Eagles and Egrets

Bald Eagle perched in a bald cypress tree.

Blue skies and cold air greeted Steve Uffman and I as we launched at Bayou Black Marina to do a Bald Eagle Scout for my upcoming workshop at Eagle Expo March 1, 2013 in Morgan City. We saw our first bird 15 minutes later on nest #1.  She was hunkered down incubating her eggs.  Off we sped to the next two that are near the marina and found the same.  By the end of the day, all 14 that we got relatively close to had females on the nest.  Two nests had been rebuilt.  They were near last year’s nest that was blown down in one of the summer storms.  I had to ask Steve to slow down; 30 knots in his bay boat had my eyes watering so bad that I could not see well enough to look for new nests. Then we found 4 new nests.  Total count for the day was 18. Four we could not get close to.  One of last year’s was down with no sign of a new nest, but one bird was in the vicinity of the old nest.

CC releases a Great Egret after freeing her from a nutria trap. Photo Credit: Steve Uffman.

As we approached the area, I noticed a Great Egret struggling.  It was caught in a nutria trap of the leg hold type.  Steve edged the boat up to the bank, and I jumped out on the spongy marsh soil and tossed my jacket gently over the trapped bird.  Then I sprung the trap and checked out the bird’s foot.  It was bleeding slightly, but remarkably did not seem broken. As I held her carefully, I saw her wiggle her toes.  She had a couple of breeding plumes already, and her face had changed into breeding colors.  I released her to fly way with her legs trailing normally.  I think she will be fine, find her mate, and nest successfully. Another treat of the day were the numerous hawks.  I counted 75 over our 61 mile trip – mostly red-tail hawks.  I'll go back in a few weeks to see the eagles flying more.  They will make many trips to the nest to feed hungry young.



In the last two weeks I went into the Atchafalaya 6 times, it was kind of like the old days.  Almost anyway, because when I first ventured into the basin I would usually go in for 5 nights.  I would camp in my Gart Brothers $19.95 canvas pup tent, carry my cameras in a Coleman ice chest, sleep on a piece of foam rubber that I bought from an army surplus store and eat canned tuna, peanut butter, apples and sweet rolls. So it was different in the fact that these six were day trips, on five I stayed until sunset and on the other we went for sunrise, but a blown tire on the boat trailer caused us to miss that part of the morning. On one trip I took friends, three others were with workshop students and two were exploring by myself.

A young raccoon on top of a cypress tree at sunset.

Different again because on all six, I saw bald eagles. That never happened in the 70’s. On recent trips I always see more wildlife.  Beaver, alligators and the biggest treat was two young raccoons that ran down the bank and climbed up a small bald cypress tree just as the last gleam of a setting sun put a little light on one’s face. Best of all was the peace and quite of the fall landscapes. Moss covered bald cypress trees were especially photogenic in the low afternoon light.  There were lots of choices for angles in the small bayous north of Flat Lake, the banks of Cross Bayou and the big second growth trees of Mimms Lake.  When this rain stops I am heading back out, those same trees should be in their peak of fall colors.

Reflections of moss covered bald cypress trees near Cross Bayou.


Fall In Colorado

It was 48 degrees at my house this morning, true fall weather. Leaves, although mostly green, have been falling or blown off since Hurricane Isaac. Now, happiness is in the air as I hope all of those hot humid days of summer are gone. Yet, I could not wait until today this joy so last month I took the high road to Colorado to photograph that blanket of golden yellow that decorates the Rocky and Sangre de Cristo mountains at 8,000 - 10,000 feet.

Most of my time was spent in Wet Mountain Valley. It's in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains which are called such because you see them light up in red on some mornings. Headquartered in the town of Westcliffe, once a silver mining community, I taught a natural history photo workshop specializing in fall colors, ranch life (see web page for more cowgirl pictures) and digital workflow. Our group of eight photographed cottonwood lined creeks with 14,000 ft. mountains in the background.

After shooting in the foothills, we took jeeps over Medano Pass. At 10,000 feet, it is in the heart of aspen tree habitat. The west side had many more photogenic trees than the east. They were in peak color with 13,297 ft. Mount Herard in the background.

Driving down the western slope, we crossed Medano Creek nine times. Then the road turned sandy as we had a view of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. You would think you were in the Sahara Desert; they are so massive. My best shot was framing the dunes in some partially changed cottonwood trees.

With so much to photograph, the students and I had a hard time keeping up with downloading and editing. Today I finally narrowed my shoot down to 300 images to label and keyword. And a few more of those photos will be trimmed in the coming weeks as the newness of the trip wears off and Louisiana fall gives me its subtle change of season to photograph.


