Monday, March 2, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 276

February 27, 2015 ~ Greenwood, MS to Olive Branch, MS

I woke to sunshine and, yes, the motel breakfast was very nice, especially in its presentation.

I went to two refuges today. The first was Tallahatchie NWR where I took a gravel road into the refuge (or what I think was the refuge as I am still confused about precisely where I was) to a dead end, on a road with water creeping pretty close to the road bed for a significant part of the route. I expected anytime to come on water over the road whereupon I would have had to turn around using the soft shoulders but never did fortunately. What I did see were several Red-tailed Hawks that flew from perches in the treetops when I approached. Turkeys Vultures were also abundant, feasting on dead armadillos.
Tallahatchie NWR - MS
I stopped and just listened to the snow clumps plopping into the swamp and water dripping and flowing in the drainages. The fields on either side were also very wet and marshy, but it was difficult to see much, both because the water level seemed higher than the road and because of the brush between fields and my road. Of course I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker which is another bird that appears whenever I stop and wait for at least ten minutes. But not much else was out and about on this pleasant early spring afternoon.

Tallahatchie NWR - MS

(The famous Billie Joe McAllister Tallahatchie Bridge is/was 10 miles north of Greenwood; it "collapsed" since the song was written but has been rebuilt.)

Not far north of Tallahatchie was Coldwater River NWR. I rode into this refuge on a levee, with swamp on either side. These levees are broad gravel roads with long sloping sides. They appear very stable and certainly do the job of keeping water in its place.

A Jeep passed me going very fast...hotdogging on the levee. All the water lately is the color of cafe au lait...opaque and slow moving if it moves at all, with bald cypress and other hardwoods which tolerate wet roots. So much of the bottomland in western Mississippi has been drained for agriculture; thus, these refuges are important islands for birds in migration and for all resident wildlife. Some of the work on this refuge involves the 25 "retired" catfish ponds, which are now actively or passively managed for wildlife. Almost all refuges have a biologist who is responsible for activities such as (here on Coldwater River NWR) figuring out how best to optimize old catfish ponds for the benefit of wildlife.
On the levee at Coldwater River NWR - MS

For weeks, I had the idea to visit Oxford, Mississippi, the town famous for Faulkner and Ole Miss. So I went there, drove through the college on Fraternity Row and University Avenue and got out of town...quickly. It was very busy north of the college on one of those roads with several hundred commercial establishments and traffic moving to and from all of them.

Lee and I had visited Oxford one spring, and I had memories of a small southern town square. No doubt there still is a square and all sorts of charming, delightful areas in Oxford, but I just did not have the heart or will to figure it out. I pulled into a Starbucks but only sat in the parking lot considering what to do. Also, the motels were expensive. The college (the little bit I saw) consisted of large blocky modern buildings with broad concrete bases. Again, I knew there is more to Ole Miss but I'll settle for remembering the trip of long ago.  I didn't even drive by Rowan Oak, Faulkner's home.  I consider him a gifted author, his writings so completely a contrast to our screen culture. The effort it takes most of us to settle down enough to read a Faulkner novel is becoming rare. But I am inspired now after driving through Mississippi for the last few weeks. The trip Lee and I took (in a blue Porsche) was memorable for all kinds of reasons: one of which was a night in Cape Girardeau, a second was stopping in St. Louis so Lee could meet Howard Nemerov and the third was crossing the Mississippi River on a ferry. I couldn't discover that this ferry still ran or I would have taken it.

I found a way north out of town and stayed in Olive Branch, just east of Memphis. Dining options were limited so I had one more Mexican dinner where I was seated way too close to a couple of women at a bar, who were loud and drunk.

What I am figuring out is that if I do eat in restaurants, I need to choose items with as few ingredients as possible. Otherwise, it is a mish-mash of salty stuff that tastes great for the first five bites and then devolves into what it is: a non-nutritious huge portion of food. Applebee's has one good menu item which I've had several times: broiled salmon with a bit of artichoke sauce on top, boiled red potatoes and a mix of green veggies, including peas, spinach, zucchini and asparagus.

