Sometimes the stars align and you’re in the right place at the right time. You made no reservations but they invite you in and you have the best experience of the entire trip. On our recent sojourn to deep south, the Cypriot and I found ourselves face to face with a Bald Eagle in the middle of the bayou, who could want for more?
As we were checking into the Bayou Cabins in Breaux Bridge, Rocky Sonnier, our host for the next two nights, suggested we check out the local lake. We had a few hours to kill before we took on a couple hundred crawfish for supper and headed on out. Following his roughly drawn, but extremely accurate, map, we drove in and out of the busy intersection that is Breaux Bridge and on our way to our wetland destination.
We parked and got out of the car to wander around when a crawfish skiff filled with about 16 people emerged from Spanish moss draped Cypress trees. They disembarked and a few others waiting on the nearby pier jumped in. As it was about to leave, we asked the guide if it we could tag along. He said, “Sure, hop right in,” with his cajun-country twang. What followed were the best two hours of the trip.
Walter “Butch” Guchereau and his son, Shawn, our guide for the day, started Cajun Country Swamp Tours because “the swamps are our passion and sharing a few hours with people who love and enjoy nature is an enjoyable experience for us.” Their enthusiasm and honest-to-goodness love of the lake was evident to all of us in the boat.
As we meandered at a snail’s pace through the majestic Cypress and Tupoli trees, we were also falling in love. Shawn regaled us with interesting tidbits about the bayou as a whole and the lake specifically, but it was the stillness that took hold of me.
The reflections tricked us into thinking we could see the bottom, but it was too deep and the trees reached right now down into darkness below us.
The only sound we heard was the low hum of the outboard motor and Shawn’s whispers as he pointed out the flora and fauna surrounding us. Then he shut off the motor and we would drift between the trees pushing low slung branches out of the way, until we got to where Shawn wanted us to be.
Lake Martin is home to the parrot feather and the pennywort, as well as alligator grass. Its spiked bulrush was first used to make candles as it can be dipped in wax and then lit.
Not only home to mosses and grasses, the lovely iris pops her head out of the water as well.
The atmospheric Spanish Moss is really a misnomer as it is neither Spanish nor a moss, but a flowering plant that come most likely from South America. The story goes that a Spaniard fell in love with a native American girl. He tied her to the tree and his beard got caught, drawing them together forever and eventually becoming part of the tree in perpetuity.
A few of the trees are affected by Christmas lichen, so called for its red and green color. Technically, it’s a fungus that’s red as a christmas wreath. They say the plant and the fungus took a “liken” to each other…thus, lichen. The sun burns it off but since it rarely gets sunny down here they are here to stay.
We saw great pink Roseate Spoonbills, Black Crowned Night Herons, nicknamed “Bon Manger” as they have massive appetites and the Great Blue Heron (below) who can kill a two-foot gator.
Neotropic Cormorants watched us from above, hoping the Blue Heron would share a bit of gator with them.
We tried not to disturb an owl and her two babies but she was alert and ready to take us on if she felt threatened.
For me, American through and through, the treat of the day was a sighting of no other than our nation’s symbol, the Bald Eagle. Reigning from his tree-top throne, he looked every part the majestic creature who would come to represent the USA, much to Franklin’s chagrin.
“For my part,” he declared, “I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes the fish. With all this injustice, he is never in good case.” This may be the case, but this Bald Eagle looked the part. If Franklin had got his way it would have been the turkey!
The main event, according to the Cypriot was yet to come. Swamp lizards sightings we had but it wouldn’t be a Louisiana swamp tour without seeing some alligators and there they were:
Hiding in the grass….
Lounging in the moss…
Soaking up the sun…
Even the babies were out in force – tons of them playing together in the shallower sides of the lake…
We left them enjoying the late afternoon sun as we headed back to the pier. Thanking our landlord for pointing us in the right direction. No afternoon could have been better than this.
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Best Bits: Travel Cheat Sheet
- Cajun Country Swamp Tours
Lake Martin, Louisiana, USA
- Bayou Cabins
100 West Mills Avenue / Highway 94
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
NB: We were the guests of Bayou Cabins for two nights and thank Jeff Richard of the Louisiana Office of Tourism for his invaluable assistance.