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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hogan

LA-AL-MS NWR Trip December 2017

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

Our first time birding in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, we visited and birded 5 Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges, 2 Mississippi National Wildlife Refuges and 2 Alabama National Wildlife Refuges.

Karen and Teresa-Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge December 25, 2017

October-November 2017

We planned to visit 8 National Wildlife Refuges during the week December 23rd-31st of 2017. The most distant refuges we would visit this trip would be a couple of refuges just south New Orleans so we decided we would stay in Slidell, Louisiana a town north of New Orleans, for four nights. We always enjoy staying more than one night in the same hotel. Less packing each morning as we head out, then coming back to a familiar room each night is always a plus.


Saturday December 23, 2017

Since Karen bought her 4 wheel drive car in May of 2017 we had been planning NWR Trips east of the Mississippi River. Karen and I would meet in Kennesaw, GA, spend the night at my friend Frankie's house and leave my car in her driveway until our return December 31st, we planned to celebrate the New Year with Frankie. Kennesaw is north of Atlanta, a great meeting location for the start of this 3 state National Wildlife Refuge Trip. We would have 450 mile drive Sunday to reach the first National Wildlife Refuge on the border of Alabama and Mississippi.


Sunday December 24, 2017 Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge

We left Frankie’s house a little later than we planned around 8 am on December 24th to begin our AL-MS-LA National Wildlife Refuge Trip. We headed to Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi, a 450 mile drive that would take at least 5.5 hours. There was little traffic on the roads and we gained an hour as we changed to central time, crossing the Georgia Alabama state line.

We left interstate 10 to drive the last 4 miles on Missala Rd and Bayou Heron Rd arriving at Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge around 2 pm. It was a mild 64 degrees with clear blue skies as we stopped at the Refuge sign, we could hear chip notes of several species of birds including the squeaky call of Brown-headed Nuthatches that continued as we drove down Bayou Heron Rd to the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Resource Center.

Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Resource Center December 24, 2017

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1992 to protect the large expanses of Gulf Coast Savanna that are relatively undisturbed. The Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge manages 10,188 acres of wet pine savanna, maritime forest, tidal and non-tidal wetlands, salt marshes, salt pans, bays and bayous. We hiked the Oak Grove Trail Loop and observed 8 species of birds in this oak maritime forest intermingled with pine flatwoods.

Oak Grove Birding Trail, December 24, 2017

The live oaks along the trail were amazing, we stopped to take some photos.

Karen-Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Live Oak, Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

We had great looks at a Blue-headed Vireo feeding low in a tree next to the trail giving us a show.

Blue-headed Vireo, Grand Bay NWR December 24,2017

We would have to visit this refuge during the spring and fall months for a chance to see the migrants and the blooms of the carnivorous plants common to the area. We could hear gun fire as we past the shooting range on the way to the boat ramp and bait shop at the end of Bayou Heron Road.

Boat Launch Area-Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Boat Launch Area Parking Lot-Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Walking around parking lot of the boat launch area we could hear rails in the marsh grasses and had good looks of several Yellow-rumped Warblers in the bushes that lined the parking lot. Folks were enjoying themselves in the bait shop, we could hear music and laughter, the parking lot was full of vehicles. A black cat stopped to watch us, how peculiar we must look peering through our binoculars.

Black Cat, Boat Launch Area-Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Gull, Boat Launch-Bait shop roof-Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

We headed back to the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Resource Center to walk the boardwalk behind the Center.

Boardwalk at Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Powerline Cut Trail-Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

Powerline Cut Trail, Osprey Nest on Tower, Grand Bay NWR December 24, 2017

There were several trails just off the boardwalk that took us to the power line cut trail and Osprey nests were perched on the top of each the power line towers. As we returned to the resource center flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins were gathering in and around the parking lot. We enjoyed a snack as we listened to the Brown-headed Nuthatches in the trees along Bayou Heron Rd, a common bird for Karen in Chapel Hill, NC but an unusual species for me in Lexington, Ky. We headed to Mississippi State Welcome Center on I-10, the location of the 1.5 mile Escatawpa Nature Trails through hardwoods and pine forest with a scenic view of the Escatawpa River. It was almost dusk, the trails were open from Sunrise to Sunset, we would have to return to hike these trail on the drive home, the following weekend, if time allowed.

