Spend some time with the birds

The little blue heron stands as still as a stick.

Eyes intent on something beneath patches of duckweed, it strikes suddenly and withdraws a wiggling bream. For a full minute the bird wrestles with a fish that appears too big to swallow.

Nearby a limb falls. The heron flies off in fright with its prey. It flies toward a stand of cypress trees where dozens of its species nest in a swamp at the edge of Lake Martin.

This is one of the best times of the year for bird watching, especially if you can get close enough to spy on a rookery without disturbing the ritual of nest building, egg warming and baby feeding.

Not only is daily drama, like the battle between the heron and bream, visible but so is the noisy activity of various species gathering in adjacent trees to produce and nurture new life.

Along a limestone road, people from several states also gather. They point cameras and binoculars into the swamp where the colors of the large birds dot the soft green of cypress trees.

The white of snowy egrets and larger, great egrets stands out, as does the pink of rosette spoonbills warming their nests.

A few birds fly about gathering the swamp’s bounty. Returning to their nests, they slow themselves by raising their long necks, spreading their wide wings and flapping gently.

A snowy egret with elegant head plumage reacts angrily when a little blue heron flies too close.

Some of the birds have begun to feed new chicks, while others wait for their eggs to hatch. A few little blue herons still carry straw to the cypress trees. Soon they will produce white-feathered young that look more like snowy egrets. The babies will be even noisier than their parents.

For now, the harsh utterances of the adult herons mix with the more complicated voices of the spoonbills and great egrets.

Though it has been too cool for most alligators, they soon will gather near the nesting sites, many showing nothing but their snouts and pairs of ever-watching eyes.

Several hundred yards from the nesting village, a number of turtles sit atop logs to absorb the sun’s warmth. One hasn’t bothered to rid his carapace of a clump of duckweed.

The noise of the rookery fades behind us as we walk along a swamp levee. Other birds provide background music. The bass of a bullfrog backs the sweet altos of cardinals and prothonotary warblers.

A majestic, great blue heron waits silently as still as his little blue cousin. A pair of black-bellied whistling ducks forage quietly with their orange bills.

Lake Martin, near Breaux Bridge, is one of the easiest places to view this spring festival of birds, but now is a time when rookeries are alive in swamps and on islands across the southern part of the state.

It’s a great time to spend a day with the birds.

Advocate Florida Parishes bureau chief Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to banderson@theadvocate.com.