Delta Dispatches: Bird and Fish in the Sportsman’s Paradise
On today’s show Chris Macaluso, Director of the Center for Marine Fisheries, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership joins the program to talk with Jacques & Simone about what they do and how the Mississippi River helps create Louisiana’s unique habitats and fisheries. Erik Johnson, Director of The Bird Conservation at Audubon Louisiana stops by to talk with Jacques & Simone about what birds can be found along Louisiana’s coast, Audubon’s Plants for Birds Program, the Christmas Bird Count and more!
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hello, welcome back to another week’s episode of Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, it’s people, wildlife and jobs and why restoring it matters. I’m Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: And I’m Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: How are you, Simone? It’s been a busy week.
Simone: Yes. Very busy. We were together a lot today.
Jacques: I know. We had some meetings, just a lot going on.
Simone: Chit-chatty, yes. Talking to a lot of our friends, one we’re going to have on the show in just a minute, but …
Jacques: That’s right. Yeah. Today’s episode’s a little bit of a hodge-podge, but it’s a good one because …
Simone: Fish and feathers.
Jacques: Fish and feathers. Yeah. Fish and birds, but not …
Simone: Gills and tails.
Jacques: Not fish and chips, but …
Simone: It sounds like dinner.
Jacques: I know. It smells like fried chicken in here, so I’m hungry, but anyway, that’s beside the point, but yeah. It’s been a good week. There was a really great piece that came out last night, following up on the Cubits Gap trip we did.
Simone: I agree. Yeah, it was so nice to see Alex out there, and he was talking about the information when you all went out to Cubits Gap and it was a really nice piece, a long piece, too, and really got to the heart of what we were talking about on the show that day.
Jacques: Yeah, John Snell did it, Fox 8 WVUE, so you can go online and check it out, a really good piece. Natalie Peyronnin from Environmental Defense Fund who’s another guest was in it, and really shows what happens when you let the Mississippi River do its job in building land.
Simone: My favorite part was they had a hard time taking the core sample, and then when they took it out it made that slurpy noise.
Jacques: Oh, yeah. A lot of good visuals.
Simone: That’s such a great visual, yeah. I don’t know if we talked about this last week, but you all had that beautiful piece in Audubon. It was amazing. It was such a nice piece.
Jacques: Oh, thank you. Yeah, so this is piece that was in Audubon Magazine, which is a national magazine put out by the National Audubon Society, but it really focused on the amazing job that the state of Louisiana, the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority and others are doing in terms of making progress on its land loss crisis, really talking about the Caminada Headland Restoration Project.
Simone: Oh, the pictures were beautiful. They had a great video, and Erik Johnson’s going to be on our show as our second guest.
Jacques: He is. We’re going to ask him all about it.
Simone: He’s a repeat offender as well. Well, we are very happy to have a first time guest, Chris Macaluso is going to join us. We were lucky enough to be with Chris earlier today. Chris … I’ve known Chris the entire time I’ve worked at Restore or Retreat.
Simone: I’ve known him through a couple of different lives, but it’s great to have him on the show, so welcome to the show, Chris.
Chris: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
Simone: So, Chris is the director for the Center for Marine Fisheries at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He’s an avid sportsman, we’re going to talk about that, who enjoys spending as much time as possible fishing for bass, speckled trout, redfish. We always ask the question like what’s your favorite fish or you know, we ask this silly question. We ask the bird people what’s your favorite bird and they always say the last bird I saw, so what’s your favorite fish?
Chris: I mean, would it be offensive to say the last bird I killed? My favorite fish, I would say its speckled trout. I’ve caught a lot of fish, a lot of different fish. I like catching red snapper. I don’t like talking about them all that much, but I really like catching speckled trout, especially as we move into the fall. The fishing for trout just gets outstanding in the fall, and it’s gotten a lot better in some of the areas that have benefited from coastal restoration projects, but I really like to fish for trout.
Simone: Yeah, it’s a good time of year for you to get to work outside, right? So, I said what you did and where you do it, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. You literally grew up outside, right? And now you luckily get to work outside a lot, too, right? So tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Chris: Sure, yeah. I am a lifelong resident of Baton Rouge.
Simone: Go Bears.
