October 31, 2012 – Low Water

Summary of accomplishments:

  • Mapped new vegetation in cells 4 & 5
  • Drained pontoon with a solar pump and pulled it out of pond
  • No dredging this week
  • Total time pumped directly into Cell 3 (.366 acres) = 40.5 hours
  • Total time in study cells = 187 hours

Impediments: Low low water

Hurricane Sandy along the Atlantic seaboard, the frontal passage with winds from the north, and a full moon combined to produce some extremely low tides that almost completely drained our work site. Although I could not dredge, the substrate was exposed throughout our work area allowing observations of our progress, and the marsh was dry enough for me to walk around the perimeter of Cell 5 to map new vegetation.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that we have much more material in Cell 3 than I thought. There was only one channel meandering across the north end that was deeper than 3 inches below marsh level, with most of it only an inch or so below. We are much closer to being full than I thought. (!!)

Signs of fall continue: red-tail hawks have returned as well as marsh hawks, merlins, kestrels, peregrine falcons and phoebes. Migrants are moving through – we had 3 different thrushes down the camp trail, nuthatches, brown creepers, juncos, sparrows and a loggerhead shrike. White shrimp, juvenile mullet, and menhaden are still leaving the marsh.

This report can be downloaded in PDF file format by clicking the Dredge and Rainey Report, Low Water hyperlink.

Tuesday, October 30

On my last visit, the Avocet had been left with Timmy for a field trip to Wax Lake Outlet (he ended up using the Goose instead), so I didn’t have to tow it down with me this time. I did have to pick up the trailer from the marina so that it would be at the landing when I leave tomorrow. It was cold this morning, with a north wind creating a low tide, and I dressed ready for a ride in a small, open boat. However, at 7:45 Timmy showed up in the Goose, and made me very happy. The Goose has a cabin where you can get out of the wind and stay relatively cozy for that 20 minute ride to the headquarters.

On the way in to the Sanctuary at 8:30, we detoured to check on water levels at the dredge pond.  I was glad we were in the Goose, as the water level in the canal was almost too low to reach the bank. A flock of ducks lifted off the pond as we approached, and a rail vanished into the marsh grass before I could get a positive ID. In the pond, the water level was at least 8 inches below marsh level, and the substrate was exposed throughout the study area.

I was pleasantly surprised (quite ecstatic actually) to see that we have much more material in Cell 3 than I thought. The delta created 2 weeks ago was high and dry next to the boardwalk, and the area that I knew to be the deepest part of Cell 3 when we started filling the pond was just below the marsh level indicator on the marker pole. There was only one channel meandering across the north end that was deeper than 3 inches below marsh level, with most of it only an inch or so below. At the south end of the cell, mud cracks cover the fill as the sediment dewaters and consolidates. We are
much closer to being full than I thought. (!!)

On the other hand, with the low, low water conditions, we can’t dredge. Too much head pressure across containment would blow out escape routes and we would decrease our efficiency; and the dredge in the canal would be limited as to how close to the bank we could dredge, if we could move it much at all.

Figure 1. Flocks of ducks lifted from the outer pond as we walked out on the boardwalk.

Figure 1. Flocks of ducks lifted from the outer pond as we walked out on the boardwalk.

Figure 2. With low, low water, the delta we last created under the boardwalk was obvious (left), and only one channel was evident deeper than -3”, looking south across the substrate of Cell 3 (right).

Figure 2. With low, low water, the delta we last created under the boardwalk was obvious (left), and only one channel was evident deeper than -3”, looking south across the substrate of Cell 3 (right).

Figure 3. Mud cracks at the south end of Cell 3 are a good sign as the sediment dewaters and consolidates. There were various animal tracks cross the mud, including a raccoon to the left of the pontoon and a gator at bottom right.

Figure 3. Mud cracks at the south end of Cell 3 are a good sign as the sediment dewaters and consolidates. There were various animal tracks cross the mud, including a raccoon to the left of the pontoon and a gator at bottom right.

Now knowing that we couldn’t dredge, we continued on to headquarters so I could unload and plan the best use of my time with what could be done.  Timmy had other things to do around the property, so we packed different boats, and I headed back to the pond 10:30.

With low water, the marsh would be fairly dry and easy to walk through, and the cool weather made it less likely I would run into snakes. I walked completely around the perimeter of Cell 5 to map the extent of new vegetation that has developed since January. I had been anxious to do this all summer and couldn’t pass up the chance.

