Volume 19 - March 29, 2004
Charlie, a Mona Monkey lives on Duck Lake in the Atchafalaya Basin with his humans John and Marion Daigle. Go to the Marshmission Homepage Archive for another picture of Charlie!

Unique People

Mr. Black Guidry, owner of A Cajun Man's Swamp Tours, singing for guests on his tour boat.

There is so much to learn about in the freshwater and saltwater ecosystems of southern Louisiana. The life forms from microscopic creatures to large mammals, the food webs, the water, and the effects of human actions over the last two hundred years. As CC and I travel through these varied habitats there is one constant, the people.  As valuable as any natural resource, the people living and working in these diverse habitats with their rich heritage are as precious as a rare, healthy old growth cypress tree.


Throughout our travels, CC and I have had help at every turn. We have yet to dock our boat without someone’s help, we have never needed a ride in a car that was not offered, and we have never gone hungry! Why just last week as we parked on an oil location canal to “borrow” 12 hours of electricity to charge our boat batteries, we were fed, helped, and entertained as well as “charged.”


We met Myron Matherne the day before moving our houseboat and tying it to his floating houseboat camp on “Orange Barrel Canal” in the Atchafalaya Basin. Our house batteries were running low, as we had not been plugged into shore power for many weeks. Myron offered his camp to help us out. Orange Barrel Canal is an oil and gas sight with a camp where workers live for seven days “on” and seven days “off”. We were greeted by Johnny, Jeff, and a dog named Dixie who were in charge of monitoring the gauges this week. The canal has a small houseboat community at its end and not a boat went by without a friendly wave or a visit. We tied and plugged the Wanderer in with helping hands, and CC and I took the dinghy down to head out to Duck Lake for sunset pictures. Upon our return home we were met with piping hot choices for our dinner. White beans and rice, pork loin, stuffed crabs, and pecan pie…we ate it all!


Myron appeared early the next morning in his boat to make sure we did not need anything. He also wanted to take CC to Joe and Marion Daigle’s camp across Duck Lake to meet Charlie.  Check out the top picture and you will have an idea how entertaining this visit was! Stories and generosity abounded on our stay at the canal. Glen Thibodeaux, an ingenious electrician with a neat houseboat on Orange Barrel, met us a week later in Morgan City to re-do our batteries and remedy the problems we had been having. Free of charge!


The people we are meeting on our floating adventure are strangers briefly. Sharing stories, their lifetime memories, and opinions make friendships easy and comfortable. Fishermen visit and leave fish for supper, acquaintances give up their time to drive us around, and no one is in too big a hurry to stop and lend a hand. Learning through other’s adventures and lifestyles is amazing.


 The typical way of life in south Louisiana is changing rapidly. Imagine being born on a houseboat at Bayou Chene, a once thriving community in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin. Attending school on a school boat, your dad selling the fish he caught to the weekly visiting fish buyer, and your mom buying groceries from the supply boat that stopped once a week!


We have been lucky to cross paths with many in the diverse habitats of south Louisiana. Be they shrimpers, fishermen, oystermen, oil workers, crawfishermen, port commissioners, levee managers, sheriffs, biologists, or tour guides there are no finer people in the world. Their past and their futures are rapidly changing and we must do whatever it takes to save the many different ways of life that have created the rich gumbo that is the south Louisiana way.  


People of the wetlands brought forth the riches for all to enjoy. Human mistakes and actions taken have caused such a wide range of problems. Are we smart enough to save the bounty for future generations to enjoy?

What A Hoot!

A Barred Owl about to pounce on the Swamp Red Crawfish at his feet!

“Who cooks for you…who cooks for me?”  That’s what I hear at night when the Barred owl Strix varia hoots.  All through the winter these wise old owls make quite a racket.  Their hoot call is sweet, but sometimes they start yelling at each other and it is quite scary!  In contrast to their loud wails are their specially designed wind feathers... for owls fly in silent mode.  They do this to sneak up on rats and mice.   A rice rat might be scurrying around at the edge of the bayou, when boom out of nowhere comes the talons of the owl.  The rat never heard a thing.


Rats aren’t the only thing this symbol of the basin eats.  They like crawfish too.  CC told me that he went out with a crawfisherman named Bucky Brown and he had a barred owl that waited in a tree near one of his traps for a crawfish hand out. When Bucky threw a mudbug onto a log the owl would swoop down and pluck it with his stong claws and fly up to a branch near its fledging babies. Tearing the crawfish into bits she would feed her family.


Owls have large heads and a “facial disk” surrounds its large round eyes. These eyes are fixed in their sockets so the owl’s entire head moves as it looks around. These birds of prey hunt mostly at night, flying fast and silently. Strong, hooked beaks, powerful feet with sharp claws, and keen vision in the dark make owls good hunters.  


Owls eat mostly mammals. Ornithologists like to look for owl balls; this is fur, feathers and bones that the owl can not digest.  The owl regurgitates them.  Scientists can collect them and tell what the owl is eating by the bones!


Owls usually have two or three owlets and make their nests in holes in trees.  The barred owl is CC’s favorite bird in the basin. He says the “hoots” of the barred owl are music to his ears. I think owls are cool, too, but when CC stands on the front of our boat and “hoots” back to them I think he is a bit kooky!

- People living and working in south Louisiana have a rich heritage and culture that is as important as any natural resource found there.
- Humans have altered the wetlands with good intentions; our job now is to be good stewards of the bounty that remains.
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1. Owls have long been considered a symbol of wisdom. The “Wise Old Owl” idea has been around for a long time. What animal do you consider to be the wisest? Write at least four reasons for your choice in your Journal. A good title for this week’s entry is…..

Hear Barred Owls hooting!
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2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

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Avoyelles Public Charter School asks:
Explain how deltas are formed?
Sue answers:  Deltas are formed when sediment-laden water hits the gulf.  Its velocity slows down allowing the sediment to fall.  When this happens in shallow waters it builds land and the river seeks many channels through this new land.  It usually fans out in a delta shape.
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
About how deep and what temperature is the water where you are traveling now?
CC answers:  We anchored in water 12 feet deep this week.  It was 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  The water depth varies.  In the Atchafalaya River we crossed a spot 68 feet deep and on Flat Lake a shallow spot only 3 feet deep.
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
What area of the state do you think you're going to end up with at the end of Marsh Mission?
CC answers:  Only the wind knows.  We will definitely make it to the Sabine River on teh west side of Louisiana and come back to the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain and possibly on to the Pearl River.  If we have time we may do it twice.  At the end the Wetland Wanderer will probably be put up for sale, so we will park it wherever people could see it best.
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