I worked late and when I got into bed at 1:00 in the morning, I was in bed-heaven. It was the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in; a choice of pillows, silky-smooth sheets and a comforter just the perfect weight.  Or could it be that sleeping in a van for too many nights has affected my perceptions? No, this was really really bliss.....
Coldwater River NWR
(about what the whole Mississippi Delta looked)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 275

February 26, 2015 ~ Vicksburg, MS to Greenwood, MS

At least it was dry this morning, although not warm. I left reluctantly as Vicksburg had grown on me. It is a relatively small town, on the Mississippi; an old town on a hill with the National Military Park, Lorelei Books and an adjacent coffee shop....paddlewheel steamboats come on by.....

I carried on the inner dialogue about going back to the bookstore before I left but decided not to. Except I got five miles out of town and saw a sign for Washington (the bookstore street) and at the last possible second turned onto Washington and back into Vicksburg where I spent time and money and chatted with Laura, the owner. As we talked, the sun very briefly came out. I could immediately sense the change in light quality. The bookstore faces west and the street outside lightened perceptibly, although only for one minute. Still, I could easily imagine how it would be. What could be better than sitting out on your upstairs deck after a day working in your own bookstore on southern evenings, in this downtown setting, an area that is slowly undergoing a renaissance as some of the old stores and buildings are renovated and made into places that entice people to linger and talk and wander and settle for a couple of hours.....not on a grand tear-down scale but retaining the unique charms of a town on a river bluff.

Washington Street ran below the hills closer to the river (and the flood plain), with modest homes, trailers, churches, railroad tracks...a Black community that was old, slightly weary, half country, half an outlier of Vicksburg proper. It felt rich with history....southern, military, river, racial history as so many places are in the Delta.
Five miles north of Vicksburg, MS

The rest of the afternoon, I drove through neatly furrowed cotton fields with snow sharply defining each precise row. The land is totally flat in the Mississippi Delta with extremely fertile land. Wikipedia notes that the the Mississippi Delta is "technically an alluvial plain" which means it periodically floods, with the last two major floods in 1927 and 2011. It is the land of the blues and jazz and cotton. It is often confused with the Mississippi River Delta at the mouth of the River, 300 miles south.

Birds were pecking on the roadsides, including dozens of cardinals. One field had a small group of very well-camouflaged Greater White-fronted Geese for which I did a GUT (Goose U-turn). I am careful when I stop on the shoulders as with so much rain lately, all the earth is mushy.

Author David L. Cohn wrote that the Mississippi Delta "begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg". 

(The next morning as I was checking out of a motel, a gentleman was talking in the lobby and mentioned the Peabody Hotel and then said, "Let's just go on into Memphis and see what happens....")
Mississippi Delta - MS

I declined the rates at one motel and went on to Greenwood, where an East Indian gentleman was extremely friendly and very proud of the "full breakfast" his motel served...."not just some toast and cereal but a full breakfast....very nice ma'am..." 

The heat was not working in my room so I had to change, carrying my booted-up work laptop and plugged-in foot pedal, which then didn't work and I spent two frustrating hours troubleshooting but finally got it working.

I turn on TV lately which I half-watch while I work...shows about wreckers on the snowy Highway to Hell in British Coumbia or modern day gold miners or Alaskan bush families or State Troopers in Alaska. 

Greater White-fronted Geese - MS

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Days 270 - 274

February 21 - 25, 2015 ~ Vicksburg, MS

On Saturday I went to the National Military Park, only two miles from the motel. I first went to the Visitor Center to get the lay of the land (and buy two books).

