Monday, January 26, 2009

Swamps & Marshes & Bayous, oh my.....

We did the Honey Island Swamp Tour on Monday in Slidell, Lousiana. It was actually pretty interesting. The first thing our guide Charlie told us was that the alligators were in hibernation! Of course, we didn't know that, but he said that because it was a warm day, we might see a couple of young ones who were fooled into thinking it was time to wake up. This particular tour company advertises itself as being an eco-tour, and Charlie was very knowledgeable, he grew up on the river about 5 miles from the tour company. So, the first thing he pointed out was that we'd be in a swamp (flooded forest), a marsh (flooded grassland), a bayou (slow flowing waterway), a stream (a little faster flow) and a river! The West Pearl River in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. There are 5 rivers running through the WMA - the West Pearl, Middle West Pearl, the Middle Pearl, the Middle East Pearl and the East Pearl. Pretty creative, huh? The first thing we noticed were the fish shacks on the river. These shacks - and they really are shacks! - are used by locals to store fishing equipment, etc. Some of them though are used as places to stay. We stopped and talked to a fellow named Daryll (HONEST!). He was sittin' on his porch watching the river flow by - and had a cooler full of wild pig that he was "curing". They soak it in ice water for a couple of days until the meat turns almost white - then they cook it. Yum?? There were also some very nice houses on the river. When Katrina came through the area had a pretty severe storm surge - the houses closest to the place where we got into the river had a couple of feet of water in the basements. Further down river they had 5 or 6 feet. Most of the shacks on the river were destroyed in Kartrina and severely damaged again last Fall in Gustav and Ike. Charlie explained that since these places are vulnerable to flooding and un-insurable, no one puts much of value into them - that was pretty obvious!
We saw lots of turtles and shorebirds - egrets and herons mostly. Yellow bellied turtles and red-eared turtles are the most common kind in the swamps and bayous. When we got back into the deepest part of the cypress swamp we saw a big fat nutria sleeping on a tree. Nutrias are large, semi-aquatic rodents which were imported from South America into Louisiana for fur and meat farming. The idea of eating the meat or wearing the fur never did catch on., you'll probably understand why when you look at the pictures. They were somehow released into the wild and have gotten so out of control that there is a $5/tail bounty!!
As we cruised through the swamp we saw 3 small alligators - about 3 feet long. Two of them left without any photo ops. The last one stayed by the boat for 20 minutes or so. But he had a piece of straw or branch sitting across his nose so he looked pretty goofy! Charlie also had a small alligator that he brought out in a cooler. The little guy was rescued by someone and donated to the tour operation so they use him for show and tell. He's about 7 months old. At least I finally got to see a wild gator! I even touched the baby gator. The other interesting little fact we learned about the cypress swamps was that the cypress trees send shoots up, called cypress knees, in order to get air for the trees so they don't die during flooding. The knees are pretty unusual looking.

So, that was our swamp adventure - from there, we drove into New Orleans and checked into our hotel about 3 blocks from the French Quarter & Bourbon Street. I have plenty of pictures and stories - I'll get them posted tomorrow. Tonight we stopped in Lafayette, LA and tomorrow we head to Houston. Tomorrow night Larry and Sue fly into Houston from Seattle - can't wait to see them and share some more adventures!

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