I began by crossing the reed containment 5b to the south side of the Cell, and made my way around the south finger pond. Curiously, it still had a water-filled channel down its center. A bit of careful probing with my walking stick revealed a well-used nutria/gator ditch cutting through the southeast marsh. Now I know where some of our fill material escaped!

I continued on around the Cell. It was relatively easy to map the new vegetation, because the old shoreline was marked by dense marshhay (Spartina patens) and the new growth was primarily 3-square (Schoenoplectus olneyi). The marshhay is just beginning to spread. The sparse roots and sediment consolidation allowed me to walk across the throats of the east and northeast finger ponds when I would have sunk up to my knees earlier in the year. Both finger-ponds were fronted by dense, continuous stands of marsh grass, here including Walter’s millet (Echinochloa walterii) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). The NE finger was completely filled in with sediment and colonized by 3-square, other than a 3-ft square area right around the PVC post
(figure 4).

Having completed the circuit around Cell 5, I then mapped the new vegetation in Cell 4 from the walkways, only having to walk the marsh to one area I couldn’t see well near containment 4d.

Figure 4. The estimated status of the study cells as of October 28, 2012, showing the new hose configuration (dashed blue line) and new vegetation (bright green). Grey lines are containment, orange line is planned containment, yellow lines are walkways, white dots are PVC marker poles, and yellow crescents are recent positions of the outfall in Cell 3.

Figure 4. The estimated status of the study cells as of October 28, 2012, showing the new hose configuration (dashed blue line) and new vegetation (bright green). Grey lines are containment, orange line is planned containment, yellow lines are walkways, white dots are PVC marker poles, and yellow crescents are recent positions of the outfall in Cell 3.

Figures 5-8 show Before/After images illustrating some of the changes over the last year.

Before/After

Figure 5. View to the north from Cell 4 to the boardwalk and canal, before and after construction of the walkway and containment between Cells 2 & 3: (left) March 15, 2012; (right) October 28, 2012.

Figure 5. View to the north from Cell 4 to the boardwalk and canal, before and after construction of the walkway and containment between Cells 2 & 3: (left) March 15, 2012; (right) October 28, 2012.

Figure 6. View is to the south over containment 5a into Cell 5: December 15, 2011 from the canoe (left); and October 28, 2012 from on top of a walkway (right). The red star marks the same spot on the horizon and the black arrow marks the same stick in the foreground.

Figure 7. View of Cell 5 to the south from an overlook on the north side: (left) December 15, 2011 and (right) October 28, 2012. Notice double poles indicated by the yellow arrow and same spot on the horizon by the red star.

Figure 7. View of Cell 5 to the south from an overlook on the north side: (left) December 15, 2011 and (right) October 28, 2012. Notice double poles indicated by the yellow arrow and same spot on the horizon by the red star.

Figure 8. View to the west from the east side of Cell 5: (left) December 15, 2011 and (right) October 28, 2012. The black arrow and red star indicate the position of corresponding double poles in both images.

Figure 8. View to the west from the east side of Cell 5: (left) December 15, 2011 and (right) October 28, 2012. The black arrow and red star indicate the position of corresponding double poles in both images.

Doing something with the pontoon that used to hold the outfall end of the dredge hose was my next goal. It had filled with water and sunk shortly after we had refinished it, and it bothered me every time I took pictures and/or saw it there. When filled with water, it is much too heavy for us to move around, so we had disconnected the hose and were using a float on the hose end that we had taken from the canal hose.

Therefore, I crossed the mud on a piece of plywood, sat down on the pontoon, and proceeded to drill 1” overlapping holes in the top with my cordless drill. About 7 holes made a big enough opening for me to drop a small solar powered pump into the pontoon. I connected the 4” solar panel, propped it up for full southern exposure, made
sure water was flowing, and then packed up my things to head back to the headquarters.

Figure 9. A very small solar pump was inserted into the flooded pontoon, with water flowing from the black tube on the left, and was left to do its job for a few hours.

Figure 9. A very small solar pump was inserted into the flooded pontoon, with water flowing from the black tube on the left, and was left to do its job for a few hours.

Figure 10. Timmy clearing brush from the levee on top of a water control structure.

Figure 10. Timmy clearing brush from the levee on top of a water control structure.

