Southeast Louisiana Winters

I’m from Massachusetts, so I’m familiar with the long, wet, cold winters. The driving during this time of year used to be horrific. We lived on a hill and not a winter would pass where we were out on the street during a snowstorm trying to help push cars up the hill in the stormy and icy conditions.

Driving in icy conditions looks like this:

Southeast Louisiana winters are gentle, but they are not without their hazards. I spent 30 years driving to and from work in New Orleans East in near zero visibility due to the fog. This time of year is the worst for the fog.

Since I retired in October I haven’t even ventured out of bed before 7. But Saturday I got up early and noticed how thick the fog was around our house. So I grabbed the camera and went outside to play.


My dog thought he was hiding.

Taken in Slidell, La on January 26, 2013

Taken in Slidell, La on January 26, 2013




Pelicans and such

Southeast Louisiana’s winter weather is so fickle. One day it’s cold, damp and gray and the next is sunny with blue skies and mild temperatures. During Christmas break from work hubby and I decided to go looking for pelicans in their winter habitats around Slidell during a warm, sunny day. We didn’t have to go far to find our first group. There are about 5-10 pelicans staying about a mile from our home in Bayou Liberty.

These majestic birds gave us all the time in the world to photograph them, much to our delight. Here are a few shots.

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Cat Island…the heartbreak continutes

I have been lucky in friending Plaquemines Parish P.J. Hahn, Director of Coastal Zone Management on facebook and following his photography. I did so during the oilspill of 2010, knowing he would provide local, honest first-person reporting of an incident that was censored by BP, the Coast Guard and our government.

I can’t watch the repeats of the footage from the BP Oilspill. The carnage just makes me ill in the same way the the replay of the explosion of Challenger in 1986. But I will never forget those dark periods in our history.

I remember that I had jury duty during one of the first weeks of the spill and I absent-mindedly chose the book Bayou Farewell, published in 2004 and authored by Mike Tidwell . This book basically predicted a Katrina experience. Of course a lot of books and articles were floating around during the early 21st century regarding the perfect storm that would be called Katrina. In the book Tidwell visited and worked with the heart and soul of southern Louisiana: the fisherpeople. The one thing that was repeated over and over by these hard working folks was the loss of our coastal wetlands and the speed in which it is happening.

The BP poisoning of the Gulf Coast is still having its effects from Louisiana to Florida, 20 months later. Just this week P.J. Hahn took a boat ride out to Cat Island in Barataria Bay to assess its health. It turned out to be extremely disappointing, as evidenced by P.J.’s pictures below:

photo by PJ Hahn

photo by PJ Hahn
The wildlife on the way to Cat Island looks healthy.

photo by PJ Hahn
in Barataria Bay outside of Bay Jimmy

photo by PJ Hahn
Something about seeing pelicans in flight makes me smile.

However, once they reached the island itself I’m sure their hearts dropped. Check out these pictures:

photo by PJ Hahn

photo by PJ Hahn

The pelicans and other birds depend on mangroves to lay their eggs.

photo by PJ Hahn

Not a lot of eggs can be laid here.
photo by PJ Hahn

photo by PJ Hahn

photo taken by PJ Hahn

According to PJ ‘they were mangrove trees that are critical for the pelicans to nest. The oil spill hit this island particularly hard and I’ve been trying to document the loss so we can try and rebuild the island. Before the oil spill, this island supported hundreds of thousands of various birds. This spring it will probably not be able to support a couple hundred nesting birds.”

photo by PJ Hahn
These photos were all taken on December 22, 2011.

photo by PJ Hahn

photo by PJ Hahn

Again, quoting PJ “. It’s been so tough, on so many fronts. Going out and seeing the effects on the fish and wildlife……listening to fears from the locals and their concern for their future, it’s been a stressful several years!”

When I asked whether BP was setting aside money for the island’s restoration here is the answer:
“BP is trying to get out of all of this. They are sponsoring commercials that basically is trying to scam the public into thinking the Gulf is now fixed and that there is nothing wrong with the seafood……….and unfortunately, it seems to be working.”

Escape from Reality…….

pelicanI am a shoreline person. My blood pressure drops when I hear the sound of the surf. I adore walking barefoot in the sand. I live within a mile of a bayou, I cross Lake Pontchartrain 2 times a day 5 days a week. I have a thing for pelicans. My wonderful husband is the same way. So we decided to renew a short tradition that began in 2003: spending Thanksgiving Week on Dauphin Island. This tradition lasted only two years due to Katrina, and it was wonderful to get back there after 7 years.

