Even a die-hard fisherman like Butch Ridgedell quickly admits that Lake Martin is about more than fishing.

“It’s more famous for its birds than its fish,” he confessed. “People come from all over the world to go birding here.”

In the short few hours we fished, a parade of avian life passed by — an army of red-winged blackbirds with their unmistakable trills, wood ducks, ospreys, tree swallows, collared doves (of all things), great blue herons squanking like pterodactyls, ungainly whistling ducks, pileated woodpeckers, kingfishers, gros becs, cormorants, snowy egrets, and hordes of LBJs (little brown jobs) unidentifiable except to expert birders.

A protected rookery makes up the southernmost third of Lake Martin. It attracts more than 20,000 nesting pairs of herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills and anhingas annually.

The lake is the heart of the 9,500-acre Cypress Island Preserve, which is protected by The Nature Conservancy. Besides using boat tours, visitors may use the Nature Conservancy maintained 2 ½-mile “walking levee trail,” which offers spectacular views of the nesting bird colony.

According to the Audubon Society, the lake is home to more than 200 species of resident, wintering, and migratory birds, 60 percent of all the bird species found in Louisiana, as well as 1,200 alligators.

The preserve is open during daylight hours. The walking trail starting along the levee is closed during alligator nesting season, June through October. The rookery area in the southern end of Lake Martin is closed to all boat entry from February 1 through July 31 for breeding bird season. Driving along Rookery Road is allowed year round.

The Preserve’s visitor center, located at 1264 Prairie Highway in St. Martinville, is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekends year-round, and Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime. Call 337-342-2475 to confirm hours.

Best months for visiting are February through May, which also happens to be the best time for bass fishing in the lake.