Archive for the ‘Flora and Fauna’ Category

Among the diverse plant life through the park is an equally diverse collection of wild mushrooms.

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain fungi—the equivalent of the apple, not of the tree. Fungi, including those which produce mushrooms, are not plants; they are related to molds, mildews, rusts, smuts, and yeasts, and are classified in the Fungi Kingdom. (…) The slang term “toadstool” is best avoided, as it is ambiguous: to some people, “toadstool” implies a poisonous mushroom; to others, it means a mushroom with an umbrella-like shape.

source: http://americanmushrooms.com/basics.htm

They are identified several ways – where/when they grow; the shape, form (scales, wrinkled or warty textures), color and size of the cap; the stem size; etc. David Fischer’s American Mushrooms site notes that mushroom identification requires massive attention to detail. Considering how many types of mushrooms there are out there and, of course, the potential to mistake a poisonous one for an edible one, it’s important to have some experience in the field before one delves right into trying to cook wild mushrooms.

The best ways to go about learning how to identify mushrooms and then actually getting out there include –
Taking a class (many universities, as part of the biology or even forestry departments, offer mycology classes).
Buying an identification field book (the more vivid the pictures and indepth the details, the more helpful)
Practice, practice, practice! (the more you go out and attempt to label mushrooms, the more you’ll learn – experience is key)

AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer and site supervisor Shelby McDuff went around the park, identifying some of the native species of mushrooms. It’s an ongoing process, since photographs need to be sifted through and compared to field guide images carefully for proper identification. Here are images of the ones that have been successfully identified:

^ Blac-Footed Marasmius

^ Angels Wings

More coming soon…

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer


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Animal Tracks

Yesterday, Kyle, Leigh-Anne and I were walking up and down the trails with clippers (or “loppers,” they are sometimes called around here) to trim the sides of the trails and pick up debris.

As we made our way around the pond, Kyle stopped for a moment. Something in the dirt caught his eye. I started to ask him what was the matter, when suddenly he muttered, “Pigs.”

“Pigs?” I replied, looking around.

“Yeah,” he answered, leaning in to get a closer look at what I now noticed was a cluster of tracks. “At least one of them is around here. See these tracks? That ain’t a deer, I can tell you that.” He added, pointing to an area that looked disturbed beside the tracks, “See that? They root around and dig up plants and stuff. A whole bunch of them could tear up acres in a single night.”

picture from http://www.bear-tracker.com/wildpig.html
copyright Kim A. Cabrera

We continued along the trail, and before long I was able to point out more wild hog tracks or areas where they dug up for roots, to a degree.

Kyle also pointed out coyote pawprints, which looked like this…

picture from http://www.bear-tracker.com/coyote.html
copyright Kim A. Cabrera

… and various types of deer tracks.

deer tracks through mud near Bryan Park
picture taken by Shelby McDuff, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

The difference between a doe, buck, and fawn is actually very noticeable. For one, a buck has extra extentions behind his hooves. And obviously, fawn tracks are simple to identify, because they are so small.

Though around here the practice is usually to shoot wild hogs because of the damage they do to property. Or to thin out deer populations during hunting season (which is one the way). However, the animals are all protected, as long as they still roam Bryan Park.

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Steve Hotard, the Louisiana Agricultural Extension Agent for Ouachita Parish, came to the park and walked with Shelby McDuff and I around the main trails, identifying the native plants as he went.

I marked down the ones he pointed out, including brief notes or interesting facts about several. Here are the extent of my notes, as they appear, in the form of a list with comments to the side (also, these are in the order that we saw them on the hike):


Post Oak

  • leaf looks like a cross
  • Red Mulberry

  • big leaves, usually in three very distinct shapes (on the same tree!)
  • Sweet Gum

    Southern Red Oak

  • Droopy leaves with a bell bottom (or rounded) base
  • Sassafras

    Winged Elm

  • Leaves has a bizarre wing formation
  • Cork-like bark
  • White Oak

  • Bark is scaly (?)
  • Red Maple

    Pawpaw Trees

  • shrubbish understory
  • has little banana-like, mangoish fruit that’s edible
  • American Sycamore

  • flaky bark that sheds and leaves a smooth trunk
  • American Plum Tree

    Loblolly Pine Trees


  • aligator, blocky bark
  • VERY tasty fruit!
  • Sweet Bay Magnolia

  • grows in wet areas
  • leaf has a silver back (trick to compare to Roman or Red Magnolia)
  • Red Maple

    Black Cherry Tree

  • literally, little red hairs grow on the back of the leaves!
  • Cherry Bark Oak

    Devil’s Walking Stick

  • has very thin trunks, like a walking stick, and thorns all over it
  • Mocker Nut Hickory