Chris: Yeah, I was a Kappa Chi graduate, along with Congressman Garret Graves. He’s a little bit older than me. I won’t say how much older, but …
Simone: We’ll tell high school stories later.
Chris: Right. Exactly, but we, you know, my dad has been an outdoors writer.
Simone: Joe Macaluso. You’ve read his stories, I’m sure.
Chris: Yeah, he has covered hunting and fishing in Louisiana and baseball and football and all kinds of stuff, so we were either in the marsh or in the woods or fishing at Grand Isle or in a ballpark, so I had a very entertaining childhood.
Simone: That’s right. Y’all are big baseball people, too, right?
Simone: You used to do LSU baseball, right?
Chris: Yeah. I was the official scorer for about ten years, and I worked in the athletic department all throughout college, and I also covered football and did stats with basketball, but I kind of put all that behind me about a decade ago and started focusing mainly just on outdoor stuff and working on coastal restoration issues and fisheries issues and things like that, and started a family and all those things that people do when they decide it’s time to grow up, so yeah.
I’ve seen a lot of things happen in Louisiana. I’ve had the opportunity to hunt and fish from one end of the state to the other, and it’s been a real eye-opening experience. Of course, we’ve had, like anybody who’s spent a lot of time in the marsh along our coast in the last 40, 50, 60 years, I’ve seen a lot more land lost than I have seen that we’ve gotten back, so it’s good to see that there are some projects out there that are accomplishing some significant things, that we’re putting some marsh back together, that we’re focusing on some critical land masses that are important to keeping the wetlands intact and that we’re building back barrier islands.
You guys have talked about the Caminada Headlands Project. I grew up fishing Elmer’s Island as a kid three or four times a summer, and it’s really nice to see those kinds of investments being made in putting those things back together, having that beach be intact and seeing the islands that we fished on being rebuilt, and of course, it’s not enough. It never is when you’re dealing with as much land loss as we’ve seen, but there are some very earnest efforts being made to save what we have and help to restore this ecosystem.
Jacques: And Chris, this might sound like an obvious question for you, but for others that are listening, if you’re a sportsman, a woman, a hunter, angler, why should you care about coastal restoration? We had the Vanishing Paradise Team on a few weeks ago and asked them the same question but would love to hear from you as well.
Chris: Well, you have to. Louisiana is such a unique habitat. It’s such an amazing fishery, diverse fishery, incredibly productive. I mean, I would say in the lower 48 states, I don’t know that there’s a more productive fishery than coastal Louisiana, and it all goes back to the Mississippi River. The river, the Mississippi, the Atchafalaya have fed so much nutrients, built such a wonderful habitat for juvenile fish and forage fish and just the kind of fish that we like to pursue, bass, redfish, speckled trout, flounder, drum, and then of course the offshore species all benefit from the productive capabilities of our coastal wetlands here. And then, if you’re a water fowl hunter, you got to love being in Louisiana. I mean, we’ve got a diverse habitat here for water fowl, anything from flooded timber to swamp to rice fields and then down into our coastal wetlands, which have historically been one of the most critical over-wintering grounds for water fowl in the world.
And so, I mean, it’s called sportsman’s paradise for a reason. We have tremendous opportunities here to hunt and fish, but those things are supported by the habitat, and if we don’t have the habitat, if we don’t have the grass beds and the marshes and the ponds and the bayous and all of those things that help support the food chain and help support the juvenile fish and all the way up through their life cycles, without those things we just don’t have the fishery and the hunting opportunities that we’ve grown used to here.
Jacques: Yeah, and we’re about to head into a break, but we do want to dive into that a little bit more and ask about how the river helps with the fisheries habitat and what you’ve seen firsthand in your experience. I have to ask a question. It might be a little difficult, and you may not want to answer it for other reasons, you don’t want to give away your secrets.
Chris: Take the fifth.
Jacques: But what is your favorite spot to fish in Louisiana?
Chris: You know, it was Lake Pelto in Terrebonne parish for the longest time, and I still love going down there, but over the last decade it’s shifted more towards the Lake Pontchartrain area, and I really love that area, what they call the Golden Triangle, especially in the last five years as the salinities have gone down in that area.
Jacques: Since they closed MRGO.
Simone: Don’t give all your secrets away.
Chris: Because the trout fishing there is incredible in the fall and the winter, the bass fishing there …
Simone: We’re going to cut you off. Don’t give your spot away.
