Saturday, November 9, 2013

Neither Storm nor Rain nor Gloom of Low Light Stays this Birder, Jennings, LA, October 31

My first day in Louisiana started with dire weather reports that I did not take seriously enough.  Donna Dittman had provided advice for me to look for several birds that I still needed while I waited for the Rail Trip to start either Friday, November 1 or Saturday, November 2, depending on the weather.  The rice crop needs to dry after a rain or in the morning after a heavy dew before the cutting can begin. 

Rain had never stopped me from birding before, so I headed out to look for King Rail at Lacassine NWR Pool Unit not too far away.  It was cloudy and dim and looked like rain.  As I neared the unit, a weather alert showed up on my phone regarding the sighting of a tornado to the west of my location.  It was very windy with gusts of at least 30 mph.  It was too windy to expect to see or hear a King Rail.  I stopped at the signs at the entry point and did a quick look; however, a storm front was appearing east of me in the direction of the tornado warning.  I decided to get out of the area as quickly as possibly, and drove back to Jennings.  I got caught in the rain of the storm front and kept my eyes pealed to the skies looking for tornado signs while carefully watching the road.  I made it back safely to my motel in Jennings and decided to park their for a while.  The weather channel was predicting that the storm alerts would be removed or lessened in the afternoon.  I had some lunch, checked the weather report and headed out to go birding again, this time in steady to moderately heavy rain, but without storm warnings.  First I went back to Lacassine NWR Pool Unit to look and listen for King Rails.  I entered the refuge from Illinois Plant Road by going west on LA 90 from Jennings, then south on LA 99 to LA 14 and west on LA 14 to Illinois Plant Road.  In the Pool Unit, I drove slowly east and south to a wildlife drive.  I stopped frequently to look and listen for King Rails but was unsuccessful.  There were lots of Common Moorhens and American Coots as well as the common long-legged waders, Great Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets as well as small flocks of waterfowl, mostly Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers.  I found an early flock of about five Ring-necked Ducks.  A cooperative Neotropic Cormorant gave me some nice photo opportunities at the wild life drive.  See photos below.
Neotropic Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant, blue eye, sharply angled throat pouch at gape
I also needed Nelson's Sparrow, previously know as Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, for the year, but I was unable to find one.  I got wet chasing after the many Savannah Sparrows and a few Common Yellowthroats and at least one Swamp Sparrow that I saw flying up from the road-side, and hoping that they were the rarer Nelson's Sparrow.  As I was returning to Illinois Plant Road, I saw a small dark rail fly from the grass along the refuge road back to the marsh. However, it was a Virginia Rail, a nice bird to see but not one that I needed for the year.  With no luck on finding a new bird for the year, I moved on to the other locations that Donna had recommended--Cameron Prairie NWR on Pintail Loop for King Rail and south of Cameron Prairie NWR on Rutherford Beach Road for Nelson's and Seaside Sparrows, both birds I needed for the year.  The rain was steady and sometimes heavy and the skies were very gray and dim.  Given the low light and the time, mid-afternoon, I went to Rutherford Beach Road first, hoping that the sparrows if present would still be active.  I could at least listen for the King Rails near dusk in the rain on Pintail Loop.

I had to drive slowly to Rutherford Beach Road, because there was enough rain that there was water standing in the roads, but at least the roads were not flooded.  I drove slowly south on Rutherford Beach Road with my window down.  Soon I started seeing sparrows fly up out of the grass along the roads and out of the ditch on the driver's side of the road.  Most of these were Savannah Sparrows.  As I approached  a small bridge where there were pools near the road and the marsh was obviously Spartina salt marsh, a large dark sparrow flew up and disappeared into the grass, a potential candidate for Seaside Sparrow.  I started to make a kissing noise with my lips against my fingers.  The sparrows took notice and sat up.  I have used this technique before in other parts of the country.  It seems to work well.  Other sparrows were flying around, and as I checked them out, I was looking squarely at a close-by Nelson's Sparrow, showing his short bill, indistinctly streaked buffy breast and white belly and gray median strip on the crown.  He sat there for quite a long time, but it was too dim to get a photograph, even though I tried.  As I continued the kissing noises, the Seaside Sparrow sat on a fence wire and a fence post giving its strong "tuck tuck" calls, and showing off his generally dark appearance, heavily streaked under-parts and the distinctive yellow on the lores between the eye and the very large bill.  This is the gulf coast subspecies and has a buffier breast than the Altantic Coast Seaside Sparrows that I learned to know when I lived in Delaware.  I also could not get a photo of this cooperative Seaside Sparrow.  I have found rainy days to be good birding days, but lousy for photography.  Wow!  Donna gave me good advice!

After enjoying the Nelson's and Seaside Sparrows on Rutherford Beach Road.  I drove back north to Cameron Prairie NWR and Pintail Loop to try for King Rail.  Maybe my luck would hold.  It was still raining but not as heavily or steadily as before.  The sky appeared to be lightening and the clouds breaking up in the west.  Almost as soon as I got out of my rental car to walk on the board walk, a King Rail called to the south east giving the contact call, a nasal descending series of quack-like notes.  Eventually, I heard 3 to 4 King Rails, and some of them giving the "kek" calls.  Wow!  Thanks again Donna for great advice.  Rainy days can be great for birding, if you stick too it.

As I headed back to Jennings, the skies started clearing in the west and produced a beautiful sunset.  I hope that these cell phone photos do it justice.  See photos below.  It was a beautiful sunset, hopefully a good sign for tomorrow.  Perhaps,....Evening red and morning gray, sends a Yellow Rail on its way --to Jay.   I couldn't resist!  :>)  :>)

Nelson's Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and King Rail raise the total to 690 + 2.

Clearing sky --  Birder's Delight
 on LA 14 in Bell City looking west 

Send me a Yellow Rail!
on 101, north toward LA 90



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