There were four staff: a friendly volunteer of retirement age who wanted to talk and share information; a man at a computer who did recommend a couple of general books on the Vicksburg campaign but wanted to get back to his computer; a handsome young African-American man who seemed ready to help me check out the books I bought, but before he could, the fourth person, a young and efficient fair-complexioned woman came briskly out of an office to do it, which seemed a little weird as the gentleman then just deferred to her and stood quietly in the background.
National Military Park - Vicksburg - MS

The Park is sobering, very much like Gettysburg, with monuments and historical markers and 17,000 graves; 12,000 of these interments are unidentified. The physical landscape also reminded me of Gettysburg with hills and gullies and fields and trees. Today, all is pristine and quiet; the blood and guns and screams and smoke and horses and mud only in books and movies and artwork. The actual cemetery is an area adjacent to the far loop of the auto route, next to the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum. The Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats and was sunk in the Yazoo River near Vicksburg by the Confederates where it lay in the mud for over 100 years before being raised and restored. It is a tale very similar to that of the steamboat Bertrand on the Missouri, which also sunk and was found 100 years later and is now at De Soto NWR in western Iowa. A Japanese family was visiting and three young girls were frolicking on the short wall at the Cairo site.
USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum - Vicksburg - MS

Thousands of the grave markers are modest weathered four to six inch stubby stone squares. They are not in one grand field but in orderly groups of hundreds on the hillsides and under the trees. One of the books I bought was specifically about the battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

The Park should be a wonderful birding venue in a month.

I ate out once, at See's, which offered "hibachi or Chinese" as I walked in the door.

Starting to get cabin (motel) fever, I found an independent bookstore downtown - Lorelei Books, whose logo is of a mermaid reading a book. I went there twice and now have enough books about the South for several months of reading....on politics, trees, the blues, cotton, bayous.....and I also got the Kristof / WuDunn book, Half the Sky.

The owner is a woman named Laura who moved to Vicksburg from Virginia Beach 10 years ago after visiting her sister several times when her sister lived here. The bookstore was perfect...really a lovely place with light wood, a few solid pieces of furniture, good lighting, a great book selection, a couple of stealthy resident cats, and a few non-book products. One was made by Uncle Goose from Grand Rapids, Michigan....handcrafted wooden blocks using Great Lakes sources. Another product was beautifully sewn little quirky fabric dolls made by a Vicksburg lady who inherited a sewing machine and her mom's button collection....(Eunice, I thought of you with your sewing skills and creativity and an inherited button collection...)

If anyone ever goes through to to Vicksburg, please stop by. The store is on Washington Street, a couple blocks up from the river. The owners live upstairs. There is a coffee shop next door where folks were playing chess, working on computers,  reading.... It was like a West Coast or college town coffee shop, at the other end of the spectrum from a Starbucks but with good coffee and an efficient barista...a dark, cluttered, cozy place with used books and eclectic stuff on the walls. Local, both of these businesses.....

Laura and I talked about small town politics and Mississippi and how the Vicksburg "ex-pats" hang out together. She had just started a book club but had to reschedule the first meeting due to the hazards of ice and snow. She loves poetry and hosts poetry readings. One poet she mentioned was Gail White, a medical technologist who also writes poetry. Laura said how people enjoyed Gail's visit because many people are afraid of or dislike poetry "as they expect a metaphor to come out from every bush... but Gail's work isn't like that."

I told her Vicksburg was seducing me and she said I should move down and "join us."

She knew of Politics and Prose in Washington DC. In fact, one of her customers, now a retired lawyer, used to live there and frequented P and P.
Lorelei bookstore - Vicksburg - MS

How does she select books?  "Well, that is an interesting matrix of a discussion...." Reviews of course; her own and customers' interests; prepublication galleys; trade magazines; best sellers....

A white, multilevel paddle-wheeler, The American Queen, was tied up in Vicksburg that day, so I got to see it and the several tour buses who were bringing passengers (most under black umbrellas) back from the Military Park and the Historic District or wherever else they went.

A couple at breakfast in the motel one morning were driving the Natchez Trace. I laughed when I heard a woman  say that the waffle was probably "infinitely better" than the sweet roll and thus started a conversation. They lived in Portland, Oregon, and we spent some time sharing traveling stories. The gentleman had been in the Coast Guard, at sea for six of his 24 years. He had a very courteous intelligent
demeanor and listened as much as he spoke.

