D'Arbonne Lake attracts rare water birds

Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

D'Arbonne Lake is a massive 15,000 acre impoundment in north central Louisiana located where La Routes 15 and 33 meet at Farmerville. Well known for its white perch fishing, it has recently become widely known within the birding community for attracting rare water birds.

By rare, I mean birds that are either rarely seen in Louisiana or have never been recorded in Louisiana. The official state bird list is maintained by the Louisiana Ornithological Society and rare bird reports are reviewed by its Louisiana Bird Review Committee.

Thanks to Steve Pagans, a retired forester from West Monroe and an avid birder, the following rare water birds were recorded at D'Arbonne Lake in November 2014: Common Merganser, Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe, and Red-throated Loon. The Clark's Grebe has never been reported in Louisiana and Steve's photos and description are likely to pass muster with the LBRC so that species should be added to the state's bird list in 2015 when the committee meets again.

One report on the internet stated that birders were "flocking" to D'Arbonne Lake to record the rare birds on their life lists and/or their annual lists. That description is appropriate.

The birders included your author.

Loons and grebes somewhat resemble ducks. But, on closer examination, they have pointed beaks, not bills. Loons differ from grebes in that they have fully webbed feet while grebes have webbed toes. The legs of loons and grebes are located well back on their bodies.

This facilitates diving but makes walking very difficult.

Loons and grebes rarely fly once they have reached wintering grounds preferring to dive to escape danger. When they do fly, they have to "walk across the water" beating their wings furiously to become air borne. It is not unusual for a frustrated bird to just stop trying to get off the water and crash and dive. Both grebes and loons look very ungainly in the air and trail their legs well behind their bodies.

Mergansers are ducks that have long, scissor-like bills. This facilitates their ability to catch their primary food fish. They are strong fliers like other ducks and hold their legs and webbed feet against their bodies unlike grebes and loons. If you do spot a merganser, it is most likely to be a Hooded or Red-breasted merganser as opposed to being a Common Merganser.

Over the past 50 years, ornithologists have noted a general movement of western birds to the east. The Mississippi River has historically separate eastern and western species. So, it is not surprising to find western grebes, loons and merganser to showing up in lakes and reservoirs in northwestern and central Louisiana and southwestern and south central Arkansas.

Louisiana's first Pacific Loon was reported from Caddo Lake two years ago. The state's birders are waiting, with anticipation, for the first report of a Yellow-billed Loon! And, perhaps, an Arctic Loon, completely unexpected, may appear one day?

All grebes and loons are protected birds. Mergansers may be hunted during waterfowl season. Because mergansers are fish eaters, few people intentionally hunt them but those who do marinade them before cooking to counter a strong, somewhat fishy taste.

Jay V. Huner, Louisiana Ecrevisse, Boyce, LA