Jacques: All right. We’re going to talk more about it after the break. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Simone Maloz. We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, and online through our podcast.
Jacques: And the Twitter. Twitter’s a great tool.
Simone: C. Mack, like I was mentioning earlier, I’ve known you for a long time. One of my favorite work stories is that we went out to Wax Lake. We took a group out to Wax Lake and Chris brought his own boat, and we had a ton of people with us. We had media, we had science, we had experts with us, and we had this really nice story in Sass Picayune and they had this super nice pictorial spread, and there is a picture of C. Mack fishing in the back of the picture. We went out and he went out, and he was like “I just couldn’t not throw my line in the water.” That was one of my favorite stories. So C. Mack, why, if we talk about Wax Lake, I mean, that’s another great productive area of the state, too, right?
Chris: It’s an amazingly productive water fowl.
Simone: Are you doing to defend yourself? That is a true story, correct?
Chris: Well, it is a true story, and I was in my own boat. I had my own fishing rods in there.
Simone: Awesome. It was so awesome, though. They’re like “Okay, this is too nice not to fish here,” and that was the story we wanted to tell, so Wax Lake, sorry. I cut you off. Very productive. Tons of birds, right?
Chris: So Wax Lake, yeah. Wax Lake, especially for duck hunting, it’s just a great over-wintering ground, and if you like bird watching, you got to go to Wax Lake. I mean, it’s just loaded with animals. There’s a lot of bald eagles down there.
Simone: Yeah, and you were saying about the GPS story. Tell that story again. I like that story, too, about the GPS.
Chris: Sure. For those who aren’t familiar with Wax Lake, obviously it’s one of the best accidents that’s ever happened in Louisiana. I don’t think anybody, when that channel was dug out of the Atchafalaya River, anticipated it building as much land as it has, but when you go down the original cut, the original what they call Calumet cut, which is the Wax Lake Outlet, you get to a point when you get out to Atchafalaya Bay where on your GPS, if you’re using the standard card that comes with the GPS, it shows that you’re in open water and in reality when you look out in front of you, there’s like 8 or 10 miles of land in front of you.
Chris: Right. And it’s just impressive.
Simone: Yeah, that same trip we went out and there’s the infamous well there that used to be only accessible by boat, and now it’s landlocked and so they had the opposite challenge that we face in so many of the other stories that we tell is okay, how do you get to this thing now. It’s surrounded by land, and last favorite story is that you’re like “Oh, yeah, you see that big open body of water right there? That’s about two feet deep right there, so can’t run your boat there,” so it’s a really, really productive area, and we talk a lot about Mardi Gras Pass, too. Do you want to talk about that part of the world, too?
Chris: Yeah, I’ve spent a good bit of time on the east side of the river in the last five to ten years. When I grew up, I fished mainly around the Grand Isle and Cocodrie area but we have been spending a lot more time at Delacroix and down towards Buras and just learning as many different areas of the state as we can. Mardi Gras Pass is an interesting place. I started going, you know, I have fished down there off and on for the last 20 or so years, but right after Mardi Gras Pass opened and I want to say it was about 2014, I went down there bass fishing with a friend of mine and we noticed that a lot of the canals had started silting in, and we started to see some mudflats popping up in the back levee canal, and of course, knowing what we know, it was all sediment deposits coming out of the river as it had blown that hole in the natural levee and started moving the water into the marsh in that area.
Just again, an amazing number of ducks and other bird life in that area, but one thing that kind of stood out to me was that we had heard some negative things about the muddy water and about the cold water and turning the fish off, and I wound up talking to a couple of local guys who said that they fish there pretty much every day, even when the river was high, and what they were doing was going back into the ponds that were kind of off the main channels and finding these big grass flats, submerged grass, and the water was very, very clear and they said that they were catching just tons of bass and redfish, that it was easy fishing and that’s some of the things that we found down there as well. I mean, the habitat has changed substantially in that area. Any time you introduce fresh water into those areas where you haven’t had it before, you’re going to see changes in salinity, you’re going to see differences in fisheries, you’re going to see some more seasonal fisheries in terms of your saltwater fish, but what stands out to me the most is just how much the habitat is improved …
Simone: And adapted, right? Yeah.