My light jacket felt good as the temperature dropped into the 50s. Driving to our hotel in Moss Point we enjoyed the beautiful sunset. Pleasantly surprised to hear the excitement of the hotel front desk agent when she greeted me, it was December 24th, the hotel had 70 empty rooms, we would be one of the only occupied rooms for the night. The Chevron and Delta Tech oil refinery workers who call the hotel home for 10 months of the year had migrated home to celebrate the holidays with their families.


Monday December 25, 2017 Mississippi Sandhill Crane and Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuges

Out of our hotel in Mossy Point just as the sun came up at 6:24 AM. The temperature was 37 degrees, as usual we were prepared, warm clothes packed in our suitcases, including our winter coats. It was an easy drive, 13 minutes on I-10 west to Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. The morning sky was pink to the east and clear blue in the west, a perfect morning to bird at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge entrance was just a 1.5 mile drive once we got off highway I-10 onto Gautier Vancleave Rd. Karen had spoken to a refuge staff member on the phone a few days before our trip to verify the refuge would be open on December 25th, a national holiday. There was a gate at the entrance, to our relief it was open and as we drove through, the sun was just beginning to rise.

Sunrise at Mississippi Sandhill Cranes NWR, December 25, 2017

The Administrative Office and Visitor Center were closed but the CL Dees hiking trail next to the Visitor Center was open but we were concerned when we saw 3 orange cones across the trailhead. Glad Karen had called ahead and there were no signs stating the trail was closed, we decided the cones were probably put there as a precaution.

C.L Dees Trail at Mississippi Sandhill Cranes NWR December 25, 2017

Visitor Center at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR December 25, 2017

The 3/4 mile trail was well maintained with interpretative signs for the trees and plants of interest including carnivorous plants.


Interpretative Signs along trail, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

The trail was through the wet pine savanna with a view of the Bayou Castille.

Bayou Castille, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

Bayou Castille, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

Once again we were delighted to hear the squeaky Brown-headed Nuthatches in the pine trees along the trail. (photo 7933)

Visitor Center at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

Large Trees around Parking Lot, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

As we left the trail and continued to look for birds in the large trees around the parking lot, Jeff, a volunteer, emerged from the woods walking his daughter’s yellow lab. We asked Jeff about the three orange cones at the start of the trail, he had just cleared a culvert in the area but the trail was open.

Orange Cones at beginning of CL Dees Trail, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR-December 25, 2017

He started working at the refuge in July and was enjoying working for Melissa, the refuge manager. Jeff and his wife were living in their RV on the refuge grounds. Some of his volunteer jobs included mowing grass and trail maintenance. Karen and I appreciate the volunteers who dedicate so many hours at the National Wildlife Refuges and were excited to get to talk to Jeff about his experiences at this beautiful Refuge. The tour for the restricted access area for observing Mississippi Sandhill Cranes was closed today but we decided to drive around some of the county roads, with help from ebird reports we had a few locations to check for these large birds. We were able to locate a few of the Mississippi Sandhill Cranes standing in a field along Briarcrest Lane, always thrilled to hear their loud, rolling, trumpeting call. The Sandhill Cranes anatomy allows for this amazing tone, with a long trachea that coils into their sternum making the sound develop a lower harmonic pitch.

Mississippi Sandhill Cranes in field along Briarcrest Lane, December 25, 2017

Mississippi Sandhill Crane December 25, 2017

Mississippi Sandhill Crane December 25, 2017

The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Gulf Coast Refuge Complex, which includes Grand Bay and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuges. Established in 1975, Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge consists of more than 19,000 acres in four noncontiguous units. The Refuge was created to protect the critically endangered Mississippi Sandhill Cranes that live in wet pine savanna habitat. Other habitats at this refuge include wetlands, gulf coast prairie, pitcher plant bogs and cypress groves.

Our next stop was the 1 mile Fontainebleau trail of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge about 11 miles west on 90 and off of Hanshaw Road. Jeff had told us part of the trail was closed due to hurricane damage but that we would be able to access and hike most of the trail.

Fountainbleau Trail at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

It was breezy day with clear blue skies, perfect conditions to hike and bird, there were several warblers in the pines as we began our walk. (photo 7982-1) The refuge staff was working on habitat restoration along the Fontainebleau Trail, clearing out the understory to provide native savanna and pine flatwoods to thrive, similar to the habitat at the CL Dees Trail next to the Visitor Center-Administration office building.

Fontainebleau Trail, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR December 25, 2017

We enjoyed the beautiful Davis Bayou and observed an Osprey overhead and a flock of large birds flying in the distance, Karen thought they were Mississippi Sandhill Cranes.

