We made quick work through Alabama after leaving Ft. Pickens (Florida) campground this morning under rainy skies, with the threat of strong winds, thunder, lightening, and even a tornado. Our Alabama adventure is short since the southern Gulf traverse of Alabama is less than 100 miles long, and we are staying tonight in Mississippi at the Davis Bayou campground of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
I noticed a lot of funeral homes and cemeteries in our short drive through Alabama. We even had to stop for a funeral procession, not that Jack wanted to. He even tried joining them before I encouraged him to pull over. We aren’t used to stopping to allow funeral processions to pass. Most people we know are cremated rather than buried in a cemetery, let alone in a cemetery in the winter – although I think ‘bury’ is a relative term here since the water table is so high.
We got to our campground around 3:00 pm. Luckily the rain had stopped. The rain and wind was quite heavy on the west end of the Florida Panhandle and into Alabama. Again our windshield wipers were at maximum strength and still it didn’t feel fast enough to clear the windows of rain. But luckily we made it.
We did a short hike before dark, walking and birding the one-half mile nature trail. This trail is about a half mile from the campground so we walked along the estuary and saw a few waterbirds before we got to the nature trail itself, but on the nature trail the only birds we saw (as we didn’t hear any) were two Carolina Wren. Always a pleasure to see a wren if nothing else.
Bright and early , we went to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, located just 15 miles from our campground. How sweet is that? We love it when the refuges or birding spots are located near our campground. Saves on a lot of driving and having to get up too early. As the saying goes the early birder(er) gets the worm or in our case the birds.
We got to the refuge around 8:30 a.m., and took a short nature trail. Of course despite the trail’s ½ mile length, we still spent about two hours birding the trail and the parking lot area. In all we saw 23 species, and none of these were Sandhill Cranes. We’ve visited this refuge before (2014) and we didn’t seen any cranes on the refuge then. We had to drive to some nearby neighborhoods to find the cranes (like Homer cranes). We did that again today, but no luck. We did, however, get the attention of one of the landowners. I don’t think he liked us driving down the dead-end road where he lives. That’s okay, I would have wondered about him too if he had driven down our dead-end road.
We went back to the campground and stopped off at the Gulf Island National Seashore visitor center were we watched a 20-minute movie about the park. The movie was quite informative and well-done. There are several uninhabited, no road access, barrier islands that make up the National Seashore so maybe someday we will take a guided boat visit. Just not this trip. If we lived in this neck of the woods, we would definitely have a boat – the inlets, bays, and estuaries are quite inviting and, good birding of course.
We then went back to the campground and walked to the boat launch area. This spot is considered a birding hotspot, just not today. Still it was nice to be out in the sunshine and mild weather enjoying the beauty of the area.
Time to leave Mississippi and head into Louisiana. Our goal today is to visit the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge located about 60 miles east of New Orleans. This is a new refuge for us. We plugged the name into Google maps (a great resource – most of the time) and off we went. This refuge, established in 1980, encompasses 36,500 acres of the “most undisturbed swamplands in the country”. That being said, you really need a boat to see much of the refuge. Since we don’t have one, we settled for driving a portion of the refuge to reach a 1.5 mile out-and-back trail – Holmes Bayou Trail. The trail was wide and quite nice. Fall has come to this part of the country and the leaves are turning color and falling from the trees. I love fall.
After our hike we headed to our campground for the next two nights – Bayou Segnette State Park. This park is located just west of New Orleans. We decided to take the toll bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. This bridge is over 23 miles long. Obviously, Lake Pontchartrain is a very expansive lake.
Bayou Segnette campground has 100 sites, but only about ¼ of them are occupied. The site I was hoping to get (#17) was occupied. I had checked on it a couple of days ago and it was not reserved. I guess someone else liked it too. We chose site #55, in part because it doesn’t have a close neighbor, but also because people in the first loop turn off right before our site to exit the campground. They don’t drive past our site, thus it is much quieter.
After checking in and securing our site, we walked over to the day-use area, which has a number of ponds. We had a great day of birding as we observed 34 different species here, including several Wood Ducks. Jack just loves the Wood Ducks. Also, I got a First of Year – the Vermillion Flycatcher. According to eBird, this bird has not been recorded here – at least via eBird.
Surprisingly, despite being located close to New Orleans I only have one bar on my phone so cell and internet service are spotty at the campground. Glad I got my Florida blog posted yesterday.
What to do tomorrow …
We decided to visit the French Quarter in New Orleans, of course. We caught the Algiers Ferry (about 12 miles from our campground) and debarked on the New Orleans waterfront near the Audubon Aquarium – on the edge of the French Quarter. We then walked around checking out the homes, the businesses (my shopping trip of our trip – Christmas is coming), the street musicians, and the restaurants (had to have a coffee and a beignet). New Orleans and the French Quarter has a certain magical quality about it – love the street scene and culture.
