Volume 16 - March 3, 2004
CC with four hatchling alligators he caught near their mothers den hole. After observing the cute little babies he gently let them loose.

Spring's Explosion

Golden Ragwort, Senecio aureus, are some of the first flowers to pop up during spring in the wetlands.

Spring is in the air, and gators are out of their lairs! A bit of warmth causes a re-action out here! From what had been gray winter trees, lime green buds are emerging. The scarlet seeds on the red maple trees are a gorgeous contrast with those buds. Yellow topped wild flowers are carpeting the ridges, while tall green iris shoots and pennywort are growing thickly in shallow water beneath the cypress trees. Reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, mammals, and plants are either sprouting, courting, nesting, sunning, eating, or singing. It is a magical time in the marsh, quite noisy too with the bullfrogs bellowing and barred owls hooting.


We are moving the big houseboat every few days and spending hours exploring and photographing the early wetland spring. Parking the WETLAND WANDERER by anchoring the bow and then floating is my favorite way to secure the boat, but recently CC thought he should tie the boat's stern to a tree on a ridge because the wind was high. I was getting lunch when I heard him urgently call for me to bring the camera quickly. As I stood on the stern of the houseboat, I snapped his picture holding four baby alligators. The gator hole he came upon was in a muddy ridge bank. CC excitedly said that he had seen about 10 hatchlings and a year old sibling sunning around the hole. Kneeling down to release the babies CC was stunned when momma popped her head out. Boy, can CC move fast when he has to!


Our next parking place was a quiet canal with high ridges and deep water in the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge a few miles south of Houma. We nosed the big boat on to the shore. This way we could hike around. We jumped off the boat to tie her to some trees, and I immediately saw who else liked to wrap around tree limbs, SNAKES! Meanwhile, all the cold-blooded reptiles are out soaking up the warm suns rays and preparing to enjoy the spring.


Hiking on the dry land near our boat we also noticed hundreds of little frogs and numerous turtles rooting around. Speaking of rooting, did you know there are wild pigs around? We saw a mud hole dug into the ground that CC said was a hog wallow. We saw pig tracks, and CC encountered a large wild hog, as he stood quietly photographing two gators. They were once farm hogs that escaped, and over generations they grew tusks for rooting and became wild! Oh my!


Another spring fling is the onslaught of MOSQUITOES! These guys are mean! I now really appreciate the spiders, dragonflies, and birds that eat these pests! Speaking of birds, the marsh is full of them very early in the morning. Counting 15 eagles and seeing one beautiful nest in a mornings journey was pretty exciting. Officially there are 70 nests in Terrebonne Parish, and I believe it. The size of a small car, these nests are used year after year by the same eagle pair. They are built at the top of the tallest tree in an area. The three that we have found near us are cup-shaped. These birds are very hard to get close to but are easily spotted as they stand sentinel in the top branches of trees! The marsh is an Ornithologists dream! My favorite birds that we have recently observed are bald eagles, barred owl, great horned owl, osprey, wood ducks, ibis, egrets, herons, piliated woodpeckers, red shouldered hawks, and common morehens. The list goes on and on!


Your marshmission team is witnessing an explosion of new life. The natural eruption of spring is occurring all around. CC and I are so fortunate to be seeing all this wonder. However, the Barataria Terrebonne area that we are exploring is losing land faster than any other place. My sincere hope is that future generations will experience the awesome beauty that now surrounds us. It is the job of mankind to protect the many ecosystems that are found on our planet. The mammalogist, ornithologist, herpetologist, ichthyologist, entomologist, zoologist, botanist, ecologist, and environmentalist all understand the critical time our south Louisiana wetland ecosystems face. The question is, will our state and nation step up to the plate and make decisions that will help restore and rebuild the unique habitats that remain. Young people educate yourselves, get your parents involved, and be an advocate for coastal Louisiana wetland preservation!

The Naming Game

Can you guess the scientific name of this eagle? The answer will be posted at the end of the week.

