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Wildlife Lookout

The Dragonfly: Nature’s Mosquito Abatement

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Local Wildlife Lookout by Chelsea Cochrane

Summer in Louisiana would be incomplete without dragonflies – or as we like to call them – Mosquito Hawks. I remember as a kid late summer afternoons, sitting at the banks of the river and watching these incredibly agile fliers swoop and dive, catching their dinner. Natural predators, a dragonfly can consume as much as a fifth of its body weight per day. They are also considered one of the world’s most efficient hunters, catching up to 95% of their prey.

A large part of this prey is mosquitoes. A single dragonfly can eat hundreds of mosquitoes per day. Add this to their tendency to swarm by the hundreds – sometimes thousands – and you’ve got one heck of a mosquito abatement program. Nature wins again.

Part of their effectiveness in hunting has to do with the dragonfly’s amazing vision. They have compound eyes, consisting of thousands of individual lens that can see in practically every direction except for directly behind them. In fact, a dragonfly’s head is mostly just eyes with a mouth.

Their unusual flight patterns are attributed to the two sets of independently moving wings, giving them the ability to propel themselves in six directions – up, down, forward, backward, left and right, as well as hover. The flight of the dragonfly is so unique that engineers at MIT have done work to mimic its patterns in robotics.

Dragonflies are exceptionally fast, too. The average flight speed of a large dragonfly is estimated at 22 – 34 mph, with a cruising speed of about 10 mph. They can travel at 100 body-lengths per second in forward flight, and around three lengths per second going backwards. Robert John Tillyard’s The Biology of Dragonflies (1917) claims the southern giant darner, a species native to Australia, was clocked at 60 mph.

From a recent study on migratory patterns of dragonflies, Matthew Dodder via Hallworth et al., Biology Letters

Many dragonflies are migratory, some traveling great distances. A study tracking dragonfly migratory patterns found that the green darner dragonfly, Anax junius, from New Jersey traveled only every third day at an average of 7.5 miles per day (though one dragonfly traveled 100 miles in a single day). A more recent study suggests that the green darner embarks on a year-long, multi-generational migration. A dragonfly called the globe skinner has the longest migration of any insect—11,000 miles back and forth across the Indian Ocean.

A majority of a dragonfly’s life is actually spent underwater in the nymph stage. Dragonfly nymphs live in fresh water and munch on yes, you guessed it, mosquito larvae, as well as tadpoles and small fish. This stage of the dragonfly’s life can last up to five years, while adult stages can be as little as a few days or weeks. The dragonfly has many natural predators, including several birds and some wasps. Insecticides and water pollution also affect local populations.

Mesurupetala, Late Jurassic (Tithonian), Solnhofen limestone, Germany

Dragonflies are some of the oldest winged insect, with fossils that date back some 300 million years. Some of these show ancient ancestors of dragonflies with wingspans of up to two feet. Today about 3000 species of dragonflies are known around the world. It is in the order Odonata, infraorder Anisoptera, which has three families, 11 subfamilies and 348 genera.

Flora of Covington

Flora of Covington: Mexican Primrose-Willow

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Mexican Primrose-willow growing wild along the Trace behind Lola’s Restaurant, Covington, LA

You may have spotted this plant growing wild along ditches and woodlines, its bright yellow flowers standing out against dark green narrow leaves, with crimson highlights along its branches and stems. Blooming this time of year, its flowers resemble those of the buttercup, or the closely related evening primrose.

Bob Peterson; Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, FL

The Mexican primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis) is an adaptable wildflower found in Central America, Australia, South-East Asia, the Middle East, and the Central-West African regions. It is considered invasive in some Pacific Islands. Here in the US it is prolific in the southeastern region. It is a perennial deciduous shrub in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae), growing 3 – 6 feet tall.

A water-lover, the Mexican primrose-willow can be found along muddy embankments or floating in adjacent or shallow waters. For this reason it is cultivated as an aquatic plant. It is also called a narrow-leaf water primrose.

Mexican Primrose-willow or Water Primrose growing in a shallow pond by John Robert McPherson, 7th Brigade Park, Australia

Ludwigia octovalvis – a Drink to Longevity?

Mexican Primrose-willow has long been toted for its medicinal uses in indigenous cultures, specifically for its purported anti-aging effects. A study done on fruit flies and lab mice showed significant promise to this effect, noting the plants’ “high levels of polyphenols and flavonoids, which possess strong DPPH radical scavenging activity”.

