Photographers' Tour (part 2)

When photo artist Christy and I were emailing back and forth about what sorts of things she wanted to photograph, she mentioned wanting to see mangroves. Knowing there are none on the inland tour route, I mentioned that there were surely some out at Raccoon Island, the western most island in the Isle Derniere, our historical barrier islands.  Of course, she said she would love to go out there, and I explained it was quite an excursion from here to there. Meanwhile, I confirmed with another photographer friend, Darlene, owner of Bayou Belle Photography, about whether those bushes I’d seen on the island were indeed mangroves.

Darlene’s confirmation about the mangroves set my wheels to spinning about the fact that she and I had a barter that had not yet been satisfied on my end.  Having been very involved in keeping an eye on the pelicans and other wading birds post oil spill, she had visited the island a couple times and gotten some great photos. At her art exhibition at Houma’s Southdown Museum in 2011, I saw her amazing photo called “Brotherly Love’, two young pelicans in the nest, one with its head on the other one’s shoulder.  I knew that photo would be a fantastic house-warming gift for my friend who was moving back to New Orleans from the Dallas area.  I also knew I couldn’t afford it.

But Darlene said she would gladly swap a framed version of the photo for a trip out to Raccoon Island.  And now, I realized it was time to pay up.  I had one photographer down from New York who wanted to see and photograph mangroves and a local photographer to whom I owed a trip to the island.  The weather forecast held out, Darlene had a free day, so the trip was planned.

Photographers’ Tour to Last Island

We launched the boat and left early enough to see the sun rise from the waters of Sister Lake.  Clouds seemed to slice right through the bright pink sphere.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

The water was already a little rough, and I was met with lens troubles right off the bat.  It’s really not cool for a photographer to make excuses for bad pictures, but I’m making this disclaimer now:  I definitely had technical difficulties the whole trip, and my photos will back that up!!!  In spite of that fact, I will put my pride aside and use the photos I have to tell this story for you.

At the Gulf, we were met with some pretty choppy waters.  Navigating those waves was a little like riding a salty seahorse (to borrow a phrase from Darlene!).  We pressed on and reached the island at around 7:10 a.m.  The sky was overcast, which was a real blessing with the temps we’ve been enduring over the past couple of weeks, but an overcast sky just doesn’t make for the best photos, especially when your lens is acting up.

Darlene donned her waders (smart lady), and showed me where to approach a sandbar so they could get out of the boat.  Darlene tried several times to set the big danforth anchor so that I might join the island adventure, but the sand was much too firm for the anchor to get a bite.  Like a good captain, I stayed with the ship.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

With the waves and wind both pushing me up against the bank, it was harder than I thought to keep the boat off the bank AND off the top of them!

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

But I managed, and they were brave souls, jumping in waist deep and heading off to their island adventure, tripods and cameras in tow.

The rolling ground swells reminded me, woefully, of my days on crew boats in the Gulf of Mexico when we were tied up to a rig.  Give me an eight-foot pounding wave any day, but being stationary while those waves rock and roll is just something my tummy can’t handle.  Couple that with being downwind of the unbearable stench of bird poop, and you have a recipe for unpleasantness.

While trying to figure out what was wrong with my lens, that old feeling of sea sickness swept over me, which I hadn’t felt in over thirty years.  It’s sort of like trying to read in a car–some people can, some can’t.  To ward off that queasy feeling, I decided to put the camera down and do some fishing.  All I got for my efforts were a couple of nibbles and a slimy gaftop sale that broke the tip of my rod.  And that was the end of fishing.

Motoring to the eastern most end of the island, and keeping an eye on my charges, I decided to go ahead and try to take some photos to while away the time.  Breathing through my mouth in order to avoid that nauseating stench, my camera and I went to work.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

The island is home to nesting shore birds of all kinds.  I’m no expert, but Darlene is. She mentioned seeing species like terns, ruddy turnstones, seagulls, pelicans, plovers, egrets, and more.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

There were birds everywhere I turned, and they were all just doing their thing, and obviously could not smell their own stench!

