

I took advantage of one of his short breaks after he got through the area of dense brambles to forge ahead through the reeds. There was a large tallow tree with reeds leaning against it that made a dark tunnel obviously used by wildlife. Shortly pass that, the reeds ended at a Spartina patens marsh that edged the exact spot at the west end of the pond that I wanted to access. Timmy finished the trail, we took a long water break, then pushed the boat out to clean the bank. We were finished and exhausted at 3:00, and headed back to the house to unload and put up all of the equipment.

Figure 3. The West Access Trail was created in about 3 hours. Top: before we got off the boat; Below: After 3 hours of clearing you can see the pond from the canal.

After a brief break at the house, we loaded the flat boat with a tub to retrieve the gar we had seen when unloading brush. It would be a waste to have the gar perish, so we always check to see if we can get them off of the line safely, or harvest it. I am fascinated by the patterns so readily apparent in the armored scales of a gar.

Figure 4. Patterns and luminosity in Alligator Gar scales.

After cleaning and storing the gar filets, we sat on the deck to catch our breath. It was breezy and clear, and finally cooling toward evening. We watched as a Say’s Phoebe used the weather station for a hunting post, returning again and again after flipping down for a bug or two, in spite of the constantly twirling Anemometer (wind gage) within inches of its perch. It also liked the peak of the Purple Martin bucket house. An 8-point buck crossed the yard in front of us as well, quite used to the house and the sound of our voices. The poor thing was covered with biting flies. For once, I missed the brown-headed cowbirds that targeted the flies during the summer.

Figure 5. Say's Phoebe on top of the weather station. The anemometer was spinning with the breeze and the bird could care less.

Figure 6. 8-point buck crossed the backyard covered in biting flies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Up at 5:45. Started getting ready for today by figuring out where all of the marker poles would go on Google Earth. When it was time to leave to meet Lindsay, I stepped into the Avocet and got my feet wet. What? – the boat was leaking! I flipped on the bilge pump to empty it, and went to gather empty gas cans while I waited. I got to the ramp 15 minutes late, loaded Lindsay’s stuff and went to Maxie’s to pick up breakfast. I paid and left Lindsay to wait for it as I took the Avocet to fuel up. As I was about to finish another boat came zooming up straight at me and Lindsay was onboard! He hitched a ride rather than waiting for me to return! I find it amusing that most of the regulars around the area know me as the “lady/girl with a boat,” and had no problem finding me.

Back to camp, Lindsay and I worked to get the fathometer and GPS set up for today’s work. Around 10:30 we followed the airboat over to the new project area and Timmy ran the airboat through the test site trail. He tied up to the old dock at the test site and we loaded the airboat from there. Unfortunately, the fathometer was not talking to the computer.

Figure 7. We tied up to the old test site dock to install the fathometer on the airboat.

After about an hour of Lindsay trying to get it to work, we gave up and started placing marker poles. I had used colored duct tape on 5-ft PVC poles to use for a visual water level gage. Timmy took us over to the benchmark that LSU had installed at the experimental dredge site to get water level reading to transfer to marker poles. We placed 39 poles roughly 100ft apart based on GPS locations.

Figure 8. We now have three access trails across the levee (red lines) and placed marker poles roughly 100 feet apart (white circles).

Figure 9. I was too busy to take photos of the poles while I was hanging off the airboat so this is the best I have from far away.

We finished about 2:00, and unloaded the airboat so Timmy could head back to the house. While Lindsay hooked up the equipment in the Avocet to test it further, I headed back to the dredge site to double-check the water level. The fathometer still would not work. We headed back to the house where Lindsay called for technical assistance and still couldn’t get it to work. We gave up. I took Lindsay back to the dock for 4:30.

Figure 10. Evening view through Took's camp.

Figure 11. Evening storm over Belle Isle Lake viewed from the back deck of Took’s camp.

Figure 12. A storm blew through cooling the air and making for interesting sunset photos.

Thursday, September 24, 2015 – Fall Equinox

Sunrise this morning marked the astronomical Fall Equinox, where the day and night is of equal length. The sun rose from our perspective, from the middle of the island, marking the mid-point of its north and south migration. The yard was flooded.

