Venice


Venice is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 75 miles from New Orleans (one way), and is as far downriver as one can drive. The road to Venice is LA 23, which is best reached by crossing the Mississippi River bridge, taking General DeGaulle to Woodland to LA 23. When birders speak of "Venice," however, they are talking about a long and narrow strip of land between the levees that spans a large part of Plaquemines Parish. The Venice area includes natural levee woodlands, some live oak and some willow, between the west bank of the Mississippi River and the coastal marsh, and between Buras and the end of the road below Venice. The woods are in many cases quite small and hard to find unless one knows the area. Often you will be birding in what appears to be a dump, and you may be surrounded by poison-ivy and beset by insects. The Venice area is not birded frequently in midsummer but it is not without potential even at that hot and humid season.

Some of the surrounding marsh can be seen from various vantage points (e.g., the Buras and Boothville (“Yellow Cotton”) boat launches), so there are opportunities to see the resident herons and wintering waterfowl, but there is little shorebird habitat. The area is also not very good for gulls and terns, although careful scanning of the river from the levee might be productive, and there is an active dump below Venice. On the other hand, Venice offers some of the best possibilities in Louisiana for western vagrants in winter, and is as good as any place in the state for unusual raptors. Aside from Myiarchus flycatchers (see below), rarities have included Say’s Phoebe, Lucy’s, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Lark Bunting, etc. Broad-winged Hawks winter in the area, and often a Swainson’s Hawk or two will as well. There have been records of White-tailed Kite from the Point-a-la-Hache area and at Boothville.

To reach Venice, take LA 23 (the Belle Chasse Highway) south from Belle Chasse toward Empire (high rise bridge) and Venice. Most of the way there are open fields and pastures for hawks, swallows, and so on. Just downriver from Myrtle Grove one can, if time permits, take the shell road to Lake Judge Perez (Lake Hermitage), birding the woods which cover the ridge on which the road is built. It is also an opportunity to see the effects of subsidence and salt water intrusion. North and south of Myrtle Grove one should be on the lookout for Western Kingbirds or Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on wires or fences.

At Diamond, just above Port Sulphur, where the road goes from four-lane divided to two-lane, you can double back to the north on the old river road to the Port Sulphur recreation complex and associated woods. There are often Scissor-tails and Western Kingbirds on the fences around the baseball field, and frequently a Vermilion Flycatcher is in the same area. The woods just to the south of the ball field and along the pipeline right-of-way are good spots for Brown-crested and Ash-throated Flycatcher from November through February, though they are both rather rare. The entire area is interesting.

After crossing the bridge over the Empire Canal, proceed downriver until you reach the large American flag at Buras. There you can cross over the back levee (right) to the Buras Boat Launch, where in the spartina marsh you should find Seaside Sparrows and Clapper Rails at any time of the year, Nelson’s Sparrow, Marsh Wrens, and possibly Virginia’s Rail in winter. Alternatively, you can turn left at the flagpole, bird the nearby woods for migrants or vagrants, and then proceed downriver either on the river road or the main road, LA 23. The field on the left just north of the flagpole will have shorebirds if there has been a recent rain. In winter look for flocks of cowbirds, which will probably contain a few Bronzed Cowbirds, just possibly a Shiny, and not infrequently a Yellow-headed Blackbird.

About eight miles below the bridge at Empire you enter the area of the detailed Venice map. There are good woods on both sides of LA 23, especially the right, but most are off-limits. As you near Fort Jackson (on the left) there is one large patch of woods that you can probably obtain permission to enter by going to the house on the left across the road. Further down on the right is an extensive area of woods and brush which probably can be entered without a problem, but not by a large group.

Fort Jackson is about a half-mile below these woods (11.5 miles below the Empire bridge), on the left and on the river. Here one can bird the oaks around the fort for warblers and perhaps a wintering Vermilion Flycatcher. If it is wet there may be shorebirds. The very extensive woods below the fort belong to the parish and can be freely birded, though it is probably best to enter from the down river end. These woods can often seem to be devoid of birds, and in winter the birds will usually be concentrated in winter foraging flocks, usually led by vocalizing chickadees. Such flocks may contain several species of wintering warblers, a tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, etc. You may find Chuck-will's Widow in migration or winter, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Eastern Screech-Owl, or an Empidonax or Myiarchus flycatcher.

Across from the fort, and upriver by about a quarter mile, is a dim road or path leading west to a large pond and extensive brushy woods with lots of elderberry. Access is no problem because this area also belongs to Plaquemines Parish. This whole area can be good in winter, and is one of the best spots to find an Ash-throated or Brown-crested Flycatcher, but almost anything is possible. There are also ponds which harbor diving ducks and a limited amount of shorebird habitat. Watch for soaring raptors.

As you travel south, watch for White-winged Doves (winter), and occasionally stop to check weedy patches, especially with roseau cane (Phragmites) for Groove-billed Anis (winter), though they are less common than formerly. There are woodlots between LA 23 and the river levee all the way down to Venice which can be checked for migrants and vagrants, as time allows. You are not likely to be bothered about access if you are reasonably discreet, but you will be on private property.

Several other woodlots are accessible from the river road. Sometimes the willows on the river side of the levee (the "batture") can be productive, and if the river is low enough there may be gulls, herons, or shorebirds on the mud flats at the river's edge.

On the main road about 21 miles below the Empire canal, the road crosses the back protection levee and heads southwest toward Tidewater and the end of the road. The road goes through fresh and brackish marsh. Especially watch the tall, mostly dead cypress trees to the north of the road for perched raptors, including Osprey. This whole area can be a good place to see both species of Plegadis ibis. Sometimes there will be flycatchers on the wires or rails in the pass, and occasionally (depending on water level) there is some transient shorebird habitat. The entire drive provides opportunities to see anhingas, gallinules, rails, ospreys, and other marsh and water birds.

A good birding option at Venice is to visit the landfill and Cypress Cove Marina area. From LA-23, turn right onto Jump Basin Road and follow this for 0.2 miles. Then take a slight right turn onto Tidewater Road. Go south for 1.0 mile on Tidewater Road, take a left on Coast Guard Road, toward the Coast Guard Station and Cypress Cove Marina. Coast Guard Road passes a landfill on the right (active except on Sunday) and gulls loaf across the road, sometimes in very large numbers. Look for Lesser Black-backed Gull, or perhaps something better. The next road to the left (a sharp 150 degree turn) goes through marsh toward the Venice Marina. The trees along the road can be migrant or vagrant traps and the woods leading into the marina can be good in winter. Large numbers of Magnificent Frigatebirds and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks sometimes concentrate here.

Returning the main road, the drive to Tidewater travels though much the same habitat, with marsh on the right and some cypress swamp on the left. Finally at what appears to be the end of the road, you can park on the left and bird a patch of scrub and woods with good potential, before continuing on the shell road through an oil installation with some transient shorebird habitat, to the end of the road. Return the way you came.

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