The Great Louisiana BirdFest offers well timed birding for migrating songbirds and water birds in lush forests and swamps 45 miles north of New Orleans.
The non-profit Northlake Nature Center has become a premiere birding destination in St. Tammany Parish, a spring haven for birding, fishing, swimming kayaking and sailing. The parish has about 80,000 acres of wildlife preserves.
Participants of the Great Louisiana BirdFest will see plenty of birding activity at the nature center’s 20-by-30-foot open-air pavilion overlooking a beaver pond.
In addition to the spectacle of warblers, woodpeckers and Wood Ducks, the area has a rich cultural history. An archaeological survey of the site revealed 700-year-old evidence of an Acolapissa Tribal settlement.
Great Louisiana BirdFest Possible Bird ‘Fallout’
The birding excitement at the Great Louisiana BirdFest changes with the weather conditions, which have a profound effect on birds migrating north from South and Central America and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Millions of birds frequently take off simultaneously in large mixed-species from the Yucatan for a non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Louisiana is directly in the flight path.
The best birding at the Great Louisiana BirdFest occurs during “fallouts” created when northward migrating birds encounter a cold front moving south toward the Gulf Coast. The fallouts can offer incredible birding as hundreds or thousands of birds come down to rest, refuel and wait for more favorable conditions to continue north. Even with mild weather during past festivals, large numbers of migrating birds stop at St. Tammany Parish and the Northlake Nature Center’s 400 inviting acres.
The Northlake Nature Center’s largest fundraising event of the year is the Great Louisiana BirdFest. This year will be the 19th year of the annual festival. The April festival coincides with a brief time when the new leaves on the trees are small enough to allow for great visibility in spotting birds. Every April, more than one million migrating birds may enter Louisiana’s coast from the south each day, seeking critically important stopovers.
The habitats of the immediate area of the Great Louisiana BirdFest are varied, including swamps, wetlands, pine savanna and southern Louisiana hardwoods. One excellent birding hot-spot is Pine Island, which hosts a rookery of nesting egrets and other waterbirds. In past bird festivals, up to 150 bird species have been observed at the nature center and Pine Island.
In addition to the natural beauty of the Northlake Nature Center and its leafy environment are the brick ruins of a clubhouse for the never-finished “hideaway” golf course. Some say the structure, destroyed by fire in 2010, is a fitting, crumbling legacy of Richard W. Leche, the first Louisiana governor sentenced to prison for a fraudulent mail scheme to sell trucks to the state highway department. Today, the fire-destroyed site is being reclaimed by nature.