Allen Acres B&B is an ecotourism paradise for butterflies and moths in Louisiana and all those who appreciate them!

Last weekend Kimmie and I enjoyed another very pleasant stay at the Allen Acres B&B near Pitkin in Vernon Parish, Southwest Louisiana. Recently bereaved, we were in need of gentle, beautiful experiences. We’d been promising ourselves another visit since last year and were ready for some rest and recuperation with good food and plenty of wildlife photography too. Allen Acres offers my kind of ecotourism. It’s run by award-winning Environmental Educator and Louisiana Master Naturalist Dr. Charles M. Allen PhD, prolific author and workshop leader and his charming wife Susan.

Offering 7 rooms, 5 of these in a detached bungalow with comfortable living/dining room area and kitchen, Allen Acres B&B is a wonderful botanical garden full of native North American butterflies and other wildlife interspersed with whimsical art installations. The presence of hens not only provides the delicious breakfasts but also plenty of charm and amusement as they forage on the lawns, in the woodland and flower-beds. One of the Welsummer hens has bonded with a black and white cat and it is fun to see their association. It is also fun to watch the antics of the two friendly farm dogs, Tannin and Willow and to stroke and scratch their tummies.

We enjoyed several fun excursions in company with proprietor Botanist and entomologist Dr. Charles Allen this time. Alongside our LMNNe President Dr. Bette Kauffman we explored the Bottomland mixed hardwood forest by the Ouiska Chitto creek in search of Carolina Lilies and saw wonderful diverse mature woodland with tall Black Tupelo Gum trees, bracket fungi and lots of different herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees. Last time we were here we didn’t even walk into the forest, there was so much to see in the gardens themselves. This time we saw a great deal more, including the State and National Champion Large Gallberry Tree (Ilex coriacea) on the property.

We then piled into Dr. Allen’s van and explored a nearby wood where we found some more Carolina lilies, but they weren’t in flower. On our return we stopped off at the local cemetery with its intriguing Appalachian-style historic grave houses. We delighted to see flowering Carolina lilies upon the grave of a popular local botanist! It was very fitting.

If you like Macro photography, hens and hummingbirds you’d love Allen Acres! There is beauty on every side. Here I got my first ever images of a Long-tailed Skipper and Painted Lady! Furthermore this garden of delights was the perfect testing ground for my Apeman Action Camera on high speed video setting (120 fps).

I’ve had this little action camera since Christmas, but this was the first time I had set it out for butterflies. I put it on a tripod before various tempting flowers and left the scene for the butterflies to film themselves. There were plenty of interesting insects, spiders, mantids and small lizards to photograph! The flowers themselves are very lovely. You can view a slow-motion sequence of a handsome Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on YouTube by clicking here: https://youtu.be/GVnY4DhFOtg. This film is set to very soothing Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 music performed by Mackie and Me (Dennis McCorkle).

We marveled at the Allens’ hawkmoth-haunted ‘Moon Garden’. We loved the Sphinx moths which were the size, form and insect-equivalent, of the new world Hummingbirds. There are plenty of real Hummingbirds here too, of the Ruby-throated variety, but unlike these moths they are diurnal.

A large Sphinx moth drinking from flowers at Allen Acres B&B.
Wow! These Sphinx moths drink their nectar at the hover through a surprisingly long, slender proboscis! Dr. Charles Allen has planted trellises and bushes of tempting, tube-like flowers and squadrons of these glorious moths buzz in from the forest to feed in the gloaming. It’s very exciting to see them buzzing about and drinking their fill of the sweet nectar.
The Pawpaw tree with edible fruit is host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly.
The Pawpaw tree with edible fruit is host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly larvae. Dr. Allen encourages a rich faunal biodiversity by providing a rich floral biodiversity!

In addition to the daytime butterfly, wasp, bee and plant photography the night photography at Allen Acres is very rewarding. We walked with Dr. Allen at 9 o’clock around his many lamp-lit sheets to view the many moths and other critters attracted by the lights. Every night and early morning Dr. Allen inspects and records his findings. He calls this ‘Mothing’. Please note that Mothing is quite addictive because you never know quite what you’ll encounter. Perhaps a handsome brown beetle of prodigious size, or a giant Luna, Polyphemus or Imperial moth. Definitely a myriad of smaller ones in a wide range of sizes, colours and forms! On the way you might very well encounter fireflies.

There are also opportunistic predators on the sheets, such as spiders and mantids! We found two species of Mantid here, the American Grass Mantis (Thesprotia graminis) and The Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina).

I will add more pictures to this article over time. You can view my growing list of species encountered on iNaturalist by clicking here.

I just received the Autumnal Educational Events news for 2019 from Dr. Allen. He says “we are about three weeks away from the first fall plant id class.  Four basic (three day) ones (Sept 17-19. Sept 24-26, Oct 8-10, and Oct 15-17) are offered plus a three day graminoid (Sept 30-Oct 2) and a two day weekend basic (Oct 12-13).   Wetland species are covered in all classes and edibles in the basic ones.  Options for fewer days are available.  Email native@camtel.net or call 337-328-2252 with questions.

Longleaf Pine trees (Pinus palustris) in Louisiana's Kisatchie National Forest. This panorama is stitched from two photos taken on my Pentax K-1 with 28-80mm lens.
Longleaf Pine trees (Pinus palustris) in Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest near Allen Acres. This panorama is stitched from two photos taken on my Pentax K-1 with 28-80mm lens.

I declare that I received no remuneration for this article and my opinions are genuine and unsolicited in any way. Text and images copyright Charles Paxton 2019.