Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Louisiana Holiday Swamp Tours


In the swamp tour photo below with a mixed group from Canada, Connecticut, New York, and Baton Rouge, you can see it was cold, and the only green in the swamp was the duckweed covering the bayou.




The water at Lake Martin is so high in this last week of 2009 that it is actually flowing out of the old spillway on the north side for the first time in over ten years, as seen below.



I had a couple from Japan out on a tour this week and you can see in the background that the swamp is grey as seen below.





If you are coming to do a tour this time of year, mid day is the warmest time of the day, but the sunsets and sunrise may be the most colorful opportunity.




If you are coming to do a tour this time of year don't get your hopes up about seeing alligators. Photos like you see below may be a month or two before coming into season again.

But. if you are lucky, and it does happen in winter, we can have clear sunny days and 70' temperatures, and the alligators come and sun themselves as you can see below.



Below is a photo I took on a swamp tour in December, 2008.

As you can see it was warm, sunny, and the gators were out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Good Year For Lake Martin


As the year comes to an end I must admit, all in all, it has been good to be back at the lake and observe so many positive changes occurring after so long overdue.

The most important so far is that the lake was not drained this past fall.

As you can see in the photo below, the water is still below the high level it was before being drained every fall for the last eight years.



All though this blog started out a little over a year ago to help tourists find quality tours in south central Louisiana, the focus expanded to include detailed insights into many of the problems plaguing the area for over a decade.

These problems need to be addressed not only for the quality of swamp tours conducted here, but also and most importantly for the quality of life for the wilderness residents who live in Lake Martin full time.

The abuses and neglect of the past are diminishing , but we still have a lot of work to do. And I wish we were all working together to bring resolution to the problems, and then I would only have pleasant things to post here and we could all enjoy the fine wilderness experiences that I have been privileged to share with our visiting guest from all over the world.

We shared some great sunsets as seen below.



We made friends from all over the world, and in the boat tour photo below, are guests from South Africa, Canada, and Wales.




As the fall colors brightened the month of November as seen below and made great landscape photos I am looking forward to the Christmas holidy and 2010.







For now the fall colors are fading and the swamp is taking on a very wintry grey as seen below.




Well the trees have lost the color for the season but not the sunsets.



See you at the lake.



Jesse, a de la Houssaye's Catahoula cur

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Need Your Feedback Regarding Your Observations at Lake Martin

The best reference I can offer to research all your options for doing swamp tours in Louisiana, I recommend you check out Anne's new book.

Below is the introduction to: Louisiana Swamp Tours: The Definitive Guide

Think if you've been on one swamp tour, you've seen them all? Think again. Louisiana has a huge diversity of swamps and wetlands, and the tours through these areas vary enormously according to focus---bird roosts, alligators, big cypress and tupelo gum trees, plenty of wildlife. Many of the guides have spent lifetimes learning the secrets of the swamps as professional fishermen, alligator hunters, trappers, guides, or lumbermen, and they share with passengers their love of the areas and their deep concerns over the fragility of the environments. Illustrated with dozens of fine nature images by award-winning photographer Henry Cancienne, this book contains everything you need to know about every swamp tour in the state.



Above is a link to Amazon so you can order Anne Butler's new book,
Louisiana Swamp Tours; The Definative Guide.

A young couple with kids on my tour, observing a 10-12' alligator sunning on a floating log

At the top of this post is an email I received from a Lake Martin enthusiast I met in the rookery while doing a swamp tour this past month.

I doubt that Bubba is his real name.

What is pasted in here is his email to me regarding his observations of the very real issues effecting the ecology at Lake Martin which appears to be moving into a point of resolution, considering that this is the first time in eight years that the lake is not drained in September and plant control has this year only visited the lake three times so far.

Here is Bubba's email:

