Avery Island, part of the McIlhenny compound, where Tabasco Sauce has been made for generations. In addition to the unlikely juxtaposition of egrets and hot sauce, Avery Island isn’t an island, but a salt dome. The salt mined here is used to make Tabasco Sauce.
live oaks and camellias in full bloom. We came to a pond in which two alligators swam and a third lounged on a bank. Nearby, a lone great egret stalked fish, perhaps taking a break from the frenetic nest building occurring down the road.
We could hear the rookery, which consists of several platforms set in a marshy pond, long before we saw it. For such graceful birds, egrets make the least graceful of sounds: coarse caws, croaks, and gravelly burps seem to make up their vocal repertoire, in marked contrast to their sinuous elegance when fishing or in flight.
Jennifer Price in "Hats Off to Audubon":
America's hat craze was in full swing. In the 1880s trendy bonnets were piled high with feathers, birds, fruit, flowers, furs, even mice and small reptiles. Birds were by far the most popular accessory: Women sported egret plumes, owl heads, sparrow wings, and whole hummingbirds; a single hat could feature all that, plus four or five warblers. The booming feather trade was decimating the gull, tern, heron, and egret rookeries up and down the Atlantic Coast. In south Florida, plume hunters would nearly destroy the great and snowy egret populations in their quest for the birds' long, soft dorsal spring mating feathers.The Audubon Society was founded in response. Ned McIlhenny, the son of Tabasco’s founder, played his part, too. He rescued eight egrets from the plume hunters and gave them safe haven. Since then, egrets have nested at Avery Island every year.
As we stood on the observation deck, our friends pointed overhead. A lone pink-feathered bird circled high above us: a roseate spoonbill. We saw only one at Avery Island, but we learned there was another rookery at Lake Martin, near Breaux Bridge, where roseate spoonbills could be found in abundance. Our friends offered to take us there, but the hour was late, and it seemed one thing more than was sensible to try and do.
As our time in the Atchafalaya Basin waned, I kept thinking about those spoonbills. That rookery was so near, how could we resist?
On our last day, we made our way to Lake Martin. A mimeographed pamphlet we’d found was our only guide. We drove down a wide dirt road, counting out miles in tenths, until we spotted incontrovertible evidence that we’d arrived: from the back window of a parked car, two arms held out a birding scope.
Spoonbills flew from tree to tree, flaunting their pink feathers and preposterous beaks.
As we watched, an occasional birder pulled over to look, but by and large cars and pick-ups whizzed past, kicking up dust. It was hard to fathom how anyone could fail to stop. This was a wonderland at the road’s edge, and we found it difficult to leave.
But leave we had to, so leave we did. We stowed our cameras and closed the car door. As if to bid us a good journey, a spoonbill sailed by, right over our heads.
This is the third of four posts about New Orleans and South Louisiana. To read the first post, about New Orleans, click here. To read the second post, about the Atchafalaya Basin, click here. To read the last post, about (more) good eats and good music, click here.