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!
The 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.
It 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.
Slowly 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.
Then 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.
They 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.
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.
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.)