Volume 14 - December 23, 2004
CC Lockwood in the fresh water marshes of Terrebonne Parish.

Mardi Gras in the Fresh Marsh

In the spring, healthy freshwater marshes are lush and green, just liek this spring image of the Terrebonne Parish marsh CC photographed several years ago.

It’s Carnival Time, and south Louisiana has parades galore! Every town we pass has “bead litter” on the ground! Moving from a salt marsh habitat to the fresh marsh of Terrebonne Parish was a quick trip. The waterway of Bayou Lafourche led the Wanderer into the Intracoastal Waterway and ultimately to the city of Houma, where we got fresh supplies before heading out again.


The area of fresh-water marsh of Terrebonne Parish is one of the largest in the United States, and we need to keep salt water out of it! Of the four types of marsh: salt, brackish, intermediate, and fresh, the fresh marsh offers the greatest diversity of plant life. The winter marsh looks barren at first glance, but we are found it overflowing with animal and plant life. CC captured this reality while traveling in the marsh, and he wrote about it in his book, THE GULF COAST, with the following two paragraphs.


“Marshes are mucky/icky and yucky.” This little rhyme a friend jokingly told me is partially true. In a physical sense, coastal wetlands are an environment hostile to mankind. No one knows it better than those who work there. An old Cajun fisherman mused, “If I had the tough hide of a ’gator, the webbed feet of a duck, and them big wings of the blue heron, I’d get around this marsh just fine.”


My dreams are similar. If I could soar, I’d be a golden eagle; as a mammal, I’d choose to be a river otter. I decided this a long time ago because both creatures are so efficient that they have time for recreation. In one of their bodies I could travel the marsh effortlessly. But I am stuck with my human body, its plantar feet with unwebbed toes that quickly sink into the muck, hair-poor skin too soft for the sharp grasses and the prickling beaks of swarming mosquitoes, and a hand with an extraordinary opposable thumb that’s too slow to catch fish or other live food.”


These two paragraphs make sense to me now as we pull on hip boots, put on three layers of clothes, hats, and gloves, pack binoculars, sunglasses, and fishing poles, and work to get our boat ready! We have a canoe for quiet shallow waters, a dinghy for fast travel, and a houseboat to live and eat on. The list of what equipment humans need in order to spend time comfortably in the wetlands is quite long. Animals with all their unique adaptations really have it made!


Recent sightings of eagles soaring overhead and two playful otters make me envious of nature’s creatures as we scurry back to our boat to get a rain suit, hat, and gloves!


It is still too chilly for ‘gator activity, but a group of deer running over a high marsh ridge, the thousands of birds calling, the otters frolicking, and fish jumping, as well as the majestic sunrises and sunsets, are each day exciting “parades” to us . 

Otterly Amazing!

River Otter eating a catfish in the marsh.

Though I missed the “Barkus” Parade this year, I have made some terrific new friends! We are anchored in a canal in the Terrebonne marsh, and I have been hanging out on the ridges of high ground that occur in the wetlands. Sue said she will talk about these ridges next week as they are very important to birds and mammals (like me because I am usually too muddy from the soggy wetlands to get on the boat! Boy do I need a bath!)  


CC, Sue, and I went canoeing yesterday. CC was photographing the swamp red maple trees with their deep red symara, Sue was watching for the two immature bald eagles we have been seeing, and I was along to soak up the sun’s rays! We have seen lots of those “naughty nutria” I reported about in volume 7, but on this trip I saw a creature swimming that looked more like my cousin Allie, a Labrador retriever.


It was a Nearctic River Otter (Lutra canadensis.)  This playful creature has rich brown, oily fur, webbed feet, and a fat tail! Its nostrils and ears can be closed when underwater. Otters love to eat fish, frogs, crawfish, snakes, and turtles. Never far from water, these mammals take particular delight in sliding down mud banks into water. Groups of them play by sliding headfirst down a muddy chute and racing each other to the top again. 


 Otters live in a den dug into the banks of a canal or stream with the entrance below the water’s surface, but having a dry room inside above the water level. Great architects, super swimmers, fun loving, and smart, these distinctive mammals are “wonders in the wetlands.” An afternoon of otter watching is even better than digging for bones!


P.S.  Many zoos have otter habitats with slides for play. CC just spoke to Phil Frost at the Baton Rouge Zoo, where they just opened the new otter habitat. Check for their website on our weekly link following my story.


Signing off …………Happy Mardi Gras from the M.U.T.T. of the Marsh!


- Animals have specific adaptations that enable them to live successfully in a particular environment.
- The fresh marshes of south Louisiana support a wide variety of plant and animal life even in the winter.
Find the meanings of cool words like tributary, sediment, or amphibian and many more...
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1. Pretend you are an eagle or a river otter. Write a journal entry describing a day in your life. What do you eat? Where do you sleep, play, and hunt? What does your HABITAT include?

Try this link for more Otter Info. It has otter games like Otterpong!, fun facts, otter sounds, otter movies and much, much more!
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la·gniappe    (ln-yp, lnyp)
2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

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