March 6, 2015 – Dredge Preparations

Dredge and Rainey Report
Dredge Preparations

March 6, 2015

Summary of accomplishments:

  • Dredge maintenance; main battery dead and will have to be replaced
  • Mini-containment in the yard
  • Cut trail for new project

Impediments: Freezing weather; low, low water; dead battery

The small dredge has been idle since August of 2013. We stopped dredging after filling Cell 3 and completing an acre so that the LSU graduate could conduct monitoring research unimpeded. Our permit to dredge has been extended, but after being exposed to the elements for 5 years, the dredge needs critical maintenance. On September 3, 2014 we pulled the dredge to the Rainey headquarters to make work on it more convenient. Weather and office obligations have limited the amount of time available to work on the dredge, so upgrades have been slow.

Monday, March 2, 2015 – No Whoopers, but lots of pigs

It was foggy and warm (70°) when I left Baton Rouge and headed down to Abbeville around 10:00 AM. Timmy was in town for errands and waiting to hear from ATV repairman. I took care of a few of my own errands in town to pick up diesel cans and other things. The ATV repairman had gotten tied up so we had to head to Danny’s Marina where the Audubon boat, the Goose, was without the 4-wheeler.

We made it to the headquarters around 3:30pm, with a sea-fog hanging heavy on the horizon and a very low cloud ceiling threatening to fall on us. A few Mallards and Green-winged Teal were still in the lake with flocks of Black-necked Stilts and Avocets. I could still hear a few Snow Geese in the distance, and marsh birds are starting to call. Only 4 Purple Martins were observed and they were all at the new bucket house.

Timmy got an email about the Whoopers still on the Sanctuary, so we decided to go look. It was a grey cruise, with large fish rolling in the canal, kingfishers chattering from the trees, and a large flock of vultures congregated over one of the weirs.

Figure 1. Afternoon cruise down the canal to look for Whooping Cranes with large fish rolling in the canal and the sea-fog looming on the horizon.

Figure 2. A large flock of vultures relaxing in the trees next to one of the weirs.

We couldn’t see any Whoopers, but saw way too many pigs. Feral hogs are non-native and are extremely detrimental to the marsh: they dig it up looking for marsh roots to eat, they tear up the marsh root layer with their trails, and they eat the eggs of alligators and ground-nesting birds. They are known to eat newly hatched young of ground-nesting birds and sea turtles, small mammals, salamanders, frogs, crabs, mussels, snakes and even newborn fawns. They can become sexually mature as early as 6 months and have litters of 3-8 piglets twice a year. With few predators once they reach 40 lbs or so, human control is absolutely critical. We see hog evidence in rooted up levees and beach areas, wallowed out areas, muddy rubs on posts, and a plethora of criss-crossing, muddy trails through the marsh and undergrowth. They are also dangerous to humans with long tusks that stick out on either side of their snouts. I usually carry a pistol when working alone, just for pigs.

Figure 3. Feral hog populations are exploding in our marsh. This group had 7 sows, a boar and 33 piglets!

Figure 4. Piglet being cleaned for later supper.

With the recent marsh burning, extensive areas of cleared marsh and levees made spotting them easier. We headed to the Bruner Pig trap and up Last Point Canal seeing pigs on the levee on both sides of the canal. Once I figured out Timmy’s shotgun, we managed to cull a few.

One came home with us for tomorrow’s supper. The best wild pig is a grilled pig!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 – Dredge Prep

At sunrise, it was 62° and white-out foggy. The fog lifted as the day increased, and it became a sunny, warm day, with 78° at noon. Timmy spent the morning spraying the deck around the house to clean it, spraying the shells and rocks to kill weeds, and spraying the dredge canopy down to remove mildew. In preparation for dredging this week, I worked to install garden edging as sediment containment or baffles for the yard. I also pulled the extra hose around and connected it to provide slack when the dredge is moved back during dredging. With the tide out and the dredge sitting on bottom, it wouldn’t be today.

Figure 5. Garden edging is being tested as a sediment containment for the yard.

Figure 6. The dredge outfall hose was lenghtened and rerouted in anticipation of dredging the boat-slip.

