RV Livin' #16: Discovering Louisiana Part One

May 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flys against a sea of green at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana "Can you tell me where I can find the flamingos?" asked the woman driving with her husband around the oil fields on Grand Isle. 

"There are no wild flamingos in North America," we responded.

"Oh, okay," she replied and drove off looking for her pink birds.

And as quickly as I watched the dust settle from her car on the dirt road I realized that she was probably talking about the roseate spoonbills.

Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) pulls pieces of bark from a pine tree at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, Louisiana
As many as 18 had been reported in the area only a few days earlier. We saw 14 that morning. 
Spoonbills are tall, pink and white birds with a long beak with paddles at the end. Typically only found along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Texas and Florida, these birds consume a lot of crawfish, which are abundant in Louisiana. As a result, they are nicknamed Cajun flamingos because the red pigment from the crawfish gives the feathers of the spoonbills a darker hue. Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A mallard duck drake (Ana platyrhynchos) swims through a pond of lily pads on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

One of my goals while visiting Louisiana was to photograph roseate spoonbills. I had only seen them once before in my life and that was only a passing moment at an airport. But I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of places I saw spoonbills near the Louisiana coast, and that search led me to several places where I saw dozens of other bird species including a few new ones for my life list. 

My first stop to explore in Louisiana was Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.  Big_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoBig_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoA beautiful sunset with intense shades of orange and pink light up the sky behind silhouetted cypress trees at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

This refuge comprises several bayous, marshes, and waterways surrounded by cypress and hardwood forests. The variety of landscapes meant the opportunity to find several birds and reptiles, including a rare one I wanted to photograph called the red-cockaded woodpecker. 

For several mornings I watched the laughing gulls down on the old pilings along the marshes to Lake Ponchartrain. Although there were dozens of pilings it always seemed like the birds all wanted to sit on the same post. What was nice about this as a photographer was that it meant they were predictable. One gull would fly in, hover until he found a spot and then another would take off feeling a little cramped on the perch.  Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2A laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) comes in to land on a piling already occupied by another gull (non-breeding) in the morning sun at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Lacombe, Louisiana

The last thing that caught my eye at Big Branch Marsh were the wildflowers in peak bloom. The Louisiana wild iris were soft shades of purple set against the sea of green common throughout Louisiana. And the lily pads were also beginning to come into their glory. If you looked close enough or gave it a few minutes you would see ducks cruising through the pads and flowers.

Return for my next blog post about Louisiana featuring my trip down to Grand Isle for the Bird Festival. At least seventy different varieties of birds over a few days gave my shutter finger lots to keep busy photographing.  Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A wild iris set against a background of vivid green on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

 

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