Monday, May 10, 2010

Louisiana Swamp Tour Alligators!

At de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours we got alligators!

Someone called today and wanted to know if we had lots of alligators, and I said no we had acres of alligators. She had no sense of humor apparently and hung up.

So I contemplated what constitutes lots of alligators.

Is 40 or 50 alligator sightings on one tour, lots of alligators?

Then we have lots of alligators!

Well at least that is what we saw last Thursday, because we started at 7AM and by about 8:30 we had seen lots and by about 9:30 we had seen acres of alligators.

The next day, I started my first tour at 10:30 AM and we saw about 8. I actually witnessed several submerging before "we" could see them. I hate that when it is only me seeing the things I am attempting to share with my guests.

All of these photos were taken on one tour, and I assure you there were in a couple of places, about 8 or 10 at a time in view when we stopped on the north side of the lake and looked around.

So if alligators are what you want to see on a swamp tour, we got em, but my advise in planning your day as the weather warms up this spring is to come early. And 6 AM is not too early for me as I really like the light, fog, and abundance of wildlife that is there early on, but mostly gone by 10 AM, when most people show up for a summertime vacation swamp tour.

I know 6 AM is like going to work or school. But hey, you are on vacation, go take a long nap in the heat of the day. The best tours of the day when the temps are reaching near 90's is sunrise, and sunset. You will always see more wildlife at that time of the day in the heat of spring and summer.

So back to the tour...

And... right in the midst of acres of alligators, we discovered that the mulberry tree which is growing on the base of a Bald Cypress tree, about 1/4 mile from dry land was fruiting and ripe. It was the sweetest mulberries I have ever eaten! I assume the pH of swamp water is perfect for flavorful mulberry production.

We got our fingers all purple with sticky mulberry juice and indulged ourselves thoroughly, as my guests from the U.K. had never eaten mulberry before.

Amazing how a tree, I thought had to be land based, could sprout, grow, thrive and produce the most delicious fruit on the base of a cypress tree and feed hydroponically.

We had a delightful time and moved into a thick grove of cypress to video a mother Yellow Crowned Night Heron standing guard over her young on the nest.

The Yellow Crowned Night Herons return to Lake Martin every year to nest in the thick groves of young cypress which grow in standing water all year long.

These birds nest in these trees because the water holds alligators and the gators protect the birds from the predators who can swim and climb trees such as the raccoon.

We were about 12 feet away from the nest and I was living up to my reputation of disturbing the nesting birds in the rookery and exploiting them for profit. At least that is what the staff at the new Nature Conservancy Visitor Center is telling my guests when they go there to use the restrooms. One of my guests visited the welcome center before doing my swamp tour, to use the restrooms there, and a staff member advised her that "the swamp tours" were killing the rookery.

Truth be told, I am really glad to see that the birds have returned in record numbers to the main rookery on the south side of the lake, since The Nature Conservancy stopped draining the lake and keeping the water below normal in what was the largest rookery of wading birds in North America in the 1990's.

Maybe The Nature Conservancy should hire a local who knows what they are talking about instead of some college educated, liar from New York to manage and oversee the Cypress Island Preserve at Lake Martin.

So, maybe the birds, if not The Nature Conservancy, appreciate my blogging last year about the correlation of lower water levels and a decreased population of the nesting wading birds in the rookery here.

You see I have been a target of The Nature Conservancy for a decade and a half, for doing swamp tours into the rookery. I was in there before they acquired it! And in spite of my efforts to be a part of the neighborhood watch team to protect the nesting birds, the more I offered advise about my observations in there, I have to admit, I have always been treated as a inferior pest and intruder into the rookery.

And then, last year after writing articles in my blog, they stopped draining the lake in September 2009, and low and behold the birds returned to nest in record numbers.

Duuuhhh...It is common knowledge that the birds nest in trees that grow in standing water year round!

The mission statement of The Nature Conservancy: The mission of the Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

You can visit their website by clicking the link above where they explain their success: We partner with indigenous communities, businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, other non-profits…and people such as yourself.