We spent around 4 hours just walking the streets and checking out the shops. We even found the hotel we stayed in last time we were here (2014). I got caught by a salesman who wanted to sell me a beauty regiment that he claimed would take years (wrinkles) off my face. I think the only thing it would take is a lot of my money – $900 for the eye serum alone. Of course he said it would last for 2.5 years, but after 6 months I wouldn’t need it. Then why would I want to pay for two years of a product I shouldn’t need (or maybe he meant it expires in 2.5 years)? Oh, but if I bought today it would be half price – the in-store price versus the on-line price. He must think I am really gullible. We walked out with a few free soap samples and some literature. Poor Jonathan, with his French accent (not sure it was real or not), is left with hopes I will return to buy his company’s products. We then walked down the street and came across two more stores with the same hype and selling the same skin care products. They must sell something to gullible souls to be able to stay in business and have that many stores in the French Quarter.
In fact, there were a lot of stores here selling the same items – like NOLA T-shirts, and Mardi Gras masks, and Mardi Gras beads – authentic China-made. No takers here, although they had some great sayings on some of the T-shirts. They also have a lot of items with the words “Wine” and “Beer” on them. Guess they like to drink in New Orleans.
We ate lunch at a restaurant that is a part of a non-profit organization that rescues dogs. A portion of all proceeds from the restaurant go towards the dogs. Maybe the food scraps too? We also made a donation of $20.00 to help our furry friends.
After getting our fill of the French Quarter (there are only so many shops you can frequent), we headed back to the ferry and subsequently to the campground. Jack is off doing laundry (its free because they don’t want you putting up a clothes line at your campsite. They have a lot of rules here. But alas tomorrow we leave and head to Grand Isle State Park on the Gulf coast of Louisiana. We’ve been to Grand Isle before (February 2014) and there was some great birding so we want to check it out again. I hope the next couple of days are warmer, because today in New Orleans it was only 54 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds to 10 mph. Chilly. I wore my lightweight down parka and wool hat.
We awoke to a brisk morning with temperatures in the mid 40s, but it’s the wind that makes it so much colder – or at least feel colder. We packed up the van, said goodbye to NOLA, and headed to Grand Isle State Park, approximately 100 miles away. But first we made a stop at a Winn Dixie grocery store. Not my favorite grocery store, but adjacent to the building were recycling bins. Woohoo!!! I think this is the first time we’ve seen any recycling effort in Louisiana. It’s a start.
We got to the park around 12:30 p.m., and proceeded to drive the campground loop looking for the perfect spot. This isn’t the best campground. It reminds me of a national park campground – one big long parking lot converted into camping sites with some green grass. Of course we could camp on the beach, but since we don’t have a tent and we can’t drive on the beach… well we chose an electric site instead. The winner – site #34. This site at least has a little vegetation adjacent to it to screen out the camper on the east. Of course not that there is one. The campground isn’t even ¼ full tonight.
We saw a sign that indicated the Grand Isle residents are friendly. Maybe the park staff person in the fee booth lives elsewhere. She wasn’t a very happy person.
We set up camp and went out birding. First we started at the beach to check out the shorebirds as the tide was coming in. We had a total of nine different shorebirds: Willet, Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. One of the sanderlings was missing his toes. And one of the Semipalmated Plover seemed to be missing a leg. At least it was hoping around on only one leg for quite some time and distance – never did see another leg appear. The majority of shorebirds on the beach were Sanderlings.
We also had a large flock of Black Skimmers flying by while we were on the beach. We later climbed an observation tower and found them roosting on the beach near a breakwater. Gotta love these birds with their strange bills for capturing food.
As for songbirds, despite all the trees surrounding the campground, there weren’t that many different birds, but what we did have were a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers. I estimate there must have been around 70-80. They were everywhere.
We also hiked a portion of the park’s nature trail. This area must have gotten a lot of rain recently because the a lot of the trail path was covered in water – some places up to 50 feet in length. This required that we walk on the adjacent vegetation. At one point I miscalculated where to put my feet and stepped into a muddy area, covering most of my shoe. Surprisingly the water and mud did not seep into my shoe. My feet remained dry. Yay!!!
When we got back to the campground and started to set up for dinner we noticed there were thousands of little red ants on top of the picnic table. Well that won’t do – no fun cooking/eating with ants. So we took the heavy picnic table from the adjacent campsite and moved (lugged) it onto our paved pad, and cooked and ate our meal there. Will need to move it back tomorrow when we leave. Luckily no one was next to us so we could take and use the table.
