Posts Tagged ‘swamp’

Baldcypress swamp, Chicot State Park

Everywhere water: marshes, lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, bayous and rain. A downpour ushered us into the state of Louisiana, which is appropriately shaped like a boot and home to a plethora of choices for wetlands observation. We clickity-clacked over the 18-mile long bridge that conveys I-10 over this country’s largest river basin swamp, the Atchafalaya—a spectacular flooded landscape of cypress, willow and tupelo, but we were whisked along at the posted speed of 60 mph, encased in the noise and fumes of travel, all senses, but sight dulled to music, scents and smell of the swamp. We wanted to be able to explore, and to temporarily live by a swamp, so we looked for swampy state park with a campground.
Located in south central Louisiana, Chicot (shi-koh) State Park is a 6,400 acre park, 2,000 acres of which are Lake Chicot, created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the ‘30s by means of an earthen levee which damned the existing bayou. The park is a microcosm of Louisiana. With habitats varying from swampy bottomlands to steep hills, lacking only prairie and coastal swamp, it is an ideal location for the Louisiana State Arboretum because so much of the state’s varied flora and fauna occur naturally there.

Eastern cottontail

We walked paths that rolled up and down hills of quietly dripping woods, last year’s coppery leaves squishing underfoot, our view unimpeded deep into the forest of trunks, but a tinge of green hinting at the dense summer greenery soon to come. Boardwalks led us through and out over swamp beneath towering cypress and tupelo. The air was filled with birdsong as we watched an eastern cottontail calmly browsing beside our RV. Such tranquil scenes. But nature doesn’t indulge sentimentality.
A Carolina wren was industriously poking about at the base of a tree, tossing leaf litter over its shoulder. Then it stopped, braced its little body and began yanking, leaning back, stabbing forward, yanking again and—pop! It came up with a huge larva. The following should not be read while eating and may not be suitable for all audiences . . . The wren proceeded to stab and tug at the larva until it had peeled the hapless creature like a banana, flipped it about, gobbled up the peel and then swallowed the insides. With a final gulp, it hopped to the next tree and dug about until it came up with another, identical larva and, after preparing it in the same fashion, slurped it down.

In the shallows of the lake, a school of minnows circled and darted in graceful choreography between cypress knees. A larger fish swooped in with a splash and there was a scattering of minnows, less one.
Dead leaves lay like skin over the murky water. Closer inspection revealed a large, spotted fishing spider, crouched motionless on the edge of a leaf, body low, front legs extended, denting the water’s surface. We watched through binoculars. It did not move. A minnow came into view, investigating upward at the twigs and leaves, moving ever closer. We winced. Do we want to see this? Objectively, yes. It is interesting, and the spider has to make a living too. The minnow moved within range, apparently unaware of the hovering threat. The minnow moved on by. A reprieve or was the minnow too large? We turned away and saw a large alligator resting in a marshy patch not far from the muddy bank. Realizing that we, too, were potential prey, we skedaddled.

Protected vantage point for watching swamp activities

One of the many bridges over water and marsh in Louisiana:

Links for further, interesting reading about Louisiana’s swamps and waterways:

“The Cypress-Tupelo Swamp” by B. E. Fleury. Tulane University http://www.tulane.edu/~bfleury/envirobio/swamp.html

America’s Wetland  http://www.americaswetlandresources.com/index.html

Nutria, Eating Louisiana’s Coast  USGS National Wetlands Research Center http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/factshts/020-00.pdf

“The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya” (Fighting the Mississippi River) by John McPhee The New Yorker Feb. 1987 http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1987/02/23/1987_02_23_039_TNY_CARDS_000347146?currentPage=all

“As the army fights the Mississippi, who is winning?” by Clay Dillow Popular Science May 2011 http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-05/army-fights-mississippi-river-who-winning

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