Hi Marcus,
I'm Bubba, the guy in the orange kayak. I'm in a kayak, because of the birds leaving the nests along the road, and I don't have to eat as much dust in order to shoot now. I've hunted and fished all over Louisiana since childhood. Like most people now a days, I did it in high gear, from a bass boat or four wheeler. It's only been since I've been in the kayak, that I've slowed down enough to really look at what is around me.
I've been to your website, and read your recent blog. I agree with a lot that you say.
The use of herbicides to clear the water hyacinths is over kill, especially when it destroys indigenous species.
A better way to thin them out is harvesting them, grind them into cattle feed, or fertilizer. There are mechanical harvesters already in use.
The habit of plowing through them with an outboard motor, isn't a good thing either. it only propagates them. Each time they are cut into small pieces, the pieces grow into a full plant.
The ever changing water levels, especially low water levels at bird breeding time is very damaging.
Not only does it allow predators in the nesting areas, it depletes the food supplies, close to the nests, necessary for raising young birds.
I've noticed that there aren't any nutrias left in the lake. I don't know if that's because of the changing water levels, alligator predation, or 'cajun' harvesting for bounty, paid by wildlife and fisheries. Another 'white' misappropriation, like the bounty slaughter of buffalo in the 1800s.
I've not had much faith in the management of our natural resources when it is done by the federal government, without consulting local people who are familiar with the natural way of things. The need of the white man to subdue, dominate and exploit nature has always brought about disaster. Over harvesting of species for monetary gain has led to the extinction or near extinction of more than one species. Mismanagement has had a similar disastrous effect.
I've watched quietly from my kayak while even the quietest tour boat goes past. The birds always take off, being disturbed from their feeding. The alligators roll off their sunning places; something they need, to keep up enough body heat to maintain their metabolism. I've managed to get within 10 to 15 feet from feeding birds, and alligators, in a bright orange kayak, because I move slowly and quietly. Very seldom do they ever fly away, or leave even after 10 minutes of photographing. My point, keep it quiet, natural. If someone drove into your living room, you'd know it immediately and you'd be pissed. When we are there, we are in their living rooms, their bedrooms. Use a little respect.
During the raising of young, I've noticed that most of the birds leave the lake all together to feed, whether from lack of large enough feeding areas on the lake, or to get a little peace.
I'm in favor of maintaining a constant water level in the lake, not pumping water in from the extension of Bayou Teche, mainly because of farming run off, and closing the rookery area to boat traffic year round. There are not that many fish in there, that can't be caught out in the lake, and the swamp tours can do well around the rest of the lake..
You say the birds nested along the road because they were pushed form the middle of the rookery by 'The Chump' doing tours in there during breeding season, and at night. (I've seen 'the chump' run his boat. It's like a demolition derby on water.) Maybe that was the cause, but, I've photographed there since 2001, and when the birds were along the road, there were birds as far back as I could see, from the road and from the trail around the back. The rookery was so full that they had to be by the road.
It seemed to irritate the locals, to have to drive around parked cars along the road on the southeast corner of the lake. I've seen plenty of dirty looks from both directions. Some from people stopped to look at or photograph the birds, while breathing tons of dust, sometimes purposely stirred up by 'sportsmen' headed to the boat launch.

Lake Martin has...no....had, an international fan club. It is ...no...was known world wide. I've met people there from all over the United States and from many foreign countries, photographers and non photographers. Breaux Bridge, Lafayette, St Martinville, in fact all of that area benefited from the reputation of the rookery. It was, the place to observe wading birds in the United States. The tourist industry suffered a great blow to their economy at the hands of a few self involved, selfish individuals. Due to greed and stupidity, that's all over. The people of that area basically shot themselves in the foot by destroying what they had, whatever the reason.

Keep the faith,
Bubba

Cormorants congregating for the evening roost on the north side of the lake

If you have personal observations you would like to share, please email me at marcus@delahoussayes.com or comment to this blog. I am compiling interviews, comments and articles into a book about my experiences at Lake Martin over the last twenty years.

If you have observed disturbances to the birds and alligators, or you are very disappointed regarding your fishing or hunting experiences lately compared to what it was last decade, I need your input.




Below is my analysis of Bubba's email to me.


In the war against plants at Lake Martin, the use of the dangerous herbicides was not initially directed at water hyacinths, because there was none there until plant control screwed thing up. The initial attack was against indigenous plants such as penny wort, frog bit, duckweed, hydrilla, coontail, and also effected a non-targeted casualty of plant control, which is hundreds of acres of button bush are dead due to being in the line of fire directed at the floating mat of plants.

The nutria were wiped out when the herbicides depleted the natural foods of alligators, which were primarily crappy, bream and large mouth bass prior to plant control. After plant control killed all the plants in the lake and the result was a mass of decomposing plants robbed the water of oxygen and killed all the fish. As the alligators got hungry as a result of a lack of fish, they adapted to whatever they could catch, such as nutria, frogs, turtles, and birds, not to mention the occasional slow moving dog at the boat landing.

The use of herbicide was started to prevent fish kills which were caused by the drought of the late 1990's.

In my opinion, plants did not cause a fish kill, the drought did.

The fish kill caused by the drought was a drop in the bucket compared to what the war on plants did to the fish population starting in May 1997.

An air plane crop duster applied a granular herbicide and started the plant control which has continued now for over 12 years. That first day, The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries killed every fish in the lake and there were no fish in the lake or the surrounding swamp(which included the rookery), for four years, until the great flood of June 2001 during Tropical Storm Allison which allowed the native fish species to cross over the man made levees around the lake and once again be a natural part of the Lake Martin ecology.

