Saturday, November 27, 2010

Da Swamp!

We headed towards Slidell, LA to go on a swamp tour. There are tens of thousands of acres of protected wetlands and the tours are eco tours, they don't feed the animals to bring them out, etc. so you see what you see, and we got really lucky! I didn't expect to see even a quarter of the wildlife that we saw in their natural environment. What a treat!

These first four pictures show the different look to the same general area. In some areas the vegetation on the water is light, in some it's so heavy you can't tell if it's solid land or not, and there are also big stretches of open water.

Open water. When it's really hot (as it is most of the year), they zip the boats through here so people can cool off. Our Cajun guide was fantastic, his name was Ted Gauthier, pronounced by him as "Go-Shay", leaving out the "ts" sound in the middle we are used to! I would bet money we were the only ones in the boat who knew how to actually spell his last name. He used some very French-person-speaking-English expressions that made me jump when I heard them, like "I really like to cook, me". Oh my God! I could be in Quebec. He also used some french expressions while speaking English. Cajun French sounds like french spoken with an American accent or like an English person trying to speak French without the right inflection/accent. As with someone speaking English with a heavy British accent, once you tune into the Cajun French, you could understand every word. I loved the whole area, the whole Cajun thing, the music, the language and the culture. Loved it! Having had the unique opportunity to grow up in one pocket of French in North America, it was great to visit another pocket of French people who evolved over several centuries in a different isolated area. There are differences for sure, but the similarities are amazing.

How beautiful! The boat was wide and flat bottomed (gets shallow in places) with a bench down the middle with a back rest, people sat in two rows (one on each side) facing out. So a perfect, comfortable view for everyone and you could even stand up to take a picture without blocking anybody. It was great!

Vegetation very dense here, but it's all water.

Great White Egret.

This is a Nutria. This one is a baby, if you look to the right, that big butt and part of a body is the mother. They look very much like a beaver, but with a rat tail, and this picture shows that tail. They were brought from South America and farmed for fur and food, but when the bottom fell out of the fur industry the fur farms died out. Lots of these either escaped or were released and are now a big problem to the area, so there is a bounty on them in Louisiana. They are supposed to be really good to eat and good for you, but that has never taken off. Must be that rat tail! This is the "rat" of the Seinfeld "rat hat" episode! I think Nutria sounds like such a fake name, like naugahyde or gortex, I'm sure that didn't help it's case as a fur, either.

Nutria family log home. You can see them in there. The vegetation in front is on water.

One of many alligators we saw. It was great to see them in their natural environment!

Do you see what I see? We saw many like this, some even more submerged. You couldn't pay me to stick my hand in the water, let alone swim in it!

Alligators almost disappeared from Louisiana but are protected now and are back in full force.

Raccoons, really? Everyone on the boat went nuts over the raccoons, Terry was just looking at me like "where do these people live?". And here I am standing up taking pictures of them! I just took two pictures then gave myself a shake and sat back down. Of course, both turned out great!

Gator bait?

Red-eared Slider turtles (and their reflection in the water). There were many of these, it was great to see them in their natural environment too! These are the turtles that were widely sold in pet stores when I was a kid, complete with plastic dish with a plastic palm tree. Thank goodness that doesn't happen anymore. Almost certain death for those babies.

When I worked for a vet when I was younger, someone brought a small one in to be put to sleep. They said there was something wrong with it's shell - translation: "We don't want it and don't know what to do with it". So we took it but the vet couldn't quite figure out how to dispatch it humanely, and he really didn't want to. So it hung out in the back and I would bring food for it. After a while, I took it home. I had it in a large aquarium and soon he was big enough to have a foot on the bottom and his head out the top! After having him for a few years he had outgrown what I could provide for him so I gave him to a reptile buff at work. For all I know "Murray" might still be alive, they can live for decades if treated properly.

Red-eared slider daring a swim....

SO much better than a plastic dish.

This snake was basking on the bank, or what seemed like a bank, I wouldn't want to test it out to see if it was solid ground! They have four poisonous snakes in Louisiana, including water moccasins, so if the alligators aren't enough, another reason to stay out of the water!

