Archive for October, 2009

Listen to the Sicily Island Hills

Posted: October 27, 2009 in Homepage

We live such busy lives nowadays, how often do we stop and just enjoy a moment of stillness and reflection? Hiking and walking are for me a time to put the everyday world aside and to appreciate my surroundings. In July of this year my son Landon and I hiked the trails of Glacier National Park in Montana. High up in the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen, we stopped frequently to photograph wildflowers, observed mountain goats far across the valley, watched clouds roll in over the mountain tops, talked to other hikers including a fellow from Pennsylvania who was originally from New Orleans and stopped for a moment and listened to the wind flow past us down the valley with thankful hearts just to be there. Occasionally we may think of introspection, but how often do we let our self drift into extrospection?


Listen with your soul

On your next trip to the Sicily Island Hills I suggest if you can, to go there with the idea of taking your time and just letting the day drift by with no sense of hurry or schedule. Relax and listen to the natural sounds that occur. Birds singing, leaves rustling, or waterfalls pouring over stone ledges, sounds that transport me to a place of peace and thankfulness.

With hunting season here, you might want to wait on this tranquil adventure till late winter or spring. But when you do go, arrive with a sense of enjoyment.

Dress well, walk carefully, prepare with purpose and have a safe time.


Trees of Sicily Island Hills

Posted: October 26, 2009 in Homepage

Fall is one of my favorite times of year, especially in Louisiana. The heat of summer has abated, usually replaced with lower humidity and crisp nights. And normally there is less rain than in winter or spring. As far as fall color in forests, New England this area is not. Rather than huge mind boggling displays of autumn colors so often seen in other parts of the country, one must seek out the isolated instances of oranges, reds and yellows amongst a sea of browns or fading greens.

One of the many wonderful features of the Sicily Island Hills is its dense and diverse forests. Walking the roads and trails here, the visitor is in close proximity to trees of many ages and species. In the Rock Falls canyon, or if you prefer gorge, the slopes are peppered with pine trees, Magnolia grandiflora and Fagus grandiflora or the more familiar term American Beech.

What could be more southern than the evergreen Magnolia?


Magnolia Blossom in late spring by Bob Powers

Special thanks are in order to Dr.Steve Baskauf for kind permission in providing the color photographs in this post from the Bioimages website
Thanks also to the Department of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University for providing the hosting of Bioimages.

After fall, the light brown leaves of the American Beech persist on its branches through the winter and are an easy mark for identification, especially on the many small specimens of this tree in the understory.

Am Beech

American Beech in Summer - Bioimages

In this area you also will find the Silky Camellia or Stewartia malacodendron, a large shrub or to some a small tree. (Sorry, no photo yet)

Sweetgum is usually a dependable tree for fall color with either displays of red or yellow.

Sweet Gum - Bioimages

The trees of Sicily Island Hills provide food for birds, including turkeys, deer, squirrels and other animals. A place to nest or seek refuge can also be found here.

Other trees or large shrubs with tree-like characteristics of note within the Sicily Island Hills include:

American Holly

American Holly - Bioimages

B Gum

Black Gum - Bioimages


BlackJack Oak - Bioimages

Blue Beech

Blue Beech -Bioimages

Car Buck

Carolina Buckthorn - Bioimages

CherryBark Oak - Bioimages


Eastern Hophornbeam - Bioimages

Shortleaf Pine

Shortleaf Pine - Bioimages

Post Oak - Bioimages

Water Oak - Bioimages

White Oak - Bioimages

Also: Ash,  Elm, Hickory, Longleaf Pine.

People that love flowers will often travel great distances on annual pilgrimages
to visit public gardens or wildflower spectaculars. The rural landscape of east central Louisiana, especially the area surrounding the Sicily Island Hills, is an area that could embrace and sustain a floral scenic byway.

Daffodil Dreams

Well, what exactly does all that mean? Primarily, I am referring to a systematic grassroots effort to inspire area gardeners to plant daffodils in their yards alongside area roads. The highways around and leading to the Sicily Island Hills would be a perfect place to create a floral tourist destination. Over a period of years for example, daffodils could be planted so densely in peoples yards, that tourists would travel to the area just to see the hundreds of millions of blossoms.  Of course, travelers would need gasoline, snacks or full meals, and  possibly a nights lodging. Perhaps a creative and industrious person, organization, or school could even take a chance and develop a daffodil ordering system. Visitors could order the bulbs in spring while the daffodils are putting on their show, from forms available at area retailers, and have the bulbs shipped to their home in time for fall planting.