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

After nearly three hours, and the clouds making way for the sun, it was time to wrap up this photo shoot.  As I made my way toward the pick-up point, I noticed other people walking on the shoreline toward Christy and Darlene.  Christy jumped in first, and as Darlene was making her way into the boat, a young woman was yelling at them from the shoreline asking whether or not they were doing surveys.  At that point, a bay boat pulled up behind us with some official-looking people on board.

Their life vests had big initials on the front, but the boat was unmarked.  There were two men in the boat and three people on the shore.  The two men asked me to wait, saying they needed to talk to us.  With the waves rocking and rolling us around in about two feet of water and the wind pushing their boat toward us and us toward the bank, it wasn’t the best case scenario for hanging out and talking.

Being a little impatient with the whole idea, I yelled, “What do you want with us?”  To which the older of the two men answered, “We need to let them know they were on a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary.”  Darlene explained how they had stayed well away from the marked nesting areas, to which he explained that the whole island is now off limits.  He gave her a verbal warning and his business card and let us go.  The whole while I was thanking my lucky stars that these were biologists and not enforcement, or surely, someone might have gotten a ticket.

As we were pulling away, Darlene shouted out to them that there were four pelicans tethered together with fishing line just up the beach, and one of them was already dead.  They followed us as she pointed out their exact location.  Much to my surprise, two of the men and the two women disembarked to go save the pelicans.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

I was relieved when they did, because Darlene had already asked me for my knife, saying that if they didn’t cut them free, she was going to go free them herself, as she had already tried with a set of keys, but no luck.  I don’t doubt for one minute that she would have jumped overboard and swam there if she had to.  She and the pelicans have a very deep bond.

Below, you can see the first pelican set free and swimming away to the left, while the biologists work to free the second bird.

In a short time, the third and final pelican was released and seemed to be more injured than the other two.  Darlene said it’s because this one had more fishing line around its feet than the others.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)
Photographers' Tour (part 2)

In spite of its wounds, the pelican made its way back into the water, where it was able to swim.  I like to think that the saltwater somehow eased its wounds and set them to healing right away.

Please know that I feel I might be taking a professional risk by sharing this story with you, but I think sharing the blessings in disguise are worth the risk.  It was a blessing that the anchor would not hold, preventing me from going on the beach and possibly getting a citation.

On the other hand, even though Darlene had been out there several times before, she was not aware that the whole island was now off limits. She sees her ignorance of the law as a marvelous twist of fate for those three pelicans that would surely have gone the way of the fourth one, had she not discovered them and had those biologist not come along when they did.

She shared with us back at the landing how, for personal reasons, she knew ahead of time that this would be her last trip to the island.  Little did she know, it would be her last trip due to it being totally off limits to the public now.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but sometimes ignorance is its own reward.

This was my second encounter with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in just as many weeks.  Even though I realized they were just biologists and not enforcement, I really wasn’t putting my name out there if I didn’t have to because I encounter lots of folks who work for government agencies in my line of work and as an outdoor writer.

Photographers' Tour (part 2)

So, you never know what you might encounter on a Bayou Woman Adventure. Darlene and I decided we would call this one a Bayou Belle-Bayou Woman Adventure.  And Christy?  She was the quiet one who basically had the adventure of her life, no matter what we call it!

Your unintentional outlaw,


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  1. Well, ye ARE a Pyrate…besides, if it’s not posted as “no trespassing” or “bird sanctuary” they can’t really enforce it legally (other than a verbal warning)…besides, I imagine the smell – and 40,000 squawking seabirds – tends to keep most folks well off the island!

    1. Most folks wouldn’t have much more interest than a drive by. But the real truth is, I wanted very badly to walk among those birds. I’ve photographed them nesting in the mangroves from the bay side of the island, which is very shallow, and could never get quite close enough to get detailed pics. When I was out there in 2011, I saw a bay boat pull up into a cove on the Gulf side and let out a photographer with a huge tri-pod, and he walked right into those birds like nobody’s business, leading me to think it was an okay thing to do. So when I got to know Darlene better and learned that she knew which cove to disembark at and that she had walked among the birds several times, I knew that when I took her I would finally get my chance to get up close to the birds. I didn’t let on, but I was very, very disappointed when the anchor would not hold, forcing me to stay on the boat. For some reason, it just wasn’t meant for me to ever get to see those things up close, and I have accepted it. (I just didn’t include it as part of their adventure!) So, there you have it, true confessions of a bird photographer. And one more thing, Louisiana has the WORST signage anywhere in the nation, and the lack of signage by state and federal agencies out on the water is no different. There absolutely should be HUGE signs that say, “BIRD SANCTUARY – KEEP OUT”. And while they’re at it, maybe they should go ahead and make a sign that says this is now called “Bird Poop Island” rather than Raccoon Island? : )