Other studies indicate that the digestive enzyme inhibitors from Ludwigia octovalvis can be beneficial in treatments for obesity and diabetes. The Mexican primrose-willow is also known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, as well as its use as a gastrointestinal aid and as a diuretic, of which many studies have been done.

Flora of Covington

Flora of Covington: Gardenia, a Symbol of Love

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The gardenia is a common and adored feature in southern landscapes, making this non-native plant one of LSU’s Southern heritage plants. Its love for acidic soil and humid, sub-tropical regions makes the gardenia an excellent choice for most Covington properties, especially along the river. Best known for its showy, incredibly fragrant flowers, there are many varieties that adapt readily to our environment.

Gardenias are flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae, also known as the coffee family. The gardenia genus consists of approximately 140 species native to the tropical and sub-tropical climates of Africa, Asia, Madagascar and the Pacific Islands.

An evergreen with rich, dark glossy leaves, the gardenia is grown for its beautiful foliage as well as its flowers. Leaves are opposite or in whorls of three or four, eventually opening into a singular or small cluster of blooms mid-spring through mid-summer.

Gardenia flowers have a tubular-based corolla with 5–12 lobe-petals, ranging from 2 to 4.7 inches in diameter. Most varieties have highly fragrant white blooms, some with variations of light yellow. In contrast to its hardy leaves, gardenia flowers tend to be very delicate and will brown quickly in heavy rain. Most plants prefer bright, indirect light.

Some Quick Fun Facts About Gardenias:

In eastern Asia the gardenia fruit is used as a yellow dye for fabric and food; in traditional Chinese medicine it is used for its clearing, calming, and cooling properties.

In France, gardenias are the flower traditionally worn by men as boutonnière.

The genus was named by Carl Linnaeus and John Ellis after Dr. Alexander Garden (1730–1791), a Scottish-born American botanist, zoologist and physician of Charleston, South Carolina.

Sigmund Freud remarked to the poet H.D. that gardenias were his favorite flower.

Gardenia flowers are associated with purity, clarity, and love. In some cultures the gift of gardenias signifies secret or untold love. It is revered in most all cultures as a symbol of beauty and loveliness.

Wildlife Lookout

Hoot Dat! A Guide to Louisiana Owls

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by Chelsea Cochrane

long-eared owl

Owls are birds that make up the order Strigiformes, comprised of over 200 species. Mostly solitary and nocturnal, defining characteristics include upright posture, a large, broad head, binocular vision, binaural hearing, sharp talons, and feathers adapted for silent flight. These birds are classified into two families, the Strigidae or true owls and the Tytonidae or barn owls.

According to the Louisiana Bird Records Committee (LBRC) of the Louisiana Ornithological Society, there are four owls of the family Strigidae and one in the family Tytonidae that are common in Louisiana. Those are the eastern screech owl, the barred owl, the short-eared owl, the great horned owl and the common barn owl.

chapter 1 candide summary essay primatene mist available canada get link work experience essay pfizer viagra cvs side affects from using crestor source link resume writing service newport news va follow site essays peace research go site click kamagra manchester hal niedzviecki essay facebook in a crowd enter site case study research unit of analysis kamagra kamagra avis sur gnrique viagra follow site source site watch ielts english essay topics philosophy phenomenological research wealth or health essay enter site small business plan sample source The Barn owl (Tyto alba) is set apart from true owls in its own family Tytonidae. This is due to its heart-shaped face, short tail and smaller eyes. Its a small family, comprised of only about 20 species, divided into two genera, Tyto and Phodilus. Nocturnal, barn owls hunt by swooping low over fields or marshes, listening for small rodents. Due to its white underside and pale plumage it can be mistaken for the larger snowy owl, especially in flight. So named for its habit of roosting in quieter parts of man-made structures like silos, church steeples or barn lofts. Barn owls are among the most widely distributed owls in the world and one of the most widespread of all birds.

Barn owls don’t hoot the way most owls do – instead they let out eerie screeches in about 2 second bursts. Purrs and hissing are also part of this birds vocale. Listen here:

All other owls are classified as true or typical owls in the family Strigidae. These owls have what is called a cosmopolitan distribution as they are widespread around the world, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. There are three accepted subfamilies comprising nearly 220 species: Striginae, Asioninae, and Surniinae.

The Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops aslo) is fairly common in our area, although most know it better by its signature call – not quite a screech, but more of a whinny and soft trills, becoming active at dusk. Screech owls are small, stocky bird, ranging from 6 – 9.5 inches in length. They are generally a speckled grey, although there is a rusty Rufous morph which tends to be more common in the south. The complex patterns provide excellent camouflage against tree bark. These shy, tiny birds are hard to spot but are actually quite common in residential areas, where a person may not know they have an owl for a neighbor.

