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No. 185 BATON ROUGE, LAMarch/April 1999

Newsletter of the Louisiana Ornithological Society

Table of Contents

The Botanical Birder
LOS Pelagics
Death of a CBC
Great LA BirdFest
1998 Parish Challenge
Sulid ID article
Sulid Figure
An Insidious Invasion -- Bronzed Cowbird history
Rufous Departure
LA Yard/Deck List Competition
Acadiana MBD
PIF Migration Monitoring
Sharpshin Poem
Welcome New Members
LOS Officers LOS Sales
Membership Form

The Botanical Birder
Hooray for Hackberry
Natively occurring from Virginia southward through the peninsular tip of Florida, and westward through central Missouri down through central Texas, the "southern" hackberry (Celtis laevigata) ranges over a wide array of fluvially-based (created via stream-deposited soils) habitats. Called "sugarberry" by foresters to distinguish it from its northern counterpart, C. occidentalis, southern hackberry's featureless, straight-grained wood was once commonly used in the construction of crates, athletic goods, and cheap furniture. According to at least one source (Eastern Forests, a 1985 Audubon Society field guide), the strange moniker, "hackberry," was derived from the old Scottish "hagberry," which effectively translates to "marsh cherry."
Here in Louisiana, hackberry reaches its widest and most abundant distribution within the southernmost third of the state, where it can often be found in dense colonies on cheniers and other coastal woodlands, marshland spoil banks, stream floodplains, as well as along agricultural fence rows, canals, and waste areas. Northward into central and northern Louisiana, and in the Florida parishes of southeastern Louisiana, its distribution tightens considerably into the lowermost floodplains of the streams which course through the hilly pinelands, as well as along the margins of swamps and lakes.
In south Louisiana, Cajuns call hackberry "bois connu" ("known tree"), a name that some botanical authors have ostensibly attributed to the possibility that these French-Canadian settlers may have been familiar with the very similar "northern" hackberry (C. occidentalis) in their ancestral homeland. The problem with this theory is that C. occidentalis ranges no farther north than southern Quebec (where it is rare and spotty in distribution), still a long way south and west of Nova Scotia. My own theory is that Cajuns call hackberry the "known tree" simply because it is so easy to "know" or identify. With its smooth, extremely pale gray - almost silvery - bark, punctuated by wart-like woody projections that are distributed in varying densities along the trunks of older specimens, hackberry stands out like a sore thumb amongst the darker, rougher trunks of its fellow floodplain inhabitants. Hackberry leaves are rather small (ca. 2" in length), with mostly smooth margins, and exaggeratedly pointed (i.e. acuminate) tips. In contrast, leaves on younger specimens are often toothed. This particular leaf character, taken together with its typically asymmetric leaf base, belies hackberry's close affinity to the elms, into whose family (Ulmaceae) it has been placed. Celtis laevigata leaves possess smooth, olive-green upper surfaces, while those of C. occidentalis are darker green, with rough upper surfaces. Too, mature C. occidentalis foliage possesses mostly toothed margins; and its bark is normally so crowded with woody projections so as to effectively obscure its pale, smooth appearance.
Ecologically, the most important feature of hackberry is its fruit, for few other North American fleshy-fruit-producing trees can match either its fecundity or the length of time with which its fruits are presented. Beginning in mid-summer, when its berries are still green, raccoons begin pulling them off of the stouter branches. By late summer and early fall, the berries ripen to their typical burnt-orange coloration -- just in time for fall-migrating thrushes, mimic thrushes, and tanagers. By early winter, the berries sweeten considerably as they convert more and more carbohydrates into simple sugars. Hackberry fruits contain but little pulp; they are mostly skin and seed. What pulp they do contain is mucilaginous in nature, reddish-orange in color, and insipidly sweet in taste. Beginning in early November, and lasting through early January, large flocks of American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, and Common Grackle, together with lesser numbers of various woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, and others transform hackberry trees into very busy places. During that time, hackberry trees are at their prettiest, adorned with chartreuse to dull-yellow leaves and with multitudes of rapidly disappearing, chestnut-colored fruits. By mid-January, only a handful of well-aged, dark-maroon fruits remain upon the leafless trees.