The world of daffodils is so much more than just the common and ubiquitous large cup yellow varieties. There are hundreds of varieties of daffodils with endless combinations of orange, pink, white and yellow. Daffodil bulbs are available locally or through catalog sources from all around the world. Some of the daffodils seen in the photo above were purchased in England and New Zealand.  Prices range from relatively cheap on sale to very expensive rare hybrids. Daffodils are like most things in life. You pay a premium for a premium item. Live a little. Get out of your comfort zone. If you can afford it, splurge on daffodils with split coronas. Enjoy some peach colored hybrids. You deserve it.  Do you see my passion for the power of plants?

In short, a simple idea of bringing people to the area could increase tourist awareness of the area, beautify landscapes, instill pride in area residents, and entice visitor spending.

Because of an outstanding ULM biology professor emeritus and the exceptional graduate students at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, many of whom have been employed with federal and state agencies, the fish collection at the ULM Museum of Natural History is not only one of the largest in the United States but also one of the finest research collections in the United States.

So when I wanted to know something of the unique fishes at Sicily Island Hills I naturally asked my friend Professor Emeritus Neil H. Douglas for assistance. Neil is author of the definitive book “Freshwater Fishes of Louisiana”. If this post should trigger your interest in freshwater fishes of Louisiana, check out Neil’s book at your local library, look for it at your locally owned bookstore  or acquire it online.

Having done field research all over Louisiana and beyond, Neil was most familiar with the fishes and waters of Sicily Island Hills.

According to Dr. Douglas there are two fishes of special interest in the Sicily Island Hills, Notropis longirostris also called the Longnose Shiner and Campostoma anomalum, the Central Stoneroller.  Another special fish in the surrounding area west of Sicily Island Hills is  Notropis sabinae known as  the Sabine Shiner. All three species belong to the Cyprinid family. Most people are more familiar with Goldfish, which are also a member of the Cyprinid family.

In August 1968 Ross Edward Hamilton Jr., a graduate student in the Northeast Louisiana State College (NLSC), now ULM, biology department published the results of his research in and around the Sicily Island Hills in his thesis entitled “Isolated Populations of Cyprinid Fishes from the Eastern Extension of the Kisatchie Wold”.

The Kisatchie Wold is an area that all Louisiana school children learn about in elementary Geography classes. It is a physiographic feature that begins in Texas and ends at the Sicily Island Hills. Considering its length and ecological makeup in Texas and Louisiana, plus the fact that in Mississippi similar hills and environments exist, it would not stretch the imagination to believe that before the Mississippi River broke through the area, perhaps these hills were once united.

With Ross’s kind permission I will share with you his findings. Ross stated that his “study was initiated when collections of fishes from the Kisatchie Wold area of east central Louisiana revealed the presence of the cyprinid species  Notropis longirostris (Hay).  This was of special interest since “the Mississippi River and its flood plain apparently form a barrier to the east-west  movement of some fishes”. He further states, “The surface area is topographically and apparently ecologically similar to the area adjacent to the Mississippi River in south Mississippi and Louisiana  east of the Mississippi River”.  Ross believed that, ” the physical similarity of the hill country of Catahoula  Parish to areas east of the Mississippi suggests that faunal links may exist between the two areas”.

Notropis longirostris was described in 1880 by Hays from a collection of fishes from the Chickasawha River at Enterprise, in Clark County, Mississippi”. ” According to Hubbs and Walker (1942), this species is usually found in streams that possess a shifting sand bottom in moderately rapid water at depths varying from a few feet to 18 inches”. “Notropis longirostris is usually found in short sand shoals between pools or in the current along feather edges of pools”.

Campostoma anomalum is readily distinguished by the remarkably long intestine wound many times around the air bladder (Moore 1968). It inhabits clear spring branches and creeks with sand and gravel bottoms, especially those with riffles (Coo, 1957; Miller, 1962; Ross, 1959). Its range includes most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Although the range of C. anomalum includes the state of Louisiana only a few specimens are known from this state and recent collections produced this species for the first time west of the Mississippi River in Louisiana”. ” Collecting for this study began on April 9, 1967 and terminated June 1, 1968″.

