We visit with Patti Holland, a retired US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who worked extensively in Louisiana’s coastal zone on bird mitigation during restoration projects.
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A barrier island located on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, Grand Isle isn’t just a first line of defense against storms but also a first stop for birds during their Spring migration north from Latin America. This special coastal environment brings in hundreds of people from across the nation and throughout the world to see these beautiful birds during the first pit-stop on their long journey across the Gulf of Mexico. In previous years, over 160 different species of birds were identified during the three-day Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration.
Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide vital habitat for these migrating birds as well as those species who live in Louisiana year-round. CWPPRA projects work to restore our coastal wetlands for both birds and people. CWPPRA barrier island restoration projects, like TE-20 and PO-27, are home to beach-nesting birds such as Black Skimmers, Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers. Marsh creations, like ME-31 and CS-81, provide habitat for rare species of birds such as the Least Bittern and the Black Rail.
At the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration on April 13th, CWPPRA Outreach discussed coastal issues with passionate birders and Grand Isle locals. Several groups of birders played Wetland Jeopardy and other patrons enjoyed our habitat toss game. We met several educators and representatives of other outreach groups who do similar work to ours and share CWPPRA’s mission. Visitors had a wide array of tour options throughout the day, including guided walks, kayaking trips, and banding demonstrations. As each group returned, they would add all the species they observed to a checklist at the headquarters where we were set up.
Many of us here in Louisiana enjoy our coastal wetlands. From people to beautiful birds, CWPPRA protection and restoration projects work to enhance our wetlands for everyone.
Featured Image is a Summer Tanager. All photos courtesy of Gabe Griffard.
Spring is in the air! That means a burst of life in our coastal wetlands. You may already see flowers blooming, new leaves on trees, and a variety of migratory birds returning to their nesting habitat. Today, on the first day of spring, let’s explore the annual rebirth of Louisiana’s coastal habitats.
As plants proliferate in the warmer temperatures, so too a riot of colors joins the landscape. Some coastal favorites are seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and salt marsh morning glory (Ipomoea sagittata) for good reason: they produce attractive flowers that saturate the wetlands with color. Other plants have less colorful flowering and fruiting structures but are more prevalent. Many sedges (Family Cyperaceae) are beginning to put out their iconic inflorescences, the branching flower clusters, as are several grasses (Family Poaceae). Other popular marsh plants including Juncus and Spartina species also begin their pollination cycle. The reliable reproduction of these graminoid (grass-like) plants is helpful in CWPPRA marsh creation projects because those species repopulate new land more quickly than woody plants. Once they move in and put down healthy roots, they demonstrate the effectiveness of CWPPRA projects and their success!
Plant enthusiasts aren’t the only ones excited for springtime; wildlife watchers, especially birders, see an infusion of new plant growth and wildlife offspring. Many birds return from their wintering grounds in South America to the warm nesting grounds along the Mississippi Flyway. Songbirds like the beloved prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) fly across the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and our coastal waters to take advantage of the new plant life and insect population booms. South American migrants use the flyway to get further north alongside other species that use our coastal zone as a wintering habitat. Whether they are just stopping over or will be staying for the summer, Louisiana’s spring is one of the most exciting times to birdwatch.  Ultimately, birdwatching success diminishes at the same rate as our disappearing coastal wetlands. Habitat loss has major implications for population declines of bird species. Because birds have “favorite” wintering and nesting habitats, they are especially susceptible. Both their wintering and nesting habitats face the threat of deterioration and require protection. This part of the year is great for exploring all the natural areas that Louisiana has to offer, we suggest that you find a day that works in your schedule and visit a wetland near you; you’re bound to find something interesting.  We wish you all a happy spring and encourage environmental stewardship each and every day!
In honor of the official “First Day of Fall” on Saturday, September 22, let’s fall into seasonal changes in wetlands! When many people think of the transition from summer to autumn, the first thing that pops into their heads is leaves changing colors and seeing more sweaters and long pants. A less common thought is how wetlands change in the later months of the year. From species composition to hydrology, many wetlands undergo radical changes when summer turns into fall. Wetlands in coastal Louisiana are no exception.
For a start, seasonal changes can be observed with migratory species. Many species of birds and some fish and crustaceans use our swamps, estuaries, and other wetlands for breeding habitat in the summer months because of the abundance of food and warmth. On the other hand, some migratory birds like the famous Bald Eagle use the Mississippi River Delta as a wintering ground.  Blue Crabs, another species found in wetlands, mate around this time of year before going dormant for the winter.  Migratory birds are starting to migrate back to the southern hemisphere around this time to follow food resources.
Decreasing temperatures and humidity also cause plant communities to change. Wetlands experience loss of vegetation from wilting and freezes.  Black Mangrove distribution is limited by minimum winter temperatures. You can read more on mangroves and freezing here. Swamps and marshes lose much of their greenery with lower temperatures, which really decreases their water storage potential. Evapotranspiration, or water vapor leaving plants through their leaves, often decreases too, which means that water is not being cycled as quickly as at other times of the year.
Ecosystems in a stable state can weather the changes between seasons and bounce right back to full productivity in their peak season, but sometimes a large disturbance or even small, incremental changes over time can degrade habitat to the point of no return. Degraded wetlands provide less storm buffer, which is a crucial ecosystem service that protects us during hurricanes. It is in our best interests to preserve our wetlands through projects like CWPPRA because they are so critical and invaluable to us.
