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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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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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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November 2014 – Dredge Maintenance and Waterfowl

Dredge and Rainey Report
Dredge Maintenance and Waterfowl

November 2014

Summary of accomplishments:

  • No dredging
  • Dredge Maintenance – spuds and pump painted
  • 4-wheeler repair

The small dredge has been idle since August of last year (2013). We stopped dredging after filling Cell 3 and 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, so upgrades have been slow.

November 11-13, 2014

It was a usual warm day in November for Louisiana, around 76°, when I made my run south. I stopped by Walmart in Abbeville for supplies, met Timmy at Lowe’s to look at cabinets for the headquarters, and stopped by Tractor Supply. I followed Timmy to Coastal Storage to help load the red 4-wheeler that wouldn’t start. Timmy plans to get it running to replace the green one that has a busted frame. Once the 4-wheeler was in the truck, I followed him to boatshed to unload it from the truck and onto the Goose. I moved my car to the parking lot at Maxie’s, met Timmy there, and we went to fuel up before heading out to headquarters.

At the headquarter’s boat ramp, the red 4-wheeler was pushed down the ramp from the Goose, and I used the yellow 4-wheeler to tow Timmy on the red one into the shop/garage. He worked on it while I worked on the dredge. The conversations of a few flocks of mallards, gadwall and teal in the backyard pond kept us company.

Figure 1. Mallards, Gadwall and teal (and Great Blue Heron) in the backyard pond

On the dredge, I pulled the spuds back so the unpainted ends were hanging over the water. I dragged the pirogue over into the boatshed, maneuvered it into the water, and tied it to the dock and the dredge to wire-brush the spuds. I have found Ospho a wonderful substance for treating rust, and coated the cleaned spuds with it. I had to crank up the Crucial engine that runs the hydraulic winch to lay the pump on its side where I could reach the pump’s bottom. With hammer, wire brush, screwdrivers, scrapers and whatever else I could use, I chipped and wire-brushed the heavy rust off the pump and cleaned all the jets out, and liberally coated it with Ospho. Timmy got the red-ATV working and ran it around the yard.

Figure 2. I had to use the pirogue to work on the bottom of the spuds.

Figure 3. Once the pump was on its side, I could reach the bottom to knock off as much rust as possible.

I couldn’t do anymore on the pump until the Ospho cured, and Timmy was done with the 4-wheeler. We took a late afternoon run down the Bayou to make sure that Vermilion Corp had moved their crab traps out of the middle of the channel – we are expecting it to be really low water soon, and wanted to make sure we had an exit if necessary. As we came around the bend at Pete’s camp, we were surprised by hundreds of egrets/herons congregated around the water control structure. At the Deep Lake canal, Timmy spotted two adult bald eagles.

Figure 4. Hundreds of egrets were congregated around the water control structure at the old Lege' camp.

Figure 5. A pair of adult eagles were hanging around the Deep Lake canal.

Figure 6. Silvery end of the day.

Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014

As usual for this time of year, from 76° yesterday, it was 49° today, with overcast skies and rain threatening. With low water, the lake filled up with dabbling ducks, Black-necked Stilts, Willets, wading birds, terns, and shorebirds, with flocks of Snow Geese flying overhead. Timmy had burned the marsh corner by the house recently and he suggested they were looking it over as a feeding area.

I got busy on the dredge and cranked the unit up again to lift the pump, move it back and lay it down on the other side to finish chipping, wire-brushing and Ospho coating. I tried to clean out the jet-ring nozzles but you could hear the rust rattling around inside the ring.

Timmy worked on the ATV again, trying to get it to run better. The northwestern wind pushed the water out of Vermilion Bay, which pulled the water out of our canal and marsh. The water dropped out of the boatshed in a hurry, leaving everything aground.

Figure 7. With low water in the lake, more ducks, wading birds and shorebirds arrived to feed.

Figure 8. Wading birds, shorebirds and deer on the shallower north side of the big island.

Figure 9. I worked on the bottom of the dredge pump and Timmy got the ATV running.

Figure 10. The northwest wind pushed all the water out of the marsh and canals, leaving all of our vessels aground.

Thursday, Nov 13, 2014

The front passed taking our warmth with it. The morning was 39°, windy at 10mph with gusts to 20mph, and light rain. The lake again was filling up with ducks. I watched a flock try to leave, and flying against the wind, they lifted but stayed in place over the water. They swooped around to land in the lake again, then swam to shelter behind a marsh island. Thank goodness Timmy took me back to the dock in the Goose. I would have been a chunk of ice in my boat!

November 19-20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This time, I towed “my”boat down from Baton Rouge, and stopped to pick up lunch. I made it to the headquarters 11:30. Timmy was out cutting roseaucane so I tried to find him to bring him lunch, but failed. The Sanctuary is a big place. I knew I had limited time for the day to be warm enough to paint, so I went back to camp and started working on the dredge. I sanded and primed the bottom of the spuds and pump, and Timmy arrived to eat a late lunch.

Figure 11. Bottom of the spuds were primed by pirogue again.

Figure 12. The bottom of the pump was primed. Nice to see the rust gone.

While I worked, Snow Geese passed over in flocks of over a 100. I love the sound they make as they keep up constant conversations while they fly. Mallards, teal, and Gadwall were again in lake. Black-necked Stilts, Avocets and other shorebirds were in the “way-back.”

That task finished and waiting for paint to dry, I went with Timmy to stack cane bundles at Christian Marsh. He had built a new boardwalk to the mudboat to replace the flats that were rotting out and becoming not only unbecoming but dangerous.

