Shadow Dance

Hello, my name is Bayou Woman, and I am an addict.  A swamp addict.  I admit it.  

But for me, it’s not a problem, as long as I get a fix every once in a while.

So, on my birthday, without a plan, I rose early, dressed quickly, grabbed my camera bag and hit the road.  Oddly enough, I really didn’t know where I was going, my only guidance a compelling draw to the west.  

As soon as I entered town, Highway 182 west cried out to me, “Hey!  Take a left here!”  So I did, and not far down that road, just on the western edge of town is the Mandalay Nature Trail, which I have never, ever taken the time to explore.  Well, why not today?

Seeing no other cars in the lot, I was encouraged that I would be taking a serene walk through the swamp, unhindered by other tourists.  Well, it was serene and peaceful for about the first 50 paces, and then the deer flies found me!  

Mandalay-TrailThe place was so beautiful, though, that I endured their buzzing and biting just to soak in some of the wildly gorgeous flora, including cypress, trumpet vine high in the trees, wild hibiscus, cattails, several fern species, palmetto, and more.  I’m so glad I hung in there, because way to the back of the trail was a quaint covered bridge leading deeper into the swamp.  

Leaving the Mandalay trail behind, my journey continued westward toward Morgan City, accompanied by thoughts of how glad I was that I finally explored that trail.

With no clue where the road might take me, an urge to see more swamp enveloped me as my truck turned north on Highway 70, which runs along the edge of the Atchafalaya River.  It began to rain, but I wasn’t deterred.  I rode for many miles upriver, noticing lots of camps to my right, which I had seen many times before, each time mentally wondering how to get across that swampy water into the midst of those camps and houses. 

I recalled seeing a sign back a ways, so I turned around and headed back, turning left where I had seen the sign.  Honestly, I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t have a map.  I don’t have a navigation system in my truck, and being a map nerd, I really like to “see” where I’m going.  

But on this day, it didn’t matter, because the road and Fate led me right where I needed to be, as a “For Sale” sign caught my eye.  I followed the way of the arrow on the sign and ended up in the most unusual place.  There in the middle of an Atchafalaya Basin swamp were two little strips of land, lined with camps, and a slip of water down the middle for their boats.

On the immediate left and right was nothing but swamp, with the water coming right to the edge of the road.  As I turned down the first lane, this is the scene that greeted me.

Atachafalaya Basin SwampIt was sort of like dying and going to Swamp Heaven.  How in the world could I be in such a beautiful place without a boat?  Back home, I have to travel about 10 miles by water to see such magnificence.

When the lane dead-ended, I turned around, went back to the entrance to this little swamp-pocket neighborhood, and went down the right-hand lane, this time with the swamp on my right.

Immediately, three green herons caught my eye, as they fished in the shallow swamp at the edge of the road.  They weren’t the least bit bothered by the sound of my truck.  As I glanced down the lane, it appeared these were all camps with no sign of human life at any of them.  

Oh my!  I had the place to myself.  For fear of frightening the birds away, though, I stayed in my truck, rolling down the passenger window to see if I might get some photos–for never in my swamp had I seen more than one green heron at a time.  And here were three?  I had now jumped from Swamp Heaven to Bird Heaven.

As my truck idled slowly down the lane, I strained to see into the deep, dark shadows of the swamp. With the rain still drizzling down, there was no sunshine, making the recesses of the swamp eerie and ominous.  However, I thought I could see occasional movement way back in the shallow water.

Mystery Bird 1Slowly raising my camera, using the zoom lens like a monocular, I could make out the distinct color of  blue.  What in the world?  The blue is too light to be a little blue heron.  What IS that?  Maybe if I drive to the end of the road and turn around, I can get a better look from the driver window?  No, don’t do it.  You’ll scare it away. Don’t take the chance.  Sit here. Wait.

At that point, I channeled every wildlife photographer I could think of, summoning the patience to sit and wait, hoping no other vehicles appeared.  No sooner had I thought that, than here comes the mail truck.  Darn it all!  The truck only had one stop to make, turned around, and left; and amazingly, the blue creature was far enough back in the swamp, that it didn’t seem to notice.

Mystery Bird 2Then I decided to channel Dr. Doolittle, whispering to the bird:  “It’s okay. I’m your friend. I won’t hurt you.  I want to take your picture. I want to see how pretty you are.  It’s okay. Come on out where I can see you.”  And I waited patiently, camera poised. 

You know what they say.  Great things come to those who wait. 

Mystery bird 3They most certainly do! This is indeed, NOT a little blue heron.  This is a heron that is now called the tri-colored heron; but I prefer to call it by the name I first learned–Louisiana heron. This wading bird is always distinguished from the great blue and little blue herons by the white front and white under-wings. However, this one may have been a juvenile or some sort of “morph”, because it lacked the dark upper wings, head, and neck.

