Sunday, August 04, 2013

Cypress Mysterious

Come along with me as we paddle our way through the cypress forest of Lake Martin (near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana).  Fair warning, it's quite "balmy" this time of year!  But there are wonderful sights to see...

Little Blue Heron (yeah, I know it's white :)  This is what they look like their first year)

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

Little Blue Heron

Weird alien swamp creatures that had crawled out of the primordial ooze

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Noisy babies!

Adult Mississippi Kite

Miss Kites in love

There's a particular type of raptor that is increasingly more visible in urban and suburban Baton Rouge in the summer time.  All you have to do is look up to see the unique shape and flight pattern of the Mississippi Kite on the wing.  People say it's a new phenomenon; that there were no Kites overhead 10 or 20 years ago.  I'm not sure we know the reason for the apparent increase in population around urban areas, but it's undeniable.  They'll nest in the taller trees in just about any neighborhood.  And then, in late July, come the babies.  And not only will you *see* the Kites, you will hear them, too!  A constant chorus of whistles from the adults and babies alike as the young'uns leave the nest and learn to make their own way, with some help from mom and dad of course.  I'd been hearing the family across the street from my house, but today was the first time I was able to get pictures.  What a fine looking bunch!  The babies are the typical stripey brown and white of most hawks, but the adults are a fine gray with the most wonderful red eyes set deep in a dark mask.  Definitely one of my favorite birds!

Baby Mississippi Kites from Jane Patterson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Paddling a new stretch of Blind River

I read somewhere that the area of Blind River below Airline Highway was a good place to paddle.  I'll have to see if I can find where I read that, because they were right and I thoroughly enjoyed my outing last weekend.

The put-in location is the St. James Boat Club on Airline Hwy in St. James parish.  There is no fee, but there is a kiosk to fill out a Wildlife Management Area check-in card since you're entering the Maurepas WMA here.  You have to have a valid hunting, fishing, or LA Wild license to enter.

It's on Airline Highway in St. James Parish.  If you look on the map you can see that it's in a very rural area.  The middle of a wildlife management area, actually.  There is nothing else around...which makes it very easy to find.
The boat club has 2 concrete boat launches, a large parking area, a rec building and a park.  
I chose to go south from the boat launch.  The river was fairly wide, but the two bridges that I had to pass under made me think I'd probably have the place to myself.
Except for the alligators, of course.  More alligators than I've seen in any waterway in all my kayak travels.  Most were small....4 feet and under.  And *all* of them went the other way as I approached...
And LOTS of birds!  Nice selection of waders...herons and egrets and spoonbills...

Even a few of these Solitary Sandpipers.  I liked this 3-legged one...

More Tri-colored Herons than you could shake a stick at.  And they let me get so close!

Tri-colored Heron
Family of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Passing under the bridges was probably the most treacherous part, what with the dive-bombing Barn Swallows that were nesting under the bridge...

And they were working on the railroad bridge.  They had a pile driver going which definitely interrupted the tranquility of the scene..

This was the railroad bridge you have to pass under.  You very nearly have to duck, even in a kayak.  You could probably get under in a canoe or pirogue, but not a bass or speed boat.

These were the only other two boats I saw...and they must have come from the canals to the south, because there is no way they passed under the railroad bridge.

A natural totem pole
The nice things about this location...for the most part, it's away from population so after you get away from the launch, and the pile driver, it's fairly tranquil.  However, once you do return to civilization, it's nice to find a decent bathroom available.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Trees and Trails

Found a new trail to explore today.  And it's nearly in the heart of the city.  A nice green space...the only downside being its proximity to the interstate.  Burden research farm is an interesting place.  It is home to the Rural Life Museum, Windrush gardens and Barrett Arbortetum.  But a few years ago they also added nature trails.  The trails are particularly focused on tree interpretation.  But with 4 miles of trails throughout the property, there is plenty of area to explore.

The trails are gravel and pretty well marked.  The front areas areas have obviously been cleared of underbrush and most understory.  Several of the trees are marked with signage, which is kinda nice....I learned a few things.

Trail Map
The highlights of the morning were multiple male Painted Buntings singing.  There were Indigo Buntings singing, too.  They are certainly some of the last ones to be nesting in Baton Rouge.

