26 October 2009

Fun With Sparrows

As I sat at LSU, I couldn't help but think of everything that was going on. I have suffered from two partially collapsed lungs in the past month and a half, perfectly timed for midterms. As one may expect, my grades began falling like a lung with a hole in it. Luckily, I am getting everything worked out now, and am under less pressure from school, but this last weekend, I knew exactly what I needed: a mental health day. A day that I could let myself slip away, and have fun before the tests this coming week. And as I walked out the door to my dorm and saw Jeff Harris drive up to pick me up, I knew that we were going to have a great day of birding the next day. Of course, how can you go wrong when you go to Grand Isle?

On Saturday morning, I awoke from a fitful slumber. It's hard to get a good sleep when you can't stop thinking about the birds that could be just down the street. I slowly raised myself from my couch/bed, and woke up Jacob Saucier across the room. As I woke up, I looked around at this high tech house we were staying in. It was so nice that I often forgot we were on stilts 14 feet off the air. This was the 'camp,' something that made me realize I would never say no to camping in Louisiana again. As we gathered our things in the living room and waited for the others to trickle in and be ready to go, we discussed what our first move would be. Kevin Morgan, Jeff Harris, Jacob Saucier and I discussed the best course of action for maximum bird potential. We soon decided on Sureway Woods, the Audubon property of live oaks behind your local neighborhood Sureway grocery. At first, things were rather slow. Jacob almost stepped on a Chuck-will's-widow that ended up knifing through the dark foliage, and we got a Swamp Sparrow while trying to refind the Chuck. The woods slowly began to light up, showing that the woods were really as empty as we had perceived in the dark. We found some Gray Catbirds and a calling Hooded Warbler, but then had no idea what to do. There were no birds anywhere it seemed. While we discussing other areas to go, I spotted a small bird flitting in a nearby tree: Black-throated Green Warbler! It took a few seconds for Jeff to get on the bird, and only a few more for him to realize we were looking in different directions. A calling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher joined the birds and a lone Blue-headed Vireo foraged in the canopy with them. 'The flock' was here! And just as quickly, it was gone. We soon all pressed onward to the other part of the forest across the road and ran into fellow birders Jane Patterson, Lainie Lahaye, and Sean, whose last name escapes me and was a visiting Cornell graduate looking for a grad school. As we wandered on, things began to pick up a little more. I soon spotted a Black-and-white Warbler and a Magnolia Warbler, while Jeff found a Veery running across the trail and I started losing track of who was spotting what around me. Though there wasn't much, there was a nice variety of birds.

Soon after this we decided to check out another track of woods in a neighborhood. I forget the name of these woods, but they didn't have anything extremely memorable in them. Sean spotted two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in the neighborhood, and the woods held close to 100 White-winged Doves. We checked the beach briefly, where I decided to check the gulf. Suddenly, I spotted something a ways out, with long dark wings, and a flight that was definitely different than the other seabirds present. "HEY GUYS IT'S A... oh no wait, that's a harrier!" Sure enough, the bird turned out to be a Northern Harrier. Goes to show anything could be anywhere though...

Our next stop for the day was Exxon Fields. Kevin, Jacob, Jeff and I inched picking through the shorebirds, pulling out Stilt Sandpipers, Dunlin, Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and even a sneaky Wilson's Snipe. While we were sitting there, I saw a hawk lilt harrier like over the field and then got a flash of the underside. "SWAINSON'S HAWK!" The other fumbled to get a better angle out of the car windows as I pointed it out. The angle on the bird remained terrible while we discussed how unlikely a Swainson's was here, until it turned again, revealing it's classic underside.
Swainson's Hawk, Exxon Fields, Grand Isle, Louisiana

Also out on the fields was a nice flock of about 30 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, always a pleasant surprise.

We then headed out to Elmer's Island to paruse the beach for the rest of the day. Sean needed his lifer Snowy Plover and I, my lifer Wilson's, so we began scouring everything for these two birds. Ironically, we found three Piping Plovers in the process but were inexplicably failing to find the other plovers. However, as we pushed further down, my luck returned. Thank goodness I had a camera...
...because there was this cooperative Wilson's Plover fighting another! LIFER! Also on the beach were cooperative Reddish Egrets, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and a few Avocets out in the lagoon. As we drove down the beach again, Sean spotted his lifer Snowy Plover and a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

As the finale for the entire day, we stopped at a Seaside Sparrow spot, and ended up having not only Seaside Sparrows but 30-40 Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows! They were extremely cooperative as well.

One of the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows that was a lifer for me, Lainie, and Kevin. And, my favorite pic of the day:
Seaside Sparrow at Elmer's Island.

Until next time, Good birding and thanks for reading!

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