In the meantime, due to a shortage of fish which will never recover without the plants that were once there, the alligators have adapted to eating nutria, frogs, turtles, and birds, all of which survived the plant control induced fish kill.

Many alligators have also moved over into the Vermilion River nearby where there is more fish.

As far as Richard Martin of the Louisiana Nature Conservancy is concerned, the demise of the nutria population at Lake Martin may be the only positive effect of plant control. And I agree. The nutria were so overpopulated that they were killing Bald Cypress trees by girdling the trunk.

The "Chump Swamp Tour Guide" that Bubba mentions is someone I want to expose in great detail in the near future. But,on November 3rd, 2008 because someone broke lug bolts on the front wheel of my truck parked in the boat landing at Lake Martin while I was out doing a tour, I left the landing on two lug bolts. After I left the landing(with only two lug bolts on the front wheel), and I was on my way to lunch in Lafayette, The Chump calls my cell phone and I don't answer, so he left me a threatening message on my cell phone voice mail. Perfect! Now the Chump is facing criminal prosecution for leaving a message on my cell phone voice mail threatening me that he would put a bullet in my f*cking ass if he caught me anywhere around his truck.

Your guess who broke the lug bolts on the right front wheel of my truck is as good as mine.

Although I don't have a witness yet, and he cannot be prosecuted for breaking the lug bolts on my truck unless I have one, he is facing prosecution for threatening to shoot me.

My response after three deputies from two parishes and numerous attorneys, private investigators and concerned family members heard the threat the Chump left on my cell phone voice mail:

Go ahead Punk, make my day!

Looks like a swamp tour war, but actually I have much bigger dragons to slay than this mental midget who thinks I am scared of his bullets.

See you at the lake!

And don't forget to check out the Blue Moon Saloon for great live music, a dance floor, and the friendliest people in town.

Below are pictures of the Steve Kerin line up on this past Sunday.

Steve on the keyboard.




You can also get affordable accommodations in the Blue Moon Guest House in front of the Saloon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Seasonal Changes in the Swamp



October Sunrise over Vermilion Bay, south of Lafayette



Louisiana Swamp Tours are well into the autumn season and the moss draped cypress tress are turning colors as seen below.




The Bald Cypress flowers which appear in October, are the long green tentrils as seen below.






The blooms of 2009 are long clusters of green flowers above, which leads to the seed cones of 2010. You can see the round seed cones in the photo below.



It has cooled down, but the warm pleasant temperatures of South Louisiana in October has presented a number of alligator viewing oportunities all month long as seen below.







Along with the fall transition in the swamp, comes some of the best fishing in the marshes of South Louisiana, as seen below.




My fishing buddy is Ed Buchert, manager at the Holiday Inn in North Lafayette. Ed is a master fisherman as seen in the photos above producing the results below.

Speckled Trout on top, Redfish center, and a nice Sheephead at the bottom.

Here is a shot of an icebox full of trout below.


Ed not only loves to feed trout to the family back in Carencro, he comes home with a double helping of Blue Crabs for the feast we share after a day in the marsh.




For me, besides eating catch of the day seafood, one of my great pleasures of fishing at Marsh Island is to enjoy the sights along the way, as seen below.


Sunrise over Cypremort Point




We are approaching the island


Angel, my Catahoula dog, surveys the game warden camp at the mouth of Bird Island Bayou as we enter the island


A rock wier protects the fragile coastal marshland





And at the end of the day we arrive once again at the marina before loading up the boat and going home.






Looking forward...


As we wrap up the month of October with good food and music at the Black Pot Festival this weekend at Acadian Village in Lafayette, we look forward to the Frog Festival in Rayne next month. Below are some of my favorite murals.








Before I close, for the best reference of all your options for doing swamp tours in Louisiana, you can check out Anne's new book.

Below is the introduction to: Louisiana Swamp Tours: The Definitive Guide

Think if you've been on one swamp tour, you've seen them all? Think again. Louisiana has a huge diversity of swamps and wetlands, and the tours through these areas vary enormously according to focus---bird roosts, alligators, big cypress and tupelo gum trees, plenty of wildlife. Many of the guides have spent lifetimes learning the secrets of the swamps as professional fishermen, alligator hunters, trappers, guides, or lumbermen, and they share with passengers their love of the areas and their deep concerns over the fragility of the environments. Illustrated with dozens of fine nature images by award-winning photographer Henry Cancienne, this book contains everything you need to know about every swamp tour in the state.



Above is a link to Amazon so you can order Anne Butler's new book,
Louisiana Swamp Tours; The Definative Guide.