A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Louisiana: Yellow Rails & Crawfish Tails 2022

October 27-31, 2022 with Eric Hynes & Owen Hilchey guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
Yellow Rail: the object of our affection. It was fortunate that researchers were on site the day we visited the harvesting. The bander is just starting to extend the wing in this image so the conspicuous and diagnostic white secondary patch is just start to be exposed. Photo by participant Tresa Moulton.

A brief, targeted tour like this one can be nerve-racking and thrilling at the same time. We all knew what we were there for...to ride a combine! What if it wouldn't start? What if the operator was sick? What if it had a flat tire? Luckily for us, none of those things happened. Oh and we got to see that bird - haha. Mother Nature was undeniably a factor in how our tour played out (probably impacted our species total significantly as well), but in the end we saw a lot of exciting species and the regional specialties showed up for us in spades.

We began the tour with the knowledge that our number wouldn't be called to witness the rice harvesting until Sunday. The forecasted rain for Friday afternoon into Saturday meant the crop would be too moist to harvest. This information made our decision for Friday morning easy...we were off to the longleaf pine habitat of Kisatchie National Forest in central-western Louisiana. Our early departure was rewarded right from the start. At precisely 0808, a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers emerged from their roost cavity. What a treat to study this endangered, longleaf pine specialist. Brown-headed nuthatches and elusive Bachman's Sparrows rounded out our targets in the area. After retreating south and grabbing some lunch, we lucked into a window in the rain showers and studied Lake Charles from the north shore. Three Brown Boobies had been reported from this location for about a week and we caught up to them.

The rain showers dissipated overnight so we were informed to "stand by" for a possible call to the rice fields. We needed to stay reasonably close to the rice region this day. Owen put together an excellent route of birding sites that kept us in striking distance. We moved from one noteworthy species to another: a brilliant Great Kiskadee pair, elegant Vermilion Flycatchers, a family of spectacular Whooping Cranes. After successfully tracking down those rarities, we moved onto abundance. Flooded fields held shorebirds, waders and ducks by the thousands. Most numerous were Long-billed Dowitchers, White-faced Ibis and Northern Pintail. The swirling clouds of birds were mesmerizing. The day was capped off with a needle in a haystack experience when a Yellow-headed Blackbird was teased out of many Red-winged Blackbirds.

Sunday morning began with a dash to the coast. We tacked on a bunch of new species quickly: American Bittern, Piping Plover, Clapper Rail, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow and Lesser Black-backed Gull to name a few. Our journey to the rice fields was interrupted by a pair of soaring White-tailed Hawks. Once we joined the harvest, things got really exciting. Riding the combine was a thrill but so was seeing a dozen Yellow Rails! A King Rail running off was an uncommon bonus, plus we added Sora, Virginia Rail and LeConte's Sparrow. What a wonderful way to cap off our fleeting tour.

Thanks again for choosing Field Guides for your Cajun adventure. Take care and good luck birding in the new year.

—Eric Hynes

One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)

Just a few overhead; many more migrants will arrive later in the fall

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Our incredible experience in the rice fields would not have been possible without this colossal combine. The elevated observation deck was an outstanding platform to see the Yellow Rails safely getting up and away. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.


Many thousands already on their wintering grounds

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

Just a small flock at Lake Charles

WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)

Four circled overhead repeatedly at White Lake

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)


NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

By the hundreds

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

Multiple stops

MOTTLED DUCK (GULF COAST) (Anas fulvigula maculosa)

Good looks Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning at this regional specialty


The enormous flocks in flight were mesmerizing

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)


Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

Roadside ditches provided some great looks

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)


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This handsome Clapper Rail was practically underfoot before anyone noticed it had climbed out of the roadside ditch. Photo by guide Owen Hilchey.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)

Quite a few

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)

Only a couple people got on this tiny dove with a long tail

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

A grand total of one individual on the wire at Rutherford Beach

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)


Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

KING RAIL (Rallus elegans)

We enjoyed a prolonged view of this large rail as it ran off ahead of the combine into the other field

CLAPPER RAIL (Rallus crepitans)

We almost didn't realize it was practically under foot!

VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)

It was exciting to see this gorgeous little rail in-hand

SORA (Porzana carolina)

Several were flushed from the rice fields

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

By the hundreds

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Also numerous in the marshes as we go closer to the coast on Sunday

YELLOW RAIL (Coturnicops noveboracensis)

Wow -- what an amazing experience and incredible species. We encountered about a dozen of these secretive beauties. Seeing several in-hand was the cherry on top. The intricate details of their plumage were remarkable.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Just a few of us spotted one in the distance as we drove away from the Whooping Cranes

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Our primary target when we visited longleaf pine stands was the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. A territorial pair emerged from their roost cavity just after sunrise and gave us excellent views. Photo by participant Susan Brauning.

WHOOPING CRANE (Grus americana)

Louisiana is working to establish a resident population of this majestic, endangered species. We were fortunate enough to come upon a pair with a juvenile and it was even more exciting when they started calling!

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

An elegant shorebird

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Many good looks in the flooded agriculture fields

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

Several along the coast

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Good looks in Lake Charles

PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus)

A highlight for many of us; we enjoyed excellent scope views at Rutherford Beach

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

All over the place

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)

Several giant, orange shorebirds were in a flooded field north of Jennings

STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)

We enjoyed a wonderful study of hundreds of foraging birds on Saturday; this bird fits somewhere in between dowitchers and yellowlegs when it comes to structure and behavior

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Seaside Sparrow was definitely a priority when we visited saltmarsh habitat down on the coast. This cooperative individual gave us a look exceeding all of our expectations! Photo by guide Owen Hilchey.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

Many at Rutherford Beach

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

Impressive numbers of this dumpy shorebird

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

The smallest of all shorebirds

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

In good numbers in several flooded fields

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

Wow - thousands in several locations

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

Our first was just hunkering down on a lawn

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

"Everything about a Greater is greater"

WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)

One seemed to be "owning" that puddle

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Multiple locations

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)


FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

Strange to only catch up to one of these; it was in flight on Saturday afternoon

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

Fewer than the Laughing Gulls

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Louisiana is working to re-establish a resident population of endangered Whooping Cranes. We were fortunate enough to catch up to this pair with their offspring. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

One juvenile at Cameron


A subadult was in flight in front of us, among many Laughing Gulls, at Cameron

GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)

Occupying conspicuously different habitat than the other terns

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

The largest tern in the world

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

Our first looks were at Lake Charles

ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)


Sulidae (Boobies and Gannets)

BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster)

Our views were distant but certainly diagnostic of three of these unexpected seabirds

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)


NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Nannopterum brasilianum)

Good looks Sunday morning near the coast

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

The state bird

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

AMERICAN BITTERN (Botaurus lentiginosus)

What a wonderful view of that bird in golden light as it flew across the marsh

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One of the secondary benefits of the rail banding is some sparrows, like this gorgeous LeConte's, get caught and banded as well. Photo by participant Tresa Moulton.

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

All over the place

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

"Ditch Heron"

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)


CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)

We got to see their behavior that helped them earn their name

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

Not spotted until Sunday morning

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Also a Sunday morning bird along the canals

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)

Every day

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

Many thousands winter in this region; undoubtedly there were some Glossy Ibis mixed in but we never took the time to tease one out

ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)

It is fun to say pink bird

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

Seen in flight as we drove south on Friday as we returned from the longleaf pine habitat

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

This vulture rocks!

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Is everybody on the Yellow-headed Blackbird? Hahaha. We spent a good chunk of time trying to get on that needle in a haystack. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.
Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Perched on poles

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

Plenty of habitat for this graceful flyer

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

A bird overhead while we made a comfort stop in Kisatchie National Forest

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

Most sightings occurred while we were in transit

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Three immatures and two adults were drawn to some out-of-view carcass Saturday afternoon

WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)

Another species that seems to be extending its range from Texas into Louisiana. Owen spotted this striking Buteo as we were driving back from the coast Sunday morning.