Chris: It’s adapted but it’s improved in terms of water quality, the amount of submerged grass that’s in that area. A lot of people think that when you introduce river water into areas, all you get is dirty water. Well, that’s not true. Once the grass beds have had a chance to establish themselves, the water actually becomes very clear, almost unnaturally clear for Louisiana in some spots, and it’s just a fascinating place to fish. And really, what happens when you have fresh water interaction in those areas, you see real diversity increase in the forage base, so you’ll catch redfish that are eating bluegill which are freshwater fish. You see them that have been eating crawfish. Speckled trout will eat bluegill, they’ll eat freshwater shad. The fish grow faster, they get fatter quicker in those areas because there’s just so much food that’s living in those grass beds and living in that zone where the freshwater is meeting the saltwater. I think it’s a fascinating place to fish. I love fishing these areas where you can catch freshwater and saltwater fish right next to each other, and I just really like that area.
Jacques: And I know we’re hoping to go out soon and kind of scope it out ourselves, but Chris, I mean, it reminds me of a blog I read recently about a fisherman who was initially anti-sediment diversion because it’s kind of what he heard and his opinion but then actually being out there and seeing areas where the river had influence, he said that those were the best areas to fish and those were the areas that are gaining land, right? So, can you talk a little bit about sediment diversions and also why they’re important to maintaining that full bounty of an estuary from freshwater to saltwater that Louisiana has been known for so long?
Chris: Well, I think it’s always important to kind of take a step back and kind of look at the history of south Louisiana, in real life, that all of those marshes and swamps have been created by the Mississippi River some way, shape or form, so really what we’re trying to do when you talk about diversions is just bring the river back into areas where it has already been. The reason why we have such an amazingly productive and diverse fishery in Louisiana is because of the river, not in spite of it. The river created the marsh. It’s the one that put the sediment, that put the nutrients and the grasses into that system in the first place, and once it was cut off, what was sustaining the fishery is leeching the nutrients and leeching the life out of the marsh, and that’s what’s been sustaining the fishery. So now, that when you start reintroducing the river back into those areas, you’re going to see some changes obviously because the salinities are going to change. You’re going to see different plants, different animals starting to inhabit those areas, but what you’re doing again is putting more nutrient back into the system to support life.
You’re putting food and all of the microorganisms that are necessary in the habitat that is necessary to have healthy fisheries and diverse fisheries. You’re returning that back to the system. So, we’re going to have to adapt. I read that very same blog that you mentioned, and the guy talked about areas that he had fished for the longest time that were basically bare bottom or had shell bottom or oyster shell bottom, and they had fish in them. Well now you go into those areas and there are submerged grass in there because the salinities have come down, but the fishing has gotten better. You just have to change the way you fish them.
Simone: And Louisiana’s …
Jacques: He has his plan. Well, and if Louisianans, we know how to adapt, right?
Simone: Exactly. That’s what I was going to say. Louisianans sure do know how to adapt. So, C. Mack, we have to let you go. You are such a great guest. We will ask you back on this show.
Jacques: And a great advocate for coastal Louisiana.
Simone: Just a great advocate. We are lucky to have you. Last question. Can the Saints and LSU pull off a winning weekend? Or are we going to have to wait for the Nicholls Colonels to do that?
Chris: Well, LSU better win. They’re playing Troy and I think the Saints will win, and I think everybody needs to kind of take a step back from the ledge. I don’t think it’s going to be as bad this season as everybody thinks.
Simone: All right.
Jacques: Calm down, people. It’s still early.
Simone: Who dat. Go Tigers. Thank you C. Mack.
Jacques: Thanks, Chris.
Chris: All right. Y’all take care.
Simone: We’ll be back after the break. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: And this is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, online through the podcasts. You can easily find past episodes on www.deltadispatches.org.
Jacques: And we are excited to have our next guest who I believe is calling in. We have Dr. Erik Johnson.
Simone: Repeat guest.
Jacques: Repeat guest. Erik, we were just saying that we like our repeats, so it’s a good sign that you’re back.
Erik: Well, I appreciate it. I like being a repeat.
Simone: Not everybody gets asked back, so don’t tell them.
Jacques: So Erik, I know you’ve been busy and we’ve had a really great story. We were mentioning it earlier on the show come out in Audubon Magazine.