Davis Bayou at Fountainbleau Trail, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

Fontainebleau Trail, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, December 25, 2017

We were happy to follow the loud mewing calls of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to her position on the side of tree, for a good look of this medium sized woodpecker with a boldly black and white patterned face, yellow underparts and the long white stripe along the folded wing. We reported 8 bird species on our ebird checklist for this Fontainebleau Unit hotspot.

By noon we were back on highway I-10 headed west to Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge located on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana. Established in 1980 the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 36,500 acres of the Pearl River Basin and is one of most undisturbed wild swamplands in the country. During the high flood stages in winter and spring 90% of the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge can be flooded and only accessible by boat. The National Wildlife Refuge website directed us to the Pearl River Fishing Access Site located at the Pearl River Turnaround Exit #11 on Hwy 59 north for access to two boardwalks and the scenic fishing pond that only allows non-gas powered craft. We hiked the Cypress Boardwalk and part of the nature trail around the fishing pond. The Jim Schmidt Interpretive Boardwalk was closed for repairs due to water damage sustained in 2016. The area supports rookeries of Little Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets and White Ibis in the summer months. Swallow-tailed Kites can be seen at this refuge from April to August. We reported 15 species of birds including Karen's first sighting of an Orange-crowned Warbler.

Pearl River Fishing Access Site at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Jim Schmidt Interpretive Boardwalk at Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Boardwalk at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

Cypress Boardwalk at Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Cypress Boardwalk at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

Cypress Boardwalk at Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Fishing Pond at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

Bogue Chitto NWR, December 25, 2017

Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

Anhinga, Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, December 25, 2017

We stopped in several parking lots looking for the 3/4 mile Holmes Bayou Trail but decided not to hike, for our safety and to avoid disturbing the hunters. Finished birding at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge at 3 pm, we still had daylight to bird, I looked on the Refuge map for another access point on the Mississippi side. I found a couple of boat launches on the eastern side of the Refuge in Mississippi. The drive was tedious, 25 mph speed limits on the county roads with lots of stop signs, Karen began to get frustrated with my navigation. I was unsuccessful getting us to one of the boat launches but found the Walkiah Bluff Water Park. The boat ramp at Walkiah Bluff Water Park is one of the only public launches at the refuge and is marked with a refuge sign and kiosk for Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge. The boat ramp was across the road from a RV park and the sign at the entrance to the RV park said the Walkiah Bluff Water Park was managed by the National Park Service. We only had 30 minutes of daylight left to bird on this pleasant afternoon, 50 degrees with light clouds, we made the most of this unlikely birding location and listed 6 species of birds.

Our hotel in Slidell had few occupants on this Holiday night and as expected finding an open restaurant, grocery store or food mart was almost impossible until we spotted a line of cars at a Starbucks drive thru. We were the next car in line happy to have warm take out food for our Holiday dinners.

The next day weather forecast was overcast skies with occasional rain but of course that would never stop us from birding, just add to the challenge of getting needed bird ID photos while keeping our cameras dry.


Tuesday December 26, 2017 Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Out of our hotel in Slidell around 7 am we headed to Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1994, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge has 18,000 acres of diverse habitat including long-leaf pine savannah, hardwood forest hammocks, bayous, cypress-tupelo forest, near shore grass beds, lake shoreline, freshwater and brackish marsh. At the parking lot of the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on Boy Scout Rd, Karen was concerned when she noticed the her car's dash board message, flashed low key battery. So glad it was the day after the National Holiday she quickly made a phone call to her Toyota Dealership in Durham, NC the service department worker told her the battery for the key fob could be purchased at a drug store or auto parts store. He also explained even with a dead battery the laser cut key would get us into the car and then the fob would start the car even with a dead battery. Karen was so relieved that she had not delayed our birding day or stranded us in this remote location.

The sky was overcast, temperature 41 degrees and there was a threat of rain, but we looked forward to birding along some of the 9 miles of hiking trails at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. We were surprised to see several Wilson's Snipe flush as we walked quietly along the Boy Scout Boardwalk.

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Leaving the boardwalk we moved to the Boy Scout Rd Interpretative Trail where we saw hundreds Yellow-rumped Warblers and Tree Swallows.

