Dredge (and Rainey) Report, October 25, 2011

Tuesday, October 25 – Fixed winch; Dredging into Cell 5

Late Monday afternoon, Karen towed Avocet from Baton Rouge and came out to the camp, after stopping at the Sportsman in Abbeville to get the speedometer fixed on the boat.

Figure 1. Before dawn with a fingernail moon (right side of pic),

The sun comes up late these days – the photo above was at 7 am with a tiny crescent of moon showing (right side of pic) and no sun yet. Timmy and I fought the thick swarm of mosquitoes to load the boats and got to the dredge around 8:00 am.

Timmy climbed up the ladder to replace the overhead winch battery, and then realized we didn’t bring the cable cutter and an allen wrench for the setscrew that holds the cable on. While he went back to the camp, Karen tied the heavy pump securely to both uprights to prevent it falling when we released the cable. She tried to move the pump for the safest arrangement and discovered that the overhead winch still was not working, and the cable was jammed.

Figure 2. Timmy figuring out the winch problem.

When Timmy returned, he managed to get the cable disconnected from the pump, and took the winch casing off to troubleshoot. He finally found corrosion on interior connections and corrected that problem. We wanted to remove some of the cable from the winch because the pump hanging off the front beam keeps the winch at an angle and the cable tries to pile up on the lower end until it jams itself against the casing. We were hoping that less cable would not be able to bind, so we cut off what wasn’t needed for the depth we have been dredging. With that challenge overcome, we left the dredge motor idling to make sure the new battery was charged up, and visited the test cell and study cells.

The landing at the test site was hot with mosquitoes, so it was a mad dash to tie up the boat and make it to the boardwalk without passing out for lack of blood. A green heron greeted us from the end of the boardwalk, and quickly flew off to avoid my camera. A flock of white-faced ibis passed over as well. The water level was low, exposing mud-covered spikerush and Bacopa, a reminder that most vegetation will be going dormant soon. The smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) that was planted next to the boardwalk, was thick, tall and in full inflourescence.

Figure 3. Previously green areas at the test cell were covered with gray mud and the marsh vegetation was turning gold with seed heads before going dormant.

Not surprisingly, mosquitoes were waiting at the study cell landing too. Two great blue herons lifted over us, a very small cottonmouth was in the mud right by the boardwalk and a couple of blue crabs scittered into deeper water as we walked by. The water level in the pond was very low, roughly 8 inches below marsh level (BML), as indicated by the marker poles. With mosquitoes so welcoming, I didn’t try to take the usual before-dredging pictures.

Figure 7. Small shrimp feeding on the algae on the water hose.

Figure 7. Small shrimp feeding on the algae on the water hose.

Back on the dredge, we made sure the overhead winch was working, primed the pump and started dredging at 11:30 am. Timmy did all the dredging while Karen worked the side to side traveling winches, kept the waterpump fueled, and the spuds appropriately seated. Karen went to move the water line that was drooped into the water and was surprised as a whole school of small shrimp scattered. They were apparently feeding on the algae growing on the hose. After only 10 minutes, the left traveling cable broke, so Timmy did a temporary fix for us to finish the dredge line swing. The traveling cables have been in brackish water almost constantly for over a year, and this one was caught by a boat at one time, so breaking was not a surprise.

Dredge results at the study cells:

The water level in the pond was at approximately 8 inches below marsh level (ML). Cell 5 was probably high and dry before we started pumping, but was covered with fluid mud at marsh level throughout and still showed a visible subaerial delta around the outfall, showing that containment and layering was working to build up the sediment fill.

The water/mud level of Cell 4 was at 3-4 inches below ML, and a third of the cell at this time was exposed mud with mudcracks, 4 inches above the water level in the rest of the contained area. A mature bald eagle soared above us and watched as I slapped at mosquitoes and worked my way across the marsh to take photographs.

Figure 8. Cell 5 after 2 hours of pumping was right at marsh level (bottom of green mark on pole).

Figure 9. The south end of Cell 4 looking toward the west at containment 4c shows fluid mud to 4 inches BML.

Figure 10. The north end of Cell 4 looking west, shows exposed substrate and mud cracks for about a third of the cell.

Figure 10. The north end of Cell 4 looking west, shows exposed substrate and mud cracks for about a third of the cell.

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Figure 11. Bald eagle soaring above the study site.

Christian Marsh:

With dredging curtailed by the broken traveling cable, we headed back to the camp at 2:00 for a quick lunch. Timmy needed to check on the progress of the NAWCA Christian Marsh terracing project, so I went along for a ride in the airboat.

With three airboats (including ours) and two enormous marsh buggy cranes moving about and making noise, the area was overflowing with waterfowl and constantly moving birdlife. The other airboats were surveying and marking the placement of the terraces, and the two cranes were in constant motion scooping clay and piling it into a long ridge. It was amazing to watch how fast the cranes were moving material. Flocks of peeps, yellow legs, and other shorebirds were minutely inspecting the freshly exposed mud even next to the big yellow “Frogco” cranes. Forster terns, long-billed dowitchers, black-necked stilts and others circled about or found mud perches to rest and preen.

Figure 12. Marsh buggy cranes worked in tandem to create terrace ridges.

Figure 13. Birds of all kinds took advantage of the newly exposed mud. Figure 14. Peep and Yellowleg in new mud.

As we circled through the marsh in the area, coots were everywhere in big rafts and were constantly running across the water, diving under or crawling in hordes into the marsh to avoid us. Thousands of blue-winged teal, gadwalls and other ducks raised up in swarms. White ibis, white-faced ibis, roseatte spoonbills and a multitude of herons and egrets speckled the sky in waves of motion. Everywhere you looked, there was life. The reason to save this area was made very, very clear.

Figure 15. Thousands of coots were in extensive rafts throughout the area.

Figure 16. Coots in evasive mob maneuvers.

Figure 16. Coots in evasive mob maneuvers.

Figure 17. Thousands of teal and other ducks.

Figure 17. Thousands of teal and other ducks.

Figure 18. Ibis, egrets, herons and roseatte spoonbills.

Figure 18. Ibis, egrets, herons and roseatte spoonbills.

Figure 19. The abundance of life accentuated the reasons for preserving the area.

Figure 19. The abundance of life accentuated the reasons for preserving the area.

After leaving Christian Marsh, we used the flat to patrol the southeast canals down to the pig trap. A group of immature night herons led the way down one canal, egrets flushed over water control structures and startled fish into sparkling fountains, red tailed hawks and harriers watched over the grassland, and a bevy of unidentified sparrows moved ceaselessly through the brush.

A stop at the Goose Pond revealed a dry mudflat, and unusually low numbers of birds. Timmy opened the flapgate to let water in, in hopes that it would rain soon to flush the salt out.

Figure 20. Unusually dry Goose Pond with only a few wading birds at the waters edge.

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