While here at Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, La we were looking for a nice place to hike and found the Cypress Island Preserve. We drove about 30 minutes over to the Visitor Center at Cypress Island Preserve located between Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. The preserve is being managed and maintained by the Nature Conservancy of Louisiana.
The Visitor Center is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on weekends year-round and during the week from Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime. We checked out the visitor center and there really isn’t much to see but at at least we were able to obtain a trail map of the preserve.
We were fortunate that the trails were open as the levee tail that we wanted to hike will be closed soon for the alligator nesting season from June through October. Before making our way over to the levee trail we found a small loop trail on a boardwalk that led out into the beautiful cypress-tupelo swamp. The preserve protects 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat. This area is critical to nesting wading birds that can be seen along Rookery Road.
There are some beautiful cypress and tupelo in the swamp covered with Spanish moss along the boardwalk trail. The swamp is part of a bigger body of water in the preserve, Martin Lake.We also spotted a beautiful male Prothontary Warbler. Other species such as White-Eyed Vireos and Pine Warblers could be heard singing from the treetops.
After enjoying the boardwalk trail we found the entrance to the 2.5 mile levee trail. This distance is one way so we planned to continue the hike back along the Rookery Road making the hike around Lake Martin about 5.5 miles. The trail begins in an area covered with some beautiful old-growth live oaks mostly draped with Spanish moss. The preserve has a goal to restore an additional 20,000-acres of natural cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest. We had just entered the trail when Sharon spotted a majestic Red Fox, a good start to the hike…
Although the rookery season is waning we were still able to see lots of the birds that nest in this preserve. We saw Anhinga, Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Wood Ducks and Great Blue Heron. We also spotted several Red-Eared Turtles making their way across the levee, some as big around as basketballs.
There were lots of scenic views of Lake Martin after the first mile or so and it wasn’t until we could see open water that we started seeing all sizes of American alligators. Since it is nearing their nesting time several of them would slap their tails in the water trying to scare us away. I have to admit it was a bit intimidating especially on the narrower portions of the trail with water on both sides. We really scurried along this levee where the alligators were more common.
We also came upon a Cottonmouth snake. These are identified by their dark olive to black color and their paler belly. They also are called Water Moccasins and they are poisonous. One of their unique behaviors is their ability to "stand their ground." When agitated cottonmouths often coil up and threaten intruders with their wide open mouth exposing their fangs. Mostly visible is the white lining of its mouth when open, so this gave rise to the common name, the cottonmouth. We gave him/her plenty of space and were even more cautious while moving along the trail until we finally hit Rookery Road.
The walk along the road was less interesting but we did hear lots of Barred Owls hooting their song that birders often describe as sounding like “Who cooks for yoooou… who cooks for you allllll.” We were almost back to the car when it began to rain and by the time we got to the car we were pretty darned wet. Nevertheless this was a great hike with lots of scenery and birds to see. The only recommendation other than bringing water is to bring some mosquito repellant or “Chanel No. 5 Fly” as some Cajuns refer to it…