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

There were numerous Brown-headed Nuthatches and a couple of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers feeding in the trees along the path. We also saw the trees marked with a white band of paint to indicate the nesting trees for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

White Paint for nesting trees for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Big Branch Marsh NWR, December 26, 2017


At the observation platform we could see in the distance Bald Eagles, American White Pelicans, Ibis and other wading birds, that might be more visible from Lake Rd another Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge hotspot on ebird. (AWP photo)

Observation Platform-Boy Scout Trail, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Marsh from Observation Platform, Boy Scout Trail, Big Branch Marsh NWR, December 26, 2017

We stopped to photograph the large tree that had fallen across the path and felt confused by the cyclist with a bow and arrow in an area we thought was designated as no hunting.

Karen on Boy Scout Trail, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Teresa on Boy Scout Trail, Big Branch Marsh NWR, December 26, 2017

At marker 17 we could see fishermen in boats along the Lacombe Bayou but very few birds.

marker 17 on Boy Scout Trail over looking Lacombe Bayou, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Returning to our car we had spent 5 hours on the trail, listed 35 species of birds and realized we should have carried snacks on our hike, starved we ate some crackers and cheese dip that Karen had prepared. Grateful our morning hike had been dry, the predicted rain showers had never began, we could even see some blue sky, I studied the Refuge map for our next hike. Karen suggested we return to the boardwalk but I decided we should bird another location and directed us to Sapsucker Rd. Deciding not to hike we mainly birded along the road and parking lot, and after an hour we reported 4 species of birds including the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers. One of the distracted Warblers took to flight straight toward our open window and almost joined us in the car.


Sapsucker Rd, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Our next birding location was the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Lake Rd ebird hotspot where we got our first look of amazingly blue Lake Ponchartrain.

View of Lake Ponchartrain from the end of Lake Rd, Big Branch Marsh NWR, December 26, 2017

The sky was once again cloudy with a light mist dotting our glasses, binoculars and scopes with water drops, as we observed terns, gulls and Red-breasted Mergansers swimming on the lake. We also saw a Northern Harrier flying over the marsh area and noticed we could see the Boy Scout Rd Observation Platform.

View of Boy Scout Rd Trail Observation Platform from Lake Rd, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Teresa looking out across Lake Ponchartrain at New Orleans, December 26, 2017

Forster's Tern, Lake Ponchartrain, Lake Rd, December 26, 2017

Royal Tern, Lake Ponchartrain, Lake Rd, December 26, 2017

Excited to see six Snow Geese fly overhead, we also observed a Loggerhead Shrike perched on the power line and a Pied-billed Grebe hidden in the marsh area along the Lake Rd, we submited 23 species on our ebird checklist.

Snow Geese fly over Lake Ponchartrain, Lake Rd. December 26, 2017

Loggerhead Shrike, Lake Rd, December 26, 2017

Pied-billed Grebe, Lake Rd, December 26, 2017

After leaving Lake Rd, we drove around some neighborhoods looking for additional areas to bird finally deciding to head to the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on highway 434 right off of highway 190. Of course th day after December 25th usually means the Visitor Center at a National Wildlife Refuge will be closed but we might spend some time birding on the 2 miles of trails and walkways at the Bayou Lacombe Visitor Center. It was late in the afternoon, the Visitor Center Trails closed at 4pm, deciding to come back when we would have more time to bird and the Visitor Center would be open for our Blue Goose Stamps. Surprised to see the Visitor Center trails and walkways didn't have a designed ebird hotspot.

Sign at Headquarters and Visitor Center-Southeast Louisiana NWR December 26, 2018

Lacombe Visitor Center at Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

Checking the ebird hotspots in the area we decided to bird at the Lemieux Road Trailhead. Turning down Lemieux Rd off of 190 we came to a parking lot to the entrance of Cane Bayou Access- Big Branch Marsh NWR. There was a tour bus filled with people trying to exit the narrow parking lot.

Cane Bayou at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

The half mile loop was well marked, there were few birds but we observed and listed 7 species on ebird at the Cane Bayou Loop hotspot.

Cane Bayou at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, December 26, 2017

With an hour before sunset and the skies clearing we drove back to Boy Scout Rd to walk and bird at the Boy Scout Boardwalk.

Boy Scout Boardwalk, Big Branch Marsh NWR December 26, 2018

Boy Scout Boardwalk, Big Branch Marsh NWR, December 26, 2017

Deciding to head back to Slidell before dark, we stopped at the first auto parts store to purchase the batteries Karen needed for her car key. We filled up with gasoline and purchased food to take back to the room for dinner to eat while reviewing our ebird checklist and photos from the day. Tomorrow we had planned to visit Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, but checking the weather forecast, it looked like tomorrow was going to be the most rainy day of our trip, instead, we would head south to Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge. A two hour drive from Slidell, we would go around the western side of New Orleans to drive across the 23.8 mile Lake Ponchartrain Causeway. Hoping we would have some breaks in the rain to bird at Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge it seemed best to use our most rainy day for driving and exploring Louisiana.

