Hello Louisiana!

Whoa, where has the time gone?! How have we been on the road for 16 days? It turns out working 530am to 930pm every day is pretty time consuming, which is why we haven’t blogged in a while.

We are currently in Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana, getting ready to start working in the Piney Woods ecosystem. We met with a local biologist yesterday and he showed us some quality locations for representative bird species such as Pine Warbler, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Quail, Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, and of course Bachman’s Sparrow. We’re planning to get out tomorrow morning and start working to bring you the sights and sounds of these birds and this ecosystem. We’re pretty excited!

Finding inroads into environmental stories here in Alexandria, LA has been difficult. So far at other locations, we’ve had luck while exploring local green spaces and randomly running into people while we are out and about, so maybe our luck will continue. However, there is a local environmental community group here that maybe we can track down and speak with some of the members. Any ideas are welcome!

Getting here yesterday was quite a challenge to say the least. We drove straight into a line of severe thunderstorms that dumped over 5″ of rain in the area and produced strike after strike of cloud-to-ground lightning. At one point we pulled over with a bunch of other cars because the roads began to flood and visibility dropped to almost none. Luckily, we were able to finish working in Baton Rouge before the rain began.

We visited Blue Bonnett Nature Center in Baton Rouge to work for the day. This beautiful property is roughly 100 acres of bottomland swamp forest, which holds an abundance of bird species. We were treated with plenty of Prothonotary Warblers and Barred Owls, but also Wood Thrushes, Northern Parulas, Indigo Buntings, and even mating pairs of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Wood Ducks. And all of this is within the city of Baton Rouge, highlighting the benefit that even small tracts of land in urban areas can have on ecosystem diversity.

Blue Bonnett NC contrasted sharply with Reserve, LA, which we visited the day before. The community is part of a series of communities known as ‘Cancer Alley’ and is currently locked in a lawsuit against DuPont which alleges that the local plant is poisoning the people of Reserve. This community has the highest cancer rate in the country and it’s not even close. All day, we spoke with community members and attended a community event to discuss the issue and needless to say, we were blown away by the incredibly moving and powerful stories they told us.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, just southeast of Reserve, gave us cause to move away from the Louisiana coast and we sure are glad we visited this small, but biologically diverse park. We spent over a day recording the sounds of the dawn and evening choruses, as well as many different species of songbirds. We even recorded the gutteral sounds of American Alligators as they called from the swamps! Tyler captured some pretty rad pictures that we can’t wait to share with you!

Grand Isle, LA was our last stop on the coast and it’s known by locals as ‘the edge of the world’ because of its position as the last serious piece of land before the Gulf of Mexico. We spent a few days here birding the ancient oak cheniers, which are so important for migrating birds as they refuel after crossing the Gulf. We saw plenty of cool birds including Painted Bunting, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Hooded, Tennessee, and Blue-winged Warblers, American Redstart, Wood Thrush, Veery, Great-Crested Flycatcher, and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers.

We also spoke to lots of birders visiting the island for the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Festival. We gained insight into why people enjoy birds so much, as well as how their lives have been impacted by environmental degradation. Additionally, we spoke to a man who runs a local seafood dock about how coastal subsidence, oil spills, and climate change are ravishing the fishing industry. It’s quite a sad situation as many locals are really struggling to earn a living.

We heard similar stories visiting a bayou camp near Cut Off, LA. We were invited out there by five local cajuns and they sure showed us a good time! After arriving, we were greeted by drinks and a crayfish, crab, and shrimp boil. The seafood was freshly caught and tasted every bit as good as you can imagine. While eating, we all talked about local culture and environmental issues and similar to what we heard on Grand Isle, people are hurting, and in general are furious at all politicians. This anger has been and is still being misdirected towards everyone else in society who is ‘part of the other side’, but we are slowly uncovering a willingness to heal these divides if only people would start talking with each other again with respect and openmindedness.

Our work on the Louisiana coast began at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge which holds a large tract of the coastal plains ecosystem. Having never seen this ecosystem, we were eager to explore it. We saw our first Seaside and Nelson’s Sparrows which were a real treat. We also saw thousands of other birds of many different species, demonstrating the importance of the refuge. However, this ecosystem is seriously threatened as it loses a football field sized area of land every 100 minutes to coastal subsidence. This rate of land loss is higher than anywhere else in the country and has forced some people to move away from family homes that have been in existence for generations.

At Rockefeller, we also met a group of bird banders who are working to understand migratory patterns along the coast. These female scientists brave the hordes of mosquitoes and hot and humid weather every day to ensure we have a good grasp on the threats these birds face, as well as changes in annual migratory numbers. They shared with us touching stories and even taught us about ‘spark birds’. We thoroughly enjoyed watching them work each day.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Piney Woods and beyond. Now that we are settling into a rhythm on the road, we aim to keep you updated more often. For now, we’re off to see some birds!