Monday, November 24, 2008

Meet the Anhinga

There are swamp tours and there are swamp tours. Some will make a production of feeding "Big Earl," the resident alligator, who has come to rely on the daily 2:30 feeding for the entertainment of the tour crowd. Then there are tours that aim to educate visitors by slowly moving through the swamp so that one becomes part of the life of the swamp.

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, we were fortunate to find "Butch" Guchereau, who is one of the guides who is knowledgable and focused on teaching visitors about the wonders of the Cypress Island/Lake Martin Swamp near Breaux Bridge, LA.

While we were familiar with some of the birds that inhabit the swamp (spoonbills, white ibis, great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, cormorants, herons, wood ducks, and barred owls among others), it was the anhingas that we saw for the first time. This fellow (above), framed by the tree branch, seemed to be aware of his starring role in the tour.

Anhingas are the birds closest to prehistoric birds. Their bones are solid, not hollow.

They prefer to roost in the highest points in trees in swamps.

The anhinga is also known as the snakebird. When it swims, its body is submerged under the water. It stretches its head and neck flat out on the surface of the water, making it look like a snake gliding through the water. The anhinga spears his prey with his pointed beak like an arrow. Sometimes its thrust is so powerful that it has to swim to shore and pry the fish off his beak by rubbing it against a rock.

The anhinga is a water bird, but it does not have oil glands for waterproofing its feathers like most water birds. When it goes swimming its feathers get wet. This helps it dive and chase fish underwater. However when it is above water, it must spread its wings (above) to dry in the sun. It can fly with wet feathers but not as well.

This ibis kept inching away from the path of our boat as it coasted silently past this stump.

At several points in the swamp, several egrets watched the approach of our boat.

Wading slowly through the water, they are extremely successful at striking and catching fish or insects. Studies found that, standing still, great egrets were able to ingest more prey of intermediate size than if they moved around. This suggests that their goal is not to catch the largest quantity of food, but to catch high quality food.

We were only able to photograph a couple of egrets as we approached them. However, observing these magnificent birds in flight was worth missing a photo.

Seeing the great blue heron in this pose in this setting confirmed that this bird was aptly named.

I can imagine the swamp early in the morning with the sun trying to break through a fog.

We will have to return.

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