Figure 13. The center of the island in Belle Isle Lake marks the point at which the sun is equidistant from its most northern and most southern point.

Randy Moertel arrived around 8:00 with his drone in hand. We all went to the dredge site so he could practice with it. It was quite amazing, but its range was limited, so we moved to the test site boardwalk which is more centrally located. He will send the photos to me later.

Figure 14. Timmy watching as Randy got the drone set up.

Figure 15. Watching the drone from the dredge site boardwalk.

Mid-morning, Timmy took the Goose to Danny’s Marina and I followed in the Avocet. He used his truck to pull the Goose to the Sportsman to get the motor lift fixed. We headed back to camp in the Avocet for lunch and for me to pack up.

Figure 16. Timmy used his truck to pull the Goose to the Sportsman for repairs.



Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society
Audubon Louisiana and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge
6160 Perkins Road, Suite 215, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0921x202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org
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August 7, 2015 – Green Heron Nest Survey and Trip up Vermilion River

Dredge and Rainey Report
Green Heron Nest Survey and Trip up the Vermilion River

August 07, 2015

The small dredge has been idle since August 2013 after completing the project. After being exposed to the elements for 5 years, the dredge needed critical maintenance. On September 3, 2014 we pulled the dredge to the Rainey headquarters to make work on it more convenient. In the meantime, I renewed our Coastal Use Permit for marsh creation, and we have been training with our new survey equipment which will be used to set up the next project.

Monday, August 3, 2015

With decent weather predicted for this week, Katie and I decided to get a few things done this morning before heading to Rainey for this evening. I met Katie at the Intracoastal City public boat ramp at 3:30, and we were at the Rainey Headquarters by 4:00 PM. I walked the birding trail at sunset while Katie took a turn at preparing supper.

Figure 1. Sunset from the Headquarter's Birding Trail.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I awoke with thunder-squalls surrounding us. I set up the GoPro to capture the lightening and backside of sunrise:  https://youtu.be/4Iv1F-yGArk

Figure 2. Lightening at dawn.

Figure 3. Dawn showed us surrounded by thunderheads. Top: to the south; bottom: to the west.

Katie and I left in the Avocet at 7:00 for the Green Heron nest routes on the west side, hoping to stay ahead of the moving squalls. We surveyed Douce, Guyana, Blowout, and Timmy’s Corner, skipping areas where there were no longer any active nests. We headed north and pulled into a water control structure canal near Bayou Club to call into our weekly staff meeting. However, we couldn’t hear well and it was stifling hot, so we continued on with the survey before it got hotter.

Figure 4. A heron nest in a Locust tree near a control structure.

At Deep Lake, we went through the breach at the end following a heron to see if there were nests on the other side of the levee, but could only go a short way before it was too shallow for the boat. We also tried the breach on the east side of the canal but found no nests or birds in the bushes there.

The day degraded to become even more hot and stuffy – 97° or so. “Pop-up” showers — rain clouds that would develop in-place with no warning — were in the area but we managed to avoid each other.  We saw 2 Spotted Sandpipers flying along the waterway and numerous Belted Kingfishers that have been absent all summer. We spotted a Hairy woodpecker along Boundary Canal.

Figure 5. We found several chicks that were a perfect age for banding.

Figure 6. Sometimes, covering a chick’s head would calm it for handling and photos.

At 12:30 we made it back to camp for a break, to charge phones and for me to download and empty the GoPro. Then we headed south while the tide was up and started at Bob Gil with Safari to Big Catfish Location. We ran south to Boundary Canal, then to Bruner, Last Point, S Goose and N Goose canals.

With the late afternoon sun, I would hang a tarp or set up the beach umbrella to provide shade for us and the chicks we were handling. I also had several large, battery-powered fans to move the air and help us keep cooler. At one point, a breeze surprised us and the umbrella took a leap off the boat in the middle of processing a nest. I watched as it flipped over and sailed further and further away. Fortunately, we were working nests along the canal in that general direction and caught up to it on about the third nest.

