Of all the types of travel we experience, the opportunities where I can lose myself in nature are by far my favorite. Whether hiking rocky mountain trails or kayaking the murky waters of shadowed bayous, putting some miles beneath me seems to wash away the drudgery of everyday life. All the petty worries take a backseat to the raw beauty found where the sidewalk ends. But one doesn’t have to travel halfway around the world to find such respite.
Your own backyard can offer plenty of opportunity for reprieve and rediscovery, just as mine recently did. After what seems like weeks of rain and overcast days, a day dawned sunny and cool. Finally, a chance to dust off my camera and get outside! But instead of heading to the usual, well-known parks I headed 25 miles south of Lake Charles. On this day, I had a date with Grosse Savanne Eco-tours to explore a small part of their 50,000 acres of pristine cypress swamps, fresh and saltwater marshes, pine forest, and coastal prairies. These various ecosystems make up most of “Louisiana’s Outback” found along the Creole Nature Trail and are a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
The sun was just starting to burn off the morning mist as our boats pulled away from the dock. Slowly, we glided alongside shrub-covered levees laden with hundreds of long-legged wading birds. The low grunts and guttural calls of nesting egrets and herons weren’t exactly melodious, but they had a certain haunting quality.Floating silently in the shallow pools, alligators warmed themselves in the morning sun.
The brilliant white reflections of cattle egrets danced on the surface of the water as the boats drifted closer. The steady coastal winds brought the sound of rustling feathers as a flock burst from the trees beside us.A slender Whitefaced Ibis skimmed across the tops of bushes, watching us with wary curiosity. Long, curved beaks and lighter faces make them easy to identify amongst the hundreds of species of birds that migrate to Southwest Louisiana.
Tricolored Herons scattered throughout the flocks of egrets and ibis loomed over the passing boats. These graceful birds were once called Louisiana Herons and are one of the most abundant species of heron in the Deep South.But they all but disappear once in the shadows of the tallow trees. Listening close, they aren’t the only things hidden amongst the dark leaves. As the boat slowly drifted under the low-hanging branches, we came face-to-face with some of the marshes newest arrivals. Clumsily, they turned their bobbing heads to get a better look at us as we peeked through the foliage.These rookeries brimmed with wobbly hatchlings learning to master their gawky legs and downy wings. Many nest revealed chicks that looked to be just a few hours old.These birds are no strangers to the farm, and I have watched them on several occasions from a distance. But never have I had the chance to photograph and observe them in such an intimate environment. The entire experience was extraordinary. Best of all, this escape is just mere minutes from home. What adventure do your backyard hold? Share your favorite close-to-home escapes with me!