Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Great Crested Flycatcher
This was a one-week diversion towards the end of a month’s birding in adjacent Texas with my wife Gerda who had expressed a desire to “do something different” and include some cultural experiences in our visit to the USA, away from the daily “grind” (her words) of dawn to dusk birding. In other words, she wanted to visit a city (New Orleans of course). I don’t normally do ‘culture’, especially when abroad and the lure of another bird is too strong; there just aren’t enough hours in the day. However, even I conceded it would be nice to get away from all that insect repellent and long, hot days in the field fully clad in sweltering temperatures to avoid being bitten by (a) chiggers, mosquitoes & biting flies (I failed), and (b) snakes & alligators (I succeeded). However, we nearly didn’t make it to New Orleans after 7.5” rain overnight flooded Groves and Port Arthur at our hotel base just across the border and we had to take an inland route through torrential rain to avoid the effects of a tornado that brought traffic to a standstill the day we left.
We had never been to Louisiana before although having visited Mexico, California, Nevada, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Florida and now just coming from Texas, I wasn’t expecting to find many new birds and, in the event, only Red-headed and Red-cockaded Woodpecker were lifers. But this wasn’t really a birding visit and consequently I only logged 122 species in a week. We didn’t meet any other birders anywhere during our visit and there appear to be few reports for this State at this time of year (something to do with the biting flies or tornados perhaps?) so this is written in the spirit of encouraging others to pay Louisiana a visit in May – it’s a great place for birding and non-birding experiences.
New Orleans. Nothing here. Admittedly I had left my binoculars behind for this ‘cultural experience’ visit to the French Quarter but I didn’t see any nature reserves in the city. I did see a Black-crowned Night-Heron in the Louis Armstrong Park there and a pair of Canada Geese on a nest but I thought better of it than to mention these to Gerda…In actual fact we were lucky we even made it into the city after (another) horrendous thunderstorm overnight 11th/12th which kept us up half the night with dustbins crashing around in the car park (our hotelier rescued these at 3am before they smashed into the vehicles!) and rain coming in under our hotel door. Next morning, we waited for our bus to take us into town but no buses came; the whole of downtown New Orleans was under water with roads flooded and cars floating away! By 13th, however, it was as if nothing had happened and for $1.25 each – fantastic value - we bought a day pass which allowed us to take as many buses as we wanted into/around the city and back.
Peveto Woods Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary, Cameron. This little gem of a woodland lies on the Gulf Coast and is reputed to be a magnet for spring migrants after they’ve crossed the Gulf – up to two million birds reportedly use the 40-acre plot each year! So it turned out to be: I saw Yellow, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Hooded and Blackburnian Warblers, American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers, Swainson’s Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the wood and on the first visit 82 Black Terns flying east up the coast and two Magnificent Frigatebirds overhead. However, the birding here was quite uncomfortable with all the biting flies around. I had to dress completely covered in long-trousers and my hooded jacket tied up over my head and even then I couldn’t avoid them settling on my face. In 27 degrees heat, I was dripping with sweat when I left after two hours! The marshes here just north of the coast road, Gulf Beach Highway 82 (take the Middle Ridge Road loop with the Bayou Convenience Store at the east end) were also good for birds, including Sora, various egrets, ibis and herons and Least Bittern. This route was easy to bird from the car as the road network here was almost free of other vehicles so stopping to scan was never a problem - unlike elsewhere on the major roads in Louisiana where lay-bys are few and traffic continuous.
Lake Martin Wildlife Preserve. This is a large lake on the outskirts of the major town of Lafayette with cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest (of which 9,500 acres are protected). It boasts a large heronry and a Visitor Centre at Cypress Island. We birded the eastern shore along Rookery Road but didn’t take any of the “Swamp Tours” on offer – I had a telescope if necessary, so didn’t see the need to go out on the lake itself. However, had I spoken to somebody I might have benefitted from another opinion as at one point I spotted a huge alligator basking on a bank in the lake which I took to be a plastic model for the punters on board the “Swamp Tours” - whom I assumed would be taken to it by boat in case of not finding a real live specimen. I did point it out to Gerda but when she asked why it couldn’t be a real one, I scoffed “Of course not – look at the size of it!”. We had seen dozens of alligators by this time but none 15-20 feet long. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when we returned to the spot a short while later only to find it had gone! And I hadn’t even bothered to take a photo…We read later this place has some of the largest alligators in the State. Obviously, we had just seen one of them and I’d blown it!
Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, north of Lake Pontchartrain. After the floods in New Orleans prevented us from entering the city, we spent the remainder of the day around Lake Pontchartrain and discovered this wonderful refuge with bespoke boardwalk that takes you through the swamp (and over a King Rail with tiny black downy chick on our visit) and into surrounding woodland where Red-cockaded Woodpecker can be found. Sure enough we found a pair nesting in a tree just near the car park at the start of the Boy Scout Trail. The park staff had obviously constructed specially designed nest boxes for this endangered bird and they are keeping track of the population there – the individual I saw was colour ringed and the tree marked with a broad white band to help locate it: thanks! The boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but has been rebuilt and there has been a busy tree-planting scheme to replace those also lost in the hurricane. Good work!
Camp Salmen Nature Park, near Slidell. This is a wooded park with a playground, walking trails along the river, three pavilions and an amphitheatre for events and it was quite busy when we arrived for the last hour of the day before the gates closed. As above, however, all the sites we visited in Louisiana were free and, as here, many had toilets and other visitor facilities that would put some of our reserves to shame back home. Although we were pushed for time, I still managed to find a Red-headed Woodpecker and overhead, the ubiquitous Mississippi Kites and even a Swallow-tailed Kite. Other birds included Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Chimney Swifts and Purple Martins. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds were using one of the nestboxes provided on a post near the carpark.
We saw 122 bird species, some magnificent butterflies, giant alligators and more dragonflies than I’ve ever seen in my life.
American White Pelican. A flock of 67 flew up the Mississippi at Baton Rouge on 10th.
Brown Pelican. Up to 15 offshore, Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Magnificent Frigatebird. Two over Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th.
Anhinga. 1-2 most days.
Double-crested Cormorant. 8 Sabine Lake.
Olivaceous Cormorant. Seen at Lake Martin 10th and 3 at another lake on our last day.
Least Bittern. 2 marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary 9th.
Great Blue Heron. Small numbers daily. Widespread.
Great Egret. Ditto but commoner than above species.
Snowy Egret. Common and widespread.
Little Blue Heron. Common and widespread.
Tricolored Heron. Up to 30/day.
Cattle Egret. Seen daily.
Green Heron. 1-2 most days.
Black-crowned Night-Heron. Up to 3/day marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary & 1 in Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Seen 5 dates with max 6 on 14th.
Glossy Ibis. 1 Mississippi River at Jefferson on 13th was our first in USA.
White-faced Ibis. Up to 12/day marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
White Ibis. Widespread. Up to 35/day.
Roseate Spoonbill. Seen on four dates at various localities, max 10 on 10th.
Canada Goose. Single pairs nesting Camp Salmen & Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans.
Fulvous Whistling-Duck. Single at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. Seen every day with max 34 on 11th.
Wood Duck. Two pairs at Lake Martin, one with 7 ducklings. Single pair Mississippi River at Port Allen with 10 ducklings.
Mallard. 3 at Port Allen, 4 along Mississippi River at Jefferson.
Mottled Duck. 10 at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary, 3 elsewhere.
Blue-winged Teal. 1 at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Black Vulture. Daily. Up to 23/day.
Turkey Vulture. Daily. Up to 30/day.
Osprey. Seen most days with 4 around Lake Pontchartrain 12th.
Swallow-tailed Kite. Singles Lake Martin and Camp Salmen.
Mississippi Kite. The commonest raptor and two pairs found nesting in towns at Port Allen and Jefferson, New Orleans. Highest daily count 56 on 12th.
Cooper’s Hawk. 1 Camp Salmen.
Red-shouldered Hawk. Singles Lake Martin & Big Branch NWR.
Red-tailed Hawk. 2 Port Allen, 3 around Lake Pontchartrain.
Bald Eagle. Single adult Lake Pontchartrain on two occasions.
Peregrine. 1 near Peveto Woods Sanctuary 9th.
King Rail. Adult with pullus under boardwalk at Big Branch Marsh NWR and another walking down the road there.
Sora. Single in roadside ditch at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Common Gallinule. Several at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
American Purple Gallinule. Single at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
American Coot. Single at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Killdeer. Up to 10 in marsh and along roads north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary with a few elsewhere.
Black-necked Stilt. Up to 8 in marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary with a few elsewhere.
Solitary Sandpiper. A single on Mississippi River at Jefferson, New Orleans.
Spotted Sandpiper. 2 at Port Allen.
Willet. 2 near Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Ruddy Turnstone. 10 beach at Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Sanderling. Up to 30 along beach at Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Semipalmated Sandpiper. 1 beach at Peveto Woods Sanctuary, 8 Mississippi River at Jefferson.
Least Sandpiper. Up to 6 at marsh north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Laughing Gull. Widespread.
American Herring Gull. 1 beach at Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Lesser Black-backed Gull. 1 beach at Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Black Tern. 82 east offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th with 45 feeding there next day.
Caspian Tern. Up to 2 offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Gull-billed Tern. 1 over Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Royal Tern. Birds feeding offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary.
