No. 193 BATON ROUGE, LADecember 2000

Newsletter of the Louisiana Ornithological Society

LOS NEWS, Page 2

Table of Contents

Dr. George Archibald to Speak
LOS Winter Meeting (+)
Linking Birds & People
How a Birding Trip "Sealed My Fate"
Louisiana Southwest Birding Festival
The Botanical Birder
LOS Fall Meeting Report
Myiarchus ID
Myiarchus Figures
Swallow Tornado
LOS Officers (+)
LOS Sales (+)
New Members
Membership Form (+)
(+) Denotes links to pages on LOS website. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.
LOS NEWS: Page [1] [2] [3]
LOS Homepage

The Botanical Birder
by Bill Fontenot
Containing over 2,000 species and some 32 genera, the laurels (family Lauraceae) comprise one of the largest predominately woody plant groups around. The majority of laurel species occur within the subtropics and tropics of eastern Asia and the Americas; and all of them possess aromatic roots, stems, and fruits. From a purely human/aesthetic standpoint, it is this "aromatic thing" with the laurels which renders them such a . . . I don't know . . . romantic(?) group. Yes, that's it! Think about it: bay-leaf, "bay-rum," sassafras root, camphor . . . all from laurel family members . . . all intoxicatingly aromatic. If the laurels didn't accomplish anything else in their little plant lives, they'd remain garden-worthy due to the simple fact that the oils which they contain zip straight up into the human brain when any of their parts are crushed and sniffed. But I digress.
Here in Louisiana, the fruits of three native genera (Lindera, Persea, Sassafras) of the Lauraceae are of substantial importance to fall-migrating birds; and the fruits of one exotic genera, Cinnamomum, serve as supplemental nutrition for several wintering bird species. Of course it isn't the fragrance of the volatile oils that birds are attracted to; it is the lipid, or fat content of the laurels that is so valuable to traveling and wintering birds. In a paper entitled "Nutritional values of wild fruits and consumption by migrant frugivorous birds" (Ecology 66:819-27), Johnson et al calculated the mean nutrient content of twenty-two fruiting plant species that occur in the wilds of eastern North America, and whose fruits are known to be consumed by fall- migrating birds. Of those species tested, the fruits of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) exhibited the second- highest lipid content (33.24%!) of the group. For comparative purposes, consider the following lipid content percentages calculated from these other wild fruits: elderberry (2.80), black cherry (0.42), hackberry (0.36), and pokeberry (0.73). Get the picture?
Below is a short discussion regarding the status, natural distribution, and cultural requirements of those laurel family species in Louisiana which should be considered for bird and other wildlife use in gardens as well as larger properties.
Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - A native of eastern Asia which has, under certain conditions, escaped cultivation along the U.S. Gulf Rim from south Texas eastward through south Florida. Here in Louisiana, this escaped exotic species could only be considered invasive (that is, moving into natural areas and establishing quasi-self-perpetuating colonies) in certain areas, predominately along the U.S. 90 corridor in St. Mary, Terrebonne, Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Bernard parishes. In other areas within the southern one-third of the state, camphor tree often escapes short distances in urban/suburban settings - surviving from year to year as a possible result of a "heat island effect." For the most part, this species' rate of proliferation has been controlled in south Louisiana by the occasional severe cold snaps which hit every 6-10 years, as camphor tree does not seem to be winter-hardy below 15F.
With many suggesting at least the possibility of the arrival of a long-term warming trend at this time, I would certainly not suggest actually planting camphor tree anywhere along the Gulf Rim. On the other hand, it would be wise to learn how to identify this plant, since south Louisiana residents are likely to encounter it in either cultivated or wild situations. In general, camphor tree possesses foliage much like that of our native black cherry (Prunus serotina) in that the leaves are elliptic (widest at the middle; pointed at the tip) and glossy. The difference is that camphor leaves 1) do not possess finely serrated (toothed) edges like black cherry, 2) are evergreen in winter, and 3) when crushed, camphor leaves give off a strong "mentholated" aroma. In south Louisiana, camphor trees can grow to heights of 25-35', with trunk diameters occasionally approaching 2', particularly within more protected urban settings. Those that survive the wild almost always function as understory trees, reaching 15-20' in height and possessing trunk diameters of no more than 6-10". Camphor fruits are round, blackish, very glossy, and about 0.25" or less in diameter. During the winter months in Louisiana, they are eaten by thrushes (American Robin, possibly Hermit Thrush and/or E. Bluebird), mimic thrushes, and Cedar Waxwing.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) - From a large genus containing at least 100 species, the bulk of which occur in eastern Asia. In our state, Lindera benzoin occurs mostly as a wet-mesic understory shrub distributed throughout north Louisiana, the western Florida parishes, and parts of the lower Mississippi River floodplain, including St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia, St. Mary, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, and Assumption parishes. Note also that two additional species, L. melissifolia, and L. subcoriacea (both exceedingly rare), have been reported from single locales in Louisiana.
