I went on my first swamp tour almost five years ago at Honey Island near New Orleans. I thought the swamp was so interesting and the boat ride lots of fun. I loved seeing the cypress trees growing right in the dark water and all the hanging moss and dark mysterious places. The alligators and wild pigs were lured to the boat with hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks so we were able to see them close up. For our recent trip I was really looking forward to spending more time exploring Louisiana’s scenic places, especially the swamps. Above is a picture of my trip with Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours on Lake Martin.
We spent a few peaceful hours boating around the swampy lake, weaving in and out of the trees and seeing so much beautiful scenery. This tour was even more lovely than my first one at Honey Island. In many places the water was carpeted with duckweed, a light green plant that covers the swamp and is rich in nutrients. There was lots of Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees. This is not a true moss but an epiphyte that takes nutrients from the air and debris that collects on the trees or plants. Historically moss was an important “crop” for settlers in Louisiana. They gathered it in low bottomed boats and after drying, used it to stuff mattresses and pillows. It was also mixed with mud and used in building homes.
Our friendly guide told us stories about the swamp. One of the more interesting facts I recall is that insect repellant is not needed here because the Tupelo Gum trees secrete toxins into the water that mosquitos hate. I researched further to see if this was in fact the case and found mixed opinions. Mosquitos are a common pest while exploring in Louisiana and Mark and I had to fight them off a few times while walking around swampy areas. Since it was late fall and cooler, the mosquitos are probably less active than spring and summer. Someone jokingly stated, the mosquito is the state bird of Lousiana.
We saw more alligators on this trip than I was expecting since alligators tend to be less visible in the cooler months. Most of the ones we saw were resting on fallen logs but some were also swimming about. I got some good close ups with my long lens. No marshmallows or hot dogs were used to lure these gators which is certainly healthier for them and they didn’t have to perform any silly antics like leaping out of the water for a treat.
The American alligator is the largest reptile in North America. Most alligators average between eight and twelve feet long but a few have been found to reach 15 feet or more. An alligator was reportedly found measuring 19 feet and weighing over 2,000 pounds, but this was many, many years ago and no photograph was taken for verification.
I read on the Smithsonian page that an alligator’s teeth are replaced when they wear down and that an alligator can go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. The alligator lives about 50 years in the wild. After they are four feet long, they are safe from predators except humans and occasionally other alligators.
We saw a variety of bird life including my favorite the Anhinga – an unusual and attractive looking bird with a long neck that I first saw in South Texas years ago during a birding trip. Perhaps when my parents, Bob and Judy read this they will remember how we used to joke, “Beware the evil eye of the Anhinga.” This was one of the birds I was looking forward to seeing and I got some good views of them.
The Bald Cypress is the state tree of Louisiana and is very common in swamps and bayous. Although this tree is a part of the evergreen family, it loses its needles in the fall giving it a “bald”appearance, hence the name. I thought the cypress needles with their rusty fall colors were quite pretty.
Lake Martin is a hunter’s paradise for ducks and geese during hunting season and we boated around a few of the hunting blinds. They were designed so that hunters could boat into a “carport” and easily climb into the blind. There were many decoys around the blinds. (Sorry for my crooked picture)
We visited several state parks during our stay in Louisiana. Our first visit was to Chicot Lake State Park and the Louisiana Arboretum. The Arboretum was a great place for a hike to learn about the many trees that can be found in this state.
I was amazed by the variety of trees such as maples, sycamores, beeches, magnolias and hickories. Way too many trees for me to identity and remember. Luckily some of them were signed for identification. It was here that I finally saw a bird I have been wanting to see for years – the red-headed woodpecker!
An interesting discovery for a Californian is that the Bald Cypress is related to the Redwood family of trees. I find this fascinating because the trees grow in totally different habitats and don’t look that much alike, especially the trunks. A cypress tree is often surrounded by nobby protrusions sprouting from the ground called “knees,” see above. Their exact function is unknown but one scientific theory is that they assist in anchoring or supporting the tree in soft, muddy soil and reduce erosion.
After hiking around we drove to get a look at Lake Chicot which is popular for canoeing, fishing and camping. Since the lake has a mostly marshy shoreline and interior, access is limited except by boat. We drove to one area where the road crosses over the lake. In picture below, Mark watches the late afternoon light on the trees.
In the picture below, I tried to capture the beautiful reflections of the bald cypress at sunset.
Another day Mark and I visited Palmetto Island State Park, a place I really wanted to see because I love these little palms. I first saw the dwarf palmetto in southeastern Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp during another trip. It was an interesting sight to see so many dwarf palms growing under tall pine trees. Actually, I love palms of any size or type.
We had the park almost to ourselves the day we visited. We only ran into one other friendly couple from Arkansas. We enjoyed exploring a few of the trails through the forest.
One of the trails became a little too primitive for us, so when it looked like we might need a machete to continue, we decided to turn back. In the picture below, Mark fights his way through, ha, ha.
Our favorite wildlife sighting was this very large Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Nephilia) also known as a banana spider that had created a web stretching across the trail and was right in the middle of it. Mark almost walked into it but caught himself just in time. These spiders are noted for the impressive webs they weave and are found in warmer regions of the world. It is probably the biggest web and spider we have ever seen.
Not sure how anxious I would be to launch one of those canoes in the picture below.
After our visit to Palmetto Island we drove to Cypremort Point State Park on the Gulf. It was Mark’s first time to see the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of only three locations on the Louisiana Gulf that can be reached by car.
The park consists of a half mile stretch of man made beach with a picnic area and opportunities for water sports and fishing. The water was dark with a muddy look so not sure how inviting it is for swimming. The views though were nice and we enjoyed the sunset.
In the picture below I am at the pier watching the boats come in for the night.
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