A Great Blue Heron! We saw several of these, this one being quite out in the open. We have them around here, but they take some work to find and I've never been able to get an even halfway decent picture of one. It was great to see them up close! They are usually pretty elusive.

A beautiful house right on the bayou. There are many houses in the area that are raised like this one.

I have been listening to Cajun music since I got back, I'm going to drop a few (You Tube) links here for anyone interested in the Acadians (Cajuns), their music, etc. (Mum, you will like these!!)

Cajun Music (even nailing your feet to the floor won't keep them still):

The Balfa Brothers - Parlez Nous A Boire

The Savoy Family Band - Amédée Two Step

Other Stuff:

Spicy Cajun Accents (from American Tongues): Charmingly argumentative older Cajun couple

Cajun comedian Kent Gonsoulin defines "couyon"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Big Easy

One question we've been asked by a lot of people is whether there is still a lot of damage evident from Hurricane Katrina. The short answer to that one is no, remarkably, there isn't. If some things hadn't been pointed out to us, we honestly wouldn't have noticed anything at all.

A water mark on one building was pointed out to us. We passed two large schools that were boarded up and have never re-opened after Katrina. The schools were relocated though. I guess the boarded up schools will be torn down eventually. Some stores and a Six Flags Resort have been abandoned and stand that way still.

Most neighbourhoods in heavily flooded areas have been pretty much repaired/rebuilt, although some boarded up houses are evident - maybe people that never came back, or couldn't afford to fix the houses, no insurance or whatever. We did see a FEMA trailer parked on the property of one boarded up house. Apparently there are still some of these in use around the city, five years after Katrina. We couldn't help but notice that there is most definitely a bitterness by residents over how the disaster was handled, or not, by the powers-that-be, and a fierce pride in how well the City has come back, much of it on their own power. I don't know too much about the politics of all that, but however it happened, they have really recovered remarkably well. There are lots of new houses and buildings, and the historic French Quarter was not much affected so those old buildings were luckily not damaged in the first place. Tourism is huge in New Orleans, I don't know how long it took for the tourists to come back. I would imagine that hurt a lot of people. Now however, things look good, the restaurants were full and there was plenty of tourists.

This boat sporting this hand written inscription is parked outside of a museum with a short film on how many of these flat bottomed, wide boats with large motors were used to save many people. It was stressed that these boats were privately owned and voluntarily operated, they were not government or military.

We did do a bus tour one day that took us all over the city and also to a cemetery. The cemeteries are an attraction in New Orleans as they are all above ground in the Spanish style. This is because of the very high water table so what gets buried, doesn't stay buried. Very unique to the U.S. I'm sure, but very similar to the cemeteries in Havanna, Cuba and elsewhere, also with the Spanish influence.

Each of these would belong to a family. Of interest to me was all the French names and also in most cases it would say "Famille Thibodeaux" for example, instead of "Thibodeaux Family".

We also went through the Garden District with many beautiful and different private homes, of which this is one. Some old, some new, so many lovely homes from charming to gorgeous to palatial. New Orleans has streetcars, and one even comes through this area. While streetcars are unusual, we have them in Toronto too, so not so different for us.

We took a harbour cruise on the Steamboat "Natchez". The last true steamboat on the "Mighty Mississippi", and yes, everyone down there actually says that when referring to the river.

The calliope is a fixture on the top of the steamboat, and here it's being played while the steamboat was in port. A calliope is basically a "steam piano", made up of steam whistles. She played quite a few different songs. It was fascinating and definitely a different kind of job! I took a short clip of the sound of it.

We did a side excursion that turned out to be a real highlight, so one more post to come...!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Below Sea Level - New Orleans Aquarium

We visited the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas which is on the bank of the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans. Not the biggest Aquarium I've ever been to, but very nice exhibits, some quite unique.

I liked some of the pictures I was able to get there.

The Stingrays would swim up on the glass and the underside of them looks so much like another face...the real eyes you can see on top and to the sides, the underside looks like some sort of crying/laughing ghost. Two-faced!

I've always liked Seahorses for whatever reason, and they had more of them than I'd ever seen in one place.

