Sunday, December 31, 2006

Flooding & Christmas Bird Count

We received an early Christmas present when we got over 4 inches of much needed rain. The rain was so wide spread that the local rivers reached flood stage. The Tchefuncte crested at 21 feet on Christmas Eve. There was some flooding in the low areas on our land near the river.

The St. Tammany Christmas Bird count was conducted on Dec. 28. The morning was clear and cool, but the weather changed in the afternoon. We saw 37 species of birds during the 5 ½ hours that we observed. Here’s what we saw:

1 Red-shouldered Hawk
14 Mourning Dove
5 Red-bellied Woodpecker
4 Downy Woodpecker
6 Blue Jay
6 American Crow
11 Carolina Chickadee
9 Tufted Titmouse
4 Brown-headed Nuthatch
8 Carolina Wren
6 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
35 American Robin
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Brown Thrasher
9 Pine Warbler
4 Eastern Towhee
1 Chipping Sparrow
34 White-throated Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco

17 Northern Cardinal
160 Red-winged Blackbird
10 Common Grackle
14 American Goldfinch
1 Golden Crowned Kinglet
2 Orange Crowned Warblers
1 Belted Kingfisher
4 Black Vultures
9 Wood ducks
2 Eastern Woods Phoebe
2 Yellow bellied sapsucker
4 Yellow-rumped warbler
2 Blue-Gray gnatcatcher
1 Hermit Thrush
3 Tree Swallow
1 Eastern Bluebird
1 American Woodcock
1 Great Blue Heron

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Otter, Deer & Another Foundling, Oh My!

The month of October has been a busy one for the wildlife of our habitat as they prepare for winter. In the middle of the month on one of our daily morning walks to the river we were rewarded by a most beautiful sight, the graceful movements of a river otter as it surfaced and then skimmed through the clear, shallow water. Other birds and animals make the woods and the river their home. On many mornings we see 10-12 wood ducks just up river from where we saw the otter. Five white tailed deer browse on strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) and wild blueberry (Vaccinium spp.). The large great blue heron prowls in the shallows for fish. Up by our house the resident cotton tail rabbits hop about trying to avoid predators.

Now that the cool weather has arrived in Louisiana we are beginning to plant trees to replace the ones that were lost to Hurricane Katrina. We planted 2 Live Oak ( Quercus virginiana ) trees and 2 Native Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis). We also plan to plant some Red Mulberry ( Morus rubra ), Hackberry ( Celtis laevigata ) , Cow Oak (Quercus michauxii), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus Occidentalis) and Crabapple (Malus angustifolia) trees. November is also a good time to plant Rye grass seeds which provides food for wildlife. All of the trees that we are planting provide food for a variety of wildlife, including song and game birds, butterflies and other insects and mammals. We also put out 4 bales of hay to give the wildlife extra food and shelter this winter.

We began seeing a beautiful, long-haired black cat in our neighborhood a few months ago, but it was afraid of us and always ran away or hid. But for some reason, on Oct. 11th, she came out of hiding and meowed at my husband. He ran inside to get food and she ate it. Within an hour she was letting us pet her and even pick her up. We made a place for her in an out-building and started calling around to try to find her a good inside home. No one we contacted had room for her and as we got to know her, we realized what a gentle, special cat she is. She met our 2 dogs and 2 cats outside and was very nonchalant with all of them. After we heard her in a fight with another animal one night we decided to bring her in and take her to the Vet. Cats can do so much damage to the wildlife. It’s in their nature to hunt and kill so now Star is one of 3 inside cats that only go outside on supervised walks. If you want to attract wildlife to your yard you must take measures to protect them from your pets.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

White Tailed Deer, Kingfisher and Plant Rescue

This morning, when we were half way to the river, we saw the white tails of 3 deer as they made a hasty retreat towards the Tchefuncte. All the corn that we put out for the wood ducks was gone. I guess with all the habitat destruction that has been going on around us, our property must have most of the browse plants that they need to prepare for the winter months.

