This may be the perfect example of, if you build it, they will come. In this case, a water recycling project for a large-scale nursery near New Iberia, Louisiana, has become a spectacular nesting area for birds.
When you’re in the business of selling natural beauty for landscaping, it makes sense that you want to protect the environment. And that’s what Michael Richard did with Live Oak Gardens, a large wholesale nursery operation at Jefferson Island, Louisiana. Thirty years ago, he made an investment in recycling the runoff from the nursery to keep the fertilizer tainted water from spoiling nearby Lake Peigneur.
All of the irrigation runoff goes into a series of ponds where it’s purified for reuse. Richard says he did that because, “the phosphates cause an algae bloom, and algae is destructive to the water and it hurts the fish”. Richard says he left tree-covered islands in the middle of his ponds with the idea of attracting birds to nest there. But for 25 years nothing happened, the birds hardly seemed to notice.
Then one day, the birds arrived overnight. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Richard recalls. “I come to work one morning and the trees are covered with birds, thousands of birds. We estimate about 5-thousand birds. The trees looked like a cotton field ready to harvest.”
Richard believes the birds came from Lake Martin, another popular nesting area about 20 miles away which saw an instant drop in its nesting birds.
At these small man-made islands, the birds are protected from predators. “The main predators are raccoons and snakes,” Richard explains, “and the alligators patrol the water, lying in wait for someone to try to cross the water.”
The trees in this rookery are filled with several varieties of egrets, herons and other wading birds. In late summer, the white ibis are still caring for their newly hatched offspring.
And the trees are filled with adolescent roseate spoonbills, who haven’t yet developed the brilliant pink feathers of their parents. “The locals call it the Cajun flamingo,” Richard says, adding, “and we have the best color, the best plumage color anywhere in the United States.”
Richard has spent a lifetime developing and preserving the beauty of this area, from the 19th century home of actor Joseph Jefferson, to the surrounding Rip Van Winkle Gardens. Jefferson is known for his stage and silent movie betrayal of the character Rip Van Winkle. “It’s too great a little treasure to keep for ones self,” Richard says, “it needs to be shared.”
Rip Van Winkle Gardens and the adjacent rookery and nursery are located ten miles west of New Iberia, Louisiana.