Have you noticed that each week in my column I slip in a weird looking name for each critter that I corner?  I hope that you have because it is quite important! Archive back to the beginning of our Coastal Correspondent weekly newsletters and check my articles out. You should count sixteen scientific names, one in each edition. Everybody loves animals, but when we say animal most people think of a cute little dog (like me) or a majestic white-tailed deer. Yet there are many creatures in the animal kingdom: birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, crustaceans, and flatworms to mention a few. Check out this weeks picture of a snail that CC took today, he is an animal too!


 Most visible living things that are not animals are plants. Plants are defined as green organisms that have no power of locomotion, are self feeding through photosynthesis, and have cells with walls. Animals, on the other hand, are defined as organisms that are capable of locomotion and capturing their own food and have cells with no walls. To sort out all the millions of plants and animals around the world a smart Homo sapiens named Carolus Linneaus figured out a method of classification, or taxonomy. He divided living things into the plant, animal, and three other kingdoms. The system also gives each plant and animal its own two-part name (binomial nomenclature). To have the same two-part name is to be of the same species. For two animals to be of the same species, they must be able to breed and pass on to their offspring their own characteristics.


Think of a deer; in English we say deer, and in Spanish it is an el venado. But a mule deer from the western United States is a different species from the white-tailed deer I wrote about last week. Thus the mule deer is called Odocoileus hemionus, and the white tailed deer is called Odocoileus virginianus. In this way zoologist around the world are sure that they are talking about the same species of deer.


The three kingdoms in addition to Animalia and Plantae are Monera (single-celled organisms, such as bacteria), Protista (organisms like algae), and Mycota (fungi, such as mushrooms). To learn more about taxonomy check out a zoology or botany textbook from a library.


We are seeing so many cool critters now that it is warmer. I am working on my interview with an alligator, but they make me a little nervous, and I really wanted to tell you about binomial nomenclature! ADIOS AMIGOS (that is Spanish for good-bye friends)!



- Carolus Linneaus, a Swedish naturalist, devised a method of classifying living things.
- Binomial nomenclature is the two part name that each species of plant or animal has.
Find the meanings of cool words like tributary, sediment, or amphibian and many more...
Click Here!
1. In your weekly journal write the job description of the nine "gists" in the last paragraph of Sue's SPRINGS'S EXPLOSION article. They are in bold print! Do any of these fields of study interest you?

Try this America's Wetland Link for animal trivia, animal and bird identification games, and cool coloring sheets.
Click here to find sources of more great information!
la·gniappe    (ln-yp, lnyp)
2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

Get painting & photo tips and much more, click here!
Audubon Elementary asks:
Why are barrier islands important to the wetlands?
CC answers:  In my Gulf Coast book I describe the five habitats of the coast.  Swamp, marsh, bays, barrier islands, and the Gulf.  They all blend together to form a avery productive group of habitats.  The barrier islands protect the bays and marsh from storms.  They are also an important sea bird habitat.
Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School asks:
As a whole, is your mission going well?  Have you brought the awareness to Louisiana's coastal problem that you set out to?  On our local TV stations, we have been seeing many news reports trying to also bring awareness.

CC answers:  Yes, our mission is going well.  Spring is blooming and we are learning and photographing much.  The website is getting many visitors, we have been in a number of newspapers so our goal of public awareness is on target and it will continue throughout the books and the exhibit.
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
Which kinds of animals do you see more at nighttime while in the marshes?
CC answers:  The bull frogs are out.  With a spot light you can see them at night.  When it gets warmer Alligators are easy to see at night.  Armadillos, Raccoons and Opossums are also foraging at night.
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
In science we have been studying food chains.  Have you seen any food chains that are being affected because of the changes happening in the marshes?
CC answers:  As more marsh disappears we will have some gaps in teh food change and that will affect the entire food chain.  Now we have the boom before the bust.
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
What is the fiercest bird that lives in the marshes?
CC answers:  That's a hard one.  I do not really call any of our birds fierce, they all just do there job of eating and protecting themselves.
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
What are some things that kids our age can do to help with the problems facing our wetlands?
Sue answers:  Learn more about the wetlands.  Educate other people your age about the problems facing our coast.  Write a congressman in another state and tell him how important the Louisiana wetlands are to all Americans.
Teacher Tips