Sunday, June 9, 2013

On the Road--Down South: New Birds (June 8-9, 2013)

On my first day of real birding in the South, June 8, I headed south and east from Lake Charles by the back roads--Highways 90, 101, and 14--to Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, which turned out to be very poorly marked. Eventually I found it by turning down an unlikely looking road marked for "Lacassine Pool." Although the scant signage said I was in the refuge area, I never found the Refuge proper, but it didn't matter. The pool (an open expanse of water covered in yellow lotusus) was more than sufficiently interesting. I walked along the roads some and took the self-guided "wildlife tour" by car that was offered. On the drive down from Lake Charles, I spotted a scissor-tailed bird on a power line. I stopped, and drove back only to see it fly away into a field. Luckily it landed not far off, allowing me a good look. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher: Life bird No. 2 on this trip. In Lake Charles, while waiting for a book store to open so I could buy a field guide (I stupidly forgot to pack one) I saw a pair of White-winged Doves, also a new bird for me. Mockingbirds everywhere. At first they confused me. They are much browner than the Mockingbirds I'm used to in California. Also saw a Blue Jay and a Cardinal, both for the first time in a long time. Heard a Killdeer in the distance. Cattle Egrets here and there.

At Lacassine Pool I saw many Grackles. I believe both Great-tailed Grackles and Boat-tailed Grackles, but I'm a little confused about the grackles. Purple Gallinules and Common Gallinules were all over the watered areas, many with chicks, walking on the big lotus leaves. Barn Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds (with the yellow bar that our California birds lack), Mourning Doves (a darker, richer brown than ours), Great Egrets, a few Coots, and many Eastern Kingbirds. Along the road I found a pair of Kingbirds with three newly fledged young. Later I got to hear a very vocal Common Yellowthroat singing out in the open. Saw a Brown-headed Cowbird and a Great Blue Heron. With the exception of the Eastern Kingbird, these are all birds I've seen before. If I've seen an Eastern Kingbird, it was long ago. Likewise the Glossy Ibises flying over, so I'm not sure whether to count these as new life birds until I can check my records at home. I therefore count White Ibis as life bird No. 3 on the trip. Pretty birds with pinkish heads and bills. The very tips of the primaries are black.

Heading further east, I had planned to visit Avery Island, the home of Tabasco Sauce, but arrived in Lafayette too late to make the detour and then make any headway toward the coast. I had wanted to see the salt dome there and to do some birding as well. I stopped in at the Lafayette Tourist Information Center, where the very helpful people suggested I visit Lake Martin instead, which turned out to be a wonderful idea. The main bird walk was closed for alligator nesting season, but I walked the boardwalks that were open. Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, and Prothonotary Warbler in the cypresses gave me life birds No. 4, 5, and 6 for the trip. A female cardinal was a bonus. Watched Tufted Titmice tussling in the trees. I was about to leave when I talked briefly to a docent who told me there was a rookery further up the road with Little Blue Herons nesting (checking the map later, this appears to be called Rookery Rd.).

As I pulled up to the rookery a few minutes later--a stand of low trees studded with white and blue-black birds--I came upon a rather docile pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (life bird No. 7 for the trip; pictured below). The Little Blue Herons made it eight life birds for the day. Among the herons were Great Egrets and a few Roseate Spoonbills. I've seen spoonbills in Europe, but, these are a different species--pink, as the name suggests. Roseate Spoonbill for life bird No. 9. A very satisfying day, although the many white herons at the rookery remain a puzzle to me, with their pale bluish legs, they are not any of the herons or egrets I recognize. Could they all have been juvenile Little Blues (which are white, according to the field guide)? Drove east then as far as Gulfport, Mississippi, where I spent the night. Saw some fairly immense thunderstorms along the way, one with lightning flashes and a persistent quarter rainbow looking like a handle lodged in the side of a black thunderhead. After a shower, I had a mediocre meal at Half-shell Oyster House. Today, June 9, planning to head to coastal birding areas nearby, if weather permits.

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