December 9, 2014 – Whooping Cranes and Dredge Maintenance

Dredge and Rainey Report
Whooping Cranes and Dredge Maintenance

December 9, 2014

Summary of accomplishments:

  • Whooping Cranes returned
  • Dredge Maintenance – spuds and pump painted; jet-ring cleared
  • Dredge test

The small dredge has been idle since August of last year (2013). We stopped dredging after 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, and now winter low water keeps it grounded in the headquarters boat slip.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I headed out from Baton Rouge in the afternoon, stopping for supplies along the way, and met Timmy at the boat ramp at 3:30. We stopped by the Bay Coast weir for a moment to check for evidence of poachers, and I caught a nice picture of a juvenile Brown Pelican and fall colors in the marsh (yes, I know it’s winter elsewhere!).

Figure 1. A juvenile Brown Pelican was at its usual perch on the Bay Coast weir and fall colors are still glowing along the canal levees.

I unloaded my gear at the headquarters, and we got back in the Goose to look for the three Whooping Cranes that are reportedly be back in our area. We stopped the boat in the canal next to last year’s area just before sundown, hoping to see them flying to their night roost on the beach, but the sun went down and the mosquitos came out with a vengeance without us seeing the cranes. Timmy followed the canals back around and headed east on one of the main canals. In an instant, I spotted the 3 Whoopers in the open right next to the levee. Timmy slowed down, came out to look, and verified my sighting. As he was turning the boat around, I jumped down from my perch on the railing, ran into the cabin for my camera, came back out — and couldn’t see them anywhere. The three large, white creatures had vanished like smoke!

The Whooping Cranes are all adorned with tracking devices that are installed by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries before being released as juveniles into the marshes around White Lake, Louisiana. These birds are three of the five that spent last winter with us, and are known to be a pair of 3 year-olds and a single 2 year-old female. The pair is just about at breeding age, and if they choose to do so this year, they will chase the extra female away. We are excited and honored that they have chosen to return to the same area for a second winter, and hope this will become an annual winter stopover for them and their offspring. The area the birds have chosen on the Rainey Sanctuary provides rich feeding areas and is mostly undisturbed by human activity since it is not open to the public. We would rather they not nest here since we do have a high number of hogs, coyotes and bobcats that might disturb them. These birds usually move to an area around Dallas, Texas for the summer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We were up early this morning, and heard gunshots coming from a suspicious direction, so Timmy left to look for poachers. Apparently, the gunshot sound was carried across the bay in the cool north breeze, as he could find no poachers on our side.

Water level was down, so Timmy decided to try digging up the electrical line that was spliced a month ago when it shorted out in the wet ground. I cooked breakfast before he turned the electricity off, and went to help. He started digging into the ground scooping up thick clay, and I helped as best I could. It turned out that the electric line was too deep, too difficult, and too dangerous as it appears to be right alongside the incoming SLIMCO line. We will have to get SLIMCO to move the meter at a later date.

The entire time we were working, we were listening to a lake full of ducks, around 600 made up of Mallards, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and Pintail, and could hear roughly 1,500 Snow Geese just south of the camp. I love the sounds of winter in the marsh!

Figure 2. The lake behind the headquarters was full of Mallards, Gadwall and Green-winged Teal.

I started working on the dredge, but couldn’t get the nozzles off the bottom of the jet-ring. Timmy came onboard to help. He got some of them loosened by using a hammer and wrench, and I used the rotary hammer to remove them. As we suspected, the jet-ring was full of broken rust chips. The larger openings with the nozzles removed allowed us to shake a good bit of the rust out. I banged on the jet ring with a hammer to loosen the rust and turned the pump over a couple of times. I added another coat of paint on the bottom of the pump and part of the spuds.

Figure 3. It took some effort to get the nozzles off of the jet-ring so we could shake the rust out of the inside.

While I worked on the pump, Timmy brought some of the bulkhead material over on the new wagon behind the red ATV. We need to bulkhead off around the new boatslip structure. The heavy vinyl panels are made to interlock, and Timmy set the first one in place with a maul. However, the second one was too heavy for both of us working together to lift into the interlocking slot. Another job that will have to wait until conditions are right to float the dredge. Then we can rig up a block and tackle to use with the winch on the front of the dredge.

