Vincent Refuge

Although just one complex of "ricefields" among many on the vast SW Louisiana prairie, Vincent Refuge is a focal point for birders. Certainly any fields from Highway 35 on west towards Lake Charles will yield thousands of shorebirds while being flooded or drained, but how many of them can claim such outstanding rarities as Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, or Ruff on their "checklists"?

At first glance, a viewer might not know what to make of the refuge. It is after all just 640 acres of perfectly flat land used in part for farming rice, in part for wildlife habitat. There is access only to the roadside edges of the refuge, and parking only on the shoulders of the roads. But when the shorebirds are passing through in spring and fall, or piling into the huge roost in the middle of the refuge in winter, there are few places anywhere in the world as exciting as Vincent.

Spring migration through the area begins in late February to early March and continues through early June. Early on in the spring, huge numbers of Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin and Pectoral Sandpipers pass through. By April, White-rumped, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers are passing through in great numbers in the wet fields, and Buff-breasted and Upland Sandpipers can be found in drier plowed fields. All in all, over 30 shorebird species have been recorded at the Refuge proper, most in large numbers.

Hudsonian Godwits and Whimbrel pass through in mid-May; last May 11 I counted 100+ Hudsonians and 1000+ Whimbrels in the area, most of them flying in at dusk to join a roost at the refuge.

March is the month to look for migrant Ruffs, early May is the time when Curlew Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit have been found.

Fall migration begins in late June; by August, one muddy field may attract thousands of shorebirds and waders (e.g. last night, 8/5/96, I had 1700 Western Sandpipers, 150 Semipalm. Sandpipers, 75 Leasts, plus hundreds of dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, and a handful of other shorebirds in addition to Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, White, White-faced and Glossy Ibis...). These numbers persist through October, at which time the flocks settle into their typical winter mix.

Winter numbers can be astounding as well. At sunrise at sundown, the flocks of ducks, geese, ibis and shorebirds leaving and returning to the roost in the middle of the refuge are impressive, to say the least.

Winter is also a good time to check the surrounding treelines and grassfields for landbirds. Out of the total of 150+ species seen on last year's Crowley CBC, 100+ species (including a Tropical Parula) were recorded by the party covering the refuge and its environs.