Much like witch hazel, spicebush is a leggy shrub which looks more like a small, spreading, 4-8' tree. Its leaves are medium to olive-green in color, obovate (widest toward the tip) in shape, and turning to lemon- yellow before dropping in the fall and early winter. Flowers are small, yellow in color, tight against the twigs, and appear in very late winter or very early spring. Spicebush is termed a "polygamous-dioecious" plant, which means that female and male flowers are "usually" borne on separate plants, so that fruit production can be expected on "female" plants only. Fruits are about 0.5" in length, oblong in shape, ripening to fire engine-red, extremely glossy, and presented either singly or in small, loose clusters of 2-5 berries each. Many fall-migrating birds (especially vireos and thrushes) relish them. For cultivation purposes, remember to site spicebush in shade to dappled light situations. Any soil (sand or clay-based) will do. The moister the site, the greater the chances for planting success.
Red Bay (Persea borbonia/palustris) - Red bay also belongs to a huge genus (at least 150 species, mostly from the American tropics), which contains the familiar avocado (P. americana). Red bay could also be nicknamed the "origninal bay-leaf," since its foliage was used to flavor food long before the "present-day bay-leaf" (Laurus nobilis; an Old World species) was introduced into Louisiana cooking. In Louisiana, red bay natively occurs sporadically throughout much of the state, but is apparently absent from the northern tier of parishes, the upper Mississippi River floodplain, much of central Louisiana, and the southwestern coastal parishes. Note that two species of red bay, P. borbonia and P. palustris, have been (arguably) designated for Louisiana, with the former allegedly differentiated by the presence of more heavily pubescent twigs, petioles, peduncles, and flower parts.
Regardless of species designation, red bay is a small to medium sized (15-50'), evergreen tree. Its leaves are olive-green, semi-glossy, and elliptic in shape. Flowers occur in summer, and are visually insignificant. By September, 0.25-0.50" berries mature to dark-purple or charcoal-gray in color, and are presented either singly or in small clusters. I have not personally observed, nor have I heard personal accounts of birds utilizing the fruits, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they do. For planting purposes, site red bay where it will receive as much direct sunlight as possible. All-day full-sun is fine. Red bay adapts to any soil, sand or clay-based.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) - From a very small genus of several species. S. albidum is the only species native to the United States. In Louisiana, sassafras has been reported from most parishes, with the exception of those of the lower Mississippi River floodplain (East Baton Rouge and Iberville, southeastward through Plaquemines). Down here, mature tree size is notably smaller (25-60' on average) than it is within points further north, such as the Ozark Mountains, where 90' specimens are common. In general, sassafras is most abundant within the upland forests, especially along forest edges, cut-over areas, and roadsides containing sandier, more acidic soils, where it is often considered a "trash tree."
Sassafras possesses leaves of three distinct shapes: single blade (elliptic-lanceolate), "mitten-shaped," and tri-lobed. Fall leaf color is outstanding, with yellows, oranges, and reds occurring simultaneously on the same tree. Like spicebush, sassafras flowers are small, yellow, clustered tightly against the twigs, and appear in very early spring. Fruits are small (1/16"), ripen in late summer, and are quite handsomely colored dark-blue with red peduncle and "holding cup." Like spicebush, sassafras possesses a "mostly dioecious" flowering/fruiting habit, limited to "female" trees only. As with all of the abovementioned members of the Lauraceae, sassafras fruits are much utilized by the thrushes and mimic thrushes, among others.
