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Naturalist’s Notebook: Phenomenal Migration in Louisiana

By John Schmitt
From the Spring 2015 issue of Living Bird magazine.
Naturalist's notebook, spring 2015, Illustration by John Schmitt
Illustration by John Schmitt
6 May 1972
Fort Polk Vernon
Parish, Louisiana

Good day! It is cloudy with southerly breezes, and the trees of the U.S. Army training post seem alive with migrant birds! When I find warblers this morning, they are in swarms, restlessly trickling through the canopies of the water oaks and sweetgums. I can barely keep up with the flocks as they move from tree to tree.

My excitement at this crazy parade of birds is only matched by the nagging anxiety that I must be missing other great birds in neighboring trees, or in the sweetgum grove across the road, or in the more diverse vegetation at the lake.

The flocks are made up mostly of Tennessee and Yellow warblers, spiced-up by Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Bay-breasted, Black-throated Green, and Blackburnian warblers, the last three of which are new to my life list! And not just warblers are going through; all kinds of birds are everywhere, near and far, high and low, beckoning for my attention as they veer through my peripheral vision, with most going by unidentified. I am experiencing a giddy kind of bird watcher’s sensory overload! But, at a frantic pace, I manage to identify Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellowthroated and Red-eyed vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, Bluegray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, and Baltimore and Orchard orioles. In thickets and gardens I glimpse Ovenbirds, more Veeries, a waterthrush species, and Hooded, Canada, and Kentucky warblers. Mercifully, the pace of this migration phenomenon dramatically slackens by late morning, and with it swells the awe within me at what I had experienced, along with the troubling certainty that I missed so much more, or worse, simply couldn’t identify most of the birds with the glimpses that I had. WOW!

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