Golden Triangle Audubon Bird Alert - 19 January 2009
As is often the case in January and February, attention has focused on West Jefferson County and the "South China Prairie."
Again this year, Eagles are the biggest draw. There are at least four Bald Eagles and one Golden Eagles frequenting the Prairie following a large flock of Pintails and one or two flocks of White Geese. Recent sightings have been as follows (apologies to any whose sightings we have overlooked in this hastily prepared summary)
On January 8th, John Haynes found an adult (or very nearly so) Golden Eagle and two immature Bald Eagles on South China Road north of Lawhon. On January 11th, Gerald Duhon had four Bald Eagles (one adult or nearly so, and three immatures) in the same area. On January 12th, John Park had one adult and one immature Bald Eagle near Lawhon just east of South China Road. On January 15th John Haynes had an Adult Bald Eagle and two immatures. On January 18th John Whittle had an immature Bald Eagle on a levee in the fields north of Lawhon and east of South China Road. On January 19th, Jana and John Whittle had a Golden Eagle (adult or nearly so) and four Bald Eagles (one adult and three immatures), between 10:30 and 11:02 a.m., all seen from South China Road, south of Lawhon but north of the bridge over Ground Bridge Gully. All these Eagles were seen flying northwest and disappeared from view without apparently landing. It seem possible that they are flying into a wooded area in Liberty County which is northwest of Nome and southwest of Sour Lake that appears (on Google Earth) to have only a very few oilfield access roads. There are no public roads in quite a large area, which I believe is likely to be quite wet. What seems clear is that they are feeding on Pintails and geese. For a while, the favored area for the geese and the large Pintail flock was the flooded fields east of South China north of the power line north of Lawhon. They have also bee in fields west of Greenpond Rd about halfway between Lawhon and US90 – the Pintail flock was back there today. Other locations where the geese have been have included west of South China fairly close to Ground Bridge Gully, and south of Lawhon just west of New Bethel. Finding the geese flocks seems to offer the best chance of finding the Bald Eagles.
All in all, the intersection of South China Road and Lawhon Rd seems to be the center of activity. The area includes Lawhon for its entire length from New Bethel to McDermand Road, South China Road for its entire length from China to FM365, Greenpond Road from Lawhon to US90, and McDermand from US90 to FM365 (but the bridge across Pignut Gully is closed, although you can drive nearly to the bridge from both ends). The bridge on Thompson Road across a gully (that may be a tributary of Pignut Gully or perhaps Ground Bridge Gully) between Paggi Road and Mason Road is also currently closed.
The Sandhill Crane flock has been ranging widely. A couple of months ago, it was favoring an area between Heisig Road and League Road, south of Johnson Road. Recently, it has been more difficult to find, but was found on January 15th by Christine Sliva north of Interstate 10 between Smith Road and Major Drive. On January 19th, there were probably two hundred mixed in with Snow Geese on Lawhon road just west of New Bethel (until someone started shooting at the geese around 4:30 p.m.).
Other birds found on the South China Prairie have included sparrows – the west side of South China Road just as it makes the turn north after crossing Ground Bridge Gully – produced a number of species for Gerald Duhon, including a Clay-colored. There are good numbers of White-crowned Sparrows along the "hedgerows" on McDermand Road about half way between Lawhon and US90. There is a Peregrine Falcon (perhaps more than one) that is wide ranging in the area, and several Merlins. Both Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks have been seen. There are at least two Caracaras in the area, but the last report we have is from January 8th, when they were seen on power line poles west of South China Road. Of course, there are numerous Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and American Kestrels, and both Vulture species. In addition to the Snow Geese, there are much smaller numbers of Greater White-fronted Geese, and a few Cackling Geese (the small Canadas). The flocks of Snow Geese often have numbers of Ross's Geese in then ranging up to five percent or higher. The biggest concentration of ducks has been the Pintail flock referred to above but there have been a few Northern Shovelers and Gadwall.
A couple of Rusty Blackbirds were reported by Jana Whittle at what remains of the Willows a Sea Rim on January 17th, but they were not refound by others on January 18th or 19th. The Northern Waterthrush found at the Willows on the Sea Rim Christmas count was still there January 19th.
John A. Whittle