  • compound leaves
  • Carolina Buckthorn

  • more of a shrub
  • grows nonedible berries
  • Rhododendron

    Black Gum

  • one of the fastest trees to turn colors in the fall
  • Eastern Red Cedarstrong

    Sand Post Oak

    American Holly

    American Beauty Berry


    American Allegheny Chinkapin (or Chinquapin)

  • has prickly nuts that open up and can be roasted and eaten
  • unfortunately, chinkapins highly vulnerable to dutch elm disease, so they often die and regrow and therefore aren’t commonly seen anymore
  • Dogwood

    Button Bush

  • native wetland species
  • Winged Sumac

  • rhus copalina (?)
  • Beech Tree

    Elderberry bush

    Water Oak

    Wax Mirtle


    Before he left, Steve encouraged us to continue to identify native flora throughout the park, and especially to mark the ones that need to be either noted on the trails with a sign later or need to be preserved. He pointed out that the park has a lot of diversity – wetlands, bog, uplands, etc. He also mentioned how he believed the park was going to be lovely.

    Everyone is grateful for his help, suggestions and wisdom.

    Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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    Bryan Park has an overabundance of berries, it would seem. Every time one of the volunteers ventures onto a trail to measure it, clear brush, etc., he/she stumbles across some form of wild berry.

    Here, I’m going to attempt to catalog the berries that have been found on the property. Note these are all edible berries, but this anthology is neither comprehensive nor final. I’m merely an amateur berry-identifier and berry-picker, and personally, I like to know what sorts of berries are all right to eat (and perhaps even delicious!) if I ever end up stranded in some Northern Louisiana forest with no munchies.

    I would like to thank Ali for her incredibly photography – thanks to her, I’m able to put up some photographs of berries. And soon I’ll be including some recipes and more identification-tips – enjoy!

    1. Blackberries
    These are pretty common across the US – they grow from thorny, almost creeper-style plants and the blacker they are, the more ripe they are.

    2. Huckleberries
    They almost look like blueberries, and they are very sweet. Like blackberries, the darker in color they are, the better.

    (all recipes are taken from The McDuff Family Cookbook from Shelby McDuff, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer supervisor on the Bryan Park site.

    [can replace with huckleberries if need-be]

    4 T. cornstarch
    1 1/2 c. sugar
    1 c. water
    2 T. butter
    6 c. blackberries
    1 c. flour
    1/2 c. sugar
    1 1/2 t. baking powder
    1/2 t. salt
    1/4 c. soft butter (half stick)
    1/2 c. milk

    Mix cornstarch and sugar. Add water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Add berries and pour into large casserole. Prepare crust by sifting ingredients into bowl with butter. Add milk and stir until moistened. Spoon mixture over berries. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until golden brown.

    [can replace with huckleberries if need-be]

    1/2 c. milk
    1 egg, beaten
    2 T. melted butter
    1 t. baking powder
    3/4 t. salt
    1 1/4 c. cornmeal
    3/4 c. honey
    1 quart fresh or frozen blackberries

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine milk, egg, butter, baking powder and salt. Stir in cornmeal and 1/2 cup of the honey to make a batter. Place berries in the bottom of a buttered baking dish and spoon remaining honey over them. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls over berries and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until berries are hot and bubbling and crust is golden.

    [strawberries, blackberries, huckleberries would all work]

    1 c. flour
    1/4 c. chopped pecans
    1/2 c. butter, melted
    2 egg whites

    2 T. lemon juice
    2/3 c. sugar
    1 package (10 ounces) frozen berries, thawed
    1 carton (9 ounces) whipped topping

    Combine flour, pecans and melted butter in a 9x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until brown. Mixture should be very crumbly. Press in bottom of pan, reserving 1/4 cut mixture to sprinkle on top. Beat egg white until fluffy; gradually add lemon juice and sugar. Next, add your choice of berry [blackberries, huckleberries, strawberries all work great] and beat until mixture peaks, about 15 minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Pour onto crust; top with remaining crumbs and freeze. Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Yields 12 to 15 squares. Super easy dessert to make ahead of time and freeze.

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    Agkistrodon piscivorus is more commonly known as a Water Moccasin. It is black in color and has an infamous reputation and highly venomous bite. Earlier, Eric and I were clearing out debris from a very marshy area of the pond in the park, and there was a snake among the reeds – perhaps a water moccasin.

    I spotted it first since I’m constantly worrying about these sorts of encounters. I immediately dropped the rake I was holding and stumbled in the other direction, screaming at the top of my lungs and flailing my arms around. Most hiking guides online tell you to back away slowly or just stay still and remain calm. Either way, it was gone before much more of a fuss could be made, but I’m still panicky even thinking about it.

