Mardi Gras Museum

Laissez les bons temps rouler. (Let the good times roll) This museum was great, it holds the largest display of Mardi Gras costumes in the world. The Mardi Gras Museum is a unique treasure in Lake Charles, LA. It is the central place where traditions, history and artifacts are on display preserving the cultural heritage of the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana. 

I loved getting to see all the costumes close up. The workmanship on the costumes was exquisite.  I can only imagine the amount of work put into each costume. I was informed that costumes can take up to 6 months to create and cost upwards of $10,000 – to be used for only that years Mardi Gras.

I also learned about Krewes. A krewe is any group or organization of revelers to band together to host a Mardi Gras ball, ride on a Mardi Gras parade float and participate in social events throughout the year. In Southwest Louisiana, there are more than 50 krewes, a number that continues to grow each season. Just as one pot of gumbo varies from the next, krewes are formed for many different reasons and one can gain acceptance to a krewe in many different ways.

New Orleans

I love the food, music, energy, and colors. The first time I visited I thought I was in a different country. It’s one of my favorite places to visit, and I get overstimulated in about a week. So, a great place to visit, but I would have a hard time living here. Not to mention the inevitable weight gain.

New Orleans Nicknamed the “Big Easy,” is known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant live-music scene and spicy, singular cuisine reflecting its history as a melting pot of French, African and American cultures. Embodying its festive spirit is Mardi Gras, the late-winter carnival famed for raucous costumed parades and street parties.

Fort Pickens

I am not a history buff but I love the architecture and symetry of these Florida Forts (See previous post on Dry Tortuga) Walking the halls, I could sense the history from the civil war and beyond.

Fort Pickens is a massive five-bastioned work, consisting of one tier of casemates and a barbette tier. It was designed to unleash a ring of fire from its seaward facing walls. Fort Pickens became the largest brick structure on the Gulf of Mexico. It exhibited the latest technologies in coastal defense design, construction, and weaponry. Fort Pickens was a mark of the growing power of the United States, and as a part of the Third System, it helped make America virtually impregnable, for a time.

Ibises & Bitterns

White Ibises gather in groups in shallow wetlands and estuaries in the southeastern United States. At each step, their bright red legs move through the water and their curved red bill probes the muddy surface below. White Ibises nest in colonies in trees and shrubs along the water’s edge, changing locations nearly every year.  Fun Fact: Male White Ibises are super protective. They guard the nest and their female to prevent other ibises from stealing sticks from the nest and from advances of other males during nest building and egg laying. It’s not until night when the risks are lower that the female is left alone.

You’ll need sharp eyes to catch sight of an American Bittern. This streaky, brown and buff heron can materialize among the reeds, and disappear as quickly, especially when striking a concealment pose with neck stretched and bill pointed skyward. These stealthy carnivores stand motionless amid tall marsh vegetation, or patiently stalk fish, frogs, and insects. They are at their most noticeable in spring, when the marshes resound with their odd booming calls that sounds like the gulps of a thirsty giant. Fun Fact: American Bitterns are heard more often than seen. Their booming, clacking, gulping calls have earned them some colorful nicknames, including “stake-driver,” “thunder-pumper,” “water-belcher,” and “mire-drum.”

Spoonbills & Wood Storks

Wood Storks wade through southeastern swamps and wetlands. Although this stork doesn’t bring babies, it is a good flier, soaring on thermals with neck and legs outstretched. This bald-headed wading bird stands just over 3 feet tall, towering above almost all other wetland birds. It slowly walks through wetlands with its long, hefty bill down in the water feeling for fish and crustaceans. This ungainly looking stork roosts and nests in colonies in trees above standing water. FUN FACT: When it gets hot outside to keep nestlings cool, Wood Stork parents regurgitate water over the nestlings. Maybe not as fun as a water park, but it does the trick

The flamboyant Roseate Spoonbill looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with its bright pink feathers, red eye staring out from a partly bald head, and giant spoon-shaped bill. Groups sweep their spoonbills through shallow fresh or salt waters snapping up crustaceans and fish. They fly with necks outstretched, to and from foraging and nesting areas along the coastal southeastern U.S., and south to South America. These social birds nest and roost in trees and shrubs with other large wading birds. FUN FACTS: As humans, we are all too familiar with hair loss as we get older. Roseate Spoonbills, it turns out, are familiar with balding too, but instead of losing hair they lose feathers from the top of their head as they get older. They get their pink coloration from the foods they eat. Crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates contain pigments called carotenoids that help turn their feathers pink.

Excited for Egrets

Egrets for the most part are easy to spot their white feathers stand out against most backgrounds, (The Reddish Egret being the exception) The largest of the Egrets is the Great Egret which stands 40 inches tall with a wingspan up to 67 inches. In 1953, the great egret in flight was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers.

The Reddish Egret reaches 32 inches in length, with a 49 inch wingspan. It stalks its prey visually in shallow water far more actively than other herons and egrets, frequently running energetically and using the shadow of its wings to reduce glare on the water once it is in position to spear a fish; the result is a fascinating dance. Due to its bold, rapacious yet graceful feeding behavior, author Pete Dunne nicknamed the reddish egret “the Tyrannosaurus rex of the Flats”. Even now that makes me smile.

The smallest of the egrets is the Cattle Egret has a short, thick-neck and spends most of its time in fields rather than streams. It forages at the feet of grazing cattle, head bobbing with each step, or rides on their backs to pick at ticks. This stocky white heron has yellow plumes on its head and neck during breeding season.

The Snowy Egret is the fanciest of the egrets. At one time, the plumes of the snowy egret were in great demand as decorations for women’s hats. They were hunted for these plumes and this reduced the population of the species to dangerously low levels. Now protected in the United States by law, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this bird’s population has rebounded. It uses it’s yellow feet as lures for fish.

Long Legged Waders – Herons

The reason I am so drawn to the Gulf Coast, is the abundance of birds espeically the long legged waders. The most recognized and largest is the Great Blue Heron. An adult  can stand 4 feet tall with a wing span of up to 6 feet. Herons locate their food by sight and usually swallow it whole. They have been known to choke on prey that is too large. The next largest is the Tricolored Heron, formerly known as the Louisiana Heron measuring in at 3 feet high with a 38 inch wingspan. I saw one tri-colored in the Everglades, fly out over the stream and dip its toes in and out of the water, then fly back to its roost to see if he attracted a fish. Then there is the Little Blue Heron at 2 feet tall. As the name suggests, as an adult it is blue, but as a juvenile it is white, as a beginner birder this was quite confusing. Little Blues tend to walk around the water looking for it’s meal. One of the most colorful is the Green Heron only 17 inches tall – one of my favorites is very chatty. I usually hear it before I see it. An interesting fact about the Green Heron, is that it can use actual bait to lure in fish to where he is hunting.

There are also 2 nocturnal feeders: the Yellow Crowned Night Heron and the Black Crowned Night Herons.

Here are a couple of my favorite shots of Herons with their feathers ruffled.

Stay tuned for my next post on Egrets & Ibises…