Kimmie and I unloaded our Kayak on the slipway across from Lester’s On The Lake Canoe Rentals and eased ourselves into the blue waters of Bayou D’Arbonne. This was the fifth voyage of our new Kayak The Pelican, and our mission was to explore an intriguing area around a pair of islands at the Corney Creek end of the Lake. We’d first seen the area as we passed over the bridge on Highway 2 going to Lake D’Arbonne State Park and had immediately been wowed by the wildlife. A large Red-tailed Hawk had been perched on the wires as pretty as you please, and as oblivious to my photography as it was the passing traffic.
Lake D’Arbonne is huge, popular with fishermen and water sports enthusiasts and seems to have various areas with different characters, the open areas seem popular for speedboat racing, water skiing and sailing activities and carry mixed ‘rafts’ of Brown Pelicans, geese, ducks and Cormorants in the winter months. People fish from the banks in many places as well as the boats. They fish for Bass, White Perch and Bream, all of which fry well in butter with salt and pepper, and also Channel or ‘Blue’ Catfish which fry well in cornmeal. There are some really big fish in D’Arbonne: Sturgeons, Spoonbill and Opelousas (aka Apaloosa and Flathead) Catfish and Alligator Gar fish. There are also some tiddlers like the Top Minnows that do good service feeding off skeeter larvae, just as the dragonflies take skeeters on the wing.
The banks are lined with Bald Cypress and Tupelo trees and there are many offshoot feeder rivers and fjiords known locally as Sloughs (pronounced ‘sloos’) where wildlife abounds. Hence the appeal of Kayaking. We find we can see a great deal of this wildlife by slipping up silently in a kayak and in many cases we can get closer to these creatures from the water than we could on land.
We had heard that there were water lilies at this end of the lake and we’d seen great water birds from the bridge, so we were pretty optimistic as we paddled out of the sheltered bay and under the bridge. This was a different, more open water experience. There as a warm breeze at our backs and it ruffled the blue water into light waves. Some Fishermen passed by us at a courteous speed and we exchanged brief waves – everyone’s very civil around here, and why not? We’re all happy to be enjoying Nature outdoors, whether hunting, fishing or photographing. NB, in hunting season it’s advisable to wear an orange vest when kayaking in wooded areas and if you see someone fishing, try to steer clear of them so as not to scare off their fish.
Lake D’Arbonne has a series of highway bridges surrounded by water and crossing them feels a bit like you’re in the Florida Keys. As we passed under the concrete bridge Kimmie pointed out a great number of pottery nests built by Hirundines and some multi-chambered Dirt Dauber Wasp nests, too. I like pottery and you can’t help but admire these structures, some stand splendid alone, others are semi-detached or terraced. The surface texture is wholesome, roughly beaded and appealing, each carefully placed blob of clay stands out as a single Swift’s beak-full.
We turned right, hugging the shoreline in the direction of Farmerville, displacing some basking freshwater turtles on our way. I thought these were probably Red-eared Sliders, but couldn’t be sure because the wily critters plunged from their logs before I saw them, later we encountered some in plain sight, cohabiting with a Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle on a very nice private beach.
Suddenly, ahead of us on a stump we saw our first Great Blue Heron. It was sitting on some pilings, looking regal and probably thinking of fish, though they’ll also eat frogs , baby gators and snakes. If you come upon these birds suddenly they will croak like some giant Pterodactyl and flap off to a new roost cussing you as they go. In mid-lake you won’t surprise them, but as you near the islands we were surprised how close we came to a roosting Great Blue Heron and the astonishment was mutual. They are very impressive birds and can roost high off the water in the overhanging trees and suddenly erupt with harsh, invective cries. Wow!
We explored these two islands in a figure of 8, paddling down the central channel first and then around the nearest island to shore we were thrilled to come upon Wood Ducks, Giant Egrets, more Great Blue Herons, a Belted Kingfisher, basking turtles and a Beaver’s lodge. It was a delightful paddle!
I think we both had our favourite sightings. For Kimmie it was the beaver lodge and beaver-sharpened stumps. It is very exciting to come upon evidence of the largest rodent in North America. Beavers are very admirable creatures in many respects. They are, of course, hard working furry aquatic rodents with flattened tails and broad chisel-like teeth for their woodwork. They create wildlife habitat for themselves and other water-loving creatures by damming streams with branches and packed clay. They use the right kind of clay that doesn’t easily dissolve in the water. Like the swifts, they are superb natural architects. They create their homes, or lodges as they are known, from branches and saplings beside or actually in the water. Where they have felled a sapling they leave the stump standing like a sharpened pencil. They live off tree bark and can often access their lodges from under the water.
I loved that too, but to come upon a parcel of turtles of mixed species basking on a sandy beach was most thrilling for me. We came upon about four of them, I only became aware of them as they plunged into the lake. After about half an hour two of them came out again to bask. I filmed them from hiding with 120 x digital zoom. How I love to see creatures cohabiting! Like horses hanging out with hens. Here we have a Spiny Soft-shelled turtle with a hard-shelled friend. I couldn’t get a close look at that one, but the ridge on his shell suggests some kind of Map Turtle.
We lunched on sandwiches on the north side of what we came to call Beaver Island and then completed our exploration of the far (southern) side of the other island, which we came to call Duck Island because we encountered Wood Ducks there. We were again treated to views of both Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons and also to a mysterious jelly-like egg mass in the shallows.
We enjoyed ourselves so much that we stopped in at Lester’s for a cold drink and some chips to fortify us for some more Kayaking in D’Arbonne. This time upstream on the way to Bernice.