Wild Boars in the bayou

Before I say anything about seeing feral hogs in a Louisiana bayou, I want you to watch this quick video I took. You'll get information about the hog in the video and a very good sampler of what the bayou accent sounds like in this part of the world.

The answer to your first question: yes, the tour guide was feeding the pig marshmallows on a stick.

If you didn't watch, there was much information on how the feral hogs are hunted (with dogs). But how did they get to the bayou in the first place? Rolling the clock way back to the 1500's, we find Spanish settlers bringing pigs over to the southern US as another type of livestock. Through the centuries, escape and release of these pigs has allowed them to populate the area and become a serious problem.

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How did they become feral? Easy. They are omnivorous and opportunistic. They eat mostly vegetation but can also stomach carrion. It doesn't take much to feed them and they live in a very fruitful biome. The swamp doesn't phase the hogs because they're great swimmers (all pigs are!) and their hide is tough and lends well to water.

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Because these hogs are from a diverse stock of pig species over many years, they come in every color. They reach a weight of 200 lbs. easily but have been known to surpass 400 lbs. Since they are feral, their tusks are left untouched and become nasty weapons. Tusks, which are actually the canine teeth in pigs, can reach 3 inches (~8 cm) in feral hogs.

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Feral hogs are often seen in groups called sounders. These sounders consist of breeding age females, mothers and babies. Male hogs are generally solitary.

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Earlier I mentioned that the hogs were an issue. They're problematic for humans in two ways: 1) They can transmit diseases to humans (Swine Brucellosis), who contract it by handling or ingesting infected tissues and fluids; 2) Their rooting behavior causes damage to crops, golf courses, levees, tree farms and lawns. They will also eat baby farm animals.

To avoid contraction of Swine Brucellosis, hunters are urged to wear gloves while processing meats and to cook pork thoroughly. To address the destruction issue, hunting of the hogs via snaring, shooting, trapping and cornering with dogs has become a sport in the area. Feral hogs can have 2 litters of piglets per year at 10 piglets per litter so their population must be kept in check with hunters. Unlimited hogs may be harvested on private property.

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Just a quick note on the distinction of wild pigs. These wild boars or feral hogs do occur in Texas, however, another hunted porcine species also occurs there. The javalina or peccary. They are two different beasts.

I raised pigs as a child on a farm and it was strange to see one in the swamp. Anyone who has ever been around pigs much knows their smell. I definitely smelled them before I saw them from the boat. Musky.

See you Sunday with more Newfoundland birds!

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Roseate Spoonbills in The Everglades

20160504-IMG_0266 Why do we fixate on specific things? When something catches our eye, is it because we were already subconsciously driven to notice it or is it totally random? Maybe it's both. Or neither. Maybe everything we ever see lodges somewhere in our brain and is only accessible when we follow certain paths of interest, lines of inquiry in the private auditorium of our own black echoing minds.

Why, out of all the lifers available to me in the Everglades, did I SO  want to see Roseate Spoonbills? I'm not entirely sure. But here's what I knew going in: they're kind of big, which automatically makes most people go ooohhhh aaahhh; they're mostly bright pink; and they have a large bill shaped like a spoon. That did it for me. And it was the one bird I almost did not see.

On the brink of a torrential rainstorm, we (Johanna and I) rushed out of Naples, FL where we were staying and drove without abandon toward Collier-Seminole State Park. Just as we were pulling in, our kayaking guide from the night before texted me saying, "You MUST walk Marsh Trail. If you're only going to have time for a single trail, do this one." Lucky for us, Marsh Trail was conveniently a 5-minute drive down the highway.

Sometimes in life, I wonder about the eery conveniences that we seem to stumble into. There's something magical about happy coincidences. Magical and shifty.

Cut to the chase Steph. Literally 3 minutes into our walk we find a tower that looks out onto a large glade. From the top of the tower, this is what we see.

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Understand that these photos are a heavily cropped version of this vast glade. And since we'll be in the Everglades for the next few weeks here, on this blog, let's clarify a few words. We'll start with glade, marsh, and swamp. A glade is simply a river of grass. Marshes and swamps are not the same thing. A marsh is an open wetland full of reeds and grasses while a swamp is a wetland where trees and other woody plants grow. We'll talk about bogs and fens later in another post.

Back to the spoonbills.

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Roseate Spoonbills are very content birds. They don't move around much and they don't make much noise. They aren't even worried about mating until 3 years old when they become sexually mature.

These birds have a history of struggles though. Starting in the 19th century, they were heavily hunted for their feathers. By the 1930's, they were almost completely exterminated. It was during this decade that intense persecution for the plume trade began. And by the 1940's, Roseate Spoonbills had legal protection and a very successful recovery effort ongoing in Florida and Texas.

It's a happy ending for these beautiful birds, really. Of course, they are still hunted in some places and pollution threatens to alter their breeding and feeding habits. And there's the issue of their vendetta against raccoons and the sharing of mangrove islands. But other than that, they are safe. For now.

Join me Wednesday for more Marsh Trail fun!

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