Lafayette trip report: 2

lunch breakTuesday morning our bus departed at 6:00 for Iberia Parish and the coastal wetland habitat of Lake Fausse (pronounced like the choreographer) Pointe State Park, followed by a visit to Avery Island, the site of a managed heron rookery (lots of puffball Great Egret chicks) and the McIlhenny family’s Tabasco sauce plant. I picked up my first lifer for the trip, Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) while most of the bus was checking out the gift shop. Also feeding young, on the water, were a pair of Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is a regional specialty, and we got up close and personal looks both on Tuesday and Thursday.

One of the things a convention is meant to do is charge you up to continue doing what you’ve been doing, and the workshops on Wednesday by Andy Farnsworth and Brian Sullivan, both with the ornithology lab at Cornell, did just that. Brian’s presentation on technology and birding touched on some of the cool gadgets that we birders with too much disposable income can play with (the Zeiss integrated spotting scope and digital camera is so tempting), and then segued into sources of information on the web (more in a later post) and eBird, Cornell’s web-powered bird observation listing application. eBird’s not-so-hidden agenda is data collection for research purposes, and I left with a mild resolution to start using it to record my Huntley Meadows visits, in the same way that I report nest box activity with the allied app for cavity nesting. But the app is lacking the capacity to export trip reports as URLs (although Brian told me that there’s interest in adding this feature); once Cornell does this, they’ll join the ranks of other players in the social software arena.

Andy Farnsworth covered two areas of his research, monitoring bird migrations using WSR-88D weather radar and by recording flight calls. He talked about all the things that can show up on radars that are neither weather nor birds, like “aerial plankton” (dust, smoke, insects) and sunset, which at the right time of day looks like back-scattered radiation. I found his segment on flight calls particularly interesting, because it was the first time I’d taken the time to look at a sound spectrogram while I’m listening to a vocalization. And since flight calls are briefer (as short as 0.02 sec) and simpler in structure, it’s easier to match sight and sound. Andy indicated that you want to look at the strong central trace of a spectrogram and discount the fainter overtones above and below it (on the other hand, the Eastern Bluebird chip that he played seemed to get its melodic character from the fainter traces in the spectrogram). A buzzy call will show regular variation in the frequency domain, perhaps 1kHz up and down each 1-5 msec. These are the calls we like to call “zeeps”, while the “seeps” stay on one pitch.

Thursday’s field trip took us past the oil refineries, chemical plants, and paper mills of Baton Rouge, up Highway 61, into West Feliciana Parish and the Tunica Hills, glacier-formed uplands (we stopped before we got to Angola and the state pen). We alighted at Oakley Plantation, once a home of John J. Audubon, and Mary Ann Brown Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property. Oakley was particularly pleasant, still cool and dripping from the cold front that blew through Wednesday bringing thunderstorms. Off by myself while most of us scattered to take the house tour or check out the gardens, I got a good look at a Red-headed Woodpecker and all too quick a look at a gray-over-yellow warbler that I couldn’t ID. Similarly, at Brown Preserve, the group saw a waterthrush that our leader ID’d as Louisiana, but I didn’t feel like I’d seen enough of the field marks to tick it. The last planned stop of the trip at Sherburne WMA was nearly a complete washout, as poor scouting on someone’s part left our motor coach unable to get over a steep railroad grade crossing.