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No. 191 BATON ROUGE, LAJune 2000

Newsletter of the Louisiana Ornithological Society

Table of Contents

A look Back: 1999 Yard List
Birding the Batture
Favorite LA Birding Sites
The Botanical Birder
LOS Officers (+)
LOS Sales (+)
LOS Pelagics (+)
New Members
1999-2000 CBC’s
Spring Meeting Report
LOS Board News
Science Fair
Membership Form (+)
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A Look Back at the 1999 Louisiana Yard List Record
by Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittmann
Part 1: January to July

"1999 Louisiana Yard List Competition." Reading the caption and the teasers by Bill Fontenot and Carol Foil (LOS News, No. 183, November 1998), we experienced a combination of excited anticipation and dread. List competitions always get the adrenaline flowing, especially if one tends to get caught up in the "competition" rather than the "personal enjoyment" aspect (the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and all that). Not to mention that these sorts of contests, conjured up in the name of fun and entertainment, can end up being taken a little too seriously by some participants, who allow the game to take control of their lives at the expense of everything else. This, of course, was the source of our sense of dread (well, that, and the possibility that we could invest the better part of a year of our lives in this nonsense and still actually lose….). So, before 1 January 1999 rolled around, we had to keep asking ourselves: 1) Would it be worth sacrificing a whole year just for the sake of possibly winning 1999 Yard List "bragging rights" or, dare we even think, setting the all-time Louisiana Yardyear record? (Answer: Duh! Of course it would be worth it.) 2) Were we mentally and physically prepared to handle the ups and downs and general stress of a whole year of yard- birding? (Answer: Only time would tell.) And, perhaps most importantly, 3) would we ever again be motivated to bird beyond the property boundary, or, for that matter, would we ever want to bird IN the yard again?
For the truly serious participant, this was a risky contest because the rules were, well, there were no rules….. And, you didn't necessarily know who was the competition, where they lived, or what kind of area they were covering. Our self-imposed "rules" were similar to those of the previous yard list competition held during 1991: we birded our property of residence, only counting species seen or heard by at least one of us (e.g., a species seen/heard only by an "outsider" doesn't count), either on or from our property; any rarities had to be adequately documented.
Our yard is a wooded lot (3 x 1 acres oriented roughly N-S) in the Pecan Drive subdivision (Bayou Paul area) near St. Gabriel in extreme eastern Iberville Parish. We are surrounded on three sides (W,N,E) by inhabited, semi-wooded yards with lawns. Pecan Drive, a lightly traveled two-lane paved street, forms our northern boundary. The south side is bordered by a drainage ditch and scattered mature live oaks and other trees, beyond which is a 200+ acre expanse of regenerating clear-cut (about 5 years of re-growth) dominated by elderberry, tree saplings, and berry vines. Our property line extends to just beyond the drainage ditch. The site had been occupied for several years before we moved there in fall 1990. The trees had been thinned, but at least two-thirds of the lot was still covered with a relatively mature, more or less closed-canopy, hardwood forest dominated by hackberry, water oak, sweetgum, pecan, and box elder, with smaller numbers of live oak, locust, sycamore, etc. There was almost no understory and the majority of the lot was mowed grass. This was generally the situation when we participated in the 1991 competition. During the ensuing eight years, we allowed the understory to regenerate, we gradually added extensive flower gardens and a couple of permanent water features, and we established numerous seed feeding stations, brush piles, and networks of hummingbird feeders. In late August 1992, Hurricane Andrew felled about a dozen trees and topped numerous others. About 1994, the extensive forest to the south of us was harvested. Although unfortunate, the resulting clearcut, along with several episodes of herbiciding and mechanical sanitizing of the drainage ditch, gave us much better visibility, and created good habitat for second-growth breeders and winter sparrows.
Most of our '99 skywatching was done from the ditch area or from the treeless opening around the house. On as many days as possible, one or both of us would be in position at dawn or pre-dawn to watch for morning fly-overs. Depending on bird activity, we would scan the skies anywhere from 30 minutes up to several hours on weekends. Afterwards, we would patrol the yard until it was time to go to work. We would also patrol the yard after work and conduct evening skywatches, depending on time of year and how much daylight was available. On weekends it was more of the same. Unfortunately, there were actually about 60 full days during the year that were lost to yard-listing because we were birding or conducting fieldwork away from the yard.
