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Field Trip to Cattail Marsh
22 January 2000 

The lesson best learned from the Golden Triangle Audubon Society’s January field trip to Tyrrell Park’s Cattail Marsh is that patience is a virtue in birding, as it is in most things.

About a dozen birders began the day in the marsh parking lot with White-crowned Sparrows, American Pipit and balmy weather.  Anyone who has been on past winter trips to this spot probably recalls lots of ducks and a cold bus ride.  This year, we had the ducks but the bus and the cold were noticeably absent.  The trip was on foot, since the city of Beaumont is without the services of a weekend driver, so not all of the marsh could be covered but the assembled birders endeavored to hit the highlights.

The first cell had plenty of water and lots of American Coots.  Ducks were also plentiful with large numbers of Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Blue and Green-winged Teal easily seen.  The first pass by the area where a male Cinnamon Teal had been seen in recent weeks did not reveal that bird, but the group pressed on.  Killdeer and Eastern Phoebe were constant companions on the trip around the marsh and brief looks were had at Orange-crowned Warbler and a possible Palm Warbler.  The first cell also produced numerous Black-necked Stilts and White-faced Ibis (alas, no Glossy).

Yellow-rumped Warblers were common and a Pine Warbler was heard calling from the park’s interior.  Two Northern Flickers perched atop a dead tree while Ring-billed Gulls soared overhead and Marsh Wrens chattered from the reeds, intent on being heard but not seen (or not seen well in any case).  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were numerous but only one Ruby-crowned Kinglet was found.  Other song birds encountered included American Goldfinch and groups of Tree Swallows and Fish Crows on the wing.

 Waterfowl numbers were good but the distribution of species seemed different from past years.  There were still plenty of Teal and Shovelers but very few Scaup.  Mallard and Northern Pintail were in good supply but Ruddy Ducks were hard to come by.  Ring-necked Ducks were seen well but only a single Bufflehead (in a group of Coots) could be picked out.  Fair numbers of Snow Geese flew over but we also had two groups of Canada Geese to look at.

 Raptors were not high in diversity but gave us good looks.  Most common were Red-tailed Hawks, with typical Eastern birds seen along with paler individuals (possibly the Fuertes sub-species), and Northern Harriers with gray males and brown females and immatures seen.  A couple of American Kestrels were noted.

 Shorebird numbers were slim with a few Yellowlegs and Dowitchers being seen.  Only a couple of White Pelicans were found (flying over), very different than the large numbers formerly seen in the marsh.  Cormorants were few but a female Anhinga was sighted.  Wading birds were not particularly abundant.

As the group progressed around the levee roads, two trends were noticed.  First, the longer we walked, the smaller the group got as tired legs won out over more birding.  Second, the later it got, the more the wind picked up.  By the time the group headed back for the entrance, we had been reduced to four birders and the howling wind made getting looks at ducks difficult and song birds all but impossible.  But, as already stated, patience is a virtue, and all four birders were rewarded with scope filling views of a drake Cinnamon Teal, swimming among the Blue-wings in the very spot it wasn’t in the morning (sorry Rose ann)!  At least two Ross’s Geese (in flocks of Snows) were on hand to bid two of the birders farewell.

 The final birders, eventually reduced to just Steve Mayes and John Haynes, made a last tour of the marsh and turned up a number of birds not seen by the rest of the group including Roseate Spoonbill, White-throated Sparrow, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Wigeon, and three more male Cinnamon Teal!  Doubtless, there were females around as well but they are difficult to pick out from Blue-wings under ideal conditions much less on a windy day.  It all, of course, proves that he who birds last birds best – that will teach you to leave early!

 The following birds and numbers were noted by the trip leader with much help from the group:

Pied-billed Grebe(12), American White Pelican(2), Double-crested Cormorant(7), Anhinga(1), Great Blue Heron(4), Great Egret(35), Snowy Egret(9), White Ibis(5), White-faced Ibis(95), Roseate Spoonbill(1), Black Vulture(15), Turkey Vulture(7), Snow Goose(400), Ross’s Goose(2), Canada Goose(51), Gadwall(550), American Wigeon(8), Mallard(32), Mottled Duck(10), Blue-winged Teal(300), Cinnamon Teal(4), Northern Shoveler(400), Northern Pintail(64), Green-winged Teal(275), Ring-necked Duck(20), Lesser Scaup(30), Bufflehead(1), Ruddy Duck(4), Northern Harrier(5), Red-shouldered Hawk(1), Red-tailed Hawk(5), American Kestrel(2), American Coot(1000), Killdeer(15), Black-necked Stilt(100), Greater Yellowlegs(3), Lesser Yellowlegs(3), Yellowlegs sp.(3), Dowitcher sp.(10), Laughing Gull(5), Ring-billed Gull(200), Mourning Dove(6), Red-bellied Woodpecker(2), Downy Woodpecker(1), Northern Flicker(2), Eastern Phoebe(10), Loggerhead Shrike(5), Blue Jay(3), Fish Crow(17), Tree Swallow(25), Carolina Chickadee(2), Carolina Wren(2), Marsh Wren(3), Ruby-crowned Kinglet(1), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher(10), Northern Mockingbird(1), European Starling(2), American Pipit(10), Orange-crowned Warbler(2), Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler(40), Pine Warbler(1), Palm Warbler(1?), Common Yellowthroat(2), Savannah Sparrow(50), Swamp Sparrow(8), White-throated Sparrow(7), White-crowned Sparrow(30), Northern Cardinal(8), Red-winged Blackbird(200), Boat-tailed Grackle(2), Great-tailed Grackle(10), American Goldfinch(7).