August 7, 2015 – Green Heron Nest Survey and Trip up Vermilion River


Dredge and Rainey Report
Green Heron Nest Survey and Trip up the Vermilion River

August 07, 2015

The small dredge has been idle since August 2013 after completing the project. After being exposed to the elements for 5 years, the dredge needed critical maintenance. On September 3, 2014 we pulled the dredge to the Rainey headquarters to make work on it more convenient. In the meantime, I renewed our Coastal Use Permit for marsh creation, and we have been training with our new survey equipment which will be used to set up the next project.

Monday, August 3, 2015

With decent weather predicted for this week, Katie and I decided to get a few things done this morning before heading to Rainey for this evening. I met Katie at the Intracoastal City public boat ramp at 3:30, and we were at the Rainey Headquarters by 4:00 PM. I walked the birding trail at sunset while Katie took a turn at preparing supper.

Figure 1. Sunset from the Headquarter's Birding Trail.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I awoke with thunder-squalls surrounding us. I set up the GoPro to capture the lightening and backside of sunrise:  https://youtu.be/4Iv1F-yGArk

Figure 2. Lightening at dawn.

Figure 3. Dawn showed us surrounded by thunderheads. Top: to the south; bottom: to the west.

Katie and I left in the Avocet at 7:00 for the Green Heron nest routes on the west side, hoping to stay ahead of the moving squalls. We surveyed Douce, Guyana, Blowout, and Timmy’s Corner, skipping areas where there were no longer any active nests. We headed north and pulled into a water control structure canal near Bayou Club to call into our weekly staff meeting. However, we couldn’t hear well and it was stifling hot, so we continued on with the survey before it got hotter.

Figure 4. A heron nest in a Locust tree near a control structure.

At Deep Lake, we went through the breach at the end following a heron to see if there were nests on the other side of the levee, but could only go a short way before it was too shallow for the boat. We also tried the breach on the east side of the canal but found no nests or birds in the bushes there.

The day degraded to become even more hot and stuffy – 97° or so. “Pop-up” showers — rain clouds that would develop in-place with no warning — were in the area but we managed to avoid each other.  We saw 2 Spotted Sandpipers flying along the waterway and numerous Belted Kingfishers that have been absent all summer. We spotted a Hairy woodpecker along Boundary Canal.

Figure 5. We found several chicks that were a perfect age for banding.

Figure 6. Sometimes, covering a chick’s head would calm it for handling and photos.

At 12:30 we made it back to camp for a break, to charge phones and for me to download and empty the GoPro. Then we headed south while the tide was up and started at Bob Gil with Safari to Big Catfish Location. We ran south to Boundary Canal, then to Bruner, Last Point, S Goose and N Goose canals.

With the late afternoon sun, I would hang a tarp or set up the beach umbrella to provide shade for us and the chicks we were handling. I also had several large, battery-powered fans to move the air and help us keep cooler. At one point, a breeze surprised us and the umbrella took a leap off the boat in the middle of processing a nest. I watched as it flipped over and sailed further and further away. Fortunately, we were working nests along the canal in that general direction and caught up to it on about the third nest.

We banded 17 chicks from 7 nests and were back at Headquarters by 6:30.

Figure 7. My umbrella decided to head home on its own.

Figure 8. We had three motion-activated cameras set up on active nests.

I have been collecting images of all of the Green Heron chicks we band, and was amazed when I started comparing some of the images of different aged chicks. The growth rate of the chicks and the development of feathers is amazingly rapid. This indicates the immense effort required of the parents to fuel the rapid growth of chicks, and how important the availability and proximity of food must be to a successful nesting season.

Figure 9. Immense effort is required of the parents to fuel the rapid growth of chicks. The top wing is from a 4-day old chick and the bottom is from a 12-day old chick.

Figure 10. The development of the bill and head feathering is also fascinating. The top bird is about 4 days old and the bottom bird is about 12-days old.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Figure 11. Sunrise over Belle Isle Lake August 5, 2015.

We left at 7:15 for Tom’s Bayou. We banded several more chicks along Milan’s Ditch and Coy-dog Run and finished at 11:10. It seems the later nests are more successful than the early nests this year, but the data will verify this later.

Figure 12. Deer Pea vines had taken over vast areas of marsh along Milan's Ditch.

Figure 13. Katie with a handful of chicks headed back to the home nest, and the little seen underside of a developing Green Heron wing.

Figure 14. Katie measuring a chick in the added shade of a beach umbrella, and the developing feathers on the back of a chick.

I cleaned up the boat while Katie packed her gear. Timmy wanted to take water meter readings up the Vermilion River, so he drove us to the boat ramp. We unloaded Katie and her gear and waited for her to depart.

We headed up the Vermilion River, stopping to take water quality readings at various points along the way. We traveled up to the Pogy plant (this is a local term for a Menhaden processing plant) that has been hosting pogy boats from Mississippi since the plant in Moss Point, MS was destroyed. We then cruised past Oak Plantation, and circled back around to the River. As we headed upstream past Palmetto State Park and the Port of Vermilion, we began hearing thunder. With trees lining the winding waterway, we couldn’t see the sky to tell where it was coming from along our return route.

Figure 15. Timmy and I took a cruise up the Vermilion River to take water quality readings.

Figure 16. Two Menhaden or "Pogy" boats side-by-side at the processing plant. The boats carry two smaller boats on the stern that are launched to spread the nets around a school of menhaden.

Figure 17. Vermilion River is very scenic as you get away from the industry and public docks.

Figure 18. A camp on the Vermilion River.

As we turned around to head back, we turned a bend and ran right into the rain. We pulled into Palmetto State Park and tied up under some trees to wait it out. It cleared some, and we could hear thunder, but we thought the curves of the river would let us make it down. Of course not, and we ran right into heavy rain again. We both had our raingear on, but mine was near to useless. I dug out the tarp I carry in my boat for shade, and wrapped myself up in it and put part of it across Timmy to block blowing rain. We made it to the boatshed at Danny’s Marina with both of us wet and cold. The roof of the boatshed was leaking, so I made a tent with the tarp, dried off, and changed into a dry shirt I had in my survival kit/backpack. The sky seemed to clear again, so we headed back to the camp and hit rain again. I got the tarp out again and wrapped myself up like a burrito.

Figure 19. Traveling down Vermilion River in pouring rain, we both got soaked.

As we crossed the Bay, it cleared and turned warm. At the camp it looked like there had been no rain at all. I immediately went in for a warm shower and Timmy sat outside to warm up. Toward night, the increased humidity and threatening rain brought out insects in clouds, most of which seemingly were drawn to the light coming from the house. These were followed closely by herds of green tree frogs on every lit window.

Figure 20. The windows of the house were covered with insects and Green Tree Frogs.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

We were up before dawn, so I washed clothes and packed up while answering emails and eating breakfast. We sat outside to drink coffee on the deck while watching for birds. We watched a Yellow Warbler in the huisache (Acacia) across the canal and saw several more fly in. The Barn Swallow families gathered in communal chattering groups, either sitting in groups on the ground or lined up on any wire or cable. I counted about 32 Barn Swallows. I cleaned the boat up and dropped the bimini top to zip it into its cover before heading out about 9:30.

Figure 21. Barn Swallow adults and juveniles gathered in groups on the ground or lining every wire or cable.

Figure 22. Barn Swallows preening and sunning.

 

 

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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