Trip Report

Yellow Rails and Rice Festival

February 1 – 6, 2019

Guides: Simon Thompson & Keith Watson

Some of us drove and some took a plane, but we all ended up at the hotel in Iowa (“Eye-oh-way”), Louisiana at the correct time! Thank goodness for cell phones, so we could at least keep track of each other on our cross-country perambulations!

Our “Beat the Crowds” rail trip that first afternoon was postponed due to the heavy rain earlier in the week, so we all joined a very pleasant, albeit foggy, trip along some quiet side roads in the rice country. One of our first birds was a Dickcissel, closely followed by great views of both Sedge and Marsh Wrens – all excellent birds to start our trip. Flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese flew over and we had our first (of several) Vermilion Flycatchers of the tour. A brief stop in a pine lot was amazing with a day-time roost of 20 or so Barn Owls – more seen in one day than many of us had seen in our lifetime! One of the attractions of the festival was the food, although vegetarian options can be challenging at times. After a classic Cajun sausage meal our first evening, we moved on to crawfish etouffee, catfish bites, shrimp and a veggie plate – definitely something here for all of us. Our afternoon activity was walking (well maybe clambering) through a very tufty and overgrown field looking for sparrows. Sedge Wrens were the default little brown bird that we flushed, but eventually Casey spotted a very furtive sparrow which turned out to be a Henslow’s. Despite our best attempts to see it, it remained furtive and only offered glimpses to everyone.

Waterbirds are a predominant feature of the area, with huge flocks of White-faced Ibis being abundant, along with White Ibis, and Roseate Spoonbill. Flocks of Snow and Greater White-fronted Geese were constant sights and sounds as they flew overhead and the most abundant duck was Northern Shoveler with smaller numbers of Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard and Green-winged Teal.

Thankfully we had low ticket numbers for the combine rides, so we could head out birding before returning to the rice fields for our turn on the combine harvesters. One of our first stops was the wonderful water treatment plant in Crowley. Here we were able to walk around at our leisure and enjoy the vast numbers of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Redhead and American Avocet. A large flock of Tree Swallows was feeding low over the lake and it didn’t take us too long to find Cave, Barn, Northern Rough-wing and even Bank amongst the horde! The combine rides and observing the rails as they escape from the harvest are the undoubted star attractions of the festival and while the rails are easier to see from the sidelines, how often can one ride a combine harvester? Covered in dust and chaff we all saw Sora, King, Virginia and Yellow Rails as they flushed from the fields, but the bumping of the combine made using binoculars and cameras almost impossible. However, as the combines cut the rice swaths into smaller and smaller sections, the rails became concentrated and soon flew out into the adjacent fields. This is when the photographers had a fighting chance of getting pictures.

Cameron Parish is probably the most bird-rich parish in Louisiana, so we spent the next 2 days exploring the marshes, cheniers (coastal woodlots), shore and fields of this coastal parish. A flock of Sandhills soared out of the morning mist, revealing a single image of black and white flying alongside them – a Whooping Crane. Although it was a distant apparition, we all got to enjoy in-flight views of this rarity.

Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrels and both Vermilion and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were “wire-birds” along the roadsides and pairs of magnificent Crested Caracaras sat on nearby fences and trees, as multiple Northern Harriers quartered the fields. A picnic in Peveto Woods; a Baton Rouge Audubon Sanctuary was a great place for late migrants, such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Blue Grosbeak and a handful of warblers: Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia. The adjacent beach held the common and regularly-occurring Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, along with the more uncommon Piping and Snowy Plovers, while the mixed tern and gull flocks contained all of the expected species, such as Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, Caspian, Royal and Forster’s Terns, as well as Gull-billed Tern and several Franklin’s Gulls hiding among the many Laughing. Highlights of the trips had to be the stake-out Say’s Phoebe in a sports field, a picnic lunch in a quiet cemetery, a pelagic Harrier (why?) and a Hermit Thrush that we “chased” up a road in the marshes.

It was then off to the closing dinner for the 2019 Yellow Rails and Rice Festival; an evening of heavy hors d’oeuvres and socializing- a very pleasant end to the week. It was then some morning birding before some of us drove and some of us took a plane back to our respective homes.


Yellow Rails and Rice Festival Oct 29-Nov 3, 2019

Species encountered: 176 species

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Egyptian Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Mottled Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yellow Rail
Clapper Rail (Heard)
King Rail
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule
Purple Gallinule
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Whooping Crane
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Stilt Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs

    Lesser Yellowlegs
    Laughing Gull
    Franklin's Gull
    Ring-billed Gull
    Herring Gull
    Gull-billed Tern
    Caspian Tern
    Forster's Tern
    Royal Tern
    Common Loon
    Neotropic Cormorant
    Double-crested Cormorant
    American White Pelican
    Brown Pelican
    Least Bittern
    Great Blue Heron
    Great Egret
    Snowy Egret
    Little Blue Heron
    Tricolored Heron
    Cattle Egret
    Green Heron
    Black-crowned Night-Heron
    White Ibis
    Glossy Ibis
    White-faced Ibis
    Roseate Spoonbill
    Black Vulture
    Turkey Vulture
    Northern Harrier
    Sharp-shinned Hawk
    Cooper's Hawk
    Bald Eagle
    Red-shouldered Hawk
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Barn Owl
    Eastern Screech-Owl (Heard)
    Belted Kingfisher
    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
    Red-bellied Woodpecker
    Downy Woodpecker
    Hairy Woodpecker
    Pileated Woodpecker
    Common Flicker
    Crested Caracara
    American Kestrel
    Peregrine Falcon
    Eastern Wood-Pewee
    Eastern Phoebe
    Say's Phoebe
    Vermilion Flycatcher
    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    White-eyed Vireo
    Yellow-throated Vireo
    Blue-headed Vireo
    Red-eyed Vireo

    Loggerhead Shrike
    Blue Jay
    American Crow
    Carolina Chickadee
    Tufted Titmouse
    Northern Rough-winged Swallow
    Tree Swallow
    Bank Swallow
    Barn Swallow
    Cave Swallow
    Golden-crowned Kinglet
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
    House Wren
    Sedge Wren
    Marsh Wren
    Carolina Wren
    European Starling
    Gray Catbird
    Brown Thrasher
    Northern Mockingbird
    Eastern Bluebird
    Hermit Thrush
    House Sparrow
    American Pipit
    Grasshopper Sparrow
    White-crowned Sparrow
    White-throated Sparrow
    Nelson's Sparrow
    Savannah Sparrow
    Henslow's Sparrow
    Song Sparrow
    Swamp Sparrow
    Eastern Towhee
    Eastern Meadowlark
    Red-winged Blackbird
    Brown-headed Cowbird
    Common Grackle
    Boat-tailed Grackle
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Tennessee Warbler
    Orange-crowned Warbler
    Common Yellowthroat
    Hooded Warbler
    Northern Parula
    Magnolia Warbler
    Bay-breasted Warbler
    Chestnut-sided Warbler
    Palm Warbler
    Pine Warbler
    Yellow-rumped Warbler
    Black-throated Green Warbler
    Northern Cardinal
    Blue Grosbeak
    Indigo Bunting
    Cabbage White
    Cloudless Sulphur
    Ocola Skipper