Today’s swamp tour was a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid to say. I knew that January is the worst month for a swamp tour, but with the promised sunny weather for today, I thought that we’d still get to see a few interesting things. Instead, an Arctic front barreled in and the weather turned frigid and very overcast, just above freezing! We saw a lot of prey birds, such as hawks, egrets, and vultures, which was wonderful, but that’s it. I can at least say that I saw a Louisiana swamp in the dead of winter! 🙂
I chose to go on Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour, just outside of Slidell, because it is offered in a more pristine and natural swamp and the focus of the tour is on ecology. A lot of the swamp tours are set in almost zoo-like preserves where the animals are tamed by feeding them marshmallows and/or happen on very large noisy boats that don’t really let you appreciate the natural setting.
The tour group was international and featured no fewer than five French Canadians, including myself, a couple from Cornwall, and another couple from Montreal. Our guide had a surprising amount to say in French, and with an excellent accent!
Our guide dispelled some misconceptions right off the bat. First of all, there are no mosquitoes in the swamp in the summer during the day because the dragonflies keep them at bay. Second, the air in a swamp is very clean, so it does not smell. People seem to go in expecting a putrid bog rather than a fresh flooded forest. Third, a bayou is nothing special and not exclusive to Louisiana. It’s just a native word that means slow moving body of water.
He gabbed about this and that in our tour through the swamp and up and down the Pearl River, showing off his rather impressive ornithological knowledge, but it was obvious that he was stretching his material very thin because the environs weren’t giving him much to work with.
My quest to see wild alligators must go on (I need to find a way to be in the US in the summer!), but I learned quite a bit about them. While they are confirmed maneaters, there have been very few deaths by alligator in the US and absolutely none in Louisiana. People have lost limbs, but that’s only because they antagonized the otherwise timid creatures. That surprised me!
The biggest threat to alligators is the great heron, which gobbles down the young when they are small.
Alligator blood crystallizes when the temps approach freezing, a fatal condition. So they slow down their metabolism and burrow under the mud to stay warm through the winter.
We spent very little time in the swamp because the water levels were so high that the guide could not be sure there were no underwater obstacles. So most of the tour was spent going up and down the Pearl River.
Much as the scenery was lovely, we were all glad to get back to base camp at the end of the two hours so we could thaw out!