I thought these yellow ones were beautiful. know how when you learn a new word, within the next week or so you hear it spoken, hear it on TV and read it several times? You wonder how you managed to get this far in life without having heard it before?! Well, I had just been reading up on leucism of all things, spent a bit of time on it. Don't I visit New Orleans a few days later, walk around the corner into the alligator exhibit and come face to face with a leucistic alligator! I didn't have to read the sign to know what I was looking at!

So yes, leucistic means white or mostly white. It's a recessive mutation and is not albinism (the eyes, etc. are not red in leucism). The absence of pigment can be complete or partial. If you look closely at this alligator's nose, that spot appears to be a spot of normal pigment. Leucism can occur in any animal, but it seems to me it's just a bit more common in reptiles and birds...which are of course related. Knowing I'm into this kind of thing, a friend had sent me pictures of "spotted" hummingbirds (kind of looked merle!) that were taken here in Southern Ontario, and I figured out they were leucistic. There are quite a few pictures of leucistic birds (and other things) on the internet and I've included this picture of a leucistic Common Grackle below that is "partially" pigmented. I think everyone pretty much knows what a normal Grackle looks like - a plain, completely dark bird!

A leucistic Common Grackle. Notice the normal (glaring yellow) eye colour. This picture is used with permission, I was not lucky enough to see this bird nor take this picture! You can see why you'd think "merle" ... and the leucistic hummingbirds really looked like little merles too.

The white squirrel in a Toronto park they are always talking about on CTV is an albino, you can clearly see the red eyes in pictures that have been taken of it. But in Exeter, Ontario, which is well known for their white squirrels, theirs are leucistic, with the usual dark brown eyes. There are quite a few of them there, compared to a normal population, which would happen when the gene gets concentrated in an area. So watch out for that weird wildlife!

Nemo found....a Clownfish in an Anemone.

Dude!...a Green Turtle.

Close up...nice nostrils!

Moray Eel. I hope I never see one without the glass between us! A muscle with a face and teeth.

Even all kinds of Jellies:

A nice exhibit of Penguins, one of my favourites. We were lucky enough to be there when they were fed so they were very active. This one is an African Penguin. They can only be sexed with a blood test.

FedEx did a lot for the region regarding Hurricane Katrina and this plaque acknowledges their help in moving some of the animals housed at the aquarium. We saw the excellent film "Hurricane On The Bayou" in the Imax theatre and in it the aquarium penguins are being put into 200 size dog crates for their plane ride. They were very good about it!

More NOLA to come....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect Weekend - Days 2 and 3

On Friday right after the Georgina show, we headed down to Syracuse, New York for the Central New York Shetland Sheepdog Club's Specialties on Saturday and Sunday. Tiffany was entered in the "really senior" girls Veteran class (11+).

Tiffany is 6 weeks away from turning 12 years old. To be competitive at her age is just amazing. And she is very competitive! Talk about a thrill to be awarded Best of Breed at BOTH of these U.S. Specialty shows with our truly special girl!

Saturday, November 13th, winning her 12th Best in Specialty under judge Nancy Tibben. I love this photo of Tiffany, wish it was better of me, but it's about the dog, after all! The photo above it is same photo cropped down to just Tiffany. Even the sun was shining down on her, perfect lighting. She is looking fabulous!

Sunday, November 14th, winning BISS lucky number 13 under judge Sandra MacIntosh-Feret. I have always wanted to show Tiffany under this judge and finally got the chance. I guess my intuition was right!

What a drive home, even the two hour wait to cross the border didn't take any shine off my perfect weekend. It couldn't get any better!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Perfect Weekend - Day 1

At tracking one day, my instructor brought out her older Sheltie girl (coming up to 9 years old), who is new(er) to her, to track. Knowing she was from the same kennel as our Mira, I asked about her pedigree, as she was quite like Mira, and with the same unusual white marking on the muzzle, I wondered if they shared the same sire (also Sugar's sire). It turns out that their pedigrees are different, even though to me the girls look like they could easily be at least half sisters. Asking more about her, I found out she had 9 points, and needed just a single point to finish her Canadian Championship. Such a pretty girl, and so very sound, what a shame not to get that last point, so we worked it out that I would give her a go to finish her.