Wildlife gardeners will find hackberry an exceedingly adaptable subject. It will thrive in all but the poorest, sandiest soils, and can handle dry or wet regimes in a variety of exposures, from light shade to full western sun. Properly pruned, open-grown trees make surprisingly handsome specimens, and grow at moderate rates to mature dimensions (ca. 50' X 40', on average). Alternatively, hackberry can be tucked behind plantings of smaller trees with darker, rougher trunks such as American persimmon, Mexican plum, rusty blackhaw viburnum etc. where the hackberry will provide excellent color/textural contrast with its paler, smoother, bark and leaves. In such situations, it will take on a less-rounded, more vase-shaped form. The downside to hackberry usage in cultivated landscapes involves the preponderance of bird-distributed seedlings which sprout up each spring/summer. These seedlings should be pulled up from unwanted spots as soon as they are detected. But hey, that's what gardening is all about, isn't it?
Lastly, I should also mention the possibility of using the dwarf-like species, net-leaved hackberry (Celtis reticulata), especially in smaller properties, courtyards, etc. Sparingly native to extreme northwestern Louisiana, this species might also be tested as a "patio tree" in large planters.
Table of Contents

by Roger Breedlove
Lake Ophelia is a lovely place containing a variety of lowland habitats. However, the CBC that has been conducted there is a linear count rather than a circular one. There is one road in and one road out. The following is an account (as well as memory serves) of the last CBC held there.
5:00 a.m. - The alarm went off and, despite the thunderstorm in progress, I sleepily stumbled out of the bedroom to dress. The night before, I had piled all of my clothes and gear into the den so I wouldn't disturb Barbara any more than absolutely necessary. Once attired, I loaded my little Ford Ranger and headed south to fetch Jim Johnson in LeCompte.
5:45 a.m. - Jim and I briefly discussed the possibility that no one of sound mind would venture out in such weather and if we did so, would entirely remove any doubts that others might harbor regarding our sanity. At length, even though we reckoned that we would be the only ones to do so, we started for Lake Ophelia NWR. Unable to see more than a few feet in the blinding rain, we missed our turn at Moncla in Avoyelles Parish. After we had gone less than a half mile, we realized that the curves in the road didn't match those to which we were accustomed and stopped to turn around. I shifted into reverse and began backing with the wheels sharply turned.
6:15 a.m. - Wham! We struck a bridge railing so hard that both of us had whiplash. A quick check revealed that my bumper and left rear quarter/panel were both bent; this did not portend good for our squad.
6:40 a.m. - We turned onto the lane which lead to our starting point a mile and a half away. In past years, we had parked at the beginning of this little road and walked that distance. However, our territory was the "core area" and involved a hike of over 10 miles - not counting the 3 miles that we had to cover getting to (and leaving) the point at which we began. This year, though, things would be different. The refuge personnel had agreed to leave the gate unlocked to enable us to save precious time (and energy). Notwithstanding the raging storm, we thought that the recent dry spell would not have allowed the dirt road to soak up enough water to cause us to get stuck. Besides, even if we did get stuck, I was prepared. Nevertheless, after we had traversed about half the road's length, the gravel ended and the road was nothing except gumbo mud. Fearing that we wouldn't reach the starting point, we decided to back out and walk - once again - to our area. I slowed to a stop on the only spot of road that protruded above water and shifted into reverse. The gravel (and, relatively solid ground) lay only a hundred yards or so behind us. With tires spinning, mud slinging and engine racing, we went slowly backwards in the darkness.
6:45 a.m. - About 60 feet from the firm soil beneath the gravel, we buried the Ranger up to it's axles. We were stuck! Not to worry, though. Did I mention that I was prepared for such an eventuality? As we stepped out into the rain and mud, I was confident that I'd have us out in 10 minutes. My genuine, red-necked, aluminum toolbox contained a brand new "come-a-long", 50 feet of new rope, a 4 lb. hand sledge and 2 1/2 feet of 3/4 inch pipe. I had carefully stored these items away, "just in case." The plan was simple. I would drive the pipe into the mud near the gravel, tie the new rope onto the trailer hitch and hook the hand winch's advertised 10 feet of cable between the pipe and the rope.
7:00 a.m. - We discovered that the "come-a-long" had only 4 feet of usable cable and laboriously extracted the pipe from the mud in order to pound it in once again half/way between the truck and the gravel. "No problem; we'll have to sink the pipe an extra couple of times. We'll be out in 30 minutes for sure." While Jim handled the task of shortening the rope, I sunk the pipe about 2/3 of it's length, no easy feat. The mud did not yield easily to the intrusion of the pipe. We put the hand winch into position and began ratcheting.