We banded 17 chicks from 7 nests and were back at Headquarters by 6:30.

Figure 7. My umbrella decided to head home on its own.

Figure 8. We had three motion-activated cameras set up on active nests.

I have been collecting images of all of the Green Heron chicks we band, and was amazed when I started comparing some of the images of different aged chicks. The growth rate of the chicks and the development of feathers is amazingly rapid. This indicates the immense effort required of the parents to fuel the rapid growth of chicks, and how important the availability and proximity of food must be to a successful nesting season.

Figure 9. Immense effort is required of the parents to fuel the rapid growth of chicks. The top wing is from a 4-day old chick and the bottom is from a 12-day old chick.

Figure 10. The development of the bill and head feathering is also fascinating. The top bird is about 4 days old and the bottom bird is about 12-days old.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Figure 11. Sunrise over Belle Isle Lake August 5, 2015.

We left at 7:15 for Tom’s Bayou. We banded several more chicks along Milan’s Ditch and Coy-dog Run and finished at 11:10. It seems the later nests are more successful than the early nests this year, but the data will verify this later.

Figure 12. Deer Pea vines had taken over vast areas of marsh along Milan's Ditch.

Figure 13. Katie with a handful of chicks headed back to the home nest, and the little seen underside of a developing Green Heron wing.

Figure 14. Katie measuring a chick in the added shade of a beach umbrella, and the developing feathers on the back of a chick.

I cleaned up the boat while Katie packed her gear. Timmy wanted to take water meter readings up the Vermilion River, so he drove us to the boat ramp. We unloaded Katie and her gear and waited for her to depart.

We headed up the Vermilion River, stopping to take water quality readings at various points along the way. We traveled up to the Pogy plant (this is a local term for a Menhaden processing plant) that has been hosting pogy boats from Mississippi since the plant in Moss Point, MS was destroyed. We then cruised past Oak Plantation, and circled back around to the River. As we headed upstream past Palmetto State Park and the Port of Vermilion, we began hearing thunder. With trees lining the winding waterway, we couldn’t see the sky to tell where it was coming from along our return route.

Figure 15. Timmy and I took a cruise up the Vermilion River to take water quality readings.

Figure 16. Two Menhaden or "Pogy" boats side-by-side at the processing plant. The boats carry two smaller boats on the stern that are launched to spread the nets around a school of menhaden.

Figure 17. Vermilion River is very scenic as you get away from the industry and public docks.

Figure 18. A camp on the Vermilion River.

As we turned around to head back, we turned a bend and ran right into the rain. We pulled into Palmetto State Park and tied up under some trees to wait it out. It cleared some, and we could hear thunder, but we thought the curves of the river would let us make it down. Of course not, and we ran right into heavy rain again. We both had our raingear on, but mine was near to useless. I dug out the tarp I carry in my boat for shade, and wrapped myself up in it and put part of it across Timmy to block blowing rain. We made it to the boatshed at Danny’s Marina with both of us wet and cold. The roof of the boatshed was leaking, so I made a tent with the tarp, dried off, and changed into a dry shirt I had in my survival kit/backpack. The sky seemed to clear again, so we headed back to the camp and hit rain again. I got the tarp out again and wrapped myself up like a burrito.

Figure 19. Traveling down Vermilion River in pouring rain, we both got soaked.

As we crossed the Bay, it cleared and turned warm. At the camp it looked like there had been no rain at all. I immediately went in for a warm shower and Timmy sat outside to warm up. Toward night, the increased humidity and threatening rain brought out insects in clouds, most of which seemingly were drawn to the light coming from the house. These were followed closely by herds of green tree frogs on every lit window.

Figure 20. The windows of the house were covered with insects and Green Tree Frogs.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

We were up before dawn, so I washed clothes and packed up while answering emails and eating breakfast. We sat outside to drink coffee on the deck while watching for birds. We watched a Yellow Warbler in the huisache (Acacia) across the canal and saw several more fly in. The Barn Swallow families gathered in communal chattering groups, either sitting in groups on the ground or lined up on any wire or cable. I counted about 32 Barn Swallows. I cleaned the boat up and dropped the bimini top to zip it into its cover before heading out about 9:30.

