The Wonder of Winter Swamps

November 16 2020 | Whats New

The Wonder of Winter Swamps

Dr. Bob Thomas, Louisiana Naturalist

Most people take a swamp tour to see alligators, but where do they hide during the winter? During the winter seasons, the alligators remain dormant and sightings are rare, but on a mid-winter day with some luck a few will come to the surface. Even if you don’t see an alligator, here are a few reasons why the swamp is still an amazing adventure in the winter!

No matter what time of the year, the swamp is a beautiful sight to see; however, the spring and summer months are heavy with green growth making the wildlife more difficult to see. During the winter, the leaves have fallen from the trees and the marsh has wilted, clearing the view.

You are likely to see plant life blooming throughout the year, the most easily seen is the Yellow Top (Seneciou glabellus). This plant grows to stand two feet tall and has a yellow crown of flowers. It blooms early during the low water period of the year, thus visibly seen during the winter before the rising waters of spring. Once they are covered with water, Yellow Tops serve as one of the main foods for crawfish. The winter also brings the flowering of many trees, the Swamp Red Maple (Acer drummondii) being the most apparent. Dark, red flowers cover the dry trees and when pollinated, the flowers produce seed pods and each seed is connected to a thin red blade. This seed is called a samara, and its blade-like piece causes it to spin like helicopter blades. This is how the seeds are dispersed from the base of the tree that bears them.

During the winter, it’s common for birds to fly south and Louisiana is one of their favorite places to migrate! On a Gray Line tour, you are likely to see a Bald Eagle, Redtailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks, and a Barred Owl. Among the commonly seen are ducks and waterfowl, and if you keep an eye out, you will see rails and crakes. During the tour we visit many different habitats which provides the opportunity to see countless sandpiper breeds and their relatives.

The most common mammal spotted is the nutria (Myocaster coypus), which is a hefty and pesky rodent with big orange teeth and lengthy whiskers. If you listen closely, you can hear their mew call that they use to communicate. Occasionally, you will see the nocturnal raccoon (Procyon lotor) venture into the daylight and the opossum (Didelphis virginiana), and the beautiful mink (Mustela vision). If it happens to be a warmer winter day, you will probably see an alligator, as well as turtles and snakes, soaking up the sunlight on logs and banks.

When night falls in the swamp, the wetlands become the stage for the songs of three winter breeding types of frogs. The Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) has a call that sounds like a series of clicks, similar to that of dragging one’s finger along a plastic comb. The Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) makes a shrill rising whistle note, and the Southern Leopard Frog (Rana utricularia) makes a strange sound that is similar to rubbing two pieces of rubber together. 

The swamp Captains are born and raised Louisianans and native to the coastal wetlands. They will captivate you with tales of the swamp and how local cultures live and prosper in the swamp habitats.

There is no other sight that can compare to the Louisiana wetlands in the winter and we hope you will join us for the experience!