I am happy to report that Dauphin Island is back better than ever. She has a new West End Beach which is perfect for beach combing, walking your dog sans leash (if you are a responsible owner and your dog is not aggresive), bird watching, photography and just plain relaxing.

We took thousands of pictures during our stay there. We would arise before the sun and walk the block to the beach and then come home for lunch and rest and return to the beach about 4:30 for sunset. I loved the daily schedule.
We came home sunburned, happy and with a cooler full of beautiful seashells.

I grabbed a few pictures that somewhat show just a fraction of the beauty and peace that we observed in our 7 days in idyllic Dauphin Island, Alabama

Our dog Deuce in dog heaven….look at all of those sticks!!

He chooses a stick that favors his breed an size and runs with it….

Deuce and his favorite human jumping for the stick

It’s hard to believe that the first day we were there Deuce wasn’t comfortable with the surf….he adapted quickly

One of my favorite part of the day was sunrise. The pelicans would start to fly low across the surf looking for breakfast. They are magnificent birds.

When we looked out of our screened in back porch we faced a lagoon. During our week there we discovered that this lagoon was home to a beautiful blue heron.

Because I love the shoreline, I am so happy to find the shells that the tide brings in. This pic shows my favorite of the shells, the ones I like to call ‘ridged’ shells.

This shot shows the broken shells we were attracted to. That holey one on the bottom sits on my desk at work. It’s my favorite.

Hubby caught this picture of a pelican doing the dive for food. Isn’t it awesome? We sat for at least 30 minutes watching the pelicans eat lunch during this particular day.

I apologize that I didn’t rotate this picture and can’t figure out how to do it in wordpress.
Hubby spent 30 minutes slowly approaching this magnificent heron in the surf.

tiny shorebird

We caught every sunset while we were there. One night we caught this awesome sight.

I became obsessed with these fences, especially at sunset because the light changed everything.

you can set your clock by the time that the pelicans go home for the night. It was a magnificent show every evening about 5:10 PM to see flocks of the birds heading home.

This is an evening shot of the lagoon that faced our porch. It was a wonderful sight which – if you paid attention – would attract a variety of birds. I tried on several occasions to catch a kingfisher but he was too fast for me.

Another shot of the pelicans going home.

I like this sunset shot

This is a morning shot of a pelican flying across the surf

A wonderful sunset shot when the waves were active

Our first night there I caught this shot of a blue heron walking along the beach, oblivious to the people fishing. It gave me a good gut feeling to how the rest of the week would go. And it did. if only I could live there. ;/

Here is a close up shot of the blue heron who lived in the lagoon across from our camp. He became noisy if we got to close

I can’t tell you how emotional I get when I see shrimp boats in action. Weird, i know. I find them so beautiful. Another reason I enjoy Dauphin Island…..great shrimp boat shots.

My favorite shot of Deuce for the whole week. He is magestic in this picture, despite the fact that we know what a big doofus crazy goofy puppy that he really is.

Butterflies and Bayous

We were pleasantly surprised today when we finally decided on what to do on Saturday…

we went to Camp Salmen Nature Park to see what updates have been done since our last visit in February. Originally a Boy Scout camp from the 40’s to the 70’s, Camp Salmen has an interesting history in the Bayou Liberty area.

(click on pictures for larger versions)

When we visited in February we were unaware that the Park would be undergoing a metamorphosis of huge proportions. We truely enjoyed one of the first upgrades of the Park: the butterfly garden. The entire park will be changing under the direction of Edward Blake, director of The Crosby Arboretum in Picayune, Mississippi. If you like interpretive journeys trail system to observe a park’s biological diversity you’ll like both Camp Salmen and Crosby Arboretum. But I digress.

The butteryfly garden at the Park contains all native wildflowers. The blanket of purples, golds and reds attract scores of butterflies. During our visit we enjoyed the sights of butterflies and bees enjoying a cool, sunny Saturday morning. Check it out:

There were several butterflies with these markings.

Can you see the tiny butterfly in this picture?

There are boardwalks that bring you closer to the Bayou and trails that roam throughout the deep woods. It’s difficult to take a bad picture there.

I must say that early autumn in Southeast Louisiana – while not as beautiful as the northern states – is one of the prettiest around.

After leaving the park we headed for the Slidell Trailhead of the Tammany Trace and hubby caught two butterflies attempting to mate.

According to him, the female butterfly must’ve had a headache, because she didn’t want anything to do with him.
Guess humans aren’t the only ones who have problems “connecting”. Good to know.

Have a good week, y’all.

