October 2014 – Dredge Maintenance

Dredge and Rainey Report
Dredge Maintenance

October 31, 2014

Summary of accomplishments:

  • No dredging
  • Painted top of spuds and pump; installed new pressure gage
  • Shorebird Survey
  • Waterfowl finally arriving

Impediments: tours and other meetings limited available time

Summary:
The small dredge has been idle since August of last year (2013). We stopped dredging after filling Cell 3 and completing an acre so that the LSU graduate could conduct monitoring research unimpeded. After being exposed to the elements for 5 years, the dredge needs critical maintenance. On September 3, we pulled the dredge to the Rainey headquarters to make work on it more convenient. Weather, Rainey tours, Audubon meetings and office obligations have limited the amount of time available to work on the dredge, so upgrades have been slow.

September 30 – October 1, 2014 – NAWCA Tour

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Figure 1. New floor grate behind the wheel of the Avocet.

Timmy was away this week, and I was designated as the Audubon staff to host a stopover at Rainey by the tour of the NAWCA board. I towed the 17’ boat, the Avocet, from Baton Rouge and made it to the Rainey headquarters near 9:00 AM. This past month, I had constructed a new floor grate for the boat to keep gear off a wet floor and make it more comfortable for my short legs. It worked well. I unloaded, made coffee and set out refreshments to await the group.

The NAWCA group arrived about an hour later on 2 big boats. They had begun their boat tour at Avery Island, almost 2 hours away, so were ready for a rest-stop by the time they reached the Rainey headquarters. While they took in the view from the headquarters deck, I was requested to give background on the Rainey Sanctuary. Because the small dredge was in the boat slip next to the house, I also talked about it and the marsh restoration we were doing in concert with other restoration work to slow water movement. After a break they took off for the airboat tours of Christian Marsh. After a brief stop to look over the dredge site, they were gone by 2:30.

Figure 2. The tour for the NAWCA board was by boat and airboat.

With time to spare, I waited until the afternoon heat abated, found sandpaper and sanded the spuds for a second coat of yellow paint. A young Snowy Egret kept me company as it fished right next to the dredge in the boat slip.

Figure 3. juvenile Snowy Egret fishing alongside the dredge while I worked.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I spent the night intending to work more on the dredge, but woke up to heavy rain that would not let up until mid-morning. With an evening obligation, I needed to leave early, so I could not get started on the next task. I tried to leave at 10AM, but an isolated rain shower turned me around. I tried again at 11:00 and made it back to the boat ramp.

Figure 4. High water at the Rainey headquarters following an all night storm. The dredge is tied securely at the east end of the boat slip.

Figure 5. It took two tries to get back to high ground. This shows the difference an hour can make in local weather

October 21-24, 2014 – dredge maintenance, MRDC tour, partial eclipse

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I left Baton Rouge towing the Avocet at 8:00 AM and made it out to the Rainey headquarters by 10:15.After unloading the boat, Timmy and I took a quick run to the Big Island Weir. It was nice to see the shorebirds starting to assemble in the Belle Isle Lake mudflats for their winter stay with us. Black-necked stilts, Willets, Greater Yellow-legs and Dowitchers were all staking out their favorite wind-free loafing areas.

Figure 6. Black-necked Stilts and Willets were a few of the birds starting to assemble for the winter in the Belle Isle Lake mudflats.

We worked on the dredge all day. The newly painted spuds were lowered to the deck so we could open the doors to the Crucial engine that runs the pump. Timmy pulled the old battery out, and started cleaning the engine housing. He scooped out the oil coated sorbent pads that we had put in bottom of engine unit and put them in Ziploc bags for disposal. We used a large wet/dry shop-vac to suck out the crud that had been collecting in the bottom pan, and poured all of the oily fluid into old juice jugs to settle. Later, the oil was separated and poured into other containers to recycle at the Sportsman in Abbeville. Dawn® dishsoap was squirted into the bottom pan and it was all agitated by hose and sucked out again with the vac. The soapy by-wash was taken to high ground and poured over shells to bio-degrade.

