Eagle Expo and a Cajun Man

This weekend was the fourth annual Eagle Expo, hosted by the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau.  Folks from all over drive down, attend a couple workshops where eagle experts talk about them, and then everyone takes a boat ride out into some area of either St. Mary or Terrebonne Parishes in pursuit of eagles and their nests.

This year, rather than making the precarious trip to haul my boat to one of their landings, I decided to accept the offer of my friend, Cajun Man, to ride with him on his tour boat.  I’m really glad I did.  I always like going on his tour, because he cracks corny jokes, and the people always laugh.  He even pulls out his guitar and sings “Jolie Blonde” and that old Cajun song everybody knows that goes like this:  “Jambalye, crawfish pie, filet gumbo!”

The morning tour was a private tour scheduled by famous Louisiana wildlife photographer, C.C. Lockwood, as the field trip portion of a photography workshop.  At first, there was some confusion about whether or not I should be allowed on the boat, since I had not registered for the workshop.  But after C.C.  realized I was there at Cajun Man’s request (who asked me last fall AND I drove 35 miles to be there), he relented, providing that I didn’t get in the way of the photographers on board.  Well, I had no intention of getting in their way, right?  I even left my camera in the truck.

After lunch, Cajun Man asked me to stay for the second tour, which was part of the Eagle Expo, and he insisted that I get my camera out of the truck and that I make sure and get me some photos of them there eagles.  For some reason, though, the eagles were very, very camera shy.

Look closely in that cypress tree, and you will see a nest.  There was a pair of adults sitting on this nest . . .

but they flew away as we drew near.  We could not hear babies chirping, nor did we see their hungry heads poking up above the edge of the nest.  They must not have hatched yet.  These nests are massive — about six feet across.  Just think, I could lie down in one and take a nap.  Can you imagine?

Some of those folks on the first tour had HUGE zoom lenses that looked like they weighed about fifty pounds.  I’m sure they must have gotten some beautiful shots.  My little lens could not reach to the sky, so this was the best I could do from so far away.   I’ll post it up even though it’s a very, very poor representation, because that way, when I get my new lens, we can look at the before and afters!!!

I have no clue where the eagles migrate from that spend the winter here.  I do know that they come back to the same nest every fall, do a little housekeeping, lay their eggs, hatch the eggs, and teach the young to fly all in a span of about six months.  They will be gone by May, their young flying with them.

When the Midland, MI folks were here, I took some of them on a wetland tour.  The only thing Jerry aka Stretch, wanted to see was a nutria.  The first tour group I took out had seen four of them swimming in the distance, but after lunch, we could not find one anywhere.  Jerry and his wife Marcia were very, very disappointed, and I felt really bad that I could not deliver a nutria to complete their quest to see the invasive nuisance rodent of giant proportions.

You see, nutria don’t belong here.  They originated in South America, and some enterprising folks thought their fur would be great for the trapping industry.  Tall tale has it that they were caged, and a hurricane came along and they got loose, and they’ve been busy reproducing rapidly ever since.  They do have great fur, and to this day, there are many warm Russians walking around wearing nutria fur coats.

However, with the advent of PETA and the decline of the fur industry, the nutria have been running rampant in the marsh.  Why is that so bad, you ask?  It’s bad because their favorite food is the roots of the marsh grass, which holds our valuable sediment in place.  When the marsh plants die, the soil erodes and subsides more rapidly.  So, nutria are now responsible for hundreds of thousands of acres of wetland loss.

Since they are no longer a source of income for the bayou people, the department of wildlife and fisheries (LDWF) has placed a bounty on the nutria.  If you own land or lease land, and get the proper license from the LDWF, you can kill the rodent, chop off the tail, and they will pay you $5.

So, Jerry and Marcia?  THAT is why you don’t see too many nutria down here.  The locals have just about eradicated the species!

However, up there in Cajun Man’s neck of the swamp, obviously NOBODY has a permit to participate in the bounty program, so . . . .

the nutria are abundant, and they have no fear of the boat at all.  They sat there mocking us, munching away on marsh grass roots, and I swear I heard this one say “Na na na na boo boo!”

Here’s a better look for all your curious folks . . .

This one is sitting atop a nutria mound.  By the way, they took over the muskrat habitat when they proliferated, and that indigenous species was almost wiped out because of the big bully nutria.

This one stuck out its tongue at us.  I can hear y’all now:  “Awwww, how cute.  They look just like beavers!”  And yes, they do, but they are way more detrimental than beavers.

And lastly, this handsome guy was begging to be photographed.  He was at the far reaches of my inadequate lens, but I shot him anyway.  I love the markings on his head and the crest feather sticking out back, which we can’t see from far away . . .

It’s a blurry Great Blue Heron.   In this photo, you can actually see a contrast between the gray on his neck and the bluish tint of his feathers.  It’s not always possible to see the blue hues.

And I’ll leave you with this image, taken on the way to the most beautiful spot on my tour route . . .

This is called a marsh fire.  You can see the cypress swamp off in the distance.  Burning off the dead marsh grass is a way to manage the marsh and encourage new growth.  It’s also a very tricky way to rabbit hunt.  After the dead grass burns off, there is nowhere for the rabbits to hide.  Then when the new green shoots come out, the rabbits can’t resist the tender grass, and there waits Elmer Fudd with his twusty wabbit gun and KABLEWY, wabbit stew.

