Lake Martin Rookery

Article and Images by Joe Todd

Lake Martin Rookery, A Bird Watcher’s Paradise at Risk - Joe Todd
© Joe Todd, Field Contributor
Just a short twenty minute drive from Lafayette, Louisiana, the Lake Martin Sanctuary in early spring through mid-summer is a bird watcher’s paradise. A forest combined of oak, bald cypress and tupelo, the lake offers a unique habitat that attracts nearly sixty percent of all U.S. bird species.

With the first blooms of spring, thousands of pairs of wading birds appear at the lake which is also known and the Cypress Island Nature Preserve.

The lake was formed in the early 1950’s by a levee that was built around 765 acres of swamp land. It took nearly forty years before the birds arrived in large numbers and in 1989 over 12,000 pair of White Ibises built their nests there.

Lake Martin Rookery, A Bird Watcher’s Paradise at Risk - Joe Todd
© Joe Todd, Field Contributor
Researchers believe the ibis began nesting at the Lake due to the cypress trees ad button bush, surrounded by water, and inhabited by alligators which keep out such swamp predators as raccoons.

Over the last sixteen years the rookery drew large numbers of great egrets, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, and little blue herons which can be seen building their nests in the cypress trees and button bush and can be easily viewed along the dirt road that skirts Lake Martin.

Many other species can be seen flying overhead and a few american bald eagles have been cited from fishing boats out on the lake.

Lake Martin Rookery, A Bird Watcher’s Paradise at Risk - Joe Todd
© Joe Todd, Field Contributor
The numbers however have declined over the years and the ibis and little blue herons are far fewer in number. Naturalists attribute this to the droppings of so many birds which fuels algae and plant growth, robbing the water of oxygen. As a result, the trees begin to die along with the fish and other aquatic life the birds depend upon for food.

But all is not lost thanks to the Nature Conservancy, the conservation group that owns the rookery. Working along with local residents, the Conservancy has installed a water control system that allows the lake to be drawn down for a few months in the fall.

Lake Martin Rookery, A Bird Watcher’s Paradise at Risk - Joe Todd
© Joe Todd, Field Contributor
The hope is that removing the water and exposing the bottom to sunlight will break down the nitrogen and other nutrients that are depriving the lake of oxygen. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reports that the oxygen levels are improving but are still not optimal.

The birds could disappear as quickly as they arrived. So be sure to visit this Southwest Louisiana bird paradise before they are gone forever.

 

 

When to go:

The birds start nesting in early to mid-February and the eggs are hatching in large numbers by early April.

How to get there:

Lake Martin is located roughly halfway between Breaux Bridge and Lafayette, Louisiana. To get there from Lafayette, take the Breaux Bridge Highway to La. 353 and turn right. Go about three miles and turn left at the sign for Lake Martin. Just follow the dirt road until it ends at the levee. You have arrived in bird heaven!

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