Heart of Louisiana: Bird Fest

Heart of Louisiana
Heart of Louisiana(Heart of Louisiana)
Published: Apr. 9, 2023 at 3:04 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - This is the time of year when as many as two billion birds are making their annual migration across the Gulf of Mexico. One popular place for seeing those colorful tropical birds is Grand Isle.

With every sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico, more and more small tropical birds are getting their first glimpse of land at Grand Isle. The Louisiana barrier island is a crucial stopover for the birds’ spring migration.

“Probably from South America coming through South America, I don’t know what part,” Delaina Johnson said.

Delaina LeBlanc tracks the birds’ migrations and coastal habitat for the Barataria Terrebonne national estuary program.

“Only barrier island that I know of that has this type of habitat. The other barrier islands do not have this oak habitat, in the past it did, but no longer,” Johnson said.

This 58-acre strip of coastal forest on the Grand Isle is the LafitteW woods preserve, owned by the nature conservancy, and its ground zero for bird watching.

“We have trees here that are over 3, 4, 500 years old. They’re essential for the migrating birds that are coming through,” Jean Landry said.

The birds are a big attraction on the island.

“My estimate on a yearly basis, anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 birders come to Grand Isle,” Landry said.

“This is a Louisiana water thrush,” a staff said.

Members of the Audubon Society are here using nets to briefly capture the migrating birds. It’s like a checkup at the doctor’s where the bird’s condition and size are recorded and a tiny band placed on its leg. When the birds land here at Grand Isle, this is literally their first stop coming off the Gulf of Mexico, so they have been flying how far, or how long?

“Yeah, so from the Yucatan to here is about 550 miles or so, that’s a 20-hour nonstop flight over water. So these birds are departing the Yucatan at sundown, they’re flying through the night and then they’re still flying over the Gulf of Mexico when the sun comes up,” Erik Johnson said.

Just look at the colorful variety of birds that end up being net in just a couple of hours.

“Some of the most gorgeous birds on the planet I call ‘em the candy birds cuz they’re all the color of the Skittles rainbow. Hold out your other hand nice and flat and kind of point ‘em in the direction you want to go, and then just open up your hand,” Johnson said.

What are some tips for successfully being able to see some of these birds?

“Oh, that can be tricky. I think patience is the biggest, the biggest trick. If you see the movement, that’s where you go. And if you have your binoculars, you essentially see the bird and you don’t move your eyes. You put your binoculars right up,” Johnson added.

mcnamara: and when you are in these woods quietly looking for birds, it seems that all of the other things that are typically flying through your mind seem to melt away.

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