Volume 15 - March 1, 2004
Cypress brake at the edge of a ridge in Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge.

On Top of a Ridge

Rhea and Sue walking on a ridge in the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge.

CC dropped me off on high ground to stretch my legs after a long boat ride to the Lake Decade area in the Terrebonne Parish marsh. I found myself in a magical world. Sitting under stately oaks surrounded by huge palmetto, I stared out into a cypress tree forest with moss hanging down like long, tangled hair. Swamp red maple trees, hackberry, and oaks were on the high ground which led down to the knobby knees and thick patches of a cypress brake. I was on a ridge in the fresh marsh.


Many times things that man makes become confused with naturally occurring things. I loved the passage in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when Tom asked Huck as they lay on a sand bar looking up at the stars, “Do you think this just happened or did somebody make this?”  The marsh we are exploring is quite flat and most areas are made up of grasses and water. Cut grass and maiden cane stand tall waving in the breezes like a hula dancer’s skirt. A small change in elevation to this wetland allows woody trees and non marsh plants a home.


Today there are both man made ridges and natural ridges. When a canal is dredged out for an oil rig location, pipeline or for navigation the dug out material is called spoil when it is piled up on the side. This makes a man made ridge.  A natural ridge occurs when floodwater overflows rivers and bayous.  The heavy sediment builds a natural ridge. CC calls these ridges “animal highways!” We have seen deer, raccoon, and swamp rabbit trails.  The Marmande Ridge is a natural ridge we have hiked and picnicked on. The trees and plant life on top a ridge are as striking as mountains above a prairie.


Unlike natural ridges following natural bayous, man made canals are part of the coastal erosion problem because they are straight. The spoil banks can block the natural water movement and allow a direct flow of salt water where the snake like curves of a natural bayou slows down this intrusion. Mother nature designs it best.

The Wetland Wanderer is parked in an old oil canal off the Intracoastal Waterway west of Houma. Man made ridges surround our water home. On our first approach into this canal, we watched eight deer bound and leap along the ridge of this canal before splashing into the marsh. True to form that ridges help mammals living in a wet world.

The Waving White Tail

A picture shhy white-tail deer doe with white flag showing, fleeing from CC's camera.

Ridges are great for dogs except for the sticker bushes. I love to run on the ridges and high banks and sometimes I even sleep on them. The other day I saw eight deer that looked like they were waving white hankies at us as our boat looked for a place to drop anchor! I realized that I was looking at their “rear ends” too late.  Poof, they were gone! CC told me that these were white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and I can sure see where they got their name. We counted six does and two fawns. The two fawns were actually yearlings. No spots.


As they bounded away we saw splashes of water and the chocolate brown organic marsh mud fly. Our deer, like most that live in swamps, marsh, or hardwood bottomland forest have hooves that spread out more than dry land deer. It is kind of like a snowshoe, a type of adaptation for this wet environment. There are a lot more deer along the bature of the Mississippi river.  I know that, so seeing one out in this mostly wet habitat is a little rarer, but adaptive mammals survive here and the ridges and spoil banks give them some dry ground.


Deer have a great sense of smell so getting a glimpse of one is a high point in a day of exploring! They eat twigs, grasses, fungi, and acorns and are excellent swimmers. Like me! Males, called a buck, grow antlers and get to be much larger than the female, called a doe. People hunt deer for their tasty meat. Deer are abundant and natural predators such as cougars, and wolves are gone or scarce. So I guess hunting them is not awful because overpopulation would occur without it. Just don’t tell any deer that I said that because I absolutely love this marvelous mammal!


From the marsh M.U.T.T…… ANNIE

PS:  I have a pretty little white triangle on my chest similar to a deer’s tail!

- Ridges in a marsh are high banks which host a variety of trees and plants that cannot live in a flooded environment. Mammals utilize the high land.
- Natural ridges and man made spoil banks provide a habitat that many creatures utilize, but some problems come straight canals.
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1. Write a story describing the most exciting creature that you have ever observed in the wild. Where were you? How did your encounter begin? Why do you find this creature interesting? Who noticed who first? Draw a small picture with your journal entry showing your encounter!

View more of CC's photos of White-tailed deer!
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la·gniappe    (ln-yp, lnyp)
2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

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Audubon Elementary asks:
How does the Mississippi River impact Louisiana's coastal marshes?  What impact does it have on the environment of Louisiana?
CC answers:  The Mississippi River built the entire Louisiana coast over thousands of years as it snaked around in 5 major deltas.  Since the Mississippi has been leveed we have lost over 500 square miles.  It is important for two reasons:  The fresh water it brings and the sediment it brings.
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