When we reached the river we heard the chattering of a Belted Kingfisher. This fellow will sit right across the river and chatter until our dog, Rio, barks at him. The kingfisher will fly up river & back down to us as if he wants Rio to chase him. We’ve also seen a Kingfisher up at our pond by the house. The last few days we’ve seen what looks like some mallard ducks and also the resident wood ducks.

When we got back to the house we hurriedly prepared for a native plant rescue mission. One of the other members of the FNPS had alerted us about some beautiful wildflowers (including unusual, possibly rare milkweed, unusual large lavender asters, mountain mint and 20+ other species of native plants) that would soon be destroyed when another strip mall is built. We were able to move about 50+ plants today despite the rock hard soil. We plan to go back after we get a good rain, when it’s easier to dig. We will probably have to go on many more of these missions because St. Tammany Parish is in a building frenzy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Destruction Continues, but the FNPS brings hope

Apparently we spoke too soon. What we thought was the culmination of the storm debris removal project from the creek was just a 3 day siesta. The heavy equipment, chain saws and machetes came back with a vengeance and went deeper into the woods. Countless more live trees were scarred and damaged when the ones that were broken by Hurricane Katrina were pulled out of the stream. The smell of diesel fuel permeates the once fresh air while our eardrums are pummeled with the sound of the giant chipper / shredder machine. The trail (more like road) that they carved through the forest by the creek is wider that the creek in most places. What is really being achieved by this project? The healthy trees & shrubs that they are damaging or destroying could have absorbed hundreds of gallons of rain water. The parish would be better served if restrictions for new building that included raised houses instead of red clay fill and cement slabs were enforced in low, wetland & flood zone areas.

Here are some statistics that were compiled by the LSU AgCenter that say a lot:

Tree Facts: The Benefits of Trees

  • In a forest area only 10% of rainwater leaves the site.
  • Just 10% impervious area (like concrete) doubles the amount of water leaving the site.
  • A 30% tree canopy can reduce city storm water by 14%.
  • American Forests estimates that the nation’s trees are worth $400 billion per year in storm water management alone.
  • On a lighter note, the Folsom Native Plant Society’s meeting at the Covington Public Library last night had excellent attendance and featured a wonderful presentation by native plant experts, Latimore Smith (Director of TNC Science & Stewardship) and Nelwyn McInnis, The Nature Conservancy Florida Parishes Director. We were treated to a history of the Longleaf Pine forests that once covered all of St. Tammany Parish. We also learned about the 19 species of rare native plants that are preserved within TNC St. Tammany Parish properties. The FNPS is growing in numbers and we are trying to reach the public, especially those that are new to the North Shore, to teach them about the value of our native flora.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Ruby Throat Hummingbird Migration, Kingfisher and Habitat Destruction

    Linda and I banded ruby throated hummingbirds this morning. This is fall migration and a new wave came in ahead of the little cold front. This morning was our best in many months with 34 new captures. There were several females, adult males and many immature males. On our walk to the river we saw a Belted Kingfisher dive into the water after a fish.

    The St. Tammany Parish / NRCS stream debris removal and destruction project seems to be coming to an end by our property. They agreed to stop before our property line thus saving a large area of important hummingbird breeding and nesting habitat.

    We weren’t so lucky with the new neighbor who bought the land across the river and who just finished bulldozing hundreds of native shrubs and trees all along the Tchefuncte. Now bare dirt that will be susceptible to soil erosion is where wild blueberries / Huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), native azaleas, strawberry bushes and arrow-wood viburnums full of fruit once stood. Over 30 different species of birds and many mammals could have used that fruit since Katrina had already destroyed so much of the food supply and habitat. We are also concerned about the hit that the fish and other organisms in the river will take when the rains and resulting yearly winter & spring floods wash the soil from the bare land into it.

    Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Linda came today and banded a very colorful, very young, female rufous hummingbird. She was so young that she had 100% corrugation (bumps that wear off with age) on her bill. This is the first rufous that Linda has banded of the 2006-07 winter season. This immature female rufous was first observed on 8-27-06 and was banded on 8-29-06.