Featured Image from https://www.hcn.org/articles/the-disappearing-wetlands-in-californias-central-valley
As April passes into May, many migratory birds leave the tropics of Central and South America in search of bountiful summer resources in the sub-tropical United States. Among them, the very charismatic Prothonotary Warbler flies from the northern tropics to the hospitable habitats of the United States. Prothonotary warblers live in forests near bodies of slow-moving water where they can hunt for insects and nest in cavities in trees. The cypress swamps of Louisiana are about as good as it gets for a prothonotary warbler, and they stay from April to August.  If you get out into the swamp during the summer, look for their bright yellow figures darting through low-lying foliage.
Prothonotary warblers have experienced a population decline in recent years that experts attributed to the destruction of their wintering habitat in the tropics. To improve breeding success and survivorship, the Audubon Society and other ornithological enthusiasts have encouraged people to install nest boxes that help to protect warbler nests from failing. Many natural threats exist in swamps for warblers, including a variety of snakes, birds of prey, and mammals. Since brown-headed cowbirds will use prothonotary nests to lay their eggs in when given the chance, nest boxes are suggested to have a 1¼“ hole to prevent larger birds from entering the box but still allow the warblers to enter. Boxes are not left on the ground, and are often mounted on poles. Some predators can climb, so many boxes have a skirt/collar that prevents snakes, raccoons, and cats from climbing the poles into the nests. More guidelines for a good nest box can be found at https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/features-of-a-good-birdhouse/.
 Petit, L. J. (1999). Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.408
 Kaufman, Kenn. “Prothonotary Warbler.” Audubon, National Audubon Society, 10 Mar. 2016, http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/prothonotary-warbler.
Brannon, Peter. “Adult Male.” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Florida, 14 Sept. 2016, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Prothonotary_Warbler/id.
Known to be one of the most easily recognizable species of waterfowl, the mallard duck is majestic, distinctive, and a wintering resident of the bayou state. The mallard is one of the most common ducks in the United States. With great variation between the two mallard genders, drake or male mallards have a bright yellow bill, prominent emerald green head, and white neck-ring, followed by a chestnut colored chest and dark colored rear. The hen or female mallards have a dark colored bill and are a mottled brown color with a dark brown stripe across the eye. Both drake and hen mallards have the characteristic violet-blue speculum with black and white borders. Mallard ducks are a migrating waterfowl species that can be found in Louisiana during winter. Among the dabbling ducks, mallards are one of the latest fall migrants with one of the most extended migration periods, lasting from late summer to early winter. During their migrant stay, mallards are found in agricultural fields, shallow marshes, oak-dominated forested wetlands, and coastal inlets with aquatic vegetation. Louisiana sits in the Mississippi Flyway, North America’s greatest and most heavily-used migration corridor. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide habitat for more than 5 million migratory waterfowl, approximately half of the wintering duck population of the Mississippi Flyway. Now, more than ever, restoration and protection of coastal wetlands is critical; if wetlands continue to diminish, Louisiana will no longer be known as “sportsman’s paradise”.
In honor of October 3rd, World Habitat Day, this Wetland Wednesday will discuss wetlands as a habitat!
Louisiana wetlands are essential in providing habitats for wildlife. For some wildlife, the only fitting habitat that adequately provides all needs and resources to survive are wetlands. Different types of wildlife rely upon different types of wetland habitats such as swamp, freshwater marsh, intermediate marsh, brackish marsh and salt marsh. The Great Egret and Great Blue Heron can be found in freshwater marshes along with wood ducks, while Brown Pelicans, the state bird of Louisiana, are most frequently found in intermediate marshes. Seasonal migration pathways also rely heavily upon the sustainability of wetland habitats. Louisiana’s coast provides a critical habitat and resting point for waterfowl in route along the Mississippi Flyway during migration; about 40% of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds use this route. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act continues to work to enhance, restore, and protect these imperative habitats for the nation’s wildlife!
Did you know:
CWPPRA has protected, created, or restored approximately 96,806 acres of wetlands in Louisiana.
The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act has funded coastal restoration projects for 26 years. Presently, CWPPRA has 153 total active projects, 108 completed projects, 17 active construction projects, 23 projects currently in Engineering and Design and has enhanced more than 355,647 acres of wetlands . These projects provide for the long-term conservation of wetlands and dependent fish and wildlife populations. Projects funded by CWPPRA are cost-effective ways of restoring, protecting, and enhancing coastal wetlands. CWPPRA has a proven track record of superior coastal restoration science and monitoring technique in Louisiana. The success of the CWPPRA program has been essential in providing critical ecosystem stabilization along Louisiana’s coast and has provided pioneering solutions for land loss.
Visit CWPPRA’s website for more information!
In honor of National Estuaries Week, this week’s Wetland Wednesday focuses on
An estuary is an ecosystem comprised of both the biological and physical environment, commonly located where a river meets the sea. Estuaries are known to be inhabited by an array of plant and animal species that have adapted to brackish water—a mixture between freshwater draining from inland and salt water. Estuaries have one of the highest productivity rates among ecosystems in the world; they provide an abundance of food and shelter as well as breeding and migration locations. Estuaries also provide great access for successful recreational activities such as fishing. Celebrate National Estuaries Week by aiming to keep your estuary areas clean of trash for others to enjoy as well as a healthy environment for wildlife and vegetation!
Did you know:
Freshwater habitats make up only 1% of the planet’s surface but are host to 1/3 of all known vertebrates and nearly 10% of all known animal species.
Usually located in close proximity to an intermediate marsh, freshwater marshes commonly occur adjacent to coastal bays. Freshwater marshes are of the most productive freshwater habitats and are essential to the survival of many wildlife populations ranging from important nursery needs to supporting large numbers of wintering waterfowl. Freshwater marshes have the greatest plant diversity and highest organic matter content of any marsh type. The heavy demand for freshwater has become outweighed by its availability due to salt water intrusion. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act aims to restore the natural conditions of water quality by implementing hydrologic restoration projects to combat saltwater intrusion.