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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Soaring and Swimming

It was an interesting day of contrasts on the river. Event one was the appearance of 28 black vultures doing what they do when not finding food: just soaring and soaring in a long disconnected string, flying from out of the northwest. They just seem so capable of doing that, just staying in the air with no real effort. Of course I know they evolved into what they are or they would not be what they are, but still, it’s a wonderful thing so see something so well suited to its medium of locomotion – flying in this case.

Then I walked down to the dock and discovered the first pied-billed grebe to be seen “in the yard”, so to speak. It was between the dock and the bank, very near the bank. This brings the yard list total to 148 species, not bad for three acres of habitat. On seeing me, the grebe disappeared underwater so quickly it almost seemed he hadn’t been there. But he was, and he surfaced about ten yards upriver and still near the bank. When he came up, only the top of his head and his beak broke the surface, momentarily, and then he dove again. My father used to say that these “hell divers” could dive so fast that you couldn’t kill them with a shotgun – they could dive before the shot reached them. I must admit having tried to do this several times as a boy and they beat the shot every time. They seem so adapted to the water that they actually prefer to escape danger by swimming. I have seen hundreds of these little guys, but I have never seen one fly, although they do of course. This bird kept diving and surfacing until he was a long way up the river.

To cap the day, a string of 31 turkey vultures came out of the north just as the blacks had done this morning. I can only think of their progress across the sky as lazy. Such competence, with a belly full of carrion and a view of the earth from a thousand feet up, buzzards having a good day.

So the ultimate swimmer and the graceful gliders, two adaptations for doing well in different environments, nice contrasts.

The picture is a fish that floated down, dead, and lodged against the raft. It is a shovelnose sturgeon and is fairly common in the river. An endangered species, the pallid sturgeon, is very similar to this fish and also lives in the Atchafalaya. Even biologists sometimes have trouble telling them apart.

The river is at 4.0 feet now as a result of the rain upriver and a small rise from the Mississippi. Still, nothing coming down to give us a good rise.

So, rise and shine. Jim


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