Summer Birding 2014
It’s been a pretty good summer for me for birding. The weather in Louisiana has been unusually mild so far. I visited San Francisco for a good friend’s wedding, saw lots of friends and somehow managed to fit in a visit to a new National Park (Muir Woods) and pick up twenty-one life list birds. And finally, last week I was finally able to add two more local life birds that have been somehow eluding me for over a year; Glossy Ibis and Common Yellowthroat. I’d been looking for a Glossy Ibis whenever I’d see a flock of dark ibis. Glossy Ibis is a difficult ID to make around here because it looks almost identical to another local species, the White-faced Ibis. The general way to tell these two apart is by range. White-faced Ibis are generally west of the Mississippi River, Glossy are east. Being in southeast Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, we have both species and they mix flocks. I’d carefully check for the easiest indicator during breeding season, which is a bright red eye for the White-faced Ibis. If I didn’t see a red eye, I was ready to look at the white facial markings of which the Glossy Ibis has but they don’t wrap completely around the eye. Last weekend, I got a “Need Alert” email from eBird for Glossy Ibis in the Bonnet Carre Spillway. I drove around the spillway, photographed some far away ibis and didn’t think I had been successful until I got home and zoomed in on photos of one bird. Turns out I found one! The Common Yellowthroat was a little different. I’ve known from other people’s eBird reports that people were seeing these guys at all the local birding spots I frequented. I tried getting people to tell me where they’d seen them. Nothing. Around June, I finally learned their song and preferred habitat and I realized that they’re actually quite common… but I still couldn’t manage to actually see one until this week. I was working in a place that was completely surrounded by cattail marsh (perfect yellowthroat habitat). I heard them first, but with a little patience, I was able to see lots of these beautiful birds. I still, however, haven’t landed a decent photograph of one. My Top 10 Louisiana Summer Birds to Find At this point, I’ve nearly exhausted the list of new (life/year) birds I can find in the New Orleans area for this time of year so I’ve decided to take a field trip to find something new. I’ve compiled a list of birds that I know people have seen in the state recently that I may go out in search of this weekend. EDIT: I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago, but I have been out of town in Vermilion Parish where I actually landed some of my summer birds!
- Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – I was having a conversation about birds with a non-birder guy that works all over the state when he said “Hey, what’s that bird with the real long tail you always see in cow-fields over by Lake Charles?”. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is really just a stunning bird and I’ve never seen one before. Sometime this summer I will have to make it out to western Louisiana to try to find one.
Wood Stork– To be honest, I didn’t even know this was a bird I could see in Louisiana. I had always pictured it as a deep deep south Florida bird. I had seen a flock of them before in flight overhead (and mistaken them for whooping cranes. wishful thinking for a rookie.) but I really wanted to see one for my 2014 year list. I did some research and read that Sherburne Wildlife Management Area has a Wood Stork Day every summer! Apparently, in late summer, the rice/crawfish fields across Louisiana become home to a VAST number of wading birds with wood stork included! Despite missing Wood Stork Day, I managed to track a whole flock of them down earlier this August in Mouton Cove, Louisiana. Neotropic Cormorant– Just look at that range map! When I saw that people were getting Neotropic cormorants in Louisiana, I thought it had to be a fluke. Nope. The amazing rice field flocks in Mouton Cove, Louisiana held a tree full of these. Another life bird! Great-tailed Grackle– This large tailed grackle is supposed to be pretty common in the western half of Louisiana so I didn’t think I’d have too much trouble tracking one down. Turns out, one tracked me down. One morning before work, I stopped in at Don’s Boat Landing on the Boston Canal in Southern Vermilion Parish and there it was, sitting on the power line. The large tail and different head shape were immediately what tipped me off that it was different than a Boat-tailed, but the bright yellow eye confirmed it.
- Swainson’s Warbler – People have been reporting this secretive little warbler in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area just outside of Slidell, Louisiana (only 40 minutes from my house) since late spring. It’s one of the 10 or so warblers that breeds in the Honey Island Swamp but despite five trips, I’ve had no luck hearing or seeing one yet. I’m beginning to think I may have missed this one for the year.
- Yellow-breasted Chat – Another warbler that apparently breeds in the Honey Island Swamp, and another bird I’ve completely struck out on so far this year. I had worked at learning its song and picked it out and followed one around Old Mandeville for a good hour before I lost it, but despite being fairly certain what I was hearing was a Yellow-breasted Chat, I don’t count a bird unless I’ve seen it before.
- King Rail – I honestly thought the super secretive rails and bitterns were going to give me the hardest time when I started keeping a year list, but I really did not take into account just how much time I spend in marshes (it’s a lot). The King Rail is the only one to have eluded me so far this year. There have been a couple of sightings in Bayou Sauvage, so I may make a day out of looking for one sometime soon.
- Crested Caracara – A beautifully strange looking raptor from Mexico, and a bird that I know I can see if I get to take a trip to Cameron Parish. Work just hasn’t taken me that way this year.
- Black Tern – With the sheer number of sightings of Black Tern in the last month, I can’t believe I haven’t come across one yet. I’m taking a pelagic birding tour out of Port Fourchon in October, so I’ll see one then.
- Wild Turkey – Not necessarily a summer bird, but I know I should be able to see turkey at some point this year. Usually, I just wait for them to walk out at a state park but here I am, 9 months into the year and I still haven’t seen one. I may need to take a special trip to a state park up north.
Well, that ought to keep me busy until the great duck scavenger hunt this winter. Let me know if you have any tips or suggestions!