Saturday, August 21, 2010

Late summer at South Farm

Sunrise over misty fields

Lorry spotted someone watching us

Beautiful early morning at South Farm

The night herons were still up too

Still too much water for shorebirds

Though we did see a few wading birds

Darn, we left our machetes at home!

Our Louisiana Heron (aka, Tri-colored Heron)

Water Hyacinth

Late summer is the time for Golden Silk spiders

Bill and Lorry were treated to a whole family of Purple Gallinules -- this is mom

Button Bush

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Morning at Blackwater

Blackwater Conservation area is a BREC park in north Baton Rouge (actually in the community of Central). It is a reclaimed dirt pit on the banks of the Comite River. It is today one of the few locations with public access to the Comite. Dirt pits have become fishing ponds, and large, wide, gravel paths have been installed for easy access. Vegetation here is mostly new growth, but a few cypress trees have survived and more are coming back. Other riparian trees -- sycamore, swamp maple, river birch, and, unfortunately Chinese Tallow, are returning. Many of our other native plants can be found here as well.

Wonderful fishing spot. When I arrived, Chimney Swallows had just risen from their roost and were flying low over the water, eating and drinking. As the morning went on, they were seen higher and higher over head.

Nice spot for a breather.

A bird favorite. This vine was the scene of much activity. Don't know the name, but Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Common Yellowthroats, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, Hummingbirds, Towhees all congregated here.

This one I know -- American Beautyberry. In the winter, the White-throated Sparrows will be found near this plant...

Silver-spotted Skipper. I swore I wasn't going to try to learn butterflies, but they're often easier to photograph than birds.

Portent of fall? I like the blues and greens on the yellow.

Rabbits are common here. Obviously not enough hawks. :-)

Trumpetvine - waiting for a hummingbird

As I said, the park borders the Comite River. The Comite is extremely shallow with a nice sandy bottom here. You can see that the sandy beach is used by 4-wheelers, which fortunately don't come up into the park itself.

Signs of a sand critter

Something in the ornamental oats family. I made the mistake of planting this in my garden once, years ago. I'm still pulling out its descendants.

Perfect markings on this Monarch. Yeah, I know...I'm not learning butterflies...

Frogs, fish, turtles...there should be more kids here with bare feet and nets

Really cool flower..could it be something in the orchid family with that interesting flower?

I'm not learning dragonflies, either.

Go away butterflies!


And finally, a bird. This one was a first for me.

I couldn't figure out what it was, until it called..."Breee"
Juvenile Eastern Towhee

And here's the dad

Just doing what he dew from Jane Patterson on Vimeo.

When this Towhee flew into the path in front of me, I was a bit surprised. Normally Towhees are fairly reserved creatures, preferring instead to skulk in the bushes. Although it's a member of the sparrow family, it acts more like a thrasher, hopping around on the ground, tossing up leaf litter looking for food. When this one flew out in the open and proceeded to forage on the ground (at least that's what I thought at first) I was surprised. And then I realized he wasn't looking for food at all. He was bathing in the dewy grass! Now we were within a few feet of a lake, but obviously it didn't offer the right properties for his morning grooming. Once he finished his bath, he went back to his bush and admonished one and all to "Drink your teeeeeeeeeea!"

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Birds of Cat Island

Today I traveled north of Baton Rouge to the Felicianas. Once you cross Thompson Creek, you notice something significant -- hills! The topography changes, the vegetation changes, even the fauna change. There is a lot of construction here, as they widen the highway and build the new Audubon bridge across the Mississippi river. But if you turn off the highway, you are immediately plunged into rural Louisiana.
Bluffs and ravines and sandy creeks -- this area really feels a lot like the Appalachians...

When you turn toward the river, you find a more typical Louisiana again. Bottomland hardwood forest -- quite a variety of trees -- sycamore, cypress, locust, sweet gum, swamp maple, several kinds of oak, and many more that I have yet to learn to identify, make up a dense forest here. And along the river, my destination... Cat Island.

Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge is located in a bend of the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge near St. Francisville. The refuge was established in 2000 and is almost 11,000 acres. There are not many natural areas along the Mississippi River batture because most of it has been taken over by industry, but this area is one.

The main reason for that is that it's inaccessible for much of the year. From January to June each year, as long as the Mississippi River guage reading is over 18' at Baton Rouge, the refuge is flooded. As the river recedes, more and more of the refuge can be reached. This means there is really very little human interference with this area. Hunting is popular in fall and winter, but there are areas of the refuge where hunting is not allowed.

In 2007, management of Cat Island moved from the Louisiana office to the Mississippi FWS office at St. Catherine creek. Is that the reason the information kiosk is now the Kiosk of No Information? There were actually a few brochures tucked in here -- you'd think they could at least post a map. The self-clearance permit station had no permits to offer.
There are some signs, though many are in serious disrepair. This one was in better shape than most. It'd be nice to explore more of the refuge -- the road was still closed past the Blue Goose ATV trail intersection.
One of Cat Island's claims to fame is that it's home to the World Champion Cypress Tree. How did this grand old tree escape logging? Hard to know -- maybe its uneven shape didn't appeal to the harvesters. Whatever the reason, it's remote location continues to protect it today. I didn't get back to the Champion Cypress today -- the road's still closed -- but I did see some fine old cypress trees.

The roads here are gravel, some with serious potholes -- I bottomed out the Prius a few times today. Of course, that's to be expected from an area that spends half the year underwater.
I am not going to lie; it was hot. I arrived about 7:30 or so, and it was already well above 80. I did most of my birding from the car, but I had to get out and walk when the road was blocked off - that mile nearly did me in.

What was fun was the bird life! I went looking for Wood Storks -- and managed to find a few flying over just as I was leaving. But well before that I had some other interesting finds. I enjoyed watching a great group of grackles that were feasting on delicious green worms. And then I noticed they were being joined by a flock of cuckoos! Now, normally you're lucky to catch sight of a single Yellow-billed Cuckoo -- they seem to be one of the stealthiest of birds. But at this particular location there were several -- at least 15 -- and I bet there were more that I didn't see. I also heard more nearly every time I stopped! Obviously a great breeding population in the area.

As I said, I hoped and expected to find an abundance of wading birds here. There were signs of birds...

And I did find a few but not in the numbers I expected. It was not for lack of food opportunities. There was standing water along all of the roads and it teemed with life.

At one spot near a culvert, the fish were just roiling...literally flopping and turning somersaults-- it looked like the water was boiling! I will post a video, but in the meantime here is a poor closeup of one of the culprits...
Doesn't that look lile a miniature dolphin?? There was a fisherman there and I asked him what the fish were -- he said they're gar. You can see the teeth here if you look closely!

In addition to the rambunctious gar, there were tons of baby catfish along the road. I was really surprised the birds were not there just picking them off. Of course, they might occur all over the island and not just along the road...

Handsome little fellers...
One of the most interesting things about the trip was seeing all the family groups -- babies of every sort. From Cardinals to Orioles to Buntings to Hawks. Including families of the striking Mississippi Kite.
One of the issues with birding on a National Wildlife Refuge is the fundamental conflict between hunting and non-consumptive activities like birding. Now, one interesting question is why the land is labeled "refuge" and hunting is allowed in the first place. Beyond that, there is a safety factor for people as well. I don't really want to be roaming around in the woods where there are folks with guns running around. And, as a hunter told me, they don't want me roaming around scaring their game either. I like the idea that there are areas of Cat Island NWR where hunting is not allowed at all. I have no idea if that's enforced -- can only hope -- but I'm going to make a point to come back in the fall and explore some more. I believe I will wear some day-glo orange -- just in case.