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, April 06, 2007

Easter 2005

The recent rains we had came to us in the late afternoon and lingered for a while as a slight drizzle, tapering to a full stop a few minutes before sundown. The rain left the sky full of low clouds, and the river with wispy banks of mist rising and twisting from the water.

We have a grandchild living in Houston named Ava Rose. At the time on the title of this posting, Ava was a little over a year old, and visiting with us here at Butte La Rose. One of the things we like to do with very young grandchildren is to take them out in the yard to experience being outside in a natural setting. We talk to them about the environment around us. We know the things we say won’t be remembered in the conventional sense, but we hope that the experience will carry forward anyway. Maybe when the time comes to react to something in nature, they will perceive a friendliness and be open to the opportunity rather than automatically rejecting natural things. Not much to offer in the face of the electronics industry and all its lure, but it’s all we have.

So, on Easter morning 2005, we set off with Ava in my arms and Carolyn talking to her and using the video camera. We began on the dock. I raised a shrimp trap and opened it and held up a bunch of river shrimp for Ava to see. She immediately reached for them and soon was picking them up off of the floor of the dock and putting them back into the water. It was an encouraging thing to see, a child doing that with no apparent fear. We played with the shrimp for a while longer and then closed the trap and reset it in the water. Napoleon watched all of this from a short distance.

Next we moved back along the boardwalk to the bank and the first of the birdhouses we intended to investigate (all 11 that I have in the yard are mounted about five feet off of the ground so are easy to open and look into). I knew that the birdhouses often contain treefrogs. Sure enough, there were two gray treefrogs in the first birdhouse we opened. Ava reached toward them, so I caught one and handed it to her. She clenched it in her fist, and then seemed to get this faraway look in her eyes, as though she was listening to some voice only she could hear. I noticed that the frog was coming under more and more pressure in her fist, so I asked her to give it back to me. She just remained motionless and stared into open space. I raised my voice a little and asked for the frog again, with no response. Finally I got her attention and pointed to the frog and held out my hand, and she gave it to me. I put it unhurt back in the birdhouse. I would really like to know where her mind was for that little while. It certainly wasn’t with us.

Continuing the tour we moved to the next birdhouse. This one was mounted on a chainlink fence. Each of these birdhouses is constructed so that you can open it from the side or the top, or both. We opened the side and looked in and the box was filled with moss. Sure enough, we looked in the top and there were four brown and white speckled eggs in it. These belonged to a chickadee that I had watched build the nest. We looked and then closed the box, and moved on without comment.

We saw a prothonotary warbler fly out of the next box before we got to it, and sure enough there was the beginning of a nest in it. We moved on.

The next box was one I knew had been occupied earlier by a pair of bluebirds. Their nest had failed for some reason and I didn’t expect to find anything of interest here. But when we got close to the box we could see a female bluebird looking at us from the inside, just staring out at us through the entrance hole. She really didn’t want to leave the nest but I was curious to see what progress had been made on this the second try for this pair. Eventually we got too close for comfort and the bird left the box and flew up to some nearby low branches and sat there watching us. The male joined her from somewhere. I opened the top of the box and there were five of the prettiest blue eggs you ever saw. It has always seemed fitting that bright blue birds have bright blue eggs, and makes you wonder why cardinals don’t have bright red eggs, or canaries bright yellow ones. Oh well. Anyway, there were these beautiful eggs, about the size of those small gumdrops. Knowing that the parents wouldn’t mind us doing it, I reached inside and took out one of the eggs for Ava to hold and look at. Carolyn is videoing this whole thing, as I said. I put the egg in Ava’s hand and she looked at it closely, and just then I remembered the squeezed frog. But, no, she didn’t crush it, instead with lightning speed she popped the egg into her mouth. Remember this is Easter Sunday, with all the edible colored eggs so much a part of the season! Suddenly there was this flurry of oohs and aahs and quick motions toward Ava’s mouth. I held out my hand near her chin and out popped the egg, wet but in otherwise good condition. I know it must have startled her to see those big people lunge toward her, but to her credit she didn’t cry or seem to notice it much. It was quite a moment, and to get all this on video was one of those rare incidents that you never get documented, but we did. Trying to tell it in words doesn’t begin to do it justice.

The rest of the walk was bland compared to what we just saw. The adult bluebirds went back to the nest when we were only a hundred feet away, and they raised a full family of young from that clutch of eggs. I have wondered if one of the young birds had a vague feeling of once being thrust briefly into a dark, wet cave and then just as quickly being outside again. And I wonder also, if this eventually finds its way to “America’s Funniest…”, do you have to split the money with the birds?

The river is at 10.7 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising a little to 11.0 by Monday. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling and will not support the water we have now. A recent letter from Governor Blanco to General Creer of the Corps of Engineers requesting an increase in the flow from the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya has been denied, so I’m told. I don’t believe the amount requested would have made much of a difference anyway.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Ross said...

Glad to hear the bluebird eggs made it. Unfortunately, mine did not. It looks as if a bird pecked a hole in each of the five eggs in the nest. This is the second failed bluebird nest in as many years, and I suspect that house sparrows are to blame. I have to figure out what to do about those pesky house sparrows.

April 08, 2007 10:38 PM  
Blogger Jo Ellen said...

Dear Jim,
Maybe this electronic trend will become simply ordinary one day. Seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, and even tasting nature is so important. When you say that this is all you have to give to your grandchildren, it's actually quite a precious gift that you're giving. I think of all the kids that I work with who have missed out on learning about what's beyond their computer screens, televisions, and video games. I know it's the sign of times, but I'm a middle-aged old-fashioned thinker when it comes to the benefits of electronics versus nature in a child's development. I will descend from my soap box now :o).

Thank you for the delightful story. The birdhouse you mentioned, is it one you made from recycled wood . . cypress?? I also enjoyed the boat building story in a previous posting. It is nice to imagine the previous life of something that is now becoming a boat . . if the wood could only tell stories. . Jo Ellen

April 09, 2007 8:21 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Ross: So sorry about the ruined eggs. I suspect sparrows, wrens or other bluebirds. It wouldn't hurt to discourage the sparrows.

Jo Ellen: You do encourage me with your understanding. Yes, the birdhouses are some I made out of the old wood, and yes it would sure be nice to hear the wood tell stories.

Thanks both of you! Jim

April 09, 2007 9:39 PM  
Blogger Jo Ellen said...

And do you sell your 301 year old birdhouses?? Jo Ellen

April 15, 2007 6:58 PM  
Blogger jim said...

No, they are free to anyone who wants one. So far I have made 121 and they have gone to various places in the US. I am especially pleased with one that is hanging outside a bedroom window in Indiana. The lady it went to is recovering from a serious operation and a pair of wrens chose to make a home in the box. She says she watches from her bed as the birds come and go, and it makes her feel better. That's a good thing. Thanks Jo Ellen, Jim

April 15, 2007 10:11 PM  
Blogger Jo Ellen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

April 16, 2007 8:36 AM  

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