Figure 4. Timmy using his new wagon to move big stuff around.

Figure 5. Near-full moon rising over an egret-filled island.

 

Darren Thomasee from DNR stopped by. He is working for the LDNR on the Coles Bayou and Christian Marsh projects that are in the vicinity. We enjoy the few visitors that have business with us or that come from neighboring properties.

A near-full moon rose behind the lake as a multitude of egrets settled in for the night. How they expect to sleep with the quacking of hundreds of ducks continuing into the dark hours is beyond me.

 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It was a foggy morning, but the ducks still came in to the lake. We have one Green Heron that has spent the winter with us around the headquarter grounds. More than likely it isn’t one of our breeders, but probably came from further north. I had to wait for the fog to lift to get back to the boat ramp and my car.

Figure 6. A foggy morning was no deterrent to hungry ducks.

Figure 7. Our wintering Green Heron seen through fog.

Monday, December 8, 2014

This week started with Timmy at the Baton Rouge office, so I followed him west when he headed back to the Sanctuary and met him at the Goose at 4:30. We made it to the Rainey headquarters just before sundown.

Figure 8. Sunset over Little Vermilion Bay on the way to the Rainey headquarters

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The next morning was picture perfect temperature and conditions. Ducks were winging in to feed and socialize at the lake and Snow Geese could be heard in the distance.

Figure 9. Two mallards gliding in for landing in the backyard lake.

We spent the day outside working on the dredge. The waterpump with new aluminum frame was installed on dredge. The wash hose was soaked in bleach and scrubbed to remove 4 years of accumulated dirt and mildew. The intake hose had stiffened with age and we had to force it into place. Priming the pump took some time since the gasket had stiffened as well. The battery was almost dead so Timmy put a battery charger on it.

Last week, we pulled off as many nozzles as we could get loose, so today we did what we could to clean the remaining rust chunks out of jet-ring by rolling the pump around and beating on the ring to knock it out. We had to feel around inside with our fingers to break up and pull chunks out. The waterpump was connected to the jet-ring, primed and water was forced through to flush the ring until we couldn’t feel any more rust and the water seemed to flow free. The small hole in each nozzle was drilled out, and Timmy put “never-seize” on the threads when he put the nozzles back on to help us the next time we clean it. Another test with the water pump on full gave us satisfying results of good jet action.

Figure 10. The water pump was put into its place on the dredge and intake/output was connected so we could flush the rest of the rust out of the jet-ring.

Figure 11. Water was flushed through the jet-ring until we could get all of the loose rust out.

Figure 12. When the rust was flushed out, the nozzles were drilled open and replaced, and the jet-test looks good.

Timmy pulled the discharge hoses into place in the yard with the ATV and I worked to hook them together. The ditch that drains the yard was plugged to slow the mud flow back into the boat slip. We worked as a dredge team again to drop the pump in the boat slip and pump mud into yard. Unfortunately, the tide was out and the dredge was sitting on bottom so we couldn’t move the dredge anywhere after one drop. Additionally, the yard filled with fluid mud and water and was overtopping Timmy’s containment, so we stopped to keep the mud from flowing back into the boat slip.

I spent the rest of my day scraping barnacles off of the hose and floats.

Figure 13. The pump was tested by dredging in the boat slip to the yard.

Figure 14. The test went well, as we added a thin layer of mud to Timmy's yard.

Ducks started assembling in the lake as the tide lowered. When the 5 does showed up on the island in the lake, I headed up on the unfinished camp with camera gear to take pictures. As I was focused on the lake taking video of ducks, I kept hearing a noise and thought Timmy was doing something back at the house. When I looked away from the camera viewfinder, I saw two bucks in the yard right below my observation post sparring. How cool is that? I got some great video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FGmqKYIg0Q

Figure 15. December in the backyard lake is very busy.

Figure 16. Mallards, Gadwall, and Pintail enjoy the roots of the Banana Lilies (Nymphaea Mexicana).

Figure 17. The ducks and Roseate Spoonbills seem unconcerned by the proximity of the deer.

Figure 18. Two bucks arrived to spar right below my observation deck.

Figure 19. Nice winter shot of a Myrtle Warbler.

 

 

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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