Great Louisiana BirdFest
Schedule of Events
6:15 am-12:00 pm: Manchac Swamp / Joyce WMA
We will begin with a visit to Joyce Wildlife Management Area. This management area is primarily a healthy second growth cypress-tupelo swamp that was logged in the early to mid 1900's and is now managed by the state. Although there is little access into this area, we will take a 1000-foot boardwalk into the swamp. This area is a breeding ground for many species of warblers and we are likely to see Northern Parula, Yellow-throated, Prothonotary, and Hooded Warblers. We should pick up a good variety of species at this stop.
Our next stop is the Southeast Louisiana University's Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station at Galva Canal in Manchac. Turtle Cove helps support a variety of interdisciplinary research and education programs at Southeastern-and other universities around the region. There is good birding from the large elevated deck overlooking the swamp. Alligators are common, and birding includes shorebirds, waterfowl, woodpeckers, migrant warblers, and birds of prey. See the Birding Checklists for the species seen last year during prior BirdFests.
Next we will bird in the bayous and canals of the Manchac swamp by pontoon boat. We will stop at the historic site of the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station. The station, situated on Pass Manchac between Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas adjacent to the 8,300-acre Manchac Wildlife Management Area was built in 1908 as a private camp from virgin bald cypress that once completely surrounded it. High demands for lumber near the turn of the century led to the complete logging of the swamp forest, leaving few bald cypress trees standing. In the aftermath, land subsidence and the incursion of brackish water have prevented the cypress trees from re-establishing themselves. Because of the location, Turtle Cove provides an ideal location for bald cypress and wetland restoration projects, and for environmental and ecological studies. A raised boardwalk with 56 educational stations identifying our common native plants and creatures extends several thousands of feet into the marsh.
Weather permitting; your pontoon boat may travel into the lake to the Manchac lighthouse. This lighthouse, once on land, is surrounded by water. Many birds roost on the lighthouse and the pilings and ruins surrounding it. Julia Sims, a nationally known bird and wildlife photographer, has chosen this locale for some of her work. If not, the trip continues into ‘Stinking Bayou' for some different habitat and more excellent birding. Alligators are common, and birding includes shorebirds, waterfowl, woodpeckers, migrant warblers, and birds of prey. See the Birding Checklists for the species seen during prior BirdFests.
5:30 pm-9:00 pm: Big Branch by Night & RCW's
Have you every birded at night? You may be in for a treat. While the number of species you can see at night is much lower than by day, you might have the privilege of hearing or actually getting to see owls up close during their nocturnal hunt. At this time of year owls may respond to calls by naturalists. We may also hear night-herons, rails and Common Nighthawk. You should be able to see bats and hear frogs and other night creatures.
We will start early enough to get you in place to see the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker as they return to their nests. There will be some daylight for birding before it gets dark since birds will still be active as the light fades.
Each year we return to the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge, a 12,000-acre refuge established in 1994 in order to protect and manage a wetland ecosystem threatened by urban growth on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It includes much of the vital and teeming marshes along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain from FontainebleauState Park to the city limits of Slidell. The refuge encompasses the habitats and transition zones between the pine savannahs to the north and the shorelines, marshes, and offshore grass beds of the lake to the south. Big Branch offers excellent birding and the refuge is home to numerous Red-cockaded Woodpecker colonies, some of which are in the areas you will bird. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are unique among the woodpeckers in that they only nest in live trees and that one or more of the previous year's fledglings stick around as helpers during the nesting season.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries cooperatively manage Big Branch Refuge. Under natural conditions Red-cockaded woodpeckers require mature pine trees with red-heart disease, which softens the wood enough for the birds to create their nest holes. To encourage expansion of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker population, refuge biologists provide artificial nest boxes carved into live pines for nesting and roosting cavities.
The trip will be an easy walking and driving tour. Boardwalks and trails provide easy access to the varied habitat.