Listen to the sounds of an Eastern screech owl here:

The Short-eared owl (Aslo flammeus) are medium-sized, spotted brown, white underside, with a pale face rounded and yellow eyes, accentuated by deep black outlines. Ears are unnoticeable, generally only up in small tufts when the bird is in a defensive pose. These owls primarily hunt early in the morning or late day. It shares the widespread distribution and much of the same habitat as the barn owl, occurring on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

From Wikipedia: Owls belonging to genus Asio are known as the eared owls, as they have tufts of feathers resembling mammalian ears. The genus name Asio is a type of eared owl, and flammeus means “flame-coloured”.

The short-eared owl is not especially vocal, but can be heard giving a series of a dozen or so hoots. Listen here:

The Barred owl (Strix varia) is also maybe better known as the “hoot” owl for its distinct “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” call. A large bird with brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, the barred owl is native to the east and is quite common in our area. Although mostly active at night, it is not as fully nocturnal as most owls, and can be spotted in the early morning, at dusk, and even on overcast days. Extremely vocal, other calls include a “siren call” and a “monkey call”. The barred owl is only slightly smaller than its cousin the Great Horned Owl, but markedly less aggressive, and in territory disputes will often leave to find a new home.

Listen here:

The Great Horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the third largest owl in North America and fifth in the world. It is the largest owl here in the southeast, although rare sightings of its slightly larger cousin the Snowy owl have been documented. The great horned owls is the most widely distributed owl of the Americas, with a habitat ranging over most of North America. So named for its long, horn-like ear tufts, it is an intimidating looking bird, broad and barrel-shaped, with bright yellow eyes and a 3 – 5 foot wingspan, averaging 4.6 feet. Sometimes called “tiger owl” for its stripes, orange-red highlights and aggressive hunting practices. They are also sometimes called “hoot owls” for their deep, warbling “hoot”.

Listen here:

Learn more about the Great Horned Owl here:

Danny (left) with father and daughter

Local Danny Burke, owner of Life Somatics, shares these photos from 10 years ago of a baby horned owl who fell out of its nest and was in the street. The owl (nicknamed “Bud Light”) was brought to LSU Vet School for care and eventual release back to nature.

If you should ever find a wild animal in need and are not sure how to help the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries has a list of Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitators here.

Owls in Local News

Photo credit Covington Police Department Dec 2015

Most of us remember a few years back on Christmas Eve when Officer Lance Benjamin was attacked by an owl that flew into his police cruiser. The incident made nation news:

It appears a barred owl was the culprit. Both the assailant and the officer were able to depart the scene unharmed, relatively in the case of Officer Benjamin, who suffered minor clawing and pecking in the incident.

Wildlife Lookout

Wildlife Lookout: 3 Common Woodpeckers of Covington

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red-bellied woodpecker

If you’re a bird-watcher, or just a casual bird-observer, you have no doubt spotted woodpeckers around Covington. Not only are these birds very common in our area, they are also easily recognizable, whether it be for its bright red head, its odd perch hanging off the sides of trees, or the distinctive sounds of its jackhammer-like pecking.

Woodpeckers are part of the family Picidae and can be found over most of the world. There are three species of woodpeckers that can most often be found in south Louisiana; the red-bellied woodpecker, the red-headed woodpecker, and the pileated woodpecker.

red-bellied woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is probably the most common here in Covington, and can be spotted quite regularly on oak trees and telephone poles. A smaller bird, averaging about 10 inches and 2 ounces, it has black and white speckled back back and wings, similar to its cousin the ladder-backed woodpecker of the west. The re-bellied woodpecker has a pale chest with hints of red and yellow and a bright red cap. This woodpecker has adapted well to urban life and can often be seen at backyard feeders.

red-headed woodpecker

Slightly less common is the red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), similar in size and often confused for the fore-mentioned. Note the red covers its entire head, hence the name. It also lacks the speckled pattern of the red-bellied woodpecker, having a solid white body and mostly black back with white patches on lower wings. The red-headed woodpecker was at one time listed as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, with a significant decline in population due to loss of habitat. It was downlisted to least concern in 2018. These birds fly-catch most of their prey and can often be spotted swooping erratically through the air.

pileated woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is the 2nd largest, if not possibly largest* woodpecker in the US, measuring an average of 18 – 20 inches long with a wingspan of 26 – 30 inches. It bears similar markings to the red-headed woodpecker with the exception of an elongated red crest from which it gets its name, pileatus being Latin for “capped”.

