Mandeville, Fontainebleau State Park, Lacombe, Abita Springs, and Big Branch NWR
This area is reached most rapidly from New Orleans by crossing the Causeway across Lake Pontchartrain ($1.50 toll) to Mandeville. It is also possible to go around the lake, via I-10 to Slidell and then westward on US 190 to Mandeville. A third route leads around the west side of the lake, via I-10 and I-55 to I-12 near Pontchatoula (see also the Livingston Parish description, below). Pleasant circle trips may be made by going across the Causeway and returning by an alternate route. Half a day or more is required for the round trip.
To many the main attraction of this area will be Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman's Sparrow, all typical residents of southeastern pine forest habitat. Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Grosbeaks, Summer Tanagers, and Pine and Prairie Warblers breed here, and Leconte's and Henslow's Sparrows may be found in winter. The north shore of Lake Pontchartrain can be fruitful for waterfowl in winter.
The Mandeville and Fontainebleau State Park lakefronts are good vantage points for Common Loons, Horned Grebes, and Buffleheads in winter. Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck, and scoters are seen occasionally in the same season. To reach the Mandeville lakefront, take the sweeping right turn that begins a few hundred yards after you get off the Causeway bridge (see the map: Exit towards US190/Monroe St./LA-1087; N. Causeway becomes E. Causeway approach, and then take a right onto Hwy 190-US 190 S). At the light at Monroe Street, turn right (this is not far from the end of the bridge). Drive several blocks east on Monroe St. and then turn right (south) when you can see all the way to the lake. If you miss these turns and wind up on US 190 in Mandeville, almost any right turn (to the south) leads to the lake. Drive the Mandeville lakefront from one end to the other, scoping the lake, perhaps looking for vagrants in the live oaks in winter or transients in migration. A Bald Eagle or an Osprey is sometimes seen at the extreme west end, and an occasional rare gull might be seen at the other.
To reach Northlake Nature Center and Fontainebleau State Park, go east on US 190 about three miles past the stoplight at LA 59 in Mandeville. The Northlake Nature Center entrance is on your left, immediately after you cross over Bayou Castine. This is the area where the Annual Birdfest is held in mid-April. The Fountainebleau entrance is east of this, on your right (to the south), and is well marked. There is an entrance fee of $2.00. The lakefront here provides another opportunity to see unusual wintering water birds; walk to the east and west of the cleared area for wider views. The woods of Fontainebleau Park are excellent for Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers, and host Pine Warblers and Brown-headed Nuthatches. This park can be interesting at almost any season. Campsites are available. You might be able to find a Red-cockaded Woodpecker near the park entrance.
Another place to approach the lake can be found south of Lacombe, which is about six miles east of the Fontainebleau State Park entrance on US 190. Just before you reach the bridge over Bayou Lacombe, turn right on LA 434. The lake is about four miles south of 190. This area can also be reached via I-12 (see the map).
Perhaps the most interesting spot on this road is the small bridge at the boundary between pine woods and marsh. This spot has been excellent for migrating raptors of several species, especially in fall. Brown-headed Nuthatches, several species of woodpeckers and sparrows. Further on the road enters a fresh marsh where you might find King Rail or Com. Moorhen, or Sora in winter.
You can also continue past Lacombe on US 190 for about 2.3 miles beyond LA 434, turn right on Transmitter Road, right at a "T" junction and go about one mile to the second left turn which leads to a parking area, marking Big Branch Marsh NWR. A boardwalk leads out over the marsh and a gravel trail extends south through piney woods to Lake Pontchartrain. This large area of marsh and pinewoods on the north shore of the lake is excellent for pine-woods species and apparently harbors at least a few Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, which breed sparingly where there are mature stands of pines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service actively manages for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, so watch for nest inserts and artificial "candle-sticking" on the pine trees: woodpeckers ate mote likely to be found in these areas.
In addition to Red-cockaded Woodpecker, some of the characteristic birds of the pine flat habitat are Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Pine and Prairie Warblers, and Bachman's Sparrow.
Prairie Warblers breed mostly in recently clear-cut pine stands that have grown up to about 10 ft or so in height.
Bachman's Sparrow is a resident of somewhat open pine woods with a small amount of brushy undergrowth, but is difficult to get when not singing. This same habitat is good for Henslow's Sparrow in winter, and perhaps LeConte's, although the latter seems to prefer more open broomsedge fields with little canopy.
From Mandeville, take LA 59 and turn right on LA 1080. Almost anywhere along 1080 can be interesting, depending on the specific habitat, and the same is true along LA 36 west from 1080 toward Abita Springs, or east toward Pearl River. Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Pine and Prairie Warblers, Blue Grosbeaks, and Summer Tanagers breed here, and several species of sparrow can be found in winter. Bobwhites and Wild Turkeys might be encountered at any time of year.
This area, which is northwest of Lake Maurepas, is a compact area which offers good access to bottomland and pinewoods species in a half-day trip. It is offered as an alternative to the St. Tammany Parish area described above.
Take the Causeway north to I-12 south of Covington, or I-10 west to I-55 at Laplace and north to I-12. Go west on I-12 to the LA 441 exit (about 3 miles west of the exit to Albany). Go south on 441 to the intersection with LA 42. By driving west 2 or 3 miles to the Springville community or east about 2 miles and stopping at the creek crossings (tributaries of the Tickfaw River), you should at least hear all the bottomland species including Prothonotary, Parula, Hooded, Swainson's, and Yellow-throated Warblers, plus American Redstart and possibly Black-and-white Warbler (especially near the intersection of 441 and 42) in breeding season.
If you turn south on a road which is about 1-1/2 miles east of that intersection, you can drive 2-3 miles south and southeast to a "T" junction with LA 1037. Turn right and after a mile or so you will reach a pine plantation area which has Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Prairie Warblers, and Bachman's Sparrow.
Return via I-12, or take 1037 to Springfield where you can go north to I-12, east to Pontchatoula and I-55, or southwest on LA 22, eventually reaching I-10.