Common Tern. Seen offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary with 16 there on 8th.
Forster’s Tern. Seen offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary with 3 there on 8th.
Least Tern. Seen offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary with 20 there on 8th
Black Skimmer. 10 flew east offshore at Peveto Woods Sanctuary on 9th.
Feral Pigeon. Common & widespread.
White-winged Dove. Commoner than expected from distribution map in Sibley Field Guide with a few birds most days.
Mourning Dove. Widespread.
Inca Dove. A pair in Donaldsonville on 11th.
Collared Dove. Uncommon. Only 2 seen – at Jefferson, New Orleans.
Monk Parakeet. A pair with nest material along Mississippi embankment at Jefferson, New Orleans.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Singles Peveto Woods Sanctuary and Deep Bayou Road nearby, Lake Martin, Donaldsonville, Big Branch NWR and near our hotel at Jefferson, New Orleans.
Barred Owl. I flew along forested road near Slidell on 12th.
Common Nighthawk. 2 near Peveto Woods Sanctuary 9th and 1 heard at our hotel in Jefferson, New Orleans at dusk on 13th.
Chimney Swift. Widespread, up to 80/day.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird. 3 at Peveto Woods Sanctuary and 2 marsh area to north.
Red-headed Woodpecker. 4 Big Branch NWR and 1 Camp Salmen.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker. A colour-ringed individual at its artificial nesting hole at Boy Scout Trail car park, Big Branch Marsh NWR gave good views on 12th.
Red-bellied Woodpecker. 3 between Baton Rouge and Jefferson, New Orleans 11th, 1 Lacombe 12th and 3 at Jefferson 13th.
Downy Woodpecker. Singles Port Allen, Big Branch NWR and Jefferson.
Eastern Wood-Pewee. Singles Peveto Woods Sanctuary and nearby Deep Bayou Road 8th & 9th.
Great Crested Flycatcher. 2 along Mississippi embankment, Jefferson and a pair at Breaux Bridge.
Eastern Kingbird. Up to 5/day on 5 dates.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Singles Peveto Woods Sanctuary and nearby Deep Bayou Road 9th.
Loggerhead Shrike. Seen on 4 dates. Max 10 on 9th.
Red-eyed Vireo. 3 Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th.
Blue Jay. 8 Jefferson Park, New Orleans, 3 Lacombe, 2 Camp Salmen.
American Crow. Up to 20/day.
Fish Crow. Only confirmed on 3 dates.
Barn Swallow. Common and widespread. Up to 80/day.
Cliff Swallow. Widespread. Up to 50/day.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Singles on two dates only.
Purple Martin. Widespread in small numbers. Up to 30/day.
Carolina Chickadee. 2 at Lake Martin.
Tufted Titmouse. 1 at Big Branch Marsh NWR.
Carolina Wren. Heard/seen on three dates with 5 on 10th the max.
Eastern Bluebird. 3 Big Branch Marsh NWR, a pair in artificial nestbox at Camp Salmen.
Swainson’s Thrush. Single Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th and 2 there next day.
American Robin. 3 Port Allen, 4 Donaldsonville.
Grey Catbird. 2 Peveto Woods Sanctuary 9th.
Northern Mockingbird. Common & widespread.
Cedar Waxwing. 12 at Donaldsonville 11th.
European Starling. Fairly common and widespread.
Yellow Warbler. Female in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th.
Magnolia Warbler. Male in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th.
Blackburnian Warbler. Singles in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th & 9th.
Bay-breasted Warbler. 5 in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th with 9 there next day.
American Redstart. 2 in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th.
Hooded Warbler. Female in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th.
Scarlet Tanager. 2 in Peveto Woods Sanctuary 8th with 1 there next day.
Summer Tanager. Female Lake Martin 10th.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak. 2 males Deep Bayou Road 9th.
Indigo Bunting. A pair at Lake Martin.
Painted Bunting. A pair at Lake Martin.
Northern Cardinal. A few seen/heard every day.
Baltimore Oriole. Male Deep Bayou Road 9th, another Port Allen 11th.
Orchard Oriole. 1 Deep Bayou Road 9th.
Eastern Meadowlark. Single north of Peveto Woods Sanctuary, 3 between Port Allen & New Orleans.
Red-winged Blackbird. Common and widespread.
Common Grackle. Restricted distribution but common where found eg. 100 on 11th.
Great-tailed Grackle. Only seen in the south-west, mainly around habitation.
Boat-tailed Grackle. Common marshland grackle along the coast.
Brown-headed Cowbird. Seen on four dates. Up to 14/day.
House Sparrow. Common and widespread.
House Finch. Singing male Jefferson Park, New Orleans.
Green Anole Lizard
Red-eared Slider Terrapin
Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad