Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why Do The Birds Nest At Lake Martin?

An abundance of trees growing in standing water year round

an abundance of food for wading birds,

and lots of alligators is why the birds nest at Lake Martin.

And that's why de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours is at Lake Martin,

because we got birds

and lots of alligators!

What a life, lay around all day sun bathing, wearing alligator skin boots!

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?

Nice boots!

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 my Louisiana swamp tour, and I assure you there were at times 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 birds and 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 decreasing population of the nesting wading birds in the rookery here for the last ten years.

And then, last year after writing articles in my blog, for the first time in nearly a decade, they stopped draining the lake in September 2009, and low and behold... the wading 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!

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.

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 don't know about you, but I like to see flowers growing on the roadside in the spring.

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 swamp tour boat access is restricted.


(My own mother can't control me..., good luck city girl.)

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 causing that area to be dry land most of the time!

Oh wow! The tractor actually missed a few buttercups by the draingate.

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 native Louisisna Blue 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.

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