Figure 13. The Christian Marsh access now has a new boardwalk (foreground) to the mudboat that is used to get to the terraces.

Thursday, November 20,2014

It was a really beautiful morning out in the marsh, and there were numerous ducks, geese, Common Gallinules, marsh wrens and sparrows. We’ve decided that you could get a fairly accurate count of Marsh Wrens just by counting the number of marsh islands, as each one seems to hold a pair.

Figure 14. It was a beautiful morning in the marsh.

Figure 15. It was too pretty a morning for just one picture, so I added another. Notice Common Gallinules crossing under the sun.

Back to work on the dredge, I painted the bottom of the pump and spuds. I had to crank up the Crucial to pick the pump up and lay it on the other side. Each time the Crucial unit is cranked up, the hydraulic oil leaks from the top of the tank, so we are sure the filter needs to be changed. I ordered that during a break today. I decided to paint the bottom of the spuds blue, so we could easily tell when to stop raising it.

Figure 16. finished first coat of paint on both the spuds and pump. They look so clean!

 

 

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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October 2014 – Dredge Maintenance

Dredge and Rainey Report
Dredge Maintenance

October 31, 2014

Summary of accomplishments:

  • No dredging
  • Painted top of spuds and pump; installed new pressure gage
  • Shorebird Survey
  • Waterfowl finally arriving

Impediments: tours and other meetings limited available time

Summary:
The small dredge has been idle since August of last year (2013). We stopped dredging after filling Cell 3 and 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, so upgrades have been slow.

September 30 – October 1, 2014 – NAWCA Tour

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Figure 1. New floor grate behind the wheel of the Avocet.

Timmy was away this week, and I was designated as the Audubon staff to host a stopover at Rainey by the tour of the NAWCA board. I towed the 17’ boat, the Avocet, from Baton Rouge and made it to the Rainey headquarters near 9:00 AM. This past month, I had constructed a new floor grate for the boat to keep gear off a wet floor and make it more comfortable for my short legs. It worked well. I unloaded, made coffee and set out refreshments to await the group.

The NAWCA group arrived about an hour later on 2 big boats. They had begun their boat tour at Avery Island, almost 2 hours away, so were ready for a rest-stop by the time they reached the Rainey headquarters. While they took in the view from the headquarters deck, I was requested to give background on the Rainey Sanctuary. Because the small dredge was in the boat slip next to the house, I also talked about it and the marsh restoration we were doing in concert with other restoration work to slow water movement. After a break they took off for the airboat tours of Christian Marsh. After a brief stop to look over the dredge site, they were gone by 2:30.

Figure 2. The tour for the NAWCA board was by boat and airboat.

With time to spare, I waited until the afternoon heat abated, found sandpaper and sanded the spuds for a second coat of yellow paint. A young Snowy Egret kept me company as it fished right next to the dredge in the boat slip.

Figure 3. juvenile Snowy Egret fishing alongside the dredge while I worked.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I spent the night intending to work more on the dredge, but woke up to heavy rain that would not let up until mid-morning. With an evening obligation, I needed to leave early, so I could not get started on the next task. I tried to leave at 10AM, but an isolated rain shower turned me around. I tried again at 11:00 and made it back to the boat ramp.

Figure 4. High water at the Rainey headquarters following an all night storm. The dredge is tied securely at the east end of the boat slip.

Figure 5. It took two tries to get back to high ground. This shows the difference an hour can make in local weather

October 21-24, 2014 – dredge maintenance, MRDC tour, partial eclipse

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I left Baton Rouge towing the Avocet at 8:00 AM and made it out to the Rainey headquarters by 10:15.After unloading the boat, Timmy and I took a quick run to the Big Island Weir. It was nice to see the shorebirds starting to assemble in the Belle Isle Lake mudflats for their winter stay with us. Black-necked stilts, Willets, Greater Yellow-legs and Dowitchers were all staking out their favorite wind-free loafing areas.

Figure 6. Black-necked Stilts and Willets were a few of the birds starting to assemble for the winter in the Belle Isle Lake mudflats.

We worked on the dredge all day. The newly painted spuds were lowered to the deck so we could open the doors to the Crucial engine that runs the pump. Timmy pulled the old battery out, and started cleaning the engine housing. He scooped out the oil coated sorbent pads that we had put in bottom of engine unit and put them in Ziploc bags for disposal. We used a large wet/dry shop-vac to suck out the crud that had been collecting in the bottom pan, and poured all of the oily fluid into old juice jugs to settle. Later, the oil was separated and poured into other containers to recycle at the Sportsman in Abbeville. Dawn® dishsoap was squirted into the bottom pan and it was all agitated by hose and sucked out again with the vac. The soapy by-wash was taken to high ground and poured over shells to bio-degrade.

Timmy then installed the new pressure gage, replacing the old one that leaked causing some of the mess we had cleaned up. He also installed a new starter battery, and I put 5 gallons of hydraulic oil into the tank. With everything back together, we started the engine, and were elated that there were no leaks.

Figure 7. The new pressure gage was installed.

Figure 8. We took a little bit of time to fish for supper.

We decided that this small victory was a reason for a break, and we ran to the weir for supper. Timmy cast the net and I sorted the shrimp and dumped the by-catch as quickly as possible to reduce fatalities, catching about a gallon of shrimp and one gar. Using some of the smaller shrimp for bait, we then fished and caught a small flounder and 2 small catfish. Small redfish and more catfish were caught and released with the hopes that we would see them again when they got bigger.

