Volume 25 - May 10, 2004
Cattle crossing the Freshwater Bayou Locks.

Coastal Cowboys

Randy Choate, a Louisiana cowboy, moving cattle across Freshwater Bayou Locks.

While we were heading west on the Intracoastal Waterway, one would have thought that the Wetland Wanderer was in western Texas! With their many grassy chenier ridges, Vermilion and Cameron parishes are “cattle country.” Summer is the season to drive herds from the marshes associated with these cheniers to the higher ground to the north. We were extraordinarily lucky to show up at the Freshwater Bayou Locks just in time to see an amazing event. Witnessing horses, cattle, herding dogs, and cowboys crossing the narrow metal walkway of the lock‘s gates made us realize that the “wild west” still lives on down here.


Thick mats of hay were placed on the single-file walk to calm the cattle. The Lockmaster told CC and me that over the years a few animals have jumped over the railings and landed in the canal only to be rescued by tired cowboys! As we watched, the cattle were quite relaxed on the crossing. Many stopped along the catwalk to munch on some of the hay. Cattle drives in these parts are not unusual since many generations of families have worked cattle in this region. But the view of the backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico on one side of the lock, a lock pool on the other, and cowboys in the middle struck me as unusual and hilarious.


My favorite character was the drive leader, Randy Choate . . . . complete with chaps, spurs, a thick mustache, and a wide smile. The two-day drive in the rain and mud had not dampened his spirits or enthusiastic “Whoop, move it on cattle!” refrain. Lots of his friends and family assist in these twice yearly drives and, as in many instances of south Louisiana life, a festive atmosphere prevailed.


After the last baby calf was carried across the waterway, a four wheeler pulled up, and a pressure washer was unloaded. The lock’s catwalk was power washed and returned to its “pre-cow” condition! CC and I returned to our floating home and continued our journey to the Paul J. Rainey Audubon Sanctuary in the marshes below Intracoastal City, Louisiana. YEE-HA! What a day!   

Neighborhood of Nests

Hungry baby grackles calling for their mother.

Marshmission is making an enthusiastic “birdwatcher” out of this M.U.T.T.! I have never seen so many birds and in such a variety. The other day while sniffing around in some tall marsh grass, I ran into a gorgeous indigo bunting. His brilliant blue feathers really “knocked me out,” and I lost the scent of a rabbit that I was stalking!


Springtime is the season for mother birds, nests, and babies! CC, Sue, and I were anchored recently on an unnamed canal in a marsh of Vermilion Parish. The tall maiden cane grasses stood as far as the eye could see. Shrubs of many types lined the canal edges, and as we explored the canal, we quickly noticed a community of different birds building or sitting on nests. They were well-built, and each bird species had its own design technique. I cannot help but wonder who taught them which twigs or grasses to use and how to shape them. I was also extremely impressed with the weaving ability of some of these feathered friends.        


All of this made me think of one of my favorite TV shows when I was a pup, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The altered theme song on my mind was, “Oh, Who Are the Birdies in Your Neighborhood!”  I named it “Bird Nest Canal” for we saw 27 nests along 500 yards of this small stream! Of them, one belonged to yellow warblers, one to redstarts, two to short-billed marsh wrens, six to red-winged blackbirds, six to green-backed herons, and ten to grackles. Most nests had eggs, and one had three hungry baby grackles; a few were under construction.    

 I began to worry soon because after our discovering and photographing many of the nests, a big storm came up. Wind, rain, lightning, and thunder rocked us to sleep that night. Meanwhile, I wondered how the baby grackles had fared. Obviously the mother grackle weathered the storm alright and protected her young since we found them all well in the morning!  


Cup-shaped woven nests, flat stick nests, and grass nests were all built to the special specifications of a particular species. Sue labeled one bush the “Crafty Condominium” since over six unique nests were on various levels of the shrub! I am so awestruck with the strength and originality of these nifty nests and their skilled architects! Birds are incredible!  

- Cheniers in southwestern Louisiana are natural “oak tree lined ridges” which protect marsh land and have traditionally been used for farming and ranching.
- Each bird species builds a particular style nest. Creatures and primitive people have had to create their homes with materials found in their immediate environments.
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1. Annie saw how bird mommies (and daddies) nurture their young. Think of the things that your parents do for you to help you grow and learn. Write a journal entry describing the nurturing things that your parents do for you!

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2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

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