This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Wildlife and Windy Rain

            Once again there is something weather- related to note.  I often wonder about the birds and other animals that find themselves exposed to weather events.  We humans see rain coming and we find a way to acquire shelter if we can.  I’m sure the birds do the same thing but whatever they find to hide under will not be complete protection most of the time.  Of interest today is the fact that we pretty much always have some advance notice of impending seriously bad weather.  Right now there is a system out in the Gulf of Mexico that is getting its act together for an assault on the Louisiana coast.  Right now it doesn’t seem  to be a big windy storm, but more of a smaller, rainy one.  Really rainy, they say.  Does the wildlife know this too?  Adding a few things to the usual accounts of the unusual prestorm  doings of ants, chickens, horses, etc, will not hurt the universe I believe.  So here is what I see along the river today.

Sunset tonight
            Sitting here at home on the Atchafalaya River and looking at the conditions in the back yard will bring thoughts of the kind of observation that might be possible due to the advance notice of bad weather.  The observations in this case would be the kind that notices behavior in the animals normally doing what they do and the behaviors that might not be so normal.  All this is purely speculative, of course, what the scientists call unreliable data.   First of all, the birds.  This is the easiest thing to note because the birds are so clearly visible.  But what birds are they and what are they doing this afternoon?  Down at the dock I see cattle egrets across the river.  There are about 30 of them and they are all standing on the riverbank just kind of passing time.  Once in a while there is a disagreement of some kind and a couple of them jump up in the air and then settle back down, standing calmly.  I don’t recall ever seeing a big flock of cattle egrets doing this along the river.  A few yes, but a flock, no.  There doesn’t seem to be any feeding behavior either.  They just stand there, looking around.  I wonder, are they preparing for surviving wind and constant wetness for several days in a row?  There is no escape except leaving the area, and is this what they are preparing to do?  It’s as though they are using a group meeting, or a big committee, to make a decision.  After about an hour, the whole flock took to the air and flew away low along the river.  Oddly, they flew toward the east, which is where this storm will probably come from.  Perhaps the committee needs a new chairman.

            Some birds are more susceptible to the bad weather in that they probably cannot fly away from the places to be hit by the, mostly because they are either too small or just don’t fly long distances.  I’m thinking of the resident species that just never leave home, such as the mockingbirds and some woodpeckers.  Looking out at the back yard there is a different behavior going on among and between these species.  The mockingbirds are chasing each other all over the place, and the red-bellied woodpeckers.  It is not the chasing that is unusual, but the extent of it, going on non-stop all over the back yard.  The cardinals join in it too.  Chickadees and titmice are just on the edges watching all the commotion.  These are birds that will all be wet probably beginning tomorrow and then perhaps for the next four or five days.  Are there behaviors that we can see that the birds might be doing in advance of the bad weather?  Surely the chasing is not a practice that will keep them dry, but might it not indicate a heightened state of nervous tension?  Or maybe the abnormal amount of activity signals something else not easily described. 

            There is a speckled kingsnake in the garage, in a container.  The snake is usually very docile and quiet, but today the snake is crawling all over the environment available to her.  Could be coincidence, probably is.

            The river is at 4.6 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge.  Left alone it would probably remain there without much change for the next week or so.  The Ohio and Mississippi are not supporting any immediate changes.  But if this weather, with “historic rainfall” predicted, does come in the next couple days , the river will notice and raise an eyebrow.  It could rise several feet and we would have to be ready to retie the dock each day.  Unlike the rivers in Vermont, etc., the Atchafalaya is a big river with a relatively small collecting basin.  So we will get the rain effect, but not a flash flood.  I know this because my magic crystal ball says so.

            Rise and Shine, Jim