Our general strategy was pretty simple: bird intensively during the first five months of the year and bank as many species as possible. Because things can be so different from one winter to the next, we didn't want to assume that we would find all the crucial winter species in November-December. Fall migration here is always more productive than spring migration, but some species are only realistically possible in spring or tend to be more reliable then. So, basically, we weren't going to leave anything to chance. [Below, species that we considered "unexpected" or "bonus" additions to the list are boldfaced].
We began in earnest New Year's Day, spotting 54 species. Best birds of Day One were Am. White Pelican, Snow Goose (flyby-scarce in winter in the area), Lesser Scaup (flyby-scarce), Am. Woodcock, Ring-billed Gull, Whip-poor-will (known wintering bird present since fall), Rufous Hummingbird (three wintering individuals), Gray Catbird, and Fox Sparrow (wintering- few yard records). We spent January 2nd (hereafter, dates are denoted numerically as "month/day") helping on the Lafayette CBC. On 1/3, the Baton Rouge CBC, Donna spent parts of the day covering the yard, picking up another ten species, including flyby Am. Pipit and Brewer's Blackbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, and a rare winter Painted Bunting (female). January continued to produce "insurance" and bonus species: Purple Finch 1/9; Bald Eagle, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, House Wren, and Swamp Sparrow on 1/10; two N. Harriers on 1/12; Mallard and Bonaparte's Gull 1/13; N. Pintail 1/16; another Bald Eagle 1/17; ad. male Painted Bunting 1/19; Gadwall 1/20; Forster's Tern and Pine Siskin 1/21; White-eyed Vireo 1/23, Rusty Blackbird 1/26.
On 1/27, with Dave Patton attempting to band various hummingbirds that were wintering at the Remsen residence (about ¼ mi. down the street), we were on the lookout for hummingbirds seeking "safer haven" after being trapped and handled. We were not disappointed, as one after another appeared with brightly painted crowns and/or shiny leg bands: Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Calliope, and Rufous. Lest you ask whether these manhandled mites were "countable" so soon after banding, let's just say that several of these new birds continued to be seen off and on for the next few days or weeks (e.g., the Calliope to 2/14, and the Black-chinned to 2/7). Several more sightings of Am. White Pelicans, another Snow Goose (1/31), two more N. Harriers (1/30-31), two Whip-poor-wills (1/25+), and a Belted Kingfisher (1/30) finished-off a great month with 83 species.
As might be expected, February was somewhat anti-climactic, as we were running out of expected winter birds and the spring migrants were mostly yet to come. We did manage to pick up another nine species: Anhinga (2/6 & 2/27), White Ibis, Greater White-fronted Goose (25 on 2/21 and two on 2/22- scarce spring migrants here), Least Sandpiper (2/10), Herring Gull (2/21), the first Purple Martins (2/21 & 2/27), Wilson's Warbler (2/7- wintering), a strange mini-invasion of Indigo Buntings (one on 2/6-14, two on 2/20, three on 2/24; presumably, they had already been wintering in the general area), and a Baltimore Oriole (2/28- species #92; presumably wintering). Also of interest were a copulating pair of Black Vultures on 2/7, two Bald Eagles 2/6 and another 2/27, a N. Harrier 2/13, four more sightings of Forster's Terns, continuing dual Whip- poor-will's (all month), up to three different wintering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a new Calliope Hummingbird 2/20+, House Wren 2/21, continuing female Painted Bunting (all month), and Fox Sparrow (to 2/25). Also during February we participated in the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries bird feeder survey 2/6-7 (32 species at various kinds of feeders, with counts of 105 White-throated Sparrows and 500 Am. Goldfinches) and the Great Backyard Bird Count 2/13-14 (61 species for the two-day period; high counts of 30 N. Cardinals and 117 White-throated Sparrows).
March brought the initial "surge" of spring migrants and another 23 species for the list, raising the total to 115. Milestone species #100 was Barn Swallow on 3/13. The most interesting yearbirds were Blue-headed Vireo and a rare Prairie Warbler 3/6 (the latter either wintering or a very early migrant), early Black-and-white Warbler 3/9, single Swallow-tailed Kites 3/10, 3/13, and 3/18, Common Loon (two flying N) and Am. Golden- Plover (flock of 15 overhead) on 3/14, Lesser Yellowlegs 3/16, Broad-winged Hawk 3/21, and a rare (for our yard) White-crowned Sparrow 3/27. Other mentionables: an amazing 2080 Am. White-Pelicans overhead on 3/14, another N. Harrier 3/27, another Herring Gull 3/17, both Whip-poor-wills to 3/7, with a single last seen on 3/10, House Wren 3/14, a Winter Wren lingering to 3/19, the Wilson's Warbler lingering to 3/13, Hooded Warbler 3/21 (warbler species #9), the female Painted Bunting to 3/9, a Swamp Sparrow 3/12-24, and four on 3/28, and a Pine Siskin to 3/3. The new Calliope Hummingbird remained to 3/24. Two of the wintering female Ruby-throateds and two imm. male Rufous Hummingbirds stayed into the first half of March, and one of each species continued through the end of the month. The first-arriving migrant male Ruby-throated was on 3/3.