Colorado Cowgirls

A herd of quarter horses gallop across the pastures

After landing in the Colorado Springs Airport and being refreshed by the cool mountain air and seeing the explosion of golden yellow aspen leaves I met my workshop students at the Coyote Moon workshop complex.  Brent Bruser and Bar Scott run writing, music and photography workshops in this refurbished youth ski hostel.

Elin Ganschow galloping with lasso in hand to herd the horses

We had a treat lined up for the students before we tackled the natural history images of the mountains.  Far tucked between some ridges in the Wet Mountain Valley is the Music Meadows Ranch owned and run by Elin Ganschow.  Before sunrise the students and I shot images of this authentic cowgirl silhouetted against the big Colorado sky. Then her daughter, Katlyn Rusher, joined her to move a herd of 14-quarter horses between pastures.  It’s quite the site to see, these two women in full gallop with the herd.

Elin Ganschow carrying the vintage saddle 

Elin with blond pig tails under a cowboy hat with a floral band, pink shirt and a vintage saddle acquired from a retired rodeo champion was as truly photogenic.  We spent the rest of the day getting details and close ups around the ranch, before retiring to the barn for steaks from the grass fed beef she raises on the ranch.  Under a waxing crescent moon, we walked back to our vehicles without the need of a flashlight. The moon and stars lit up the night in these clear mountain skies as we thought about a trip to the mountains for the next day's shoot.


Night Animals

Animals visiting the Big Hole Project

Red Fox ( Vulpes vulpes)
*Low Res. image caught by night cameras
One of the fringe benefits of my land building project is having the curiosity of learning what wildlife is using the new land.  I set up a remote camera to find out and was rewarded with quite a diversity of wild creatures and some not so wild.  With my 1,379th bag of yard waste deposited on July 9th, I have created 720 square feet of new level land that was once a steep crevasse.  My favorite mammal to walk through the infrared beam of the camera was a sleek and well furred red fox, a mostly nocturnal animal probably looking for mice utilizing the composting leaves and grass clippings as a home. The coyote came by for the same reason.

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
*Low Res. image caught by night cameras

The opossums, armadillos and raccoons that passed the camera were looking for food too, like insects for the armadillo.  I have found many species of invertebrates using the giant compost pile.  Corn, I put out for the deer also brought in the opossum and coon.  I got one shot of a raccoon inspecting a bag of leaves I hadn't emptied yet.  White-tailed deer have been the most numerous visitors.  I have over 500 pictures of deer, mainly does, but a few nice bucks. They quickly get used to the camera clicking and utilize the area nightly.

At night I have also seen a cottontail rabbit, my neighbors cat, numerous dogs. In the day, grey squirrels, crows, blue jays, doves, chickadee and many other birds drop by.  I also catch an occasional human coming down to inspect the progress of my project.

Again I tie my project into the vanishing wetlands of coastal Louisiana, the habitat there is a prolific conglomeration of wildlife.  My hole project is the same as layers of yard refuse saved from the landfill are making habitats for a diverse array of creatures.  See more pictures of night creatures here.


The Big Hole Project

My wife thinks I am half crazy dragging bags of leaves, grass clippings and other yard debris to an erosion gap in our creek.  Maybe she is right, for I have just unloaded bag number 1,311 into that hole.  All of these bags were collected since June of 2011.  That’s 108 bags per month I have saved from the Baton Rouge landfill.  Estimated to be 26,000 pounds of good organic material not wasted. See more pictures.
Adam Aucoin stand in the hole in June of 2011,
since then 1. 311 bags of leaves  have been put in.

Why?  It started on September 1, 2008 when the winds of Hurricane Gustav knocked down a pine tree, 3 foot in diameter and over 80 feet tall into the above mentioned gap.  It extended into my creek.  I was immediately sad to lose such a big tree and especially so because that gap was my trail to the stream. I solved part of the problem by trimming the limbs off the tree so I could walk down to the creek on top of it. A little more than two years later this became dangerous as the tree rotted.  On May 29, 2011 my stepson Adam and I sawed the pine log into four foot pieces and left them in the hole. A few days later I started throwing nearby limbs and branches on the logs. Brainstorm!  I could see the crevasse totally filled up, making a nice view point over the creek and creating 720 square feet of usable land.
CC stands on the newly accreted land after many bags
 of leaves and grass clipping have been put in.

