Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cajun country combine

After a week of wandering through gorgeous fall color and not finding new birds, John and I arrived in Scott, LA (Cajun country) for a Field Guides tour with Dan Lane. John wanted to go on the first of Dan's two tours even though it did not have room for me. Lucky for me, a few of the participants were going to be late arriving, so Friday, November 2nd, I got to join in on the rice harvest. Before we got to the rice field, Dan found John a Swamp Sparrow, number 666 on his big year list!

Yellow Rails migrate south and winter along the Gulf coast. The miles and miles of rice fields are a rail magnet. Then comes the harvest. The huge combines cut the rice like giant lawn mowers, suck in the stalks, separate the rice heads and spit out the chaff. Only a few people could ride on the combine at a time. They needed dust masks and ear plugs. The rest of us walked around on the cut part of the field watching for rails to pop out ahead of the combine. The ground was mostly dry, but you still had to avoid wet holes amongst the ruts. A few of us took some hard sprawls.

John scared up a Yellow Rail out of the cut stuff on our first walk 667! To identify the Yellow Rail you have to see the white on the trailing edge of the wing. The rail pops up, flies out sideways to the already cut area, drops down and disappears. The cut stuff is less than a foot high. The combine scares up Virginia Rails and Soras too. They look dark brown all over. Lots of little brown jobbies scare up too.

When I rode on the combine, I got to be in the cab with the farmer. Great view and no dust! I saw all three species of rails pop out.

After my ride, the group got serious about taking pictures. To do that, we had to mark the spot where a rail flew to after it popped out. We ran over there en masse. We surrounded the spot and walked towards the center. Invariably, the rail would pop up unexpectedly and fly to another spot. We would run and repeat until the rail escaped to the edge of the field and tall grasses. Even though we were sure where the rail landed, it would slip unseen through the stubble and pop up from under someone's foot well away from where we thought it was. John did get some pictures of a Yellow Rail in flight. As far as we could tell, no birds were physically harmed, though they all probably had some nasty nightmares last night.

Next to where we had parked, Dan called out a Sedge Wren 668! 

I slept like a log! John messed up setting the alarm, but we both woke up at 6:30 AM anyway. The tour is going to Cameron County today. I am doing laundry. I bought a boudin sausage for my supper.

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