Figure 21. Barn Swallow adults and juveniles gathered in groups on the ground or lining every wire or cable.

Figure 22. Barn Swallows preening and sunning.



Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society
Audubon Louisiana and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge
6160 Perkins Road, Suite 215, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0921x202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org
Posted in Bird Related, Green Heron survey, The Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary | Leave a comment

July 24, 2015 – Green Heron Surveys and Dredge Site Visit

Dredge and Rainey Report
Green Heron Survey and Dredge Site Visit

July 24, 2015

The small dredge has been idle since August 2013 after completing the project. After being exposed to the elements for 5 years, the dredge needs critical maintenance. On September 3, 2014 we pulled the dredge to the Rainey headquarters to make work on it more convenient. In the meantime, I renewed our Coastal Use Permit for marsh creation, and we have been training with our new survey equipment which will be used to set up the next project.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I made it to the Intracoastal City boat ramp at 7:50 and Katie and Virginia arrived shortly. We made it out to the Rainey Headquarters by 8:30. We dropped gear, reorganized the boat and headed for the western Green Heron route. We are starting to see a few kingfishers, Tri-colored Herons and a few egrets now, but not much moving around other than Red-winged Blackbirds and grackles. The Green Heron activity seems to be tapering off, but we are surprisingly still finding nests with eggs. I forgot to borrow Timmy’s camera that takes the good close-ups in the field, but I made do with my other 3 cameras. It was very hot, but partly cloudy thunderheads kept us partly shaded and brought a few breezes so it wasn’t too bad. It was reported to be 95° with 109° heat index.

Figure 1. Banding was slow, but we still have a lot of small chicks and eggs that will keep us busy in later weeks.

Our route today covered Belle Isle Cut, McIlhenny Long Location, Douce, Guyana, Blowout, Big Chick, Timmy’s Corner, W Chenier north, Belle Isle Bayou, and Deep Lake Canal. We discovered alligator nests on the levee in Deep Lake Canal – one looked opened with nothing around, the other two were being guarded by aggressive females. The first one startle Katie by hissing next to the boat.

Figure 2. Alligator nest on the low levee of Deep Lake Canal with a female nearby.

We headed back to house for a quick break, then over to Mile Bayou. The water level was still low, but we made it into the shallow waterway. We finished at 3:30 and decided to make it an early day rather than try to do anymore. We were elated to find that Timmy had caught and boiled crabs for supper. As the sunset bloomed into color, Timmy and I hopped into my boat to catch sunset imagery.

Figure 3. Evening color drew me out for an evening boat ride.

Figure 4. Evening color deepened to twilight.

I chose to sleep in the quiet, isolated apartment. I still had vivid dreams about a motorcycle gang with balloon wheels that had a party in front of the apartment, and the 2-room apartment had expanded to about 15 rooms with a back door and porch (??).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Figure 5. Sunrise photography is part of my daily routine.


I was up at 5:30 to put out the GoPro. I got my usual sunrise shots while Virginia and Katie were getting ready. We left the house at 6:45 to head south.


Figure 6. Morning clouds over the south end of Belle Isle Lake.

The south route starts with North Goose Canal where we re-sighted banded chicks. At Last Point we had a few re-sights, a couple nests with eggs, but it too seems to be winding down. Pigtrap had nothing, Boundary Canal was at low water so we had to creep along to keep from hitting debris too hard. Here we spotted kingbirds chasing a Great-horned Owl which might be a major predatory threat to our chicks. It was a hot morning, so we set up the beach umbrella on the bow to cool the deck area. We successfully captured and banded a few more chicks there.

Figure 7. With a long slow creep into the morning sun on Boundary Canal, we set up the beach umbrella to cool off the deck.

Figure 8. A high nest allowed these chicks to elude capture.

Figure 9. Boundary Canal was at low water so there was danger of hitting snags.

Figure 10. Virginia taking one of the many measurements as part of the "processing."

