Winter in Louisiana

February 26, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

2021 marked my sixth winter spending time in Louisiana. Each time, I have ventured a little further from home base and found new places to explore. I also try to find new routes when traveling between Colorado and Louisiana to add new destinations, or revisit favorite ones. 
Christmas_Star_GuadalupeNP_2020_1Christmas_Star_GuadalupeNP_2020_1The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, also referred to as the Christmas Star, above El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe National Park, Texas.
This year was no different. For this year's seasonal visit, I stopped at Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, both in Texas. The visits were short as I was up against arriving in time for Christmas but well worth the stops.

Visiting Guadalupe Mountains gave me my 42nd national park—21 to go—and an opportunity to photograph the Christmas Star (conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter) above Texas' tallest mountain, Guadalupe Peak. 

Reddish_egret_Bolivar_Flats_2020_1Reddish_egret_Bolivar_Flats_2020_1A white morph reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) takes off from a shallow pool of water along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The visit to the Texas Gulf Coast was even shorter—just a few hours—but sliding around on the beach in my waders and using my Skimmer Pod gave me some interesting photos of shore birds, something I don't get much of a chance to do in Colorado. Dawn_beach_Gulfport_2021_2Dawn_beach_Gulfport_2021_2Photographer and writer, Dawn Wilson, photographs shore birds along the Gulf Coast in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Then it was off to Louisiana. Over the course of a couple months, I visited three national wildlife refuges—Big Branch Marsh, Bogue Chitto, Atchafalaya—plus four state parks (Fontainbleau, Fairview Riverside, Tickfaw, Grand Isle) and a few nature preserves (Lake Martin, Northlake, Audubon Park, Lafreniere Park).

Nutria_LaFreniere_2021_1Nutria_LaFreniere_2021_1A nutria (Myocastor coypus), also known as a coypu, holds a piece of bread it found at an urban park near New Orleans, Louisiana. I finally captured an image of a nutria in one of the city parks. This not-so-little rodent, also referred to as swamp rats, has eluded me on previous trips, at least for a photo. They are a crepuscular animal that hide in thick vegetation. I had seen them in the distance or when I saw them close, they darted into the nearby cover before I could grab a photo. But this year I finally photographed one as it fed on some food left by kids feeding nearby ducks. 

These large rodents (and cousins of the American beaver) were introduced in the U.S. from South America around 1900 for a fur industry that eventually failed. They are considered an invasive species and do a number on marshes. They have even been the main ingredient in recipes by local Louisiana chefs in an attempt to reduce their numbers. Osprey_Eden_2021_1Osprey_Eden_2021_1An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) looks directly forward on a wet, rainy day near Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana.

I also ventured over to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to find more shore birds, and a few brown pelicans (of course!). 

Northern_cardinal_Louisiana_2021_4Northern_cardinal_Louisiana_2021_4A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) stands on top of a moss-covered post on a cloudy day in southern Louisiana.
And
in between, I set up a backyard blind to photograph song birds (and it turns out some thieving squirrels), and ventured around some roads along Lake Ponchartrain to find my favorite Louisiana subject, brown pelicans, as well as a cooperative osprey.

I have said this many times and mention it to my photography students in every workshop and class: there is always something right in your backyard that is interesting to photograph. The year of Covid-19 (2020) has definitely made that evident to a lot of people. And focusing on your own backyard really provides the best opportunity to visit places on a regular basis to learn patterns, habits, seasons and, in the case of being on Louisiana's Gulf Coast, tides.

Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_3Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_3A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) flaps off the water after a rain storm along Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. Don't get me wrong; I love to travel, and I will continue to travel. I love visiting Alaska and can't wait to get back there in a few months (it has been way too long because of Covid). I'll add a few more national parks to my list this year and will continue to revisit my favorite parks. 

But for someone who has been forced to stay close to home (even if a home on the road) because of work, family commitments, and a pandemic, it has been a nice change of pace to explore new but local areas, and learn how much is right in our own backyard. Gray_squirrel_AudubonPark_2021_1Gray_squirrel_AudubonPark_2021_1A gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) munches on a piece of food while sitting at the base of a pine tree in Audubon Park in New Orleans, Louisiana.


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