Simone: Yeah, I’m going to cut Jacques off here. Erik, the piece in Audubon Magazine was beautiful. I loved the pictures. I loved the video. If you noticed in part of the video, Erik was talking and there was a rainbow behind him, too, and so I just thought, I was like “Oh, Jacques must have paid extra for the rainbow.”
Jacques: I asked for a favor.
Simone: It was a beautiful story. It looked beautiful, but it was in one of my favorite places in Caminada and so, tell us a little bit about that article.
Erik: Yeah, not all field work involves rainbows. It tends to be a little bit messier than that. No, I agree. They did a fantastic job. Justin Noble was the writer and is just excellent. We’ve worked with him before, and the editors at Audubon Magazine did a great job. So, yeah, I mean, the story was about sort of the bigger picture of barrier islands restoration and the importance of barrier islands to coastal Louisiana, really serving as that first line of defense for helping our coastal infrastructure, both human communities and the wetlands, but also barrier islands are a fantastic place for birds. Dozens of different species of birds nest on these barrier islands each summer, and some of the work that we do was also highlighted in this article, where we monitor and we steward the nesting sites of least terns and Wilson’s plovers which are declining and threatened species that are found in Louisiana.
Jacques: And the video has a really beautiful image of you banding a least tern, is that correct?
Simone: Yeah, I thought that video, I think the best thing about the video was that it showed so much about the calls and how you catch them and how you protect them, and so it was fascinating, and I kind of know what you do, but I mean, it was even a next level kind of cool. So, yeah. Tell us about some of the things that they featured that y’all were banding, right? And doing some things like that.
Erik: Yeah, so the banding work helps us keep track of which birds are which, which ultimately at the end of the year we want to figure out how these birds did. So, we need to know which individuals are which so we can figure out their breeding productivity. We band the chicks so we can watch them grow up and figure out which ones are surviving, and if they’re not, understand why that may be happening, and so we can adaptively manage these populations as we go forward. So, we have a trained biologist to help us do the banding work that we hire every summer, but we also bring volunteers out to help us do this work. So volunteers are always welcome to join us when we’re out there, either surveying or banding or just talking to the public about why we do this work. We obviously work very closely with the communities there in Grand Isle and also with the land managers at Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, so it’s a big team effort that really makes this work happen, and we definitely appreciate all the support of our partners.
Jacques: Yeah, and Erik, I mean, so if folks are interested in volunteering for a similar event, you can go to la.audubon.org and sign up.
Simone: You do a Christmas Bird Count? Is that right? That’s a big deal.
Jacques: Well, that’s common, yeah. But I want to ask with Erik, but tell us a little bit about the partners that help with the work out there in Caminada and elsewhere.
Erik: Yeah, so I mean our projects really began right after the oil spill. There was a lot of chaos during the oil spill about the cleanup efforts and nobody really knew where the birds were nesting, so in 2011 we started partnering with the AmErikan Bird Conservancy to attract some funding and hire some technicians to help us figure out and answer those questions about where the birds are and which populations need that kind of protection. So AmErikan Bird Conservancy has been a great partner through the years with that, and like I mentioned we work closely with Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, both on Elmer’s Island and the Grand Isle area, but also in southwest Louisiana in Cameron parish.
Simone: That should have been our theme was Elmer’s Island because Chris was talking about that, too, how much he loves that space.
Jacques: Well, it’s certainly a showpiece, a masterpiece of what has been done so far with coastal restoration and the state is just getting started, also funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, so we’ll mention that.
Erik: Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, this was a massive project that went in two phases, this restoration project. The first phase involved CF funding and the second phase involved NIFA funding through the BP criminal penalties. So it was over 200 million dollar project to revitalize this 14 mile barrier headland that protects the coastal infrastructure of Port Fourchon, a major oil and gas port as well as the community of Grand Isle as well as a lot of other communities throughout Barataria Bay and the city of New Orleans.
Simone: Erik, I was amazed by how y’all marry technology to your work as well to … That, and you showed the piece, so can you talk about that a little bit, too?
Erik: Which part? The bow net?
Simone: Yeah, well, the bow net was actually very cool, but I also saw where y’all had like a I guess, maybe Lindsay did that for you all, but it’s like y’all had all the points along the shoreline, along Caminada, it just looked like a kind of a lot of things happening and then y’all zeroed in on it, and you’re like “That’s everywhere where we found a nest.”
