Neotropical Migratory Birds!

Why in the world, you might ask, do intelligent people travel hundreds of miles to see these birds as they arrive on the coast of Louisiana?

Birding TrailThe best reason I can come up with is because it’s their only chance to see as many as 400 bird species in one small geographic location before they migrate northward to their respective homes.  Of course, it may take a course of several days, lots of walking, standing, and bending back of the neck while looking through binoculars, but it is well worth it.

I think RenRed and LilSis will agree with me that no matter whether you’re an amateur or a veteran birder,  walking through the “chenier” (oak grove) on Louisiana’s Grand Isle is worth the time and effort.  We did it for one day recently.

LilSis and RenRed
The songbirds we saw fly south to places like Yucatan, South America, and Mexico in the fall in order to have an ample and easy food to supply make it through the winter.

And in the spring, on just the right south wind, they tank up and return north for the summer.  One gentleman who seemed to be an expert on warblers told us it took the birds about 36 hours to fly from the Yucatan to Grand Isle, LA.

Remember, now, there are no birdie rest stops out in the Gulf, so it is a non-stop flight.  Many of them are so tired when they finally reach land that they literally “fall out” of the sky, and that is why this phenomenon is called “the fallout”.  Stories are told of children holding exhausted multi-colored birds in their little hands, the birds too tired to oppose being held.

Red MulberriesAs soon as they can, though, the birds are up in the trees eating insects and red mulberries. Scarlet Tanager eating MulberryThe red mulberry is a tree native to south Louisiana.  This one, which has welcomed many a neotrope to the island, took a toll from the hurricane-force winds of Gustav last fall.

Birding Yard

Some species are observed eating bird seed from feeders, tables, and the ground in yards like this.  Many homes on Grand Isle make preparations for the transient birds by  hanging misting hoses in the trees and keeping their bird baths filled with fresh water.

Yummy caterpillar

Other species prefer hunting in the chenier for big, juicy caterpillars like this one!

As soon as they are well fed and rested, the birds continue on their journey north.  We were fortunate to go at just the right time to see a few before they left the hospitality of the islanders.

Wanna see?  Here’s a few more reasons why folks like us walk around looking dorky for hours on end . . . .

Male Hooded WarblerOkay, before they tell on me, I’ll do it myself.  I got so excited when I saw this male hooded warbler peering out that I screeched at my sister to look and scared it away.  Needless to say, the couple in front of us could not get away from me fast enough!

Female Hooded WarblerNearby was this beautiful little female hooded warbler.

Red Eyed VireoPeekaboo, I see you!  Are you a red-eyed vireo?

Kentucky WarblerAnd then there were all those cute but confusing warblers darting around in a brushy area.  A pair of birders, more knowledgeable than we, named them for us, but they flit across so quickly it was hard to tell what was what.  Is this one above a Kentucky?

Blackpoll WarblerHow about this one?  Could it be a blackpoll warbler?

Black Throated Green WarblerAnd might this one be a black-throated green warbler?

Yellow-billed CuckooMany of these magnificent birds darted from tree to tree along the trails.  It is a yellow-billed cuckoo.  I finally got to see one!!!

Immature summer tanagerCan anyone confirm that this is an immature summer tanager?  I could not tell, but another veteran birder claimed with great authority that is what it was.

Summer Tanager 2This is, of course, a summer tanager.

Indigo Bunting 2And this beauty, not just a blue bird at all, is really an indigo bunting.

Worm eating warblerLilSis and I spied these little things twitting around in the dead leaves, well camouflaged and very hard to photograph.  I think we finally figured out what it was once we got home and studied our photos along with the field guide.  I think it’s a worm eating warbler.  What would you say?

Scarlet TanagerAnd finally, the bird that I think took the award for the most brilliantly colored bird of the day–this male scarlet tanager.  He posed and posed for us, as though he knew just how pretty he was. This photo has not been color enhanced.  Their spring colors really are this vivid.

There is only one bird that would have trumped this scarlet tanager, and that would have been a painted bunting.  However, we did not get there early enough to see one.

So here’s a tip for next year:  The early painted bunting always catches the worm, and the early birder always catches the painted bunting!

Kim, if you would please correct any I have wrong and confirm those that I wasn’t sure about, I’d really appreciate it!

Until next adventure,

I remain,

Your Bayou Woman

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  1. Beautiful pictures! Yes, that was a worm eating warbler. We saw quite a few of them when we caught a few days of migration on the Dry Tortugas. We’re hoping to be on Grand Isle next spring for migration. We want to catch a fallout!

  2. Oh – I forgot to mention you identified all birds correctly with the exception of the Kentucky warbler. Since I can’t see very many markings on the bird, I can’t tell you what it is. It could possibly be a vireo as well as a warbler.

    I’ll have to tell you sometime about this new bird guide (electronic) thing that I have.

  3. Beautiful pics. I’m ignorant when comes to identifying birds. About the only ones I ever see are Sparrows, Blackbirds, Cardinals,Woodpeckers, and a Hawk. I love to watch him “hunt”. There is an Owl in the neighborhood, which I’ve seen a few times but hear frequently. I may have to try G.I. for something other than camping and fishing.

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