There aren’t many campers in the campground – maybe 10 in all, and half of them are from Missouri. Guess it isn’t too far of a drive from the “Show Me” state.
A storm is a brewing and is expected to hit Friday night and Saturday. Some places in Louisiana could get up to 4-5 inches of rain. We were thinking of going to a state park this is expected to get up to 4-inches of rain so guess we will need to change our plans.
We left Grand Isle State Park (Jack really doesn’t like this campground, although I thought our site wasn’t too bad) after breakfast and a short bird walk on the beach where we rediscovered the Skimmers – a huge wave of them! We planned to make two quick stops to bird before heading to our next campground for the night. So much for good intentions. The first stop – Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge (state managed) – captured our attention for about 2 hours. We drove the road and birded, finding a total of 29 species, including two FOY: Seaside Sparrow (an unexpected find) and Clapper Rail. While we saw the Clapper Rail in Cuba, I get to add the rail to my “North America” FOY list. I keep a yearly list of all the birds I see (First of Years), when, and where. Occasionally I go back to my list to find where I saw a particular bird and when (time of year). So I guess keeping the list is somewhat useful.
At the end of the road (about 1.5 miles from LA-1), we walked the beach a short distance. The wind was blowing pretty good (about 10-15 mph) so we didn’t go far. The only shorebirds we saw (beachside) were Sanderling, and not many of them.
After Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, we continued on to our next stop, which really was a drive along the old LA-1 road. There were a lot of waders (herons, egrets, spoonbills), raptors, and a few fisherman. No rails, although we’ve seen them here in the past.
We left the campground around 8:00 a.m., and at noon finally headed to our next campground – four hours away. But this trip is ‘All About Birding’, and we had some good birding today.
Tonight’s (and tomorrow’s) campground is at Palmetto Island State Park. We chose this campground because it was located in the direction we are headed (west) and is expected to receive the least amount of rain from the upcoming winter storm. I guess the real concern here is flooding – everything is flat here and water everywhere (lakes, ponds, channels, estuaries, etc).
Palmetto Island State Park has 96 campsites, and only about 15 are occupied or will be occupied this weekend (at least based on reservations). But then again, it is supposed to rain here about 1.5-2.0 inches. Not that much fun camping in the rain. We don’t have much choice unless we want to go to a motel/hotel, but locals do have a choice.
This campground has lots of majestic oaks and smells like fall – a smell I love. We are camped in site #39. I wouldn’t pick this site again as the picnic table for the site next to us is right behind our site. Of course most people don’t use their picnic tables unless they are tent camping. If we revisit the park, I would chose site #40, which is located right across from the “comfort stations”.
One good thing I can say about Louisiana state park campgrounds is they have free laundry and internet. As we head west, I’m going to miss the free laundry, and to have it right at the campsite is nice too.
After breakfast we headed west to the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. We’ve visited this refuge twice in the past – 2014 and 2017. They have a nice 3-mile auto route and a short boardwalk trail. The boardwalk trail is supposed to be a good place to find rails (Virginia, Sora, and King) and Marsh Wrens. We heard the wrens, but they didn’t make an appearance. Darn birds. Don’t they know they are in my favorite genus??? I love wrens.
As we got to the end of the trail (back at the parking lot), Jack said “there’s a rail”. Sure enough a large rail was stealthily walking in the vegetation. We tracked it for about 10-15 minutes. At first I thought it was a Clapper Rail, but it turned out to be a King Rail. So much better. I haven’t seen one since that last time we were in this neck of the woods.
We drove the auto route and observed a number of species – 37 species for the refuge. Not a bad day. And there were several hundred Snow Geese (and at least one Ross’s Goose) loafing in the rice fields on the refuge. We haven’t seen Snow Geese in these numbers – again since our last visit here.
Our next stop was the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge located about 40 miles away. We got to the refuge around 1:00 pm and drove the wildlife route located in the Lacassine Pool Unit. This wildlife drive provided us with excellent views and an incredible sight of tens of thousands of ducks – primarily Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, and Green-winged Teal. I was truly in awe at the number of ducks. We also saw Mallards and Blue-winged Teal, but in far, far, far fewer numbers. In fact, I only saw two Blue-winged Teal.
In total, we had 35 different species here, including an Adult and a Sub Adult Bald Eagle. And we got to see a Vermillion Flycatcher. Always a great bird to see.
We made it back to the campground in time to fix and eat dinner before it got dark. The sun sets around 5:00 p.m. now, so we eat early. Guess we should buy a lantern for when it gets dark. The only problem is, the mosquitoes come out in droves at dusk. We hate mosquitoes so guess it means we continue to eat dinner early.
Tomorrow we head to Texas. Hard to believe it is the second week of December already.
Until Texas …
It’s A Great Day to Bird