Filled with wanderlust and a big dose of early spring fever, I hopped in the Impala and headed to parts unknown. I’ve come to learn that these are often the best trips; but no matter, something of joy always finds me when I give in to that call to grab the camera and head out–destination undetermined.
Even though I’ve been to the Mandalay Trail before, I’ve not been in spring. And with spring coming earlier than normal this year, I wondered as I wandered what I might find there to catch my eye and amuse me. Those who know me best know that I am easily amused, which I think is a good thing! I hoped as I walked that I might even hear or see early migratory songbirds.
The first thing that caught my eye was the brilliant color of the wildflowers, in spite of the shade and overcast skies. Pale lavender spiderwort and bright yellow false dandelions jumped out in profuse bunches along the trail. Further along the trail, two types of fern broke free of the ground, trying their best to make a bold comeback after the one hard freeze we had in January. I don’t know the real names of either of these; although I suspect the second one might be “maidenhair” fern, the edges of which showed a little “frost bite”.
The next display captured the artsy, creative side of me, as though Nature herself had posed these things together in a very simple and natural sculpture of living beings.
A “ball” from a sweetgum tree hangs, suspended and captured by the tendrils of the ethereal Spanish Moss.
I continued to walk slowly, looking high and low, and everywhere in between to see what visual treasures I might find to share with you. We often miss the opportunity to appreciate the small things in Nature that might only be visible for a short time. So, slow down, look around, listen and fine tune.
This quaint covered bridge leads across a marshy waterway and guides the hikers from the entrance trail into the thick of the swamp to discover the secrets that lie within,
The sign warns that the area is under video surveillance, so I took my time looking up into the rafters and around every post to find the camera threat. Alas, I found none and wondered if the sign was just a decoy, meant to discourage would-be vandals. There were, however, big guard bumblebees that kept charging me as I approached to take a photo of the sign! Guard Bees! Kinda funny!
This day, the swamp was eerily quiet, with only the intermittent interruption by a chirp of a bird or the tock-tock-tock of a woodpecker. Although they’re lovely to look at, I am less than thrilled to report that I saw lots and lots of Apple Snail shells scattered along the banks and edges of the water. This non-native, freshwater snail is known to exhibit a voracious appetite for aquatic vegetation; and in Southeast Asia, pose a severe problem for rice farmers. That, in turn, makes me wonder if they also pose a problem for southwestern Louisiana rice farmers? That research must wait for another day. Since there is nothing in the photo to exhibit “scale”, the average shell is about four inches long. Not your average garden snail!
I wasn’t surprised to see the wild dewberry blossoms showing off already, because they have been blooming for a couple of weeks closer to my house. However, I was very pleased to see several honey bees crawling around on the dainty white flowers, gathering golden pollen to carry back home. That made me wonder whether these bees came from a nearby apiary or if perhaps the wild bees are making a comeback? One can only hope. Also note that the berry bushes in this patch already display the green berries. Berry-picking season will soon be here and time for dewberry jam and cobbler.
The Swamp Red Maple trees are seen commonly throughout the local marshes and swamps. By the end of winter, the leaves have dropped, and all that remains on the bare branches are deep magenta-colored “flying fruit”, or winged achens called samara. They twirl around like whirligigs as they spiral slowly to the ground in search of fertile soil. While the brightly-colored samara lay scattered throughout the trail, the heart shape of this pair drew my eye down to its earthy uniqueness nestled snug among a blanket of dead leaves, the signs of the passing winter.
Deep in the middle of the swamp, about halfway into the trail, this beauty called out to me. She was way off the beaten path, and I tip toed carefully over the soggy bottom in order to get close enough to take her picture. This is not the typical Louisiana Blue Flag, rather it is a Zigzag Iris, which refers to the long stem, which takes on the shape of the zigzag. It’s important to note, and I’m not sure what it indicates, but this was the ONLY iris I saw along the entire two-mile trek. I really wanted to pick her, bring her home, and put her in a vase on my desk, but I decided to let her stay to show off her stunning beauty for another nature lover!
The first time I ventured down the Mandalay Nature Trail back in 2014, I didn’t make it all the way to the end because of the swarming mosquitoes and the biting deer flies. They literally chased me out of the place before I could even make it to the halfway mark. This time, with the pleasant temperatures and the absence of said pests, I determined to go all the way to the end, even if it took me half the day to do so. When I got to what I thought was the end, as indicated by this sign, I noticed that the trail continued on past the sign and led to a little foot bridge. Well, of course I couldn’t just stop at the sign, turn around and leave. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
And just as I stepped beyond the warning sign, the alarming sound of a snake slithering through the leaves startled me. Of course, I’d been very aware of my surroundings the entire time just in case I came upon a venomous snake and was so happy up to this point that I had encountered nary a one. So, I figured my luck had run out; but once my heartbeat returned to normal and my respiration slowed down, I realized that this was nothing more than a harmless little “Guard Snake”. He was, beyond any doubt, the guard snake, because I couldn’t even “shoo” him away. As I walked the trail, he continued right alongside me, faithful to his task of keeping me from the bridge. This photo isn’t enlarged–he was not afraid of me and let me actually get this close! Alas, I grabbed a stick and nudged him into the water so that I could pass, unhindered. I wish I could say the same for the Guard Bees that confronted me at the foot of the bridge, as they took turns flying toward my face, forcing me backward. It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen as far as bumblebee behavior, but on second thought, I just think I’ll call it magical and leave it at that! I tried to snap a photo as one flew into my camera lens, but my camera focus just wasn’t fast enough. After a dozen tries, I gave up and rushed through the bees and onto the bridge to the amazing view at the end.
Before I could even reach the end, I had to state my name and my purpose to this little friend in order to convince him to move along and let me be on my merry way. Sorry, I can’t tell you his name because he didn’t bother to introduce himself before he allowed me to pass. So, we shall call him Guard Skink, maybe Liz for short, but this probably isn’t considered a lizard, either!
And there at the end of the bridge was a secluded pon, dotted by cypress and water lilies. I could hear a motorboat off in the distance, and I knew where I was in relation to certain canals, so I pulled out my iPhone, opened up Google Maps, and dropped a pin right where I was so that I could go back later and see exactly where I was in the bigger scheme of things, navigationally speaking.
Yes, I’m a Nature Love AND a Map Geek. Sticks and stones and all that . . . . .
On my way toward the trail exit, one last thing caught my eye, which I had not noticed on my first time through. . .
I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the flora of these marshes, although by no means an expert, but I could not readily identify this little tree. It stood about five feet tall with skinny branches and smooth leaves. My first thought, since there were no thorns, was that this must be a wild, red mulberry tree. Once I got home and did the most exhaustive research I could, I came to the conclusion that this is a Mayhaw blossom. I’m a great fan of Mayhaw jelly, but I’ve never seen the plant or the berries. You know what this means? I will be making another trek into the wilds of the Mandalay Nature Trail soon in order to see if this indeed is a wild Mayhaw. As usual, if you know better than I what this is, then please, by all means, fill me in.
Until the next adventure, I remain your