This bounty was due in part to the fixed crest weir, which prevents the water from completely draining out of this part of the marsh that is so critical to the development of juvenile fish and shellfish. This nursery never completely dries out like so much of the uncontrolled marshes in the region. The top of the weir is set 6” below the normal marsh level, allowing tidal exchange to bring water and fragile, tiny creatures into the nurturing marshes and protecting them from the extreme low, wind-driven tides that have become so detrimental to the increasingly open marshes. The mature creatures leave these protected environs, when they are ready, the same way they arrived — on the tide.

Figure 9. The art of throwing a castnet begins with the proper arrangement of the net.

Figure 10. With the proper throw, the net opens up and drops to capture whatever lies beneath. A video of this process is at http://youtu.be/YMHAuXbIu7Y

Figure 11. With me at the controls and Timmy on the ladder, the old rusty cable that supported the pump was replaced with stainless steel.

 

After cleaning fish and putting the shrimp on ice, we resumed work on the dredge. With me at the controls and Timmy on a ladder, the rusty cable was pulled off of the overhead hydraulic winch that supports the pump and replaced with new stainless steel cable. That was a relief to both of us since we didn’t trust the rust to hold the pump for much longer.

After this long day, we treated ourselves to a well-deserved supper of steamed garlic shrimp and lemon/butter flounder.

 

Figure 12. Our work space on the dredge is brightened by the clean yellow pump and spuds.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Figure 13. Rose-colored sunrise on October 22, 2014.

As soon as it was light enough, Timmy started mowing the grounds. We were getting low on gas so I made a run to Shell Morgan in the Avocet to fill up all of the gas cans and top off the boat. Even with each leg taking 25 minutes, I still made it back to the headquarters by 9:45.

Timmy was still mowing, so I went to apartment to check on things and clean up a bit. No one has stayed in it since the Green Heron summer survey, so occasionally we have to run water, flush the toilet, vacuum accumulated bugs and wiped down all surfaces. Things have vastly improved since we put the screen box around the air conditioner. With the productivity of our marsh, the AC intake was regularly clogging up with millions of insect bodies. It now stays running and clean.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It was a cool 57 degrees at sunrise. I picked up Derek and Lauren at the boat ramp in the Avocet at 9:00 AM. Derek is members of our multi-NGO coalition, the Mississippi River Delta Campaign (MRDC), had heard us talk of the Rainey Sanctuary for several years now and wanted to see it firsthand. Lauren is our newest Audubon employee that would be working with the MRDC.

We went straight to the house where I showed them the small dredge and around the grounds. When Timmy fired up the airboat, we jumped back in the Avocet, and met him at down the canal at the Pierson Pond. Timmy took us around the area between Pierson Pond and NMFS Lake on the east side of the McIlhenny Canal. The terraces in this area are more mature than the ones in Christian Marsh and Timmy and I decided that it was a much better tour to see the benefits terraces provide. Terraces decrease wind-driven waves and slow water movement, allowing any sediment to drop out. The inter-terrace water was full of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and the water was relatively clear and full of active creatures. Most of the marsh edge was healthy and prograding rather than showing the eroded edge of the larger ponds. Of course, the Big Island weir probably has a role in slowing water movement in and out of the area and not allowing it to drain completely. It’s difficult to fathom how nursery sea creatures can survive if the marsh ponds dry out on every tide.

Figure 14. Derek and Lauren were treated to an airboat ride through the Rainey marshes and terraces.

With the airboat ride over, Timmy went back to house, and I continued their tour to the Pigtrap overlook via Goose Pond north canal. “Pigtrap” is actually a relic of the oil & gas activity in the area and is a raised platform accessible by stairs. I showed them the overlook to the beach and the vast unbroken marsh stretching to Southwest Pass. We tried to call up the small birds we glimpsed flitting through the shrubbery, but only managed a few seaside sparrows. We headed back to the house for lunch.

I took them to the small dredge marsh restoration site, and we walked the circuit through my beautiful restored marsh. The marsh grass has completely filled in Cell 5 other than a pathway the resident alligator maintains. The marsh is closing in around Cell 4 and 3, and LSU’s planted Spartina patens (marshhay cordgrass) plots have overgrown their borders and expanded into the encroaching edge marsh. Quite a beautiful sight when it was foot-deep water 2 years ago!

Back in the Avocet we meandered through Belle Isle Bayou to the Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel, and jetted south to the ongoing marsh creation site on the west side of the channel. This project expects to build more than 100 acres of marsh and was funded by state surplus funding and state Department of Natural Resource funds, including money paid to mitigate for wetland impacts elsewhere. The rock wall that protects the shoreline and this project from powerfully destructive boat wakes was paid for through the state and parish Coastal Impact Assistance Program and was completed in June.

No one was working at the site, so we tied up to the hose barge and walked out onto the rock wall to get a better view and to take photos. It was easy to show Derek and Lauren that this was just a bigger version of what we do with the little dredge. From here, it was a 20 mile boat-ride back to Intracoastal City and the boat ramp, and we got there about 2:00 PM. I dropped them off at the boat ramp, and motored over to Shell Morgan where I fueled up the Avocet and got ice.

Figure 15. Derek and Lauren looking over the containment levee at the Marsh Creation site on the west side of Freshwater Bayou Navigation Channel.

