What better way to explore nature than through the eyes of one of its residents? That's what Amy Griffin Ouchley thought when she sat down to write Swamper, Letters From A Louisiana Swamp Rabbit.
Swamper, of course, is a fictitious creature. But Ms. Ouchley, a naturalist who lives in Louisiana, puts pen in his foot to unlock the mysteries and natural features of bottom hardwood forests and swamps found in Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and elsewhere in the south.
The idea came to her while she was leading a group of students on a hike through a swamp when a rabbit darted out in front of them. After some debate over whether the rabbit was a swamp rabbit or an eastern cottontail, she decided that it was a swamp rabbit because of its coloration and the fact that cottontails prefer drier areas.
The students and I became curious and wanted to know more about swamp rabbits. Not long after our hike, I began to find letters in a hollow stump near my house. They were a bit muddy and a little soggy and were signed 'Swamper.' I could not wait to show them to the students. And now I want to share them with you, too.
The resulting soft-cover book runs 60 pages and is aimed at students in grades four through seven who are studying science and environmental science. Through the pages students not only learn about habitat and ecosystems of hardwood bottom forests, but are presented with a glossary of terms and even suggested activities, such as learning how an animal survives in the winter and then writing five survival tips for the animal, or drawing the various phases of the moon.
Ms. Ouchley also poses questions to help students think for themselves about ecosystems, habitats, and various species. For instance, she asks readers to "name two birds that migrate to southern swamps in the winter," or to "name at least two characteristics of great horned owls that make them good hunters." These sorts of questions are sprinkled throughout the book, which is illustrated with full-color photographs of various ecosystems and wildlife found in the region.
And, of course, there are the letters from Swamper. Quite a prolific writer, Swamper details various topics such as life cycles in the swamps, birds that live there, changes that winter brings to the swamps, and how he lets other rabbits know where he lives.
"Near the edge of my territory is a cypress stump that makes a great lookout spot. From the stump, I survey my area," he writes in one letter. "I also leave my scent on this stump. I have special scent glands under my chin that I can use for marking my territory. This behavior is called chinning. Swamp rabbits have a keen sense of smell, so other rabbits know that I live here."
The letter goes on to describe battles between swamp rabbits over territories, and how Swamper tries to avoid them by leaving "extra scent markings around the edges of the area. This was my message: 'Swamper lives here. No trespassing!'"
Swamper, Letters From A Lousiana Swamp Rabbit offers a fun, creative approach to educating and entertaining youngsters curious about the outdoors in general, and bottomland forests specifically. If you're heading to Big Thicket National Preserve any time, this would be a good book to have for the preserve is home to more than a few swamp rabbits.