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.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Swallows Plus

The wind blew hard today from the southeast, and yesterday and the day before that. I wanted to bait the line today and couldn’t because of the wind. Friends are coming from Dallas tomorrow and their seven-year-old wanted to see how the trotline works. It won’t be as effective but I may bait it early in the morning if the wind dies enough tonight.

Good things happened today. There was a big flock of swallows over the river this morning – both barn swallows and tree swallows. The picture (click on it) barely captures a little of the swirling feather swarm as it does seemingly impossible things in the air. How many “G”s do those turns create? A flock of swallows is very good for the spirit. Many years ago (when I was fishing for a living in Grand Lake) one very late afternoon I was coming back up the lake after running lines all day. As I came up the lake with the setting sun in front of me, there was a lone dead cypress tree way out in the water – far from the bank. As the tree came between me and the sun, tree swallows began to descend onto the bare branches of this twenty foot tall tree. They very quickly filled every space on every limb on the tree so that, with the setting sun behind it, it looked in silhouette like a live tree with thick branches and leaves all over it. There must have been five thousand swallows, at least. Suddenly they all soared up at once, like smoke almost. The image has stayed sharp all these years. Odd how some small things seem to be able to create a memory that outlasts other, more momentous events.

AND, the prothonotary warblers showed up this morning in the yard. Carolyn and Elena (a birder at 11 months) saw the first one. I often hear them before seeing their bright yellow colors in the trees, and it was so this morning: sweet – sweet – sweet – sweet –sweet, an easy song to remember. The one I saw was hunting among the new boxwood leaves and it was finding caterpillars of some kind. It would catch one and beat it into submission on a branch before swallowing it. These guys will soon be competing with chickadees and bluebirds for housing in my nest boxes. The non-stop flight of these migrants from Yucatan and points south was no doubt aided by the strong southeast winds we have been having for several days. A cold front with north winds can dump many of these birds into the Gulf of Mexico, the effort to overcome the headwind being just too much after so long a flight. But it looks like most of them will make it this year. People wonder sometimes how birds get their peculiar-sounding names. This species is no exception. I find in The Birds of North America the following rationale: “The only member of the genus Protonotaria, the species was named for its plumage, which resembles the bright yellow robes of papal clerks (prothonotaries) in the Roman Catholic church.” How about that for looking in obtuse corners for a name for something?

The sweet magnolias are blooming. You know, that plant (or maybe sweet olive too) that no southern yard is complete without? As kids, we used to put one flower in each nostril and walk around like that all day because they smelled so good. I still put them in my shirt pocket for the perfume they have. The ones in the picture are somewhat the worse for wear because they suffered just such a fate – my shirt pocket all day. I like the contrast with last year’s wasp nest, it gives kind of a good thing/bad thing first impression, except that wasps aren’t really bad things.

The river is at 4.2 at the Butte La Rose gauge, rising to 4.7 by Friday. The Mississippi and Ohio are both still rising a good bit. The rise on the Mississippi has reached Memphis, and we will get a bump in the level from that in a week. The weather in Ohio is wet, so more water may be coming soon.

Rise and Shine, Jim


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