These country roads - hidden treasures in our back yard
When nature’s reprieve of cold, January winds means temperatures hover in the seventies, it’s just a matter of deciding how to spend time outdoors. I lifted my bike off the rack and headed for a favorite route, Hwy. 91, southbound from Gueydan towards the Florence Club and White Lake Birding Trail.
It’s a route of solitude and a beautiful introduction to the marsh. If you can, I recommend an open and slow mode of travel. With the prevailing south winds, you can often smell the salt in the summer air as it blows across the marsh. The Florence canal lies on the west side of Hwy. 91 and, if you catch it on the right day, the sunset over the Florence marsh is exquisite. I’ve driven there many times just hoping to catch a brilliant one. On the east side, tall Roseau cane shares the ever deepening ditch with utility poles that are propped on both sides to keep them upright. Cattle graze in former rice fields while the cattle egrets catch a ride on their backs. I once saw a fox cross the highway in front of me so keep your eyes open. There’s plenty to see if you’re driving in slow mode.
The Florence Club, once the office of the White Land Company and now a private residence, is worth the drive itself and lies at the end of Hwy. 91 on the right. No longer just a large, two story hunting club, it’s a sprawling estate with new outbuildings and beautifully manicured grounds. I can envision the original owner standing on the upper front balcony overlooking the land around him that had been pumped dry in order to sell plots and establish the town of Florence. The proposal never materialized, which could be why the crystal clear, freshwater marsh, White Lake, lies to the south of it. To whatever credit we owe, White Lake is pristine and records nature as it was introduced to man.
Directly across the Florence Club lies the White Lake Birding Trail. You can view a small section of it from the road head, where you’ll also find two information kiosks. But don’t stop there as more is revealed just beyond the tree line. Winter brings certain outdoor advantages to south Louisiana such as a lack of mosquitoes and reptiles so you will have no qualms walking the two mile trail without any of the above to worry about.
The trail lies within 32 acres of natural habitat. There’s a wide, nicely groomed path to maneuver it surrounded by a variety of flora and birds. You’ll find a printed guide to identify both at the information kiosks. A couple of paths cross and wind around a smaller, front section of ponds in a natural state. The flora is pretty amazing even in winter. In fact, the brown grasses stand apart from any greenery and make identification easier.
An over story of trees is the main attraction for songbirds. Living just six miles from this location, I never expected to hear such a chorus. But over 300 varieties of song birds can be found in addition to waterfowl and wading birds. I surprised a pair green-winged teal swimming in the drainage canal following the trail on the south side. The male advanced a few feet but the female hesitated before both lifting off. I’d never seen a pair at such close range and can’t articulate the beauty of their coloring to give them justice.
My favorite location on the trail, though, was yet to come. An observation tower built in the rear allows for an elevated, 360-degree view of the area. To add to the experience, while I was absorbing the visual beauty of the marsh, another avian chorus came from a flock of Specklebelly geese flying overhead. With the recent introduction of the whooping crane to the White Lake Conservation area, it’s easy to get excited about the idea of seeing these in the days to come. Coastal Texas has a flock of North America’s tallest bird, which is where the lone survivor of White Lake’s original flock was relocated in 1950. Let’s hope the cranes make a resurgence in our area and welcome them back.
As I mounted my bike, impressed with my experience and headed home, a red tailed hawk flew off of a high wire and guided me for a short distance. I couldn’t ask for a scripted ending that would improve being escorted from the White Lake Birding Trail by a raptor.