He had been in every state and also told me about Canada's Red Coat Trail running through Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, an 800 mile route used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1874 as they moved west establishing law and order for the settlers who followed. Their next grand adventure (they said) was Australia or maybe a "slow boat to China...." The lady was attractive with a teasing twinkle in her eye as they talked about ex-Govenor Kitzhaber (Oregon) who joined the cadre of men who get in trouble because they "follow their who know what" she said.

The American Queen - Vicksburg - MS
The motel had a nice pool right off the lobby where I went every afternoon with my computer, sitting under plastic trees by the blue blue water. No one ever used it, though I was tempted.

I have been called Ma'am at least 200 times lately and even "Mum"by one of the sweet housekeepers who kept me supplied with coffee and fresh towels and would have gladly done any upkeep I asked. All of the staff were African-American....but the owner was East Indian.

On Tuesday morning, my car was completely frozen shut with an inch of snow/ice covering it, but it thawed by noon enough to open the doors.

One evening I chatted briefly with a guy in the lobby who works for a utility company down here but lives in Traverse City and is looking to move his family to Holland. "In fact, we just starting looking last week for a house...." He had iPhone photos of this year's snow caves on Lake Michigan and I showed him Big Red on my phone.

Mostly I worked and read Unbroken by Hillenbrand, a truly incredible tale.

And I watched the Academy Awards.....Lady Gaga and Sound of Music tribute and Julie Andrews; Neal Patrick Harris's grand opening number....the nuttiness of the Red Carpet and the gowns, many beautiful but some seriously weird. (Some bitchy woman on a different show said that the necklace Scarlett Johansson wore looked like a bunch of "seaweed" and I sort of agree.) I hadn't realized Reese Witherspoon had been a nominee for Best Actress and was happy for her as I loved the movie Wild. And just all of the hoopla leading up to the final awards. Why are so many of those who work behind the scenes to get a movie made foreign born?
Vicksburg Military Cemetery - MS

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 269

February 20, 2015 ~ Tallulah, LA to Vicksburg, MS

I am always relieved when my mail (kindly sent by Dave VH to General Delivery in towns of my choice) is actually there. I choose small towns and only have to pay attention to the hours of operation as some close at noon for lunch or are just open in the afternoon. So far, there was a glitch only at the first pickup, but it was minor as they did in fact find my mail when they searched a little harder.

And then I went to Tensas (pronounced Tin-saw) NWR which is where Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were last unequivocally confirmed.

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in display case at Tensas NWR - LA