Timmy then installed the new pressure gage, replacing the old one that leaked causing some of the mess we had cleaned up. He also installed a new starter battery, and I put 5 gallons of hydraulic oil into the tank. With everything back together, we started the engine, and were elated that there were no leaks.

Figure 7. The new pressure gage was installed.

Figure 8. We took a little bit of time to fish for supper.

We decided that this small victory was a reason for a break, and we ran to the weir for supper. Timmy cast the net and I sorted the shrimp and dumped the by-catch as quickly as possible to reduce fatalities, catching about a gallon of shrimp and one gar. Using some of the smaller shrimp for bait, we then fished and caught a small flounder and 2 small catfish. Small redfish and more catfish were caught and released with the hopes that we would see them again when they got bigger.

This bounty was due in part to the fixed crest weir, which prevents the water from completely draining out of this part of the marsh that is so critical to the development of juvenile fish and shellfish. This nursery never completely dries out like so much of the uncontrolled marshes in the region. The top of the weir is set 6” below the normal marsh level, allowing tidal exchange to bring water and fragile, tiny creatures into the nurturing marshes and protecting them from the extreme low, wind-driven tides that have become so detrimental to the increasingly open marshes. The mature creatures leave these protected environs, when they are ready, the same way they arrived — on the tide.

Figure 9. The art of throwing a castnet begins with the proper arrangement of the net.

Figure 10. With the proper throw, the net opens up and drops to capture whatever lies beneath. A video of this process is at http://youtu.be/YMHAuXbIu7Y

Figure 11. With me at the controls and Timmy on the ladder, the old rusty cable that supported the pump was replaced with stainless steel.

 

After cleaning fish and putting the shrimp on ice, we resumed work on the dredge. With me at the controls and Timmy on a ladder, the rusty cable was pulled off of the overhead hydraulic winch that supports the pump and replaced with new stainless steel cable. That was a relief to both of us since we didn’t trust the rust to hold the pump for much longer.

After this long day, we treated ourselves to a well-deserved supper of steamed garlic shrimp and lemon/butter flounder.

 

Figure 12. Our work space on the dredge is brightened by the clean yellow pump and spuds.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Figure 13. Rose-colored sunrise on October 22, 2014.

As soon as it was light enough, Timmy started mowing the grounds. We were getting low on gas so I made a run to Shell Morgan in the Avocet to fill up all of the gas cans and top off the boat. Even with each leg taking 25 minutes, I still made it back to the headquarters by 9:45.

Timmy was still mowing, so I went to apartment to check on things and clean up a bit. No one has stayed in it since the Green Heron summer survey, so occasionally we have to run water, flush the toilet, vacuum accumulated bugs and wiped down all surfaces. Things have vastly improved since we put the screen box around the air conditioner. With the productivity of our marsh, the AC intake was regularly clogging up with millions of insect bodies. It now stays running and clean.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It was a cool 57 degrees at sunrise. I picked up Derek and Lauren at the boat ramp in the Avocet at 9:00 AM. Derek is members of our multi-NGO coalition, the Mississippi River Delta Campaign (MRDC), had heard us talk of the Rainey Sanctuary for several years now and wanted to see it firsthand. Lauren is our newest Audubon employee that would be working with the MRDC.

We went straight to the house where I showed them the small dredge and around the grounds. When Timmy fired up the airboat, we jumped back in the Avocet, and met him at down the canal at the Pierson Pond. Timmy took us around the area between Pierson Pond and NMFS Lake on the east side of the McIlhenny Canal. The terraces in this area are more mature than the ones in Christian Marsh and Timmy and I decided that it was a much better tour to see the benefits terraces provide. Terraces decrease wind-driven waves and slow water movement, allowing any sediment to drop out. The inter-terrace water was full of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and the water was relatively clear and full of active creatures. Most of the marsh edge was healthy and prograding rather than showing the eroded edge of the larger ponds. Of course, the Big Island weir probably has a role in slowing water movement in and out of the area and not allowing it to drain completely. It’s difficult to fathom how nursery sea creatures can survive if the marsh ponds dry out on every tide.

Figure 14. Derek and Lauren were treated to an airboat ride through the Rainey marshes and terraces.