“Collections from the streams of the eastern extension of Kisatchie Wold revealed stable populations of C. anomalumN. longirostris, and N. sabinae.”The distribution of these species is shown by record stations on Plate 2″.

Plate 2a

Plate 2

“The distributions of N. longirostris and N. sabinae within the eastern extension of the Kisatchie Wold are of special interest since they are closely related to each other and have not previously been reported to occur in proximity to one another “.  “Although the two forms occur in streams that are apparently alike they were not found sympatrically in any stream”.

What Ross is stating is that although the two species are found in streams of similar makeup, the two species were not found occupying the same stream.

“All of the streams containing N. sabinae and N. longirostris possessed a high gradient and are characterized by sandy shoals and sudden fluctuations of the water levels due to runoff from the surrounding hills. It was interesting to note that streams occurring in the study area not possessing a high gradient did not support N. sabinae and N. longirostris“.

Some of the creeks in the study area possessed a high gradient but not the preferred sandy shoals needed for N. sabinae.  “When N. sabinae occurred, sand shoals were  abundant and N. sabinae was found in great number”.

Both N. sabinae and N. longirostris inhabit areas in a stream with little competition.  Ross concluded that the absence of  collections of N. sabinae in streams of Grant, LaSalle and Winn Parishes would seem to indicate that N. sabinae in the eastern extension of Kisatchie Wold was an isolated population.

“The records of N. longirostris from the study area represent the first record of this species west of the Mississippi River”. The aquatic environment for N. longirostris included streams with a high gradient and sandy shoals and where it occurred it was abundant and Ross believed it to be an isolated population as well.

Whereas Ross believed N.sabinae was related to the populations of that species in the Sabine River drainage, he also inferred that N. longirostris is more closely related to the population of that species east of the Mississippi River. “Chawner (1936) states that the hills of Catahoula Parish are a remnant of a more extensive range of hills which at one time extended farther out into the Alluvial Valley and may have been connected by outcrop with the Catahoula formation at Grand Gulf, Mississippi”.

In his field work, Ross spent much time carefully collecting, cataloging and mapping the distribution of the cyprinid  species. The information he provided is  scientifically important. I am particularly interested in learning more of the possible geological connection between the Kisatchie Wold and the hills of Mississippi. In my conversation with Ross this summer he stated that DNA sampling would provide even more answers to this connection. I think that would make a new group of biologists a great thesis topic. Thank you Ross.

Geomorphology is the scientific study of landforms and the forces that create them. The Sicily Island Hills are located in the northeast portion of Louisiana in Catahoula Parish. Paste the following URL

from the Louisiana Geographic Information Center (LAGIC) into your browser ( or click on the Satellite View from Space (LAGIC) link on left under Blogroll ) to open up a composite satellite image of the state of Louisiana with the geographical feature Sicily Island highlighted in a red box. This image vividly shows the Sicily Island Hills in relation to the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain and the Chalk Hills to the west, as well as Sicily Island Hills position relative to the rest of the state.

Notice the wide swath of farmland in northeast Louisiana, indicated by the lighter colored areas in the upper right of the image. The Mississippi River for many thousands of years has carved out this fabulous alluvial plain. Farmers delight in planting corn, cotton, pecans,rice,sorghum, soybeans, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and wheat in this rich soil. On the far east of this plain is found the Mississippi River  and to the west rests the Ouachita River. As one moves from north to south in northeast Louisiana, the floodplain narrows and appears at its narrowest between the Sicily Island Hills and Waterproof, Louisiana.

In the bottom left hand corner of the LAGIC page click on Zoom In to view the Sicily Island Hills. Notice in blue a few ponds within the hills and the many various water features in the surrounding area. Some of the features are man made, such as the geometrically shaped catfish ponds to the north, and many characteristics such as the Ouachita River and Boeuf River which are naturally occurring. If one looks carefully at the scars left behind by the meanders of ancient rivers all around SIH, or the many meanders of current bayous and rivers, one can easily imagine the long term forces at work that brought the Sicily Island Hills to their present form.

The satellite image displays the many ridges and corresponding valleys throughout the Sicily Island Hills. With fine loess soils capping these hills, combined with abundant rainfall, it would be easy to imagine a highly eroded landscape.

By clicking on the Description button in the lower left hand corner of the LAGIC site, the viewer will find a page which discusses the geomorphology of the alluvial plain at large.