Figure 11. A 3-4 day old chick showing off developing feathers on expanding wings.

The Bruner Canal had a couple of active nest. At Bob Gil, we got out of boat at the old landing by the derelict barge to attempt to see nests we know are hidden behind it, but it didn’t go far enough. A “sticktight” mom at one nest stayed just on the other side of the bush while we banded her chicks. Most of the adult birds disappear well before we reach the nest, so it is unusual to have them stick around. Some are reluctant to leave the nest so we call those “sticktight.” Others stay within sight and keep up a constant squawking complaint so those are “squawkers.” I set up the GoPro on the boat handrail and collected video of the run through Safari to Big Catfish Location.

South Goose Canal also had a sticktight mom on a nest of bandable chicks. She was using her wings to shade the nest and wouldn’t leave until we were within arm’s reach, then didn’t go far. We tied up in the shade of a hackberry tree about 8 ft from the nest and the parent crept back to sit on the nest and watch us. The other parent sat in top of tree across canal. These chicks looked very healthy and well cared for.

Figure 12. A “sticktight” parent is shading the nest and chicks with her wings as we approached, and the other parent watched from the top of a tree across the canal.

Figure 13. The chicks from the protected nest looked very healthy and well-fed. Multiple aged chicks are in the same nest. We could only band 3 of the 4.

We were back at the house for 12:30 and Timmy was just loading the flat to go catch crabs. Katie and Virginia were curious so Katie rode with him and Virginia and I followed. An Asian carp jumped into my boat again just as we pulled up to tie off. Luckily it was behind the seats, and I left it there to calm down.

Katie and Virginia attended crab-catching 101 with Professor Timmy. It took less than 30 minutes to catch 3 dozen crabs. Back at house, Timmy started boiling them while we charged equipment and regrouped for the afternoon effort.

Figure 14. Another Asian Carp jumped into my boat on our way to catch crabs.

Figure 15. Timmy teaching crabbing 101.

Around 1:30 we headed out for the Tom’s Bayou route. With low water, we were targeting active nests and didn’t try to cross to South Tom’s Bayou for the one nest (not-active) there. Moran’s ditch had eggs and chicks, and we found a new nest at the NMFS spur. That chick was banded and another new nest was found at Coydog Run. We almost got stuck in the vine covered spur off of South Lake Bayou. It was too narrow to turn around, and the vines hung over into the boat to catch on anything available. I had to keep rocking the boat forward and back and get Katie and Virginia to clear cleats and rear bumpers and we finally powered our way out.

Figure 16. Entering NMFS Spur.

Figure 17. My multiple umbrellas came in handy when trying to keep chicks from overheating.

Figure 18. Virginia putting chicks back in the nest in Coy-dog Run.

Figure 20. A bucket of healthy chicks with enough energy to squabble among themselves.

Figure 19. One of my favorite insects enjoying a horsefly meal that it grabbed off the boat. I wish I had a fleet of them!


Figure 21. Katie setting up a trail cam on an active nests before we put the chicks back.

We were back to the house for 4:00, so Katie and Virginia opted to head home. They packed and stripped beds while I swept the boat, then I ran them in to the landing. Shell Morgan was shut down for a funeral so it was good that I still had enough fuel to get back to Headquarters. I got back in time for an early supper of boiled crabs and broccoli salad.

I put together a video of the Green Heron work from this season:

Thursday, July 23, 2015 – Dredge site visit and exploring north of ICWW

As usual, I was up at 5:30 to find Timmy already up and preparing for the day.

Figure 22. Sunrise, July 23, 2015.

Timmy headed out to clear the water control structure at the Deep Lake flume. I stayed at the house to catch up on reporting and imagery. I also used the time to catch up on laundry, made beds, swept bedrooms and washed dishes.

I joined Timmy at the dredge site at 10:00 AM and he had finished mowing the landing and was clearing walkways with the weedeater. Even though it was still morning, it was oppressively hot and Timmy quit soon after I got there.

Figure 23. Timmy took the lawnmower to the dredge site for landing maintenance.

