On an overnight naturalist class with the Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater Baton Rouge to Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana we were shining for spiders when someone overturned a log and found a scorpion. It was tiny, just a little larger than my fingernail and mostly brown. Eight legs and that classic tail with the stinger identified it as a scorpion. I had no idea that scorpions even existed east of the Mississippi River so we took plenty of photos and a quick internet search later, we had an answer; Southern Devil Scorpion.
Southern Devil Scorpions are one of only two scorpions naturally found in Louisiana with the other being the Striped Bark Scorpion (Centruroides vittatus). They’re primarily nocturnal and found in leaf litter and under logs. Their sting is said to be painful but not deadly. I couldn’t quite nail down a range on this species, so I created a range map based on the reference below.
Southern Devil Scorpion on insectidentification.org
Another week stuck in the office during spring. That’s always how it works out. I’m sure I’ll be out in the field for months at a time again as soon as the weather becomes unbearably hot. The weather IS finally warming up as we’ve had our first consecutive week above 80F recently. I venture outside every few hours to give my eyes and brain a rest from the computer screen. It’s migration season and I have an itch that needs to be scratched. The trees outside my office building are dead silent. I forgot my lunch, so I decided to drive out to Metairie for a bánh mì. On the way, I decide to follow a lead from Peter Yaukey’s blog about some unusual suburban shorebirds.
Least Sandpiper in the surface water impoundments in the middle of Metairie
My three year old son and I found ourselves with Good Friday off this year and after a faster than expected round of morning chores, decided to enjoy the weather and take a trip to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA. Being the start of migration here in Louisiana and having just read a post on the ABA Blog where Ted Floyd explored birding at the Denver Zoo, I was inspired to keep my own list of birds at the Audubon Zoo. And yes, he explains why it’s not cheating and I will too.
Northern Mockingbirds are year-round suburban residents and could be found singing from many of the animal enclosures.
When I was a child in the 80’s, every now and then we’d get a glimpse of a “gecko” and it was a real treat because they were so rare. Yesterday, I counted eight of these Mediterranean House Geckos on various windows across my house hunting for bugs. Along with the Carolina Anole, this introduced species is one of the most common reptiles I see at my home.
This species is originally from southern Europe and Northern Africa but has become established all across the world helped by its ability to survive in urban areas, generally living in the cracks and crevices of buildings during the day and emerging and night to feed on the bugs attracted by man made light sources.
One of my favorite places for birding in the oppressive heat of summer is the community of Mouton Cove, Louisiana. The working wetlands are in a period of transition from summer rice and the flooded fields are drained which coincides perfectly with the fall southward migration of millions of birds. In the evenings, you can drive the roads between bermed fields and see thousands of wading birds, shorebirds and gulls.
The photo above was taken this time last year over a pond where I had just seen my lifer Neotropic Cormorant. It was sunset and the birds were starting to gather in the lonely trees between fields and a nice woman with a raccoon greeted me on the road and invited me to walk around her property and enjoy this little slice of paradise.
I was working down in Southwest Louisiana in Cameron Parish and we’d been hearing this loud cackling from the roadside marsh all week. After one such bit of cackling, someone spotted a chicken-sized bird running across the road.
I knew right away what it was since I had looked for one all last year at Big Branch NWR in St. Tammany Parish.
“Marsh chicken!” one guy said
“Galinule” said another, slightly disinterested
“A king rail!” I exclaimed as I dove for my camera.
“Take a good look, because I’ve never actually seen one before and it might be years before you see one again”.
And just as if to prove me wrong to my colleagues, the marsh and the universe; this happened.
Sunrise over the Hackberry marsh
From Vermilion Bay west to the Sabine River and south of the Intracoastal Water Way to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico is a stretch of land that’s generally more wet than it is solid. Its residents’ primary occupations are shrimp and oil, it’s home to some nasty populations of biting insects and when the Gulf whips up a particularly nasty storm, the whole region can be completely covered in a salty tidal surge.
It’s not pretty, but it can be beautiful.
The vast majority of land remains untouched; a different kind of big sky country made of a marsh 20 miles tall and 100 miles wide. It’s home to some unique specialist species and a stopover location for one of the most massive bird migrations on the planet but even in our modern day and age, it’s still a little too wild to be completely tamed by people except upon isolated slivers of high ground. These landlocked former beach ridges are a fascinating geologic occurrence that makes up the Louisiana Cheniere Plain.
I visited some family in McKinney, TX (just north of Dallas) over the Mardi Gras holiday and had a chance to visit the Heard Natural Science Museum with my nephew. Apart from the museum, Heard has a 289 acre wildlife preserve with trails and boardwalks. I got to see Harris’ Sparrow, which winters in a small corridor in the center of the United States, Hooded Merganser, a rookery of Great Blue Heron, Red-eared Slider turtles and this interesting white squirrel.
I’m not sure if it’s albino or just a white morph, but it was definitely an interesting find and the first time I’ve seen its like.
Ty really like the dinosaurs.
As I posted back in late 2013, I decided to pursue a birding “Big Year” for 2014 to learn the ins and outs of bird identification. Although I was relatively new to birding and hadn’t been keeping a “life list”, I had a long history of taking pictures of any wildlife I saw. As I learned to identify birds over the past year, I slowly unraveled the mysteries of my old vacation photos and found I had documented 105 species! Keep in mind however, at this point, I was an absolute newbie at birding. On January 3, I saw a flock of black speckled birds that had me stumped for 2 weeks. They were Common Starlings (the most numerous invasive songbird species in the United States).
Is it weird to put seeing certain species on your vacation plans? Well, despite the lack of birds in my late November trip to the Everglades (with some notable exceptions), I did get to see something I’ve always wanted to see.
American Alligators are old hat for anyone from southern Louisiana that spends an appreciable amount of time outdoors so you’d think I wouldn’t be so excited about seeing the only other crocodilian native to the United States but you’d be wrong. I had read that the extreme southern limit of driving destinations in the Everglades at the Flamingo Visitor Center was an excellent opportunity to see an American Crocodile although I didn’t have my hopes up. This species, like the alligator, was threatened by hunting and loss of habitat and by the mid 70’s, there were only thought to be between 100-400 individuals left in the US.
So, I was quite happy to see a crowd gathering behind the Flamingo Marina after lunch. A crocodile (maybe 6′) was slowly swimming along the docks, seemingly oblivious to its crowd of observers. The photo below shows a large crocodile we saw sunning on the boat ramp later in the day.A few minutes later we spotted another crocodile behind the marina; this one probably almost 8′ and down the canal a smaller one! The difference between this and an alligator was immediately apparent to me. The head was the wrong shape and it was a tan/gray color instead of the dark greenish black of an alligator. The rangers gave everyone tips to differentiate crocodiles from alligators:
- Narrower head
- Gray instead of black
- On an alligator when the mouth is closed, only top teeth protrude from the mouth. On a crocodile, teeth protrude from the top and the bottom.
- Speckled intermittent black scales on the sides
- Larger, more protruding tail “scutes”. The scutes are the spiny protrusions that stick off the top of the tail. They’re much more vertical on a crocodile giving it a more prehistoric feel, in my opinion.