HACKBERRY, La. — A roseate spoonbill emerged from the tall marsh grass and flapped directly over my head.Sorry; can’t show you a picture of it. I did take its picture, but the result is a pink blur.The thing about wildlife is that it’s wild and doesn’t like to stay put. And the thing about a point-and-shoot camera is that you point, then say, “Shoot! It moved!”I had a hard time capturing the birds along southwestern Louisiana’s Creole Nature Trail for posterity, but I captured them in my mind’s eye, and that’s what nature trails and preserves are really all about.A relaxing afternoon of bird-gazing seemed like the perfect pursuit after three raucous days in New Orleans, so, on the way home, we dropped down off Interstate 10 onto Louisiana 27 just west of Lake Charles.The road becomes the Creole Nature Trail, which comprises 180 miles of road and occasional hiking trails. We did about half of it in an afternoon. The road is popular with cyclists, too, although there are no shoulders or separate lanes, so while we were scouting for birds, we also were on the lookout for two-wheelers so we wouldn’t run them over.The trail is known as a showcase for 400 species of birds — more during migrations — and alligators. We saw a lot of birds, but no gators.The weather might have been a factor in the reptilian reticence. It was a cold, blustery day, and if I’d been a gator I would have been hiding out, too. On a sunny, mild day, you’d doubtless fare better. I’m told the gators also hide during summer’s brutally hot days (as do I).The trail meanders to the edge of Calcasieu Lake at the little town of Hackberry, where we saw a good many fishing boats. The lake is home to red drum and speckled trout, and it also attracts a lot of shore birds, which like its brackish water. Oil pumps dotted the landscape, as well, along with an occasional cattle ranch.Shortly, we crossed into the 124,511-acre, egret-filled Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, where the road is bounded by marshes. We drove past Hog Island Gully, where you’re allowed to crab if you like. We didn’t stop to throw a chicken leg into the water, but I did crab a bit about not being able to stop and roll down the window quickly enough to take pictures of a great blue heron wading in the water.Clearly, some footwork was in order. We came upon Blue Goose Walking Trail and got out of the car. Here, there’s a portable restroom as well as a small observation tower that apparently isn’t being used much. We found it covered in cobwebs.In fact, there were thick cobwebs blowing in the wind, hanging from some of the marsh grass. There were surely hefty spiders to go along with them, and that was one form of wildlife I didn’t want to see. Happily, I didn’t.We wandered down the mile-long trail near a small pond where a brown pelican was resting and another blue heron landed briefly, then apparently thought better of it and flapped off before I could focus. My husband got the idea to make a lot of noise to scare any birds into the air so I could photograph them. That’s when the spoonbill surprised us and I recorded the pink blur.Back in the car, we passed the Blue Crab Recreation Area — another crabbing opportunity — and stopped at the Wetland Walkway. Whereas the Blue Goose trail heads east toward the lake, the Wetland Walkway heads west into the marsh. Here, I’m told, is where you’re most likely to see gators, as well as wildflowers once spring takes hold.Since our gator hunt was a massive fail, I looked up some facts about the creature on the trail’s website, creolenaturetrail.org (which also has a good downloadable map of the trail). We learned that a gator’s short legs are strong, and it can move 30 mph.The American alligator also has the most powerful bite of all animals — more powerful than the bite of a shark. Its mouth contains 70 to 80 really big teeth, and when one falls out another grows in to take its place. If you see a gator in the wild, the website advised, stay well away from it.Back we went to the car, where I continued to yell “Stop! Back up!” from time to time so I could see more birds, whose identities I didn’t know. (I’d given up on the camera at this point.)It was a peaceful, pretty drive. I wish it hadn’t been overcast; the marsh and lake would doubtless have done a great job of reflecting a sunset.Just south of the lake is a big finish: the Gulf of Mexico. You can catch a ferry to Holly Beach and go shelling, but at this point, we’d lost our light and had to head back to Lake Charles for the evening.If you have more time, you can take a route back north through the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge and wind up east of Lake Charles. You also can strike out due east or west from Holly Beach and explore the shoreline. The Sabine Pass Lighthouse is about 10 miles west of Holly Beach.I hope you see some gators.
If you go
For more information about the Creole Nature Trail, visit www.creolenaturetrail.org.
You can download a free tour app from iTunes or Google Play. Search for Creole. If you don’t have a smartphone, pick up a GPS guide from the Lake Charles Visitors Bureau, 1205 N. Lakeshore Drive.