MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Few rivers in the country feature the diversity of wildlife and plants you can find along the Pascagoula River. That's why the scenic waterway is such a draw for bird watchers, nature loving tourists and people just wanting to get away from it all.
"Going out on a low tide, which is going to help us with the alligators. We ought to be able to see a few alligators this evening," said Benny McCoy, as he glided his tour boat through Bennett Bayou. "Most of these right in here is pond cypress. This is a little bit different than the bald cypress. The needle is, if you look at them real close, they kind of ascend upward.
"I enjoy showing the river. This is pretty much my playground growing up, me and my two brothers. So, it's really a unique river, and I love showing it. I just like meeting new people too. We meet some really good people," McCoy said.
McCoy is both tour guide and teacher. Marsh vegetation is the first lesson of the evening on this special sunset cruise.
"These two right here really make up most of our marsh area, right here," McCoy said, holding up a long piece of vegetation for boat riders to examine. "This is the saw grass that we have, and you can see the little saw teeth on it. You can even feel them. You can see them and actually feel them."
"Oh, I feel that," said a grandmother, as she passed the saw grass to her granddaughter.
"This is bull tongue arrowheads," said McCoy, moving onto the next plant lesson. "Shaped kind of like a bull tongue or an arrowhead, and it's one that, oh, look at all the spider eggs." "You never know what you might find when you get out there. It's kind of unique in that way."
"This is one that the Indians would actually take the starch out and make their bread out of, and that's what the word Pascagoula means in Choctaw, by the way, is 'bread' people. They was known for their bread making, and this is one they would use," said McCoy, who takes great joy in sharing his knowledge about animals and plants along this watershed.
There are an abundance of birds which live in and migrate through this fertile river basin. Osprey are a frequent sight.
"He'll catch fish off the surface. He don't go under and get them," McCoy explained, as visitors eyed an osprey nest.
Not far away, we see a mother bird and her fledgling on the nest.
"Yeah you know, look at him. See, he's showing off now and saying look, 'I'm getting my wings'," said McCoy. "Let's go see what we can get into up there in the swamp."
"Look at all those fiddler crabs. Is that amazing or what?" said McCoy, as hundreds of the tiny critters scissor walked along the bank. "They actually take that mud and sand, and they'll eat the algae off of it and they'll spit the clean sand. So they're kind of like little vacuum cleaners out here."
"Boy, I thought that was an alligator, but it wasn't," said McCoy, as he surveyed a swift and sudden movement in the river waters.
No need to worry. Visitors who expected to see an alligator, were not disappointed.
"Just about every day I'm out there, it's something different. It may be a new plant that I don't know or it may be a new critter I hadn't seen before. So yes, there's always something different out here at all times," McCoy said.
All during the summer months, there's something different blooming just about every week. We just go through with a lizard tail, which is one of my favorite plants out here.
"You'll see a lot of trees down from Katrina still. This is some that got blowed over," McCoy said, motioning to some giant trees lying alongside the river.
Egrets are all along the river. Look closely to spot the different species.
"He's got black legs and yellow feet, and that would be the snowy egret. So a snowy egret looks like he's wearing slippers. Oh, he just got something," said McCoy, as he eyeballed the bird.
Bass fishermen hope to land something also as they enjoy the abundant recreational opportunities on the Pascagoula.
Near the end of our tour, we witness mamma gator on guard.
"She is probably the best mother out here. She'll guard that nest," said McCoy.
Then, a few more birds followed by a picturesque sunset. For McCoy, it's just another unforgettable day on one amazing river.
"From the tiniest little critter out here, like the fiddler crab, how it all fits in. It's just amazing how just all of it fits like a glove, and it's just amazing when you study nature, how it just all blends together and we're part of that," said McCoy.
If you'd like to experience a tour of the Pascagoula River, McCoy's River and Marsh tours is the boat trip Benny McCoy operates. Another business called Eco-Tours of South Mississippi also offers guided trips on the waterway.