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Experience the Atchafalaya Basin

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Henderson Swamp

The Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association kicked off their annual conference in Lafayette, Louisiana this past Friday morning with a boat tour into the Henderson Swamp near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, part of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Coerte Voohries, our tour guide

Just a short ride from our hotel via Interstate 10, and we were ready to hop on board the heavy-duty covered tour boat.  (Later, that cover would prove very handy.)  The Atchafalaya Experience is owned by Coerte Voohries, Jr. and operated by him, his son, and his grandson.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Interstate 10 Twin Spans over Swamp

What a stark contrast between the water-marked concrete pilings of the interstate and what I like to call the twilight zone of the swamp, where not even the hurry and scurry of I-10 could disrupt the every-day goings on there.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Louisiana Heron (or tri-colored heron) and Snowy Egret

Within minutes of passing out from under the twin spans, we were met with wading birds of all kinds, grooming unashamedly among the branches of willow, button bush, and cypress.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Cypress tree roots exposed

By definition, a swamp is a seasonally flooded forest, but in this case, this swamp was in dire need of some flooding.  In the spring, high-water stages on the Red and Mississippi Rivers raise the levels of the Atchaflaya River, which in turn backs up into this basin swamp, thereby raising the water levels.  However, the reverse is also true–when the rivers are low, the swamp is also low, which was the state of things on Friday morning.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Low water levels in swamp

As seen by the watermarks on the cypress tree below, the swamp was at a very low level.  Coerte, our tour guide, told us that he has seen times when the water levels are 20 feet higher than they were on this day.  He loves doing tours during high-flood stages because then he never has to worry about hitting stumps!

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Watermarks on cypress

Down here, we’ve never seen what lies below the “cypress knees”, or aerial roots of the cypress trees.  Seeing the way the cypress knees curve down into the water, and then reach even deeper into the mud, as illustrated below, was quite amazing to me.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin

Just to clarify for you, and because the educator in me can’t help it, below is what the cypress knees look like on a typical day in swamp on my tour route.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Cypress Knees in Terrebonne Swamp

More than once we nearly bottomed out on sub-surface stumps, but the trusty outboard powered that heavy-hulled boat through the shallow swamp unscathed. However, we soon learned that there was more to worry about under the surface than just the occasional stump!

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
“OH MY GOSH!” Outdoor Journalist Glynn Harris has close encounter with Silver Carp!(notice the splash marks on the windows)

Once in a while, there was the occasional loud and shocking “BAM–SPLASH” followed by excited shouts of “Saw that one?”  “Wow, that one almost got me!” and “Did you get a shot of it?” coming from all three boats, running single-file along the tour.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Asian Silver Carp hitting the boat

Those big splashes were compliments of the Asian Silver carp that seemed to be quite disturbed with our presence, making their annoyance known by flying out of the water at break-neck speeds, hitting anything in their path.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Outdoor Journalists

Luckily (and thankfully) no LOWA members were injured in the photographing of these aerial acrobats  However, I can’t say the same for the flying fish. Often, the impact of striking the boats is strong enough to deal a deadly blow, as indicated by carp carcasses floating belly up on the surface of the warm swamp water.

At this point, I’m not sure just how many of these top-notch outdoor journalists were able to capture the fish mid-air, but there were several taking video, which should be fun to watch.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Roseate Spoonbill in flight

Wading birds abounded along the shallow banks.  Among those we saw were green, great blue, little blue, and night herons, white ibis, great and snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, anhinga, osprey and more. Even though we see most of the same species of wading birds down here in southern Terrebonne Parish, there was one bird that I had never had the blessing of seeing before–the American Wood Stork, as seen landing atop a cypress tree in the photo below.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Wood Stork landing in cypress

With wingspans up to 66 inches, these birds are quite impressive and majestic in flight.  These magnificent birds are making a comeback in this state, and I am very glad to hear that.

And of course, along the way, there was the occasional alligator who was brave enough to come out of the shade and check us out.  This particular gator had a really good reason for coming out to greet us.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Mother gator protecting nest

She was protecting the eggs she has hidden away on a nest on the bank of the bayou.

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Alligator Nest on Bayou Bank

The nest pictured above is about three feet high and about eight feet across, made of grass and then covered with sticks.  The heat generated by the rotting vegetation incubates the eggs. If the nest temperature rises above 86 degrees, the hatchlings will all be male.  If nest temps remain below 86 degrees, all the babies will be female. Having been laid some time in July and with a 60-day incubation period, the eggs should hatch any day now, at which time mamma gator will become even more protective.