I headed back through the Parish terraces in Little Vermilion Bay. At the entrance to our canal, I spotted an orange painted bottle tangled up in a partially submerged tree next to bank. We’ve had problems with poachers lately, so I headed over to pull up the illegal line. Surprisingly, when I pulled up, the line pulled down. I cleated part of the line off to the boat while I worked to untangle it from the submerged branch. Once it was untangled, I discovered a rather large gar attached. Once they are hooked, a gar is extremely dangerous to unhook alive, so we usually have to kill them, and not to waste them, we eat them. I called Timmy and towed the gar alongside the boat at idle toward camp, hoping it would be able to shake itself free. It tried mightily. Timmy eventually came to meet me and he collected the gar.

Figure 16. A large gar that was hooked on a poacher’s line surfing alongside my boat as I idled toward the headquarters.

As we headed down the canal, we spotted another line with a gar attached. We went on to the camp to drop my boat and get a few things, then headed to Pierson Pond where we had seen two more bottle-floats earlier in the day during the airboat tour. One line was empty, but, unfortunately, there was a dead gar on the other one. Poachers sneak in at night to leave their lines and sometimes aren’t able to sneak back to retrieve them before daylight. If left on the line too long, a gar will give up and die. Most of them large enough to eat are at least 10 years old so it’s a shame to see them wasted like that.

Figure 17. Timmy preparing to clean an alligator gar.

We had gone in for the afternoon when I remembered that there was to be a partial eclipse of the sun this day. I didn’t remember what time it was supposed to occur, but went out to check. The cloud cover was breaking up, and a quick projection with my binoculars showed it to still be underway. Timmy helped me get a few pictures as I projected it onto a piece of paper.

Figure 18. I used binoculars to project an image of the partial eclipse of the sun.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It was a cool 51 degrees at sunrise. Before I packed up for the week, I took an early morning walk down trail with Timmy and spotted the first blue-gray gnatcatchers and a few warblers. Fall color was starting to develop in the leaves and fall blooms.

Figure 19. Fall colors in the Louisiana marsh were on show in the flora and fauna.

Wednesday, October 29-31, 2014 – Beach Bird Survey

Wednesday, Oct 29

On my way down, I stopped in Abbeville at Stines to pick up paint, brushes, Ospho, and other supplies to work on the dredge. Timmy met me at the ramp at 9:30 in the flat boat and we marked channel poles from the Parish terraces with reflective tape on the way in to headquarters.

Our task today was to recycle lumber left in the marsh by a previous LSU study. Some of this marsh will be burned this winter, so we want to reuse what we can. We loaded the Goose and headed to the end of North Canal. A sledge hammer and the two of us leveraging boards got a dozen of the 2x10s loose and we carried them one-by-one and stacked them on the Goose. It will take several more trips to get them all, but we decided it was too warm still to do it now. We transported these to the site where they would be used for a walkway and headed back for lunch. Timmy spent the afternoon in the workshop working on the lawnmower and ATV and I worked on my laptop. Late afternoon, Timmy cast for bait and we went fishing down the bayou for supper. It didn’t take long to pull in a few catfish and a nice redfish.

Figure 20. Removing 2x10s from an abandoned LSU project site, and fishing for supper.

Thursday, Oct 30 – Shorebird Survey

Figure 21. Heading to the beach with the ATV.

At first light, we loaded the yellow 4-wheeler that had just come back from repair onto the Goose and headed to the beach for a shorebird survey. We traveled west first and immediately encountered plovers and other shorebirds actively feeding behind the oldest rock breakwaters. We also found the escaped cattle and one donkey. Fortunately, they decided to move out of our way as we eased along the intertidal area. We ended the west reach of the survey at Tigre Point where the new OysterBreak™ breakwater had recently been constructed. This protected stretch of beach was crawling with feeding birds.

Figure 22. Feral cattle and one donkey (far right) were on the beach at the beginning of our west shorebird survey.

Figure 23. Tigre Point is now protected by an artificial oyster reef.

Figure 24. Numerous small shorebirds were taking advantage of the lowered energy behind the breakwater.

Figure 25. Piping Plover feeding on the exposed marsh platform.

Figure 26. Dunlins, Sanderlings, and Semi-palmated Plover feeding on the exposed marsh platform behind the breakwater.

East beach was more of the same when we reached the breakwaters. The beach behind the new stretch of artificial oyster reef has a much reduced slope now and appears to have prograded seaward, other than at the transverse chenier marked by a tree in the intertidal area. This spot is directly opposite the break in the two sections and is therefore subject to more wave energy.

The east reach usually has more numbers and species of birds, and it held true for this trip as well. We got into a huge flocks of seabirds and shorebirds, so I took a lot of pictures to refine my count and identifications later.

Figure 27. The beach behind the artificial oyster-reef has a much lower slope and seems to be prograding seaward, other than the area of trees that is opposite the break between the two sections.

Figure 28. A large flock of terns and gulls favor the spits behind the breakwaters.

We were both exhausted by the time we made it back to the headquarters. Approximately 9 miles of beach takes us 4 hours of intense focus as we try to find, identify and count every bird we see. We had only 9 Piping Plovers on this survey when we usually have more than 50. That tells me that the low tide had opened up prime feeding areas all along the shoreline that we cannot access by ATV. Our high counts are usually during periods of high winds and moderate tides that concentrate the birds in the sheltered areas behind the breakwaters. I’m looking forward to subsequent beach counts later this winter.

Figure 29. The axle brace on our little trailer finally rusted through.

We had a minor casualty on this trip. The little trailer we pull that carries all of our gear during our beach survey started making more and more noise. When we got back to the house and unloaded it, Timmy turned it over to find that the axle brace was completed rusted through. We were lucky to get back with all of our stuff!

