Saturday 7 June 2014

Summary of SW Louisiana Shorebird Blitz 2014 - Steve Cardiff

Last year Elis and I spent a very enjoyable few days in Louisiana looking for wader or shorebirds as we were encouraged to call them there. One of the days was spent with Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittman who every year organise a Shorebird Blitz during the spring migration to count the waders in the region, and event that one day we hope to join in with! 

Steve Dona and Rick, Louisiana April 2013.

Steve writes:

Here's a summary of the annual SW LA Shorebird Blitz that took place on Sunday, 4 May 2014.... 

As usual, we covered the area from I-10 south to Hwy. 14, and from Lafayette west to Welsh/Lacassine Bayou.  The area is subdivided into 4 major sections from west to east and, when there are enough observers, the larger chunks are further subdivided into more manageable portions.  This year, we had 15 observers split up into 8 parties generating 82 party-hours and 628 party-miles of coverage.  Weather was good- mostly clear, mild to warm, with light-moderate SW winds.

Rice fields in Louisiana.
The main objective is to obtain a one day "snapshot" of shorebird use of the region's working wetlands (rice, crawfish, etc.) by driving the extensive public and private (with permission) road network.  Eventually, we can analyze the raw data and come up with an extrapolation of the total numbers of shorebirds using that entire region on that day.  Just as important, and perhaps more meaningful than a one-day survey of migratory
shorebirds, are estimates of breeding open country landbirds such as raptors, Eastern Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, and Eastern Meadowlarks.

American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica; Louisiana April 2013.
Total Shorebird numbers were rather disappointing, with a grand total of about 34,000 individuals of 27 species.  Donna and I had more than that just in our section last year.  Of course, this does not mean that
shorebird numbers have suddenly plummeted- it's more "luck of the draw" as to whether the day we picked coincided with a pulse of migration or an ebb in migration.  The weather on 4 May was not particularly favourable for "grounding" northbound migrants.

Wilson's Phalaropes Phalaropus tricolor; Louisiana, April 2013.
Most numerous in terms of absolute numbers were Lesser Yellowlegs (about 5700), Dunlin (about 5400), Pectoral Sandpiper (about 4200), and Long-billed Dowitcher (about 4200; but seems low).  Relatively high numbers were recorded for Black-bellied Plover (778), Semipalmated Plover (2021!), and Wilson's Phalarope (1179).  Other species that seemed unusually scarce were American Golden-Plover (about 300), Stilt Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Sandpiper (only about 2000 of each).  Other species of interest included American Avocet (4), Willet (1), Upland Sandpiper (74), Hudsonian Godwit (33), Ruddy Turnstone (71), Baird's Sandpiper (6), and Buff-breasted Sandpiper (160).

Dunlin Calidris alpina; Texas April 2013

The combined species total for the day was 139.  Of note were almost 2000 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, 1400+ Blue-winged Teal, late Ring-necked Duck and a pair of Lesser Scaup, 118 Mississippi Kites, 2 Bald Eagles, 11
Swainson's Hawks, 38 Red-tailed Hawks, 38 Soras, 97 American Coots, 33 Ring-billed Gulls, 2 Common Ground-Doves, 2 Crested Caracaras, 2 Peregrine Falcons, 27 Cave Swallows. 192 Cedar Waxwings, a Swainson's Warbler, 539 Savannah Sparrows, 305 Dickcissels, 149 Bobolinks, 385 Eastern Meadowlarks,
and a House Finch.
Cave Swallows Petrochelidon fulva; Louisiana, April 2013. 
In shockingly low numbers: Northern Bobwhite (8), Cooper's Hawk (2), Eastern Kingbird (39), Loggerhead Shrike (71), and Orchard Oriole (10). That's just one shrike  for every 9 miles covered.  Back in the
1980's-1990's I'm pretty sure the "rule of thumb" for shrikes in this area was about 1 per mile.  This bird is in big trouble.  I suspect that cowbirds have probably decimated the Orchard Orioles in the region.  No idea what's impacting kingbird numbers, but the situation warrants investigation.  Cooper's Hawk's seemed to be on the increase as a breeder in SW LA, but my gut feel is that they have suddenly declined- bears watching.

Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius; Texas, April 2013.

Donna and I want to thank the other 13 participants for their dedication: Matt Brady, Chris Brantley, Kevin Colley, Paul Conover, Rob Dobbs, Erik Johnson, Mike Musumeche, Mac Myers, Dan & Tori O'Malley, Dave
Patton, Glenn Seeholzer, and Casey Wright.  We also thank Kevin and Shirley Berken for hosting our pre-count crawfish boil and for use of their facilities and access to their properties.  The SW LA Shorebird Blitz is
sponsored by Avian Events Support Team (AVESTEAM).

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