One of the perks of working in Louisiana is the access to coastal and wetland habitats. Prior to moving down here I had never seen coastal and lowland habitats like these. Most of my experience in Missouri was with oak and maple woodlands and restored grasslands. Romping through these new areas is always entertaining. A large majority of my work is done in a lab setting so it is always nice to get out and explore. Before my comprehensive exams I ended up making several walkabout visits to Lake Martin so that I didn't implode on myself like a dying star. The stress of that time was vehemently overwhelming. Thankfully, I had friends, family, and nature to help.
Lake Martin is a wildlife sanctuary about 30 minutes from UL campus. It looks like what many people would probably imagine a "classic swamp" looks like. A major perk for lazy day trips is the easy drive to and through the ecosystem. A 5 mile trail surrounds the lake and a gravel road allows access to several points. Every year, thousands of birds congregate to this bird sanctuary making it an easily accessible, unique ecosystem, with numerous photographic opportunities.
For me, seeing American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) just hanging out was one of the coolest things to see when I first got to Louisiana. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy seeing them, but I have become a little jaded to them. We have 6 adults on campus that reside in a swamp right next my building. The walking trail closes around Lake Martin every year for a couple of months because the breeding individuals become more active around the trails. Generally speaking, they leave you alone and flee before you can ever get close to them. Nonetheless, we still keep an eye out when committing to a watersnake chase at the waters edge.
I have used pictures like these in the past to introduce the unforeseen dangers inherent in flipping cover boards. Evolution has shaped many animals to be very effective at hiding. When I was an undergrad I was quick to flip a cover and reach down for what I immediately saw. I have been lucky enough to never get into any particularly bad situations but I have watched friends reach down for one animal only to have a copperhead or cottonmouth reveal itself once disturbed. For snakes, i generally use hooks or tongs to grab anything quickly if it is fleeing. Otherwise i tend to give the area a thorough inspection before reaching for something.