The pileated woodpeckers’ favoring of mature woods and shy nature makes it rather hard to spot – however the loud drumming from its powerful beak in unmistakable. Most often to proclaim territory, the pileated woodpecker will seek hollow wood, utility poles and even metal or tin for loud, quick bursts of 11 to 30 taps in less than a second. They will chip out large, usually rectangular holes in the tops of old trees searching for insects. The pileated’s home is a large nest in the cavities of dead trees in which it will raise its young to maturity, and then abandon to create a new nest next season. It is considered to play an important role in ecology as many other species of birds and mammals depend on these abandoned nests for homes.

Listen to pileated woodpecker drumming:>XC71727.ogg

Ivory-billed pair photo taken in Singer Tract, Louisiana by Arthur A. Allen (April 1935)

*The largest woodpecker in the US and one of the largest in the world is the critically endangered and possibly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). Averaging 19 – 21 inches with a typical wingspan of 30 inches, the last universally accepted sighting occurred in Louisiana in 1944. It is closely related to the slightly smaller Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus bairdii) and the Mexican imperial woodpecker (C. imperialis), the largest woodpecker in the world. The imperial woodpecker measures 22 – 23.5 inches long and is also on the critically endangered list.

Unlike its close relatives, the pileated woodpecker is highly adaptable and has actually seen an increase in population from 1966 to 2015.

More Fun Facts About Woodpeckers

woodpecker tongue illustration by Denise Takahashi

Woodpeckers have exceptionally long tongues for foraging insects from deep inside trees. The tongue when retracted wraps around the bird’s skull. This and additional cushioning in the brain helps to protect the bird from any damages that might occur to the brain due to its aggressive pecking.

red-headed woodpecker in nest

Most woodpeckers exhibit what is called undulated flight – a few rapid wing beats followed by a glide where the wings are pulled into the body rather than spread out as most birds do. This gives the appearance of a sporadic up-and-down flight pattern.

The woodpecker does not have a distinctive song but rather communicates with chirps, chatters, calls and drumming. A woodpecker can drum up to 20 pecks per second and averages 8,000 to 12,000 pecks per day.


“Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus”. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. U.S. Geological Survey.

Flora of Covington

Wildlife Lookout: Common Oaks of St. Tammany

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Oak is a name ascribed to trees and shrubs in the genus Quercus, a part of the beech family, Fagaceae. The genus, native to the Northern Hemisphere, includes approximately 600 species. North America has the most variation of species, with about 90 in the US alone. Covington, Louisiana, is home to many of them.

Oak species found in Louisiana include post oak, Shumard oak, Nuttall oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak, blackjack oak, overcup oak, laurel oak, bluejack oak, southern red oak, white oak and live oak. Other varieties in the region are the willow oak, sawtooth oak, cherrybark oak and turkey oak.

Today we’ll talk about 5 species that can be found right here in Covington – the swamp laurel oak, southern red oak, Nuttall oak, water oak and southern live oak.

The swamp laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia) is a medium to large semi-evergreen tree growing 60 – 100 feet tall. Leaves are long, pointed, lending to its other name “diamond-leaf oak”. Smooth, usually lobe-less leaves make this tree easily confused for a live oak – however, the laurel’s leaves are longer and more pointed. The laurel oak is also a taller tree once mature and lacks the live oak’s long, drooping branches.

The southern red oak (Quercus falcata), often called Spanish oak, has long leaves with 1 distinct end lobe and often 1 – 3 lobes on each side. Its leaves are shiny green on top, with rust-colored or gray soft hairs beneath, turning reddish-brown in fall. The bark is dark gray with broad ridges and plates. Height ranges from 50 to 100 feet, although some wild specimens are noted to have grown even taller. The cherrybark oak is a variety of the southern red oak with smooth, cherrylike bark.

Nuttall oak (Quercus texana) is a large tree native to the Mississippi River valley with an average height of 60 to 100 feet. Also erroneously referred to as a pin oak because of its similar foliage, it was not distinguished as a separate species until 1927 by Thomas Nuttall. Leaves are deeply divided into 5-7 narrow long-pointed lobes, dark green above and lighter, fuzzy underside. Nuttall oak is known for its showy red leaves in fall. Acorns are oblong with dark stripes.

water oak leaves and acorns
water oak bark

Which brings us to the two most common oaks here in Covington – the water oak and the southern live oak. The water oak (Quercus nigra) stands at 50 to 100 feet, and as its name suggests, loves to grow along rivers and wetlands. Leaves are long, wedge-shaped, with a rounded slightly 3-lobed tip, dull blueish-green above, turning yellow in late fall and shedding in winter. The water oak is also called the spotted oak, named for the white splotches on its dark gray bark.