Wednesday December 27, 1017 Mandalay and Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuges

Leaving the hotel by 6:30 am we began our 2 hr drive from Slidell, LA to Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge located in Houma, Louisiana. It was misty and only 43 degrees as we crossed the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, the longest bridge over continuous water. Lake Ponchartrain is a brackish estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico via the Rigolets Strait and covers an area of 630 square miles with an average depth of 14 feet.

We arrived at the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge Field Office Building at 8:45am, the door was locked so we proceeded to take photos of the building, refuge sign and information Kiosk. After a few minutes the door to the building opened and Brian the Refuge Manager invited us inside for additional trail maps. We talked about our goal to bird at all the refuges and Brian suggested we visit Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, much of it was closed for hunting but there were a couple of trails we could hike that would be safe for birding.

Field Office at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Teresa and Karen at Field Office at Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge, Decmber 27, 2017

Established in 1996, Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge consist of 4,416 acres bisected by the Intercostal Waterway and includes wetlands of freshwater marsh and pond habitats. Enjoying the nature trail with boardwalks, bridges and a wetland overlook at Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge we had to laugh when Karen's feet got out from under her as she descended down the wooden bridge ramp. It was a slow fall until she was finally sitting on the ground, only her pride was hurt and we continued to bird in the light misty rain, listing 19 bird on our ebird checklist.

Teresa at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Eastern Phoebe at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Snowy Egret at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Swamp Sparrow at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Wetland Observation Platform at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Teresa at Mandalay NWR, December 27, 2017

Excited to be able to bird at additional Refuge this trip we headed to Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge located near the city of Franklin, LA about an hour drive Houma, LA. Established in 2001 Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge consist of 9,028 acres along the Bayou Teche, a 125 mile long ancient channel of the Mississippi River. The Refuge manages 6 non-contiguous units with habitats including bottomland hardwood forest, bald cypress tupelo swamp, bayous and freshwater marshes.

Stopping to get gasoline I noticed the gasoline station's food mart had meat pies for sale, of course I bought some for us, yummy!

Brian was very helpful, we talked to him a couple of times by phone for directions to the Garden City Unit Boardwalk and the Franklin Unit Trail. South of Centerville, Garden City Unit had a Boardwalk Nature Trail with interpretative signs explaining the habitat. We reported on ebird 23 species including Vesper Sparrows and American Pipits. By the time we stopped birding the misty rain was pretty heavy and our glasses and binoculars were covered with water drops.

Garden City Unit Boardwalk at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Garden City Unit Boardwalk at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Teresa at Garden City Unit Boardwalk at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Karen at Garden City Unit Boardwalk at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Garden City Unit Boardwalk at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Garden City Unit Boardwalk at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Sparrow at Garden City Unit of Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Vesper Sparrow at Garden City Unit of Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

On ebird the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge had only one hotspot for the refuge so we submitted 2 ebird checklist for the 2 different units we visited, Garden City and Franklin, it would great if each of the units at the Refuge had it's own ebird hotspot. With great directions from Brian we found the trail and parking at the Franklin Unit. As we began hiking the trail we had about 2 hours before dark. The trail was about 1.5 miles long so that would be 3 miles total in and out, it usually take us about an hour to hike a 1 mile trail while we bird, but a 1 mile non-birding hike on a trail takes us about 20-30 minutes.

Franklin Unit Trail at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Franklin Unit Trail at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Teresa at Franklin Unit Trail at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

Teresa at Franklin Unit Trail at Bayou Teche NWR, December 27, 2017

After we had hiked more than a mile along the well maintained trail at the Franklin Unit I thought we were going to stop but Karen forged ahead determined to find the end of the trail. Like a switch, at 4 pm Karen's determination to find the end of the trail changed to getting back to the car. Not understanding her urgency, I was taking my time and noticed a raptor in a tree, as I aimed my camera Karen hollered at me catch up to her. Distracted by her call, I lost the bird, I felt frustrated and yelled to her to go to the car by herself. Later, she admitted she felt anxious about hiking in the dark . When we got to the car Brian had stopped by with the Blue Goose Stamps for our books and left his business card, so sorry we had missed him.