When planning to utilize sassafras in garden or other cultivated situations, note that this species must be sited in locales with good internal drainage. Soils with a substantial sand component are best. Sassafras will grow in either sun or shade, but fruiting is best on sunnier sites.
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LOS Fall Meeting
Friday, October 27
Dan Purrington and Philip Wallace gave an excellent presentation on Identifying Gulls on Friday night of the LOS fall weekend. Dan covered the large gulls and showed slides of various age plumages of the Herring, California, Glaucous, Iceland, Kelp and the black-backed gulls. He pointed out special wing and tail patterns to watch for on specific plumages. He suggested that birders note bill size, head shape, leg color and the over all color of the mantle in trying to identify large gulls in Louisiana.
Philip covered the small gulls that may be seen in Louisiana including the Laughing, Franklin's Bonaparte's Ring-billed, and the rarer Mew and Heerman's gulls. He noted that since gulls are large birds, they are easier to study and will many times will oblige birders by staying one area for a period of time. Plus he mentioned that you won't get bored watching gulls because they have so many different plumages to study. He suggested that birders study the variations of common species so that they will quickly notice a different plumage. Birders who enjoy studying gulls should always have a camera along to take pictures of an unusual gull in flight and perched.
Saturday, October 28
President David L'Hoste called the meeting to order at 7:50 p.m. He thanked the Knights of Columbus for another excellent meal, Marianna Tanner Primeaux and Judy Fruge for handling registration, and Joseph Vallee, Eloise Mullen and Nettie Broussard for helping with the sales table and setting up the hospitality table on Friday night.
Introduction of LOS Board Officers: Vice President Marty Guidry, Secretary/Treasurer Judith O'Neale. Outgoing Board Member Robby Bacon had attended the Board Meeting on Friday night was not able to attend the Saturday meeting. Jeff Trahan was unable to attend and Karen Fay was ill. Past President Dave Patton was introduced.
Judith read the minutes of the last meeting, October 30, 1999. Dan Purrington moved to accept the minutes as read. The motion was seconded and approved.
Judith gave the financial report with a total cash and bank accounts of $31,289.76. LOS funded bird study grants in the amount of $2500 this year. Dan Purrington moved to accept the financial report as presented. The motion was seconded and approved.
Roger Breedlove announced that the Lane Birding Finding Guide for Louisiana is in the works and he and Charlie Lyon will be completing the book in the next two years. Everyone will be encouraged to submit information from their areas for the book. More information and guidelines will be available later.
Roger Breedlove, Chairman of the Nominating Committee listed the slate of officer for 2001. President: Marty Guidry, Baton Rouge; Vice President: Karen Fay, Baton Rouge; Secretary/Treasurer: Judith O'Neale, Lafayette; Board Member: Gay Gomez, Lake Charles Term: 2001 - 2003. The nominations were open to the floor. Joseph Vallee moved to approve the slate of officers as presented. The motion was seconded and approved.
The LOS Winter meeting for 2001 will be in Alexandria on January 26 - 28. Speakers for Friday night will be Olga and Walter Clifton presenting their amazing slide program on nesting birds and Saturday night we will be privileged to have Dr. George Archibald, Founder and Director of the International Crane Foundation.
David encouraged everyone to remember to check the prices on the LOS online store when purchasing birding books, equipment and supplies.
There was a drawing for a bird clock donated by David L'Hoste. The lucky winner was Joelle Finley.
Marty Guidry read the Checklist for Cameron Parish, which includes birds seen from midnight Saturday morning. The total count was 180.
David recognized Carol Foil, LOS News Editor and commended her for producing an outstanding newsletter. He also thanked Bill Fontenot, Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittmann for their contributions of excellent articles and illustrations in the newsletter.
David then introduced Donata Roome, who gave a great program on her research on Swainson's Warblers in Lousiana. Swainson's is classified as a Species of Concern and is an Audubon Watchlist Species. Her studies are partially funded by the LOS. Swainson's warbler was described for us: it is a ground forager that flips leaves as it hunts and trembles its feet in the litter. It has a long beak and a whiney song, most easliy confused with that of Hooded warbler in its habitat. Its favored breeding habitat is in switch cane and other dense forest understory and the warbler often chooses a nest site in a small opening in such areas. Other birds sharing breeding habitat with Swainson's warbler in Donata's study area are Hooded warbler, Kentucky warbler, White-eyed vireo, Wood thrush, Carolina wren, Acadian flycatcher and Swallow-tailed kites. The bird also breeds in dense understory in mature pine forests here in Louisiana and in rhododendron in more northern forests.