Erik: Yeah, no that, we train our technicians to do that work. We enter all the data every single day into an Excel spreadsheet which we can then convert …
Simone: And you use your phones, right?
Erik: We use our phones. We can put all the GPS points in there, so we know in a huge amount of detail what’s going on out there.
Jacques: Another part of Caminada and the story there is that it has helped in terms of nesting season. I mean, tropical storm Cindy hit at the height of nesting season and because the beach had been restored some of the nests survived whereas in other places they didn’t. Is that correct?
Erik: Yeah. That is. I mean, this was, since we started monitoring in 2011, this was the worst year in coastal Louisiana for beach nesting birds. The entire state, the entire shoreline went underwater in late May actually. We had a no name storm come and it wiped out all of the first nests, and so all those birds were able to re-nest and they re-nested in May, but there just wasn’t enough time in that late April storm and tropical storm Cindy to successfully raise their chicks, so had tropical storm Cindy been a little bit later, more chicks would have survived, but certainly Caminada Headland, because it was built so high, was the one place in coastal Louisiana where birds were able to successfully nest.
Simone: Yeah, that’s a good story.
Jacques: So, getting back to I guess the fish and birds connection, Erik. We just had Chris Macaluso on, and he was talking about the Atchafalaya Basin as well as like areas like Mardi Gras Pass where there’s influence from the river, and he said the birding there is incredible. I mean, he also the fishing in some ways, too, so for birds why are they so drawn to those areas? Is it because of the fish or are there other areas? And why is maintaining that kind of balance of habitat important to a variety of bird species?
Erik: Yeah. Well, I mean, birds are just such a great indicator of the health of the overall system, so where fish are thriving, birds are thriving and vice versa. So they tell the story from above the water and fish tell the same story from below the water, but yeah. There’s a lot of other birds in the bottomland hardwood swamps and the cypress tupelo swamps that don’t feed on fish. They eat insects and fruits and other things like that, and in fact, our bottom on hardwood forests in Louisiana support 25 percent of the world population of a little yellow songbird called a Prothonotary Warbler we really just borrow for a few months out of the year, and then they migrate to Central and South AmErika for eight months out of the year, and so these forests are just full of birds that kind of do similar things like that. All these different kinds of warblers, and then it provides habitat for birds that come down from the north in our winter, so rusty blackbirds have really, declining species depends on these bottomland hardwood forests. And yeah, I mean, coastal Louisiana is just full of a diversity of habitats. Almost 300 species of birds can be found in south Louisiana.
Simone: So Erik, I want to talk about storms a little bit more. You talk about birds and you talk about forests and things like that. So, we had a really difficult time, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, all over the Caribbean, those forests and those trees serve as kind of green infrastructure and protection for them, right? And there’s other things that protect birds and you know what I’m saying? Not just barrier islands where they can lay their nests, but places where they can hide out and ride out storms, right?
Erik: Yeah, so when those, that triple threat of those three hurricanes were coming through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, birds are going through their fall migration at that time, and songbirds are going to hunker down in these sheltered forests and the cheniers and things like that and try to ride out the storm. Sea birds can get blown in from off the gulf.
Simone: Oh, wow.
Erik: It’s actually, if it’s safe to do so, birders, they love to go chase birds blown in off shore.
Jacques: I think one of our former guests, David Muth may have done that as well.
Simone: Erik, can you hang on with us throughout the break? We want to talk to you a little bit more.
Simone: Okay, thanks.
Jacques: All right. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM. We will be back after the break.
Jacques: Hello. Welcome back to Delta Dispatches.
Simone: Jacques for the birds. Jacques is for the birds. He is for Popeye’s. He’s for the chicken in the box.
Jacques: Erik, I will say that you are the first time on Delta Dispatches history that we have changed the song and we did it just for you.
Simone: I know. Flush the format.
Jacques: It’s Miranda Lambert. For the Birds. Look it up.
Simone: Jacques was singing during the break, too, while I was breaking my headphones, so sorry about that.
Jacques: Anyway, Erik, so Erik is definitely for the birds, but Erik, tell us about the birds. Is it fall migration yet?