 

Figure 30. Scissortail Flycatchers appeared briefly on our antenna and then went their merry way.

Friday, Oct 31

Figure 31. Halloween sunrise.

It was a cool morning of 50 degrees when I stepped out to take pictures of the sunrise. A small front had come through overnight and was marked by the sound of the first Sora and flocks of ducks just starting to arrive.

We left the headquarters at 8:30 AM without breakfast so that Timmy had time to take care of town business and make it back before the wind picked up this afternoon.It was predicted to be gusting up to 30mph. I was very happy I didn’t have to drive my boat back in a cold gale.

Figure 32. Muted fall morning colors were on the other side of the camp.

 

 

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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September 3, 2014 – Dredge Maintenance

Dredge and Rainey Report
Dredge Maintenance

September 03, 2014

Summary of accomplishments:

  • No dredging
  • Moved the “John James” to the Rainey headquarters’ boatslip

Impediments: thunderstorms

Summary:

The small dredge has been idle since August of last year (2013). We stopped dredging after filling Cell 3 and completing an acre. After being exposed to the elements for 5 years, the dredge needed critical maintenance, and filling the next cell would cause back-flow to affect the cells LSU had already begun to monitor. Last winter, the water-pump that runs the jet-ring was pulled off and a new frame was constructed to replace the one that had disintegrated into a pile of rust.

Just recently, I extended the Coastal Use Permit for our dredge work, with another project in mind to create marsh terraces with the dredge in the outer pond of the experimental site. With time-intensive summer projects such as the Green Heron nest surveys finally winding down, it is time to get the dredge overhauled and ready for the next dredge project.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 – moving the dredge

Timmy met me at the boat ramp right at 9:00 AM and we were at the dredge by 10:00. We knew there was a leak in the hydraulic system – specifically the hose to the pressure gage – and couldn’t crank the engine that charges the batteries, powers the pump or the hydraulic winch. However, the batteries seem to be charged up enough to use the other winches that pick up the spuds or moves the dredge side-to-side.

Figure 1. The dredge hose was pulled away from the bank by the flat boat.

First, we disconnected the flexible 4” dredge hose in the canal from the hard hose on the bank. It took a bit of work to break the corrosion that had sealed the brass to aluminum connections, and we both took turns hammering or levering the hose until it came loose. We capped the end, keeping a bit of air in the hose to help float it. The end was tied it to the flatboat and Timmy pulled it back and forth across the canal until it was freed from the banana lilies that had grown around it in the shallow part of the canal near the bank.

Timmy untied the anchor from the right side-to-side cable and marked its position in the marsh with a PVC pole so we could find it later. He also untied the other cable from the tree on the left. I pulled both cables in while cleaning off the barnacles and algae before winding them onto the winches. We pulled the barnacle-coated spuds up, but didn’t have enough water depth to rotate them and lay them down on the deck.

Timmy tied the flatboat to the side of the dredge and pushed the dredge backwards all the way to the camp, with the 3 sections of flexible hose still attached to the pump dragging along behind. The floats did a good job of keeping the hose up. It took an hour to push the dredge a mile and a half to the Rainey Headquarters.

Figure 2. The flatboat was tied alongside the dredge to push it backwards a mile and a half to the Rainey headquarters.

We tied it up in front of the camp, moved the boats out of the boatshed, and pulled the loose end of the hose into the boatshed so that it wouldn’t be a navigation obstruction floating around in the canal. The spuds had to be lowered to get the dredge under the boatshed. Barnacles had grown around the lock pins, and Timmy had a bit of trouble getting them all pulled loose. The spuds were lowered partway, a rope was tied to the top, and we pulled them under the rear brace and lowered them to the deck. Each was pulled all the way onboard to get the pointed end pulled into the case for safety. We took a lunch break and planned our next move.

Timmy pulled the hose with the John Deere riding lawnmower (both of our 4-wheelers are offsite for repair) and I moved and steered the dredge along the canal and into the boat slip by ropes tied to the front and back. We moved it one hose section at a time. I had to move the dredge to give slack in the hose, tie up the dredge and run around to the front of the boat slip to help move the hose sections over the bulkhead at the east end, and run back to the dredge to move it for more slack. Each section had to be taken apart to drain it and make it lighter for the mower to pull. Even with all of that, it was a lot easier to get it into the boat slip and tied down than we had expected and we were done by 5:00.

Figure 3. The dredge was tied up in front of the house to lower the spuds, and a rope attached to the front and rear was used to maneuver it into the boatshed.

Figure 4. The small dredge will be kept tethered in the far end of the boat slip until all maintenance is completed.

 

 

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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July 25, 2014 – Staff visit to Rainey


Dredge and Rainey Report
Audubon Staff Visit to Rainey

July 25, 2014

By Karen Westphal

To keep our staff focused on Louisiana issues by maintaining a connection with the landscape, a small seaplane flew our newest staff and our Washington DC representative across south Louisiana to land at Audubon’s oldest and largest Sanctuary in southwest Louisiana. Tours like this are integral to our staff’s understanding of the scale of conservation issues that cannot be easily garnered otherwise.

The Louisiana staff Ashley Peters and Harriett Pooler joined Brian Moore from the national office in Washington DC at the Southern Seaplane base in Belle Chasse. While they were flying across the Louisiana marshes, barrier shoreline and Atchafalaya/Wax Lake delta complex, I (Karen Westpha) and Doug Meffert headed out by boat (in the Avocet) to join Timmy Vincent (pronounced “Van-saw”), Senior Sanctuary Manager of the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary.

