19 August 2009

South Farm

South Farm. I had heard the name before, being uttered by the Louisiana birdfolk as an awesome place to go. In my memory, I tried to sort out what all had been reported there... Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and JABIRU?

"That is a common misunderstanding," Kevin Morgan explained to me as we walked along the ditch. "The bird was in a different area nearby." And, as Steve Cardiff later told me, "The [Jabiru] was actually at 'North Farm,' some private property nearby. It was looked for at South Farm, but besides the two guys that found it, it was never seen again."

And so, into this mysterious and foggy location I ventured with Kevin Morgan, a birder from Baton Rouge who offered to take me around today. I looked through the vines, the oaks, and the plentiful greenery that is, well, green. It'll take a while to get used to. I heard a hard chip, and wondered what would be at right now. I quickly spotted a waterthrush moving up a branch and, upon further inspection, was able to determine it was a Northern Waterthrush. A year bird! My second for the day, after that goofy looking Wood Stork on the top of the tree a few minutes past. Then, erupting from the forest, my third year bird of the day: a Barred Owl announcing itself through the mist. Unfortunately, the bird blended in with its natural haunts all too well, and never revealed itself to me.

Kevin and I pushed forward through the trees along the desolate road, flushing up Yellow Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, and even convincing a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos to clack at us from above. We neared a bend and there it was: South Farm.

This is where the realization dawned on me as to why this birding place was spectacular. No crops of any sort where farmed here. It was a crawfish farm. How many crawfish you may ask? According to the sign, "Limit of 100 pounds of Crawfish per Vehicle per Day." That's a lot of crawfish.

The abundant watery ditches and drying fields yeilded a bounty of birds. A flock of 60 or so Wood Storks took to the air ahead of us, while Tricolored and Little Blue Herons flew every which way and Green Herons called while darting through the cypress. As we continued on, Common Moorhens and Purple Gallinules showed themselves in the open and Least Sandpiper hordes ran along the banks. A Roseate Spoonbill flew over, and several Plegadis Ibis flew by, one revealing itself to be a Glossy. We continued onward still, and soon digressed onto a small wooded trail where, lo and behold, I found myself in a staring contest with a low-perched BARRED OWL! It was incredible. As we worked our way back towards the car, the goodies kept on coming. Great Crested Flycatcher, another cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak, and cardinals as far as the eye could see. We evntually made it back to the car, but didn't make it far. How can you not stop for a family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks?

We then drove over to the other section of Sherburne WMA, and found even more great birds. Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, and American Redstart were definitely the highlights. But, unfortunately, I had to head back to school, where the only birds to be found are Fish Crows, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and the occasional House Sparrow. Now that I think about it, that is nothing to complain about!

In addition to birding, Kevin, who graduated from LSU as a history major, filled me in on a lot of Louisiana's history, giving me a better idea of what the state I live in is really like. My favorite history lesson for the day:

The Huey P. Long bridge was built as a railroad and automobile bridge over the Mississippi River during the depression. For a long time, it was the only way to cross the river other than a ferry until Interstate 10 was built. Trying to boost Louisiana's economy, Long made the bridge extra special so that it could be the bridge that could keep on giving back to the community of Baton Rouge. All bridges on the Mississippi are built to accomodate the large, ocean going ships coming up the river to the ports in Louisiana and Mississippi (the state). So, when the bridge was made, Long lowered the clearance just enough to prevent all seaworthy vessels from passing under it, forcing them to unload their cargo in Baton Rouge and re-pack it into river going vessels to continue upstream, thereby increasing the traffic and business in the Port of Baton Rouge.

Until next time, take care and good birding!

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