  2. Yes indeed! We were outlaws and didn’t even know it, lol! I just knew there was a reason I needed to be out there…those pelicans would have surely perished in a day or two with that 100 degree heat and without food and fresh water. And I believe, like you said, it was a blessing in disguise all the way around.

    Signs were posted, “Restricted Area”, but I was under the impression that it was for what was on the other side of the signs…not the whole island including the beach! So you can fish in the surf but you can’t set foot on the beach…

    Thank you Wendy, for a great adventure. You are a pro at what you do and a great Captain! I’ll be back for another adventure on your regular tour sometime in the fall!

    1. Honored to have such a great comment from you, Darlene, and I look forward to another photo adventure with you in the fall, when it’s cooler and “waders” aren’t required, LOL! It was fun! Thanks for being my new hero!

  3. After your first encounter with Wildlife and Fisheries, I did get a new fishing license. Thanks for that post. I personally have never seen that many pelicans, but…I’ve never been to a Bird Sanctuary before. After reading you description of the air quality, I’m not sure I want to either. LOL!

  4. OH MY GOSH!!! Those pics were really great, I mean, they looked like a lithograph type picture. I think that is what I am meaning. Not exactly what the right words are. Kinda grainy, fuzzy soft. I realize they are not crystal clear and all but they are great.. I especially like the pelicans, but for me they too, have meaning. That was my son’s nic name for a long time. His dad stayed home with him the first year since he was unable to work due to a back injury and he used to call him Peclin.. yes you read that right Peclin, (aka) )for us who have better language skills and can spell) Pelican. His daddy said if he was awake he had his mouth open wanting food just like a baby peclin (pelican). We collected different pelican things for a while but that slowly faded away when his dad and I went our seperate ways but I still have all the pelican stuff we got way back when. I truly love reading your blog and look forward to the many details, I can see this being quality time spent with the other ladies in my life. Just gotta get them on board too. Till I can officially visit Camp Delarge . Many Blessings.. Michelle

    1. Well, you are the sweetest person ever to say so, because it took some serious editing on my end to get them to this level of (slight) presentability. What a cute story, in spite of the going of separate ways. Maybe your son will carry some kind of positive connection to these marvelous birds from that time of his life. I’ll be here whenever you and your group are ready to take on an adventure!!! Thanks for leaving comments, Michelle! BW

  5. Dear Captain Wendy, Bayou Woman and wonderful Cuzzy,

    The plight of the pelicans made me tear up. You see, I’ve always loved and adored pelicans, our dinosaurs of the bird family. My heart flew with the first untangled one in the picture and took wing with the others.

    Your photographs might not be what your wanted but there were other eyes that showed your lens what to shoot. And they came out magically beautiful.

    You tell of a wonder-scape only in some of our imaginations until we see your pictures. If we’re fortunate enough you’ll take us on that voyage with you. I’ve been. I hope others join you on your excursions and adventures. They need to experience all of them in person.