Why they would never work with me? Ohhh... I am a bad boy. OK.

Another thing I have to wonder about that mission statement in view of the management of the natural resources near the rookery is why do they mow down the flowers on Rookery Road at peak blooming?

And this isn't just about the flowers, we have a tractor mowing the roadside less than 50 feet away from where hundreds of wading birds are nesting and we had even more nesting there, a few years ago.

Say what? Ohhh... it looks better after it is mowed. Believe it or not, that's what she said!

I personally witnessed the present manager of The Cypress Island Preserve instructing the tractor driver to cut the weeds as close to the water as possible. Here is the tractor mowing the "grass and weeds" on the roadside near the new walkway constructed into the rookery. Ohh.. I wasn't supposed to say they were building a walkway into the rookery.

At least, that is what she asked me to do last year, was keep quiet about the construction of a walkway into the rookery where boat access is restricted.


When I persisted, and asked again, why were they were building a walkway into the rookery? The Nature Conservancy staff manager advised me that the birds didn't nest where the walkway was being constructed.

Noooo... not since the lake was being drained every September, through the new drain gate installed on the Nature Conservancy property near the walkway!

At any rate this is what was growing on the roadside before the tractor came through at the peak of the springtime bloom this year.


And native Louisiana Purple Iris

And native Louisiana Red Iris

And dew berry
And Spiderwort

It appears a few cypress trees planted by the Girl Scouts were mowed down too.

Oh well, we will keep planting them and hope some survive.

OK, I am finished picking on The Nature Conservancy, for now.

And let's have a look see what is happening in the Atchafalaya Basin at Henderson

Looks like crawfish to me and lots of them!

Or is that acres of crawfish?

Because of lots of snow melt coming down the Mississippi River and overflowing into the Atchafalaya basin swamp, we are having a super harvest of wild, deep water crawfish in Henderson.You can go visit my friends at McGees Landing Restaurant for boiled crawfish

Nice dining room overlooking the Atchafalaya Swamp

While in Henderson, if being in a small flatbottomed, crawfish boat getting up close and personal with alligators and winding through a dense mat of floating vegetation in a virgin cypress swamp with a know it all, who can't keep his trap shut about the Nature Conservancy, isn't your cup of tea, you can do a McGee's Landing swamp tour on a big boat with my friend Mr. Curtis Alleman, as seen below.

and if you want an airboat swamp tour they can arrange that too.

Also at the levee in Henderson is Pat's Fisherman's Wharf, which is a tradition in that it is proberbly the oldest or first Cajun Restaurant in Cajun country.

Also serving boiled crawfish, and if you are there to eat on the weekends there may be live Cajun or Creole Zydeco music in the Pat's Atchafalaya Club next door.

And don't forget Chicken on the Bayou at the Henderson Exit #115, north of Interstate 10, is also serving boiled crawfish and their world famous, Crawfish Ettoufe with fried shrimp.

My mouth is watering...

Most of my references point to off beat Mom and Pop kind of places but we have full service big time convention opportunities in Lafayette too. So should you be planning a convention, a wedding or a reunion in Lafayette, I have a reference for you: The Lafayette Holidome, A.K.A. The Holiday Inn Hotel - Lafayette, Louisiana. Lafayette's only renovated, resort-style, full service hotel. This Lafayette hotel is located at the intersection of I-10 and I-49, easily accessible to the "City of Lafayette", Lafayette Regional Airport and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and The Lite Center, and 15 minutes away from de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours. They are recognized for a fine Cajun restaurant named Bistro du Cayenne's, successful meetings, flawless weddings and memorable reunions.

More Features: Lafayette’s only completely renovated, full service, pet friendly hotel with an indoor air-conditioned family fun park that includes indoor pool, tennis, volleyball, soccer, basketball and “Kid’s safe” playground.

To go their website click here: The Lafayette Holiday Inn

See you at the lake Beau Jocque,a de la Houssaye's N.A.L.C. registered Catahoula Cur

And a post card from Louisiana