LOUISIANA: May 2, 1998 by Luciano Ruggieri
Bordering the Gulf of Mexico and characterized by more than 15% of wetlands,
Louisiana offers many opportunities for European birders interested in
seeing not only American species but also neotropical migrants. The
influence of the Tropics on the avifauna of the area is so strong that the
Louisiana check list includes 442 species!
Here, I report on a one-day birding trip I made in Louisiana, guided by the
well-known Hummingbird specialist, Nancy L. Newfield from New Orleans,
together with an American colleague, Dr. Douglas Deming and his wife, Edie.
They are from California. We both skipped a whole day of the Pediatric
Academic Societies' Meeting but not in vain!
The day started early, when Doug picked me up at 5.15 am: a wake-up not too
bad for me suffering from jet lag. The weather was fine, just a little bit
sultry in the afternoon. I brought with me from Europe the "Eastern"
Peterson Field Guide which is somewhat obsolete and probably incomplete for
Louisiana, since the "Western" one seems to cover more adequately, though
illogically, the whole avifauna of this area. Nancy recommends the National
Geographic "Field Guide to the Birds of North America". This was just to
introduce me to the others almost as a beginner. Nevertheless, I got 100%
satisfaction since my personal list was aimed at spotting only two birds:
the Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) and the rare Swallow-tailed
Kite (Elanoides fortificatus) - and I got both!
Driving Southwest from New Orleans we first stopped near an hydraulic plant
where we found Orchard Oriole, Red-shouldered Hawk flying by, and a
colourful male Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). On the roof of a nearby
house an incredible Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus),
a vagrant in Louisiana, showed himself under the sun. A lot of European
Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were everywhere, maybe more widespread and
common than in Europe, really a bird pest, I must say.
Driving towards Port Fourchon, we watched from the roadside a group of Black
Vultures (Coragyps atratus)and 2 Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) among
them. The land began to be more extensively covered by marshes and Herons
started to be seen in great number: a few Tricolored (Louisiana) Herons
(Egretta tricolor), several Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula), Great Egrets
(Ardea alba), a few Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), and perching in a
dead tree, a superb Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), one of the biggest
I've ever seen. Another Peregrine was resting on a water tower a few miles away.
In the area of Port Fourchon we spotted a flock of Black-Bellied Plovers
(Pluvialis squatarola), Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), Marsh Wren
(Cistothorus), hundreds of Least Terns (Sterna antillarum), Forster's Terns
(Sterna forsteri) and some Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis). However,
the highlight was a King Rail (Rallus elegans) feeding along the reeds in an
open space. Not far away were a lonely Long-billed Curlew (Numenius
americanus), Boat-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus major) and a Bobolink
(Dolichonyx oryzivorus). In a broad pond, 2 Reddish Egrets (Egretta
rufescens), one of them typically "dancing" in the water. Black-Necked
Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), a
Sanderling (Calidris alba), a flock of Dunlins (Calidris alpina), an
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and a flock of Black
Skimmers (Rinchops niger) were also easy to see.
We finally reached the Gulf of Mexico and on the beach we spotted: Western
(Calidris mauri) and Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Royal Tern
(Sterna maxima), Common (Sterna hirundo) and Sandwich Tern Sterna
sandvicensis), Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), and in a
fresh-water marsh behind the beach, a flock of WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus alba).
Just offshore, several Herring (Larus argentatus), Laughing (Larus
atricilla), and Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) and at least a couple
of Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) followed a shrimp trawler!
This species breeds offshore in the Dry Tortugas off the Florida coast and
nobody expected to see them there so early in the summer. Along the 3
mile-long beach there were again a lot of waders including American Avocet
(Recurvirostra americana), several Red Knots (Calidris canutus) in breeding
plumage, and among them a interesting Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus
tricolor). From the beach, a few Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins could be
seen breaching the waves.
We next focused our attention to neotropical migrants and in one of the few
relict evergreen Live Oak woods we got: Tennesse Warbler (Vermivora
peregrina), Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), a male American
Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
(Pheucticus ludovicianus), an incredible male Scarlet Tanager (Piranga
olivacea), Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens), Veery (Catharus
fuscesens), a Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons) and finally a
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).
Returning to New Orleans, I got one of my two "desired" kites; the
Mississippi, flying over a suburban woodlot. In the nearby marshes, right
along the highway, Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax),
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), and a few Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
(Nyctanassa violacea). And, in a swamp in the NE side of New Orleans, we
found American Coots (Fulica atra), Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), a Gull-billed
Tern (Sterna Nilotica), several Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) and a
couple of medium-size Alligators!
Our last stop was to fulfill my last wish: the Swallow-tailed Kite. We
drove to a residential area where Nancy had been informed the species was
breeding, and following accurate directions we managed to find out the Kite
nest built on the top of a Loblolly Pine. We easily spotted a white head of
the incubating female peeping out from the nest and after waiting less than
half an hour, at least 2 different individuals were seen in flight. WOW!
What a superb raptor!!
In the backyard of the nearby house, a noisy Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus
pileatus), a Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), and a wonderful
male Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) fed on dried fruit of a Chinese Tallow.
I really enjoyed my day birding in Louisiana. Nancy invited me to come back
and see the rest (442 - 108 = 334 species remaining!). A special thank to
Nancy Newfield who guided the trip with extreme competence and friendship.
If you would like to join her for a tour to Ecuador, she is leaving in July.
Anyone birding in the New Orleans area can contact her for information at