Avery Island

Today is Mother’s Day, and I told my family that I wanted to visit Avery Island. I hadn’t been since the 8th grade on our Louisiana History Tour. Avery Island is in Iberia Parish and home to Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco Factory. It’s a great tourist stop for anyone visiting Southern Louisiana. I also knew that I could add a few birds to my 2021 list, which was exciting!

The Jungle Gardens can be a driving or walking tour. It is easy to drive and stop at different sights along the way. We saw lots of the nature of Louisiana, including mossy oak trees, egrets, and lots of alligators!

My daughter got me binoculars for Mother’s Day, allowing me to up my bird watching game.

Avery Island was developed by E.A. McIlhenny, who also started the Tabasco company. He received this 900 year old Buddha statue as a gift.

Bird City is an awesome roosting spot for egrets. I saw Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Anhingas.

Next, we went to the Tabasco factory, where the famous hot sauce is made. It consists of a self-guided tour showing different parts of the process. We also had lunch at the on-site restaurant.

Avery Island is actually a salt dome. The topography is very unique in southern Louisiana, including hills and is well above sea level.

After leaving Avery Island, we had a brief stop at another salt dome, Jefferson Island. We did not visit all of Rip Van Winkle Gardens, but did stop to see the peacocks and peahens.

Our last stop was at Rips Rookery, where I risked my life by walking along the water with large alligators swimming in order to try and get pictures of the roseate spoonbills that I could see in the distance. My phone couldn’t zoom very well to get good pictures, but my husband’s was a bit better.

Birds on the Brain

Yesterday, my husband called me a birdbrain. He really meant that I always have birds on the brain, which is true. 2021 has been the year of birds for me. It all started last summer when we moved into our new house. Cardinals nested in one of the small trees in my backyard, and I became obsessed. I watched them closely throughout the whole process. Honestly, I’ve never really lived somewhere with a lot of trees before. My current neighborhood is a lot greener than all of my former homes.

So I watched my cardinals and at the beginning of this year (2021), I hung up a bird feeder. I started to notice different birds and about halfway through January, I decided that one of my goals for this year was going to be to learn about birds and identify as many different species as possible. I downloaded the Merlin bird identification app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and went to work.

Everywhere I have gone for the past four months, I look for birds. I pay greater attention to all of the birds that live around us every day. I use my app to identify the birds and read about them. I’m keeping a running list of birds that I have seen in 2021. We are four months in and I have already identified 27 different birds! Here is my list, so far, in the order that I first spotted them:

  • Northern cardinals
  • Northern mockingbirds
  • Song sparrows
  • American robins
  • Carolina chickadees
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Great blue herons
  • Double crested cormorants
  • Mourning doves
  • Canada geese
  • European starlings
  • Muscovy ducks
  • Mallard ducks
  • Eastern bluebirds
  • American crows
  • House sparrows
  • Blue jays
  • Snow geese
  • Great egrets
  • American coots
  • Eastern kingbirds
  • Red winged blackbirds
  • Brown pelicans
  • Rock pigeons
  • Gray catbirds
  • House finches
  • Mississippi kites

That’s a lot of birds! And to further solidify my crazy bird lady self, I have organized any pictures I take of them into folders on my computer. Granted, it is hard to get good pictures of birds, so many are blurry or far away, but I’m only counting birds on my list if I can at least get some sort of picture to aid me in identification. It’s possible that I have a mis-identification or two, as I’m no expert. But I think most of them are spot on.

Mockingbirds are the most common visitor to my feeders (along with the cardinals). This one even came the day we had an ice storm.
Carolina chickadee
Cedar waxwing at the Hilltop Arboretum
My pictures are all blurry, but the flock of double crested cormorants by the lake at Blue Cross was super fun to watch. They swim like ducks and then take off and fly to perch in the trees.

The Muscovy duck did not show up right away in my app, because it is considered a domesticated duck and not wild. I had to google duck with a red, warty face to learn more about these guys!

Great egret by the LSU lakes
I had gone a few months without spotting any pigeons here in Baton Rouge. A visit to my hometown of Gretna, though, finally got me to add one to the 2021 list!
I had just been lamenting how I hadn’t added any hawks or birds of prey to my list yet, because they are always flying so high in the sky, where I can’t identify them. But yesterday I saw this Mississippi kite in a tree from my backyard!

Cardinals are the original bird that got me obsessed. Yesterday, I found out that I had a new nest in my yard! I took a picture of the cute, fluffy baby. Today, he left the nest and has been hopping all around with his parents learning to fly. There are still two more in the nest.

So now you know my deep, dark secret. I’m a crazy bird lady. And I love it.