In the spring of 1924, ornithologist Arthur Allen, founder of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell, was traveling with his wife Elsa in Florida when they decided to check out an alleged sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Ivory-bills had not been seen for several years. The Allens managed to find a pair and decided to study the birds by observing them but elected not to camp nearby for fear of disturbing what might be the last nesting pair. Much to their dismay, a pair of local taxidermists got a permit and shot the birds legally while the Allens were away. 
In the early 1930s Mason Spencer, a state legislator from northeastern Louisiana, shot a male ivory-bill in a huge tract of virgin timber, known as the Singer Tract, along Louisiana's Tensas River and word went out to the ornithological community.  
In 1935 Allen organized the Brand-Cornell University-American Museum of Natural History Ornithological Expedition. The expedition--including Cornell professors Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg, James Tanner, a graduate student, and bird artist George Miksch Sutton, who was also an ornithologist and curator of the Cornell bird collection--traveled across America to record motion pictures and sounds of vanishing birds.
One of the goals of the 1935 expedition was to check out the 81,000-acre Singer Tract where Mason had shot an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. After grilling Spencer about his sighting, the expedition headed into the swamp led by Jack Kuhn, the local game warden. After three days in the swamp, the expedition found an ivory-bill nest 40 feet above the ground in a cavity in a red maple. 
"The whole experience was like a dream," wrote Sutton in his 1936 book Birds in the Wilderness. "There we sat in the wild swamp, miles and miles from any highway, with two ivory-billed woodpeckers so close to us that we could see their eyes, their long toes, even their slightly curved claws with our binoculars." 
Allen set up Camp Ephilus--a play on the scientific name of the ivory-bill (Campephilus principalis) --within 200 yards of the nest and kept watch, recording every detail of the birds' behavior, for a couple of weeks. Peter Paul Kellogg had stayed in town moving all of the equipment from their truck to a wagon that would be hauled to the campsite by mules. It was impossible to get a motor vehicle into the swamp 
When Kellogg arrived, he and the crew produced the first motion pictures and sound recordings ever made of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The sounds of the ivory-bills captured by Kellogg in 1935 are the ones still used for playback today by ivory-bill searchers. They are also the sounds against which modern recordings of possible kent calls are checked. 
From 1937 to 1939, Jim Tanner spent two years studying ivory-bills in the Singer Tract and searching for them across the South as part of his PhD dissertation for Cornell. Funded by the National Audubon Society, Tanner produced an in-depth report, which was later published as The Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In 1939 Tanner estimated there might have been 22 to 24 ivory-bills remaining in the United States, with not more than 6 to 8 birds at any one place. Although Tanner spent months checking out sightings of the ivory-bill around the South, the only birds he ever found were in the Singer Tract. He concluded that the only hope of saving the species lay in preserving that ancient forest. 
The Singer Tract (named after the sewing machine company who owned the land) was the largest piece of primeval forest left in the South. The logging rights to the Singer Tract had been sold to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. The National Audubon Society mounted a campaign to save the Singer Tract but it only accelerated the rate of cutting. The Chicago Mill and Lumber Company had no interest in saving the forest or compromising with John Baker, the president of the National Audubon Society. Baker wanted to buy the rights to the trees and obtained a pledge of $200,000 from the governor of Louisiana for that purpose.
The lumber company refused the offer and the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which still owned the land, refused to intercede. Richard Pough, who later became the first president of The Nature Conservancy, was sent by Audubon to search for the remaining ivory-bills in the Singer Tract in December 1943-January 1944. In a letter to John Baker he wrote, "It is sickening to see what a waste a lumber company can make of what was a beautiful forest." He found one female ivory-bill in a small stand of uncut timber, surrounded by destruction.
The artist, Don Eckelberry, who also worked for Audubon, went to the swamp in April 1944 looking for the bird Pough had spotted. He found her at her roost hole and spent two weeks watching and sketching her. Eckelberry's time in the swamp is the last universally accepted sighting of one of these birds in the United States. 

The paved road into the refuge ran above the slow-moving, opaque, mud-colored river. I parked several times watching birds from my van, easily getting a dozen species, including the IBWO look-alike, a Pileated. I did not see one vehicle in two hours. It was warm enough, overcast without even a hint of a breeze, very tranquil....a memorable morning with the ghosts of Ivory-bills on the periphery of my consciousness.
Tensas River - Tensas NWR - LA

In the large VC, I was surprised and thrilled to see a pair of IBWOS in a display case along with an old movie of a female vigorously working a large cavity.  I asked if I could photograph the birds and was given permission. The thing is, these specimens had been displayed at Cornell originally but were then "filed" away in a bird specimen drawer. Tensas asked for them. After a lot of paperwork and negotiation, they received the woodpeckers on loan and eventually took possession permanently. Which is where they should be, given the history. The office manager was a friendly African-American woman who had worked there for "oh...30 years or so..." She lives in Talullah, 20 miles away. I thought of watching 30 years' worth of changing seasons on a refuge like this. Northern Mockingbirds were flying about as I stepped outside....

Tensas is an 80,000 acre refuge in the Mississippi Delta established for the purpose of protecting and managing hardwood bottomlands. It also has arrangements with local farmers who plant and manage refuge croplands and who, at harvest, leave 20% for wildlife. This practice is not unique to Tensas, and the cooperative effort benefits wildlife and local farmers. Nesting boxes are put up for Wood Ducks; 150 are banded each year. Reintroducing and protecting the endangered Louisiana Black Bear is another focus.

Tensas NWR- LA
Two other species historically found here are the endangered Red Wolf and the Florida Black Panther both of which are no longer resident due mainly to loss of habitat but at least are not extinct (yet).