Donata shared with us some of Swainson's warbler breeding biology that she and others have documented. The nests are placed between 1.5 and 6 feet high. Eggs are, surprisingly, plain white; there are usually three eggs to a nest. The incubation is 13 -15 days. Nestling mortality is high. Donata described her painstaking techniques for finding nests and she was able to find and follow an amazing 20 nests in the first year of her study. Unfortunately, from these she documented only six fledged young.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:20 p.m. Respectfully submitted, Judith O'Neale, LOS Secretary/Treasurer.
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by Thomas A. Sylvest
Gramercy, LA 70052
A couple of years ago, fall 1998, Jeff Wilson posted an email message on Labird which described a swirl of tree swallows diving into a roosting area as a “swallow tornado.”
Wilson’s message tweaked my imagination, as it was late October and I happened to be counting late evening flyover species for my yard list. The most numerous and most noticeable of these species was tree swallows. I had even begun to count the tree swallows and to tabulate their numbers counted in five minute time segments over about the thirty minutes roughly preceding sunset.
The tree swallows at that time of day were all flying south. A typical day count would look like the following:
Southbound Tree Swallows
Yard Flyover Count,10-11-99
When Wilson’s email about roosting swallows hit my computer screen on a Labird posting, the connection clicked. The tree swallows flying south so late in the evening over our Gramercy, Louisiana yard must be heading for a nearby roosting area. Maybe I could see a swallow tornado.
Hey! I know what I’ll do. I’ll check the dawn flyovers to see if any swallows are flying north.Sure enough, they were, though not in the great concentrations like the evening flights.
Convinced that there must be a roost, I called my faithful CBC chairman, birding tutor, and Louisiana field ornithologist with few peers, Ronald Stein, of Reserve. Ronald repeated a story I had heard him relate before, that huge numbers of tree swallows had roosted in years past in the sugarcane fields on the west bank of the Mississippi river near the Lucy-Hahnville area. Ronald agreed that it was likely that a roost existed in the extensive sugarcane fields of the west bank of St. James Parish and encouraged me to try to find it.
Grabbing a grandson, David, age four at the time, I loaded the junk food box with cookies, candy and juice and headed for the west bank over the Gramercy-Wallace Mississippi river bridge at 5:00 PM. We followed the overhead birds for about an hour. Darkness descended. No roosting swallows
Search day two. David and PawPaw again. We crossed the bridge again and began our search at the location where we had left off the day before.
Day ends. No swallow roost.
The third day. Paydirt!
Standing in the school yard of Vacherie Elementary School in Vacherie, LA, amazed at the number of tree swallows milling around overhead, I was not prepared for the spectacle approaching. I had been observing the accumulating swarm of swallows overhead for about thirty minutes. About ready to climb back into the van and return home, as it had turned nearly too dark to see, I turned my old 10X42 Nikons on the base of the cloud of swallows for one final look.
What should I behold but the sudden formation of a downward reaching dark cone-shaped stream of swallows diving into the sugarcane field one quarter mile away. They poured and poured into the cane like a water spout. I had checked my watch. Within five minutes there was not a swallow remaining in the sky. All had disappeared into the cane.
Hey! Hey! Hey!, “Hey! Who?” Who can I share this with?
“There’s nobody with you, dummy, but David. David is in the van in his car seat chomping down on animal crackers."
Oh! My Gosh! Slap the mosquitos! Jump into the van! Oh! My Gosh! I’ll have to wait until I get all the way back to Gramercy to tell anybody about this. Darn! That’s how excited I was.
Back in Gramercy. I told John, David’s dad. I called Ronald Stein to share the good news. “Hey! Ronald, I found a swallow roost and saw the swallow tornado.” John and Ronald were properly appreciative. I emailed Labird.
The saga of our Louisiana Tree Swallow Tornados had begun.
To be continued.
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LOS News Editor: Carol Foil, 1180 Stanford Ave, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
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posted 26December2000