Having missed all of April back in 1991 (we were on a trip to California from 3/30-5/2), we were determined to make up for it in 1999. Our relentless efforts were rewarded with another 32 species and a four month cumulative total of 146, just 12 species shy of our entire 1991 list of 158. The best finds: Greater Yellowlegs 4/7, Osprey 4/11, Cerulean Warbler (singing male 4/12 and a female 4/22), Common Snipe, Chuck-will's- widow, and Worm-eating Warbler 4/13, Solitary Sandpiper 4/16, Scarlet Tanager 4/22, Ovenbird 4/23-24, and Merlin 4/25. Additional excitement came in the form of three Swallow-tailed Kites 4/9, another three on 4/10, and a single on 4/11, yet another sighting of Bald Eagle 4/27, another N. Harrier 4/19, a wintering Ruby- throated Hummingbird that remained to 4/11 and a Rufous lingering to 4/3, two House Wrens to 4/9, Ruby- crowned Kinglet to 4/23, Magnolia Warbler 4/23 (warbler #17), N. Waterthrush 4/16, Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4/20-21, and Swamp Sparrow to 4/27. Other more expected passerine migrants or arriving summer residents from March and April included E. Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, E. Kingbird, N. Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, N. Parula, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Orchard Oriole.
We were hoping that we would luck-out with some decent migrant fallouts in May, but we had to be satisfied with only seven new species for the month, the most crucial of which were Bay-breasted Warbler (two 5/2), E. Screech-Owl 5/12, and Swainson's Warbler 5/24 (warbler species #21). Other May treats included another Swallow-tailed Kite and a late Am. Robin 5/7, multiple Veeries 5/2-12 (with a very late individual on 5/27), Gray-cheeked Thrush 5/2, Chestnut-sided Warbler 5/2 & 5/7, two more Magnolia Warblers 5/7, Am. Redstarts 5/2, 5/5, 5/7-8, another Ovenbird 5/8, two more Scarlet Tanagers 5/2, another Rose-breasted Grosbeak 5/2-3, a late White-throated Sparrow 5/11, a family group of House Finches in mid-late May, and one-two late Am. Goldfinches 5/5-9. Although a relatively lackluster spring migration had ended with a relative whimper, our five month total of 153 (now just 5 short of our entire 1991 list and about 50 species ahead of our 1991 pace) was well beyond our expectations heading into the "summer doldrums."
June and July were very slow, partly because there is little return for your effort during this period, partly because we were burned-out from pushing so hard during the spring and were much less persistent, and partly because we had already done so well and believed that we didn't need to overdo it. The single new species during this stretch was our sole Louisiana Waterthrush (warbler #22) of the year on 7/19. Our only other noteworthy sightings from early summer were an anomalous Am. Robin 6/5, juvenal N. Parulas 6/28 and 7/25, a territorial male Swainson's Warbler 6/8-7/29, juvenal Common Yellowthroat 6/12, singing male Hooded Warbler 6/12, a juvenal Brown-headed Cowbird attended by Red-eyed Vireos on 6/3, two Orchard Orioles 6/20, seven on 7/18, and two on 7/19, and the family of House Finches until 6/7.
As the end of July approached, we were faced with a dilemma- to go on a planned three week late summer road trip to California and Arizona, or to give in to yardlist paranoia and hypnosis, cancel the trip, and sweat it out during August? Thoughts of family, friends, mountains, deserts, and low humidity helped us conquer our inner fear of losing yearbirds, and, still with mixed feelings, we headed west on 7/31. As we sat in the car through the endless hours of driving, our thoughts would return to Louisiana and the yard. At this very moment there could be early shorebirds flying over, or un-ticked warblers bathing at the pond. Would we miss a Tropical Storm or Hurricane that might send seabirds over our airspace? Would we miss a fallout during an early weather front? Oh well, we told ourselves, it was too late to start whining now, and chances were that nothing much would happen while we were gone. Let's just have a good time, consider how well we've done so far, and get psyched-up for the fall campaign…… Stay tuned for Part 2!
Table of ContentsLOS NEWS, Page 2
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LOS News Editor: Carol Foil, 1180 Stanford Ave, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
(h & fax) 225.387.0368; (w) 225.346.3119;

posted 10June2000