Monday, March 25, 2013

Explore-A-Swamp Workshop

Explore-A-Swamp Workshop Participants
Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge
March 23, 2013
The first of four Louisiana Environmental Education Association statewide workshops happened at Black Bayou Lake NWR on Saturday, March 23.  Fourteen of us explored the bottomland hardwood forest at the edge of Black Bayou Lake on a cool spring morning.  It was a gray day and the light was subdued, but mosses, lichens, ferns, and liverworts glowed rich and green beside the nature trail.  We had our notebooks handy to write down our observations of the day.  We noted the many adaptations of plants and animals in this wetland.  For example:  overcup acorns float so they can disperse in high water, trees in the wetland can tolerate water around their roots for a limited amount of time, cypress trees can not germinate in the water so they must have dry conditions to do so, spanish moss is not moss but a bromeliad - a flowering plant, and many fish reproduce in the rich ecosytem of the backwater.  Birds were busy in the thickets and we heard many calling especially the tufted titmouse and the Carolina wren.  Miriam Norris, a self-taught butterfly expert, informed us of the declining numbers of monarch butterflies.  This disturbed us all and we discussed the importance of small patches of flowering and host plants that can be used by migrating butterflies.  Gay Brantley, a retired ranger/naturalist from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reminded us not to purchase cypress mulch and support the destruction of cypress trees in Louisiana wetlands.
I was happy to give each participant a copy of my book "Swamper, Letters from a Louisiana Swamp Rabbit" and my husband, Kelby's book "Bayou-Diversity, Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country.  Since literacy across the curriculum is an important part of the Common Core Standards I hope that these books will be of use to educators.  Each participant made a pair of Ecology Vocabulary gloves, which is a "hands-on" (pun intended) activity that I developed to give students a visual clue to important science words like biotic, abiotic, habitat, and niche.  After making the gloves I told the group that they were now all official "Environmental Educators".  It was a great day.  If you are interested in attending one of the three other workshops, please check the website:

Thanks to LEEA for providing funds for this training.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Epitome of Spring

Male luna moth by Amy Ouchley

Finding a Luna Moth Cocoon
From Amy's Nature Journal
March, 2004

In early spring there are nocturnal visitors at Heartwood.  At night in March a thumping and fluttering sound at the window announces the arrival of a luna moth.  Poems tell of moths flying into the flame of a candle and luna moths are attracted to our lights.  These pale green moths can be 4 inches across and have long tail-like extensions of the hindwing.  They seem to be the essence of a moonlit spring night.

 The moths emerge from fragile cocoons constructed of leaves and silk.  They have over-wintered in their delicate cases as pupa and when they come out they begin their search for a mate.  Since luna moths do not have mouth-parts and can not eat, they must breed quickly.  Male moths have large, feathery antennae that are sensitive to special chemicals released by the females called pheromones.  Lunas have perfected their “signature” fragrance.

After mating the female moths search for a suitable location, a host plant, for her eggs.  This is important because the next stage of the life cycle is an eating machine called a caterpillar.  Luna moth caterpillars prefer hardwood species such as birch, hickories, walnuts, sweet gum, and sumacs.  A good, diverse upland hardwood forest provides habitat for them.  When the egg hatches on the food supply, the caterpillar begins to eat voraciously and grows quickly.  If the caterpillar does not become a meal for a migrating warbler or a resident wren, it will build a cocoon out of leaves and silk and pupate or rest.

Luna moths in the south can complete this cycle 2 to 3 times a season.   The last caterpillars to pupate will become next year’s earliest adults.

For many years I searched for a luna moth cocoon.  I knew two things:  the first that a luna moth uses leaves to construct its cocoon, the second that the cocoons would be near or on the ground.  Since leafy things decompose quickly in the moist woods of Louisiana, I knew that finding a luna moth cocoon would be unlikely unless I found a newly emerged luna moth before it took flight.  Last spring this happened.  While walking a new path I chanced upon a luna moth still pumping up its wings after emerging from its winter’s sleep as a pupa.  The moth had climbed to the top of a twig.  I followed the twig down and there was the empty luna moth cocoon.  It was a male moth, because it had feathery antennae for detecting the titillating scents of the female.  Since it had no further use of its leafy cocoon, this fragile treasure made of moth silk and dogwood leaves sits near my desk to remind me of the ephemeral stages of life’s recurring cycles.


Sunday, March 10, 2013


Most of us, who are passionate about getting kids out in nature or teaching them about nature, don't need a reason.  We just adore what we do.

Richard Louv ("Last Child in the Woods") posted this quote on Facebook and I thought it was wonderful. 

"Memories of awakening to the existence of some potential, aroused by early experiences of self and world, are scattered through the literature of scientific and aesthetic invention.  Autobiographies repeatedly refer to the cause of this awakening as an acute sensory response to the natural world."  Edith Cobb

Always remember that those experiences in nature, which you provide, could awaken someone's potential.
Extraordinary idea, isn't it?

Check out this website:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Twayblade at Heartwood: A Fairytale

Southern twayblade by Kelby Ouchley
OK, it's not a fairytale.  It could be and this is surely a plant from a fairytale.  This tiny orchid (Listera autralis Lindl.) is called southern twayblade.  It is about 6 inches tall with two opposite, sessile, ovate to elliptic leaves which are about 1/2 inch long.  It grows in moist upland pine and hardwood forests.  I find it blooming in the upland forests around my home in February or March.  I am always enthralled by its tiny reddish, brown flowers and stem.  It rises out of the leaf litter like a bit of magic and the individual plants are widely scattered across the forest.  Surely the fairies strew the seeds.
"Once upon a time a fairy named Listera lived beneath the oak trees in the forest.  Her favorite task was planting the seeds of a tiny orchid.  How she adored this job and only she could do it."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Frogs Go A Courtin

Bullfrog by Burg Ransom
Searching in an old nature journal I found these notes on frog calls in Louisiana.  Identifying the frog calls by something familiar helps me know and remember who is calling in these late winter chorus sessions.  The frog that starts a chorus is called a “bout leader.”  Male frogs call to attract females.

Print this list and put it in your nature journal.  Have fun identifying the frogs and toads in your area.

Frog or Toad
The call sounds like…….
Northern cricket frog
two pebbles clicking together.
Upland chorus frog
pulling thumb over the teeth of a stiff comb.
Spring peepers
a whistle or a peep that rises in pitch at the end.
Bird-voiced tree frog
a “chorus” of birds (birds don’t sing in chorus though).  It is a trill or whistle-like and very melodious.
Gray tree frog
short, high trills. Common in late spring and summer and usually heard overhead.
Green tree frog
“qwuonk” or beating a cowbell with a stick.
Bronze frog
“tunk” or “tunk, tunk, tunk”.  Some say it’s like plucking a banjo.
Leopard frog
a guttural chuckle or rubbing a balloon.
Pickerel  frog
a barely audible snore.
Southern crawfish frog
a deep snore.
a deep bellow or jug-a-rum.
Woodhouse toad
a nasal “whaaaaah.”  Hold your nose and say it.
Narrowmouth toad
an electric buzzer.
Spadefoot toad
a sudden deep “mwaaaaah.”