Bird hang out around old dipping vats, too

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Carolina Chickadee
Tom Sylvest is a good friend and birder who grew up during the Great Depression in the Piney Woods between Bellwood and Provencal just west of LA 117 in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. Tom has written and published two books about a time few of us would otherwise know about life on a subsistence farm in hill country with poor soils. The short titles are "Collared Greens" and "Cornbread"details below.

Tom is in his late 80s and doesn't travel around much from his home in Geismar, Louisiana on the east bank of the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge. I had visited the area where he grew up off what is now Sylvest Road several times last year, once to find the area and twice to do bird surveys for the Louisiana Summer Bird Atlas Project.

Earlier this year, the topic of Cattle Dipping Vats came up and Tom informed me that two former area residents in their 70s returned to the site and found the vat. According to Tom, cattle dipping was a really exciting time. But, he had no tales of an injured sibling being carried to a dipping party as recently described by The Piney Woods Journal's Publisher and Editor Tom Kelly.

The vat was said to be located 200 yards west of the intersection of Sylvest Road and LA 117 and 50-100 yards north of Sylvest Road. Tom asked if I would see if I could find it.

So, I've made two trips to the site in the last month and, of course, took time to do some birding. The following is a report about those trips and comments about birding in the area.

I took a really interesting route to Tom's home area. I went from LA 28 W to Clifton Road and northwest to where it becomes Mora-Kisatchie Road at LA 8. After 15 miles or so and going through "Devil's Swamp", one gets to LA 118. Let's say that the road for much of its length is one where you have to watch your speed. LA 118 is a decent road and intersects LA 117 south of Bellwood.

Well, did I find the vat? On the first visit, by myself, I found a really dense briar patch at about the right location covering an area around 4 ft. x 40 ft., the approximate rectangular dimensions of the standard dipping vat. On my second trip, my wife Judy accompanied me and she agreed that the briar patch looked to be about the right size to be covering a buried vat.

Passing residents on both visits had never heard of the vat nor seen it! So, we're waiting for Tom to get in touch with his informants to get more details!

Birds? The Bellwood-Provencal area has reasonable numbers of bird but has a very poor diversity relative to regions with much habitat diversity. My three birding trips to the Bellwood Quadrangle have generated 40 species during the course of about 5 hours. If I spent that much time in the Boyce Quadrangle where I live, I would find 60-70 species. The hilly, piney woods with their monotonous pine habitat ranging from clear cut to saw logs, small ponds, small streams and bottoms simply doesn't create a bird rich landscape.

Tom Sylvest recalls about 65 bird species from his formative days. Were I to visit the area a couple of times in winter, summer, spring and fall, I'm sure I could find the species that he has listed and a few more. But, I'd not find anywhere near the 175 or so I've found in the very diverse habitat here in the Boyce, Louisiana area that includes pine-covered hills, large reservoirs, agricultural fields, flood plains and the Red River, and bottomland forests. Still, the opportunity to walk and experience the ambiance of an area that I've previously known only from Tom's memories made the words I heard and read so much more meaningful.

[Tom Ard Sylvest's Books: Collard Greens: Growing Up on a Sandhill Subsistence Farm in Louisiana during the Great Depression. (2008) Authorhouse. Cornbread: Sequel to Collard Greens with More Memoirs about Growing Up on a Sandhill Subsistence Farm in Louisiana during the Great Depression. (2012). Authorhouse.]

Jay V. Huner
Louisiana Ecrevisse
428 Hickory Hill Drive
Boyce, LA 71409
318 793-5529 •


Judy Huner at old dipping vat site, where Carolina Chickadee, above, was seen.