LMRD 732, Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Rivers of Life: the Mississippi
Tonight -- Celebrating the 4th of July with North America's most diverse and democratic river, our Queen and endless source of inspiration and education, the Mighty Mississippi!
The Mississippi Episode broadcasts tonight, Wed July 3rd, on PBS "Rivers Of Life: Mississippi” (check your PBS affiliate for local timing). The program portrays the headwaters using the Big Muddy Missouri, the Mississippi's furthest (and wildest) reach... wherever a snowflake melts, or a raindrop falls, that is the start of the 2nd largest drainage in the world!
Note: The filming was done on the big river in the vicinity of Shreve's Bar, (near Angola, the Old River Control Structure, entrance to the Atchafalaya), and in the cypress/tupelo gum wetlands of St. Catherine Creek Nat'l Wildlife Refuge.
347.2 LBD Old Mouth Of St. Catherine Creek
The old mouth of St. Catherine Creek opens up here behind the very last island along the Opposite Esperance Archipelago. A thriving cauldron of decay and regrowth can be found behind the island in the fecund mud conglomerate of all the tributaries and lands upstream and let to fester in these shallow slow waters. Even during high water there is little flow here, allowing swampy growth to proliferate. Duck weed blooms in the summer, and the lakes further up the old channel of the St. Catherine Creek become a tempest of phytoplankton, eating the nutrients out of the overladen waters and feeding a frenzy of paddlefish and carp. This is one of the stewpots in the saving grace of the Lower Mississippi, where the river’s cleansing digestive system is operating in the way the great creator meant it to happen.
352.5 LBD St. Catherine National Wildlife Refuge
A beautiful narrow bayou enters the river left bank descending at 352.5, at the base of a stand of tall cottonwoods. This bayou marks the upstream boundary of St. Catherine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which follows the river through this stretch in a ragged mosaic of protected bottomlands from the Natchez Bluffs down to the northern tributaries of the Homochitto River. The 24,589 acre refuge is an important migration waystop for the wood stork, the only stork that breeds in North America.
Ninety percent of St. Catherine Creek NWR is located within the annual floodplain of the Mississippi River and is considered bottomland hardwood forest habitat. Historically, the entire refuge was forested, however, nearly two-thirds of the refuge was cleared in the 1960's for row-crop agriculture. Since the establishment of a refuge, much of the lands have been planted back to bottomland hardwood tree species. Today, few areas within the Lower Mississippi River Valley exist without levees, thus flood naturally.” St. Catherine Creek NWR is greatly influenced by the annual inundation of floodwaters from the Mississippi and Homochitto Rivers, creating important backwater habitat with landscape features such as ridges and swales, sloughs and drains, and oxbow lakes. Some of the oxbow lakes are dominated by the bald cypress-water tupelo forest community.
Wood storks are a common visitor of St. Catherine Creek NWR during August and September when much of the water is drying up and food resources are being concentrated in small pools. Because the refuge is within the floodplain of the Mississippi River and not protected by large levees, it is common for the river to recede from the refuge during late July through early September. This event can draw over 4,000 wood storks from their breeding habitats in Mexico and Central America to the refuge to utilize evaporating pools to catch fish and invertebrates.
The wood stork is a subtropical and tropical species, which breeds in much of South America, Central America and the Caribbean. It is the only stork that presently breeds in North America. In the United States there is a small and endangered breeding population in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, along with a recently discovered rookery in southeastern North Carolina. The wood stork is a broad-winged soaring bird that flies with its neck outstretched and legs extended. It typically forages where lowering water levels concentrate fish in open wetlands; it also frequents paddy fields. Walking slowly and steadily in shallow water up to its belly, it seeks prey, which, like that of most of its relatives, consists of fish, frogs and large insects. It catches fish by holding its bill open in the water until a fish is detected. In the United States, the wood stork favors cypress trees in swamps, ditches, and shallowly flooded emergent marshes.
