This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Lafayette CBC; Idiom

We did the annual Christmas Bird Count for the Lafayette area yesterday. My team (Ray Bauer and myself) had a good day (71 species) but didn’t get the number of species we usually get on this count – about 85. Don’t know why. We did get a couple really good birds: a group of seven Canvasback ducks and two Redhead ducks, both on the Scott oxidation pond. But we didn’t get some of the really common birds, like Goldfinch. I’m looking at nine of these little yellow/green birds at a feeder four feet from me, but yesterday in the Lafayette area we couldn’t find even one. We also found only one Robin, where we usually find hundreds or even thousands of them on this count. Maybe the lack of cold weather can account for that. Oh well, it was a good day anyway.

Anybody know how the phrase “Lead pipe cinch” got started? I (and a friend or two) have gathered together a collection of 900 idioms like this and for many of them I have no explanation as to their origin. Books written on this topic often just tell you what the meaning of the phrase is in current usage, but not where it came from. Let me know if you know, and your source if there is one.

The river is at 2.9 BLR today, and rising slowly. The Ohio is falling, so there isn’t much hope for water in the near future. Still almost no current, and when there is no current I can’t run the trotline. Reason? Because an east wind will push you upriver and replace the line in front of logs, etc., on the bottom. A current, on the other hand, will keep you stretched downstream where you have to be to keep the line in the right place. An east wind is pretty common when it’s as warm as it is now. Glad I don’t need the fish right now.

Rise and shine, Jim

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Unwelcome Kayakers

Went down to the river about 4:30 this afternoon and noticed some people on the other bank. Three kayakers were talking to a boat full of hunters. The kayakers were on land and the hunters were offshore a little. When the hunters left, the kayakers assembled their gear and got into their boats and departed, paddling upstream. Apparently the hunters told them that they were camping on a private lease, and they had to move – after setting up a camp with tents and other gear. I couldn’t hear what the kayakers were saying but they looked pretty disgusted. It was only an hour before dark. I don’t know where they would have found a good place to get out of the river and camp. If they had come near our side I would have invited them to stay in our yard, but if they were looking for a wilderness experience that may not have been appealing. It would appear that we could use a good pullout for paddlers to camp around Butte La Rose. Yep, a ball that needs running with.

There is a strange thing happening (or not) with the frogs. Normally, by this time, we should have large, loud choruses of spring peepers and chorus frogs. They would be calling from rain-filled ditches and other temporarily wet places. And there should be a lot of them calling as soon as we have enough rain, and we have had enough by now. We had an inch and a half Christmas weekend and the ditches are full. Last year these two species of frogs started calling in November. Something strange and different is occurring. Maybe our Louisiana Amphibian Monitoring Program will notice something in the surveys we do this year. Anyone wanting to contribute to this survey can let me know. Science by the citizenry!

The guys from Simmesport were running their nets today. They sure aren’t catching much. Hard to make a living that way.

The river is at 2.6 BLR today, and set to fall to 1.7 in the next few days. Low water indeed! No current, but good for kayakers going upstream.

Rise and shine, Jim

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Solstice Night

Last night was the longest night of the solar year. Brad and I went down to the river about midnight. It was cold and the moon was at half phase, but strange. It was horizontally in half and only the bottom was showing. There was no wind and a clear sky so the reflection and the moon itself were both very clear and sharply defined. I devoted some time to thinking about what I would like to encourage for the next year, and what to discourage. I do this on the Winter Solstice, as many others do on New Years. I like the Solstice better for this, it’s much older.

This is usually the time of year when it’s good to stay indoors and out of the cold and wet, to build a fire and look into it. It is a good time to think about what we have harvested from our year of living. What we have put into that area of safekeeping we call experience. How we might bring these things out into consciousness; to see the ideas and projects that have been growing or have become mature and now may be used for investment in the future. A good time, is this time, to take stock of where we are, and where we might want to be at next year’s Winter Solstice. In the spring, by the time of the Vernal Equinox we will be planting the new directions we are forming now, so it is good to have them ready.

The BLR gauge is at 2.5 feet today. Pretty low, but it will rise slowly. The Ohio is rising some, and that water will be here in a few days, but it’s not much. There is no current, at all, at noon – very unusual.

Today the river is hosting small flocks of Forster’s terns and ring-billed gulls. The osprey cruises up and down, watching the cormorants dive and surface over and over. The feeder at the window is crowded with goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees and titmice. The cardinals really don’t get along with each other very well. It is a bright, blue day, and cool.

Rise and shine, Jim

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fox Sparrow

I was out scouting along the Vermilion River this afternoon for the upcoming Lafayette Christmas Bird Count. This will be the first stop for my team on the count and we will get there before daylight in order to count owls. Could get barred, great-horned and eastern screech if we’re lucky. The area looks the same as last year (no new holes to fall into or downed trees to fall over in the dark). Lots of birds to see, especially white-throated sparrows. Also saw an unusually tame Cooper's hawk and (insert whoop, holler, and jump up and down here) a FOX SPARROW. This is the first one I have seen in Louisiana since 1961. No mistaking it – a very large sparrow with a rusty rump and tail and very streaky sides. One could almost think hermit thrush, but it wasn’t.

There was a raccoon foraging along the river bank in full daylight. I wonder why some do that, when almost all the others wait until dark. It has to be safer then. Could be this is water on its way to leaving the gene pool.