As we headed back to New Orleans on 90 we were delayed a couple of hours because of a multiple car accident on the west bound lanes of the highway. Sitting in traffic we discussed our decision to bird at these remote locations rather than visit the tourist hotspots like New Orleans. I had never been to New Orleans but Karen had visited in March 2001 while attending a scientific meeting. She had enjoyed beignets at Cafe Du Monde a 24-hour French Quarter coffeehouse famed for its chicory coffee and beignets. Cafe Du Monde on Decatur St had been forced to closed the day she arrived in March 2001 due to a fire. She had purchase her first taste of beignets at the Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand in the Riverwalk Outlets. Looking at my GPS I got us to a parking lot right off of Decatur St and we ran over to the Coffee Shop to purchase our warm beignet. It was amazing to see so many people driving and walking the streets of New Orleans, we had only seen a handful of folks the past 12 hours, a few folks at Refuge Field Office, 3 people hiking at Mandalay Nature Trail and the other 2 trails we had hiked at Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge were empty of human beings. Back at our hotel room we enjoyed our beignets. Tomorrow would be our last day to bird at the Refuges around the New Orleans area, we would head back to Alabama on Friday.

Teresa enjoying Cafe Du Monde Beignets, December 27, 2017

Thursday December 28, 2017 Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge

Disappointed when we discovered the closed gate to the Ridge Trail at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

Ridge Trail Unit at Bayou Sauvage NWR December 28, 2107

Karen called the Refuge headquarters and spoke to a staff member, the gate should soon be open but the staff member would call us back in 30 minutes after she talked to some folks about why the gate was closed this morning.

Looking for birding hotspots on ebird at this Refuge we found Hwy 11, Orleans Parrish and Joe Madera Marsh Overlook, Orleans. Along Hwy 11 we saw several Blue-winged Teal and get our first Sora of the trip. At the Joe Madera Marsh Overlook we listed 14 species on our checklist. While birding at the Marsh Overlook, Beverly called Karen, the Ridge Trail gate should be open, there must be a miscommunication or we are at the wrong gate because the gate was still closed.

We decide to head to the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and Bayou Lacombe Visitor Center to get our blue goose stamps and maybe talk to someone in person about the Ridge Trail gate. Headed to the Headquarters at 10 am Central time, 11am Eastern time, it was lunchtime, a quick stop at our hotel room to get some food, meat pies and beignets. One of the hotel guest in the elevator told us she was on her way to a swamp tour, will she be cold in her shorts and flip flops, we have on winter coats and snow boots. Karen explains to the guest we have already been on the swamp tours of Louisiana when we visited each of the National Wildlife Refuge the past few days.

After our mid-morning central time snack we drove to the Bayou Lacombe Visitor Center, pleased the Visitor Center was open and the volunteer behind the desk presented us with 8 National Wildlife Refuge stamps, we had visited 5 of the refuges and would someday visit the other 3. Best to get the stamps when they are available, especially since they no longer have a date. We birded the area around the Visitor Center using the Big Branch Marsh NWR ebird hotspot and listed 10 species of birds. It would be great if the Headquarter/Visitor Center for the Southeast Louisiana NWRs had an ebird hotspot.

Blue Goose Stamps at Southeast Louisiana NWR Visitor Center, December 28, 2017

At the Headquarters Building Beverly assured Karen the Ridge Trail gate would be open. Our excitement quickly changed to disappointment when we arrived at the Ridge Trail gate once again to find it closed. The Ridge Trail has a 2/3 mile-long interpretive boardwalk loop trail with views of bottomland hardwood forest and marsh habitats. Established in 1990, Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge manages 25,000 acres including freshwater marsh, brackish marsh and forested lands on low ridges. Deciding to look for rails at the marsh overlook at the Joe Madera boardwalk we stayed at the end of the boardwalk for about 2 hours. I stood at the end of the platform looking for the rails while Karen checked out the area for other species including sparrows and warblers.

Teresa at Joe Madera Boardwalk at Bayou Sauvage NWR, December 28, 2017

Teresa stands for 2 hrs at Joe Madera Boardwalk looking for a rail. December 28, 2017

Swamp Sparrow at Joe Madera Boardwalk, December 28, 2017

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Joe Madera Boardwalk, December 28, 2017

Little Blue Heron at Bayou Sauvage NWR, December 28, 2017

After hearing numerous calls and a few quick glances of a rail, I was determined to get a video of these elusive birds. It was so difficult to get on the rail as it moved quickly through the marsh grass and I missed the opportunity for a video 3 times. Finally there was a black and tan backed wading bird, I motioned to Karen to come look but just at that moment a group of non-birders joined us on the boardwalk. Thank goodness the bird stayed until the folks left, success, I got a video, but the bird was a Least Bittern.