There was a short auto route running through a swamp adjacent to the refuge where I saw ducks and Great Egrets (looking especially pristine in the grey-brown woods) and then continuing through open fields full of sparrows. Frustrating sparrows.

It was Friday and I headed for Vicksburg, just across the Mississippi, where I stayed for the next six days, mostly because of inclement weather. As there was enough work to do, I settled into a pleasant Best Western, working and watching grey skies and rain and ice and snow.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Tensas NWR - LA

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 268

February 19, 2015 ~ Bastrop, LA to Tallulah, LA

I needed gas but turned into three stations before I found one that had a card reader at the pump. I am way to lazy to walk into the station to pay. How lucky I've been that gas prices are about half of what I thought they would be for much of my trip, averaging close to $2.00 per gallon.

It was good I filled the tank because the Upper Ouachita NWR was much farther than I expected. I first had to find the little town of Haile, turn on Haile Baptist Church Road and continue to the refuge, which I did, finally finding the headquarters.
On Haile Baptist Church Road on the way to Upper
Ouachita NWR - LA

The sun was out and no one else driving the route I took through the refuge. I have come to love these roads that meander through the woods and swamps and along rivers, listening for birds, seeing deer or the occasional coyote or fox, hearing nuts, twigs and other tree detritus drop on the perfectly still days, listening to the dry leaves rustling as sparrows and thrashers poke around, hearing the wind in the canopy and the very subtle noises that birds make as they look for food. At a boat landing, dozens of meadowlarks were foraging on the ground. I never see meadowlarks in this type of place; they are always in the fields, but here they were, easily spooked as I approached, flying in a group to the trees but soon coming back down to the grasses. The woods had an abundance of kinglets, titmice, etc. and I saw my first Blue Goose trip Eastern Towhee here. There has also been at least one Hermit Thrush if I wait long enough.  And many Eastern Bluebirds, so pretty perched on low branches, showing their rust and white bellies or their blue backs. To me, blue is an incongruous color in the woods. It's not that common and always gives me pleasure.
Hermit Thrush - Upper Ouachita NWR - LA

I feel the birds and I are on the cusp of spring, both getting impatient. There is the certain knowledge that more light and warmer days are imminent. The stubborn cold cannot hold much longer. (Bear with me....I think weather talk/perseveration is a digital thing for people; either one does or doesn't.)

Carolina Wrens are another common bird, the males singing a loud rich, very distinctive song, such that even I can recognize it. I'm not good at memorizing bird vocalizations but then again, I don't list or count "heard only" birds.

I went on to D'Arbonne NWR just south of Upper Ouachita and drove around there also, parking near a boat ramp and watching robins eat berries in the sunny woods and a pair of Savannah Sparrows that didn't dive for cover but calmly sat on a nearby tree branch. Of course I looked for the Red-cockaded vain. The D'Arbonne name here in Louisiana came from Jean Baptiste D'Arbonne, a French Canadian explorer and hunter in the early 1700s.

In times of high water, nearly 90% of  D'Arbonne is flooded as it is part of the Ouachita River overflow, so again, it's all about the water.....

The national record Mayhaw tree (known for berries that make a delicious jelly) and Rafinesque's big-eared bats are found in this refuge. So much happens in the NWRs with regards to protecting species other than birds. For instance, there are several closed-to-the-public "bat refuges" in these states. There are wildflowers, butterflies, insect, salamanders, trees, snakes, squirrels, black bear and beavers and bobcats, ocelots....hundred of species that the loggers can't disturb and for which staff on the refuges work to protect and enhance habitat.

I needed to get to Tallulah to get my mail, so I drove east nearly to the Mississippi and stayed in a motel there. A rather dismal motel but with evidence of recent upgrades. This must be a dynamic process, constantly keeping motel rooms clean, safe and attractive with the expected amenities. Of course, the upscale chains (3 stars and up) usually are very comfortable, but with the lesser chains (less than 3 stars), rooms and the extra vary greatly. Some are surprisingly pleasant, and some are pretty dreary and only superficially clean. Lighting, bathtubs, an ergonomically designed situation for computer work, computer connections,  door locks, window coverings.....I wonder if the Japanese pod-style hotel would ever work in America....for those who only want a comfortable bed and a bathroom. Modern, tiny, clean, comfortable and inexpensive rooms for a night.

