Jean Lafitte National Wildlife Preserve – Louisiana
While in New Orleans I went for a hike in the Jean Laffite National Historic Park and Preserve. There are a few sites that make up the park but I chose the Barataria Preserve. The Park Ranger advised that birders normally hike the Palmetto trail which is approximately one mile of boardwalk that meanders through the marsh. The Palmetto trail ends at the Bayou Coquille Trail which leads to the Marsh Overlook. The full hike was about 2 miles.
Lafitte certainly lived up to expectation. The mostly board-walked trails put you in the middle of the marsh, surrounded by cypress trees, ferns and palms. My early morning start yielded some interesting birding. I was greeted by a Ruby Crowned Kinglet in the parking lot.
Red-shouldered hawks squawked overhead, red-winged black birds chirped in the trees and a pileated woodpecker posed for pictures. Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees flitted about with Carolina Wrens, palm warblers and numerous titmice. I saw a few Robins, common grackle and a pair of catbirds.
There were plenty of yellow-rumped warblers; I assume starting their journey north.Speaking of headed north, it was hard to not notice the many tree swallows flying overhead all in the same northerly direction. Every time I looked up there were more.
As I neared the end of Bayou Coquille Trail I was treated to an amazing sight. It seems that all those swallows I saw overhead had a date over the marsh at this particular spot. The air was filled with thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of tree swallows and they just kept coming.
At one point a massive part of the flock flew through the trees at eye level. By the hundreds they landed on the small bushes, the branches bending to the ground under their weight. I was surrounded with swift moving swallows.
The whooshing sound of their wings sounded like a strong wind blowing through the trees. In less than ten minutes they were gone, leaving the skies empty but for a black vultures circling where the swallows were a few moments ago.
A couple from Wisconsin shared not only the trail with me, but we shared one of the most incredible birding experiences of my life.