April 10, 2015 – Spring!

Dredge and Rainey Report
Spring!

April 30, 2015

I’ve been running a bit behind with all of the spring activities, so wanted to post something quick for my followers:

  • Purple Martins
  • New Fawns
  • Dredge
  • Piping Plovers
  • Green Herons
  • And other birds

Purple Martins

In January, I constructed 2 new Purple Martin houses – one to replace the one that fell down, and another as an experiment. It was good that I built two, because another one fell apart when we took it down to move it.

Right on cue, at the beginning of February, 5 martins arrived, and after a survey of the available lodging, took up residence in the new “Bucket house.” There were some very cold and windy days in February, but they stuck it out. We were beginning to worry that 5 were all we would have, when two more migrations happened, and I’m still trying to figure out how many we have! The original birds appear to have stuck with the bucket house, and all of the other martins have taken up residence in the new apartments across the canal. I think I can count at least 7 pairs starting to bring in nesting materials to that house, so that makes at least 20 PUMA. Last year, we had 22 birds in 3 houses, so I think we broke about even.

Figure 1. The new Purple Martin houses were taken readily by returning Purple Martins. The "Bucket house" was a new design that was taken by the first birds that came in.

New Fawns

Toward the end of March, I got video and photos of our deer herd composed of 5 does, with 3 of them pregnant, crossing the backyard. 4 days later, I got photos of the oldest doe on the mid-lake island with twin fawns! At 4 days or less old, they were spunky youngsters, jumping and cavorting about in the shallow water along the shore. A few days later, Timmy saw one of the younger does with a fawn in tow crossing our yard. Our 5-deer herd as increased to 8 and may be even more! I can’t wait to see them all together!

Figure 2. Twin fawns on April 1, 2015.

Dredge

The dredge has been sitting in the boat slip since September of last year, while we work on it and try to dredge the boat slip out. We have only had high water a few times when we actually had time to devote to dredging, but have about half of it done. Dredging has been very slow because of the accumulation of storm debris from the hurricane-destroyed house plugging the hose and pump. The mud that was moved to the yard consolidated and grew grass within two week’s time and Timmy has even mowed over it with no ruts. Every part of the yard touched by the muddy effluent is a dense green. Miracle Grow® in a hose!

Work has been done on the new project area. I cleared a new trail to access the pond for surveying and preparation, and Timmy has mowed the old landing for the new season. We also located the extra sections of hard hose that was left in the marsh and pulled them out, and cleared an access trail to pull the hose out of Cell 3 and move it to the new location.

Figure 3. Maintaining the new trail (left) and pulling extra hose sections out of the marsh (right).

Figure 4. Timmy pulled the hose sections to his boat, then I took them to mine for the trip back to headquarters.

Piping Plovers

As often as possible, we try to get out to our beach for a shorebird count, specifically looking for birds of concern such as the Piping Plover. We normally host a wintering flock along our low energy beach of about 30-50 PIPL. In December, we only counted 9. Since they do move around a good bit and the day we went for a count was really nice weather, we weren’t too concerned and expected to find them again soon. Weather kept us from returning for another count until March 31, 2015. By this time, I was fairly anxious about getting a count before they moved north. We were extremely pleased and surprised to count a total of 103 Piping Plovers, with 6 of them carrying tags!

Although we sometimes find a few PIPL actively feeding and scattered along the 8 miles of beach that we survey, the large flocks are always found resting behind the series of segmented, rock breakwaters that protect the eroding shoreline from high energy waves. Sand and shell have accumulated behind each breakwater and these refuges are largely disconnected from the shore during high water events; providing an unvegetated area that is full of wrack and is protected from wind and waves. The birds are well matched to their surroundings and can be very difficult to pick out of the background, even with binoculars or scope. They are also rather elusive and will fly away if we approach too closely. I always take a series of telephoto photographs as soon as we find plovers, and then approach at intervals to make sure we have documented every one before they fly. I also usually look for flocks of Dunlins or Sanderlings – plovers seem to like their company and will be found lined up in the wrack behind them.

The tagged birds add an additional bit of interest. Since our PIPL are only here during the winter, we always wonder where they go and if they are as well protected there as they are here. In 2013, one of our tagged birds was identified as coming in from North Dakota!

Figure 5. This photo shows how difficult it is to find shorebirds when we count. I always take pictures so I can blow them up to look for all of the hidden birds. There are 18 birds in this photo, representing 6 species.

Green Herons

Last year, I found Green Heron eggs as early as April 4, so we started looking at the end of March with no results. Wednesday, April 8th, we took a ride to the south part of the property and started seeing small groups of Green Herons in each canal we traversed. The next day, Timmy reported seeing a few pairs starting to work over old nest sites.

On April 21-22, Katie Percy joined us to start the first official nest survey of 2015. Timmy drove the Avocet while Katie and I scanned the bushes for nesting activity. We located 50 nests and banded 6 chicks!

And other birds

Currently, we are seeing only a trickle of spring migrants. The flood will soon arrive. Most of our egrets and Roseate Spoonbills have wandered off in search of rookeries, probably to the one in Vermilion Bay Southwest Pass. We still have Belted Kingfishers overlapping with Eastern Kingbirds, and our Killdeer are nesting again in the shell under the oakgrove. Orchard Orioles have arrived and can be seen flitting about, and our Myrtle Warblers (Yellow-rumped Warblers) are confusing us by molting into their breeding plumage. Yellow-Crowned Nightherons are everywhere, and Tri-colored and Little Blue Herons are moving through. Of course, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Bronze Cowbirds are also hanging about looking for opportunities.

 

 

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
225-768-0921×202 office, kwestphal@audubon.org
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