7:15 a.m. - "Something is dreadfully wrong. The winch is taking in the cable alright, but the truck isn't moving." We discovered that all we had accomplished was to stretch my brand new (and now, very muddy) rope. We were, quite naturally, just a bit discouraged. After all, it was still raining, cold and windy. "Oh, well. We'll just have to move the pipe a lot more times than we thought. But, we should be out in an hour." Once again, without having moved the truck an inch, we set about extricating the pipe in order to reposition it about 5 feet behind the bumper. I hammered it down as Jim made a small loop in the end of the rope with which to secure the cable to the truck's trailer hitch. Everything was ready and I started ratcheting. "Great, the cable is moving again."
7:35 a.m. - The truck wasn't moving; the pipe was! Obviously, 3/4 inch pipe was too small and ours was bending in the middle. We turned the pipe until the bow was toward the truck and let the cable out on the winch once more. Jim pressed against the top of the pipe with all of his might and I operated the winch.
7:40 a.m. - Once more the winch took in cable as I watched the pipe turning and bending even further, dragging a muddy, slipping, sliding and cursing Jim Johnson with it. We could find nothing else in the truck that would act as an anchor for the winch. But, it was only 3/4 mile to our starting point. There, beside an old abandoned trailer, we hoped to find something to drive into the ground. We trudged through the muck to the old trailer and began our search. After only a few minutes of looking, Jim found a piece of angle-iron, 1/4" thick and 2" each side. It was also about 4 ˝ feet long. Almost perfect, it was pointed at one end and squared at the other. Although it seemed a bit heavy, surely the 4 lb. sledge would be weighty enough to pound it deeply into the mud so that it would provide a suitable anchor. As we sloshed back through the mire to the truck, we were actually starting to regain confidence that we would shortly be unstuck and on our way. It was getting light enough to see, but the rain had not slackened. We arrived at the truck with our prize and Jim grabbed the big hammer. He swung a huge blow.
8:30 a.m. - The 4 lb. head of the hammer flew into the ditch. Jim had hit the huge piece of iron just behind the hammer's peen on the handle. The previously untried hammer simply broke into two pieces. We found a 12" pipe wrench in my toolbox that weighed a couple of pounds. It was quite unwieldy as a hammer, but we had to make do. Taking turns with the wrench, we finally managed to drive the angle-iron a foot or so into the ground. Using Jim's weight to prevent the iron from pulling over at the top, I managed to winch the truck back for a couple of feet. We were exhilarated. We again took turns and sunk the iron. Jim held the winch while I pulled the cable off it's spool.
9:00 a.m. - The cable broke at the spool. By then, we had decided that we were stuck in the twilight zone. Nothing was going as planned. Surely, however, if we could get the cable somehow reattached, nothing else could go wrong. Working with cold, wet fingers, I managed to thread a usable amount of cable into the slot on the spool. It worked fine, but restricted our useful distance to about 3 feet. So - we had to reposition the angle- iron. We managed to drag the truck another couple of feet. I flipped the lever to release the tension on the cable so that we could repeat the entire process.
9:55 a.m. - The tension release lever flew off and into the ditch, along with it's spring. From then on, we had to release tension by cutting the rope loop to which we secured the cable. A major concern was that we would have to reposition everything so many times that we might run out of rope. In fact we did manage to move the truck several more feet without incident. The big problem was that the angle-iron was so heavy that the 2 lb. pipe wrench hardly moved it. On one of Jim's turns to pound away with the pipe wrench, I noticed that the iron was separating at the top and the two sides were neatly rolling away - indicating that much of his effort was being wasted. I took the wrench from him for my turn and aimed a huge swing.
11:00 a.m. - The pipe wrench head and tightening nut flew off and into the ditch. We looked in my toolbox and could find only an old Boy Scout axe with a rubber handle. Although it weighed only a few ounces, it was our last hope. If something went wrong with it, we would be reduced to hammering on the iron with plastic spoons. I had plenty of those. By that time, the rain had stopped and it had grown colder. Jim took the axe and swung it at the iron.
