Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Winter" on the bayou

Today, on December 14, in Louisiana, it was 70 degrees F outside! I was in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals as I paddled through Black Bayou NWR with Kermit. This weather is the complete opposite of what I typically experienced this time of year, growing up in New Hampshire.

Below is a photo taken yesterday just down the road from where I grew up in Springfield New Hampshire. (It was taken with a cell phone and texted to me--thanks Mom!).

In contrast, below is Black Bayou Lake NWR today. 

The cypress trees have dropped their leaves, but before they did, they were a vibrant orange-red color. Despite the sometimes dreary-look of leafless trees, the wetland was alive with waterfowl, especially ducks, they were everywhere, and quite noisy!

Additionally, alligators were out on this warm December day, basking in the sun.

This was the bigger of the two I photographed. I saw four total. 

The smaller of the two, this guy was basking about 50 feet from the first one pictured.

Ducks flying overhead

Sometimes Kermit seems to get bored when I stop for too long to enjoy the scenery or compose photos. 

The idea of trying to get a photo of the ducks running/flapping across the water was a last second thought. I did not give myself any time to adequately consider or frame the shot, and I am not really happy with how these two photos came out, but hopefully they give you some idea of how impressive it is to see the ducks fly and run across water.

As much as I love REAL winters, and I truly do, I appreciate the interesting and mild (this time of year) climate of Louisiana, where I am able to paddle around instead of snow shoe or ice skate. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Back to Black Bayou Lake NWR with Kermit

(As always, you can click on any image to view them larger, in a gallery)

I recently spent half a day paddling through Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge with Kermit. This time we went much further out, and explored some new areas. It was a beautiful day, with many alligators out basking. I was told by a naturalist at the Visitor Center, that there are roughly 7,000 alligators at that site.

I found some great information on alligators at the Savannah River Ecology Lab website, which is an old and well-respected lab in the field of ecology. Apparently a common, and effective method for conducting population surveys on alligators is at night, shining flashlights, which reflect especially brightly off their unique eyes. As part of my Master's research at the University of Illinois, I conducted anuran call surveys at night. I am generally very comfortable out in the woods, day or night, but wading through wetlands at night (alone) to perform call surveys was sometimes disconcerting. Given that, I cannot imagine what it would be like to venture out at night to conduct nocturnal surveys of alligator populations. 

When I look at alligators, I can't help but feel like I am staring at a living dinosaur. They just look so ancient. Accordingly, alligators are the "...last living reptiles that were closely related to dinosaurs, and their closest modern kin are birds (SREL)." Also, there is only one other species of alligator besides the american alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), which is found in China. 
I have only seen alligators a couple of times in my life. When I was a young child I visited Gator Land in Florida with my grandparents. More recently, when I was in Charleston South Carolina  (almost two years ago) for a wedding, I saw many alligators while visiting a wetland on a former plantation (I took many photos during that trip, but they ended up getting deleted by accident).

But I found it to be a much different experience, for me, to be paddling in the same water that alligators are swimming in. A couple swam ~20 or 30" from my canoe, it was breathtaking and startling. It's humbling to be in an environment with such a large predator. It is especially important to respect such wildlife, and maintain a safe distance and awareness.

When I worked in Sequoia National Forest, I remember sometimes feeling disconcerted by the mountain lions (of which I was fortunate to see 3), another large predator that can be dangerous to people, especially if you are not being careful.

Paddling through a forest! Incredible!

Happy Kermit!

An Anhinga anhinga! Beautiful bird!

I suspect this is a species of Bidens. From what I have seen. this is prolific throughout the state.  

Any idea what species of snake this is? There are 54 species of snakes in Louisiana (7 of which are poisonous) .

I suspect this might be a species of Argiope, but I am not sure! So if someone out there can identify this for me, please leave a comment below! I did not take this with my macro lens, next time I definitely will. I only took a short walk through the woods before heading out. This spider was large, about the size of my palm.
I only had a quick few of this beautiful little turtle before it slid into the water, so if anyone can identify this for me, please leave a comment below!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge

Kermit seemed to enjoy watching the various species of heron, egret, anhingas, and other water birds. 
I moved to Louisiana about a week and a half ago, after I accepted a position with the USDA. So far, I have found Louisiana to be a very beautiful state, and I'm excited to explore a different part of the country! While I absolutely love winter , I find myself appreciating the warm autumn weather here. It's almost November, and I am still in a t-shirt and shorts!

Yesterday, I took Kermit paddling at Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, in Monroe. The Black Lake Bayou NWR consists of forested trails, a lake, and baldcypress/tupelo wetlands. Last night I started reading the book, Bayou-Diversity, by Kelby Ouchley, since I have a great deal to learn about the natural history in the area. The book was recommended to me by a member of the Friends of Black Bayou nonprofit organization, who I spoke with at the beautiful visitor center found on site. 

I had the opportunity to see two alligators, which were swimming about 20-30 feet from the canoe. As I floated along, parallel to one, it stealthily sunk into the water, without leaving any ripples, and just a few bubbles to indicate where it had been. It was incredible! 

The flora and fauna down here is unlike anything I've experienced before, it's exciting and fascinating! 

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), is a deciduous conifer that has a limited range throughout the southeastern United States, and up along the Mississippi River to the southern tip of Illinois. 

Such an amazing ecosystem! I have wanted to explore a bayou for years, it's exciting to now live near so many unique and beautiful areas. 

Just along for the ride!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Roaring Brook Falls

Roaring Brook Falls is another great piece of conservation land in Cheshire CT. Access is found at the end of a neighborhood on Roaring Brook Rd, which is off Mountain Rd. I visited the Roaring Brook property a couple of times, including the last at the end of September, before leaving for Louisiana. As is typical this time of year, the stream was very low when I visited . Oftentimes the cascading waterfall is quite impressive.

the remains of an old mill are on site

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brooke Memorial Preserve and Fresh Meadows Preserve

I have been visiting as many of the conservation properties in the area as possible. So yesterday after work I explored Brooke Memorial Preserve and Fresh Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Cheshire, CT. I took Kermit and my little point-and-shoot camera, which is less versatile, but more portable than my DSLR. 

The trail in Brooke Memorial is growing over and reminds me an old logging road, common throughout New England 
Kermit was happy to pose

A lone sugar maple tree is turning

The trails at Fresh Meadows cut through forest and shrubby meadows
There are many thickets of autumn olive on site, a highly invasive shrub with edible berries 

catalpa- invasive?

I spotted this very small deer about sixty meters in the woods. It was tough to get a halfway decent shot with the point-and-shoot.

Kill site?

Fresh Meadows borders the property of Edward Tufte, a famous statistician who taught at Yale. I had the chance to see him speak at the Foellinger Auditorium while at I was at the University of Illinois. His property has many large sculptures, one of which is visible from the east side of Fresh Meadows.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quick trip to Sleeping Giant

I recently went for a short walk in Sleeping Giant State Park, up along some of the red and blue trails. 

The invasive insect hemlock woolly adelgid is wrecking havoc on hemlock trees in Sleeping Giant and throughout southern New England. The insect feeds on the stored starches in the tree, severely weakening it, usually resulting in death 4-6 years. In many ways the hemlock is a keystone species, that creates unique environmental and ecological conditions. Researchers are studying the factors that limit and control the spread of the insect, and why some trees are more susceptible than others. 

Kermit always enjoys exploring the woods!