Saturday, September 15, 2007

Today's Visitors

Let me see if I can illustrate this scene for you…

1:05 p.m. Two men drive into the nature park, pass the parking lot and park directly in front of the building. This behavior indicates that 1) they have some varmint they want to identify and/or relinquish custody of, or 2) they are unwilling or incapable of walking very far. In both cases, the visitors will exhibit common behaviors once inside:

∙They begin with the mildest curiosity about the exhibits inside the building.

∙They become slightly more interested as they discover the other rooms.

∙They will express fear and/or disdain for some (if not all) of the animals on exhibit.

∙They will absolutely not want to walk or hike and have no use for a trail map and probably don't want a brochure.

∙They will spend no more than 15 minutes in the building, including the time they spend in the restroom.

The men are around 60 years old, and one has an obvious limp. He makes a bee-line for the restroom. The second man remarks about the attractive dioramas. "Those were created by Don Edwards," I say and pause for moment to see if the name means anything to him. [Don Edwards is a locally renowned wildlife artist who painted the 1994 Louisiana Duck Stamp, a mural that covers the entire wall of a building in Downtown Shreveport, and lots pieces often displayed at the Shreveport Regional Airport.] He knows of the artist and can't say enough good stuff about him.

"Did you know that he puts a little Red-headed Woodpecker in every painting he does? It's fun to try and spot them." The man seems to take little interest in this tidbit. He looks up at the taxidermic owl.

"What kind of owl is that?"

"He's a Barred Owl…"

"Oh, a Barn Owl?"

"Barred. He's called that because of the stripes on his chest that look like bars…"



"Is this the kind of owl I hear at night?"

"Where do you live?"

"North Highlands."

"You could be hearing him. There are three owls that you could expect to hear around your neighborhood…the Barred, the Great Horned, and the Screech. This one, the Barred Owl, says 'Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?"

"That's him!"

"There's another owl who hoots," I say, leading him to the taxidermic predator-prey display in the next room, "This owl, the biggest we have, the Great Horned Owl."

"How does he sound?"

"His voice is lower, and he usually has only 5 syllables: 'Who's awake? Me too."

He thinks he's heard this call, too.

"This is the owl that you hear on television when it's supposed to be nighttime on the show."

The man with the limp enters the room. "Hey! I know what that owl is around my house…it's a Barred Owl." He turns to me, "Tell him what the Barred Owl says again."

"'Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?' They call to announce their territories and attract a mate. Sometimes the mates will 'talk' back and forth with each other; they don't always do the whole call, and sometimes they add notes on the end."

"Do this one. The Great Horned Owl."

"'Who's awake? Me too.' The phrase helps me remember that their voices are lower and they usually have 5 syllables, 'Who, who who…who who.'"

"What's that other owl you said we might have?"

"The Screech Owl. He doesn't hoot. He sounds like a tiny horse whinnying from the trees," and I do my best to imitate the sound.

"Yeah. I've heard that before, too."

The interaction seems to have run its course and I want to remove myself so they can explore on their own. I remind them to let me know if they have any other questions. Before I can take a step, they ask me about the alligators… and then the turtles. I move out of the room with them and once again, before I can walk away, they have more questions…

"You said there was other rooms?"

"Yes." I lead them to a third room. "In this room we have leaves of trees that are in the park, a slide show of the butterflies known to be in the park, and a few of the snakes."

We discuss the snakes (how they eat, who feeds them, who cleans their cages, their microhabitats, etc.). We move back into the main room to see the other snakes.

The man with the limp looks out the picture window and sees a squirrel at the feeder. "We got to go!" He says hurriedly, "We got to pick up this car over on North Lakeshore."

As I walk with them toward the door, I thank them for coming and invite them to come back, but we don't get far…

"Hey! Have you seen this? Don Edwards did this."


"And he paints some kind of bird in all of his paintings…"

"A heron?"

"No. It's something in the tree. What is it again?"

"A Red-headed Woodpecker."

"Where's it at?"

I give them instructions on where to see the bird. "He's up high on the trunk of the third tree from the corner here, about two inches above the leaf of that bamboo." They can't see it. After a second, I think to get my binoculars. "Maybe we can see them with binoculars."

