Thursday, February 21, 2013

Paul's Grand Isle Bird Fest (part 1)

I have been lagging behind Damon on the bird count, probably because I live in Peterborough and because he is a far better birder than I am. So to even things up I decided to take a quick trip to add birds to my list. New Orleans here I come!

Ok, so I also had a conference to attend (the American Society of Limnology and Oceanology (ASLO) 2013 Aquatic Sciences Meeting) which we had been planning since last year. But now The Year of Birds give me an excuse to get out of New Orleans for a day. What were my options for a birding daytrip in Louisiana?

It really came down to where could I see a lot of birds in a very short time (I had less than 1 day). We could have taken a tour of sites around the New Orleans area, including the herons at the Audubon Park and sites near pumping stations and Lake Pontchartain. That would have resulted in lots of birds, sure, but it ranked pretty low on the 'wow!" scale. Luckily the area also has dozens of wildlife and wetland places that all sounded really promising, but one place kept coming up: Grand Isle.

Grand Isle is about 100 miles south of New Orleans along the gulf coast. It is a really great spot for birding; mostly famous because it is a stopover for migrating birds in the spring and fall. Ok, so this is the wrong time of year for that, but I would still see a bunch of new birds if I drove down there, right? Grand Isle is surrounded by coastal wetlands and has gulf beaches, all good birding places. That sounded promising.

The plan was to rent a car, leave really early, and be back to New Orleans by 3 p.m. (couldn't be away from the conference for the entire day). I found the Hertz office right next to our hotel and booked the car, though the guy couldn't believe that I only wanted the car the following day and would leave it parked in the garage overnight- what else would I do with it? He also had a harder time believing that we would drive to Grand Isle just to see birds. Car? I had it!

Six o'clock a.m. the next morning seemed quite early and we (my wife was with me) were out of the garage by 6:30. First we took a slightly longer than necessary route to highway 90 south and then had another detour trying to find highway 1 south, and then we hit the toll line to take the bridge to Grand Isle. (A sidebar: Who decided that putting in a self-pay toll both was a good idea? Seriously, there was no attendant and several trucks took more than 10 minutes to pay and go. More like, watch others pay and wait.) Forty five minutes later and we were back rolling to Grand Isle. At 9:45 a.m. we arrived.

Bird species 2 on Grand Isle trip: Brown Pelican.
Ok, we didn't wait to get there; we were also casually looking for birds on the way down to Grand Isle. The wife claimed to see a golden eagle and we had a fly over by a flock of brown pelicans. There were different (but unidentifiable) terns dipping all over the marsh next to the toll both. An egret here and there. Starling and crows. Yeah, we were getting the idea that Louisiana has different and more birds than Canada. And by more birds, I mean a lot more birds. Everywhere you look there is a bird. But we decided that we wouldn't start the serious birding until reaching Grand Isle and starting our trip back. Of course, at this point we had driving more than three hours and had only 5 birds on our list (Great Egret, Brown Pelican, Belted Kingfisher, American White Pelican, and Tricolored Egret). Nice birds but really not the numbers I was hoping for.

Would the rest of the day be better?

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