All of the rain during the spring, and freshwater from the Atchafalaya and Mermentau basins during the summer, has allowed the dredge fill to explode with plant life. I went down the canal a bit further to the original test site for some photos, then back to house to cool off. I looked up some of the old photography to show the results of small dredge marsh restoration in the following before/after pairs.

Figure 24. Before/after photos of Cell 3 viewed from the dock, with the top photo taken July 22, 2011 and the bottom photo from July 23, 2015.

Figure 25. The test site before/after with top photo from July 22, 2011 and the bottom photo taken July 23, 2015. The tall clump of roseaucane at the end of the dock grew from the cane bundles we had used as containment. Spartina alterniflora was planted along the boardwalk into 3-inch deep water and it took over the cell within three years.

With it too hot to do anything physical outside, we opted for a boat ride and Timmy took me for an exploratory run in the Avocet looking for Green Heron nests north of the Intracoastal Waterway. He told me stories of the old route the Rainey Managers had to take before the canals were dug, including a bayou named “Go to Hell Bayou.” We had to maneuver around anchored barges to enter Chien Bayou, then inspected Green Bayou, Schooner Bayou to 6 mile, only finding about 4 old nests. From there, we traveled down Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel and turned west onto the continuation of Belle Isle Bayou that leads to the locations that come close to Highway 82. It was a very informative day for me.

Figure 26. We went on an exploratory expedition up the Intracoastal Waterway and around the barge on the right to Chien Bayou.

Figure 27. Bayou Chein was lined by cane on the east end.

Figure 28. We only found a few Green Heron nests.

Figure 29. Bayou Chein on the west end was aptly named as it was originally flanked by oak trees.

Figure 30. We weren't sure we could make it through the thick water hyacinth and shallow water of Green Bayou, but we did.

Figure 31. A camp with all the amenities on the west end of Belle Isle Bayou

Figure 32. There was a maze of canals on the west side of Freshwater Bayou Channel.





Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society
Audubon Louisiana and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge
6160 Perkins Road, Suite 215, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0921x202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org



Posted in Bird Related, Dredge Reports, Green Heron survey, Marsh Restoration, The Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary | Leave a comment

June 25, 2015 – Dredge Site Vegetation Update

Dredge and Rainey Report
Dredge Site Vegetation Update

June 25, 2015

The small dredge has been idle since August 2013. We stopped dredging after filling Cell 3 and completing an acre so that the LSU graduate could conduct monitoring research unimpeded.

On June 25, 2015, I had an opportunity to go up in an Ultralight plane that was doing work around the Sanctuary and took some aerial photography of the dredge area. I knew the marsh vegetation was filling in rapidly and taking photos from the ground was becoming laughable – the grass is taller than I am! Aerial photography showed what I could not see past the grass at the walkway – it is quickly filling in and becoming solid marsh.

Figure 1 shows the original pond and the layout for containment. We filled cells 5, 4 and 3. Figures 1-3 are photographs of the same area taken on June 25, 2015 from different directions. Figure 4 is the graphical depiction showing fill elevations and new vegetation.

Figure 1. This shows the original pond and layout of cells and containment (orange lines). We filled Cell 5 first in 2010, Cell 4 in 2012 and Cell 3 in 2013. Cells 1 and 2 received overflow material.

Figure 2. Oblique photograph taken June 25, 2015 with the eastern part of Cell 5 clipped.

Figure 3. Oblique photograph taken June 25, 2015 with the view to the west.

Figure 4. Oblique photograph taken June 25, 2015 with the view to the south. Cell 5 is to the upper left; cell 4 is the green area upper center; Cell 3 is center-left and left of the walkway.

Figure 5. This is the estimated status of the cells on June 25, 2015, showing that the marsh grass has almost completely filled in the filled cells. The boardwalk is shown as a bold yellow line, walkways are thin yellow lines, white dots are pvc marker poles, grey are containment structures, and bright green is the extent of new vegetation.



Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society
Audubon Louisiana and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge
6160 Perkins Road, Suite 215, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0921x202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org
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