    A big wave of ruby-throats came to our habitat this weekend, too. Now this is more like it! I sure did miss those little guys & I'm glad they're back. I'm mixing sugar water by the half gallon.

    Monday, July 31, 2006

    Habitat Restoration

    Katrina caused the cancellation of some planting projects which had been scheduled last fall along the coast. The NRCS Plant Materials Center, located in Galliano, La., offered some potted trees that had survived Katrina and needed to be planted. So, we hooked up our trailer and headed down to the bayou. Along the way, we purchased some good old boudin and smoked sausage..."humm, but dat's good, yea". We also saw some beautiful native areas. Thanks to Mr. Michael Massimi, Invasive Species Coordinator and Dr. Richard Neill, the Center's Director, we were able to secure 20 live oaks (Quercus virginiana) and 20 red mulberry (Morus rubra) trees.

    Mulberry trees provide food for over 30 species of birds as well as numerous ground animals and butterflies. Live oaks are long-lived, hurricane resistant trees and their acorns will provide food for a variety of birds and animals. They are slow growing, but years from now they will be greatly appreciated by others; for as we know, we don't plant trees for ourselves, but for others.

    The trees we received will be used in various local restoration projects. Members of the Folsom Native Plant Society will also distribute some to individuals whose wildlife habitats were hard hit by the storms. Thousands of acres of natural habitat was destroyed by Katrina and more is being lost to the rapid home construction throughout St. Tammany Parish. Club members are involved in replanting both public and private areas of lost habitat with native trees.

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    Egrets, Rabbits & Black Racers

    One of the benefits of a forested area of downed trees is that it provides a more secure environment for nesting. We've noticed an abundance of rabbits as well as young birds this summer. Twice we have come across the largest black racer that we've ever seen here. It is approximately 6 ft. long and lightening fast. A baby, snowy egret has followed us along the river to each of four fish holes where we throw floating fish food.

    Near the house, 14 hummingbirds were banded this week and most were young males that hatched this spring. The numbers of ruby-throated hummingbirds are still down from previous years.

    In early May, we watched a slider turtle bury 18 eggs just outside our bedroom window. This month we are eagerly waiting for the turtle eggs to hatch. We're hoping that the drought we have been suffering through won't affect the developing eggs. We have gotten some relief from the drought, but our rain total is still more than 15" below normal for this year.

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Nesting Birds, Multiplying Mammals & Irises

    It finally rained. We got a 2 day grand total of ½ inch. When you add the ½ inch that we got last week you get what we should have had each week this spring. The temperature has been in the 90’s and summer doesn’t officially start until tomorrow.

    Our regular Tuesday morning hummingbird session was unproductive again with a total of zero captures. Hummingbird numbers seem to be down overall. We saw only 2 adult males and 2 immature birds all morning.

    Our cavity nesting birds seem to be doing well and we also have a lot of different species of song birds nesting in the yard. For the first time in years we have at least 1 pair of orchard orioles that have raised a family. Besides the mature male and female and their fledglings we have seen a couple of 2nd year males with the yellow coloring and black throat. Each time I go past the lemon bottlebrush plant I see one of the orioles. Orchard orioles were once very common in this area, but their numbers have decreased due to cowbird predation. We have also observed the young of several other species that nest on our property including hooded warblers, eastern towhees, wood thrushes, northern cardinals, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, mourning doves, pine warblers, Kentucky warblers, red-eyed vireos, white-eyed vireos and yellow-throated vireos.

    This spring we’ve had a population of mammals, especially cottontail rabbits and cotton rats. We also saw what looked like a young coyote hanging around and coyote droppings were found by the pond. This is not one of the predators that we encourage since they have been known to kill small pets -- just another reason why we keep our pets inside. The drought has brought the armadillos out of the woods to search for grubs in our flower beds.

    Many of the shallow parts of our creek have dried up as a result of the drought forcing reptiles to search for food upland. We saw one water moccasin along the trail in the woods yesterday morning and another on our front porch in the afternoon. But we feel that all creatures have their place in the habitat so both snakes were chased back to the creek where they belong.