Boardwalk to the Black Swamp

Near the front trails, understory cleared


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Won't back down!

So I learned something about snakes today.  Well, a particular specie of snake: the water moccasin aka cottonmouth.  I was driving on a gravel road into a refuge area today and I passed, and avoided, what I first thought was a cow patty.  This particular road is near a levee and cattle are pastured on both sides of the road.  In fact, this is what I drove through yesterday on this very road:

And when I got to my destination, I'd run through the cow patty gauntlet and my car smelled like a barn.  So I was avoiding said patties today...  But as I passed, my brain clicked that this particular patty was different.  Was that a snake?  I looked in the rear view, and it was still there (which actually surprised me; most snakes would have already been gone after a car passed with  a foot or two).  So I backed up and got to where I could see it out the windshield. Yep, it was still there (another surprise).  It was sitting very still in a defensive posture with its head up, but not moving.  So I scrambled for the camera, and opened the door carefully.  Often animals won't spook when the car passed by but when someone steps out, they head for the hills.  Not this guy. So I shot him from several angles, definitely using the zoom to its full advantage.  I was pretty sure it was a cottonmouth and I didn't want him to suddenly decide to move *toward* me.  He stayed perfectly still and let me shoot away.  He was very handsome...although those eyes...

Darn!  A truck was coming up behind me and I'm smack dab in the middle of the road with my door open.  I debated...should I let them know what I was doing?  Chances were good it was someone I knew...I was there for a birding event and it was possibly a fellow birder.  But I couldn't tell from this distance.  And most people seem to hold the opinion "the only good snake is a dead snake".  I thought about trying to shoo the snake with a rock or something, but the truck was coming quickly and I thought maybe it would try to go around me.  So I hopped in my car and moved forward slowly, hoping the snake would finally get perturbed and get off the road.  I looked in my rear view, hoping that when it saw this huge red truck bearing down, it would decide he'd had enough aggravation....and as I watched, the left front tire went right over the snake.  

As it turns out, it was actually someone I knew in the truck, and they were NOT the kind that would deliberately run over a snake.  I was recounting the story later to some fellow birders and a friend told me that it's in the nature of cottonmouths to stand their ground.  They evidently think they're big and bad and everyone else should get out of their way...and I'm sure most do...except us in our vehicles.  I was sad, and I feel guilty for allowing it to happen.  As we left later I looked for the squished snake to take another picture (y'all know my penchant for taking pics of dead things) but he was no longer in the road.  I will have to hope that one of the opportunistic vultures that was hanging around made a nice meal of him.  A small consolation.

Sorry, snake.  But at least you're immortalized here in permanent pixels, and I've learned a lesson.  Cottonmouths won't back down!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pass the Tony's!

A White Ibis captures lunch on a wildlife refuge in South Louisiana.  You can see it manipulate the crawfish to remove the claws and the legs, get it in to the right position, and finally, swallow it whole.

I can't help but think about how it would continue to wiggle in his throat!  I'm glad we boil 'em before we eat 'em!

Pass me the Tony's! from Jane Patterson on Vimeo.

By the way, for those of you not from Louisiana, "Tony's" refers to Tony Chachere seasoning, a staple in  Louisiana cooking!  Mais, yeah, sha!

Rainbow bird!

The only thing more lovely than a bird that looks like a rainbow, is a singing rainbow bird!

Rainbow come to life! from Jane Patterson on Vimeo.

Painted Buntings are common breeding birds in south Louisiana in the summertime (if you know where to look and what to look for). How wonderful is that?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Architects Extraordinaire!

Would you choose to live under a busy highway?  And I mean *right* underneath.  We are seeing more and more Cliff Swallow colonies under our bridges and overpasses here in Louisiana.  These birds fascinate me.  They construct these gourd-like nests with mud and saliva, a mouthful at a time.  You can see the work here in these closeup photographs.  How long must it take to construct one of the nests??  How does the constant rumble and vibration of traffic not affect them as they raise their families?  How do the nests not fall off??  I guess some can see the scars left by some that have fallen.  I have to hope those were abandoned nests and not active ones.  Fascinating birds!