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Heart of Louisiana: Swamp Birds

Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 9:45 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - This is prime time for viewing bald eagles around Louisiana with the birds returning to their Winter nests and hatching their chicks.

But the eagles are only a part of the wildlife experience in a Louisiana swamp.

It’s an unusually warm day for late January and as the sun warms up the swamp, a few alligators take advantage of that and sun themselves along the shoreline.

Dave McNamara is part of a small group of photographers who want to see bald eagles and Captain Billy Gaston knows exactly where to see them.

“In this area, in my touring area I have about 15 eagle nests. We see anywhere from 20 to about 60 eagles in a tour,” says Gaston.

The area of Western Terrebonne Parish has one of the highest concentrations of eagle nests anywhere in Louisiana. The bald eagles is off the endangered species list. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries helped with that come back.

“That’s where we have the highest density is in the state. So we’re talking lower St. Martin Parish, St. Mary Parish and Western Terrebonne Parish,” says Robert Dobbs.

Do we have any way of knowing if we’re starting to see permanent eagle residents or do all the birds still leave once the young birds are out of the nest?

“A handful of birds do hang around. Each Summer we don’t, we don’t really have a good idea of how many. But, we’ve got anecdotal evidence that some do,” says Dobbs.

Our cameras click as Captain Billy points out birds. All sorts of wading, birds, owls, ducks and eagles sitting in the treetops, sitting on their nests or soaring overhead, the eagles, white pelicans and seagulls, all creating exciting images.

“I really enjoyed the people, photographers that come on the boat. They have the same love that I have for the area. The birds, the wildlife, everything,” says Gaston.

But there was something new on the trip. A bird rarely seen in Louisiana that now seems to have found a new home in the coastal swamps and marshes, a wading bird called the limpkin.

“They’re not natural to this area. Most of them are from Florida. They are the only bird that actually eats an apple snail. And because we have such a problem here in this area with apple snails, it’s a blessing that we have these birds, these limpkins, and we see them with just about every tour now,” says Gaston.

The limpkins we see are all eating apple snails, an invasive species that is damaging the vegetation and marshes and ponds.

“Our first limpkin is Louisiana occurred in late 2017 over at Lake Bouef in Lafourche Parish and within a month or two a pair was discovered in Houma at Lake Houma. And that pair actually had a successful nest,” says Dobbs.

Are limpkins the answer to the apple snails or is it more than they can possibly eat?

“At this point? I don’t think we have enough limpkins to really do much control for the apple snail population,” says Dobbs.

As the sunset arrives, our afternoon of photography is quickly coming to an end but nature had one more treat for us.

The eagles and other birds returned to their roost as the sun breaks through the clouds in a final farewell.

Tour guide Billy Gaston says now through April is the best time for eagles watching in Western Terrebonne Parish.

For more information about tours visit https://www.cajunmanadventures.com/.

To see a slideshow from Dave’s tour, visit https://heartoflouisiana.com/one-afternoon-in-a-louisiana-swamp/.

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