    Obviously it’s a bad idea to scramble away in such a frenzy from a situation like that, no matter how scared I was (and believe me, I was very frightened). In retrospect, I could have kept my cool and perhaps not made myself look like a fool infront of the rest of the volunteers. Every little animal sighting brings out my most intense emotions; I’m either very elated or very frightened. This is really my first time working for any amount of time in the forest, however, so it’s all brand new.

    On that note, another fawn sighting! Or odocoileus virginianus, if you want to get technical.

    My enthusiasm may seem silly, but this is only the second time in my life I’ve seen a fawn that wasn’t in Disney’s Bambi or in National Geographic (the “first time” was just this past Tuesday at D’Arbonne State Park, which I wrote about here). The fawn was just outside of Ms Shelby and Mr Bill’s home, on the outskirts of the park. She must be very young, because I’m told she was wobbling at first like a newborn. 


    Look, it's Bambi!

    People may make the assumption that she was abandoned and attempt to disturb her – that’s a bad idea. Fawns simply hide as their mothers direct them to, and they rely on their spotted camouflage. So when you see a fawn hiding like this, leave it undisturbed! (Read more about this topic in this great article by The Morning Call

    It’s so strange how in matter of 10 minutes, I went from being in a virtual frenzy of fear after spotting what we believe was a water moccasin, to practically swooning at the sight of a newborn fawn. The forest and, specifically, Bryan Park has such a variety of lovely, majestic creatures. This is as real as it gets.

    Best of all, this land is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, so rest assured that both snake (ick!) and fawn alike will be safe and sound.


    Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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    On Tuesday, as we explored the trails throughout the D’Arbonne State Park to get ideas and inspiration for our own trail-building in the developing Bryan Park, we came across the most heart-warming sight.  A fawn was huddled under a fallen log, waiting patiently and motionlessly for her mother to return.  The spots on her back made it difficult to notice her at first, but Damien caught a glimpse of her and got everyone else’s attention (the “oohs” and “awws” soon followed).  Admittedly, I had never been so close to such a beautiful, ellusive creature; I was blushing with excitement.  

    “This is instinct,” I whispered loudly, to no one in particular.  “A doe will direct her fawn to hide in brush like this to elude predators.” 

    It’s hard to imagine such a chance sighting being one of those quintessential “life-changing” experiences, but I believe that I was changed seeing this innocent, defenseless creature curled up like that.  We were close enough to see her eyelashes and the soft fur on the edge of her ears, and I can’t even fathom the fear that was pulsing through her body.  She probably had the urge to sprint away, but her mother had directed her to stay.  And yet, despite of those powerful and conflicting urges, she was steadfast and completely stoic.  I was amazed.  I still am.  

    That little fawn changed me.  Seeing her there like that really put the entire Bryan Park project into perspective.  This park that we — volunteers for AmeriCorps*VISTA and WIA — are developing isn’t just some “nature experience.”  It’s a place to conserve and protect the wildlife, including flora and fauna unique to Northern Louisiana.  And that fawn, who was so petrified under that log and who we left untouched, was safer than she could imagine.  No one will take her away while she and her mother remain in the D’Arbonne State Park.  No one will hunt them or harm them in any way, in accordance with state law.  Here, in the future Bryan Park, no one will harm the wildlife either.  People will commune with nature without hurting it.

    I still am amazed.

    While I was initially directed to this project in order to help the community of Downsville collect folklore for an historical exhibit on the park grounds, day by day I find myself growing more interested in the outdoor-aspect of the park development.  

    On Monday, all the volunteers went to the OWL Center outside of Dubach, Louisiana for some group-cohesion activities.  We learned to trust each other and ask for help, two things that are often difficult to achieve in the workplace. And then the next day, on a sweltering Tuesday, we explored the D’Arbonne State Park‘s winding trails to find inspiration for our own park’s future trails.

    Everyone was anxious to get back to work, however, and continue building these trails on the park grounds, including clearing brush to meet state regulations and building structures like restrooms and pavilion. Then there are the “treats,” so to speak, that serve as a welcome break from back-breaking machete-wielding labor – painting murals, signs, and the giant recycle cans.  As youth volunteers, we relish in the opportunity to make our creative mark on the park.  

    I’ll close by pointing out that we intend to blog about the development of Bryan Park here, and hopefully share photographs and timelines of the construction of the major structures on-sight.  Every volunteer is asked to write a weekly journal, which I will post as well.  

    The goal is to catalog the process while, at the same time, reflecting upon our personal growth.  In an age with computers and video games, communing with nature to this degree is truly significant to us, and hopefully we can share the lessons we learn with others.
    Happy trails to you,

    Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer

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