Least Bittern at Joe Madera Boardwalk, December 28, 2017

Waiting for just a few more minutes a rail passed the exact area we had just seen the Bittern, finally a King Rail, a life bird for both Karen and myself.

With a few hours of daylight I looked for rare and life birds that might be in the area, the Smooth billed Ani had been seen along at the Caernarvon Diversion levee and canal. Not sure where to enter the levee we entered the neighborhood that borders the levee. We were shocked by the devastation to the Braithwaite neighborhood, homes boarded up, obvious water damage and more than 90% unoccupied homes. We later learned that during hurricane Issac in 2012 the levee had been breeched and this neighborhood had been under water, now families were unable to do repairs or get back into their homes due to repair cost and building restrictions. It was difficult to think about birding as we drove through this destroyed neighborhood.


Friday December 29, 2017 Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Only 3 days left to bird and visit National Wildlife Refuges, we studied the NWRS website for NWR along our drive back to Atlanta, Georgia. We decided not to stop at the Mississippi State Welcome Center on I-10 to hike the Escatawpa Trail part of Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, instead we planned to visit Bon Secour and Eufuala National Wildlife Refuges. Most of Friday morning would be traveling from our hotel in Slidell, Louisiana to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Two routes available, one through Mobile, Alabama but completely over land, we chose to use the ferry between Dauphin Island Alabama and Fort Morgan Alabama. We enjoyed the ferry ride across the mouth of the Mobile Bay-Bon Secour Bay. Our first stop was the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center where we got our Blue Goose Stamp. Established in 1980, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge consist of 7,000 acres of coastal lands including constantly changing beach dunes to rolling pine-oak woodlands. We hiked the Pine Beach Trail to the beach, we listed 32 species of birds on our ebird checklist.

Bon Secour NWR, December 29, 2017

Bon Secour NWR, December 29, 2017

Pine Beach Trail at Bon Secour NWR, December 29, 2017

Northern Mockingbird at Bon Secour NWR, December 29, 2017

Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Teresa walking the trail to beach at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Willet at beach at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Sanderling at beach at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

In the large pond along the Pine Beach Trail we saw a Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Greater Yellowlegs, Bonaparte Gull and 39 Red-breasted Mergansers. The Mergansers left the area when a boat drove too close to where they were resting in the water.

Common Loon and Horned Grebe at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Greater Yellowlegs at Bon Secour NWR, December 29, 2017

Bonaparte Gull and Killdeer at Bon Secour NWR, December 29, 2017

Red-breasted Merganser at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Red-breasted Merganser at Bon Secour NWR December 2, 2017

Osprey at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

The last hour of daylight we chose a beach access area where we watched the fiery red sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.


Great Blue Heron at Bon Secour NWR December 29, 2017

Sunset over Gulf of Mexico, December 29, 2017

Always planning ahead, we had reserved a hotel room on Orange Beach just a short drive from this National Wildlife Refuge. Settled in at the hotel we placed an order to go at a local burger place, so yummy!


December 30, 2017 Big Lagoon State Park and Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

Waking up in Orange Beach, I checked the map, so close to Florida, we might be able to add one more bird to our Florida life list on ebird. I worked to get us to the Gulf Island National Seashore and finally got us to the South Side of Big Lagoon along the Gulf Seashore. Freezing cold and a strong wind, there were no birds along the beach. Looking across the Big Lagoon I could see Buffleheads at the Big Lagoon State Park. We drove around to the entrance but had to wait for 30 minutes before the gate opened at 8 am. Karen got a phone call from her Husband as we parked in the Big Lagoon State Park parking lot. Apparently the temperatures in Chapel Hill were well below freezing and her outside water pipe had burst flooding parts of her back yard. Her husband was usually the comedian but he didn't seem to appreciate her humor when she asked if he had charged the neighbors to ice skate on frozen water in their back yard to pay for higher than normal water bill. We proceeded to the observation platform, we listed 35 species of birds on ebird including: Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-bellied Plover, Bufflehead, Horned Grebe, Common Loons and Royal Terns. We stayed at the State Park for over an hour and a half, not sure if I added any birds to my Florida bird life list, we had to get on the road. A quick stop in the restroom for me, I missed the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the trees right next to our car, so glad Karen was ready with her camera.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Big Lagoon State Park, December 30, 2017

Definitely adding Florida birds to our trip list I was ready to get on the road for our next stop in Alabama at Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge.


Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1964, Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, consist of 11,184 acres along both banks of the Chattahoochee River in southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia. The habitats at Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge include wetlands, croplands, woodlands, old fields, grasslands, and open water. Arriving at 3 pm, the Visitor Center at Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge was closed but we checked out the area for birds and thought we heard a Great Horned Owl. At the entrance to the Wildlife Drive we saw several gulls circling overhead with a couple of Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk at Eufaula NWR, December 30, 2017

Gulls and Red-tailed Hawk at Eufaula NWR, December 29, 2017

Driving along the 8 mile Wildlife Drive that meanders through upland and wetland habitats we had a great view of the Moon, high in the sky, providing a fantastic back drop for the many Red-winged Blackbirds flying over the fields.

Red-winged Blackbirds at Eufaula NWR, December 30, 2017

Along the Wildlife Drive we stopped at the Houston and Uplands Observations Platforms. Driving the access road to the Houston Observation Platform we saw a Coyote and then at the platform observed 8 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and hundreds of Red-winged Blacking birds flying over the Houston Bottoms.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Eufaula NWR, December 30, 2017

As darkest approached we headed out of the refuge, Karen heard the nasal peent call of the male American Woodcock sitting on the ground. Staring at the dark field we could also hear the chirping sound the male makes as he descends from his aerial display for the female. After hearing many aerial displays we finally saw a male as he plummeted back to the ground.

Our last hotel night for this trip was in Eufaula just a 20 minute drive to the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. Concerned because we had noticed as we drove to the hotel our phones didn't know whether to be on Central or Eastern time, no surprise, we were on the state line between Georgia and Alabama, the boundary line between the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Would we wake up at 5am on Eastern or Central time?


December 31, 2017 Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

At the Houston-Upland Unit of the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge we heard a Great Horned Owl. Birding along the Wildlife Drive we listed 18 species of birds. `The one-third mile walking trail located near the Wildlife Drive main entrance was closed due to water damage.

A nearby hotspot, Lakepoint Resort State Park had a sign posted: These Waters are Within the Boundary of Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. We listed 28 species of birds including 5 species of ducks on our ebird checklist at this hotspot.

Ring-necked Duck at Lakepoint Resort State Park, December 31, 2017

We walked about a half a mile on the Kennedy Unit of Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge and reported 28 species of birds. I read there would be no hunting on Sunday at this unit but we could hear gun fire, we decided to head into Georgia to hike and bird at the Bradley Unit of Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge .

Kennedy Unit at Eufaula NWR, December 31, 2017

Along the Bradley Trail we could hear gun fire, Karen continued walking on the trail, convinced we would see more waterfowl if we got to the River. Finally, we decided to head back to our car and agreed we would need to do a better job of checking hunting schedules and wearing our orange vest. At the Bradley Unit we reported 24 species of birds on our ebird checklist including Common Ground Dove, Red-headed Woodpecker, a warbler and a small group of rusty blackbirds.

Common Ground Dove, Bradley Unit Eufaula NWR, December 31, 2017

Warbler at Bradley Unit of Eufaula NWR, December 31, 2017

Excited to realize this National Wildlife Refuge was within driving distance of my home, in Lexington, I planned to return, hopefully in the late spring or summer. Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is designated as a globally significant area due to high number of Rusty Blackbirds wintering at this refuge.

By 2 pm we were headed back to Kennesaw Georgia, a 3 hour drive, Frankie was cooking us dinner for our New Year's Eve celebration.


Monday January 1, 2018

New Years Day, Karen got another phone call from home. The pet sitter stopping by her house to care for her aging Chihuahua, Annabel reported the furnace had failed sometime yesterday, December 31st, the temperature in the house was around 50oF. Karen made arrangements for Annabel to be moved to the upstairs part of her house where the furnace was working and she started for home. Frankie and I went shopping and then I headed back to Lexington, Ky, I would have to report to work tomorrow, Jan 2nd.


We visited these refuges during our week visit.

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi 12/24/17

Mississippi Sandhill Cranes National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi 12/25/17

Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana 12/25/17

Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana 12/26/17

Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana 12/27/17

Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana 12/27/17

Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana 12/28/17

Bon Secure National Wildlife Refuge Alabama 12/29/17

Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge Alabama 12/30/17, 12/31/17



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