At the turn-off to Upper Ouachita NWR - LA

Monday, February 23, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 267

February 18, 2015 ~ Texarkana, AR to Bastrop, LA

Feeling rested, I continued this morning, going east in sunshine on a main road with little traffic. It is only on the secondary roads all through here that the logging trucks make one drive with extreme caution. They carry medium- to small-sized logs and are very different from those seen out west. Here the trees hang over the end of the trailers on a downward slant and have small twiggy branches with greenery still attached, blowing in the wind as the trucks go 70 mph down narrow two-lane roads with no shoulders. It's crazy how fast they go and how much logging is occurring. I constantly passed denuded clear-cut and very messy places, with unsalvageable logging litter scattered about, leaving the land bereft and open.

Felsenthal NWR is described on the FWS website as a "low lying area is dissected by an intricate system of rivers, creeks, sloughs, buttonbush swamps and lakes throughout a vast bottomland hardwood forest that gradually rises to an upland forest community." 
Ouachita River - Felsenthal WR - AR

The waters of the Ouachita River flow through this refuge about halfway in its course from headwaters in the Ouachita Mountains in west central Arkansas to the Tensas River in Louisiana and then ultimately to the Mississippi. 

Below Lake Jack Lee, the Ouachita continues south into Louisiana. The river flows generally south through the state, collecting the tributary waters of Bayou Bartholomew, Bayou de Loutre, Bayou d'Arbonne, the Boeuf River, and the Tensas River. The river below the junction of the Tensas is called the Black River in Catahoula Parish and Concordia Parish until it joins the Red River, which flows into both the Atchafalaya River and the Mississippi River, via the Old River Control Structure.

I like the names of things down here...the bayous, Atchafalaya, parishes (counties elsewhere)...and am intrigued when I see words like the "Old River Control Structure." I think the solid ground of half of the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Georgia has been claimed from swamps and tidal marshes. It is so WATERY everywhere. The road beds are all elevated to varying degrees.  

Lake Jack Lee is the reservoir adjacent to Felsenthal. The Ouachita has five major dams. So, when a watercourse claims the distinction of being a free-flowing river, pay attention. It is not common, especially on our major rivers. I think bodies of water created by dams should never be called "lakes" but always "reservoirs." Just a personal bias in favor of original and natural water features.
Felsenthal NWR - AR

I only drove to one river access point on Felsenthal and then checked in at the large VC, which was situated in a lovely sun-dappled grove of trees. Pine Warblers were foraging here also in the parking lot. Felsenthal does what many of these southeastern refuges do, and this includes managing for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Savannah-like areas are created in long-needled pine habitat and man-made nesting cavities are provided. In addition, they mess around with water and hunters and invasive species eradication, migratory waterfowl, resident species...always working to optimize habitat for flora and fauna. At Felsenthal, feral swine are also a concern causing all kinds of problems, including issues with hunters, which is one more thread on the Internet that distracted me. Check it out if you are interested. Feral hogs are increasing and are problematic. 

I am ignored when I go into the Visitor Centers lately, but that is in part my fault as I don't try to find staff, and there often is no one at the front desk. I think visitors are a minor annoyance at some refuges, and while courteous if someone does poke their head out of offices, they mostly just want to tend to whatever it is they do.  But there are other refuges which welcome visitors and are genuinely grateful that someone is interested and seeks them out. 

I found a motel in Bastrop where I worked a few hours. There has been been little relief from the night-time freezing temperatures and a dismal forecast for the next several days. This, also, I did not expect so far south.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 266

February 17, 2015 ~ Texarkana, AR

I stayed in Texarkana all day, with a Starbucks break in late afternoon....working and relaxing and reading.
Red-winged Blackbirds - Holla Bend NWR - AR

Snow Geese - Holla Bend NWR - AR