Wednesday, February 13, 2013


The rabbit has a simple heart,
simple things he craves,
a sheltered nook,
a patch of cane,
the heart to be brave.
From him I learn that I all need
dwells just outside my door,
and that my simple heart
needs very little more.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Supreme Court of Vultures

turkey vulture (red head) and black vulture (gray head) by Kelby Ouchley

Every morning on my walk I pass a metal tower beside the road where the vultures roost. They always look so serious and solemn in their black robe of feathers as they perch side by side and face the rising sun.  It seems that court is in session.  A few do rise up from their sun-worshipping ritual and circle over my head.  I am always aware of the possible unpleasant consequences of this action.

We have two kinds of vultures here in Louisiana: the black vulture (Coragyps atratus) and the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura).  I tell the difference by their tail shapes when they are soaring.  The black vulture has a short, broad tail and the turkey vulture has a long, narrow tail.  Also the adult turkey vulture has a bare, red head, where the black vulture has a bare, gray head.  The term “buzzard” is a misnomer.

The bird book says that turkey vultures are more common and that is the kind I see most often.  Vultures are a part of a healthy environment since they are scavengers and eat mostly carrion.  They help clean up the environment.  I especially appreciate the work they do along the roadsides by eating  roadkills.  Another interesting fact about vultures is this:  they nest on the ground or on hollow logs.  According to one source, black vultures depend on their sight to locate food and turkey vultures depend on their sense of smell.  Both species soar in Louisiana skies seeking food sources. Look for them in urban areas, because they are also fond of garbage.  And the verdict is…….

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Brer Swamper and Brer Sly



Pondering predator-prey relationships in the ecosystem is an interesting pastime.  Animals in both categories are well adapted to survive in their environment.  Survival often becomes a game of wits.  Consider the swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) and the red fox (Vulpes fulva).  Each has a bag of tricks that will help it survive.
The swamp rabbit, a common denizen of bottomland hardwood forests in Louisiana, has traits that have evolved to help it evade one of its main adversaries, the red fox.  Swamp rabbits are well camouflaged.  Their streaked black and brown fur blends into the surrounding vegetation.  They have long, mobile ears that can detect the slightest noise.  They have eyes on the sides of the head as do many other prey species, which gives them good lateral perception of movement.  They also have a keen sense of smell and are wary, a trait vital to their survival.  The first trick they use to prevent detection is to crouch and freeze.  If discovered, they escape by running in a zig-zag manner that can be hard for a predator to follow.
The red fox also has a bag of tricks for survival.  He has an acute sense of smell.  Red foxes probably detect swamp rabbits by smell before they see them.  Their ears are large and upright  and can also sense the least noise.  The red fox is a swift runner and has eyes on the front of its head that provide good depth perception.  He runs in a straight line to chase prey.
So in this game of wits, who wins?  Both species must win some of the time if they are to survive.  Swamp rabbits have one trick that other kinds of rabbits don't have.  They don't mind swimming.  So if the red fox is hot on his trail, he heads for the nearest body of water and dives in.  He waits then with his nose poking out of the water until the fox leaves.  Red foxes aren't fond of water and may forfeit the hunt.  If this happens, the swamp rabbit has outfoxed the fox.  But if this doesn't work, then the rabbit may just plead "please, please don't throw me in the briar patch."
Note:  I wrote this essay for the public radio program called "Bayou Diversity" that my husband, Kelby, records each week on KEDM 90.3 F.M. The program airs at 9 a.m. on Monday and 1 p.m. on Thursday or you can listen to it at the listening room
Also, check out his website:
The photos are by Burg Ransom and are from my book:  Swamper, Letters from a Louisiana Swamp Rabbit.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Swamp Squealers and Snakes

Wood Ducks by Bob Rickett
The squeal of the wood duck (Aix sponsa) is a sound of the swamp.  Duck hunters call them "squealers."  A male wood duck is one of the more exquisitely colored birds in Louisiana.  He is bedecked in iridescent green feathers bordered in white and accented with black trim.  A helmet of green feathers adorns his head along with red eyes and a red patch on his upper mandible.  This regal head perches on a white-feathered neck fronted with rufous breast feathers.  The more sedately colored female has a distinctive tear-shaped white eye patch.  Both vocalize with high pitched, rhythmic shrieks when flying.  Unlike other kinds of ducks they perch in trees and nest in cavities.  Since many large, old-growth trees with cavities have disappeared from southern swamps, wood duck boxes provide good sites for successful reproduction.  Black rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta) take a toll on wood ducks, because they are expert tree climbers.  I have seen a black rat snake systematically searching tree branches and cavities for nests in the swamp.  Watch and listen for wood ducks on swamp walks.  Also watch for the nonvenomous black rat snakes, for both are part of nature's web in Louisiana swamps.