March 14th, 2021.
My friend Claire and I decided to go birding early Saturday morning on March 14th in Louisiana. We left early, since I wanted to look for a Barn Owl that had been seen flying in and out of a boat house near the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station in Akers, LA. It was daylight savings time and we were tired from the change but got there just before sunrise. We walked around and heard a lot of bird activity but didn’t see any large shapes perched or flying. The spot was interesting. It was right off of the highway, over a train track and situated next to a channel. As we walked we noticed a few Spotted Gar swimming near the water’s edge, but didn’t see any sign of the Barn Owl. With the sun now up, we headed to our main spot for the day, Joyce WMA. There had been reports of Norther Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Winter Wrens, all of which I was excited to see. We pulled into the parking lot at Joyce and saw a sign about being “Bear Safe”. I’ve never seen a Louisiana Black Bear, but I’ve heard that they can occasionally be spotted. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see warnings about them though.
We got out of the car and immediately heard the zipper-like call of the Northern Parula, and located two in the bushes. Also present was a Gray Catbird.
We crossed train tracks and looked at the boardwalk, which is the main point of access at Joyce. It looked like something out of a book I read as a kid. The path faded into the cypress swamp and made us feel like we were venturing into the great unknown. I said to Claire “this is so cool”.
We scanned the lower branches of the trees for Green Herons, but didn’t see any. We traversed the walkway and spotted Great Egrets, Wood Ducks, Carolina Chickadees, and heard several Fish Crows calling from above. Suddenly, I saw two small shapes fly out from under the boardwalk. One seemed slightly smaller and more round than the other and I thought they both looked like Wrens (both House and Winter Wrens had been reported). I scanned the ground but neither reappeared. We continued on, enchanted by the environment and spotted a bright yellow blob to the left of us, a Prothonotary Warbler!
This was a bit of a surprise, but definitely a welcomed one. We eventually made it to the end of the boardwalk and saw a few Cricket Frogs and heard a calling Carolina Wren.
We decided to walk the boardwalk back and forth until we located all of our target species. On our first trip back we heard more Northern Parulas calling from above and we also heard a slightly different call. Tracking the call we were able to pick out a Yellow-throated Warbler flitting around, high up in the Spanish moss.
After enjoying our brief views we met a lady named Christie who was looking to locate one of the Parulas. We pointed out the calls to her and she kept on down the trail to get some views. She mentioned that she saw a Wren earlier and had a photo. I took a look at it and it was the Winter Wren! She told us where she saw it (which was the spot where we saw the small birds earlier) and then she headed back down the boardwalk to look for the Parulas. While we staked out the Winter Wren spot we met Brittany, who was also birding, and turned out to be a graduate student as well, most interested in herpetology. We talked about birds and herps for a bit as we waited for the Wren to pop up. We decided to continue walking and found a small bird hopping around in the weeds. After a bit of searching it popped out and turned out to be a House Wren.
Close, but not what we were looking for. We stopped to talk and wait for a bit and eventually Brittany said “Hey, there’s a Wren”. I zoomed in on it and it was really scruffy, but sure enough, it was the Winter Wren! It was a little weird seeing it in a swamp, but the little brown ball of fluff seemed right at home.
We went down to the end of the boardwalk and spotted a Broad-banded Watersnake before calling it a day.
Later on, on Facebook I saw that Christie got some great Northern Parula pictures! Overall, it was an awesome day of birding, where we located all of our target species in a unique and enchanting location. It also made me excited for more spring migrants!