Erik: Yeah. We’re in the peak of migration right now. A lot of birds that we call neo-tropical migrants are coming through the region so these are birds that are wintering to our south in the tropics in Central and South AmErika, so those, it’s kind of the peak of migration for those birds, and over the next few weeks we’ll sort of see this transition to other kinds of species that’ll be coming through the region and those birds are mostly going to be wintering with us, so things like waterfowl and geese are going to start to come in, although blue-winged teal are already coming through now, but also lots of other songbirds, little kinglets and hermit thrushes, different kinds of little songbirds like that.
Simone: So some stop and stay and some stop and go.
Erik: That’s right.
Simone: Yeah. I love that. It’s so fascinating.
Erik: And for some other birds, this is as far as north as they get.
Simone: That’s funny.
Jacques: We’re a special place. So, October first is right around the corner, which means Christmas is not far after, which means the Christmas Bird Count is underway, or almost underway. So Erik, tell everyone about the Christmas Bird Count and how they can get involved this year.
Erik: Sure. Yeah, so the Christmas Bird Count takes place every year. It’s the oldest running citizen science project in the world, dates all the way back to 1900, and there are 29 count circles across Louisiana.
Simone: Oh, wow.
Erik: It’ll get run between December 14th and January.
Simone: Y’all are busy little birds.
Erik: Yeah, so people all over the state are going to count birds at that time.
Simone: Jacques, do you go?
Jacques: I have been, yeah.
Erik: What was the bird that you saw?
Jacques: Oh, my God. Erik, you’re going to make me go back to my list. I don’t know.
Simone: I love it. Rural AmErika.
Jacques: I don’t know, Erik. I’ll have to go back to my list and look it up, but I’m going to do it this year, and I will definitely get a better list I hope this time.
Simone: Well, tell us actually, why don’t you just tell us about it? How does that happen?
Erik: Yeah, so each count gets run over the course of the day, and anywhere from a handful to dozens of volunteers will go out and just count birds. Last year, some of the top ranking counts in the country come from Louisiana, so a couple of our counts broke 150 species and some of the best counts in the country reach somewhere in the order of 180.
Simone: Oh, wow.
Erik: Louisiana’s a great place, real diverse place for seeing birds in the winter.
Simone: And people can help you do that, right? Do they have to be trained?
Erik: Yeah, I mean, some level of bird identification is definitely helpful, but people can count from their feeders, so people in Baton Rouge or eastern New Orleans or Lake Charles, Lafayette, there are count circles all over the state that people can participate in, so if you go to christmasbirdcount.org, you can find all of the information of where the count circles are, who you need to contact to get involved in one of those counts and things like that.
Jacques: I like counting from my feeder. It’s convenient.
Erik: Yeah, when you got a coffee in your hand, and …
Jacques: Yeah, I can just, that’s what I do every morning. I just have my coffee and toast.
Simone: You can plant things that attract … our neighbor loves butterflies and so, but that’s the thing, right? That you can plant …
Jacques: Absolutely. So we have a whole program for native plants, right? And a lot of people do it for butterflies as well as for birds.
Simone: Are they counted and not birds, obviously, but are they, because they have wings, do you all like them, too?
Erik: We love butterflies.
Jacques: … we love butterflies. Yeah, there, take it from the bird guy. But yes, so Erik, tell us about the native plants and I mean, I know it’s a good time to plant them because fall’s the season of change and that sort of thing, and there’s actually some plant sales, so make sure to go out and get your native plants.
Erik: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so Audubon has a program called Plants for Birds. So if you Google Plants for Birds and Audubon, you will find this online database that has this enormous amount of information. So if you type in your zip code, it’ll give you a whole list of plants that are perfect for attracting birds and which kind of birds they’re going to attract.
Jacques: And I mean, it works because like you were saying, we’ve planted a lot in our yard and I mean, certainly we got a lot of butterflies but a lot of birds, and the feeders help, too, so it’s great to have that kind of backyard bird experience as we like to call it.
Simone: Yeah, that’s something that you could do, right? That’s the entry drug for birds.
Jacques: It’s a great education and way to connect directly with, and getting your kids to see that.
Simone: I was thinking bird bingo. If y’all did a bird bingo, Erik, Ben and Penny would come out and count some birds.
Erik: We should set that up.
