LMRD No 405
May 3, 2017, Bonne Carre Spillway
Day 37: Sounds of the Night
Update: Charlie Poche greeted us this morning with donuts and milk at Poche Park Paddler's Paradise Paulina mile 149. We are now paddling into the raucous industrial/agricultural heart of the Lower Mississippi, basically everything below Baton Rouge. Sometimes called "Chemical Corridor" it is actually a tumbledown mixture of dry-docks, granaries, shipyards, scrapyards, fertilizer plants, petro-chem, stevedores, container docks, resupply docks, and everything else imaginable to serve the commerce needs of America's interior, and the towboats that transport the goods. This rough & tumble stretch of river is broken by some pristine patches of swamps, woods, and even a few islands, and a few choice sandbars. One is the mile or so of river protected by the Poche family of Paulina. Pockets of woody paradise within chem corridor like Poche Park are made all the more precious by the omnipresence of the surrounding industry. Thank you Charlie and family for this preservation! Your willow sandbars and watery channels in between always feel warm and welcoming, and for this we are grateful.
We out-paddled an oncoming storm front this morning to take temporary refuge at the Bonne Carre Spillway visitor's center. We appreciate Chris and Sharon for the hospitality while the severe thunderstorms break overhead.
PS: thanks to everyone who sent well-wishes to Mrs. Emma Crisler, my wife's mother. Big River Blessings to her, and all of you!
Storm Camp, St Maurice Island
Mark River's Rivergator Journal
Day 37: Sounds of the Night
I sit in my tent listening to the wind howl through the forest canopy of tall cottonwoods, sycamores, alders, elms, and black willows. The combinations of the sounds make for a soothing night of sleep.
Waves crash the shore as the sandbar willows shimmer in the wind. Coyotes cry in the distance, while tree crickets chirp throughout the night. Spring Peepers conduct a chorus. The bullfrog bellows the bass. Toads hop against my tent chasing insects, then take refuge beneath when the temperature drops. Armadillos blindfully stir up the leaf-covered sand and burrow for insects and tasty roots. A screech from a wild pig in the distance, or a female alligator calling her young in the swamp -- the call is the same. A beaver severing a small willow, dragging it to the river, and splashing its tail in protest of my presence. A Barn Owl shares its crooning call throughout the canopy. A towboat adds to it cruising by effortlessly with its humming engine.
These natural settings and sounds makes my mind healthier and happier. The body becomes its natural state. The connection with the environment feeds the soul, soothes the mind, and puts life into perspective. We should all be on equal terms with all life forms and their importance, humbling human's habits of take-take-take, and focus on what we can give.
As I lay down my head for the night, I wonder, "can we afford to lose these wild places?"
The answer is up to me -- and you. Good night.
Easter Box Turtle (John Ruskey)
Mark River's Thoughts:
Insects and Fauna
Another storm day gives time for exploring the incredible, diverse biota's of the Mississippi River. We have entered the beginning of delta of this iconic river where both sides of the river becomes Louisiana. The tree lines are flattening with the Atchafalaya River Basin to the west. Our camp is set up on St. Maurice Towhead just north of St. Francesville. A island of big sandbars in low water, with high bluffs of sand with tall deciduous trees blocking sunlight keeping the forest floor sandy with fauna. It also has a swamp deep in the forest making the diverse habitat unique. The water is high, so we were able to paddle up to the bluffs.
I take hike studying everything on the forest floor. Ants, the housekeepers of the wild, of various species scout the forest floor for food. Sparse patches of poison ivy, stinging nettle, wild edible greens, and dewberry's cover the landscape. Froghopper nymphs called spittlebugs create cocoons of bodily fluids on the dewberries stems. It helps keep them moist and deters predators. The cocoons look like foam from dishwashing detergent.
A lone Velvet Ant searches the forest terrain seeking a host for its offspring. The are actually wasps, but the colorful wingless female resembles a large ant. Their prey are mostly beetles and flies for host. They are nicknamed " the cow killer" because of their painful bite when stressed.
A colony of Antlion dens blanket the sand. These larva dig conical pits in the sand, burying themselves at the bottom, and wait for insects to fall in the trap. As you can see by their names, ants are their favorite prey.
A big Eyed Click Beetle rambles through the dead leaves on the sand. When picked up they perform a jack knife-like maneuver to escape predators. This aggressive move is accompanied with a "clicking" sound that can be scary, but they are painless and harmless.
Butterfly pupae of all kinds hang from tiny stems of plants, while the caterpillars munch on leaves. Some are hairy, and some are smooth. Some have horrible smells when handled. The adult butterflies jump from wildflower to wildflower feeding on nectar.
Eastern Box Turtle, 3 views (John Ruskey)
An Eastern Box Turtle forages on dewberries. The dewberries are more ripe here than up north. We both are eating our full. I wonder to myself, "Was it born here or did it swim here?"
I'm surprised by a harmless Plainbelly Water Snake. The initial sighting was startling because of the cottonmouth-like appearance, but its slender head and round eyes eased my mind. Unlike Northern and Southern Water Snakes, which stay close to water the majority of their lives, plainbellies tend to wander the forest on humid, hot days in search for large insects, toads, frogs, and wild fruit. Today is definitely hot and humid.
Continuing to wander, I come across a swamp in the middle of the island. Alligator paths to the river are prevalent. Swamp Buttercups cover one end of the swamp with Common Bladderwort intwined. Bee's and Butterflies move from plant to plant for nectar and pollen. The Common Bladderwart is an carnivorous aquatic plant that feeds on water fleas and mosquito larvae which it catches in its bladder-like roots. Imagine a freshwater plant-like jellyfish. This is the perfect place for them. The swamp is full of mosquitoes and spooky, so I move on, because I know there are alligators close.
These ecosystems are important to the survival of all life. The rise and the fall of the Mississippi River is essential to the balance. Insects and fauna provide food for many animals higher in the food chain. Not to mention the fresh air from the forest and their roots that hold these islands in place. These islands should be protected for the incredible amounts of species they sustain and the natural wilderness that's hard to find these days.
Mark River is the southern coordinator for the 1Mississippi Program. 1 Mississippi is one of our partners in the Rivergator Project.
Leopard Toad (John Ruskey)