Friday, March 25, 2016


One of the things I like about Louisianans is their aptitude for making a virtue of necessity. Blockade? We'll stretch the coffee with chicory, and it'll be so good folk'll still be drinkin' it the next century or two. Leftovers? Bits and bobs that might not make a meal on their own? Throw 'em in the pot, we'll make gumbo. Baguette gone stale? How 'bout bread pudding, one of the tastiest desserts you're ever like to encounter. Laissez les bon temps roulez.

So in that spirit, and to round out our trip, here are some of the best wildlife photos (heavy on water birds and herps) that didn't fit into the previous posts.

[Poule d'eau or American coots. We also saw, but did not successfully photograph, closely related purple gallinules. Maybe next time.]

[Grey squirrel.]

[Great blue heron. The little dirt mounds in the second picture are crawfish chimneys, made by only some species of mudbugs as they dig down to the water table. The water isn't usually oxygenated enough to support them, and it certainly isn't enough to swim in, but by keeping their gills wet they are able to extract oxygen from the air.]

[A toad—Woodhouse's or Fowler's? Someone help me out here.]

[Black-crowned night heron. That's not red-eye from a flash; they just come that way.]

[American alligator. Having attuned her eye on our swamp tour, Jessa spotted this one soon afterward—at the head of a canal which we had been told was unlikely to harbour gators.]

[Snowy egret.]

[Red-eared sliders:
  • Surfacing.
  • The largest I've ever seen, though it's hard to get scale from this photo.
  • Balancing act.
  • Pile-up.]

[It was another Louisiana native who sang, "I was in the right place, but it must've been the wrong time." This red-eared slider, on the wrong end of a double-crested cormorant, is about to make that his theme song. Is that bird laughing?]

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Big Branch

We've posted photos from the marsh bordering Lake Pontchartrain at Big Branch Marsh NWR previously; here now are some shots from the upland portion.


Of course, "upland" is a relative term; none of the ground is very high, and little pockets of water are everywhere.

Bald cypress, often covered in Spanish moss, grows wherever the water table is high. (Thanks to a wind-blown twig, it would appear that even the signs grow Spanish moss.)

There are other hardwoods here besides cypress, but all in all, loblolly pine is the most important tree here. Of course, in some ways a dead tree is even more useful than a live one, furnishing (among other things) plenty of insect prey for woodpeckers, including the local specialty, the red-cockaded.

We didn't see any cockades, but it was a good day for herps, including green tree frogs and green anoles.

I would have thought it a bit early for wildflowers, but there were plenty, including lots of trumpet vine—the yellow native plant, not the red invasive.

Also woodsorrel, violets, azalea...

...redbud, fern...

...and all of it strewn with pine needles under the bluest of skies.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gator country

The undisputed highlight of our most recent Louisiana trip was the opportunity to see and photograph American alligators at Jean Lafitte NHP near Marrero, Louisiana. We engaged a guide through Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours; Jason has worked there for 17 years and, in addition to being a good all-around naturalist, knows most of "his" gators on an individual basis.

Jessa spotted the first alligator just before Jason pointed it out to us, and any concerns we may have had about not getting photographs dissipated. In fact, almost every gator spotted allowed a close approach.

Alligators are not hunted within the park; even so, it's likely they would have quietly slipped away at the approach of a strange boat, but they are well acclimated to Jason's vessel and those of his fellow guides.

While there are some natural bayous (creeks) here, most of the waterways we traveled were straight-cut artificial canals. The gators make no distinction.

The gator below is a 12-footer Jason calls "The King". A good way to estimate size even on a swimming alligator is to look at the head: the distance between the snout and the eyes, in inches, is the length of the gator in feet; half of that overall length is the muscular tail which propels them through the water.

"The Queen", basking close by her consort, was about 8 feet in length. Females rarely get much larger than this.

Another "named" gator is "Snag", a female (in Jason's estimation) who re-grows her egg tooth on a recurring basis. (The egg tooth is usually lost permanently soon after hatching.)

And so it went: one photogenic alligator after another, the time passing unnoticed as the shallow-draft boat slipped through the canals and bayous. The small gators are charming; the large ones nothing short of magnificent.

As I stated, this was definitely the highlight of our trip, and we plan on returning, perhaps at a different time of year. We were glad, though, to be here when the gators were active but not yet territorial, as it made for ideal viewing opportunities with abundant and relaxed subjects; in another month or two, they'll space themselves much more carefully—especially the smaller ones. "The King" goes where he pleases.

[Jessa, who took all the photos except for this one and the next:]

["Petitjean", a juvenile alligator held under educational permit.]

[Yours truly.]