Creatures that lurk in the bayou

Four critters. Two of them are not birds. Maybe if you’ve tired of my incessant bird-mongering, you’ll stop by. Please?


First off, a turtle. Everyone likes turtles right? [Insert link for YouTube turtle kid video that three of you still have not seen somehow.]

Here it is, a mediocre photograph of a Pond Slider in a Louisiana bayou.

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Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta) – Holmes Bayou, LA

Every floating log and breaching boulder was overstocked with these fellows. It was difficult to photograph them however because of the speed of the boat and the shyness of the turtles upon our approach.

Pond sliders are quite common. You might know them better as Red-eared Sliders (a subspecies), which is common in pet stores. It delighted me to find out that these sliders are no good for turtle soup. Not that I’d be opposed to trying turtle soup. I just wouldn’t want to shatter my vision of the hordes of sun-happy ancients. Like twenty-somethings on the first day of a music festival.

Secondly, a snake. I nearly jumped out of the boat with joy after finding several snakes along the way. I figured there might’ve been gators in the water though. So I refrained.

Not your everyday water snake.

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Southern Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata) – Holmes Bayou, LA

Rather than discussing cutesy things like what they eat and when they sleep, let’s talk about what happens when you try to pick one up. It’s pretty motley. They bite. Vigorously. And they emit jets of malevolent musk mixed with feces. They do not prefer that you handle them. Slightly different from the little water snakes I used to gather in my hands and pockets as a child on the north fork of the Gunnison River. Though I’m certain those snakes did not prefer me either.

If you’re a regular reader, you might know that I find the antics of Great Blue Herons (and by antics I mean that you turn 100 years old watching them take one step) pretty entertaining. The GBH found in the bayou was no exception. He just seemed more creepy because he was wading in the still dark waters of a swamp. Amidst giant mangrove trees that masked him for whole minutes at a time.

Da-dum (Jaws theme music).

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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Holmes Bayou, LA

DA-DUM.

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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Holmes Bayou, LA

DA-DUM DA-DUM…

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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Holmes Bayou, LA

And lastly, my very first Prothonotary Warbler. The natives refer to them as swamp canaries. A bayou is a colorful little ecozone and these warblers somehow make it more lucid.

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Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) – Holmes Bayou, LA

I hope you enjoyed your quick escape into the bayou. Don’t forget that you can click on the photos to enlarge them AND you can leave me comments at the bottom which I will readily read and respond to.

Snowy Egret on the Naples Pier

Birds do not have teeth. Even that one you’re thinking of that kind of looks like it has teeth. No, not ducks either. Some birds have somewhat of a serrated bill which helps them to grip prey. Like this Snowy Egret. He deals in slimy, squirmy fishes so he must have some sort of uneven surface on the occlusal surfaces of his bill to keep the fish in check.

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Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) – Naples Pier, FL

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Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) – Naples Pier, FL

So how do they chew their food then? They don’t. Ever. They have an organ called the ventriculus (gizzard) that acts as a mechanical stomach. Two strong muscles surround and contract the walls of the ventriculus to grind and mash up food.

You might have heard that poultry birds ingest small stones to aid in digestion. True. The stones, softened by the acidic environment that precedes the ventriculus, are eventually ground down to tiny pieces that pass through the rest of the digestive tract. While in the ventriculus, the “grit” as it is sometimes called, helps provide a solid surface to create friction between the food and ventriculus thus grinding it down more efficiently.

Just because birds don’t have to chew does not mean that swallowing food is always easy. Check out our Snowy Egret friend trying to manage a piece of fish.

As if the ventriculus wasn’t already cool enough, there is another organ in the avian digestive system that might be as interesting. The crop. It’s a tiny pouch toward the posterior end of the esophagus where newly consumed meals and water are stored. As the crop empties and food makes its way toward the ventriculus, the bird’s brain receives hunger signals telling it that it’s time to eat more food.

At least, I find it cool.

Enjoy these next few photos of our egret filling up on fish.

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Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) – Naples Pier, FL

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Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) – Naples Pier, FL

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Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) – Naples Pier, FL

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Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) – Naples Pier, FL

Makes me long for some of that halibut I ate the other night here in Newfoundland.

Listen, if you’re anywhere near Naples, FL, you have to check out the pier. Especially for sunset but take what you can get. Trust me. And if you’re patient, you’ll probably see dolphins. Examine the photos below to see if you can find the dolphins I was fortunate enough to see.

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View from Naples Pier, FL

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View from Naples Pier, FL

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View from Naples Pier, FL

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View from Naples Pier, FL

Gators from an airboat

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) – Everglades, FL

There’s nothing like a big snowstorm to make you glad you’re not cold-blooded. Or perhaps, sad. Because if you were cold-blooded, you’d have to live somewhere warm. I think I could struggle through life on a tropical island right about now. Brr!

Take a look at these absolute beauties I spotted from an airboat in the Everglades. And don’t forget to click on the pictures to view a larger version!

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) – Everglades, FL

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) – Everglades, FL

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) – Everglades, FL

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) – Everglades, FL