Storkfest in the swamp

2011 August 13

Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin is one of North America’s last great river swamps, critical habitat for staggering numbers of wading birds, neotropical migrants, and many other species. This time of year, though, it’s the waders that steal the show, massing in drying pools and sloughs that trap fish and other prey.

In particular, thousands of Wood Storks have wandered north from Mexico to take advantage of abundant food resources in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley; last weekend, birders at just two locations in the Atchafalaya Basin counted 4,750 storks. Lured by visions of such spectacles, I joined Jane Patterson and Melanie Driscoll at the South Farm unit of Sherburne Wildlife Management Area early this morning.

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And we found storks!

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And more storks.

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Most of these white dots are storks too. We estimated 850 Wood Storks in all, and 1,000 Great Egrets, with smaller numbers of other waders including ibises, spoonbills, and other herons and egrets.

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This young Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) couldn’t quite figure out whether to worry about us or not.

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Shorebirds were good too. About 200 Stilt Sandpipers fed in the shallow water (but only one came close enough for a picture), and we enjoyed good looks at these beautiful sandpipers, still showing traces of their striking breeding plumage. They were joined by about 175 Black-necked Stilts, which are so raucous as to make Killdeer seem positively demure!

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Good practice on peeps too — at least the ones close enough to see. Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) were easy to pick out from the more abundant Least Sandpipers (C. minutilla) by their strikingly paler look, and bulkier chests and heads.

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Several Neotropic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) flew by, and this immature circled to give good looks. The species is becoming increasingly common in the Atchafalaya Basin, I’m told.

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A few White Ibises (Eudocimus albus) feeding on catfish fry and other prey.

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And the obligatory late-summer shot of the beautiful/fascinating/horrifying golden silk orbweavers (Nephila clavipes), which stitch together every tree in the forest with their enormous yellow webs. In this image, the tiny male is poised above the palm-sized female.

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Related posts:

  1. Sandpipers, plovers, and storks — oh my!
4 Responses
  1. August 13, 2011

    Glad for a new post from you. The spider photo is a fantastic capture.

    • David J. Ringer permalink*
      August 13, 2011

      Thank you, Nancy! :)

  2. Lynn permalink
    August 15, 2011

    Absolutely breathtaking photos…and birds.

    (I love the palm-sized female, too! Woohoo! : )

  3. August 26, 2011

    What an awesome waterbird spectacle! Must have been some exciting birding.

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