Volume 3 - November 25, 2003

Atchafalaya Swamp

 “Don’t give up the ship!” I always say.  But we were forced to leave the WETLAND WANDERER in Kentucky. Engine troubles and weather led us to our decision to have her repaired at the manufacturer and shipped to Louisiana on a huge truck! Our adventures on the beautiful Ohio River and the nice folks we met will long be remembered!  We are now in South Louisiana using smaller crafts to travel the wetlands.

 This week finds us canoeing and exploring parts of the Atchafalaya, America’s largest river basin swamp. Atchafalaya is a 1.4 million acre wetland maze. Atchafalaya is a huge sponge that takes the mighty Mississippi’s floodwaters and distributes them into rivers, lakes, bayous, and marshlands that make South Louisiana a wetland wonderland! Atchafalaya is the Indian word meaning long river. Atchafalaya is teaming with wildlife and natural beauty even though man has altered the landscape. Can you spell ATCHAFALAYA after this paragraph?  I hope so!

 There are many types of swamps; the Atchafalaya is a river basin swamp. It is a distributary of the Mississippi River system. It has four major habitats, hardwood bottomlands, cypress tupelo swamp, coastal marsh and Atchafalaya Bay.  Our state tree, the Bald cypress was once the dominant feature in this swamp. Many of these trees were cut in the 1900’s for their everlasting wood. One of the most important aspects of the basin is its size; even though it has been altered it remains a varied habit for many creatures and a storehouse of resources for man.  It is one of Louisiana’s greatest assets.

 A visit to the Atchafalaya is well worth the effort. This week we have seen beaver, deer, raccoon, ducks, roseate spoonbills, turtles, a pair of bald eagles and landscapes that would knock your socks off!


“Annie’s Beaver Tails”

 Waiting for the big boat to be repaired CC, Sue, and I are spending time in smaller crafts. Canoes are great fun! We visited some really cool spots in the Atchafalaya basin and I want to tell you I saw some big beavers!!!
 The Atchafalaya is home to many interesting creatures that have weird adaptations, which help them survive. If you spent most of your life in water you would surely get “Goosebumps!” Well, beavers have a thick, warm fur and a layer of fat under their skin. They also have sebaceous glands that make oil, which “waterproofs” their fur! The beaver’s hind feet are webbed for fast swimming and its second claw is split and used like a comb to keep its fur groomed. The front paws have a thumb, like humans, for holding food and building dams. The beavers broad, flat tail is used as a rudder to help it steer while swimming. The beavers I saw were sitting on this flat tail grooming themselves! CC says that beavers slap their tails against the water to warn other beavers of danger.

 Other adaptations a beaver has are teeth that continuously grow. Why do you think that these teeth never get too long? Beavers dive and can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes! WOW! Their ears and noses have special flaps that seal up tight and their eyes have nictitating membranes that work like underwater goggles.
Beavers cannot see too well but they sure smelled and heard me as we approached them quietly in our canoe. I was not afraid of beavers because they are shy and like to eat tree bark and soft plants NOT dogs! These clever mammals sometimes gnaw down large trees, eat the tender tops, and use the bottom part as building material.

 Lodges built by beavers can have many rooms and many levels. Underwater entrances and exits are another feature! CC says beavers in the Atchafalaya build “high rise” lodges because the water levels go up and down so often. The beavers I met lived in the base of an ancient Bald Cypress stump. This tree was probably cut in the early 1900’s when so many of these majestic trees were harvested. CC quietly took pictures as 1,2,3,4,5,and 6 of these furry friends slid out of their resting place and swam away!

- The Atchafalaya is America’s largest river basin swamp.
- The Atchafalaya distributes the waters of the Mississippi River.
Find the meanings of cool words like tributary, sediment, or amphibian and many more...
Click Here!
1. Write an "Atchafalaya" Acrostic Poem.

An acrostic poem uses the all letters of a word to write sentences or new words. Write the word vertically;

A merica's largest river basin swamp
T teeming with wildlife


Fruits and vegetables are
Useful sources of
Energy for
Lean, healthy kids

2.Write a "Beaver" Acrostic Poem.

Check out the Atchafalaya Basin Programs website. They'r e working hard to save the Atchafalaya!
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:
What makes the Mangrove different from other ecosystems?  Have you seen any Mangrove in the Atchafalaya Marshes, or in the nearby coastal regions?
CC answers:  Mangroves thrive in a tropical wetland habitat.  Coastal Louisiana is on the fringe of this zone.  Thus mangroves here are limited and stunted.  LSU scientist, John Day tells me that the mangroves at Fouchon near Grand Isle are growing fast.  This is because there has been no freeze there since 1989.  There are probably some mangroves in Atchafalaya Bay, we will find out soon.
Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School asks:
Each year after Christmas, we are asked to give our real left over trees for a coastal erosion project.  They are placed in the water along the coastlines.  Is this project working?
CC answers:  Every little bit helps.  So the Christmas tree program has worked in certain places.  We need to do much more though.
Metairie Park Country Day School asks:

In our research we found out that there are 31 states that drain water into the Mississippi River. We have figured out 29 of the states. Can you tell us the other two?

Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Wyoming, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas

CC answers:  The two states you left out are New York and Maryland.  The two Canadian Providences are Alberta and Saskatchewan. Check out this website for activieties with maps of the Mississippi drainage,
South Thibodaux Elementary asks:
How is it living on a houseboat in the marshes of Louisiana?
Sue answers:  We have only lived on it so far on the Ohio River, but I am sure it will be fine when we get into the Louisiana Marsh next week.
St. James Episcopal Day School asks:
Where does Annie sleep on the houseboat?

Sue answers: Annie is a roving reporter. She usually sleeps out in the wetlands so that she can be close to the critters she is studying. The M.U.T.T. of the Marsh is fearless!
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