Figure 7. Our new small plankton net was tested by throwing it into the canal and hauling it out by hand.

All of this was done before our Staff call at 10:30. After the call and lunch, I decided to try out our new plankton net and dissecting scope. Our apartment will double as a wet-lab this season as I assuage my curiosity about what moves in and out with the tide. With a full moon in two days, I was expecting plankton with larval creatures. However, after a dozen throws, I was disappointed to capture nothing alive. It may be too fresh, at 3 parts per thousand, or too early in the season. When I have time, I need to sample regularly throughout the day to capture what comes in on our irregular tides.

Figure 8. Grilled wild pig for supper.

Timmy started the grill for the piglet we shot yesterday and would be busy the rest of the afternoon, so I took flat down to look for Whoopers again. I made it through Boundary Canal all the way to the trees at the other end. Even though I got out often when there was a clearing in the tall grass and drove standing on the seat, I saw no cranes. One hog ran the levee along canal opposite me. The sea-fog started rolling in where I couldn’t see very far across the marsh, so I gave up and headed back. With no leaves on the trees and bushes, I noticed a few Green Heron nests we missed during last year’s survey, so marked them to watch this year.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 – Foiled but cut a new trail

Sunrise was a muggy 65° with drifting fog. When the fog cleared, Timmy left for various errands in town – hoping to pick up ATV.

Figure 9. Sunrise through the blowing fog.

I worked on the dredge. The water level was up enough to float the dredge so I had hopes of starting to dredge the boat-slip while Timmy was gone. I started preparing by changing out the hydraulic oil filter, tying the front winch cable to the boat-slip frame, and pushing the floating barge over to center it in the slip.

Figure 10. I tried to charge the dead main battery.

Priming the pump has been a bit difficult so I re-routed the stiff intake hose to remove the section that held air, but the pump wouldn’t start anyway. This made me check all of the batteries, and to my dismay, I found that none of them worked and the main switch had been left on. Drat. I had to search for the battery charger and put it on the main battery. The water level would only be up for a few hours, so my hopes of dredging today were quickly diminishing.

In the meantime, I cleaned up the deck, fixed all of the overhead canopy poles that were loose, swept and washed off the rug, and sprayed all metal moving parts with WD40. By noon, the main battery still wouldn’t charge. It was 79° and sunny, so I took a break to cool off. I was actually sweating in March!

Timmy returned home 30 minutes later with the repaired yellow ATV. He had things to do with both ATVs so I left in the flat boat to go to the Dredge Site. I walked the marsh to the west of the boardwalk to mark and clear the trail for the first new dredge site of the new project. I noticed by walking through it that the marsh is very thick on the top with dead material, but sparsely stemmed at the ground with many holes. This marsh has not been burned in 5 years and it is showing it. I had to be careful and take my time not to sink up to my knees.

After a few pauses to catch my breath from high stepping over thick marsh and pulling myself out of the muddy holes, I reached the point just west and outside of the outer containment where I want to make the first marsh strip to act as a terrace. I marked it with a PVC pole and then worked to clear a trail due-north to the canal. Even the cane and dewberry vines on the levee are badly in need of burning with a lot of dead material and thin live canes. I made one cane bundle and laid the rest on the ground to make a walkway in the low areas.

Figure 11. The marsh to the west of the boardwalk is very thick with dead material but sparsely stemmed at ground level. It hasn't been burned in 5 years and shows the effects

Figure 12. I marked the location where I want to start the new terracing project and cut a trail to the canal. Right to left: view from my marker pole to the south point where the terrace will connect; looking south along the new trail to the marker pole and pond; looking north along the new trail to the canal.

I finished making a small landing at the canal at 2:30, and made my way back through the marsh to the original landing, the boat and much needed water. The smaller resident alligator that we had named “Curious George” was using the landing for his/her sundeck, and hung around in the canal while I recuperated.

Figure 13. I was happy to see the boat, shade and water. The marsh across the canal had been burned just recently.

Figure 14. Curious George has gotten a bit bigger since we first named him/her but is still just as friendly and curious

It was hot and sunny, so I took a cruise down North Canal to cool off and look for more Green Heron nests. I surprised a widespread school of very large fish that kept splashing me as they rolled (probably catfish spawning). I continued to cruise both banks to look for GRHE nests up to the Vermilion Bay and back to the headquarters.