I towed the Avocet down under overcast and drizzly skies, which cleared by the time Doug arrived at the boat ramp and we headed out to the Rainey headquarters through a glassy Vermilion Bay.

Figure 1. Doug Meffert and Timmy Vincent waiting on the deck of the Rainey Headquarters for the arrival of the seaplane.

At 10 AM the Seaplane flew over the house, which was the pilot looking the canal over before landing. It was a smooth landing and alligators and egrets scattered as the plane taxied to the dock.

Figure 2. The seaplane landed at the juncture of Belle Isle Bayou and the McIlhenny Canal.

Figure 3. An alligator crosses just in front of the plane to welcome them in.

Brian, Ashley and Harriett disembarked and we greeted one another as the plane taxied away and went aloft. The group moved inside for discussion and map orientation of the Sanctuary landscape.

Figure 4. The Louisiana Audubon staff arrived. Left to right: the pilot, Timmy, Ashley, Doug, Brian, and Harriett.

While Timmy and Doug were otherwise occupied, I took the group for a short tour of the headquarter grounds and up onto the camp-under-construction for an overlook.

Figure 5. The group climbed up on the camp under construction to get a view over the grounds and lake.

The heat and insects shortened our walking tour, and we boarded the Avocet for a boat ride. At the Bay Coast weir, I explained our attempts to manage water levels and salinity for the best intermediate marsh health. Where the canal enters Vermilion Bay, I showed them the multitude of commercial crab traps clustered at the outlet as one of many indicators of marsh health by the number of crabs it produces.

We stopped next at the small dredge marsh restoration site and toured the new marsh that is the result of our efforts. There was a bit of excitement as Harriett walked by an unnoticed 7-ft alligator lying partially under the main walkway. It was our resident gator and didn’t react to our presence at first. With Harriett on one side and the rest of us on the other, it was prudent to make a gator of this size move away. With some experience, I pulled up one of the many 10-ft PVC poles nearby and gently bumped the gator in the side to let it know we could see it. It flinched and slowly moved off to a more comfortable distance.

We continued with our marsh tour. I brought along one of the Dredge Log-books containing blog reports to show them photos of the area before fill. I also explained the LSU research plots as we walked the route through the filled cells.

Figure 6. An alligator was apparently napping with its head under our walkway. It moved over slightly for this picture. Karen had to bump it with a pole to get it to move off to a safer distance.

By the time we finished at the dredge site, it was past noon and we were getting hungry. As if on cue, Timmy texted that it was crab time. We returned to the house to cool off and eat boiled crab.

Figure 7. Lunch was boiled crabs.

Thunderstorms were closing in, so the visit came to an end. I dropped the top on the Avocet to stow it and headed directly back to the boat ramp to pull the boat out of the water. The others were transported back to the parking lot by Timmy on the Goose, and they arrived at the boat ramp as I was unloading the Avocet and securing it for travel. The clouds rolled in as we departed.

It was a long day, but an important one. The staff now has a better understanding of the work they do and how conservation and political issues are connected to the landscape.

Figure 8. Thunderstorms rolling in west of Baton Rouge.

 

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June 20, 2014 – Green Heron Nest Survey


Dredge and Rainey Report
Green Heron Nest Survey

June 20, 2014

Summary of accomplishments:

  • No dredging
  • Green Heron nest survey
  • unexpected predator revealed by trail cam

Green Herons are well known by the public at large, and are spoken of fondly by those that are familiar with them. The personable birds prefer to fish from overhanging branches and piers rather than wading like many other herons, and are known to use twigs or food as bait to attract minnows. Though well known, they are overlooked in the details of their life cycle, and their population has slowly been decreasing nationwide. Not much is known about their secretive nesting habits or nesting success. Timmy Vincent, the Senior Sanctuary Manager at the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary, has watched them for years, and recognizing that we had a large population of nesting birds on the Refuge, interested Erik Johnson, our Director of Bird Conservation, into taking the species on as a special project. This is the second breeding season that we have sought out nests to band chicks, trying to unravel the mystery behind their population dynamics.

The July/August issue of Audubon magazine has a special feature on this project:  http://www.audubonmagazine.org/articles/birds/alien-landing

A video of a Green Heron hatchling can be accessed at http://youtu.be/d5H0cjaCUIY

To download a pdf of this report, click here: 

 

Tuesday, June17, 2014

Erik Johnson, Molly Folkerts and I met at the usual boat landing at 10:30AM and arrived at the Rainey headquarters to eat an early lunch. Timmy was out on the far reaches of the property clearing brush and grass from water control structures to protect them from lightening fires, but returned with a broken weed-eater while we were preparing to start our Green Heron nest survey.

Since the water level was high, we decided to start at Deep Lake Canal, which is a very shallow waterway that requires relatively high water to access. Timmy decided to come with us to see the new nest area we had discovered at the end of the canal, and to look at the small boat we had found last time that must have been left behind by a hurricane. The day started our survey out on a good note, since we were able to locate surviving chicks and new nests with eggs. This season has been shaping up to have a rather disappointing nesting-success rate.

Figure 1. A bucket of Green Heron siblings shows the range of sizes that are often found in one nest.

Figure 2. Erik and Molly banding chicks.

We finished nests along the northern canals and waterways and returned to the house to drop Timmy off. We still had high water, which meant we needed to do some of the other shallow canals at the south end of the property, so targeted Bob Gil Canal and the Safari trail. It was near 5:30 before we finished that stretch, so headed back to the house instead of starting another waterway.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Figure 3. Dawn for June 18, 2014.

