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April 27, 2006

The Mystery of the Cypress Island Preserve Lake Martin Rookery

The Lake Martin Rookery(Yahoo Maps Beta or Google Earth), outside of Lafayette, Louisiana, is the largest rookery for wading birds in North America. The rookery provides spectacular viewing of nesting herons, spoonbills, ibises, and countless other birds. Normally, in April and May, the birds jockey for position in the trees, as they gorge themselves and their chicks on crawfish and minnows.

This year, however, something very strange happened. On or around April 18th, all the birds unexpectedly fled the sanctuary. 20,000 pairs of nesting birds got up en masse and fled the rookery, leaving their nests behind, and, in some cases, leaving eggs behind as well. No one knows why they left, or where they went.

According to The Independent Weekly:

“The birds were all there, people were out taking pictures, everything was looking great,? Martin says. “I was expecting this to be a record year, and then all of a sudden the birds disappeared overnight.?

The Advocate reports:

“They started building nests, and for some reason, they all abandoned their nests,? Ouchley said. “… Some of the nests had eggs.?

The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana has posted a sign on Cypress Island in Lake Martin as follows:

LAKE MARTIN VISITORS

The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana, along with federal and state agencies and local landowners, are concerned about the abandonment of this portion of the Cypress Island Rookery. The cause of the abandonment is under investigation.

If you have any information that might help with our investigation, including landscape scale photographs of nesting birds before Monday, March 20th, please call TNC at (225) 338-1040.

I have some information that may be valuable. I think I know where some of them went. I think some of the egrets went down to Bird City in Jungle Gardens on Avery Island. I heard from some of the other people there that the Avery Island rookery has more birds this year than they've seen in a long time. I'd say there were a few hundred nesting egrets in Bird City. Plus, I did see a couple of spoonbills and ibises when I was there on April 22nd, 2006.

As for why they left, I doubt that they left for lack of food. The swamp is teeming with crawfish and minnows. I watched the wading birds and owls feeding. They had no problem catching meals in the duck grass of the swamp. The herons and owls were catching crawfish like mad. (You'd be amazed how much those birds can eat.)

Also, although the water is down this year, it isn't down very much. I'd say it's about a foot or two lower than it was in May of 2004, when I was last there.

The area appears to be completely unaffected by the hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina hit way to East, and Hurricane Rita hit far to the west.

So, my best guess is that they didn't leave because of a hurricane damage, a drought, or lack of food. That leaves Chupacabra, Scuzzlebutt or ManBearPig. (Just kidding.)

The Independent Weekly claims there's lots of speculation at the LABIRD forum on virtualbirder.com, but I'm not sure if this is the right link or not.

Seriously, though, if you have any ideas why the birds left or where they went, or if you have old photos of the rookery, The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana wants to hear from you. Call them at (225)338-1040, or email them at lafo@tnc.org.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on April 27, 2006 at 8:00 AM

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