Entered on Friday only, as I was planning to go to two Specialties in the U.S. with Tiffany on Saturday and Sunday, what a thrill to not only go Winners Bitch to finish her on our very first attempt, but to also go Best of Breed over a Special and on to a Group 4th. What a nice way to finish this very deserving girl. Lots of very happy people, including me. Such a sound Sheltie, she felt like a feather on the lead. I found out later that she goes back to Am./Can./Jap. Ch. Whitegates Anything U Can Do (winner of the ASSA Futurity 1983) on both sides of her pedigree.

New Champion Aberdale Ciara Black Diamond. By Ch. Aberdale Rhinestone Cowboy ex Ch. Aberdale Diamond Jubilee. I took this picture at the show after the Group, just before racing off home to get Tiffany and head to New York.

The Perfect Weekend will be continued........

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


We've just spent several days in New Orleans. What a completely unique place. I was blown away by the French influence, which I knew about, but didn't realize was quite as prevalent as it is. Having been born and raised in Quebec, with the maternal side of my family being French, I'm sure I can see it and feel it more than the average visitor. The French influence was evident everywhere, in the architecture, the food, the religion, the cajun music and the joie de vivre!

French Canadians from Acadia (Canada's Maritime Provinces) - Acadians - were deported and ended up settling in Louisiana in the mid 1700's. These "Acadians" ...the word being morphed into "Cajuns" .... have really flavoured the area with their culture.

Very typical of the French Quarter.

We walked around A LOT, which was a good thing, because I have never had such good food outside of Montreal and Quebec City. I'm still thinking about all the gumbos, jambalaya, the shrimp po'boy and that piece of pecan pie!


I was kind of concerned about what the city would be like, but we found it quite safe, if you used common sense. We walked everywhere, day and night, never took a taxi.

We walked around the French Quarter quite a bit, and the houses and restaurants/stores were really pretty. I loved the way a lot of them were painted and thought it would be fun to choose the paint combinations for the outsides. They were all different.

Lots of doors and windows, balconies and wrought iron. Notice how many of the doors have shutters as well.

They are justifiably proud of their New Orleans Saints - there is Saints stuff everywhere, I loved this sign "Geaux Saints".

We had to go to Cafe du Monde of course. It's open 24 hours a day and they are famous for their cafe au lait and beignets, which are square, small donuts. Beigne (pronounced beng) is French for donuts and the "et" is for small (beng-et). Down there though, they pronounce it "Ben-nay".

Okay, so maybe this was the only ? food we had. They were good, but what's with all the icing sugar?! Of course I was wearing black pants! I could think of better uses of the calories (like Pralines!!) The coffee was excellent though.

The thing that really struck me when we arrived was all the fleur-de-lis absolutely everywhere. I don't think you could go two feet without seeing one somewhere. Wrought iron fleur-de-lis, jewelry, on signs, licence plates, on all the Saints stuff, literature, decals, cop cars, everywhere.

In the French Quarter at night.....

Yes, even on the garbage cans!

Many streets with French names, like Iberville, Toulouse, Chartres, Carondelet, etc. Some French names get anglicized over time, like Magazine Street, which was originally "rue Magasin" (magasin being French for store)...turned into Magazine Street, based on the spelling alone.

This place on Bourbon Street is named after a French lullaby "Fais Do Do" (pronounced dough dough) - which means "Go to Sleep". My Mum used to sing this lullaby to us all the time when we were little. A small world.

Jackson Square. Very Southern feel to it, usually musicians are out playing jazz. The "guy on the horse" is Andrew Jackson, the face on the U.S. $20 bill. The church is St. Louis Cathedral, and on the inside especially, very like the many beautiful cathedrals in Quebec. Taking this picture, the Mississippi is just behind my back.

Lots of dogs walking around with their owners, pit bulls are a common sight, although we did see quite a few different breeds. All were really well behaved. I couldn't resist taking a picture of this sign in the window of a store in the French Quarter:

More to come, y'all...