Branches would take a long time so another idea came to mind as I headed to my office and saw some garbage bags by the street full of grass clippings.  I had collected leaf bags in the fall for years to make compost.  I decided to start collecting bags of yard refuse and fill the crevasse.  With a combination of grass, leaves, sticks and a little dirt every now and then, this concoction of materials will decompose faster than just the logs, limbs and branches.  Furthermore, it has the added advantage of keeping those full bags of valuable vegetable matter out of the land fill.  I made my first entry in my hole ledger on June 5, 2011.  Twenty-one bags of grass went into the hole.  I quickly found out who had the best bags of stuff in a six block radius of my office. So in just a few minutes each Monday on the way to work I could obtain 20 to 30 bags.

So working like a beaver, engineering with layers of leaves, grass clippings and fallen limbs, I began filling that eroded crevasse. It was about 18 feet wide and 40 feet long.  It starts about 4 feet deep and reaches 15 feet deep by the creek. Today, I can walk out about 22 feet on solid ground and another 10 on a spongy surface of compacting leaves.  This leaves only 8 feet left to reach the bluff above the creek.  That will be the hard part, developing a firm vertical bank.

I know as it decomposes, it will sink, compact and subside just like the Louisiana coast and I just like the Mississippi River will keep adding layers until I reach the height and compaction I need.  Unlike the Louisiana coast which always needs new sediment, I think I will reach a point where I no longer have to add.

It's a crying shame that we do not let the Mississippi River get its valuable sediments from the heartland of America into our beautiful and valuable marshes anymore and drag our feet in making that right.

It took 6,000 years of Mississippi River sediments from the heartland of America to build 8,000 square miles of coastal Louisiana.  It will take me about a year and a half to make a 720 square foot plaza above my creek and save the landfill about 2,000 bags of leaves and grass.  As I sit out on my newly accreted land, I think maybe, just maybe this hole project be the inspiration to getting the valuable sediment out of the Mississippi and back into the coastal wetlands.
Link to Baton Rouge Recycle


Bags of Leaves

What does saving Louisiana's subsiding coast, making compost and taking it easy on the Baton Rouge landfill have in common with these bags of leaves? Find out Monday when I write about a project I started one year ago.

Bags of leaves collected from the street in South Baton Rouge


New Inspiration

Last week I finally got to see Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne’s presentation called Why Louisiana Ain’t  Mississippi; it was very inspiring.  Don’t miss it if you ever get a chance. It made me want to get out and see more of Louisiana right now.  It reminded me of the mid 1980s when I was accused of spending too much time in the swamps and marshes of South Louisiana and leaving out the beauties of the rest of our wonderful state.  So I embarked on a two year journey to do a book called Discovering Louisiana. On this sojourn I found much to like and have seen so much more since…but there is still more.

So yesterday I decided to go fishing on the Ouachita River with Jimmy Newsom.  His son Rob, a musician, mountain climber, proprietor of Boudreaux Cellars, and friend of mine, had been telling me for years that Jimmy was one of the best white perch, (sac-a-lait to Cajuns) fishermen in North Louisiana.  Rob has been suggesting that I go fishing with his dad for years. I met Jimmy in his driveway in Dubach at 5:30 AM. On our drive to Alabama Landing I find out he turned 91 years old last week.  He looked like he was 80, acted like he was 70 and moved like he was 60 when he jumped into the boat on its trailer and asked me to back him into the river.

Jimmy Newsom

It wasn’t long before he jerked in the first of 24 fish we caught that day.  I think it was 19 for Jimmy and 5 for me. The morning was cool and he told me war stories. One was about how important it was to have good pitch to be a sonar operator on a US Navel Destroyer to tell if a submarine was coming or going, which is how he served our country in World War II. But mainly we talked about fishing. We also saw a few water snakes and lots of egrets and herons. When we headed back to the boat ramp, I told Jimmy that I was inspired to see more of the Ouachita River.  Soon I will put my boat in at the Arkansas border and float down to Jonesville, Louisiana.


Bicentennial Day and Stamp Release

Monday was a wonderful start to Louisiana's 200th year as a state.  The event was put together by the Bicentennial Commission, the Lieutenant Governor's Office, and the USPS. The party was chock full of celebrities and talented people with Louisiana roots.

The luncheon at the Governor's Mansion was a tasty start.  Chef Don Bergeron used local ingredients.  Then our group bused to the State Capitol and entered the packed House Chamber.  Most all of our state's elected officials were there.  Jay Dardene was the MC and gave an interesting short history of the state. Michael Wynne of the commission spoke in place of General Honore. Monique Gagnon-Tremblay spoke in French.   The pace picked up when Zachary Richard sang a wonderful song about the oldest tribe in Louisiana.