11:15 a.m. - The axe parted from the rotten rubber handle and fell into the mud. All I could do at that point was laugh hysterically, trying to postpone the nervous breakdown that I felt to be much deserved (and, not very far away). Jim slipped the axe back into the crumbling handle and gingerly struck the angle-iron. By alternating blows, he with what was left of the axe and I with the remains of the pipe wrench, we would manage to ultimately sink the iron far enough to serve as an anchor; it was a slow and tedious process. We repeated the drill time after time, never stopping for lunch or anything else. And, after each muddy crank with the winch, we would wash enough grime off it in the ditch to allow it's reuse. At length, we neared the gravel.
3:20 p.m. - We crawled, mud soaked and weary, into the truck and backed down the lane to the main gravel road. We did our duty for the next hour and a half, finding about 55 birds. As of this writing, I still have not been able to clean all of the mud from the truck's interior. The other group, in Marty Floyd's vehicle, had their truck die early in the a.m. It failed to restart and had to be cranked the rest of the day by pushing it. The CBC total was 67 birds.
By way of postscript, I would add that we had been doing the Ophelia CBC only out of habit. When we began, it was at the behest of the refuge's biologist, who has long since relocated. The current personnel could not care less if we perform a CBC or not, (and, I suspect that they would even PREFER we didn't -- now that they've had time to discover the rutted road that Jim and I left behind). The 5 or 6 people that do the count want to move it to Cheneyville. Marty and I are playing with the circle. With access to areas and participation, (two things we lack at Ophelia), we believe such a count could reach 125 species within a year or two. It would be a CBC in the middle of the state and one that would consistently see Red-cockadeds, Sandhills, Bachman's Sparrows and the like. More later, stay tuned.
Cheers - Roger
Table of Contents

Great Louisiana BirdFest
Hooded Warbler by Dane LaneIt's almost time for the 3rd annual Great Louisiana BirdFest, April 16-18. We want you to mark your calendars and plan to join us for 3 days of great field trips, seminars & workshops, food and fun! Our event headquarters will be the new Castine Center located in Pelican Park ( across from Fontainbleau State Park) All field trips will depart from the Castine Center. Our field trips start on Friday morning ( April 16th) and run through Sunday morning (April 18th). The first of two trips on Friday will be to Manchac Swamp and the other to the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge. Later in the afternoon, birders can visit one of St. Tammany's best backyards for bird watching, or go on a canoe trip in the Big Branch Marsh Refuge. After a busy day in the field, our guests and locals from across the Parish will gather to "pass a good time" at the BirdFest Crawfish Boil and Silent Auction. There will be plenty of crawfish and Cajun music in the Castine Center as everyone relaxes and shares stories of the day, and bids on a variety of great auction items like binoculars, birthday parties, artwork and gift baskets.
Saturday's events begin with six morning trips to: Bluebonnet Swamp & Alligator Bayou, Bonnet Carré Spillway, Voyageur Canoe, Wagner's Honey Island, Bogue Chitto, and Big Branch Marsh. Starting at 2 PM, birders can enjoy an afternoon of "wine and wings" at Pontchartrain Vineyards, north of Covington. Those interested in learning some tips and techniques from photographer Julia Sims can join her photography workshop on Saturday afternoon in the Castine Center. Saturday night the Northlake Nature Center will host a buffet dinner at the Castine Center featuring local birding expert, Debbie Pearson. Debbie will give a presentation on our featured bird, the Osprey, as well as other birds of prey.
Sunday morning birders will start out early on one of six different field trips to: Jean Lafitte Park, Bayou Sauvage, Mill Bank Farm/St. Joseph Abbey, Wagner's Honey Island, Voyageur Canoe, and Lake Ramsey. All during the day on both Saturday and Sunday, birders and visitors can enjoy the many activities at the Castine Center and the Northlake Nature Center. There will be a variety of vendors from arts-and-crafts to birding products to food. Demonstrations by local and cultural artisans, kids activities, music, nature seminars and Native American cultural activities will further enhance our visitor's weekend experiences.
If anyone would like to help support the Great Louisiana BirdFest we have many opportunities for volunteers, donations and sponsorships. Please contact the Northlake Nature Center if you would like to volunteer your time, make a donation to the silent auction or sponsor one of the events.
The field trips and photography workshop have limited space and require advance registration. A brochure and registration form detailing the various trips and social events is available by contacting the Northlake Nature Center at 871-9272. The Great Louisiana BirdFest is an event of the Northlake Nature Center and is supported by the St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission, Hibernia Bank and the Castine Center at Pelican Park.