The day dawned warm and muggy, and we did our best to get an early morning start. We were in the boat and headed out to the west side of our study area by 7:30, ready for a long, hot day. We started at “Timmy’s Corner” with a few chicks and new nests, followed by a tour of the McIlhenny Canals and Big Chick Canal. We finally encountered a few nests with banded chicks that had survived the passing two weeks. With so few chicks to band, we were finished early and tied up to a McIlhenny dock to eat a late lunch.

Figure 4. A week-old chick sporting the newest fashion in Heron jewelry, and starting to show more color in the face and wings.

On the way back, we unexpectedly found another nest on the main canal. Green Herons tend to favor the smaller, less traffic waterways, or cuts off of main channels. This one was right on a main thouroughfare. The parent bird did not flush even though we approached within 10-ft. It made us wonder how many nests we miss because of these more tenacious, “stick-tight” moms.

Figure 5. This parent refused to leave her newly hatched chicks, so we left as soon as Erik got a peek at what was there.

With time left in our day, we headed back to the southeast end of Rainey to search nests along Boundary and Sagrera Access canals, again with mixed success. Everyone was lost in thought on the cruise north and we completely bypassed Bruner Canal. Instead, we finished off south and north Goose Pond canals before heading back to HQ.

Relaxing at the air-conditioned headquarters, we watched the day fade as one of our deer and her fawn cautiously cross the yard.

Figure 6. Our resident deer cautiously cross the yard behind the house, keeping a close eye on our movements.

 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Timmy headed out early to the boat landing to pick up a grad student that is working on shrimp and crabs in different types of submerged aquatic vegetation. It was a clear morning with a half-moon decorating the sky. We made a run to the dredge to pick up my minnow net, and passed Timmy returning.

We surveyed for GRHE nests down Last Point and Bruner canals. Erik took down 2 cameras on nests that had failed, and switched out memory cards and batteries. He then chose another nest with newly hatching chicks, and put both cameras up for a nest view and bush view to try to capture reasons for our seemingly high rates of nest failure, including predation. A large gator was cruising the canal, and we have found on more than one occasion that a gator would be intensely watching a nest area. We have speculated on possible predators such as gators, raccoons, snakes, Great-horned Owls, night-herons and rats, but haven’t had any positive proof.

Figure 7. A newly hatched green heron barely ahead of another one just starting to peck its way out of the shell. This nest will have two cameras on it to watch development and nest activities, and to attempt to catch what happens if eggs or chicks disappear.

Figure 8. Two cameras (red arrows) were placed on one nest (white arrow) to capture the nest area and bush area to capture what might be affecting nest success.

Figure 9. A nine foot alligator was cruising the nest canal, leading us to believe it might be looking for low-hanging nests.

We finished all of our planned routes by lunch. Erik finally had time to download the pictures captured by the trail cams from failed nests, and we were all shocked and surprised when one of them showed predation by a bobcat. How it made it to the nest through the long spikes and spines of the water locust tree is a real mystery. Now we are wondering if the levee along which these nest bushes grow, is a conduit for bobcat predation.

Figure 10. Motion triggered bird cameras placed over a nest revealed predation from an unanticipated source - a bobcat. It also captured a rat investigating the nest 6 hours later.

Erik and Molly were packing up to leave when Timmy mentioned all of the herons he had seen yesterday when taking the grad student along Tom’s Bayou. Tom’s Bayou is a natural waterway on the eastern side of the Rainey Sanctuary, and we had surveyed it last year. Erik had thought focusing on the core canals would keep our small crew busy, but with the low nest success, it wouldn’t hurt to go look. We found another 20 nests and banded several chicks. Comparisons of nest success will now be made between canal/levee nests and natural waterway nests.

With a more encouraging end to this nest survey, I took Molly and Erik back to the dock at 5:30.

Figure 11. A heron chick is next in line for a band while its anxious parent looks on from a nearby shrub.

Figure 12. Erik, Molly and Timmy inspect every bush for a nest.

Figure 13. The well-managed Rainey marshes are beautiful in the interior areas. Nest shrubs thin out where the natural stream bank is too low.

 

Friday, June 20, 2014

I prefer not to tow the boat late and when I’m tired, so stayed another night. I cleaned up after our group and left the Rainey headquarters when Timmy did at 8:30. There was a fishing rodeo this weekend at the boat launch, but luckily I came in during the mid-morning slow period and had no trouble loading the boat.

Figure 14. Dawn on June 20, 2014.

 

 

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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April Already?

Here it is April and I’m still trying to catch up for all of the months our blog site has had technical problems. The host server decided to cease cooperation and it has been a long haul to identify the problem and get the blog moved over to a new server.

If you check, you will find that I have been adding posts for last fall.

Our winter in southwest Louisiana has been rough, with lower than normal low tides and lower than normal temperatures. No dredging has been attempted since last fall and we have slowly been addressing various maintenance issues to be ready when conditions improve and when we identify our next project. The frame for the waterpump that runs the jet-ring on the pump finally disintegrated into rust, so we have designed a new one that will be constructed from aluminum. The canopy popped loose with repeated high winds and several of the ribs were broken and lost, but has been repaired. A new winch was installed for one of the side-to-side controls, and a busted hydraulic hose was replaced.