With the flying carp, the wood storks, and an abundance of green herons flitting along the low shoreline, this trip held quite a number of firsts for me.  Even though wetland tours are something I do on a regular basis, seeing the flora and fauna in other parts of the Louisiana Wetlands still intrigues me.

Including The Atchafalaya Experience, this brings the total number of swamp tours I’ve visited in our great state to 25.  You know what that means?  I wouldn’t ever recommend a tour to you that I haven’t taken myself first. However, this is one tour I can truly recommend, but you might want to wait until there’s a little more water and cooler temperatures!  Oh, and be sure and ride in the boat with the cover on it.  If not, you better bring a trash-can lid to use as a shield against those amazing flying fish!


Time for a T-SHIRT GIVEAWAY!!!

RULES: LEAVE A COMMENT to be entered into the random drawing for a unique t-shirt from The Cajun American clothing.  If you are a Facebook user, please go LIKE The Cajun American page.  If you are not a Facebook user, please visit The Cajun American web page and check out their unique t-shirts.  We will be giving away one of their t-shirts to a lucky commenter chosen by Random Integer Generator in a couple of days.  Good luck!

PS:  Would you like to see a few more photos?  Okay, then.  If you insist!

Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Louisiana Heron preening


Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Roseate soaring


Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Roseate Spoonbill


Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Roseate Spoonbill in flight


Experience the Atchafalaya Basin
Osprey landing in cypress


Experience the Atchafalaya Basin

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  1. Do the shirts come in 3x? LOL Great pictures! I have never been on a swamp tour but have spent most of my youth in southern Lafourche parish marshes. Definitely interesting to see some different wildlife than I am used to

    1. Louise, there wasn’t one mosquito on that swamp tour. However, they get really bad around here right at sundown and again just before sunrise. There aren’t many people left who live right in the swamp, since most of them are only accessible by boat anyway. Those are the old ways, and although there are some folks who live over in the Atchafalaya Swamp west of here, I’m sure they avoid the mosquitoes as much as possible.

  2. I just asked CwitdeR if you was ok? Great post. The new Equinox is officially broke in now to find some back relief for trip down. And you never feel more threatened than yakking over a school of silver carp and wacked surface with paddle. I was glad they were all small ones.

    Storks are pretty neat.

  3. I enjoy your blog and reading about Lousiana. I used your recipe for the strawberry fig perserves yesterday and made 8 jars. I was in New Orleans last week-end and thought about you and will be visiting there more often soon as our youngest son is moving there. How far are you from there to do a tour sometime?

    1. Hey Judy! I’m about a 90 minute drive from there, but I like to think it’s worth the trip. I often have tour customers that drive down from the big city. You just need four people to meet the minimum group size to book a tour. When you’re ready to book, send me a private message and we’ll go from there! So glad you used the recipe, and I sure hope y’all like the results!

  4. Hey BW! Great post and enjoyed reading about your adventure in the Atchafalaya Swamp…which is so vast! I too was on an adventure this weekend to Chicot State Park, camping, not far from you! We enjoyed it and saw lots of wildlife and birds, even deer! I even enjoyed watching a raccoon dine on our leftovers and some peanuts I left for it! Lots of mosquitoes there and ticks too. Unfortunately, I got a tick on my ankle. But, I was able to tweeze it off.

    I burned a citronella candle at our campsite and it did NOT work like it said for a 10’x10′ area… We were still swattin’ skitters, lol… Maybe it would work in an enclosed area…ours was open.

    Hope you are beating this sweltering heat with all the rain and enjoying some indoor time too! Are the fish biting? What kind?

    1. Haven’t been to Chicot in years, but last time we went, we were in a pop-up camper that has the screened ends you can see through. I was sitting there looking out and saw something scurry across the road to our picnic table area, and then under the camper. That’s when I saw the white stripe down its back. I whispered, “Nobody move. Don’t make a sound!” for fear any sudden movement might make it spray the camper, and wouldn’t that have been miserable? I haven’t fished in a little over a week because it is so dreadfully hot by 10 AM, most folks can’t handle it. But if we leave early enough, and IF the reds are biting, we catch a few along the lake shore.

  5. Loved the pictures with the Cypress stumps. One looks just like people holding onto each other. That was the best, but I am really jealous you saw a Roseate Spoonbill. It was the greatest tour I have been on without being in the boat. Thanks for always sharing your wonderful stories and pictures.