I took a quick break for lunch, packed up a small cooler, and left again to look for Timmy. He was out clearing brush from the water control structures (WCS) and I found him finishing up at the east Goose Pond WCS. He told me this was necessary not only for access to the stop-logs that control water level, but to keep marsh fires from damaging the wood pilings and PVC structures.

When he had finished what he had planned to do today, we headed back to the headquarters. We traded boats and tools for fishing gear, made a dash through low water to the weir for bait shrimp, then baited a couple of hooks hoping for supper. We fished a couple of spots with no success, and moved up to another spot where the water drained out of Coles Bayou. Here we caught a couple of catfish, then Timmy hooked something that broke his line. A few casts later, I hooked onto something that felt like a submarine. It kept running my line out, and I fought it for a good 15-20 minutes before I exhausted it (and me!) and got it close enough for Timmy to net the front end. It was a drum that must have weighed 25-30 pounds! Timmy hauled it into the boat to get
the hook out, then lowered it back into the water, and resuscitated it by moving it back and forth in the water before letting it go. We decided we had enough catfish for supper and headed back to camp to prove it.

Figure 11. The big drum I managed to land while fishing for catfish.

Figure 11. The big drum I managed to land while fishing for catfish.

We made a quick detour to the dredge pond on the way back to the house to check on the pontoon. The tide was extremely low, but we managed to get the boat close enough to get onshore. The little solar powered pump had done its job and the pontoon was sitting high in the water floating like a cork. We easily pulled the now empty pontoon out of the mud and flipped it over in the marsh so it would dry out more. With all this activity, we were hungry and headed back to the house.

With the cooler weather and fewer mosquitos, we took an evening stroll down the trail Timmy maintains behind the house. The oak ridge bordered by canal on one side and brackish marsh on the other is a migratory bird and wildlife corridor and we never know what to expect. This afternoon the birds we saw included 3 different thrushes, a nuthatch, a brown creeper, a loggerhead shrike, slate-colored juncos, savannah sparrows, both ruby and gold-crowned kinglets, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, and several merlins. That doesn’t include the contrasting roseate spoonbills, white ibis, various ducks, egrets and herons, marsh hawks, peregrine falcon, and red-tailed hawks
that flew overhead.

Wednesday, October 31

The day dawned foggy and cool. Flocks of ibis and heron drifted across the muted sky. The nearly full moon was setting in the west as the sun rose.

Figure 12. A foggy sunrise to the east and nearly full moon setting in the west.

Figure 12. A foggy sunrise to the east and nearly full moon setting in the west.

This would be a short day for me, as I needed to be home for Halloween and I needed to beat the falling tide back to the dock. Timmy had one more water control structure to clear, so we loaded the Goose and headed out early while it was still cool.

I love to help Timmy with his Sanctuary duties, as this means I get to ride along on the big boat; and since I’m not driving, I can enjoy the cruise, observe wildlife and scenery, and take photographs. A trip through the canals never ceases to amaze me with the abundance and variety of wildlife that is so easily observed. In the canal, fish roll and jump, crabs scuttle about, alligators slide off the muddy bank as we approach, and shrimp jump and scatter as the boat wake moves along the shore. We see an occasional deer in the bushes, a raccoon or two in a tree, hog trails, and sign of bobcat
or coyotes. Bird life crosses all tomes: osprey always with a fish clutched in its talons, grebes and coots dipping into the water to disappear, cormorants decorating a tree or two like ornaments, ibis flowing over in an undulating line, kingfishers chattering as they keep pace, and white or blue or green or multi-colored herons and egrets floating up and away out of the bushes. Life is everywhere.

Figure 13. A green heron and Krider's hawk are only two of the many birds seen this morning.

Figure 13. A green heron and Krider's hawk are only two of the many birds seen this morning.

Figure 14. I wonder how often kingfishers are on the alligator menu?

Figure 14. I wonder how often kingfishers are on the alligator menu?

Of course, this wonderfully mesmerizing cruise was balanced by several hours of labor, as Timmy cut and cleared brush and I stacked reeds into bundles and helped as best I could. We finished around lunchtime.

Figure 15. Clearing brush from one of many water control structures.

Figure 15. Clearing brush from one of many water control structures.

As the north wind picked up and the water started flowing back out of the canals and waterways, I hurried to pack up my things and load the 17-ft boat, the Avocet. I still
had to take the long way around, through Belle Isle Bayou to Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel, in order to make it back to the landing without getting stuck in shallow water along the way.

Note: Google Earth has April 2012 photography of our dredge operations at: LSU Dredge Study Area

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