In the meantime, I posted bird-related and Sanctuary activities, and kept watch over our ground-nesting Great Horned Owls. They successfully raised one owlet, “PJ”, and it is very well hidden in the bushes on the grounds of the headquarters as it continues to improve its flight ability. I helped with prescribed burns, winter shorebird counts, owl-nest cam, continued work in the apartment, setting property boundary signs, and other activities. The marsh grass in the restoration site has continued to flourish in spite of inclement weather. Although the emergent parts are dormant, the underground parts have been exhibiting an impressive amount of tillering from both the 3-square and marshhay.  Those posts will be added as I slowly catch up.

 

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March 17, 2014 – Great Horned Owl


Dredge and Rainey Report
Ground-nesting Great Horned Owl

May 03, 2013

All through the winter, there have been a pair of Great Horned Owls in the vicinity of the Paul J Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary headquarters. In January, the Senior Sanctuary Manager, Timmy Vincent, discovered that they had established a nest on the ground at the base of one of our big oak trees. It wasn’t much of a nest, but soon there were two white eggs to watch.

Figure 1. January 14, 2014, parent owl sitting on the nest at the base of a large oak tree on the Rainey headquarters grounds.

Figure 2.On January 31, 2014, we found there were two eggs in the depression used as a nest.

With this opportunity thrust at our feet (pun intended), we endeavored to establish an online streaming video feed of the nest and related activities. I emailed every contact in Audubon for help. Meanwhile, we bought an off-the-shelf surveillance system with a DVR that was supposed to have online access.

We have been researching how to do this for some time now, but kept getting thwarted by the remoteness of the Sanctuary and limited power, internet, and even cellular access. With the nest only 100-ft away from the guesthouse we’ve been working on for so long, power was no longer an issue. With a new wireless router and a range extender, an internet connection was also not a problem. So, on January 31, 2014, we had a surveillance camera with night vision setup roughly 20 feet from the nest, and could watch it on the computer screen in the main headquarters building a good 400 feet away.

I did my best to configure the system for online access, but could not access it through my phone as the documents stated. Thus began a long running series of phone calls between the DVR manufacturer and our internet provider, both of which required long waits on hold. The final concluding result of several days/weeks discussion and research was that we could not stream video through our satellite internet connection. Thus, an external hardrive was purchased to transfer all video downloaded from the DVR for later viewing/streaming.

Figure 3. We set up a surveillance camera on the nest (shown by red arrow) on January 31, 2014

Figure 4. With a surveillance camera set up, we could watch the nest from inside the headquarters.

Figure 5. Night-vision allowed 24-hr surveillance

Sometime during the weekend, probably on February 2, 2014 by best we could tell on the video recordings, the eggs hatched. We have no clue what happened to the other egg or chick, for by the time we got pictures 3-days later, there was only one owlet. This was during the most hellacious winter weather south Louisiana has seen in a long time, with a week of below freezing nights, including sleet and freezing rain. These are some tough birds!

Figure 6. On February 5, 2014, the owlet was roughly 3 days old, and sits beside a leftover meal of teal.

We discovered that our video surveillance cameras just weren’t of a resolution to let us see what was actually happening at the nest, and we were reluctant to move the camera any closer and disturb the new family. Another camera, meant for nest boxes, was procured and installed on the tree above the nest area. This allowed two views to watch activities, one just of the nest and one of the surrounding area.

We were captivated, and each one of us would watch the video whenever we were in the headquarters. We dubbed the owlet “PJ” (for the Paul J Rainey Sanctuary), and soon caught on to the daily routine. Not much happened during the daylight hours. The male would bring food in, the female would meet him and take it from him to return to the nest around 5-6 AM. It was almost exclusively birds: teal, coot, snowy egret, black-necked stilt. Luckily, I never saw a Green Heron. The meal would stay in the nest area and be fed to the owlet periodically. The parent would either eat the rest or take it away after a day or two.

We were worried about predators until Timmy witnessed, twice, the adults chasing a full grown bobcat away. As the owlet grew, the parents became more and more aggressive. They were somewhat used to us wandering around taking care of the grounds, but when we approached the nest to deal with cameras or take pictures, they would hover ominously nearby, clacking their bills loudly. I even carried a laundry basket over my head and shoulders one day, just to make sure!

Figure 7. A second camera was installed above the nest for a more intimate look into the life of a growing owlet.

Figure 8. On February 12, 2014, PJ was 10-days old and sits next to leftover meal of coot.

Figure 9. February 13, 2014, meals were coot and snowy egret.

Figure 10. On February 18, 2014, PJ is 16 days old and looking more like a toddler.

Figure 11. February 19, 2014, 17 days old. Notice the feathered feet.

Figure 12. February 28, 2014, 26 days old and starting to develop ear tufts.

Figure 13 .On March 1, 2014, PJ was 4 weeks old and had developed his parents glare. He also started clacking his bill when I came too close.

Figure 14. March 6, 2014. This was the last picture I got of him before he became mobile, left the nest, and I couldn’t find him.

An example of the owl video from the overhead camera can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMDQ_8Ll1FI&feature=youtu.be

It is almost 6 minutes long, and a parent brings in a coot around minute 2.5. There are many vocalizations from all birds, including the other parent that is apparently nearby. Background buzzing noise I think is the water pump.

I still hope to overcome the challenges of an online streaming video feed from the Rainey Sanctuary. Proper equipment, such as that with the Eagle Cams and Puffin Cam, cost $20K just for one system. The internet is probably our biggest obstacle, and until we can establish a link to a landline, decent video resolution and live streaming can not happen. I think there is a system that uses solar power and cellular data uplink for $5K, but that is limited in bandwidth as well and involves a hefty monthly data plan.

So, until that time, I will continue to bring Rainey to the public through the blog, website and Facebook.

 

 

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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