Southern Live Oak at Covington Cemetery #1

The southern live oak may be the most recognized or revered of the oaks – its large, drooping branches, usually moss and fern covered, have become a symbol of the quintessential southern tree. A shorter species only growing to about 60 feet, it tends to be wider than it is tall, with limbs stretching out to an 80 foot average canopy.

The name live oak comes from it being an ‘evergreen’ tree – for that reason other evergreen oaks are often called live oak as well. Most commonly it refers to the southern live oak, Quercus virginiana, also called Virginia Live Oak. Defining the species of live oaks can be tricky – with ongoing controversy surrounding classifying varieties and hybidizations as distinct subspecies. While the southern live oak will retain its leaves nearly year-round, it is not a true evergreen, dropping leaves immediately before new growth in spring.

Seven Sisters Oak in Lewisberg, LA, Live Oak Society President

The southern live oak is also celebrated for its longevity. Many live oaks in St. Tammany Parish are cited to be between 100 – 500 years old. Locally well known for keeping records of old Live 0aks is the Live Oak Society (LOS). The membership of this society is made up of Live Oak trees – a tree must have a circumference of 8 feet to become a member. Those with a circumference of 16 feet or more are known as “Centenarians” with an estimated age of 100 years or more. LOS boasts a membership of 9,153 trees in 14 states and is under the auspices of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, Inc. Currently the largest tree in its membership and honored as the Society’s President, the Seven Sisters Oak in Mandeville is estimated by foresters to be 1200 years old, with a girth of over 38 feet. This oak is also the National Champion on the National Register of Big Trees.

References for this article:

Wildlife Lookout

Wildlife Lookout: the Great Blue Heron

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Ardea herodias

Alan D. Wilson,

The Great Blue Heron is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common over most of North America and Central America, as well as the Caribbean and the Galápagos Islands. The blue heron can adapt to many climates and diets, found near the shores of open water and in wetlands. Birds east of the Rocky Mountains and in the Northern range are migratory – they can be found as far north as Alaska during the summer, and extend down to Mexico and South America during the winter. Birds in southern regions, however, are year-long residents.

It is the largest North American heron with an average wingspan of 66-79 inches, making it also the third largest of the heron family. The great blue heron stands at an average of 45 -54 inches with long legs and ‘S’ shaped neck, only weighing about 4 to 8 pounds.

More noted than its size are the blue heron’s distinct markings – a red, brown and black body, slate-gray/blue flight feathers, long plumes under the neck and black or slate plumes above the eyes, stark against a white head and rusty-gray neck. During breeding season the blue heron will adorn long plumes on its back, the lore will turn a bright blue, irises will turn reddish, and the yellow bill will take on an orange hue. Most commonly seen slowly stalking through water banks, stretching its long neck out and quickly stabbing prey, swallowing it whole. The heron feeds on small fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, insects or even birds and mammals. They are surely a sight to see, especially when taking flight with its massive 6 foot wingspan.

There are many subspecies of the great heron that differ only slightly in plumage and size. Commonly confused with the smaller grey heron or little blue heron, the best distinction between the birds besides size is the great blue heron’s white head. Herons are often mistaken for many other common water bids such as cranes, storks or ibises, which all differ in that they hold their neck straight during flight, while the heron holds their neck tucked in. The white morp native to Florida, called the Great White Heron, is debated to be either a subspecies or an entirely separate species.

Interesting Facts About Herons

The long stringy feathers that grow from the heron’s neck are specially designed to help the bird clean their beak from its fishy prey. The fine powdery feathers continually grow and are worn away by the bird’s grooming.

The great blue heron usually breeds in colonies and return back to the same breeding place each year. These colonies, called a herony, are commonly found high in trees along lakes or in other wetlands. Heronies can range from 5 to 500 nests, averaging around 160 nests per colony. Both parents help to incubate the egg and raise young.

There are 64 species in the heron family and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Almost all species are waterbirds, with a lifespan of about 15 years in the wild.

The word heron is rather old and of uncertain origin. It appeared in English language c. 1300, originating from the Latin aerius meaning aerial, or from Old French hairon, eron (12 century), earlier hairo (11 century), from Frankish haigiro or from Proto-Germanic hraigran.

the sacred Bennu bird of
ancient Egypt, in the likeness
of a heron

The heron is a revered creature in many cultures, symbolic of wisdom, purity, communication and good judgement.

Here are some references for this article: