I closed out my field trips at the convention with a bang on Sunday, riding a van driven by Donna Dittmann and Steve Cardiff into Jeff Davis, Calcasieu, and Cameron Parishes west of town. We hit the farmland (much of it in rice) and refuge impoundments and saw a surprising variety of birds from various families, some of them I expected and some that I didn’t—American Coot (Fulica americana) (known locally as the “Ivory-Billed Gallinule”), the spectacularly-plumed Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), shorebirds, waders, Dickcissel (Spiza americana), grackles, larids, and the “wow” bird of the trip, Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway). We saw phalaropes doing their signature spinning; stilts on the nest; a mixed flock of cormorants, ibis, spoonbills, and egrets scaring up food; a nighthawk hunkered down on a fencepost; Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibia) actually hanging out with cattle. Donna pointed out some remnants of damage from Hurricane Rita, but we remained 30 miles inland or so, so we didn’t see the evidence that Amy Hooper witnessed on her field trip to the coast. The casualty of the trip was the tripod mount from my scope, which shattered (probably as a result of my abuse), but it’s all good, ’cause the mount never worked that well for me. I exceeded my best expectations for lifers for the whole convention, crashing through the 350-species milestone to end at #357.
We spent the day before east of Lafayette in the Atchafalaya Basin. We scraped up some warblers and my target bird for the trip, Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), on a walk led in part by Jim Delahoussaye, who lives along the river. (I first saw this bunting in a movie (maybe it was one of the Batman flicks), and when I saw this impossible-looking bird, colored with blocks of green and cherry red and electric blue, I figured that I must be looking at CGI effects.)
Then it was on to the water in a flotilla of three gas-powered flatboats. I didn’t see anything new here, though someone eared a Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus). But, as my seatmate Dick put it, this part of the trip was “kinda touristy, but cool.” Our destination, such as it was, was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest. When boatman Jacques finally cut the engine, the stillness was so deep that we could hear the eagle vocalizing.
I got lucky and had great weather for the whole trip, in the sense that I wasn’t birding in the rain or in a 30-knot gale. The storms that blew through came on our off day. The hardcore among us took the frontal movement as a cue to hare off into Cameron Parish hoping for a fallout. And the mosquitoes behaved themselves!
On Friday, David Sibley presented on the confusions, delusions, and self-fulfilling expectations of field ID, and told some entertaining war stories, including one about the time that he identified a bit of red flagging tied to a barbed-wire fence as a Vermilion Flycatcher. My subtitle for the talk would be, “Why You May Not Want to Scramble Off to Delaware Every Time Someone Reports a Rarity on the Hotline.”
The highlight of Friday’s chalk talks was a short presentation by Keith Ouchley of the Nature Conservancy on the natural provinces of coastal Louisiana—the alluvial valley (a/k/a bottomland hardwood forest), the savannah-like longleaf pine forest, and the coastal prairies and marshes. Each has been transformed in its own way by agroforestry, as the tallgrass prairie has been converted to rice and sugar cane farming; the pine woods planted in faster-growing loblolly pine; and the alluvial region literally burned to make room for soybeans. We learned that Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), a pine woods specialist, is responding to artificial nest cavities built into the trunks of trees.