Interesting remarks were spoken by Political Strategist James Carville, Actress Faith Ford, Filmmaker William Joyce, Chef Paul Prudhomme and finally Jay Dardene read a letter from Journalist Cokie Roberts, who broke a bone the day before and could not come.

Finally, after three years of knowing that my favorite photo would be the bicentennial stamp, Anthony J. Vegliante, Executive Vice President of the USPS, unveiled a five foot facsimile of the Forever Stamp.

Deacon John sang, Donna Douglas (alla Elly May Clampet) belted out her signature shrill whistle, then Irma Thomas and Jay Chevlier led the crowd in You Are My Sunshine.

Afterwards stamps and first day of issue envelopes were sold as a giant Louisiana themed cake was cut. I'll be attending a few bicentennial events throughout the rest of the year, but mostly I can get back in my boat and look for another Flat Lake Sunset in the Atchafalaya Basin.  Happy Birthday Louisiana!


Oil Flow Anniversary

Today we remember again what can happen when we are careless, greedy and just plain stupid.  I look back to the worst work of my photographic career. I spent most of my time two years ago on the Louisiana coast while the oil was flowing.

The boom did not work very well

It  came from one mile down, diluted by dispersants and still making its way to pollute the waters, dirty the beaches, and torture the fauna. I am worried about the drop in egg production on some of the prey species (minnows) of fish.

One of the many oil soaked young Brown Pelicans

More of my photographs on this sad time can be seen on an i-Pad app HERE.

On a positive note, I attend a luncheon celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Louisiana Nature Conservancy yesterday. Many attended that have done so much to preserve and set aside valuable habitat in our great state. They are my favorite conservation group as I think the best way to save flora and fauna is to buy land and that is exactly what the LNC does. Skipper Dixon and Nancy Jo Craig, two of the founders asked me to serve on the board of which I did for a few years I also made them a slide presentation about the diversity of Louisiana habitats.  Robert Barham, Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and fisheries gave an entertaining talk at the lunch. With groups like this, the Audubon, the Sierra, the sports fishing and hunting community we will be able to take care of one of Louisiana’s assets, simply put as the “Great Outdoors”.


Email Boycott

On April 30th Louisiana celebrates its 200th birthday.  On that same day the bicentennial stamp will be released with my photograph of Flat Lake Sunset.  I say that makes it a perfect day to write a letter or two or ten.  Write your mother, write your grand kids or write an old high school chum.  Ban and boycott email for the day and write letters. Do all you kids, teenagers, and young adults realize how much your grandmother would appreciate a letter?

First Day of Issue envelope available for purchase at cclockwood.bigcartel.com

My grandmother so appreciated every letter I wrote her, she responded immediately and sometimes even corrected my grammar, as she was an English teacher for 40 years.  Early in my career, I would send letters to magazines querying them to run my newest pictures.  What a delight it was to open my mailbox and see National Geographic or Smithsonian on the return address.  I would open with anticipation, hoping that they did want to use my photographs.

At the local Post Office mailing a letter
So take a day off from email, start now and write a stack of letters.  On April 30th go to the Post Office and get a few Louisiana Bicentennial stamps, you don't have to lick, just stick’em and mail. Grandma will be delighted.

No email on April 30th.

By the way, Flat Lake Sunset is my favorite picture and I am proud to have it on a USPS stamp.



Although it is 15 days until official spring, I say it is here now.  At least it is in Baton Rouge where the azaleas are in full bloom and also in West Feliciana Parish where the dogwoods are bursting in their white splendor. Not everybody is warm, for I know my friend Renny Russell at 8,000 feet in the northern New Mexico Mountains is still knee deep in snow.

I love the azaleas for photography for they are such a captive subject and in so many colors ranging from pure white to deep red.  I encourage students in my workshops to look for subjects like this so they can practice their technique and composition. It helps before a big trip in the Atchafalaya Basin or the Grand Canyon.

Multi-colored Azaleas

Another indicator to the blooming season is my chickens. They get stingy in the winter and slow way down in their egg laying duties. December through late February I was getting one egg every other day, three to four a week out of 7 full size hens and 4 bantam hens. That’s hardly enough yolk to make a joke. A few days ago they popped back into high gear and we are eating our fill and giving eggs away to friends again. There is a variety in my hen house from the calm Buff Orpington laying light brown eggs to the sassy Araucana laying blue eggs.  I have a lot of shades of brown eggs and tiny white eggs from my bantams.  All good.

Colorful mix of fresh eggs

On the way to the office to post this blog, I passed a neighbor’s pasture and saw a new born filly stand for the first time, nurse and run with her mother.  Amazing for only a few hours old. 