Back at the camp for 4:00, Timmy had checked the battery charger and I had it set wrong. He still couldn’t get the main battery to charge, so it will need to be replaced. The water pump started right up after being charged for an hour, but the dredge itself could not be started with a bad main battery. Dredging will not happen again this week. As Dick Dastardly would say, “Drat, drat and double drat! Curses, Foiled again!”

Even at 6pm, it was 71° with a SSE wind at 9 mph. The fog was rolling in though making the breeze feel a bit cooler. This was the only hint of things to come.

Thursday, March 5, 2015 – Freezing, windy day

From the warm day yesterday, the temperature plummeted all day today: 54° at 3am, 44° at 5am, 40° at 7AM, 36° at 3pm with wind gusts out of the NNE to 30mph. The wind-driven waves in the canal were 2-ft rollers with fog blowing through. Early morning wind blew the chairs across the deck with a frightening noise. Needless to say, we stayed inside as much as possible.

I stepped outside to take pictures of heavy winter clouds and had hundreds of tree swallows crossing the canal. I walked over to drain the water from the apartment with below freezing night temperatures expected, and noticed that the sign in the canal had blown down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOy-sgfl1x8

Besides the whistling of the wind, the roof on the half-constructed camp was banging with the north wind, making it feel even colder. Back at the camp to warm up, I spent most of my day writing reports and periodically checking each window to watch birds fight the wind to feed in the lake or canal and over the marsh. The Purple Martins would dive into the holes in the bucket house since they couldn’t get a grip on the surrounding porch and were repeatedly blown off! I watched Black-necked Stilts leaning into the wind almost sideways to keep from being blown off their long legs.

Figure 15. The "Private Canal" sign was knocked over and pounded by wind driven rollers and blowing fog.

Figure 16. The Purple Martins that claimed the new "bucket house" were having a difficult time staying on the porch during the high winds.

After working inside for most of the day, Timmy and I bundled into all of our insulated clothes and took a walk along the lake and then along the birding trail. There was nothing active along the trail at all, but plenty of activity over the water as waterbirds fought to keep out of the wind.

Figure 17. A flock of Blue-winged Teal worked the back shallows, while Green-winged Teal worked the front.

Figure 18. There were many shorebirds such as Least and Western Sandpipers that were inland today.

Figure 19. End of the day promised clearing skies.

Friday, March 6, 2015 – Low, low water

Friday morning was another cold one — 30° at 6am; 48° by noon – but it soon became clear and sunny. At sunrise, a large flock of terns and gulls were flying over the exposed mudflat that used to be the lake, taking advantage of the stranded aquatic creatures. The sustained north winds had blown the water out of Vermilion Bay which in turn sucked the water from our canals and marshes. We had extremely low, low water and both boats were sitting on bottom in the boatshed. The ancient marsh layer was exposed on the canal bank, and was evident by a very dark layer. I took salinity out of curiosity and it was 2.75 ppt with a water temperature of 48.6°.

Figure 20. Terns and gulls were exploiting trapped aquatic creatures at sunrise.

Figure 21. With low, low water caused by sustained north winds, both boats were sitting on bottom in the boat shed.

Figure 22. Ancient marsh layers (darker horizon) that developed at lower sea levels were exposed by the low water

It was still breezy at 12-14 mph, but the humidity had dropped to 35% and felt quite comfortable. I went to collect owl pellets up in the unfinished camp, and then walked the grounds looking for birds or items of interest. Very few small birds were evident: a small flock of 25 Myrtle Warblers, a phoebe, a couple of Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Mourning Doves along the trail, Belted Kingfishers along the canal, and high-flying White Pelicans.

Figure 23. Eastern Phoebe (left) and Myrtle Warbler (right) were the only small birds I saw.

Timmy worked on the ATVs trying to rust-proof them, then mowed the yard and trail. We had to wait for the wind to drop and the tide to come in before Timmy could get the boat out to take me back to my car.

Figure 24. What a difference a day can make!

Figure 25. Just another day in the life of a Sanctuary Manager.

 

 

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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