March 31, 201
Summary of accomplishments:
- No dredging since February 7.
- Spartina patens and Scirpus olneyi are spreading well
- Progress on the apartment
- Birding trail cleared and extended
Impediments: low water in the pond and canal
This report can be downloaded in PDF file format by clicking the Dredge and Rainey Report, March Update hyperlink.
It has been another month without appropriate conditions for dredging. Winter fronts have kept water levels low in the canal and/or the pond, or it rained for days at a time, preventing us from finishing Cell 3, but allowing the fill to settle and consolidate.
I’ve been traveling to the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary almost weekly to check on dredging conditions and plant growth, help the Senior Sanctuary Manager, and to do bird counts for eBird. We are in the process of converting one of the buildings we had constructed last year into an apartment for visitors. The headquarters only has two bedrooms, and the number of overnight guests has been increasing lately, putting a strain on the facilities.
Tuesday, March 12
I stopped by Stine’s in Abbeville on my way down to load up on building supplies. I guess they are used to the locals doing this since they didn’t blink when I had them load a door and lumber in my boat.
In spite of the detour and shopping trip, I still made it to the camp by 10:30. Timmy was waiting for me and helped me unload. We worked all day to add wall frames and the door for the new bathroom.
The day started cool and foggy. We needed more building supplies, so left the headquarters before 7:00 to head up the canal toward town. I was amazed by the number of muskrat houses we could see now that the grass and reeds were shortened by the earlier prescribed burn. We also spotted a small “flock” of geese that couldn’t fly. In Abbeville, we picked up all of the bathroom furniture and more building supplies. A trip to town takes 25 minutes by boat followed by 25 minutes by vehicle. Just the round-trip takes 2 hours so you’d best have a good list before you go! We managed to layout the bathroom and get part of the wall paneling put up by the afternoon.
Thursday, March 14
Another chilly morning and we were out in the airboat by 7:30 to check on things in Christian Marsh. Most of the huge flocks of geese and ducks have moved on, leaving the American Coots, summer ducks (Mottled Duck), and Blue-winged Teal in peace. Caspian Terns have claimed the tops of the unvegetated terraces.
By 8:30, we traded the airboat for my boat to check on the dredge/marsh creation site. As usual, stepping up on the boardwalk revealed a number of birds using the area despite – or maybe because of – the low water conditions. This time it was Blue-winged Teal and Roseate Spoonbills just outside our study cells. Savannah Sparrows were busy all around us in the wet mud at the edge of the marsh grass. The ducks left when we continued along the walkway, but the spoonbills just kept a close watch on us.
The water level was somewhere around 7-8” below marsh level, apparently on the way down, and the marsh was draining through Cell 3 keeping the substrate wet. The water line was well into Cell 1, exposing most of Cell 2.
At 9:00 we were on the dredge. We tied the new stainless steel cable I had put on last time to the bank and removed the old cable from the dredge. The tractor drive that moves the pump forward and back had been giving us trouble, and I thought we might need a new control switch. Timmy thought it might be a broken wire in the cable or a short in the hand unit since it would only work when we hung the control cable up a certain way. It also tended to work after we gave it a shove a couple of times.
We took everything apart to trace wires and troubleshoot. Timmy went back to headquarters to get more tools and a volt-o-meter. We cut off part of the cable that we thought might be broken and reattached wires to the remote to make sure everything was making proper contact. It still wouldn’t work. I hung it up and it worked. I took it down and it wouldn’t work. Repeat several more times (??). I hung it up and we both saw a spark. That made us both “spark” an idea – it was the ground!
Apparently, the ground ran from the sealed connection box through the connection of the tractor drive wheels on the I-beam, and rust/corrosion when it sits for a while had cut-off that connection. Timmy immediately rigged up a bypass, and the problem was solved. That only took 2 hours.
We headed back to headquarters for a much needed break, and worked on the apartment all afternoon. By the end of the day, all of the paneling was hung to enclose the bathroom, and we had started preparing the floor. That meant we marked all of the joists and nailed the floor down securely every 6 inches or so.
Friday, March 15
Dawn was cool and foggy once again, with the early light turning everything a soft pink. I packed up my stuff and headed out as the fog began to lift, stopping at the dredge on the way to the dock.
Tuesday, March 26
Returning from Baton Rouge, I made it down early this morning and launched my boat in the cold (37°) crisp dawn air. I had to bundle up to keep from icing my ears on my way out to the Rainey headquarters. The water level was so low, that I had to lift my motor some just to get away from the boat ramp. I also had to take the long way around because the lack of water in Vermilion Bay would ground me. As I cruised up Belle Isle Bayou, I saw more bank than ever before and was concerned that even the bayou wouldn’t be deep enough to get me to the house.
