15 September 2009

Goin' Coastal

Chris West and I drove down I-10 West, heading for the legendary parish of Cameron, Louisiana. Now famous for the Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher collected there in 2008 (the first time this species was ever found north of Panama!), Cameron has long been known in Louisiana for being amazing in general. In the past, Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, hundreds of Groove-billed Anis, nesting Great Kiskadees and other spectacular birds have been found along the coastal cheniers of woods, isolated from the south by the Gulf of Mexico, and from the north by dozens of miles of Saltmarsh and Coastal Prairie. This creates a migrant trap collecting birds from every direction. Chris and I crossed the saltmarshes on our way southward after dark, pausing for a moment to see what was out at night. The calls of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron quickly disappated into the unending marsh, and I was able to spot a roadside Alligator, watching me with ill intent. We soon got back in the car and headed towards Sabine, Texas, where we spent the night in Louisiana a little ways before crossing the bridge.

The next morning, we began parusing down the coast, stopping at the local beaches to see the scatted small groups of Western Sandpiper and Sanderling. At out second stop, we happened about Peveto Woods, a small, coastal patch of Oaks that is where the Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher was found. We got out of the car, bathed in bugspray, and headed into the woods, beating off deer flies the entire time. I went to the right, Chris to the left. I found nothing, as the flock was to the left. I ran to join Chris, and saw the lone Blackburnian Warbler he had found among the numerous Red-eyed Vireos. We began working our way eastward through the woods, and were surprised by a Chuck-will's-widow that flew around breifly. As we ventured towards where the bird was in hopes of refinding it, we found another small flock of migrants. Again, Red-eyed Vireos dominated the flock, but there were some warblers to pick out. After about ten minutes, we called it quits when all we could find were two Black-and-white Warblers, a Yellow Warbler, a Canada Warbler and a lone Prothonotary Warbler. Little did we know that just an hour or so later, another group of birders would arrive to not only miss our warblers but find a pair of Bell's Vireos.

As we continued on along the coastal ridgelines, we paused to photograph a perched Common Nighthawk. Though we only found two non-flying nighthawks, the fact that one of these was on the powerlines makes me think there were dozens of birds in the area.

Common Nighthawk, Cameron Parish, Louisiana

Near this nighthawk, we also found a small freshwater puddle with Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, and Black-necked Stilt.

We soon came to Holly Beach, a place that in the past has had Brown Booby and Black-legged Kittiwake, and decided to check out one of the first flocks of gulls and terns that we came to. I lifted my binoculars and noticed that the first bird I looked at had extremely short legs for a tern. Something about the bird bothered me, and I decided to check out the other birds and come back. As I worked my way across, Chris said "Whoa, did you see this tern?" Without glancing up, I said "The one on the right?" He kept staring and said "Yeah. Something just doesn't seem right. The legs and all... wait, could it be an Arctic?" Chris handed me his camera and I quickly snapped a few pics of the bird perched near an Common Tern. We kept studying the bird and it took flight briefly before alighting again, and then took off for good. Extremely pale wings with little/no black and the smallish bill on the bird all point to Arctic Tern. However, Chris's camera malfunctioned later during the trip so, as of yet, we have no confirmation on this terns identity.

Chris and I continued on our eastward puch along the gulf, checking out Caspian and Royal Terns as they passed over and stopping at several roadside oaks, finding Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Orchard Oriole, Northern Waterthrush and my state Hairy Woodpecker. Some of our other roadside stops even turned up Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow (a life bird). At one of these roadside stops near a lake, we found a gigantic flock of Neotropic Cormorants. They covered the wires like pigeons, making them sag incredibly low. We estimated there might be several thousand birds. I later learned that, had we counted them all individually, this almost certainly would have been a record high count for the state. I did manage to snag a single picture of one of the smaller Cormorant groups.

Neotropic Cormorants, Cameron Parish, Louisiana

It was at about this point of the day that the storms finally rolled in off of the gulf and forced us to leave Cameron Parish, and we headed in to southern Vermilion Parish next door for a little looking around. We were only there for a little while, but I did manage to get my lifer Fulvous Whistling-Ducks flying over and find a Swainson's Hawk, a pretty good bird for Louisiana.

We decided to wrap up for the day and headed even further east, managing to get Black-bellied Whistling-Duck above Highway 90. And, as the sun set, we neared our birding location for day two: Grand Isle.

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