Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gator Huntin' in the Bayou: Louisiana Trip Part 5

On my last full day of my visit in Louisiana, Bea and I took in an air boat tour. When we first started planning my visit she had mentioned this activity, and I was looking forward to it since. It turned out to be a great way to look at some of the really cool scenery and also look at natural historical stuff. Plus, the guy driving the boat (I didn't catch his name) had an awesome Louisiana accent.

This is an air boat. As you can see, the propeller doesn't go into the water. It has a flat bottom, and doesn't need much (in some instances any) water to move.

These boats don't come equipped with seat belts, but there is a little bar that keeps passengers from flying off the side. In all seriousness though, it was a really smooth ride and once we got going it felt like we were flying. They are, however, very loud boats. For most of the time we were moving at full speed I had ear protection on, although I did take them off near the end of the trip and it wasn't so bad.

The objective (or at least one of the objectives) was to see alligators (gators) in their natural habitat. The area we were going around is government property that is leased by the air boat tour company. Gator huntin' isn't allowed in this area, and it's kind of a refuge for them. Most gators don't live to be more than 5 feet in length, so gator farms will raise them to be that size to give them a head start before releasing any. These farms, in addition to releasing a certain number of animals back into the wild, also sell the skins and meat for profit. The bayou we were in had a mix of wild and farm raised gators. Farmed gators have a notch taken out of the tip of the tail, so that's how you can distinguish them from a wild gator. Of course, they fight so much they may end up with missing parts anyway... like this guy...

This gator's name is Tripod, and he's about 9-feet long. It's not obvious from the pictures, but he is missing his front left leg. He probably lost is sparring with another male for the rights to a female. This is not uncommon, and there are much larger male gators in the area, which we unfortunately didn't find. The guide spent some time looking for Vicky, a 13-foot male. Apparently it was mating season, so there weren't as many large male gators around, but that just means I'll have to come back at another time of the year!

The way in which the guides get the gators to come up to the boat is kind of insane. They use marshmallows (or gator crack, as our guide called it). They love them, which is convenient since they float and the guides can plop them on the surface to make ripples. The gators sense the movement on their snout and come toward the boat. It's actually pretty ingenious, until you see something like this...

Oh yeah, he's totally leaning in to kiss the gator. That little maneuver gained this guide $5 from me, personally.

 We spend the rest of our 2-hour tour driving around looking for whatever we could find.

A Great Egret.
A common moorhen, who also liked the marshmallows! (There was a gator in the water about 15 feet away.)

A very large turtle, he didn't like us and he jumped off his log when we got close.
Another exciting moment was when I got to hold a juvenile gator. It wasn't a wild gator, but that's fine with me, I didn't particularly want to lose any fingers. It was so cute, and the longer we handled it the limper it got, probably trying to convince us that he/she was dead or something. All of us who held it managed to avoid getting peed on (gatorade). It was cool to see it up close, I got a good shot showing the pores around it's mouth that helps them sense movement in the water.

Look at those teeth! He/she is going to be fierce when they grow up (or a marshmallow junkie).
Aside from seeing and touching gators, the best part of the trip was getting to see all the scenery. The bayou is beautiful in an kind of eerie way. Most of the live oaks and swamp cedars are draped in Spanish moss. It's like there are thousands of dark graceful veils hanging off the trees.

When we got back, I took some pictures of the inside of "Air Boat Adventure Tours", because the place was definitely quirky and like something you read about in creepy books. They had stuffed gators and skins all over the place. They also had a holding tank filled with gators. There was a fairly large albino gator which came from a farm. This animal can never be released into the wild, it's color would have made it stand out too much and it would likely die. This animal also had another strange feature, it had a double eye on the left side of its head. It only had the one eye socket there, but you could clearly see two pupils. I don't know if that affects its vision, but I imagine it must.

The albino gator. If you look carefully you can see the double eye. The right eye was normal.

Most of the gators in the tank were pretty small, and were just kind of hanging around. Normally I don't like captive animals, but these guys didn't appear to care. I'm of the belief now that gators are pretty big couch potatoes.

This shows the eye glow that hunters and trappers use to find gators. They hunt at night, when the animals can't see very well, and the glowing eyes give them away.
This more or less concludes my Louisiana adventure. For a four day visit, we did a whole lot, and it was exhausting but super fun. I would have to say it was one of my more successful "short" trips. Bea was really great about coming up with stuff to do, and I can't wait to go back. I think Louisiana is such a neat place, the people and culture are really different. Maybe next time I'll go on one of those ghost or Voodoo tours in New Orleans, that would be awesome.

It was really good to see Bea again, as well. I'm terrible about keeping up with people, I'm just not a phone person. I was just starting to really know her when we were living together in State College and then we all moved. It was also great to see the girls again, I miss having a cat around.

Lani and Luna

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