An Early Fall Migration on Coastal Louisiana

Photo by Don Norman

Don Norman is a board member of PSBO. He is currently working with Biodiversity Research Institute on the Deep Horizon Oil Spill.

After helping PSBO for 3 weeks with training and banding in the high Cascade mountains, I arrived at Port Fourchon on the Gulf Coast on Tuesday morning the 17th of August and getting out of the car I heard a yellow warbler. Here I was parked next to the one bush that was not a black mangrove along the gravel road, and there was a YWAR in it! Then another!

I shrugged my shoulders and went into the trailer to check in and get started on my surveys. About noon, I was sweltering on the beach and I heard a waterthrush go by me…I watched it fly into the 20 mph NW wind along the beach and disappear over the dunes.

Was Tropical Depression #5 was causing a fallout? There had been stupendous thunderstorms to the north during the night. It was 1pm, I was exhausted, and I decided to head to Grand Isle for lunch and to check out the woods there. After my usual shrimp po’boy I wandered over to the woods and found it alive with chip calls of all kinds.

The “cheniers” or narrow woodlands along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico are famous for their “fallouts” of migrating birds in the spring, but fall events are much less common. Grand Isle is the last of the wooded barrier islands on the coast in southeast Louisiana. There are some woods down at Fort Jackson in-between the levees near the mouth of the Mississippi River, also a well known birding spot. These coastal areas are interesting because they do not hold many of the common breeding species and so are an excellent place to confirm that birds seen are migrants.

Photo by Don Norman

When I was a fledgling birder in the late 1960’s, the woods at Grand Isle were used more for dove hunting than for birding, but as the island became more desirable, houses sprung up and fences kept birders out. Birders from Orleans and Baton Rouge Audubon worked with The Nature Conservancy to raise money to buy some tracts. The governor came down to the birding festival on his Harley and it became “ah right” to watch birds. With all the vines and underbrush recovering from the 6 feet of water from Hurricane Gustav 3 years ago, the site looks just like the forests of Central America.

After leisurely counting gulls and terns all morning, it took me awhile to adjust to the movements near the ground with the wind. I soon just scanned with my binoculars. First I saw a Kentucky warbler, then a prothonotary, and then another. Higher up I saw a yellow warbler, sallying for a bug, and then I spotted a black and white warbler on a tree trunk. A slightly larger bird flew by and landed, an eastern wood pewee, easily told from the darker western wood pewees at McDaniel Lake from last week.

Photo by Don Norman

I kept racking up birds, a worm-eating warbler, 2 Canada warblers, a hooded warbler, red-eyed vireo, a local cardinal, and lots more yellow warblers and black and white warblers. All total I estimated about 60 to 75 birds in about 10 minutes. The birds were all foraging vigorously and did not respond to any pishing, owl calls or squeaking. After 15 minutes I headed back to the Camp and work. Fall migration was happening.

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