With the airboat ride over, Timmy went back to house, and I continued their tour to the Pigtrap overlook via Goose Pond north canal. “Pigtrap” is actually a relic of the oil & gas activity in the area and is a raised platform accessible by stairs. I showed them the overlook to the beach and the vast unbroken marsh stretching to Southwest Pass. We tried to call up the small birds we glimpsed flitting through the shrubbery, but only managed a few seaside sparrows. We headed back to the house for lunch.

I took them to the small dredge marsh restoration site, and we walked the circuit through my beautiful restored marsh. The marsh grass has completely filled in Cell 5 other than a pathway the resident alligator maintains. The marsh is closing in around Cell 4 and 3, and LSU’s planted Spartina patens (marshhay cordgrass) plots have overgrown their borders and expanded into the encroaching edge marsh. Quite a beautiful sight when it was foot-deep water 2 years ago!

Back in the Avocet we meandered through Belle Isle Bayou to the Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel, and jetted south to the ongoing marsh creation site on the west side of the channel. This project expects to build more than 100 acres of marsh and was funded by state surplus funding and state Department of Natural Resource funds, including money paid to mitigate for wetland impacts elsewhere. The rock wall that protects the shoreline and this project from powerfully destructive boat wakes was paid for through the state and parish Coastal Impact Assistance Program and was completed in June.

No one was working at the site, so we tied up to the hose barge and walked out onto the rock wall to get a better view and to take photos. It was easy to show Derek and Lauren that this was just a bigger version of what we do with the little dredge. From here, it was a 20 mile boat-ride back to Intracoastal City and the boat ramp, and we got there about 2:00 PM. I dropped them off at the boat ramp, and motored over to Shell Morgan where I fueled up the Avocet and got ice.

Figure 15. Derek and Lauren looking over the containment levee at the Marsh Creation site on the west side of Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel.

I headed back through the Parish terraces in Little Vermilion Bay. At the entrance to our canal, I spotted an orange painted bottle tangled up in a partially submerged tree next to bank. We’ve had problems with poachers lately, so I headed over to pull up the illegal line. Surprisingly, when I pulled up, the line pulled down. I cleated part of the line off to the boat while I worked to untangle it from the submerged branch. Once it was untangled, I discovered a rather large gar attached. Once they are hooked, a gar is extremely dangerous to unhook alive, so we usually have to kill them, and not to waste them, we eat them. I called Timmy and towed the gar alongside the boat at idle toward camp, hoping it would be able to shake itself free. It tried mightily. Timmy eventually came to meet me and he collected the gar.

Figure 16. A large gar that was hooked on a poacher’s line surfing alongside my boat as I idled toward the headquarters.

As we headed down the canal, we spotted another line with a gar attached. We went on to the camp to drop my boat and get a few things, then headed to Pierson Pond where we had seen two more bottle-floats earlier in the day during the airboat tour. One line was empty, but, unfortunately, there was a dead gar on the other one. Poachers sneak in at night to leave their lines and sometimes aren’t able to sneak back to retrieve them before daylight. If left on the line too long, a gar will give up and die. Most of them large enough to eat are at least 10 years old so it’s a shame to see them wasted like that.

Figure 17. Timmy preparing to clean an alligator gar.

We had gone in for the afternoon when I remembered that there was to be a partial eclipse of the sun this day. I didn’t remember what time it was supposed to occur, but went out to check. The cloud cover was breaking up, and a quick projection with my binoculars showed it to still be underway. Timmy helped me get a few pictures as I projected it onto a piece of paper.

Figure 18. I used binoculars to project an image of the partial eclipse of the sun.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It was a cool 51 degrees at sunrise. Before I packed up for the week, I took an early morning walk down trail with Timmy and spotted the first blue-gray gnatcatchers and a few warblers. Fall color was starting to develop in the leaves and fall blooms.

Figure 19. Fall colors in the Louisiana marsh were on show in the flora and fauna.

Wednesday, October 29-31, 2014 – Beach Bird Survey

Wednesday, Oct 29

On my way down, I stopped in Abbeville at Stines to pick up paint, brushes, Ospho, and other supplies to work on the dredge. Timmy met me at the ramp at 9:30 in the flat boat and we marked channel poles from the Parish terraces with reflective tape on the way in to headquarters.

