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!