(photo by Russ Norwood http://www.theperceptivist.com/)
Listen, I promise that I'll get to that “tough plants for tough times” post......it's just that, well, Molly “Eagle Eye” Richard and I did a fun/interesting bird trip to Grand Isle last week, and I got some decent photos of it and so just had to write it up.
Molly "Eagle Eye" Richard Scanning the Gulf of Mexico
Really, she barely needs binoculars...
I'd been needing to go to Grand Isle all summer in order to procure habitat/bird photos for a writing project that I'm in the middle of. I happened to run into Molly (Lafayette birder who owns a camp in GI), told her of my dilemna, and didn't need to twist her arm.
We drove down on July 21, having the usual fine time laughing and singing along to the hits of yesteryear on Molly's favorite oldies station. By the time we hit Port Fourchon, where the birding/photographing would begin, the weather had turned to awesome: 88F with a mild southwesterly breeze thrown in for good measure; mostly cloudy skies nicely blocking that mean old sun, and featuring very cool, darker blue-gray columns of rain showers miles away in almost every direction. Let the birding/photographing begin!
Port Fourchon; mowed marsh (foreground), industry on parade (background)
Sometimes Birding Can Become Quite Surreal, Y'Know?
Port Fourchon is a heavily industrialized oilfield warehousing and transportation terminal plopped right over the marsh, leaving pockets of natural habitat interspersed throughout. Birding there is weird-but-usually-good. The big deal at Port Fourchon on July 21 was Common Nighthawks. They were everywhere: on wires, fences, and directly on the ground – mostly around large limestoned parking and storage areas. Eventually we tallied 50 of them there; more than either of us had seen before in one locale.
Common Nighthawk, Resting on Mudflat
Next we hit Elmer's Island, actually a sandy peninsula featuring hunks of marsh and marsh pools, a nice beach, and a large lagoon. It was noontime, and large aggregations of seabirds were crowded together loafing in the lagoon.
Gang of Brown Pelicans
Loafing in the Lagoon
Overhead, Magnificent Frigatebirds were soaring way up in the sky, working the breeze like it was their personal plaything.
Magnificent Frigatebird Toying with the Breeze
(too bad the image is small; google for better picture...)
By the time we hit Grand Isle State Park on the eastern edge of the island, bird activity had lulled to near-nonexistent, with only mockingbirds and Eastern Kingbirds flitting around the dune brush. We didn't observe a single seabird on the beach. But the skies were still spectacular and the seas were nearly glass-calm.
Adult Clapper Rail Feeding Young
Departing the park, we spied an adult Clapper Rail, a salt-marsh specialist, rounding up tiny land crabs and feeding them to its young. Taking photos for 15-20 minutes, we eventually saw two adults and 4-5 fuzzy, black-plumaged young.
Young Clapper Rail
On cue, the Stones' "Paint it Black" was pouring from
Molly's oldies station at the time...
Even for biophiles who look hard to see the beauty in all living things, it's hard to find anything but goofiness about a young rail. At best, they resemble the illegitimate children of Big Bird. I reckon you'd have to look directly into the eye of a young rail to find the real Truth/Beauty that resides there.
Almost as an afterthought, we decided to check the “Exxon Fields” for shorebirds on the way back to Molly's camp. Now owned by a smaller petroleum processor, this large complex of marsh chunks dotting short-grass fields has traditionally yeilded fine shorebirding. Several weeks earlier, during the peak of the drought, Molly had checked this area out and found it totally dry, with hardly even any living vegetation in the short-grass fields. Since then, however, the rains began, and today featured expansive pools of shallow water and lushly-recovering grasses and forbs, and filled with laughing gulls, willets, black-necked stilts, and numerous sandpipers including the uncommon Short-billed Dowitcher.
Black-necked Stilts Feeding at "Exxon Fields"
Like Clapper Rails, Short-billed Dowitchers are salt-marsh lovers. And because salt-marsh habitats are relatively difficult to access, these two species (as well as Seaside Sparrow) are less observed by the regular birding public.
Bathing Laughing Gulls (foreground) and loafing Short-billed Dowitchers (far background)
Non-breeders in Louisiana, Short-billed Dowitchers occur here mainly in winter, foraging in very small groups in salt-marshes and mangrove swamps. Only rarely are they found in larger groups during spring and fall migration periods, when lucky birders can even find them inland, especially in the ricefield country of southwestern Louisiana. Eventually, Molly and I counted over 160 fall-migrating Short-billed Dowitchers at the Exxon Fields that afternoon – again, more than either of us had ever counted in a single locale in Louisiana.
So now we had accumulated impressive personal high-counts on Common Nighthawk and Short-billed Dowitcher, and probably Clapper Rail (13) as well, all – as the Kinks would sing – on “a lazy summer day.”
Black Skimmer or "Bec a' Ciseaux" en Francais
(photo by Russ Norwood http://www.theperceptivist.com/
The last bird of the day -- one of Molly's all-time favorite species -- was a Black Skimmer, foraging in a tiny salt-marsh pool just off the back deck of her camp.