I spent the final days of 2011 with my family visiting New Orleans, a part of the country I'd never been to before. Over the course of three days, we ate excellent food, heard great music, and saw awesome wildlife -- as far as vacations go, it was pretty darn successful!
On the first day of our visit, we went across the Mississippi River and outside the city, to the cypress swamps of the Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. We walked across boardwalks and through the trees, thoroughly enjoying the mid-60s temperatures and sunny skies.
Most of the trees had shed their leaves for the winter, but that's about the extent of this place's similarities with my familiar Connecticut woods. The moist air is a haven for epiphytes, with thick curtains of Spanish Moss everywhere, and cute little ferns growing right on the tree trunks:
The understory of the forest was full of Dwarf Palmetto palms -- you don't see these in Connecticut!
And the cypress trees were so crazy looking, with their knobbly "knees" sticking up all across the ground:
There were reptiles everywhere -- no need to hide or hibernate with these temperatures, I guess! I tried and failed to find alligators (too bad), but there were plenty of other scaly creatures out and about. We came across two snakes right next to the path, fortunately not poisonous ones (we were actually warned not to stick our hands below the boardwalk in case one of Louisiana's many poisonous snakes lurked there). This first snake, as far as I can tell, is a Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata), not unlike the water snakes of the north:
And this Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus) is a close relative of our Eastern Garter Snake:
A Red-eared Slider -- native to the south but familiar from pet stores and northern ponds where it has been introduced -- waved at us from its basking spot in the canal:
The reptiles we saw most frequently, though, are true exotics from my northern perspective. I had a Green Anole as a pet when I was younger, but it was a treat to see these fancy little lizards in the wild:
I love the colors on this green-hued fellow, especially around its eyes:
And the anoles in their brown colors were quite pretty as well:
Reptiles (and birds) were by far the most frequent animals we encountered, but we saw a few other denizens of the swamp as well. This tiny Cricket Frog (Acris sp.) was perched happily on some water plants below the boardwalk:
I'd never seen such strangely hairy plants before, so I looked them up. They turned out to be something called Salvinia, a dangerously invasive type of water fern! I had no idea such a thing existed, and these little leaves are so cool looking -- it's a shame they're causing such problems in the places where they've been introduced.
This Raccoon looks like it may have found the coziest spot in the forest, high off the ground and directly in the sun:
And this Red Admiral butterfly was so intent on probing the leaking tree sap on this tree that it didn't mind me sneaking up close to take its picture. It's hiding the brilliant orange/red inside its wings, but I think the patterns on the outside of its wings might be even more beautiful:
We saw so many interesting things, and this was only the first day of our trip to New Orleans! I kept my camera with me as we wandered through different parts of the city in the following days, and I ended up seeing some pretty cool birds. So you can look forward to a "Part 2" of our Louisiana adventure, coming soon!