The world-class wading bird rookery in the heart of St. Martin Parish gives visitors a birds’ eye view of nature’s great spectacle
A bird watching paradise awaits in the heart of St. Martin Parish. Stretching along the lush, beautiful shores of Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, the Cypress Island Nature Preserve offers visitors a rare, up-close vantage point from which to spot the many species of aquatic and avian wildlife that inhabit or visit this extraordinary lake’s world-class wading bird rookery.
Every year birders trek from all over the world to experience the special natural wonder at the lake’s spectacular rookery, says Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana. Audubon Louisiana is part of the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats through environmental conservation and education. At the Lake Martin Important Bird Area (IBA), Johnson and his team research the flight migration patterns of different bird species.
“Lake Martin is one of those gems we have in Louisiana,” Johnson says. “Species that are hard to find elsewhere can be readily found here.” Over 250 species of birds have been documented in and around the lake’s protected rookery—that’s a quarter of all species found the U.S. and Canada, combined!
Peak Season at the Rookery
Though birding at Lake Martin is a spectacular sight year-round, the months of March through July are the most active for bird watching. During the spring migration, you can expect to observe tens of thousands of resident, wintering, and migratory birds nesting and raising their young, including: Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills. During the summer you’ll also find Barred and Great Horned Owls; Pileated, Hairy, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers; and Parula, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers flitting between the groves of cypress and tupelo trees.
“For people who aren’t birdwatchers, it’s really one of nature’s great spectacles to be able to witness and have access to,” says Johnson. “I find that bird watching is a way to engage with nature that is really accessible and helps you understand the context of the culture of South Louisiana.”
Thanks to its balmy southern climate and proximity to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana serves as an important stopover habitat on the Mississippi Flyway. More than 325 migratory bird species make the journey from their breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada to wintering areas in Latin America.
Maintained by The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana, the nearly 10,000-acre Cypress Island Preserve includes a boardwalk (located across from the Visitor Center) from which to view the swamp ecosystem’s flooded forest, as well as a 2.5-mile walking trail along the levee. You’ll want to keep an eye out for alligator nests, however—the mother is usually close by, guarding her young, and Lake Martin is home to more than 1,200 alligators.
Water, Water Everywhere
Several tour outfits offer visitors chances to get out on the water. Champagne’s Swamp Tours, located along Rookery Road, offers guided swamp tours as well as kayak and canoe rentals. With Swamp Tours of Acadiana, Lake Martin residents Bryce and Ashley Fuselier will guide you deep into the bayou in an original Cajun crawfish skiff. The local experts over at Pack and Paddle recreational outfitters in Lafayette offer daily guided tours of Lake Martin in small groups of five or fewer.
Getting to the Rookery
Lake Martin is located just across the St. Martin Parish line from Lafayette. To reach it, drive southeast from Lafayette on Highway 94. Just outside of Lafayette, Highway 94 drops noticeably into the Mississippi River floodplain. Near the bottom of the hill, take a right turn onto Highway 353, and go about five miles until you see a sign for "Lake Martin Rookery Road" on the left. This road makes a half-circle around one end of the lake, and continues as a walking trail around the other half.
[Read more about five lesser-known paddling routes to try in St. Martin Parish here.]
The Cypress Island Visitor Center is open from 10am—4pm on weekends Wednesday through Sunday.