St. Catherine Creek NWR was established to provide a habitat and protection for wintering waterfowl, particularly for mallards, Northern pintails, blue-winged teal, and wood ducks. The refuge provides a diversity of habitats for waterfowl that include shallowly flooded moist-soil impoundments, scrub-shrub wetlands, and cypress-tupelo swamps. Wintering waterfowl utilize each of these habitats during the winter to find a variety of foods, cover, and to begin pair bonding for the spring. Waterfowl abundance will vary by year, but could range from 20,000-50,000 waterfowl during peak times of the year, which usually occur in early to mid-January. Common winter visitors include the mallard, Northern pintail, gadwall, Northern shoveler, green-winged/blue-winged teal, wood duck, and American wigeon.
304.5 - 303 LBD Shreve’s Bar
Leaving the Tunica Hills at Clark Creek behind, and entering Louisiana, the river expands to its maximum mile-and-a-half wide as if breathing in deep and opening up its broad chest, and enters a long straight stretch that can be a white water commotion in a strong west wind, but is usually a sublime passage in a gently murmuring flow. There is something particularly heavenly about the river in these places where it opens up and flows towards a mid-channel island, such as here as it approaches Shreve’s Bar. Maybe it has to do with the big open reach, or maybe it’s the rippling water responding to the shallowing bottom, or maybe it’s the walls of trees on either side where you whoop and listen for the clear echo sure to follow on a quiet day. Or maybe it’s the presence of the mysterious island gradually gathering shape and presence as you approach, or maybe it’s all of these factors. Whatever it is, the colors of the murmuring river is a kind of nirvana, and once found is just as easily lost.
Best camping is usually found on the top end of Shreve’s Bar, at all water levels up to flood stage, although at lower water you could continue down either side for other options. The island comes to a knife edge bottom with a narrow willow tree point that offers a low/medium water option for picnicking and camping.
Shreve’s Bar is named after Capt. Henry Miller Shreve - American inventor and steamboat captain who opened the Mississippi, Ohio and Red rivers to steamboat navigation. Shreveport, Louisiana, is named in his honor.
The massive Mississippi – a surprising story of a river that unites this great nation.
The Mississippi reaches far beyond the Deep South; its fingers stretch into nearly half of the USA. From the frozen north – where coyotes learn to fish in icy water – down through the nation’s agricultural heart and then to the mysterious, steamy southern swamps where alligators still rule. The many faces of the Mississippi unite a nation.
Brought to life by BBC Producer Emma Peace, film-maker Chris Vile, and photographer Doug Gardner. Special thanks to Adam Elliott and Layne Logue for making this possible, as well as Mike Jones, MDA - Visit Mississippi!
PBS Rivers of Life: We've been eagerly anticipating the BBC Great Rivers program to reach the USA, which was created by the same people who brought us Planet Earth. This might be the best one-hour film ever made about our beloved Mississippi. The entire series is now available on PBS. The Mississippi episode airs tonight, Wed July 3rd. (Check your local PBS station for broadcast time). If you miss any programs, they are all found free online at PBS.org for one month. Also available as DVD and itunes. (Nile and Amazon episodes have already aired)
PBS Rivers Of Life: Mississippi
From BBC Great Rivers:
Mississippi, Amazon and Nile
Mighty Quapaws Adam Elliott and Layne Logue
helped BBC Film Crew, as well as Mike Jones
outdoor leader of MDA - Visit Mississippi!
Experience the extraordinary animals, epic landscapes, and remarkable people who live alongside three iconic rivers - the Amazon, the Nile and the Mississippi in this landmark three-part series.
Schedule on PBS:
June 19 — Nile
June 26 — Amazon
July 3rd — Mississippi
Note: if you miss program, all programs available online at PBS.org for one month. Also available as DVD and itunes.
