Images and Text by Lana Gramlich
In 2006 I moved to Abita Springs, Louisiana, a quaint, little town on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. A year later I discovered that I lived just over a mile from The Nature Conservancy’s Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve. Since then I have walked and photographed there dozens of times. Three ecosystems mesh at this 996 acre site– longleaf pine savanna, slash pine/pond cypress woodlands and bayhead swamp. From forests and grassy fields to the Abita Creek that runs through them, this unique convergence offers some wonderfully varied photographic opportunities.
Only about 3% of America’s longleaf pine savanna still exists today. At this preserve, not only do I get to photograph these wonderful woods, but, in an effort to give back, I’ve joined a team of volunteers that meets to plant saplings every January. Light streaming through the pine savanna is always a joy to photograph (particularly on foggy mornings,) but for a few weeks every Fall it takes on a surreal, colorful glow shortly before sunset, an effect I refer to as “fairy light.”
A boardwalk with interpretive stations and benches meanders through the slash pine/pond cypress woodlands, crossing the Abita Creek twice. Cottonmouths are not uncommon at the site during the warm months, so watch where you step! In Sept./Oct., golden orb weavers build their huge webs in the woods and sometimes across the boardwalk—you’ll know it if you walk through one! We don’t get a lot of fall foliage in the New Orleans area, but swamp cyrilla trees at this site sometimes make up for this shortfall, turning a myriad of jewel colors. There’s often a wide variety of colors on a single tree!
The Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve is home to several carnivorous plants. In April, thousands of pale pitcher plants bloom. In May, parrot pitchers take over. Less obvious are various sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. Other wildflowers include swamp mallow, cosmos, tickseed, pale meadow beauty, white and honeycomb asters, small-spreading pogonia orchids, blazing star, bog buttons and more. Photogenic grasses include white-topped sedge, toothache grass, little bluestem, switch grass, three awn, beaked rush and muhly grass.
The site is a wonderful place for birds, particularly during the Spring migration, from game birds and waterfowl to raptors, songbirds and woodpeckers. Rare animals include Henslow’s sparrow, Bachman’s sparrow and the flatwoods digger crawfish. There are also white-tailed deer, gray foxes, raccoons, opossums, various anoles, newts and others. Insects include 6-spotted tiger beetles, cicadas, ebony jewelwings, American bird grasshoppers, common wood nymphs, black swallowtails and buckeye butterflies.
I consider myself lucky to live so close to such a fantastically diverse landscape, and if you’re headed to the Greater New Orleans area, I highly recommend a side visit to the Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve.