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, March 23, 2007


There is an optimism that comes with Springtime. It seems that whatever was dragging you back, pulling you down, slowing you up or otherwise draining the energy from you in the winter is replaced with a new way of looking at things when bright green leaves return to the trees. Even if the things you are looking at haven’t changed much, they just look better in Spring. Words like “fresh”, “green”, “can”, “go” and “start” are easy to use to describe a Springish outlook. And it’s free for the taking, that outlook. It’s free to just pick off of the trees with our eyes, and to inhale from the air, and to absorb from the blue sky. Looking around at the world in Spring is like looking at water in a river flowing by. If you can just look at it you are an observer and that’s mighty fine, but if you can leap into the water and feel it against your skin you are a participant in the jumpstarted activities of Spring. Planting a garden is like jumping in the water, I think.

Like everything else at this time, you can either get into the flow of stuff going on, or not, but right now it’s easier to do than at any other time of year. Why? Because it’s so hot in Summer that things resist doing, and in the Fall we feel better but in a wrapping-up mode not an initializing one, and Winter fits the new phrase of choice for what we used to call hiding – “hunker down”. But Spring, now, Spring feels like a redemption for winter. It can be the reason we feel that going on is very worthwhile, instead of allowing the malaise of winter to have more than its due. We plan in Spring, we plant in Spring, we start new things in Spring. We find old boats to repair, or build new ones to start a new year on the water. What is spring cleaning, except giving ourselves a fresh start? So, for all these reasons and hundreds more, the bright green of Spring enlivens us.

The birds make it hard to not notice a change in the dynamics of the world in Spring. All those that have been here all year suddenly start singing in prominent places, and loudly. Those that belong up north but have vacationed here for the winter are ready to go back and sing for the people there, and those that have survived the dangers of the thousand-mile trip to the south are now returning in unbelievable numbers, singing all the time. With only a little knowledge about birdsong, it is easy to identify the different species around us. Last week I went outside in the early daylight and heard a common yellowthroat singing “witchity witchity witchity” ( picture courtesy of USGS). I had not heard that song since some time last year, but here it was, loud, like the knock on a wooden door announcing a welcome visitor you haven’t seen for a while. That day I drove down the levee to Myette Pt, about 40 miles away. I stopped four times on that trip and every time I stopped and got out of the truck, there was the common yellowthroat along the edge of the swamp letting the world know that it was alive and with us for another Spring. How can that not be an event of significance? It surely is, I think.

And not just the yellowthroat. The ruby-throated hummingbirds came back last week, looking for the nectar feeders that they always find here. Not many yet, and seemingly all males, but all dressed in the freshest feathers for the females that will come soon. Swamp canaries (aka prothonotary warblers) came from South America day before yesterday, singing “sweet sweet sweet”, an unmistakable voice if we listen in places near to water. Added to that this morning there are Northern parulas (a warbler of the treetops, “zzzzzZZZZZIT”), yellow-throated vireos (“here I am, where are you?”), both either staying here for the Spring family exercises or going on to more northern territories to do the same.

It’s like there is so much to do in Spring that every minute of the day and night is spent by something singing, and each of those somethings is interesting in itself. Frogs use the night to voice a Spring welcome. Some species have already finished egg-laying in the ditches and larger puddles, but the ones that like warmer temps to practice that ritual are now calling from the borrow pit in front of our house. Gray treefrogs, Gulf coast toads, cricket frogs, and soon others, are simple to identify with a minimum of practice and study.

As the phase of Spring reminds me that joy in life is a factor to be appreciated, an event signifying another phase of the cycle often comes unwanted and suddenly. Great loss is always close by, as if to remind us that it is the whole cycle that we must pay attention to, not just one piece of it, or not just what we find pleasant and happy. Last week a friend, a fellow fisherman, was lost from his boat and has not been found. Regrettably, I believe this accident is probably a reminder of the potential for great loss. It is important to acknowledge that even this is a part of the cycle we all belong to. It is accepted, though not sought.

The river is at 9.2 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge today, rising to 9.7 feet by next Wednesday, and it will go a good bit higher after that. The Ohio and Mississippi are both rising strongly all the way up their watersheds. Looking like a longer crawfish season than might have been.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Jo Ellen said...

What a delightful posting, Jim. The promise and freshness of springtime is indeed a wonderful thing. Down there, you have such a nice variety of birds, wildlife, trees, flowers, etc to enjoy. The birds are chirping loudly here in Nebraska too right now . . . no flowers yet, but soon.

On a more solemn note, I am sorry about your friend . . I hope they can find him soon. Jo Ellen

March 23, 2007 12:45 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Thanks for the kind words, jo ellen. If i could box up a bunch of Spring, I'd be glad to send it to you. I'm sure Nebraska has a fine Spring season too.

And, yes,I hope they find him soon too.


March 23, 2007 2:20 PM  
Blogger M. Kircus said...

I remember being on a south Lousiana swamp trail and never being out of the sweet-sweet-sweet call of the prothonotary warbler. And flashes of yellow were everywhere. Apparently a large flock had just made landfall and hadn't dispersed yet.

Another wonderful memory is finding a prothonotary nest with 4 babies with large, red-lined mouths in the broken limb of a tree, only 2 feet above the water in a slough between the Angelina and Neches Rivers in east Texas.

March 28, 2007 11:07 AM  
Blogger jim said...

They are terrific birds. And finding a nest of them almost at water level is a thrill that stays with you. You are a lucky lady. I too found a nest of them on one of my crawfish runs many years ago. To the world at large they were beneath a rotten snag that had a hollow branch sticking out of it, and were invisible from above. From my location in a low boat looking out about two feet off of the water, there they were in full view. Thanks for the comment. Jim

March 31, 2007 12:33 PM  
Blogger JMR said...

Hey Jim,
This is "Dragon James." I'm so happy that I finally joined up and get to contribute to your blog...I have yet to establish my own. Great posts on the crawfish and coming of Spring. I'm so jealous of that pic of the Common Yellowthroat (one of my fav birds)! I'm going to try and get your email from James Beck...I have a potential project in mind. I hope everything is going well for you...talk to you soon!

April 06, 2007 1:11 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Hey Dragon James! Glad you liked the postings, and congratulations on figuring out how to make comments - not everyone can. Let me know about the new project. My email address is on my full profile on the blog. Take care, Jim

April 06, 2007 4:09 PM  

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