Tag Archives: turtles

The Turtles and the Teal

I was walking slowly along the edge of the large dam at Namibgrens, trying to get close enough to take a photograph of a pair of Dusky sunbirds that were feeding nearby, when a movement in the murky water a few metres from the edge of the dam caught my attention. I watched the movement in the water for a few seconds before it dawned on me what I was seeing amidst the tangle of plants in the water.

Red-billed teal

A Red-billed teal lay dead amongst the vegetation in the murky water and was being eaten by a small group of turtles!

Turtle and teal

The sunbirds were forgotten for the moment as I stood and watched in amazement as the turtles gathered, sometimes as many as five appearing to feed at the same time, pushing at the teal so that it twisted and turned in the water, sometimes presenting as just a pile of feathers, at other times its full duck-shape being obvious. In the gloom of the dirty water the turtles could only be seen when they were near the surface and there could have been more nudging the teal from below.

Turtle and teal

I watched several of the turtles swim away from the teal, only either to return after a short interval or to be replaced by others. It wasn’t therefore possible to see just how many turtles were taking advantage of this bonanza, but the most that were clearly in view simultaneously, either at the teal itself or swimming nearby, was seven.

Turtle and teal

I watched the activity for some time before I went back to trying to photograph the uncooperative Dusky sunbirds, but returned to the same spot the following morning to find no trace whatsoever of either the teal or the turtles. The teal could have been out of sight deep beneath the surface of the water, but there wasn’t so much as a feather to be seen.

Turtle and teal

I should imagine that the turtles were not instrumental in the death of the teal, as, although omnivorous turtles are known to feed on carrion, duck eggs, and even to take young ducklings, this had looked like an adult teal. I did, however come across this rather amazing video clip on You Tube of a turtle taking a pigeon, so who knows what is possible?

Take a look …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhGZ5XUW27E&feature=player_embedded

 

Spanish Moss and the Honey Island Swamp

If, when you see the term “Spanish Moss”, you immediately think of the 1976 song by Gordon Lightfoot, you should probably get out more.

In the pristine river swamps of Honey Island, just outside New Orleans, Spanish Moss is the name given to the bromeliad that can be seen hanging from the gnarled cypress trees rising from the shallow water of the swamp and contributing to the somewhat gothic appearance to the landscape. The Honey Island area is reputedly one of the wildest habitats left in the USA.

Spanish Moss adorning the trees at Honey Island Swamp

Spanish Moss adorning the trees at Honey Island Swamp

There are several companies that offer boat trips to the swamps in the vicinity of New Orleans, and during a very short visit to the city in October 2009 I chose “Cajun Encounters” for a morning swamp tour. I had no particular reason for choosing this company, save for the advertising pamphlets at the hotel, but it turned out to be a most enjoyable and informative outing.

At the start of the swamp tour

At the start of the swamp tour

Time stands still in this 70,000 acre Nature Preserve and save for a few notices fixed to the trees and the small boatload of tourists up ahead, there is, superficially, little obvious evidence of human impact once in the swamp proper.

Honey Island Swamp

Honey Island Swamp

There have been reported sighting s of the Louisiana version of Bigfoot in these swamps and it is quite easy to imagine that the shadowy movement at the edge of your peripheral vision – gone the very instant you turned your head – could have been him. Locally this version of Bigfoot ia called “Wookie” and is  supposedly the result of interbreeding between a chimpanzee that escaped from a circus and the local alligator population.

The water is often covered with a living blanket of green that looks solid enough to walk on and which closes quickly behind the boat to leave no trace of our passing. The eerie shadows and the trees draped with moss, weave a fantasy into which myths of gremlins and goblins and trolls and Bigfoot would fit quite comfortably.

The floating carpet between the trees

The floating carpet between the trees

In reality, we are told, there are numerous alligators and other animals in the swamp – wild boar, deer, wolves and an endless variety of snakes. In truth on our short two-hour trip we saw naught with four legs but one small alligator and a few turtles.

Turtles in Honey Island Swamp

Turtles in Honey Island Swamp

Young alligator

Young alligator

Birds are fairly numerous but we found animals to be conspicuous by their absence; the less obvious impact of our destructive species. Hunting drove the alligators to the edge of extinction in the area, although they are now staging a comeback thanks to local conservation efforts; and no doubt the absence of other animals has the same cause. And the trees, as magnificent as they are, are mostly fairly young as the older and bigger trees were harvested for their timber in times gone by.

Honey Island Swamp

Honey Island Swamp

Honey Island gets its name, not surprisingly, from the erstwhile presence of bees in the area, and it lies between the East Pearl and the West Pearl Rivers. Many of the houses along the river are built on stilts to keep them above the soggy ground, but in spite of this some seem to be slowly sinking into the soft ground below.

House on the West Pearl River

House on the West Pearl River

House on the West Pearl River

House on the West Pearl River

A greater threat to the houses than sinking is that of being blown away, and in 2005 Hurricane Katrina saw several of the houses blown from their supports and into the swamp.

There was a house here before Hurricane Katrina

There was a house here before Hurricane Katrina

But back to Spanish Moss. This was at one time an important export from Louisiana, with a value of over $2.5 million per year in its heyday of the late 1920s. It is the source of the “horsehair” that was used to stuff mattresses and upholstered furniture and was also used to strengthen the cement mix used in construction. Strange.