We were very fortunate to be offered help in finding waders in the Rice Country of Louisiana by Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittman. This dynamic duo have a long association with the area and their help was crucial in our search for waders.
The area is rightly famous for the wader fest that occurs each spring and autumn as waders stop over on their way to and from their wintering grounds as far south as Tierra del Fuego. We had seen a number of our targets by now and we had a shopping list for Steve and Donna. Once we arrived at Thornwell where we had arranged to meet we eagerly clambered into their 4x4 and headed out.
One's imagination on reading about the rice fields runs riot with the idea that everywhere you go there will be rice fields full of waders. Well this is not strictly true and it soon became apparent that local knowledge was of the utmost importance. There were indeed rice fields everywhere, interspersed with Shrimp Farms and even a turf farm, but they were all at differing points in their cycle and the method of sowing the rice is changing, many farmers are now using a dry method which is clearly not good for waders.
We met our guides at the farm of Kevin and Shirley Berken who very kindly offered us the use of their hunting lodge for the night which we gratefully accepted as it would mean being in the right place for birding the following morning. We started birding on the Berken Farm and almost immediately started our tally with new waders. We quickly picked up some White-rumped Sandpipers which were new for the trip and then our first Wader Quest tick, American Golden Plover.
Also in evidence on the farm among many now familiar species were Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper and the icing on the cake a small group of Wilson's Phalaropes, with a few stonking females in among them. These were the species that Elis had most wanted to see which was evident by the broad grin on her face as she photographed them. As we were enjoying the phalaropes Donna spotted 5 Buff-breasted Sandpipers in flight which we got onto. We had seen them at least, but really wanted to see them better.
We moved on from there and headed out through a maze of roads between the fields looking for birds. We checked the wet fields for Hudsonian Godwit and the drier ones for Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpiper and everywhere for Baird's Sandpiper as they can occur in either. We successfully came across some Upland Sandpipers in the middle of a dry field and got some records shots as they were a bit distant, and we later came across another at the sod farm.
The hunt for the Buff-breasts proved much more difficult, they were not at the sod farm as Steve had hoped, those fly-bys from the morning were looking decidedly good by now. Then we stopped at a section of fields that were swarming with birds and Donna found a single Buff-breasted Sandpiper among them 3 fields back!! Still at least this time the half hidden bird could be scoped. Eventually towards the end of the day Steve stopped the car and pointed out a small group of 'Buffies' strolling around on a dry mud bank, decent views at last, but still a little far for anything other than a record shot.
That left us with the Baird's Sandpiper and Hudsonian Godwit. Steve had had reports of Hudsonian Godwits being seen some 25 miles to the east of where we were, so at the end of the day, as they were heading back to their home we followed them in that direction. We arrived at the appointed spot and started looking and again it was Donna that found them first. No sooner had we seen them and had a good look through the bins, as we were setting up the scope, a Peregrine Falcon flew over causing havoc and our godwits flew, some up and away entirely and others settling back in the fields well out of sight.
With no time left we had to admit defeat on the Baird's, but Elis and I had one more day in the rice fields and we knew what we were going to concentrate on!
Many thanks to Steve and Donna for giving up their precious time to help us in our quest and also to their friends who helped with scouting the day before.
|Steve, Donna and Rick|
|American Golden Plover|