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Wednesday, 28 February 2007 00:00

Allons au Bayou Noire

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I guess the real Bayou Noire would be in Houma or Sulphur or somewhere else across Acadiana, where the slow water in the bayou is dark enough to be called black. The Bayou Noire I just returned from was Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, La. Monroe is three-and-a-half hours from Acadiana by car, but a civilization away.

 

I was in Louisiana to meet my brother, Ford, and count birds at BBLNWR for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Due to a family gathering, Ford and I found ourselves in Louisiana last year during the dates for the GBBC so we decided to meet and count birds at Black Bayou. We were on a limited time budget and the weather was awful – cold and rainy. We managed 37 species and had such a good time, in a masochistic kind of way that we decided to make it a tradition.

Like most “guy” traditions, it has no basis in reality. Ford has the short end of the drive, only four hours one way. For me it was an 11-hour drive over on Friday, count birds on Saturday and drive 11 hours home on Sunday. But you know what? It was worth it. When’s the last time you and a sibling spent eight hours alone together in the field and no blood was spilled?

When I was growing up in Louisiana, Black Bayou was known for large mouth bass, which you had to wrestle out of the hyacinths and slab-sided chinquapins.

BBLNWR is a relatively new refuge, established in 1997. The 4,200-acre refuge, just minutes north of Monroe, is composed of the 2,000-acre lake itself and 2,200 adjacent acres that graduate from lakeside tupelo and cypress swamp to bottomland hardwood to mixed pine and hardwood. There is also a prairie demonstration area maintained through mowing and prescribed burns. Facilities include the Black Bayou Lake Environmental Education Center, an arboretum, amphitheater, wildlife pier, trails and a photo blind.

The weather was better this year – up from awful to almost tolerable. There was sunshine and the temperature was warmer but we were buffeted by gale-force winds all day. We withstood the wind for six hours and were rewarded with 57 species.

While we share many species of wintering birds with Louisiana, there are some exceptions. It was kinda cool to do a late winter survey and wind up with four species of warblers. We had orange-crowned (3), pine (1), common yellow-throat (3) and the ubiquitous yellow-rumped (100). The yellow-rumps were even dancing around on the water hyacinths.

Another Louisiana favorite of mine is the loggerhead shrike. This gray and black hooked-bill predator vaguely resembles a mockingbird. French mockingbird is one of its colloquial names. I think another common name, “butcher bird,” is more appropriate. The fierce loggerhead shrike will prey on small songbirds, rodents, lizards, insects, small snakes and frogs. They have a habit of caching their prey on thorns and barbed-wire fences to return and dine at their leisure.

While it was too windy to tromp around for long in the prairie we did record a respectable 10 species of sparrows. Vesper and Lincoln’s were probably the two best finds.

Another treat was a pair of nest-building red-shouldered hawks. There was a lot of chattering going on between the pair. These short, “keer” or “jeer” notes were different from the normal, loud two-syllable call and had a woodpecker-like quality to them.

The literature and website from BBLNWR tout the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. But knowledgeable area birders say the report was of one bird a few years back. The refuge has restored some red-cockaded habitat but it requires a hike to get to it. I have red-cockaded records from the area but they date back to the 1970s.

We made a half-hearted attempt but wimped out because of the wind. Maybe we will make that a goal for next year, provided my brother doesn’t come to his senses.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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