There will be a lull in the Miracle Bayou Tree House posts for a bit while waiting on the next step–electrical.

Meanwhile, I’m still floating along on a cloud of the miraculous!


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      1. Jambalye, crawfish pie, filet gumbo. It is on a couple of the old 33 lps we have and I believe it is on one of the 45s and a 78. Gave away my age didn’t I? LOL!!

  1. That Great Blue Heron is beautiful and how cool to be able to see the different hues of blue and gray! I also enjoyed reading about the nutria. A coupla years ago I read People of the Bayou by Christopher Hallowell in which he vividly describes nutria hunting and skinning. I guess that’s just one of many many things that have changed over the decades in your part of the world.

    1. Heidi, you are right on about that being one of the many things that have changed for the bayou people. Little by little, their way of life is being chipped away at by things like PETA, Chinese imported shrimp, turtle exclusion devices on shrimp nets, bans on gill netting red fish, just to name a few. You are very perceptive!

  2. Those marsh fires are one of my occupational hazards. When they’re burning over at the wildlife refuge in Anahuac – and sometimes even into Louisiana, depending on the winds – the teeny, tiny bits of particulate will settle out into fresh varnish. Not as easy to see as love bugs, but just as irritating 😉

    That’s one fine heron photo. You’re right – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one where the blue is so obvious. They’re such beautiful birds.

    1. Oh, that would be bad. That ash flies around for miles, if the wind is gusting, which is was the day of that photo. It got all over the boat.

  3. I’ve seen an eagle’s nest before, but never occupied. Saying 6′ or reading 6′ just doesn’t come close to the emotions of seeing one.
    About that “rat on steroids”…got a story about some. Dec.10 yrs. ago, Hubby’s cousin and her fiance came down from Spokane, Washington for our daughter’s wedding. The Fiance wanted to see an alligator (1st trip to La.), so we launched the boat on Blind River for a “tour”. We did manage to see a couple of small gators but the Nutria were out in abundance. Every time one was spotted, Hubby would idle by and his cousin would freak out and scramble to the other end of the boat. She definitely didn’t think they were cute! After the tour, we took them to a local eatery for Fried Alligator Po-Boys. I must say, “Cousin” enjoyed the Fried Alligator much more than the tour!

  4. Nutritious and dee lick sea us nutria. Pot pies. MMMmmmm.

    Saw my first eagle of winter last Friday in Peoria, Il been sick as dog ever since.

    Thinking I ought take that swamp tour. Does the man fish?

    Smoked ham hock n cannellini beans with plethra of herb and trinity in the new red lodge cast iron enamel. I is sick if’n you ain’t heard, y’all.

    Iowa guy has eagles nest in his yard. Way neat.

    1. Sorry you’re sick. It’s miserable being that way, but don’t blame it on the eagle! You need one of those adopt-a-moms like the Kleenex commercial! If you get one you don’t like, trade her in!!! Don’t know Iowa guy. And no, Cajun Man does not fish. He just entertains.

  5. Bird migration and love fest in full swing here. Geese winging over all night.
    Cardinals singing and fighting. Abot a week away from traditional first robin sighting.

  6. I’m thinking for our anniversary this year we should come for a visit and take a tour, do some fishing! Will get with you on details later. We have Eagles here who nest by our church and they are magnificent! Our school mascot is Eagles, too.

  7. Raptor return migration going on too lot of sharptails and cooper’s.
    Song sparrows and killdeers I think. Seems early for those.
    Big Dove pile up last weekend. 5 sitting on barn peak most of both days and
    plenty in trees. Getting cabin fever to go with the fever.

  8. Awesome shots BW! Wish I had one of those super duper zoom lens too. There’s a couple of eagles that hang out in a tree near my place, but I can never get close enough to see anything more than a black and white speck and I’m too afraid of getting stampeded by cows to get any closer.

  9. So let me get this straight. The team from Midland leaves and the nutria suddenly are everywhere. After two weeks of looking and not seeing a single live nutria, I’m beginning to think this is a case of Disney animatronics spicing up Cajun Man’s wetland tour ride. Nice pictures, though. At least I know what I should be looking for. By the way, some of your eagles could be Michiganders too. We have a fair population here during the summer. Always a treat to spot an eagle or even a nest.

      1. Jerry, you might be pleased to know that yesterday’s tour produced ZERO nutria sightings!!! See? The eradication program is working very well.

  10. I feel your pain Jerry. I looked and looked and looked for a live armadillo on my journey’s south. Finally saw one. On the elevated portion on I-10 from Baton Rouge headed toward Houma and Grand Island. Farthest north I saw dead one was right at St Louis by pass of 55 northbound.

    Even the wild turkeys are active. High temp today here is 43 F.

  11. Dear Reader Friends and Family,
    I have been chasing my tail, too many necessary irons in the fire, and attempts to make a buck necessary. Therefore, posts have not been forthcoming. If I have time this morning, I will make a quick post about yesterday’s tour. Business is picking up, but it does take away from blogging time. I do read comments every early morning, and will come back here with a post quick as I can, okay?

    Busy as a nutria in fresh marsh grass,

  12. Girl – I have MISSED YOU!!! I see you are teaching us all still and I hope that it hits home to lots of folks about our coastlines!! The Milk Man and I just might me heading south this summer and WOULD LOVE to stop and see HOW-DEE…Minnie Pearl style of course! love ya BW!!

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