When I arrived and stowed my gear, I noticed that Belle Isle Lake behind the house was drained of water, and was covered by huge flocks of shorebirds. We took some chairs and the spotting scope out to the levee behind the house to see what they were. Huge numbers of Least Sandpipers, Willets, Yellowlegs, Dowitchers, Black-bellied Plovers, Black-necked Stilts and other shorebirds wandered the mud or picked up in swirling clouds past us. There must have been a lot to eat since they stayed there all day. We did see the plovers pulling long worms out of the mud, and willets snatching small stranded fish out of puddles.
Two dark-colored ducks stuck out by a size contrast and we watched them for a while thinking they might be Black Ducks. They walked across the mud into each stranded puddle, would kick with their feet, then back up and go head-first into the muddy hole they had just created, chumming down on the loosened banana lily roots or anything else edible. Covered in mud, they were difficult to identify, but the experts convinced us they were only large, extroverted Mottled Ducks. Normally, our resident Mottled Ducks, or “summer ducks,” are very shy, never come out into open areas, are smaller, and a lot lighter in color. Timmy saw the same ducks later in the week out in the open bay – very unusual behavior for what we normally see. They reminded me of tourists, not sure of the best local hot-spots.
We worked the rest of the day in the apartment, moving stuff around while we nailed down the floor. The day ended with a wonderful surprise –as the sun went down, a gorgeous, full moon came up. I would have missed it if Timmy had not brought it to my attention. We were in the process of preparing supper and my focus was inside on food. I took a few pictures from our deck, then ran over to the big camp to get some from the observation deck. It was a surreal scene with the full moon over the drained lake bed.
Wednesday, March 27
This morning, the water level came up and we made another run to town for building supplies. We had word that the LSU researchers were coming out to the marsh creation site today for bulk density measurements, so stopped by the site on the way back.
The study cells were again dry, as we expected from the canal water level. Dr. Irv Mendelssohn, Dr. Sean Graham, and graduate student John Cross were busy at work in Cell 4 when we walked out to greet them. We had them explain what they were doing, so we now understand why there is a forest of PVC poles throughout the study area. The poles delineate study plot replicates.
We headed back to headquarters and unloaded the supplies. We spent the next 3 hours moving stuff out of the building or out of the way, and installing subflooring. If you’ve never done that before, it involves nailing sheets of plywood over the bottom plywood every 4 inches or so. We cut and fit the part in the bathroom and across the front of the room first.
At 3:47, Timmy started putting adhesive down for the tiles. It had to dry for an hour or so, so we started supper and took a break. As soon as the cooking was done, and it was set to cool, we went back to the apartment at 6:30 to lay tiles in the bathroom. Timmy placed them and I cut them to fit. That part was finished by 8 pm.
We were rewarded by another full moonrise an hour after sunset – this one was more challenging to capture with more contrast to the exposure. The moon was so bright that it was difficult to get the landscape and sky details to show.
Thursday, March 28
Another cool and clear morning. Judge Duplantier was scheduled to bring a group of teenagers out for a work day at the Sanctuary and they planned to work on our birding trail. While Timmy was gone to meet them at the dock, I took the opportunity to bird the undisturbed terrain. It took me an hour to walk the half mile trail, counting sparrows, blackbirds, common yellowthroat, marsh wrens, a kestrel, eastern kingbird, kingfisher, etc., then I walked the peninsula on the other side of the headquarters to add a few others. There was nothing very unusual. The spring fall-out for birds has not happened – yet.
The group arrived, got organized and started clearing the trail. I took a few pictures then headed over to work on the apartment. The day had warmed up by lunch, and the kids were finished with the trail. One of them jumped in the canal to cool off and the others practiced throwing a cast net. Other activities were underway as I packed up my gear and headed off to the marsh creation site.
I took some scrap plywood with me and attempted to plug the worst holes in our containment while the water was low. I wandered around to take pictures and admire the rapidly growing marsh grass. Who knew watching grass grow could be so exciting!! It was easy to see the rate of spread by the dormant grass from last year’s growing season. The old pontoon laying in the marsh has been an eyesore so I tried to move it, but only got it to the walkway before I gave up. I’ll come back when I have my knee boots with me.
As I was untying the boat to head out, I heard the Goose coming. I knew the group planned to put in a duck box, so I hurried to beat them to the old Test Area, where we first learned to use the little dredge. The crowd lined our boardwalk to watch two of them walk in the mud to push the box into place.
Karen A Westphal and Timmy J Vincent, National Audubon Society Louisiana Coastal Initiative and the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Refuge 6160 Perkins Road, Suite 215, Baton Rouge, LA 70808 225-768-0921x202 office, email@example.com