Can you visualize this? Inside a building inside a nature park, the three of us cluster together, and share binoculars to get a view of a 1 centimeter-tall painting of a Red-headed Woodpecker on a wall. It was almost like we were really birding!

On the way out the door, the first man asked me about the 'owl thing' he heard about here at the park. He had thought his granddaughter might want to come, but she was scared. I got him a pamphlet listing all the events we have planned for the year. I explained what the Owl Prowl was and when we would be doing it again.

"Thank you." "Thank ya'll for coming. Have a nice day." "You, too."

They leave at 2 o'clock.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spider Webs

I crash through and inadvertently destroy countless spider webs on my treks through the forest - but there's one web I don't blindly blunder into - the web of the Spiny Orb Weaver, (Gasteracantha cancriformis). Her web is easy to see because she thickens every fourth centimeter of the frame and support threads with extra silk. Surely, the Spiny Orb Weaver does this out of instinct and does not know that in doing so she is outlining her web with caution tape. There is definitely an advantage to this behavior: Upon completing my 1.5 mile walk this Friday, there were 23 in-tact spider webs in my wake - 23 Spiny Orb Weaver webs. That's got to count for something!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Two Trails

As often as I can, I explore the Ouachita and Adai Trails at Walter B. Jacobs. Their combined length is very nearly 1.5 miles. Though both trails are in the same patch of woods in the same little nature park, they have distinctions:

The first two-thirds of Ouachita is flat. The trail is frequently under water. The under story is sparse. After it digresses from the Caddo Trail, and passes another path leading toward Caddo, it turns west and follows Fordney Bayou. As the trail creeps closer to the bank of the stream, the vegetation gets denser. Just before the concentration of Paw Paws and Spicebushes, there is a bench. This is where I sit. I listen to the Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanagers, Flickers, Pileated Woodpecker, and Downy and Red Bellied Woodpeckers. I have to tune out the chorus of cicadas, and often the screams of the American Crows as they announce the presence of the Red-Shouldered Hawk family - who screams back. When the chickadees and titmice join the cacophony, I have trouble singling out and identifying species. I am occasionally harassed by this dangerous-looking hymenopterid, and though I don't know what she is, exactly, I'm pretty sure she wants me to move along. So I do. Then I come back a few minutes later.

I'm here for the Paw Paws, and the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies they host. I have had very little success finding caterpillars and chrysalides. I saw the spring flight of adult butterflies, but then I missed the summer flight while busy with Earth Camp. Now I await the final wave of Zebra Swallowtails for the year.

Bayou banks and Paw Paws are features Adai has in common with Ouachita. Adai parallels the western bank of Fordney Bayou, passes the Yatasi Trail, and then turns west and south and follows Shettleworth Bayou. Adai is on higher ground, and climbs, peaking just passed the intersection with the Miracle Trail. Then it plunges down to the edge of Shettleworth. The three oldest Paw Paws are on this slope. The trees reproduce vegetatively by sending sprouts upward from horizontal roots, so the number and size of individuals are greatest at the center, and then decrease away from the center in a radial pattern. I've seen flowers on the three trees, but not fruit. I suspect they were quickly devoured by gray squirrels, opossums, raccoons, or gray foxes. So, I think the seeds get dispersed, too.

Adai continues to follow Shettleworth Bayou, through a second colony of Paw Paws, past the other side of Yatasi, and on until it converges with Caddo. It then turns left again. This section is low, like Ouachita, and like the area around Ouachita after the bench, it is surrounded by ephemeral ponds, Louisiana Palmettos, and Giant Cane. Interestingly, I have found no Paw Paws here. There is another Acadian Flycatcher over here. After two foot bridges, Adai crosses a big bridge over Fordney Bayou and unites with Ouachita. From here on, the one path has five trail names: Ouachita, Ozark, Adai, Caddo, and Miracle.

I spend approximately three hours on this figure-eight. I prune limbs and vines, and remove debris from the trail, but I use most of that time to look and listen. I could spend longer, but the lure of mosquito-free indoor plumbing calls me back at about that time.