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)

A common roadside raptor in southern Louisiana

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Lots of birds wintering in the region

Strigidae (Owls)

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)

One bird was perched on a sign as we drove west on I-10 at dawn. It took off as we passed by and flew across the interstate between our vans

BARRED OWL (Strix varia)

It was really thrilling to hear a variety of calls and then eventually see it perched

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Most seen on Sunday

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We probably passed by a fair number of Cave Swallows while driving but this individual on the wire with Tree Swallows was the only one we got the scope on for good looks. Photo by participant Susan Brauning.
Picidae (Woodpeckers)


It was interesting to see this migrant species get driven off by the territorial Red-cockaded Woodpeckers

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)

Heard more than seen

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

A couple close birds on Saturday morning

RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Dryobates borealis)

One of the highlights of the tour. This longleaf pine habitat specialist is endangered. Our particularly early rise on Friday allowed us to be in their territory as they emerged from their night roost cavity. The pair proved cooperative for a good stretch.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

This dramatic woodpecker gave us a good flyby and a more distant perched view in Kisatchie National Forest

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)

We came across this scavenger in bunches on Sunday morning

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

On the wires on most of our drives

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

Several birds perched on utility poles; one was tearing apart a prey item

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)

Several Saturday morning

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Arguably one of the most beautiful sparrows; we savored incredible, close views of the interior race of Nelson's Sparrow. Photo by guide Owen Hilchey.

VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

Wonderful, prolonged views of several immature birds

GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)

This species seems to be expanding its range. Our Saturday morning was punctuated by a pair of these colorful, vocal flycatchers.


The last species to be added to our list... Owen spotted two birds on the wire as we headed back to Scott

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)


Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)

Up in Kisatchie; they seemed upset by my Barred Owl hooting

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

We passed a lot of crows in our travels; the ones we knew with certainty by voice were encountered when we headed NW on Friday morning

FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)

We had to find some classic habitat to hear their nasal call: fast food parking lots

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)

Multiple encounters

TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)

Just a few

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

Huge concentrations in several places

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Birds by day -- Cajun cuisine by night; we dined at regionally famous restaurants most nights. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Daily but not nearly as numerous as the Tree Swallows

CAVE SWALLOW (Petrochelidon fulva)

We savored excellent scope views of a bird on the wire among Tree Swallows

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

Multiple encounters


Several came into pishing at "awesome bridge"

Sittidae (Nuthatches)


A longleaf pine specialist

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

A few migrants Saturday morning

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

This skulker was more heard than seen

SEDGE WREN (Cistothorus stellaris)

We teased a few into the open in grassy areas near the coast but many flushed out of the rice fields as well

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

We had a few in cattails as expected but a bird in-hand was a pleasant surprise

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Mottled Duck was another regional specialty we saw very well. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Loud and distinctive calls and songs

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)


Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)


Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

Distinctive tail pumping behavior

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)


Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

We had a few flyovers but never got an on-the-ground look

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

BACHMAN'S SPARROW (Peucaea aestivalis)

We had no problem detecting this evasive species under the longleaf pines by its call notes and we had a few brief glimpses but that satisfying view proved elusive

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A vocal pair of Great Kiskadees was an exciting start to Saturday morning. Participant Tresa Moulton captured this image in early morning light.

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

In the longleaf pine habitat

LECONTE'S SPARROW (Ammospiza leconteii)

Such a gorgeous species! We were fortunate that the banders were set up on Sunday

SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammospiza maritima)

We couldn't have asked for a more cooperative individual (or two)

NELSON'S SPARROW (Ammospiza nelsoni)

This colorful skulker was a treat to see so well

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)


SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)

Their chip is more of a sip

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

The ultimate game of "Where's Waldo"

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

Daily but in low numbers

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)



Less than the previous species

COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)

A few flocks

BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major)

The round-headed, more coastal one

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The concentrations of waders, shorebirds and waterfowl on Saturday afternoon were mesmerizing. This flock was just a portion of the Northern Pintails and Blue-winged Teal and other dabblers we saw. Five Bald Eagles in the area kept the flocks on high alert. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

The more flat-headed, asphalt type

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

TENNESSEE WARBLER (Leiothlypis peregrina)

One bird was in that mixed flock

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)


COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

Good looks at the masked bandit

PALM WARBLER (Setophaga palmarum)

One was working the edge of the wetland at White Lake

PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)

In the longleaf pines

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)

A few here and many there


One in the mixed flock

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)

A couple "spitting" at White Lake


FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)

Spotted a few on our drives

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was the last species were encountered on the tour so it seems appropriate to have it be the final image of the triplist. Photo by participant Tresa Moulton.

MARSH RICE RAT (Oryzomys palustris)

One of the critters scurrying away from the combine

HISPID COTTON RAT (Sigmodon hispidus)

Numerous in the rice thanks to the drier than normal conditions

Totals for the tour: 134 bird taxa and 3 mammal taxa