As though it heard my whispers, the gorgeous light blue bird daintily picked its way closer and closer to the edge of the swamp.  And then, as I watched intently through the lens (almost forgetting to snap photos), this Louisiana heron did something I had only ever read about, which I call the Shadow Dance.

shadow-dance5

Let me explain.  The swamp water is very shallow and full of tiny minnows and other bait fish–food for wading birds.  Because the water is so shallow, the fish often see the bird coming.  So in order to trick the fish, the heron lifts its wings creating a shadow that does two things.  One, the shade cast by the wings gives the minnow the illusion that it’s hiding from its predator, and two, it enables the heron to better see the bait below the surface.

I regret that I was so mesmerized by the dance that the photography is somewhat lacking. Yes, I wanted to capture it for you, but I was so enthralled with watching this amazing display of Nature at work, that I’m not even sure the lens was focused half the time. I hope you can appreciate the dance from these renderings, though. (Remember to click on image for larger version.)

After about five minutes of dancing, this Louisiana heron took a bow, fading slowly back into the dark curtain of swamp from which it had come. I like to think this heron knew it was my birthday and came out to celebrate with me by giving me the gift of its Shadow Dance.  

I thanked her as she left, singing to myself, “Happy birthday to me!!!”

Sometimes the best plan is no plan at all.  I’m so glad I followed my instincts and the signals and signs that led me to a back road of swamp blessings.  I don’t know what I did to deserve such a rare gift, but I am eternally grateful to whomever thought me worthy of such a blessing.

BW

Below are two videos I took for you so that you could sort of be with me on my birthday journey! They are un-edited, but they help you “get the picture”! (I’m having some video difficulty during uploads, so if they’re not visible, I will repair and repost later.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Shadow Dance — 39 Comments

  1. You outdid yourself on these! I love the photos and the videos. Sort of makes me wish I was a kid again when we would go camping at Cypress Creek. It wasn’t a true swamp but, the closest we could get to it.

    • I DID???? Can you see the raindrops on the water where the heron is dancing? The rain interfered with the focus somehow, and I didn’t realize it was happening (and I was so excited about what I was witnessing) until I got home and downloaded the photos. I was disappointed in them but still excited about what I got to see. Cypress Creek sounds like a picturesque place, Cammy! Bringing back old memories . . . . .

      • Ahoy Blu, me ol’ son! Wishing ye fair winds, following seas & full tankards…keep ye powder dry and yer face to the wind!

    • Thank you, Bill, and I DID have a wonderful birthday. I guess I’m really such a bird nerd that I needed nothing else to make that day memorable. It’s too bad I didn’t take video of the bird, but I was fortunate to get the photos I managed to get, as it were!

  2. Did you see any Hummers near the Trumpet flowers? I’m excited about seeing the number of Hummers at my feeders. I really enjoyed watching the videos. Why is it we will travel to see something of interest, but ignore what’s in our backyard? BTW, daylight hours would be fine with me in the swamp. I wouldn’t want to be out there at night. Too many skeeters for me.

    • This was in July, so maybe it was a little early for hummers. At home so far this month, I’ve only had maybe 3 or 4 at a time, and they chase each other off even though I put out 4 feeders so they wouldn’t fight. I envy those who have dozens buzzing around their feeders. I hope to see that one day.

  3. Wendy, I met you when I visited Jackie at her bayou home.I am just fascinated with the swamp world. You visited at her home and I enjoyed meeting you. What a beautiful world in which you live!! Hope to see you again on another visit.

    • Yes, Martha, I remember our visits. Did we get to take a wetland tour or not? Seems like I recall some talk about it but I don’t think it ever worked out. Maybe one day in the near future it will work out! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I loved it! I have seen a Louisiana heron before, I have seen the dance, scaring up his supper. But I never thought of it as special, but since I can’t remember seeing it in a long long time, it must be reserved for the lucky few or the pure of heart and maybe I have changed categories…. LOL

    That was beautiful. A beautiful way to enjoy a birthday. Seriously, I appreceiate you sharing with us.

    These are always my favorite posts when I can remember being a young man and the beautiful things that are taken for granted at that young age. Thank you for allowing me to see the beauty without the deer flies.

    • Ha ha! Seeing the beauty without the deer flies. That’s a good one. This particular bird actually did a sweeping motion with its feet and legs, as seen in one photo, as though it were stirring the water a little bit, maybe stirring up the bait. You can see how very shallow that water is, though, because it barely comes up to her ankle, do birds have ankles? 🙂 It really was a fascinating dance, Goldie. Good having you here again!

      • I am never gone, just sometimes less active than other. I always check you posts and the comments. As you know real life has been pulling at my shirt tail lately.

        It will get better. I just remember the Father, Son, and the Sparrow.