“The Big Fix” Premieres Friday Hosted by The New Orleans Film Festival

The Big Fix premieres this Friday as part of the New Orleans Film Festival. This documentary film details the massive government cover-up which has taken place in the wake of the BP oil spill.  There will be a press conference at 2 pm at the Contemporary Arts Center before the film is shown. The entire schedule for the festival can be found on their website.

A Wet Labor Day Weekend

September is the high point on the tropical activity calendar. We who live on the Gulf Coast accept the fact that our Labor Day weekends might possibly be hampered by tropical activity. And this year we have Tropical Storm Lee.

What follows are my pix taken on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain (approximately 30 miles away from the French Quarter). The pictures are not as sensational as the Weather Channel would have you believe about Lee’s intensity. Lee is more of a slow moving storm than a powerful one. As I type this (Sunday at 8 AM) it’s still pouring outside.

This was taken from Lakeview Drive, better known as Rats Nest Road in Slidell. The old piers destroyed by Katrina are in the foreground and the new Twin Spans can be seen in the background.

This train was moving slowly across the submerged marshland heading towards Lake Pontchartrain.

Six years Post Katrina, St. Genevieve Catholic Church in the Bayou Liberty area of Slidell (my neighborhood) is finally rebuilding.

I like this shot of the crosses of the chapel and church.

Bayou Liberty boat berths. Those poles in the foreground represent sunken boat slips.

Swings and benches submerged in Lee’s flood waters.

This is what this area normally looks like.

Hubby pointed out the beauty of the Spanish Moss and the waters of Bayou Liberty.

This crazy truck driver drove through the flood waters to drop off a friend.

The “new” Bayou Liberty Bridge taken from the Church side of the Bayou.

A view of the piers on the St. Genevieve grounds.

A bright spot in all of this wet windy weather is that our 6 month old lab discovered how much he LOVES water!

You CAN “do” outside in August in Louisiana!

For the first time in over a month hubby and I had a Saturday where we could do some hiking and picture taking. It was a wonderful release.

A place that’s been on our”gotta visit” list is the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Lacombe, just 15 minutes from our house.

Upon entering the site, you’re drawn to the landscaping. The attention to detail is apparent and it reaches back over 200 years.

This site is rich in history and beauty. The August heat appeared to be too much to handle, but it really wasn’t at this site because of the abundance of trees. We arrived at 10 AM and were done by noon.

Here is a brief rundown of the history of this paradise in Lacombe, taken from one of the info boards:

Likely a portion of French or Spanish Land Grant during the Colonial Era, the earliest known owner was Louis Reggio prior to 1820. The property changed hands a number of times later that century, with the Cousin and Ducre names common today in the Lacombe area among the owners during this period into the 20th century.

The land was acquired in 1935 by Judge Wayne Borah (the youngest Federal Judge in the country at the time), who built a residence.

This structure is a Chimney Swift Tower

He and his family did extensive landscaping, laying out the foundation which is known today as the “Bayou Gardens” of Lacombe.

In 1946 the home and gardens were acquired by former (crooked) Louisiana Governor Richard Leche, who settled into the lush surroundings with his family and continued the cultivation of the Bayou Gardens.

In 1956 the land was acquired by the Redemptorist religious order and in 1960 the Holy Redeemer Seminary opened. The seminary closed in 1980, but members of the order continued to live at the site, holding religious retreats. And apparently, a cemetery was established for the priests that stayed until the end of their lives.

The rear of the residence gives way to a great lawn that faces Bayou Lacombe

This site is loaded with walking trails, as shown in the map below

There are walking trails off to each side of the great lawn that are easy to maneuver and full of small surprises if you look for them

A trail that begins at the parking lot of the Refuge leads down to a grotto

which leads to a rudimentary brick staircase:

Made with local bricks

This same trail will also bring you to a lovely little area to sit and ponder the beauty of Bayou Lacombe

If you walk it a little while longer, it brings you to another pensive sight overlooking a pond.

The visitor center is huge and loaded with information and displays.

This little girl was killed by a car in Bayou Teche and her remains were saved and brought to the headquarters

The Headquarters represents the eight of Southeast Louisiana (SELA) Refuges:

Atchafalaya (prounounced A-Cha-FaH-lie-ya)

Bayou Sauvage (through which I traverse on my daily commute)

Bayou Teche (prounounced Tesh)

Big Branch Marsh (in our backyard)

Bogue Chitto (prounounced Boog gah Chitta)

Breton – close to my heart because it’s a bird refuge

Delta National Wildlife Refuge

Mandalay – only accessible by boat, near Houma, Louisiana.

