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Sunday, November 05, 2017

How Louisiana Kicked My $%#@

Who got deh prettiest eyes in deh swamp?
That's what it felt like out there in the southern piney woods. Felt like I was slogging along in the Long-needled piney woods of DEATH. That's how hot, how humid the air was. I could barely take in my breath, and my feet felt weighted down with see-ment overshoes.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker shot taken at whopping 1296 mm 

But enough with the bitchin' already. This was the Piney Woods segment of two days of touring I'd signed up & paid for months ago. We started in the Kisatchie National Forest. We watched a Red-cockaded Woodpecker at the tippy top of a pine.

Long-Needled Pines of DEATH
There were also nuthatches, a few warblers and the larger, less rare, Red-fronted Woodpeckers. Did I care? Not one wit. When hot and frustrated by the humidity you could trot out a live Madagascar Dodo and I wouldn't bother to look at it.
Tromping for Henslow's
The group was searching for sparrows here. Everyone marched along in the tall grasses, which makes the target sparrows fly up and away, to land not too far along. A couple of Bachman's Sparrows were flushed and the group got a great look at one. I even managed to see it, but not photograph it.

Bachman's Sparrow - south Florida

My lifer Bachman's Sparrow in a south Florida piney woods forest in 2014. It wasn't humid when I saw the Bachman's Sparrow. There, the tall grasses gave me zero problems.

Henslow's Sparrow 

It can be argued there were Bachman's a plenty, but not a one of Henslow's Sparrows to be found. I was sooo... disappointed, though honestly, I was so exhausted from just attempting to walk in the piney woods, that had one showed itself, I don't know if I'd of had the energy to walk over to view it. Too freaking hot n' humid!

The group's second stop was a v. civilized country park with a large lake and a children's play area. The group tromped off to circument the lake. I had no energy for such and with great disappointment and a sour face to match, I sat on a bench. Occasionally I could view the group through spaces in the trees. There was another tour participant, a tall man, who had the same heat/humidity issues as myself, and we chatted amiably and watched the others with great goo-gobbers of disappointment. Stupid Louisiana. Stupid heat. Stupid, stupid humidity.
A view of the group, across the lake, trees reflected on the pond.
By the time the group returned from their hike around the little lake, I had given up. I had zero energy to expend in such - for me - inhospitable conditions. I drove back to Jennings and spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. I was happy that I'd wisely opted to not share a ride with anyone. Woe was me!

It got worse. On Sunday I woke, and the weather hadn't really changed much. I decided eff the Coastal Tour I'd also signed up & paid for. I would drive to Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. Had an exciting 'WHERE THE EFF IS THERE A BATHROOM IN THIS MOFFER FRAKKIN' STATE!' episode mid morning with a very-nearly-acceptable outcome we will not go into here. *harumph...*

I was pleased to see the wildlife drive allowed no getting out of one's vehicle, which meant I could be legally as lazy as a cooter on a log without feeling guilty about it.

Cooter lazin' without the benefit of a log
Saw oodles of swamp birds. Watched a Little Blue Heron hunting & wolfing down crayfish after crayfish.

Juvie Little Blue Herons look like a whole 'nuther species, with snowy white feathers.
Juvenile Little Blue Heron
And this 'snowy' bird is not a Juvie Little Blue Heron, it's a Snowy Egret
That is sort of confusing - more-so for us though. The birds 'get it'
The best birdie of the day for me was a Gull-billed Tern. Haven't seen one in decades.

Gull-billed Tern with a newly nabbed frog
There were loads and loads and loads of gaitors everywhere. I remember back to my childhood when gaitors were an endangered species. Too many were being turned into shoes, belts and purses.
Sunbathing Alligator
Fell asleep half in, half out of swampy bed

After lolling about in my car, taking pics, I left the refuge, headed for New Orleans. Along the way I saw the birds which are would be boring if I weren't a birder. They're Neotropical Cormorants and I was excited to get to see them close at hand rather than the way I've normally seen them, always far off.
Neotropic Cormorants
Doesn't this bird have the most amazing head?
When I was south, bordering the gulf coast, I skidded to a near haut on the highway to avoid hitting a 3 foot alligator tot, that decided to cross both lanes of the road. Wish there had been time for a photo, but there were speeding cars fast approaching my rear bumper so had to move along sharpish like.

I found, but passed by the Rockefeller National Wildlife Refuge, because it seemed all work buildings and no wildlife access.

It was quite dark by the time I made it to my hotel in New Orleans. Tomorrow I fly north to Baltimore. 

Friday, November 03, 2017

Yellow Rails and Rice Festival

 Lifer #666 Yellow Rail, check!
The Yellow Rails & Rice Festival is the reason I visited Louisiana. Took me three days to arrive, and on Thursday, the day started with a field trip with other festival participants. The group traveled by caravan, which I lost, then found, then arrived & parked on the roadside.

The group of birders was given a bag of tangerines by the farmer of the little orchard where we sought a 'target' bird (seen below) a cooperative Couch's Kingbird.

So here I was, in the field, lifting my camera, discovering, I'd left my flash disk back in my hotel room.

In the course of the morning the group & I saw White-tailed Hawks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Inca and Ground Doves, the list went on and on. I saw as much, but photos? Only one I managed by digiscoping the Couch's Kingbird on someone else's spotting scope. *sigh*

The first thing I did when I got back to town in the late afternoon was buy a flash disk that now lives in my wallet. If I ever leave my camera disk home, there is now back-up. Ought to have learned that lesson back in Arizona, the last time I forgot to pull the disk from my laptop. DUH! 

On the second day of the festival I actually got over my usual hermit ways, and as the birders gathered in the morning, I asked if I could ride along with any other birder. *GASP* I know!

Red Crayfish

I buddied up with a v. nice lady birder and she drove us all morning as a caravan of birders checked out birds in the Louisiana countryside. Also saw lots of other wildlife, such as toads and crayfish. Friday morning turned hot & muggy. I went so absolutely red from the heat that people kept asking if I was alright. I was, but I looked as red & overheated as I felt. Could not believe it could be so hot in November - silly me, eh?

After Thursday and Friday morning's field trips, field tours assembled at the Thornton rice fields and the search for Yellow Rails was on!

The whole point of the festival is to view the rails and other birds that fly up out of the rice as the combines power through the annual harvest.

I took a ride in the cab of a big-arse rice combine. Here's a short clip of the cab ride.

Even more fun than a combine cab ride was riding the slip n' slide, mud splattering ATV too. The ATVs are right in the heart of the action, trailing the combines and allowing close looks at the birds hiding in the rice field.

view from an ATV
looking through a mud splattered ATV windshield
King Rail fleeing oncoming combine

Birds would burst out of the scruffy rice chaff as the combine trundled along. Sora, Yellow and King Rails, egrets & ibis either tried to put distance between themselves and the combine, or took advantage of it as a help in nabbing grasshoppers, snakes or frogs for din-din.

Yellow Rail 

It was the afternoon of day one I saw my lifer Yellow Rail, that flushed from the field and for whatever birdie reason, it landed right in the middle of the birders on the sidelines. It was immediately scooped up and given a massive photo opt. Not sure the bird appreciated it's 15 minutes of limelight. The bird banders were on hand to get measurements of the bird & other data.
My 'lifer' Yellow Rail got the once over from bird banders
Mist nets are on the right: set up for catching fleeing birds
Banding Station on the side-lines
King Rail, ready to have its stats recorded
However fun both rice field afternoons were, the heat & humidity sapped my energy. By the time I made it back home both days, I was wiped.

On Thursday I went to the evening Cajun feed down at the lake. The chow was excellent, as was the company. Still it was soured for me, when I spotted 3 flags at equal heights, flapping in the breeze: the American flag, the Louisiana flag and the Dixie confederate flag. Ought to not surprise me that after so many decades, the losing side's, forgotten until it was revived to intimidate people should still be flown. Even in Germany, people there would not allow the swastika Nazi flags to alongside the German national flag. Schwein Hund rot-Häise...