Barred owls are a common Louisiana bird that is expanding westward. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
Migration of songbird peaks starting this week
This past week, I called up my old friend, Sloan McCloskey, in Morgan City to see what he was up to.
Mid-April is an excellent time to start fishing chinquapins. It’s also an excellent time to do some birding, as the peak of the neotropic songbird migration usually takes place the third week of this month.
I actually wanted to somehow fit both in, which was a possibility with a three-day weekend that included Good Friday off.
My conversation with Sloan started out to see if he wanted to go fishing. We’d put over at Russo’s Boat Landing and head on into the basin to see if we could find some chinquapins and bluegills.
Unfortunately, Sloan wasn’t up for a fishing trip, so I hit him with, “Well, how about doing some bird watching?”
To which Sloan replied, “Where?”
“St. Mary Parish,” I said.
“What time?” he asked.
“Sunrise is 6:45,” I said.
The next morning, Sloan pulled up to my house in Patterson, climbed in my truck, and it was off to Centerville.
If you’re a birdwatcher, La. 317, which runs f r o m d o w n t o w n Centerville south to Burns Point, is a great place to start. For one thing, it passes near parts of the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge.
For another, the highway is lined with water and live oak trees between sugarcane fields. These trees act as great food reservoirs for hungry migrants that just flew across the Gulf of Mexico.
The Louisiana gulf coast is a critical habitat for songbirds that eventually will wind up spending summers in the northern tier states and Canada. What’s more, though, Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge offers secluded terrain for the Louisiana black bear, and it also is a place where songbirds, both local and migrant, flourish.
While birdwatching with my buddy, we made a trip to the Garden City Unit on the refuge and got our first glimpses of a prothonotary warbler. The yellow bird, roughly five and a half inches long, stood out among the fresh new greenery of the cypress trees along the boardwalk trail.
I commented to Sloan how I usually see a barred owl or two feeding on crawfish along the trail.
Sloan happens to be like an encyclopedia. Moreover, a whole lot better than a Google search. He commenced to tell me how the barred owl was initially an eastern bird. Apparently, as man showed up on the prairies west of the Mississippi River, and invariably each farmer would plant a few trees. As a result, barred owls have moved further and further west and now are encroaching on habitat of the spotted owl.
During our short excursion on the refuge, we watched prothonotary warblers, northern parulas, red-bellied woodpeckers and a few of the more common birds like northern cardinals, common grackles and swamp sparrows. I was expecting to see a few buntings, both indigo and painted. Perhaps even a yellow-breasted chat or yellow-throated warbler. But, it appears it’s still a bit early, and most of the migrants haven’t showed up in earnest yet.
On the Centerville Unit of the refuge, we ran into Paul Schaub, president of the Terrebonne Bird Club. Schaub frequents Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge and like myself, more often than not, seldom sees anyone else while birding. We exchanged notes, where like us, Paul had kind of a quiet morning, but he did see one painted bunting on the unit. He showed us a picture he took of this beautiful bird and was kind enough to tell us where he spotted him.
Saturday afternoon, I spotted a female orchard oriole in our backyard. We planted a red mulberry tree for the sole purpose of feeding migrating songbirds, and it was eating the ripe dark-red berries as fast as it could swallow them.
With the scattered showers Saturday evening and were expecting Sunday morning, I got up before sunrise and headed over to the refuge.
Normally, rainy weather will cause songbirds to “fallout” along the coast, where bird watchers can catch a glimpse of several species like tanagers and grosbeaks.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see these particular birds, but the population of prothonotary warblers and northern parulas had increased since Good Friday. And, in just two days. What’s more, I did wind up seeing my old friend “the barred owl.” It was no more than 20 to 30 feet from me and paid little attention to me.
The migration only will get better between now and the end of the month. I’ll be checking out the roadside trees along La. 317 in St. Mary Parish and visiting Lake Martin, Jefferson Island, Brownell Memorial Park & Carillion Tower and Sherburne Wildlife Management Area with hopes of seeing a bunch of migrants the next week or two. Here’s hoping to see you there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: John K. Flores is The D a i l y R e v i e w ’s Outdoor Writer. If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact him at 985-395-5586, at email@example.com or visit his Facebook, page “Gowiththeflo Outdoors.”