Flora and Fauna in the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
Alligators and Bears and Eagles, oh my!
Visitors come to Louisiana to experience the state’s unique culture and way of life. They are also fascinated by the unusual flora and fauna that thrive here. The 14-parish Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (pronounced uh-CHA-fuh-LIE-uh) in the south central portion of the state is particularly rich in both wildlife and mystical swampy landscapes.
Spring is the peak time to view nature in this outdoor haven. Alligators emerge from winter dormancy, colonial birds such as great blue herons, great egrets and roseate spoonbills (sometimes referred to as “Cajun flamingos”) fight for spots to lay their eggs, and even the elusive Louisiana black bear becomes, well, a little less elusive.
So bring your camera along to photograph some of these quirky animals in their picturesque natural habitats. Here are the best spots to look for the state’s most intriguing plants and wildlife:
- St. Martin Parish boasts Lake Martin and the Cypress Island Preserve, an area of bottomland hardwood forest, cypress-tupelo swamp and a live oak natural levee forest that supports one of the largest colonial waterbird rookeries in North America. Take a Spanish-moss-filled swamp tour with Cajun Country Swamp Tours, go paddling with Bayou Teche Experience or follow one of the preserve walking trails to look for roseate spoonbills, alligators and nutria that thrive here.
- Iberia Parish is known as a nature photographer’s paradise thanks to the beautiful Jungle Gardens and Rip Van Winkle Gardens, both of which boast rookeries over water. Look along the banks, where alligators like to nest.
- The best places to spot Louisiana’s mysterious black bears are the Richard K. Yancey Wildlife Management Area in Concordia Parish and the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge in St. Mary Parish, where the nearby town of Franklin even hosts the Bayou Teche Black Bear Festival each spring. Though actually seeing a bear is part patience and part luck, it is certainly worth the bragging rights.
- St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes are home to a large concentration of the more than 356 active bald eagle nests in Louisiana, and the annual Eagle Expo hosted in this region grows in popularity each year. If you take a swamp or wetland tour and keep your eyes peeled, you are likely to see one of these majestic creatures soaring through the skies.
For more information about these and other opportunities to explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area or to download a copy of the Louisiana Birding Guide, visit Atchafalaya.org.
*Note: To visit any of Louisiana’s Wildlife Management Areas, you must have one of the following: a valid Louisiana fishing license, a valid Louisiana hunting license or a Wild Louisiana Stamp, which you can buy online at WLF.Louisiana.gov.