For more information, visit PBS: Rivers of Life
Rivers of Life is available on itunes:
Mark River Journal: The Sweet Spot
Mississippi River Summer Camp 2019
It's June, and the Mississippi River is still unusually high, but here in the Lower Mississsippi, we seemed to be in the sweet spot. The Missouri River is causing havoc throughout the Midwest, and there is flooding in the upper Mississippi Valley, meanwhile the Arkansas River is breaking high-water records and then dumping into the big river near Greenville, MS. But we are in between the floods. We have a beautiful flooded forest and a few fascinating islands remain above water that are great for camping. The songbirds are in full swing. Brightly colored Baltimore Orioles flying through the trees singing and competing for females. The beavers, who usually don't build many lodges because of the vast amount of water, are building floating platforms. Bald eagles are off the main channel, taking advantage of the easy fishing in the floodplain. The female whitetail deer are showing their bright orange summer coats, while carrying offspring. They are focus on the next generation, so they seemed to not care of our presence. Turtle markings are up and down the sandy bluffs. They lay millions of eggs, which supplies the mammalian predators and scavengers valuable protein to produce healthy milk for their own newborns. This is part of the balance of nature and the turtle population does not seem to be effected. The least tern females are showing up, with the males already here. Coyotes are calling out, while wild pigs scream and squeal at a distance. Large Delta turkeys litter the sandbars stuffing themselves on sand flies and other insects. Dragonflies are seen buzzing along, while the Mississippi kites are arriving from South America, and stalking them high in the sky. There is only few acres of sand on most of the islands, so we all have to share the real estate.
Summer Camp, Island 64
The morning comes fast as I toss and turn all night waiting for the the storm. Towns all around this section of the River are getting hit with high winds and massive amounts of water. We are in the sweet spot, with storm systems to the North and South missing us. These trips are the most memorable, the ones that make you feel as if the Creator is in the boat with you, while navigating the beautiful waters of the Mississippi River, seeing least terns, bald eagles, song birds, and realizing the connection this has to us all.
The summer camp kids are tired and depleted from exploring and paddling each day with the relentless refraction and reflection of the sun. They continue to put their best foot forward learning about hydration, nutrition and how these things affect one's health and success in throughout life. It inspires me to write. I get emotional knowing the camp is creating young River stewards and passing down the duty of preserving our great River for future generations, while changing the narrative about the Mississippi River.
I've watched these kids connect with nature in just three days. When on land they are so bombarded with apps, grams, and social media rerouting their brains with synthetic information, but the River has brought out so much emotion and thought, these kids have dissected deep poems and writings like college professors, while writing quotes of their own. These kids are brilliant, but they are preoccupied with superficial things. I've witness the light bulb going off in their minds and watch them swim where they were told not to. They are my sons and brothers of the River and I am proud of them.
Summer Camp, Island 67
We exit Mellwood Lake headed for camp on Island 67. We make our crossing to avoid any upstream tows while knowing they are taking advantage of the high, slow water in the back channel. We assume correctly as one pokes its nose out of the channel, causing us to give the right-of-way, and proceed behind. It works out well as we make the turn and head towards Island 67.
The island is located right in the middle of the River. With a back channel and navigational channel in full usage, you have to think ahead and put yourself in the proper position to approach the island. During high water, a secret middle channel appears with bluffs of sand with cottonwoods and willows. It you camp in the middle of the island, you will have cover if a storm pops up and shade throughout the day. We chose properly and the conditions were perfect.
The back channel side has a high bluff of sand that is beloved by turtles. They love to lay their eggs on this bluff. Actually the local name for it is "Turtle Island.” I exit camp to scope it out and walked into thousands of least terns breeding. It was a major nursery. I look to my feet and see the small sand-colored eggs resting in a small indentation in the sand. One and two eggs are normal, but three eggs are special. I immediately brought the summer camp kids over to show them the least terns eggs and ruled the bluff off limits.
We sit in the woods from a distance and watch the mannerisms of the birds. The females keep the eggs cool by dunking their chest in the River and immediately return to the nest to protect the eggs from the relentless Mississippi River sun. The males fish and fight constantly. Stealing fish mid-air and returning to their mate to present her with the prize. She gobbles it down, gives her mate a break, before flapping wings swiftly as to say, " Get back to work", and he continues his fatherly duty.
Mark River is Chief Guide and Youth Leader for the Quapaw Canoe Company. He is also the Southern Coordinator of 1 Mississippi's River Citizen Program. Stay tuned for upcoming Mark River podcast "May the River be With You" to be made available in July, 2019.
The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch "Voice of the Lower Mississippi River" is published by the Quapaw Canoe Company. Photos and writing by John Ruskey, Mark River and others. Please write email@example.com for re-publishing. Feel free to share with friends or family, but also credit appropriately. Go to www.island63.com and click on "Quapaw Dispatch" for viewing back issues of the LMRD.
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