    I gathered the seeds of our native copper iris (iris fulva) and the giant blue iris (Iris giganticaerulea) while the pod was still greenish yellow and pliable and planted the seeds in good potting soil. I’m hoping to get a lot of these beautiful native flowers as they are good nectar plants for hummingbirds.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Prothonotary Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers & Eastern Bluebirds

    This morning we attempted to band ruby-throated hummingbirds. This is a very inactive time for banders, when trapping is difficult due to the large number of flowers blooming - mimosa, Japanese honeysuckle, lemon bottlebrush and trumpet creeper, to name a few. The female ruby-throats have also been tending their first nests. A few juveniles have been sighted so in the next couple of weeks the hummingbirds will be plentiful again.

    After a slow start, the nestboxes on our small trail had a high percentage of occupancy this year. This was probably due to the fact that most of the natural cavities were knocked down by H. Katrina. Five pairs of Carolina chickadees had successful nests, which was such good news because they haven't been doing well the last few years.

    Three different pairs of Prothonotary warblers were successful: 1 in a bluebird box, 1 in a chickadee size box & 1 in an ornamental old barn wood box on our front porch. I have pictures of the pair on the front porch. It looks like they are starting a 2nd nest, too.

    A pair of Great Crested Flycatchers built in a screech owl sized box in the vegetable garden and the last of their young are fledging as I write. We found what we think is a great crested flycatcher's nest in box #13. We are unable to check it regularly because you have to scale 4 fallen trees and balance on logs to reach it. It also has never had a nest in it until this year. We considered making it box 12b, but maybe it's not jinxed after all.

    After a successful 2nd nesting attempt producing 4 fledglings (I saw them on the wire this a.m.) the eastern bluebirds have laid 4 eggs & the hen is beginning to set in one of the houses from the LA Bayou Bluebird Society.

    Tomorrow we check the boxes down in the woods. We're hoping for 2nd nests for the 2 Prothonotary pairs. This a.m. we watched a family of brown headed nuthatches feed their young sunflower seeds. I guess they found a cavity in a dead limb somewhere for their nest. There was another family using the feeder down by the river.

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    Wildflowers Blooming Out of Season

    At a recent meeting of the Folsom Native Plant Society, several members reported that many varieties of fall blooming wildflowers were blooming now. Those early bloomers observed were: Goldenrod, Fall Asters, Mist Flower and the introduced, Crocosmia.

    Spring this year has also had unusual weather with several cold snaps well into April and very dry weather. We are currently experiencing a drought and many of the plants that were damaged by Katrina are dying because of the lack of rain. This is the second driest Spring in weather history.

    Sunday, April 23, 2006

    Eastern Box Turtle Rescue

    On the way to the Folsom Native Plant Society Meeting, we observed an eastern box turtle that was nearly hit while it was trying to cross a busy highway. We passed it up, but quickly backed up when no cars were coming and we were able to snatch it from the jaws of death. It is an especially colorful one, with beautiful patterns on its shell. We brought it home and released it on our land.

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Another Katrina Victim

    This morning our 15 year old cat, Amphitrite', died. She was so traumitized during Hurricane Katrina and the horrible conditions that we had to live in for 3 weeks after the storm that her health started to decline. I wonder how many older people were affected in the same way that Amphi was. She's been with us so long, that it's hard to believe that she's really gone. She's one more thing that Katrina has taken from us that we can not replace.

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Nest Box Trail Restoration

    Our trail is almost restored, we need to repair, replace or move only 3 more boxes. A pair of E. Bluebirds has already checked out Evelyn's hand painted box that we placed in our yard, near the house. Both male & female went in to look around. The Carolina Chickadees were also singing and calling as we replaced the damaged boxes with beautiful new ones.

    We couldn't have gotten our trail ready so quickly without Evelyn, Kenny and the LA Bluebird Society. They came to the rescue with the offer of N.A. Bluebird Society approved nest boxes to replace the ones that were destroyed by H. Katrina.

    On January 2, 2006 we saw a rufous hummingbird in our yard. It was banded by Linda Beall and identified as a female. She spent the entire winter with us and did not migrate until late March.