  5. ZOMG!!!! Is that muscadines on the Bayou Woman banner?

    I have put up about 25 jars this year so far, but none are native and they taste a lot different! The native taste highly superior, they have that plum twang to them!

      • They came from one of the neighbors. A few years back he bought roots thru some seed catalog and planted them across the back of his yard on hog wire, so its similar to a muscadine fence trellis. He has two varities, one is red and supposed to taste like the native muscadines, but not quite.

        The other is a platinium color berry, slightly smaller and has a more delicate taste, and a LOT more pulp.

        I got up about a dozen jars of each. But the platinium berries need about twice the juice for the same amount of jelly and take about a half dozen strainings thru the cheese cloth and they still had pulp in them.

        They are not clear like I most apprceiate, but they are jelly. The red is a bit tart like native, and the platinium is a lightly sweet cloudly jelly.

        • My sons fence line is about 200 yds long and it is solid vines of muscadine and I have never seen a year without it being loaded in the 20 years they have lived there. And I have never made a single jar of jelly from it. They let the birds have them and then the birds give them their thanks by making their cars polka dotted.

          • OH NO, Goldie and I are shaking our heads over this! Man, now I have to go see you in Sept. to pick grapes!!!! July for figs!! What ELSE do you have over there that I need?

          • Thank ye for posting that – a fine reminder for all.
            As the folks who created it might say, σας ευχαριστώ (pron. sas ef-kar-isto = thank ye).

          • Actually, the figs are still going strong here. Or at least they are next door. My neighbor has a large Turk Fig tree in front of her house, right next to the sidewalk. You can imagine how many get left on the street side!:)

  6. You never cease to amaze me. Your expressions shown in your writing made me feel like I was sitting in the truck with you. Belated Happy Birthday my friend.
    Clay

    • Well, where’s my present? I mean, better late than never, right? I didn’t know if you were still reading the blog or not. I thought you might have commented on a previous post when I said I went to Little Rock to see a classmate. Heck, I thought that might have prompted a phone call even! How’s the bass fishing? Too hot?

  7. I really enjoyed the Swamp Tour and that beautiful Shadow Dance. Happy Birthday and so glad you got to do exactly what you love doing!!!! I will now call you Swamp Bayou Woman 🙂

    • I’ll be your swamp woman, Etta!!! Life’s just too short, but sometimes commitment to family keeps us homebound when our spirits want to soar. I just had a fortunate day where i had a sitter, and I could take off and go where the road took me! Are you ready for a road trip yet?

  8. blu scored some muscadine jelly from the Amish at a local farm store. Ok now tell me where the Amish grow muscadines. I hope Mark got some planted in the back acres.

    Got get moving slept all day yesterday and feel like a zombie today.

  9. I’ve watched the videos about six times, and sighed over the photos even more. Happy birthday to you, indeed! I’m the same kind of traveler. I always figure we may see some great things if we set out to see them, but if we just set out, we’ll see everything we would have missed while we were focused on our goal.

    The birds are wonderful. One of my friends called me last night, completely undone. There was a HUGE bird in her birdbath, she said. Turns out it was a yellow crowned night heron. She’s got a lot of trees and a ditch, so even though it was mid-Houston, it seemed to be pretty happy. But not as happy as your birds, I’ll bet.

    Were you as far north as Pierre Part when you found that special place? Or farther south? I’ve driven the whole length of 182, but it was raining so hard for most of the trip I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me, so I missed a good bit. And I’ve been on the stretch from Pierre Part down to Morgan City. Methinks another drive is in order.

    Thanks so much for going to the trouble to post all this for us. It’s all just marvelous – and enticing!

    • Night heron in a Houston birdbath – sounds like another children’s book to me! They make an awful squawking sound, you know! That alone is frightening! The pocket swamp spot is above 182, off of 70, but to the south of Pierre Part. I’m impressed with your knowledge and memory of the backroads! If I had to find the spot again, and the For Sale sign was gone, it might take a little doing, but I could find it! I do recall a street name, so that should help! The Mandalay Nature Trail was on 182, just outside Houma and not much of a drive at all. We’ll go next time you come down. I still haven’t made my way to the swamp tours in the west, like Hendersonville. I wish I had time to do them all and spend some time hanging around for the music and local stuff. You are most welcome, my friend!

  10. I love swamps, too. Dad used to take me out to Sparkleberrry Swamp in his jonboat sometimes when I’d be up for a visit.

    Thank you for sharing the experience and for telling us about the Lousiana Heron and it’s birthday gift of the Shadow Dance. What a wonderful thing to have happen.

    As Frost said in his poem, The Road Not Taken:

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    • Wonderful words from Frost! Thanks for sending along. Sparkleberry Swamp sounds like a magical mystical place! Great hearing from you, Gue`!

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