The river is at 3.3 today, down a little from yesterday, as predicted.

Rise and shine, Jim

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tracking River Changes

Always there are people out there who want to do it themselves, so here is the link to the Butte La Rose river gauge.

It reads 3.4 feet today, and is predicted to fall slowly for the next several days. By the way, if you want to be able to predict what the water in the Atchafalaya will do, you can also link to the gauges all the way up the Mississippi to find out what is coming down. That link is


When you look at that page, note that the Ohio River is also on it. The gauges at Smithland and Paducah will tell you what is coming down the Ohio, and Cairo will tell you the combined flow of the Upper Miss. and the Ohio, since Cairo is where the two rivers come together. Most important to know is the fact that the Ohio River is THE MOST determining factor on water we get down here. The whole upper Mississippi can flood and we might not feel it at all, but if the Ohio floods, we need to pay attention. If you look at the page you will see that today the Ohio isn’t doing much – up 0.1 at Smithland, down at Paducah and Cairo is up 1.0. As you get into the Mississippi (we’re looking at the 24hr change, by the way, third column to the right), there is a “bump” in the river from New Madrid to Caruthersville, but not much. Everything from there to Red River Landing (the area where water comes over to the Atchafalaya) is falling. So, we can expect the water to fall here for about five days, rise a little, and then we’ll see what comes down later. If you rely on the river for anything at all, it is comforting to be able to get this advance notice of coming changes. One other thing, local rain has very little effect on the Atchafalaya, simply because it has no real watershed to draw from. Whatever rain falls on the river may cause it to rise a little, but not like the Vermilion River or the Amite – both of which have large watersheds.

I baited the shrimp traps with a soy/cottonseed cake yesterday and today they had about a dozen small blue and channel catfish, one pigmy sunfish, one crawfish and about 25 river shrimp (Macrobrachium ohione). All of these were so cold that they could hardly move. I wonder how long one of us would last in that water right now. Not long.

Lots of black vultures circling high in the sky this morning out over the swamp. And our local osprey patrolled the opposite bank a few times, its voice much too squeaky and plaintive for a predator that size. It was a pretty day.

Rise and shine, Jim

Saturday, December 17, 2005

River Stages

Questions come up about the river and what the stages mean, especially in practical terms. Most folks know that the river has an annual cycle – varying only in degree of water level variation and length of time for each season. There is high water every spring and low water every fall. How high and how low is seldom predictable. Gauges to measure the real-time river stage exist in several places, but the one many people use as the standard against which to plan is the Butte La Rose gauge. The river has been measured by this instrument to have been at a low of 0.33 feet in1976 and a high of 27.28 feet in1973. Most of us remember 1973, when the river almost absorbed the Mississippi. There is no BLR reading for the 1927 flood because the BLR gauge was established in 1928. But 1973 was the highest. We live on the high bank of the river at Butte La Rose in such a location that the water would have to be 31 feet to get into our house. By the time it did that it would have flooded the highway to BLR (3177) to a depth of six feet or more. It would mean a 1.5 mile trip by boat to get to our house. The lowest we have experienced was 0.5 feet in 2002 during the big drought, the highest was 21.0 feet in 1999. When you think of that possible difference in elevation (20.5 feet) in one year, you get some idea of why you don’t see many functional docks along the river. Those that allow that degree of change cost a fortune. Without constant tending during drops or rises, even those docks get wrecked. My dock has survived for six years because I don’t leave for more than a couple days during the spring. Sudden changes in level of three or four feet are not uncommon and all it takes is one time to either leave you high and dry or dragged under and sunk. Any savvy engineers are invited to submit plans for a foolproof design. Spuds (dock rises and falls on poles within collars) don’t work because the dock ends up in high water way out in the river and nothing lasts long out there when the drift piles come by as big as houses. Oh well.

Low water (<4.0)>12.0) means crawfish, and muddy water, and cold water usually. This is when the river earns its reputation for being mean and treacherous. It really isn’t. It’s just doesn’t like resistance. It is at its most productive when it carries the most silt, and the most altering to the Basin. Give and take.

Right now the river is at 3.6 feet, BLR. It is clear and cold and slow. Even armadillos swim across it. I saw one do that a couple weeks ago. It swam 400 feet – not very well, but it did it.

Rise and shine, Jim

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

OK, So It Works

James confirms that I'm on the air now, so just a couple of observations to get things started. I'm looking out of the window at the river on a sunny, mild afternoon. I see a great egret flying by, and a great blue heron, and a cormorant. At the window just four feet from me are cardinals, chickdees, titmice, chipping sparrows, rufous hummingbirds and buff-bellied hummingbirds. Have to get used to being inside on days like this, and it's not easy. Ray Bauer came by this afternoon to collect shrimp from the traps in the river. Not too many shrimp moving into the traps when the water is as cold as it is right now (9 degrees C). Baiting the traps with canned catfood seems to work about as well anything, at least for the time being. The river stage is about 3.0 on the BLR gauge, rising slowly to about 3.5 in the next few days, and then slowly falling for a while.


A Beginning

This note will mainly be to get something onto the blog as a first entry into something very new. I’m sitting here not really believing that I’ve actually started to communicate this way, but here we go. I hope that this is the beginning of something that will be of value to me and others out there who share a similar range of interests.