16 February 2010

Ammodramus Adventures

Over the past few weekends, I have done several Louisiana birding trips with one group of birds as the main target: the grassland birds. Being from the intermountain west, the 'grassland birds' always seemed out of reach, going through the center of the continent and hardly ever crossing the Rocky Mountains. So when I came here to Louisiana, I was hoping to pick up on these grassland birds that winter at forest fringes or reach the eastern edge of their range in this swampy state.

And so, two weekends ago, Jerry (cannot remember his last name, sorry), Jeff Harris, Kevin Morgan and I headed out into the pine-savannah of St. Tammany Parish. On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrian near the Mississippi border, this parish helps make the toe of Louisiana's 'boot' on a map. We arrived at about 8 o'clock in the morning to rondezvous with some New Orleans birders to find the elusive bird of the thick grasses: Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii).

When the entire group had assembled, we headed into the marshy grasses. Jeff explained to me that this area was actually a pitcher plant bog, one of a few in the state. Indeed, the first thing of interest we found in the entire area was a dead pitcher plant. These amazing plants entice insects to fly inside their leaves and digest them for additional nutrients in their nutrient-deprived environment. We continued on over these interesting plants, scaring up numerous Sedge Wrens (Cistothorus platensis)along the way. It was fun seeing these birds in their natural habitat, after only having seen the lone Western Colorado individual found by Ron Lambeth in the past.

After about an hour of scouring the field, we finally flushed up the bird we all desired. Unfortunately, the only views we had were of the Heslow's Sparrow flying quickly as it darted out of the way, but I was able to glimpse the diagnostic green face and darkish back on this amazing eastern Sparrow.

The next weekend, Kevin, Jeff and I decided to head north to Caddo Parish to try our luck with grassland species. We were not disappointed, finding a group of about six Lapland Longspurs in a field north of Shreveport. While there, we also had a small group of longspurs that I believe to be Chestnut-collareds as well! This is a review bird for Louisiana though, so we will have to see if it gets accepted. (Note to self: submit record.)

Later, we joined Terry Davis at the Shreveport Regional Airport:

Shreveport Regional Airport, Louisiana

Our goal bird was Smith's Longspur, possibly the hardest longspur to get in the world. Though we did not find them, we did have lots of other cool grassland birds, the most notable of which was a Sprague's Pipit! I got one other lifer there as well: Le Conte's Sparrow.

Two days later, I did some winter bird atlasing with Jeff and Jacob Saucier in Avoyelles Parish in an area known as big bend. This was some of the best lowland swamp forest I have ever seen, and we had a great time. Though species diversity was fairly low, we had a lot of cool birds, such as Pileated Woodpecker checking out a nest hole, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, and Blue-headed Vireo.

Jacob Saucier in Big Bend

Until next time, good birding!

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