2013, Oct 10 – Plover Survey and Dredge Maintenance

Dredge and Rainey Report
Plover Survey and Dredge Maintenance

October 10, 2013

Summary of accomplishments:

  • No dredging
  • Plover Survey
  • Dredge maintenance and site assessment
  • Guesthouse work

Monday, October 7, 2013 – Shorebird survey

On my early morning drive down, avian activity confirmed that it was fall. I saw a large kettle of raptors riding thermals over Perry, Louisiana, and the fallow rice fields shimmered with thousands of shorebirds. I launched the Audubon boat, the Avocet, into extremely low water levels, and knew I wouldn’t be able to cross the shallow bay. I had to go the long way around through Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel to Belle Isle Bayou.  Muddy banks of the bayou were exposed and the marsh was draining in gushets from any break in the natural levee.  I made it to the Rainey headquarters at 11:00 AM.

Timmy gave me just enough time to stow my gear in the house and load what I needed into the larger Audubon boat, the Goose. We loaded up the 4-wheeler and immediately left for a shorebird survey. The wind-depressed water level exposed a wide storm-swept beach. We headed east to the breakwaters first, and spotted one lone piping plover actively feeding at the first one. Very few birds were observed after that though, until we reached the last few breakwaters where Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns were loafing. The small bay to the east of the breakwaters was swarming with gulls, terns, Brown Pelicans and Blue-winged Teal.

Figure 1. Low, low tide caused by a steady north wind exposed a wide beach with little wrack and light shell hash.

Figure 2. The small bay east of the breakwaters was swarming with gulls, terns, pelicans and teal.

When we reached the end of the traversable beach, we headed back to start the west beach survey. There weren’t too many birds, but once again we started the survey with an actively feeding plover (semi-palmated) on a silt flat behind the old breakwaters. There were small groups of birds along the beach that stayed just out of camera range as we headed west. Black-bellied plovers and sanderlings were the most numerous birds we saw.

Surprisingly, we came across two very large alligators in the nearshore surf zone at the base of the beach, that slid out toward deeper water as we approached. As large as they were shallow nearshore profile, they couldn’t quite get deep enough to submerge.

Figure 3. One of two very large gators that we saw laying in the surf zone against the beach.

We ran into a small flock of plovers about halfway down the beach. They continued to move ahead of us until we reached the western end. We knew it was the same group because they were traveling with one Least Sandpiper. It was a mixed group of Semi-palmated and Piping Plovers with 3 of the Piping Plovers tagged. [We later found out that one of them was tagged in North Dakota]. I could only get a fuzzy photo of 2 of the tagged birds, since they were either sitting on their tags or running up and down the beach. They seemed to prefer the shelly parts of the beach where they blended in, or areas where there was wrack to hunker out of the wind.

Figure 4. Part of the plover group that was mostly Semi-palmated Plovers.

Figure 5. Another part of the group that is dominated by Piping Plovers. One of the tagged plovers is third from the right.

Figure 6. Figure 4 expanded to show the bands and tags on the center piping plover.

The wind shifted as we were making our way westward. The water level immediately started to rise. We had to hurry to make it back to the chenier trail before we ran out of beach to traverse, and made it back to camp at 5:00.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 – Dredge Maintenance

Timmy heard speckle bellies (white-fronted geese) crossing the sky before the sun came up. We sat on the deck at sunrise to drink our coffee while watching flocks of herons, shorebirds, teal and other ducks come across the lake.

Figure 7. October 8, 2013 sunrise over Belle Isle Lake.

While Timmy mowed grass and took care of Sanctuary business, I worked in the apartment to finish up a few details. Before I could finish completely, the power went off. While waiting for it to come back on, I walked the headquarter trail. I was hoping to see some migrating warblers, but I saw only the usual residents – Downy Woodpecker, Cardinals, Common Yellow-throat – and some unidentifiable brown blurs that had to be sparrows.

Figure 8. I used a piece of 2x4 to scrape barnacles from the left spud.

In the afternoon, Timmy took Leonard Chauvin and his crew in the airboat to look at the Deep Lake proposed project elements. It had been a while since the dredge had been run, so I took the Avocet to the dredge to run the hydraulic unit. As soon as I engaged the pump, one of the old hydraulic hoses popped a leak. I quickly disengaged and put a bucket under the leak, then found a rope to tie the leak above the pump so the entire unit wouldn’t drain. Other maintenance was due, so I picked up the left spud to scrape barnacles, but couldn’t get the right spud winch to work. Then, I couldn’t get the waterpump to start. We obviously need to spend some time to get the dredge back in running condition before the next dredging event!

I then went ashore for my usual inspection of the marsh creation site. A Common Egret was fishing from the outer containment, and a Belted Kingfisher had claimed one of the marker poles as its fishing perch. The marsh grass is still spreading, even though the main growth is starting to turn golden before going dormant for the winter. The water level in the pond was at +2” above marsh level (ML), so most of the study area was barely under water. Even with our multiple containment structures, minnows, mullet, crabs and even a spotted gar had found their way in and were taking advantage of the shallow water. It was obvious the pond had been flooded for a while with fresh water as even the study cells were starting to develop submerged aquatic vegetation of wigeon grass (Ruppia maritime) and banana lilies (Nymphaea Mexicana).

Figure 9. View to the northeast across Cell 3 from containment 3b. The 2x4 was originally in open water.

Figure 10. View to the north from the old canoe passage at containment 5a. All of the dark green is new growth of Schoenoplectus robustus.

Figure 11. A large spotted gar had found its way into Cell 5.

 Wednesday, October 9, 2013 – Guesthouse Work

It was such a wonderfully calm and peaceful dawn, we sat outside for sunrise to watch flock after flock of birds coming across the lake. Egrets, herons, yellow-legs, gulls and terns drifted across in seemingly endless streams of feathers.

Figure 12. Thousands of birds crossed the early October sky.

After breakfast, we took a walk down the headquarters bird trail where we saw our usual residents, plus a Lark Sparrow, which was a new one for me.

Timmy headed out to work on some of the equipment and I worked on our guesthouse. I hung blinds in the only window, and installed a different kind of weather stripping to the front door in another attempt to keep the insects out. With towels hanging in the bathroom, it’s starting to look quite homey!

Figure 13. Detail work in the apartment is starting look comfortable.

One of the neighbors passing the camp in his boat saw us working in the yard and stopped by to talk for a while. Timmy finished mowing the low area of the yard and started clearing the headquarter trail of overhanging bushes. When I finished in the guesthouse, I helped haul limbs until it was time for me to go.

I packed my stuff into the Avocet and finally left the Rainey Headquarters at 4:30.

 

 

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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