Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Tale of 1-3 Species

Yesterday was spent birding Cameron Parish from sunrise to sundown with Van Remsen. We tried to bird Lighthouse Road but were denied access due to new rules, so on the way back I decided to minimize the wasted drive time with a diversion to "Secret Place." Secret Place is school board land that used to give home to a beautiful hackberry cheniere (so I guess it was technically not a cheniere...). Hurricanes Rita and Ike did a number on the woods there, and then two years ago humans with heavy equipment rooted out and shredded the rest. Now all that remains is a few scattered scrubby trees and a dirt road.

As we drove down the road, we noticed shorebirds huddled in the shelter of oilfield pipes that run along the road. The day was hotter than we'd expected, and the birds seemed as tired of the blazing sun as we were. One bird was off to the side a little, separated from its flockmates by a post. From the distance, we noticed that its wings looked long for its body, so we started taking pictures.

This is a pretty good time of year for Baird's Sandpiper, and the habitat looked decent, so we'd had our eyes out for that species. 

However, through the binos, the bird looked gray. "Color's not right," we decided. Maybe it was a White-rumped Sandpiper? That would be downright rare, as White-rumps migrate far to the east of Louisiana on their way south in fall migration, so it was an exciting idea. The bird was hard to compare to the birds on the other side of the post, so comparing sizes wasn't as easy as it looks in the picture above. 

The birds were much more cooperative than we'd predicted, and as we got tolerably close the look of the bird wasn't right for either Baird's or White-rumped. We realized that our potential Baird's Sandpiper-turned-potential-White-rumped Sandpiper was way too small for either and was just a Western Sandpiper with molting wings that presented the illusion of being longer than the tail. Oh well. The bird did offer us great photo chances, which was nice. 

As we were photographing this bird, we noticed another flock just down the road. Scanning them with binoculars, wenoticed that there actually was a long-winged bird in that flock. Voila! We'd get our Baird's Sandpiper after all. 

The distant flock began moving toward us, so we waited for the photo opportunity to arrive. As the bird neared us, its color started to become more evident through the viewfinders. I sneaked a look at the image on my camera and noticed a gray face with a white supercilium. Ahhhh...White-rumped Sandpiper. 

Just to be sure, we flushed the flock and noticed that one bird flashed a white rump in flight. 

So, the chances of finding a White-rumped Sandpiper outside of spring in Louisiana are pretty slim; I've had one summer bird (on 3 August 2014), and now one fall bird. If the chances of finding one in fall are slim, though, what are the chances of suspecting one on a fall day only to realize that you were badly deluding yourself...only to really find one a hundred yards down the road?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Spring 2017

Now that spring migration is trickling out, it's a good time to review it in its entirety. At the beginning of migration, I was ready to say that it was the single worst spring migration I've ever seen, even coming on the heels of several other unspectacular springs. Much of the time south wind meant that even if migration was happening, it was invisible to us as it passed thousands of feet over our head as birds winged past on favorable winds. That type of bad migration I can deal with, because it helps birds. However, who's to say whether there really are birds going overhead, or if what's invisible to us is really even there?

There were several times when conditions seemed perfect for migration, and yet there were no birds on the ground. It wasn't until the day of April 23 that migration went from "worst ever" status to pretty good. On that morning, a stiff north wind was blowing, and when I arrived at Rutherford Beach before sunrise, I could already see a few songbirds coming in off the Gulf a few feet over the water, then dropping into the first brush available. When Lane and Lima and Remsen showed up a short while later, we saw more of the same, and found the usually birdless short salt cedars near the beach crowded with migrants, including a nice group of warblers. Later in the day, we'd find amazing numbers of migrants everywhere we stopped, but surprisingly, warblers were mostly absent from the mix everywhere except for that small patch of cedars. The amazing numbers (numbers here only from Peveto Woods) were of vireos (60 Red-eyed), tanagers (70 Summer, 30 Scarlet), grosbeaks (60 Rose-breasted), and orioles (40 Orchard, 50 Baltimore).

Following that event, migration and spring birding seemed about normal, at least in recent terms. 

Lesser Nighthawk

Scarlet Tanager

odd Great-tailed Grackle 

Philadelpha Vireo

Banded Royal Tern

Friday, June 2, 2017

Cool things from Cameron, 2 June.

Pretty day in coastal Cameron Parish today. Below are photos of various birds and other items taken today. The Cape May Warbler was at Peveto Woods B.R. Audubon Society Sanctuary. On the beaches and elsewhere were Franklin's Gull, Herring Gulls, jaeger, sea turtle shell, insects, etc...too tired to label everything. Long day. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016


As I write, flood watches are in effect and rain is pounding down with a roar here in Lafayette. Flooding wants to be a recurring theme this year, I guess, just as the deaths of cultural icons seemed to want to keep twisting the knife this year. Locally the recurring bird themes were non-existent traces of migration, poor numbers of wintering birds, and few really outstanding birds. I think we're all ready to say goodbye to this year for so many reasons.