    1. Etta, the boat was whizzing past these, and I was trying to shoot across folks and out of windows, so it was challenging to get a clear shot and stop-action, too. If I had been able to stop, I would have focused on doing some artistic pieces with these roots. They really are interesting looking, all the twists and turns. I love that you see people clinging together! By the way, did you ever see the photo in the camp of cypress knees that looks like a man and woman, holding an infant? Remind me next time you come. Someone recently saw it and commented that I should be printing, framing, and selling some of the photos. Maybe I will, but I would need objective folks to say which ones are print worthy, because I just never know. I’m not objective about my photos at all. Hope to see you soon!

      1. How long has that photo been hanging in the camp? I don’t recall seeing it when we were there. Maybe you can post it for us…instead of just teasing us. LOL

  6. What a thrill for me to see those gorgeous wading birds! That Roseate Spoonbill is beautiful! I’m sure people are always more interested in what is not in their own area. Perhaps you’d like to see our Pileated Woodpeckers, chickadees, rose-breasted nuthatches, downy Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and such. I’m excited to see your big waders. Thank you for the tour!

    1. Carolyn, you are so right. On the rare occasion that a Pileated lands on my oak tree, I don’t move a muscle to go get my camera because I want to take it all in, we so rarely see them. I see downies more often and red bellied. I wouldn’t mind seeing a rose-breasted nuthatch, though, and adding it to my Bird List. I love seeing the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks as they pass through in the spring. You are most welcome for the tour, and thanks for taking the time to read AND comment! BW

    1. Well, then, welcome to this bayou, Debiann! I don’t know anybody from Mowata, but I love the sound of that town, LOL! Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment. BW

  7. Those cypress roots are almost lyrical in their elegance. They look like dancers in a ballet. As for the Asian carp, I hope enough of them banged themselves to extinction! They need to go! Did you know your cousin, Dona, had a houseboat in the Basin for many years? She loved it down there. Great post and and wonderful photos. Wonderful picture of the flying carp.

      1. Too bad for me, but I only went once. A TD or hurricane blew in before they could rescue the houseboat and it either drifted into the great expanse or sank. Never did find anything left of it. But, yes, it is in our shared blood!

  8. I have a habit of looking for images in ordinary things (clouds, etc) so I was really studying that photo.
    I’m with Katy Bug about the carp. They can be really dangerous.
    I took a tour of Henderson about 30 yrs. ago. I really enjoyed seeing the swamp up close. It is so beautiful.
    We used to fish Whiskey Bay 35 yrs ago when the water would be high and the bream and sac-a-lait were biting. BUT…You know Hubby, we were in the main channels…need I say more.

    1. We ran into several fishermen out there in that scorching heat. Seems like it would be very easy to get lost out there in the Henderson Swamp if you didn’t know what you were doing. I guess if you could hear the Interstate traffic you could find your way back, but all those twists and turns looked the same to me.

  9. A brilliant “virtual” tour – some fantastic shots! Just what was needed today ;]
    The water is astoundingly low – the lines on the Cypress are even more noticeable that the pilings on I-10.

    1. Yes, I was hoping someone would notice the watermarks on the pilings, too. I asked him if the water gets as high as that highest mark on the trees, and he said oh yes it does and in order to leave a mark it must stay a couple of weeks. I just couldn’t imagine how that must change the way things look with the water that high. He took a shortcut through a little cypress stand, and several times we centered out on stumps, and I started to get a little antsy that we wouldn’t get off, but he never seem flustered. That’s the one thing I worry about when I have others in the boat—running aground (or astump) or running too shallow and not being able to get out. He didn’t seem the least bit concerned, which impressed me to no end. Well, he’s 84 and been doing this a while!

  10. The pictures were great!..that 1st one makes me want to go fishing soooo bad.. My Daddy has a camp along the Pierre Part bayou and years ago when he was able to, he would take me fishing..He’s gone now, so I no longer have a way to go… That is the 1st time I have ever seen the water so low and the alligator nest too..Interesting info about the alligators babies..I really enjoyed seeing all the pictures and reading about the tour.

    1. Patricia, have we met? If not, well, welcome to this bayou, and I’m glad to spark a good memory with the photos. I’m sorry to hear that you can’t fish any more. Do you still own the camp? Glad you liked the photos. Please come back often and visit with us! BW

      1. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that you replied to my comment..Thanks for the warm welcome. I would have to know your full name to know if we have met before, and maybe see a pic of you without the sunglasses. In my Daddy’s will, he gave my daughter his camp. She hasn’t decided if she is going to keep it..It’s old and rundown, really would need too much repairs on it; the best thing to do would be to rebuild another one..It’s weird going there and not having my Daddy there too. Anyway I’ll be waiting to hear from you. You can call me Pat.

        1. Hi Pat! I don’t think we’ve met. I don’t get over to Pierre Part much. Is your daddy’s camp on Lake Verret? At least you still have some fond memories of your dad and the camp and fishing, right?

          1. My Daddy’s camp is on the Pierre Part bayou that leads directly into Lake Verret. In fact we can see the entrance to the lake from our pier. Yes, I’m going to have quite a few memories from spending time with him.

    1. Well, thanks Kim, but it was not so much luck. Do you recall that I did some contract work for BTNEP back in 2006 wherein I had to find and visit every swamp tour within the estuary system that was back in business post-Katrina? So that was how I visited about 22 of them. It was a great job and right up my alley. However, there are quite a few more tours that are not within the boundaries of the system which I have not seen, and this was one of them. Another one would I did on my own was at Lake Martin, but it was the year the birds had disappeared, and I was very disappointed.

  11. You missed your calling BW, your camera eye is as always impressive.

    As to the Asian Carp, anyone tried eating them yet? I know LSU has done some research, including a site just for fish preparation and cooking. The Asian Carp are here to stay, so being the good coonass we are whats the best way to cook ’em? LOL….. Feed ’em to the tourists at the tailgate parties? Build up the reputation as a good tasting fish it will take care of itself, if not maybe a sporting fish?

    “In the United States, carp are also classified as a rough fish, as well as damaging to naturalized exotic species, but with sporting qualities. Many states’ departments of natural resources are beginning to view the carp as an angling fish instead of a maligned pest. Groups such as CarpPro, Wild Carp Companies, American Carp Society and the Carp Anglers Group promote the sport and work with fisheries departments to organize events to introduce and expose others to the unique opportunity the carp offers freshwater anglers.”

    “The UK has a thriving carp angling market. It is the fastest growing angling market in the UK, and has spawned a number of specialised carp angling publications such as Carpology, Advanced carp fishing, Carpworld and Total Carp, and informative carp angling web sites, such as Carpfishing UK.

    If ya can’t get rid of ’em (we can’t), lets learn to eat ’em or make some money off ’em anyway.

    Oh and btw the duck dudes start thier new season Wednesday!

    1. Okay, I plan to do a totally separate story just about that fish, which is why I didnt’ go into much detail about it here, hoping to also spark a curiosity in my readers. But some of them, like you, are A students and impatient and just can’t wait for me to do the homework and get her done!!!! I have answers to all your questions, but if you’ll just hang on, I’ll do it in a post, ok? I will tell you this since my son has first-hand experience with eating carp.

    1. Well, Sheri, it does my heart good to know that the photos brought you joy and a feeling of home! Please visit here often, and I’ll remind you of home as much as I possibly can from time to time! BW

  12. Spent a lot of time fishing the Henderson Swamp. Now that the 14″ minimum on black bass has been removed, I think I’ll start fishing it again. Love me some crispy fried bass!

    Last time I was there was about 5 years ago. That year and several years prior there was a nesting pair of swallow tail kites cruising the treetops. A pretty rare site for me anyway.

        1. Not one yet but I figure when the iron lung gets here travel and mobility will be somewhat curtailed. Doc on Friday am. Sure wish opiates gave me relief.

          Kites are different than Kestrals? We have gobs of those .

    1. Funny you should mention the swallow tail kites because he asked me if I had ever seen one, and of course I had not, and he said that they sometimes see them. I guess he didn’t know where the nest was, or surely he would have pointed it out. So do you launch right there behind the wetlands center? We were riding around out there for about two hours and saw about 3 boats fishing. I think I might wanna go!

      1. The swallow tail nest was actually one mile east of the Butte la Rose exit. It was just ten yards north of the Interstate. I would get out of the boat and observe them nesting and hunting cicadas. I’m not sure if it was only one pair, but I used to see them soaring the Henderson swamp as well as the Butte la Rose area.

        I always launched right under the Interstate and fished all areas both north and south of the twin spans. We even had a few nice spots near the launch by the wetlands center.

  13. There is a bunch of cicadas a singing in the evenings around here now. I wonder if this is a 13 year for ’em this year? They are no where near as plentiful as I remember in the past, but there is no mistaking thier noise.

  14. Such fun to see your photos, but good gosh! that water is low. I’m a little surprised. I’d been hearing that the Missouri, Mississippi and Red Rivers are back up, and I did think you’d been getting drenched. Maybe all that rain’s a little farther east.

    Love the wood storks! That’s one I’ve never seen. We have the osprey, roseate spoonbills, herons and egrets, but I’m just not certain the storks are here. I’ll have to look it up.

    All the fishermen around here are grumping. The only thing that seems determined to provide a little action are the sharks. Given a choice between an alligator and a shark, I think I’m going with the gator. They can do some damage, but they don’t seem as inclined to go after people just for sheer meanness!

    1. Linda, those rivers may very well be up again but remember, the flow down the Atchafalaya is controlled at the Old River Structure where a maximum flow for navigation is directed down the Mississippi. When the Miss. is at the proper depth, they then divert the extra water down the Atchafalaya. Evidently, that area has not had the rain that Terrebonne Parish has experienced for the past two months. That is why living in the basin is so precarious, and houseboats are perfect because when river stages are highest, then the basin will really flood from the excess flow that is diverted from the Miss. to the Atchafalaya. It’s all making sense now, right?

      We’ve been seeing/catching black-tip sharks in Lake Decade area (brackish) this summer, and the only good thing about that is it gives me some hope the water is salty enough to sustain the speckled trout fall migration and wintering over so I can have some successful speck charters there this winter. But I fear it just means the sharks have adapted to the fresher waters 🙁

  15. Captain Wendy, this is the sixth time I’ve come come back just to moon over your pictures. Specific ones, to be sure, but not only, are: the “dancing ladies” cypress tableau, the soaring Roseate wonder (all of them), and the mossy landing of the Osprey in the tree top. The wood stork….is just wonderful, beyond. I’ll keep coming back to look at these beauties.

  16. I will do the drawing over the weekend, so if anyone new reading this post wants a chance at a unique Cajun t-shirt, please leave a comment to be automatically entered in the random drawing!!!

    1. Although I watched in on a Sunday, I thoroughly enjoyed this little piece. I’ve never watched them on any of their live interview appearances, so this was pretty cool! I love what Phil said about his options!

  17. Oh, what marvelous pictures and just what I needed after this week at work.

    I sure wish I could show these to Dad. He’d have been very interested. He loved drifting through Sparkleberry Swamp on Saturday mornings, with a couple of beers, some boiled peanuts, a sandwich and maybe some fresh peaches in a cooler. Sometimes he’d wet a line; sometimes, not. He never rated the success of his trip by the size of the string he brought back.

    I think my favorite shot is the first one of the roseate spoonbill. Such a beautiful bird and lovely color.

    Those cypress knees revealed by low water look like abstract art.

    Just a few months ago, I watched a documentary on PBS, “Atchafalaya Houseboat.” It really made an impression on me. I could see myself doing that in my younger days. Now? Not so much. I enjoy my modern conveniences too much.

    It was nice to see you touring the same area.

    1. Atchafalaya Houseboat is one of my favorite books, and I love the backstory that led me to the book a few years back. CC Lockwood, who took all the photos in the book, was an LSU student hanging out in the swamp and made friends with them, but I’m sure that was in the documentary, too. He later became Louisiana’s most prolific wildlife photographer at a young age, too. He’s still churning out photography books. I’m like you—in my younger days that would have been a great adventure. Now the closest I come is when the power goes out during a storm and the yard floods from too much rain . . . OR then again, evacuations can be pretty adventurous, especially when we don’t know what we’re coming home to. I need to write that book . . . . . Glad the photos brightened up your week, Gue.

  18. I saw that show on LPB. It was great. I don’t think I’d willingly live like that if I had another choice. BTW, I just inherited 2 C.C. Lockwood’s from my aunt’s estate. They are gorgeous! I love ’em! Now to find the perfect place to hang ’em.

    1. I got a kick out of their bed on the houseboat. Gwen and Calvin were pretty ingenious, weren’t they?

      Oh, to be young again and willing to be that adventurous! lol

      1. Okay, I guess I’ll share this story. While reading the book, I turned the page and thought I was looking at a photo of me brushing my hair about 40 years ago! It so resembled me it was spooky! I had to just stare at the photo to see if maybe I had a long lost twin or something. After reading the book, I had to Google her to see where she is now and what she’s doing. She’s cute as a bug, even now!!!