January 9, 2013 – New Year in C3

Summary of accomplishments:

  • Most of Cell 3 is at -1” ML or better
  • Total time pumped directly into Cell 3 (.366 acres) = 59.75 hours
  • Total time in study cells = 206 hours

Impediments: low water in the pond => no dredging

Monday, January 7

The day was crisp, clear and cold. I stopped in town to pick up a few things for the headquarters and for the Avocet, and still made it to the landing by 9 am. The day was starting to warm up, but for the ride across the Bay in my open boat, I bundled into my several layers and snapped the hood around my ears. I was a little concerned about the water level, but as I headed into open water, the crab cages were still submerged, indicating that I had plenty of depth once I crossed the spoil ridge at the opening of the bayou.

The dredge site was first on my list of priorities, and as I swung into the dead end canal and passed the dredge, I wasn’t sure I could make it to shore. A wide expanse of mud bank was exposed, but I pulled into my usual access and successfully ran the boat up the mud slope to tie off. We had dredged along this strip and it was deep enough at the rear of my boat to use the motor.

Figure 1. Low water exposed the muddy bank below the drop-off at the shore. The edge at the waterline marks the drop-off created by dredging that reach.

I expected the water in the pond to be low, but I was surprised to that most of the outer pond was drained as well. With no reference other than our marker poles that were high and dry, I would have to estimate that it was a good 10-12 inches below marsh level. The entire study site was drained, although wet with recent rain and criss-crossed with the evidence of our resident creatures. As I had suspected, there would be no dredging today.

Figure 2. Water level in the pond was very, very low, estimated at 10-12 inches below marsh level.

Figure 3. A thin sheet of rain water had not had time to drain or dry, highlighting the slight elevation differences in Cell 3 and revealing various creature tracks.

A flock of 23 yellow-legs mixed with about 5 dowitchers probed the mud next to the outer containment, with black-necked stilts, green-winged teal and gadwall further out. I was delighted to see river otter tracks added to the usual mix of bird, alligator, raccoon, and mink tracks to be found crossing the new mudflat. This one followed the plywood containment wall to explore Cell 3 before crossing into Cell 2. I have a special fondness for otters, and hope that this one will decide to stay to add to our resident diversity.

Figure 4. The distinctive round footprints of an otter next to the small footprints of a mink passed each other next to the boardwalk.

As I walked back to the boat, I noticed movement across the canal, and spotted the otter on the opposite bank. Just as I raised my camera for a picture, a flock of un-noticed black-necked stilts took off from the bank on my side.

Figure 5. I spotted the otter across the canal just as a flock of black-necked stilts flushed in front of me.

This diversion took less than 30 minutes, and I arrived at the headquarters by 10:00. I stowed my gear, donned my gloves and walked over to the pump house where Timmy was already hard at work. Since we’ve decided to convert the “pump house” to a guest room, he has been planning to move the water pump into a small, insulated and weatherproof shelter instead. Today’s task was to start that construction.

An old concrete and metal post foundation had been left behind when a hurricane removed the previous structure, and it would be recycled to elevate the new structure. Timmy had the floor platform built by the time I arrived, so I was needed only to hold the wall components upright and level while he assembled them. Some of the neighbors, including a previous Sanctuary manager, dropped by for a visit and gave us a break.

Figure 6. Timmy working to secure the frame of the pump shelter.

As we worked, the sky clouded over, foretelling tomorrow’s weather. I walked around to move my boat under the boatshed, and could hear geese calling. As I looked to the northeast, clouds of geese billowed up from the marsh and began streaming overhead in complicated, overlapping Vs made up of hundreds of geese in a line. Timmy said there were more geese this year than he has seen in a long time. I have no clue how to count the multitude that he estimated to be more than 150, 000. Truly a sight — no, an experience! – to behold.

We broke for lunch, and then it was time for our weekly staff call. Unfortunately, Timmy had to go meet with a construction foreman about a weir and couldn’t participate. By the time the call was over at 3:30, conditions for working outside had deteriorated and we could not finish the little building today.

Figure 7. Snow, blue and white-fronted geese crossed behind the headquarters in the thousands.

Tuesday, January 8

Rain was predicted for our area by 8 am and was expected to continue for several days. This was of little consequence, since we had been invited to see the newest group of Whooping Cranes brought into Louisiana, and had to leave before dawn to make it to the rendezvous in time. I loaded the Avocet in the dark and carefully followed Timmy in the Goose through the maze of crab traps in the bay and back to the landing. I pulled the boat onto the trailer, transferred my gear to my car, and joined Timmy in his truck for the road trip to White Lake.

At White Lake, we were joined by Melanie Driscoll and Erik Johnson, the Audubon Directors of Bird Conservation for the Gulf and Mississippi flyways, and met  LDWF personnel (Sara Zimorski and Bob Love) that are leading the Louisiana Whooping Crane re-introduction program. (For more information on this program, go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/whooping-cranes or  http://whoopingcrane.com/louisianas-new-whooping-crane-reintroduction-program/)

We were taken by boat to blinds that overlook a marsh enclosure. A new group of 14 juvenile birds recently brought in, but we were not guaranteed any sightings of these rare native birds. The enclosure is open to the sky, the 8 month old birds can fly, and they come and go at will. They are being fed for just a few weeks to keep track of them while they become accustomed to the area and learn to feed themselves. Since the Rainey headquarters is only 23 miles away by wing, we have hopes to one day see them within our Sanctuary.

There were 6 birds at the feeding platform within the enclosure when we arrived. The feeders had to be refilled, and Melanie was invited to suit up in a white “Big Bird” coverall for the trek out. 5 more cranes came stalking across the marsh when they saw fresh food arriving, bringing the total for our viewing up to 11. We got to see them fly and a pair stalked in front of our blind for a good view, so it was a very successful and gratifying visit. Thanks!

 

Figure 8. Melanie and Sara heading out to refresh the feeders.

Figure 9. Six whooping cranes inside and 5 outside brought our total sighting up to 11.

 

Figure 10. A juvenile Whooping Crane with colored leg bands that identify the individual and 2 transmitters to keep track of its travels.

Figure 11. A juvenile Whooping Crane in flight is a magnificent sight.

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