    1. Dear Cuz, Your words gave me chill bumps. Truly. As I mentioned when you were here, a trip to the Gulf in the summer is a big deal for me and not a decision I make lightly; mainly because of the thunderstorms that can crop up out of nowhere (no matter what the forecast said), and there is nowhere to take cover from the lightning. I love going to the islands, but I also love living, know what I mean? My life is more valuable than any fishing or photography trip. But I studied the forecast a long time, kept a watch on it until late that night and at 4 a.m. the morning of. The wind forecast had dropped down some, so I felt good about going. However, when we hit the Gulf, it was obvious the wind predictions were wrong, and the winds were double what they should have been. But on a calm day, there is nothing quite as spectacular as that ride out to the islands. Remember how beautiful the calm waters of Lake Decade were when we crossed that morning? Well, about 10x that gorgeous because of the color of the water and the sun glinting off the surface. About the photos. Thanks for the kind words, but I’ve got to decide if I can afford a new camera. I’ve gotten that lens repaired once already, but I fear it’s the digital camera. Did you know they are only good for a limited number of photos? Yep, and professional photographer, Darlene, confirmed that to me. It’s something like 150,000 clicks. My camera probably has way more than that on it . . . and it has served me well. I’m glad you could relate to this story. Darlene is an amazing woman, and I only briefly touched on her involvement with the spill. Her art exhibit told the story of how the damage to the birds and environment affected her. Her art was her release of the anxiety and her way of coping with all that she was seeing. This might have been better put in an email, but I hope our other friends here will just be part of our conversation and not be put off by the length! Love you!

  6. You know I really thought you were going to say the birds were bound with one of those plastic six-pack holders. I think the proper name is a yoke. They are one of the things that I believe should be universally outlawed! I have seen turtles near cut in two, birds which couldn’t feed; they are a serious threat to all marine life. They don’t drop to the bottom of the sea and all forms of sea life are endangered by them. I make sure that I and anyone else who will listen cuts them into little bitty pieces! But with all the trash dumped in the worlds waters they are everywhere. Sorry I’ll get off my soapbox. It would be so easy to not need them anymore, but it will not happen because its an oil by-product which needs a use so the resin can be sold instead of burned.

    Sorry there I go again. It’s just so useless and harms so much.

    Looks like a great day for pictures and a miserable day for sea captains who stay in a bouncing flat bottom boat.

    BW stick a small bottle of Vicks salve in your boats first aid kit. A little across the top lip and it kills the ol’smeller ability. It is just flavored petroleum jelly, it has a thousand uses.

    It is a shame that we have to protect the islands now, but I have to say that if it works, I hope they protect more.

    1. Well, Foamheart, the biologist said wade fishing is still allowed as long as you stay “below the surf line”, whatever that is. So, I didn’t tell her, but with the big lens Darlene has, she could probably stand in the surf and shoot her amazing photos anyway! Part of me just wants to take a boat load of photographers out there and have them all stand in the surf with their tripods and cameras, and then call the agency and report them. And when they go to all the trouble to show up, no one will be trespassing at all. Hey, what’s the difference? Standing in the surf taking photos or standing in the surf catching fish? At least photographers don’t leave dangerous fishing line on the shoreline, right? Seriously, though, I have no problem with protecting the island. Ssssssh. Don’t tell anyone this, but I was wade fishing on the western-most tip (Coon Point) a while back and being a shell collector, could not resist the urge to walk on up on the sandy beach to look for some. I walked probably 100 yards before turning back, but I was no where near any birds at all. They are all on the eastern end of the island. I saw lots of human flotsam, though–yokes, plastic beverage bottles, fishing line, and more. One day I might tell the story of how The Captain and I once spent the night on the island in a pup tent in August. Sheesh, I must have been INSANE!!!

  7. A pup tent in August? No, probably not insane. Just young(er).

    As for your photography travails – you are going to really get a kick out of post I’ve already begun. Maybe I’ll try to bump it up, just for you. It involves boats, cameras and one doofus. The doofus would be me.

    As for sea-sickness, I’m right there with you. I’m mostly not bothered, but a hot, windless, slick day on the Gulf with nothing but swells? Oh…….. Not good.

    I really enjoyed these past two posts. I’m not sure I’d enjoy the pelican island, though. I’ll leave that to the biologists and such, and taken my pelicans and other seabirds in smaller groups. (Although I missed and still want to go to Lake Martin for the spring breeding season.)

  8. Adventure of a lifetime is right! I’ve never seen so many beautiful birds, nests, and trees, all in micro-paradise in the gulf. My mother is from an island in caribbean Honduras where I write this from now, and I’ve always been obsessed with islands. and mangroves. The birds own Racoon Island, all I could do was wander, document, and marvel in their beauty. It’s amazing to have the opportunity to visit a place you’ve only looked at on maps, read and dreamed about. It was a truly beautiful experience from the moment we set out on the boat- from the striped sunrise to the dolphin sighting near Wendy’s bayou.