Jacques: So Erik, I don’t know if you saw this photo, but there was a photo circulating around on Facebook yesterday and it showed some whooping cranes headed down on a private jet.
Erik: Yeah. They get the posh treatment. They’re so rare that they get first class.
Simone: Really? So, tell us about that. You have to, I’ve seen the pictures where people dress up like the birds, right? To handle them, right? So tell us a little bit more about their first class treatment.
Erik: Yeah, so there’s only about 600 whooping cranes left in the whole world. They’re extremely endangered. They almost went extinct, and in fact, they completely disappeared from Louisiana back in 1950. It was the last whooping crane, and so the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have been working with a lot of federal and local partners to bring the bird back to Louisiana. So, there are institutions around the country that will hatch eggs from captive reared birds and grow the chicks up in captivity, and then they fly those chicks to different reintroduction programs, and Louisiana is the newest one where they’re bringing the chicks down to south Louisiana, to the Rockefeller Refuge White Lake Preserve, and they’re releasing them and monitoring them very closely. They have biologists that study them. They dress up like the birds and help feed them, and then when the birds get old enough, they fly away and they start to disperse throughout the landscape and they take four to five years before they can actually lay their first egg.
Erik: So it takes a long time to grow up for a bird, and so it’s a really slow life cycle, and just last year the first chick was hatched. Yeah, it was the first one since 1939.
Jacques: And that’s our friend Southwings that helped with that effort, so they fly the birds down.
Simone: Oh, that’s cool. Yeah, we had Meredith and them on before. That’s awesome. We’ll have to have them back, too.
Jacques: Yeah, so they’re a great organization. So Erik, we’re about out of time, but I know you have a book coming out soon.
Simone: In time for Christmas?
Jacques: What is it and when can we get copy?
Erik: Yeah. You know that feeling when you open a book and you can feel yourself starting to fall asleep? This book will offer that.
Simone: Aw, get out. I doubt that. We love talking to you, so if it’s half as interesting …
Erik: It’s more like a textbook. It’s a book about bird molts and how to use bird molt to age birds.
Simone: Are there pictures?
Erik: Yeah, lots of pictures.
Erik: Over 1,000 pictures of 186 different species from the Amazon forest.
Jacques: That sounds beautiful.
Erik: Yeah, I did my PhD work down there and studied these birds and figured out how to use molt patterns to age them.
Simone: So when is that coming out?
Erik: So, it’s supposed to hit the streets the week of October 16th.
Simone: Okay, and where can you find it?
Erik: You can find it on CRC Press. I’m not entirely sure exactly what the website is, but …
Simone: We’ll have you back. We’ll have you back.
Jacques: Yeah, and what’s the title?
Erik: It’s called The Life History of Amazonian Birds Molt and Aging Patterns.
Jacques: Awesome. By Dr. Erik Johnson.
Simone: I love it.
Jacques: Well, Erik, thank you again. It’s always a pleasure.
Simone: Yeah, I always learn something.
Jacques: Yeah, and we look forward to hearing more and as the Christmas Bird Count gets underway, and there are other opportunities to get involved, of course, go to la.audubon.org.
Simone: And let’s talk more about the book, yeah, when that time comes, so Jacques, anything for the rest of this week or coming up that we want to talk about before we have to go?
Jacques: Yeah, I mean, we’re following up on the show that we had last week.
Simone: Some volunteer opportunities?
Jacques: Yeah, there are some volunteer opportunities coming up. Our partners at Lake Ponchartrain Basin Foundation are doing 10,000 Trees for Louisiana at Carnarvon and that’s Wednesday the 4th, 9 to 4 PM, so go to saveourlake.org or crcl.org, they’re partnering on that one. And also, there’s an oyster shell bagging event on this Saturday.
Simone: Oh, okay.
Jacques: Nine to one in Buras, so you can go to crcl.org to find more. That’s about it, and then …
Simone: Another great show.
Jacques: Keeping our fingers crossed for LSU and the Saints, right?
Simone: Yeah, yeah. We’ll have another good show already in the works for next week, too.
Jacques: Next week we’re getting into some of the finance, the world of finance, but it’ll be a good one.
Simone: Very cool. All right. Thank you, Jacques.
Jacques: Thank you. Thanks for listening. Delta Dispatches WGSO 990 AM, deltadispatches.org.