Tuesday, June 19, 2018

2018 Grosse Savanne EcoTour in Louisiana Outback

Roseate Spoonbills posturing at their rookery
The migration of neo-tropical songbirds in spring makes the avid birdwatcher giddy with anticipation of viewing buntings, tanagers and warblers. Larger wading birds congregate in nesting colonies known as rookeries, safe areas to raise their young feathered flock. A recent trip to Southwest Louisiana delivered an up close viewing experience for both scenarios during an eco tour at Grosse Savanne, including prothonotary warblers and roseate spoonbills.
Bobby Jordan and I spot birds using teamwork
My first visit to Grosse Savanne came in the Fall of 2013 for a saltwater fishing excursion, learning that the 50,000-acre property owned by Sweet Lake Oil Company is under the stewardship of Field Operations Manager Doug Miller. He is a graduate of McNeese State, located in nearby Lake Charles, and he serves on the Ducks Unlimited USA Rice Partnership Committee. Eco-tourism manager Bobby Jordan took us to the rookeries at Grosse Savanne and explained that the property has three main components. “We have a large cattle operation here, we run hunting and fishing trips out of our lodge, and we provide ecotourism experiences,” said Jordan.
Protonotary warbler is a neotropical migratory songbird
Our drive from the field office to the rookery location illustrated his message, passing freshly sprouting rice fields and a cattle drive under the watchful eye of cowboys on horseback. Spring is also crawfish production season and they have many shallow impoundments flooded with enough water to cover their array of crawfish traps. Switching out of a pick up truck and into a UTV vehicle Jordan drove us the rest of the way down a muddy dike which had been freshly topped with fill dirt. When his keen ear picked up a familiar note he hit the brakes and a vibrant yellow prothonotary warbler posed on the edge of the wood line for us to admire.
“The warblers have been here for about two weeks now, and they are arriving after crossing over the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jordan. Just then a large pink bird flew over, causing us to crane our necks for a glimpse. “I don’t want to give away anything, but we have a ways to go down this road yet, and I think you will like what you find.” The swamp here is rich with wildlife and we stopped to view a large rat snake, a nutria and alligators along the way, before the road ended and Jordan led us down a trail he cleared by hand.
Gator covered in duckweed at bird rookery
“We don’t disturb this area very much so expect to see some larger alligators,” said Jordan. Sure enough a 10-foot alligator covered in green duck weed was lying still on the opposite bank. A few steps more and Eureka! The scrub shrub habitat gave way to a grove of small cypress trees surrounded by swamp water with each tree holding clusters of nesting roseate spoonbills, and a few other species too. “The rookeries here are active in April and May and by late April we have the first chicks hatching in the nests.”

Little blue herons, snowy egrets, great egrets, block-crowned night herons and cattle egrets occupied some tree limbs but the larger pink spoonbills seemed to dominate this rookery. Despite some biting horseflies, this part of the Creole Nature Trail did not exact too heavy a price on us, and we were able to use binoculars and cameras to record some beautiful visuals while standing on firm ground very near to the nests. The fact that some birds were still building nests while others already had produced chicks meant that we saw a very active day at the rookery with lots of posturing and flying, always keeping the picturesque pink birds posing perfectly.

Published June of 2018 in Charleston Mercury
To view past blog entries from Grosse Savanne click on 2013 EcoTour - 2013 Redfishing

To view past blog entries about saltwater fishing in SW La. click on 2018 Bull Reds in Bad Weather at Calcasieu Pass - 2013 Sheepshead Slam in Black Bayou 

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