Table of Contents

1998 Parish Challenge
by Roger Breedlove
Seventeen entries from 9 parishes were timely submitted in the recent contest. All indicated that they had found the experience worthwhile and that new ground for most had been explored. That, of course, was one purpose of the challenge. I was just a little surprised that no entry was received from Jefferson Parish. Early odds gave the nod to one of those residents. Nevertheless, the lack of a Jefferson entry threw the race rather wide open.
Marty Floyd, a raptor bander from Rapides, sent in only his yard list of 88 species. I think he was merely warming up for this year's contest. His best birds were Sandhill Crane, Rufous Hummingbird and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. He also had all 3 of our falcons on his list. Carol Foil submitted her list of 111 birds from Plaquemines. Most, if not all, were seen from a boat. Her best birds were Cory's Shearwater (yes, I'm jealous), Sooty Tern and Wilson's Storm-petrel.
Dale Gustin of Pointe Coupee, who does virtually all of his birding in Morganza Floodway, sent in 147 for his tally. His best sightings were of American Bittern, Bald Eagle, Vermilion Flycatcher and Bobolink. Jim Johnson of Rapides had a total of 152. He is also a raptor bander along with Marty. His best birds, for our area, were Great-tailed Grackle, Western Kingbird and White-winged Dove.
Jean Trahan's Caddo list came in at 193. Her good birds were Horned grebe, Golden Eagle, Franklin's Gull and Inca Dove. She lost family bragging rights to husband Jeff by only one species. Jeff Trahan had 194 for the year in Caddo. Hard pressed by Jean, he managed all of the same goodies that she did. The difference was his Western Kingbird, an excellent sighting in that area.
My own Rapides Parish list was 196. Darren Clark and I had a friendly battle going on for parish high and state high as well. He edged me out both ways. My best birds were Golden Eagle, Henslow's Sparrow, Western Meadowlark and a Common Tern at the I-49 catfish farm. Chris Brantley managed 203 species in St. Tammany. Chris was also the only birder to send in his parish data base as well, 305 birds. He is, therefore, the winner in the percentage category with 67%. His best sightings were Magnificent Frigatebird and Bronzed Cowbird. Congratulations to Chris. See you on the pelagic trip.
Darren Clark scoured E. Baton Rouge Parish and came up with 206 species. His good birds were a storm-tossed Magnificent Frigatebird and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. He also became a father for the first time during the year. Rosemary Seidler had 209 Caddo Parish birds. She found goodies like Inca Dove and Horned Grebe, but she also had Red Knot and a storm-wandering, first Caddo record of Sooty Tern.
Louise Hanchey turned in one of 3 reports from Calcasieu, a rather hotly contested parish. Her 222 species included rarities such as Magnificent Frigatebird, Crested Caracara, Ferruginous Hawk, Parasitic Jaeger, Bridled Tern and Sooty Tern. Jeanne Sachs ended up with 230 birds in Calcasieu. Her best sightings were of Magnificent Frigatebird, Reddish Egret (following a violent storm), Ferruginous Hawk, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Crested Caracara. Winston Caillouet tied Jeanne with 230 Calcasieu species, an excellent effort for both. His best ones were Cinnamon Teal, Ferruginous Hawk, Crested Caracara, Golden Eagle, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Harris's Sparrow.
Marianna Tanner turned in a great list for Cameron Parish. Although she doesn't get to go out as much as she would like, her 231 birds included a Mountain Plover at "Secret Place", a Red-shafted Flicker and a Western Tanager. Judy Fruge, Marianna's running mate, also turned in a very respectable Cameron tally of 233. Her most distinguished sightings were of Golden Eagle, Western Tanager and Bullock's Oriole. Elizabeth Edwards of Vermilion Parish had a super year and turned in 238 birds. Out of her many sightings, the very best would have to be the Broad-billed Hummingbird banded by Dave Patton in her yard and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, (I'm green with envy).
Paul Dickson managed a fantastic 244 species, in Caddo Parish, no less, to take first place. His list included Cinnamon Teal, Golden Eagle, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Audubon's Warbler and Western Meadowlark. Great job, Paul. See you and Chris on the April pelagic trip.
Cheers - Roger
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LOS News Editor: Carol Foil, 1180 Stanford Ave, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
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posted 04April1999