    Nothing can top a Bayou Woman adventure. Wendy and Darlene are both such inspiring women, and excellent at what they do. It would have been a scary ride when anyone else behind the wheel. I’ve already learned so much from them and was honored to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime excursion. I’m so happy to have experienced that magical place before being told it’s not possible to walk the shore. Of course, I admire these biologists and the steps they take to protect the birds and their habitat, yet we can’t forget the power of photographs to inform, educate and inspire. I can’t wait to share what I captured there, and as long as I live, I will never forget that day.

    Thank you Wendy and Darlene!

    1. Christy, you are most welcome. I’m just really glad that you found me online and we were able to work things out perfectly on your trip to New Orleans. You know, of course, that I am hoping you and your little family make it back down here, because there is no place better to work on a coastal Louisiana project than right down here in the midst of it. I look forward to helping you and having you make more trips down as the ideas gel and the project moves forward. Oh, and I guess you know, you are now a Bayou Woman, right? You just earned your title a little differently than the others! BW

    2. That is so sweet Christy…and you are so welcome! I was happy to show you around and share my knowledge with you. Just wish we would have had more time…Time flies when you are on that island… It was beautiful (as always) and I too was like in a trance…but focused (finding the injured pelicans) and taking in all the sights and sounds and storing them into my memory bank forever! I’m glad I was able to take some video footage also…(got a little of you too!) especially of the birds swarming around…that was just awesome to see and feel. I compare it to being at the center of a tornado with the wings of the birds whipping up the air around me, swirling around and around until finally they land and the winds die down again. It was just beautiful and something, as you know, you have to experience for yourself to understand… I too will never forgot that day! Hope you are enjoying your time with your family in Honduras! Safe travels!

  9. Wow! What an adventure! I have been out to that island and actually camped there. I don’t remember all those birds. That was about 7 or 8 years ago. Have the nesting areas changed since Katrina, Rita and the oil leak?

  10. Well heck of a tale. Oh yes I am back up and running.
    Next time down I’ll stop and say hi or something.

    I am getting a lamb butchered as latest blu adventure.
    Hoping for gyro brats.

    I seem to think wasn’t that long ago I read of camping on that island too.

    1. So, how WAS your trip to Louisiana? Choup called me while you were out fishing one day. Said you had pretty much talked his ear off, and he’d like to keep the other one for making cell phone calls and such! Didja catch any fishes?

  11. All trips is good trips. You younger fisher people out there learn to watch for dolphins. Got dolphins got fish. Got seagulls? Got poop.
    Sleep deprivation does that and anyway isn’t his ears toughened up from you and the CwitnoR guy.

    Fished the lights Sunday and Monday way late after he retired. LOL.

    Lafayette n Beau Bridge were pretty cool.

    Got a new BassPro bait chucker today.

    1. Uh huh, you stepped on out for some Cajun culture, didja? Well, I’m proud of ya. BB is a nice little downtown place. Did you eat at that famous dance brunch place? Mes ami? That makes four BW readers who have been there, now!!!

  12. Poche’s was the place really neat and keep it under your hat.

    Bait caster is gonna be a redfish killer I suspect.

  13. Goodness… Two encounters with Authority in as many weeks? Woman, you sure like to flirt with danger, don’t you? LOL

    I’m glad escaped with just a verbal warning on your foray to Raccoon Island. I’m sure those three pelicans would say, “Thank you” if they could.

    As soon as you said, “Swells”, I said, “Uh-oh.” I’ve not much experience on the water but I do know that swells can get you. With eau de bird poop on top of it? Ewwwww……

    Even if your pictures didn’t quite meet your personal likes, they look good to me. I don’t care what kind of camera you put in my hands, the results are awful. Hubby can take fabulous pictures, no matter what kind of camera he uses but photography holds no interest for him. I’d love to be a dab hand at it but have no ability. I couldn’t tell you how many times Hubby asked me, “What were you doing?”, when faced with another blurry shot of my left nostril, off-kilter snaps of a landscape or people with their heads cut off.