On the southern end of Lake Houma, which most folks don’t even consider a true lake, runs Hollywood Road, across from which runs a small inland portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, which most folks just call a big drainage ditch.
The marshy edge of Lake Houma and the banks of the Intracoastal along this road have become spots for people to fish from the roadside, while wading birds do the same. This winter, I’ve seen the usual egrets, herons, and ibises having a snack, but several week ago I noticed two or three black-neck stilts hanging out, too, which is quite unusual in the heart of the city and so far inland.
This week, Michael Autin, a member of the Terrebonne Bird Club Facebook page, discovered a pair of Limpkin feeding in the shallow water at the southern edge of Lake Houma. Once he posted his finding to the Terrebonne Bird Club Facebook page, Kathy Rhodes, member of the actual birding group, went and took photos and posted them, the location has been inundated with bird watchers and photographers from all around south Louisiana hoping to get a gander and a photo of this rare pair.
It’s not that the birds themselves are so rare, but this is only the second sighting in Louisiana in bird-record history. Via the Terrebonne birding group, he was encouraged to report the sighting to the Louisiana Bird Records Committee.
Seeing this bird is called a “lifer” for many, meaning, the first time they’ve ever seen this bird. Why is this such a big deal? Well, because the Limpkin don’t belong here, nor are they supposed to migrate through here. As you see on the map to the right, the northern edge of the Limpkin range is northern Florida, indicated by purple.
Once more photos began to hit Facebook, someone mentioned that a pair of these birds had been seen in the Lake Boeuf area on December 30th, which has since been clarified by a report to the state bird record committee. While there isn’t much to distinguish the male from the female, I’d like to believe that this is the very same pair, just slowly making their way back where they belong and while stopping at Lake Houma for their dining pleasure.
It just so happens that they eat apple snails, a non-native invasive species, which abound in freshwater areas around here and in Florida. Their bills are well adapted to the breaking of apple snail shells. Part of me wishes we could import flocks and flocks of these beautiful wading birds in order to help eradicate the invasive snails, but there’s always a tradeoff and unknown risks when we do that. (By the way, as coincidence would have it, I’ll be writing an article about those very same snails for the May edition of Country Roads Magazine. Plus, I’ve been challenged to an apple-snail cook off of sorts, but I’m slowly chickening out due to my research about them!) Who knows? This pair may like the area so much that they stay, breed, and history will have been made at Lake Houma.
According to Cornell, European settlers in the 1800s claimed these birds were so tame that they could be captured while sitting on their nests. With that in mind, if you are an avid birder and decide to take a trip to see this pair of Limpkin, bird experts have asked that you do everything you can to not disturb the birds, and to not use bird sound recordings, as this type of pressure may cause them to leave prematurely. Let’s just be happy they stopped here and that we got the chance to see and photograph them. Sure, it would be nice to hear their distinct cry, but let’s be happy with what we have!
Jane Patterson, president of the Baton Rouge Chapter of the Audubon Society, made a trip to the site this week to capture photos of the Limpkin pair and shares with us her rare video of one of them breaking open an apple snail. Pretty amazing stuff, as apple snails are pretty big!
Thank you, Jane, for generously sharing your video, knowledge, and photo!
I wasn’t free to check out the Limpkin until very Thursday afternoon. They weren’t in an ideal spot when I visited, and with the very drab gray sky, I wasn’t able to get good photos. In order to clearly distinguish them from their surroundings, a little sunlight would have been helpful. Thankfully, a kind birder named Alana pointed them out to me across the way. Plus, my big lens is broken and needs replacing, so this is the best I could do. Tell me, do you see the Limpkin? (to the tune of “Do you see what I see?”) There are two in this photo!
I’ve been a busy bee writing magazine articles under deadlines and next month will begin working diligently on the second phase of the Prothonotary Warbler Project started last year. Looking forward to it!
Anybody up for a weekend with the Bayou Woman? Just let me know, and we’ll make it happen at Camp Dularge!
Update 2/10/18: The limpkin pair are indeed a couple. They have been seen and filmed (can you say bird porn?) mating and building their nest. It seems they like it here and intend to settle down and raise some south Louisiana Limpkin chicks! The birding community are besides themselves with glee. I just hope this turns out to be a good environment for them and that there are no negative impacts in any direction.
Update 2/15/18: Thanks to Terrebonne Bird Club Vice President, Kathy Rhodes, there is now fencing and signage informing everyone that the limpkin are here, breeding, and nesting! She didn’t waste any time getting her parish councilman involved and the signs made and posted. Thanks a million to Kathy and her dedication to these visitors-turned-resident!