Our task today was to recycle lumber left in the marsh by a previous LSU study. Some of this marsh will be burned this winter, so we want to reuse what we can. We loaded the Goose and headed to the end of North Canal. A sledge hammer and the two of us leveraging boards got a dozen of the 2x10s loose and we carried them one-by-one and stacked them on the Goose. It will take several more trips to get them all, but we decided it was too warm still to do it now. We transported these to the site where they would be used for a walkway and headed back for lunch. Timmy spent the afternoon in the workshop working on the lawnmower and ATV and I worked on my laptop. Late afternoon, Timmy cast for bait and we went fishing down the bayou for supper. It didn’t take long to pull in a few catfish and a nice redfish.

Figure 20. Removing 2x10s from an abandoned LSU project site, and fishing for supper.

Thursday, Oct 30 – Shorebird Survey

Figure 21. Heading to the beach with the ATV.

At first light, we loaded the yellow 4-wheeler that had just come back from repair onto the Goose and headed to the beach for a shorebird survey. We traveled west first and immediately encountered plovers and other shorebirds actively feeding behind the oldest rock breakwaters. We also found the escaped cattle and one donkey. Fortunately, they decided to move out of our way as we eased along the intertidal area. We ended the west reach of the survey at Tigre Point where the new OysterBreak™ breakwater had recently been constructed. This protected stretch of beach was crawling with feeding birds.

Figure 22. Feral cattle and one donkey (far right) were on the beach at the beginning of our west shorebird survey.

Figure 23. Tigre Point is now protected by an artificial oyster reef.

Figure 24. Numerous small shorebirds were taking advantage of the lowered energy behind the breakwater.

Figure 25. Piping Plover feeding on the exposed marsh platform.

Figure 26. Dunlins, Sanderlings, and Semi-palmated Plover feeding on the exposed marsh platform behind the breakwater.

East beach was more of the same when we reached the breakwaters. The beach behind the new stretch of artificial oyster reef has a much reduced slope now and appears to have prograded seaward, other than at the transverse chenier marked by a tree in the intertidal area. This spot is directly opposite the break in the two sections and is therefore subject to more wave energy.

The east reach usually has more numbers and species of birds, and it held true for this trip as well. We got into a huge flocks of seabirds and shorebirds, so I took a lot of pictures to refine my count and identifications later.

Figure 27. The beach behind the artificial oyster-reef has a much lower slope and seems to be prograding seaward, other than the area of trees that is opposite the break between the two sections.

Figure 28. A large flock of terns and gulls favor the spits behind the breakwaters.

We were both exhausted by the time we made it back to the headquarters. Approximately 9 miles of beach takes us 4 hours of intense focus as we try to find, identify and count every bird we see. We had only 9 Piping Plovers on this survey when we usually have more than 50. That tells me that the low tide had opened up prime feeding areas all along the shoreline that we cannot access by ATV. Our high counts are usually during periods of high winds and moderate tides that concentrate the birds in the sheltered areas behind the breakwaters. I’m looking forward to subsequent beach counts later this winter.

Figure 29. The axle brace on our little trailer finally rusted through.

We had a minor casualty on this trip. The little trailer we pull that carries all of our gear during our beach survey started making more and more noise. When we got back to the house and unloaded it, Timmy turned it over to find that the axle brace was completed rusted through. We were lucky to get back with all of our stuff!

 

Figure 30. Scissortail Flycatchers appeared briefly on our antenna and then went their merry way.

Friday, Oct 31

Figure 31. Halloween sunrise.

It was a cool morning of 50 degrees when I stepped out to take pictures of the sunrise. A small front had come through overnight and was marked by the sound of the first Sora and flocks of ducks just starting to arrive.

We left the headquarters at 8:30 AM without breakfast so that Timmy had time to take care of town business and make it back before the wind picked up this afternoon.It was predicted to be gusting up to 30mph. I was very happy I didn’t have to drive my boat back in a cold gale.

Figure 32. Muted fall morning colors were on the other side of the camp.

 

 

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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