Sunday, August 4, 2013

Swamps, wetland, bayou, canal, river, sea, and lake - all in Louisiana

tug boat and barge on the canal
Southern Louisiana is a land on water - thousand miles of waterways through the fresh and brackish delta of the Mississippi, with vast lakes,slow-moving rivers, handmade canals and floating vegetation that creates wetland vegetation over open water.  It is all called the bayou.

pecan swamp forest with saw palmetto
In the higher areas there are pecan forests with saw palmetto understory.

palmetto palm swamp
Sometimes the forest is just water at the bottom.

tree frog on bald cypress
Golden orb spiders, snakes, and frogs are everywhere. Here is a small tree frog that I found along the boardwalk.

 prehistoric midden of shells in the swamp
You can find midden heaps with their thousands and thousands of seas shells collected by prehistoric Native Americans for food.

bald cypress swamps with spanish moss (Tillandsia)
In even more wet areas you get the bald cypress swamps with their long hanging Spanish moss, fluted stems, and roots that come up like knees.  The alligators like to hang out here.  We saw an alligator that was maybe 8 feet, who laid still for 10 min and then suddenly exploded in diving action in a microsecond.

on the canal
Along the canals there are traditional part-time settlements with docks and small cottages that have been in families in generations.  In Jean LaFitte National Park these settlements, often used as vacation houses, are grandfathered in and allowed, but they cannot be sold, only inherited and kept within the same family forever.

 flag house on Rivet Blvd
The only way to reach them are on the water, and everything has to be brought in, including drinking water (unless you have rain tanks).

stoplight deck
During hurricane Katrina these were hit hard with wind, but there was no big flooding - not like in New Orleans where the areas below sea-level flooded catastrophically.

roofless dock
People personalize their docks and houses and live here for months on end.  But some houses have seen better days...

 big storm is coming on over Lake Salvador
During our swamp boat tour we got hit by an amazing rainstorm - 15 minutes of horizontal rain that drenched everything, and then it was over.  The captain of our boat, run by Louisiana Swamp Tours (appropriate name, don't you think), was great, funny, and smiled a little at the poor scientists (not me) that got first muddy up to their knees in the swamp and then drenched to the bone in the rain storm.

Dragonflies everywhere!  I have no idea of how many species, just many.

 giant grasshopper: devil's horse (Romalea guttata)
And these beasts, called 'devil's horses' in Louisiana are giant black grasshoppers that eat vegetation voraciously.  They come out in swarms in the spring - and you do not want them in your yard or there won't be much left for you. 

blue heron over the canal
This is the land of the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild.  See it if you haven't!  It is an amazing place, not like any other place I have been in the world.  Hot, flat, mosquito-rich, magical, mystical, and rick with life of all sizes.

(More photos from Jean LaFitte National Park here.)

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