A visit to the Bayou Lacombe Center is a win-win situation any time of the year. Besides all of the hiking trails, the kids would love the Visitors Center for the displays (lots of interactive stuff there too). The best part is that admission is FREE!! You can get to the Bayou Lacombe Center by taking exit 74 on I-12. Staffed by volunteers, the visitor center is open Thursdays-Saturdays from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Volunteers are needed to help run the visitor center. Please contact the volunteer coordinator at 985-882-2024.

Natural and Political History

Less than a mile down the road from Fountainbleu State Park toward Mandeville is the Northlake Nature Center , a four-hundred acre park that is absolutely beautiful.

(click on the pictures below to see the full sized version)

This park offers the opportunity to witness four different ecosystems AND a first hand look at an historic example of crooked Louisiana politicians. A recent archaeological survey revealed the Center site as home to ancient peoples more than 500 years ago.

At the end of the initial boardwalk, you will come to an unfinished “hideaway” club house

As stated in the photo below, this exclusive hideaway golf course initially was the idea of Louisiana Governor Leche in the late 1930’s for his political cronies. This governor has the unique distinction of being the first Louisiana governor sentenced to prison.

Leche and several of his political pasls were indicted in what were termed the “Louisiana Scandals”

The hideaway was destroyed by fire in March 2010 and is not accessible. However, hubby and I took a trip into the park before the fire and got some of the following shots.

Beyond this piece of history is lush, serene swampland and forest.

There are several trails to choose from, all of them pretty primitive, so be prepared to watch where you step!

The boardwalk crosses what is purported to be an active beaver pond

But on this day we only spotted friendly turtles

Lots of turtles!

There are several benches along the boardwalks and paths through the woods.

This area seems to be where they hold nature seminars and is probably used for the annual Great Louisiana Birdfest that happens here.

We spotted this cypress at the edge of the pond.

Notice how the lower branches are bent down as a result of Katrina’s winds.

There are several overlooks constructed throughout the park where you can take in all that this little environmental gem has to offer.

These pictures were taken in February of this year, thus the reason that everything looks muted. If August weren’t so darned steamy, I’d love to be out there right now with my camera.

This photo whispers about the circle of life to me. You can see the victims of Katrina being used to nourish the new growth.

Amidst all that gray stood this proud little tree, all decked out in new green leaves.

Throughout the park are bridges which cross Bayou Castine

I’m not an avid hiker, but I managed to walk around the park for several hours and didn’t feel the least bit tired (with the exception of my bursitis, but that’s a sign of my age 🙂 ).

If you ever want to get away from it all and just listen to the sounds of the woods and waterways, make your way to the Nothlake Nature Center to unwind.

While you were sleeping

I have always been fascinated with sunrise. In my 20’s I would party till after the sun rose and be blinded by the light upon leaving the bar. I can remember watching sunrise from Grand Isle State Park and Cocoa Beach Florida. My daily commute puts me in line with pre-sunrise skies every morning, wishing I had my camera with me.

It’s amazing what goes on in the 30 or more minutes between predawn and sunrise.

Recently – well actually Memorial Day – we decided to climb out of our oh-so-comfortable cocoons at 5AM to travel the ten minutes to Goose Point in Lacombe, Louisiana.

For the locals it’s known as Lake Road, an extremely narrow piece of land that joins the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain with the lake.

Lake Road taken from the end

Lake Road is not paved and is just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. I believe it is part of the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge. On any given day you can find dozens of people parked along the road crabbing or fishing. In fact when we passed at a little after 5:30 in the morning there were several people already out there going after the early morning catch.

In the few minutes before the sun actually shows itself on the horizon the red wing blackbirds are out playing. This is one of my favorite “common” birds because of its call. There is something about the sound of a red wing blackbird that lets you know you’re far away from the sounds and activity of a normal day at work or in the city. They’re playful little things, too. I had fun trying to photograph them.

What I never knew until this day was how much energy it takes for this little bird to sing my favorite sound. Check out this guy.

Finally the event that we were waiting for began

The sun rises quickly and so many things are happening during this time. It’s difficult to decide what to shoot!

Still singing his little heart out!

I imagine there was once a camp or a pier here

These little plants caught the rays from the sun so well they appeared to be glowing.

I didn’t realize until after I looked at this picture that the plants have little purple flowers on them.

I love the texture of the marsh grass in this picture.

A marsh rose and wild morning glory

Crab boat going out on the lake to lay those crab traps to catch the best tasting crabs around!

This little guy scampered back into the bushes when we stopped to get his picture.

It was a wonderful experience and worth getting up early for. By the time we were finished it was already 7 AM and we headed out for breakfast and then more picture taking. A time well spent!