Filly standing up for the first time

After I took photographs and started for the truck, I heard honking high above and saw an undulating V of snow geese heading due north.  Yes, spring is in the air.

Flock of snow geese heading north


A 200 Year Old Flag

I had a great meeting at the State Capitol last Thursday to plan the unveiling of my “Flat Lake Sunset” photograph on its release date which will be April 30th, Louisiana’s two hundredth birthday.  Etta Smith of the United States Postal Service in Washington, DC was there as well as Sarah Augustine, Baton Rouge’s Postmaster.  Michael Wynne, Shelia McCant, and Randy Haynie  of The Bicentennial Commission also were in attendance.

The big treat was seeing a United States flag Randy found at an auction.  It was made in 1812.  It is one of only two US flags made that year that are still in existence.  Etta Smith of the USPS  posed with me and this priceless heirloom.

CC with Etta Smith holding a 200 year old United States flag

The bald cypress trees in my photograph could be over 100 years old, perhaps 200, as they grow slow when submerged year around.  It’s quite an honor to have a picture of my favorite place associated with Louisiana’s celebration of 200 years of statehood.


Eagle Expo

Yesterday I took a boat trip east of Morgan City to scout for next week’s Eagle Expo.  A beautiful day, sunshine with a few wispy clouds and birds everywhere.  The Terrebonne Parish marshes are chocked full of all kinds of birds this time of year and the national symbol is nesting in force.  I visited three of the seventy plus nest that exist in this parish.  All had young birds. I estimate they were about 7 inches tall when standing in site at the edge.  It makes me happy that the bald eagle has come back so well since the well-known synthetic insecticide DDT  put the whammy on eagles, osprey, brown pelicans and other fish eating birds. In 1975 there were only seven known bald eagle nests in the state.
Bald Eagle
On my nineteen mile boat ride I saw and photographed three kinds of egrets, anhingas, common moorhens, American coots,  white ibis, yellow-rumped warblers as well as the bald eagle.  I was preparing for my eagle photography workshop,  on February 9 in Morgan City.  It’s part of Eagle Expo, a three day events celebrating this majestic bird.  Seven years old now and getting better every year. Besides my workshop there are lots of activities and speakers.  The Banquet will feature Ann McCutchan, author of River Music, An Atchafalaya Story, and Earl Robichaux, who has preserved and celebrates the sounds of the basin. Michael Sealy, Donna Dittman, Steve Cardiff, and Reese Lukei, Jr. will speak on a variety of bird subjects.  You can find out more about it : HERE.
I also got to photograph nutria, the first green of spring in the black willow leaves and the red of the winged seeds of the swamp red maple tree. For me the best place to photograph nature this time of year is the marshes around Houma and Morgan City.


Geaux Tigers

I have never drunk a cup of coffee, for after my grandmother gave me a teaspoon taste of hers, I never went back for seconds. Tea is my morning ritual and I take it with honey. Lucky, lucky me got a Honey Badger jug of honey for Christmas.  Honey they say is a good defense against allergies.  LSU Honey Badger is a good defensive man against all other football teams.

Life will be close to normal after Monday and I’ll get back to stories about the birds and the bees, recreation and the environment.  A taste of one of my next ones is seen here under this LSU Championship banner.  It’s a giant hole filled with leaves and grass clipping, 762 bags so far.  In one of those bags I collected street side in Baton Rouge was this flag.  I deposited the leaves in my hole and saved the flag around the end of August.  It has stayed right there guarding the ever filling hole and watching LSU go 13 and 0. After LSU wins its forth National Championship I’ll tell you more about the hole.


Good Luck and Good Economy

I picked a cabbage from my garden at 10:30 AM yesterday to cook for lunch with my black eye peas, deer hot tamales, brussel sprouts and cornbread.  Most was from my own yard and that includes the chives, peppers, parsley, cilantro and dill to spice things up.   Sure was tasty! And yes, very traditional.  Instilled by my parents I have not missed the black eye peas and cabbage in all my years on earth.  They say it brings good luck and good economy. And looking back, I have been lucky.  One of the lucky things in my life is to have the desire and the knowledge to grow a cabbage as pretty as the one shown.  For a number of future blogs in 2012 I plan on reflecting on some of my good luck.

Besides that delicious lunch I resolve to continue eating healthy, getting out in the fresh air as well as exploring the backwoods and bayous of Louisiana and when I don’t get some other type of exercise. 

A happy, healthy and productive New Year to everyone.  And Happy 200th  birthday to Louisiana.