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.

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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.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Shad and Swallows

Took an hour down at the river around lunch to see if anything was biting. I like to put one line out with two hooks on it and a weight below them and let it sit on the bottom. Also it’s fun to use an ancient flyrod (it’s made of fiberglass, for god’s sake) that I have. I put a hook at the end of the leader with a split shot a few inches above the hook, and a whole live shrimp on the hook. The line just kind of drifts in the current and eventually finds its way to the bottom. I have gotten some good barfish that way, and they do fight on that flyrod. Today I caught two channel cats (about two pounds each), two gous (medium), one nice three pound goujon and one eel. The goujon will be just right for a meal for Carolyn and me. One of the cats was on the flyrod. Napoleon watches the line to see what will come up on it, he really does.

Migrant arrivals are all over the yard right now. All day you can hear flycatchers, warblers, vireos and gnatcatchers – in addition to the usual flock of residents. At least four of the nestboxes have material in them. Not sure what is nesting, but I suspect prothonotaries, chickadees and bluebirds. Maybe a Carolina wren too, but they don’t like boxes as much as shelves and hanging potted plants.

I saw a barn swallow do something wonderful today. This bird was flying down the river heading straight for me at eye level. When it got about 30 feet away it must have seen some edible insect above it and very close by. It did a perfect Tom Cruise maneuver from Top Gun. It lowered both fully flared wings, spread it’s tail completely out, and went from wide open straight forward to almost straight up, just like Tom Cruise did to get the MIG. I’ll bet the swallow caught the bug, too, but I didn’t see it. I know the whole event didn’t take more than a half second! A nice memory to think about tonight.

Speaking of swallows, last week when I was at the Old River Control Structure (actually the hydroelectric plant next to it), I stepped outside behind the visitor center to see some swallows that were really flying all over. As it turns out they were nesting under the eves of the back porch. And they were cliff swallows, or at least I think they were. It was one of those situations when you see a bird and are sure you recognize it only to get back home and realize you should have looked harder because it could have been something else – cave swallows. However, the nests were complete globular mud structures, and that’s what cliff swallows are supposed to do, as opposed to cup-shaped nests for cave swallows. So, I guess it’s safe to call them cliff swallows, and it turns out this is a good place to see them. They nest by the hundreds around the control structures.

While at the hydroelectric plant you can look down and see people netting shad in the tailrace below the “dam” as you drive over it. It is amazing to see a guy with a long-handled net just dip his net into this swirling, boiling water and come up with at least several pounds of shad – on every dip! Two boats a little further away are carrying at least 500 pounds of shad in them already, and one of the guys is leaning back smoking, watching the others still working. What gets you is realizing how much shad there must be in that water, to just be able to dip down and fill a boat with them! I believe all this shad is sold for crawfish and crab bait. The fishermen don't get much for them.

The river is at 5.2 on the Butte La Rose gauge, going to 6.1 by Monday. The Ohio and Mississippi don’t have much to keep things going but they are still rising moderately. Just give me enough to float my raft, just that much, that’s all I ask.

Rise and Shine, Jim


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