Grand Isle

Grand Isle is one of Louisiana’s birding hotspots, and is the only barrier island with sizable woods that can be reached by highway. Most of the migratory passerines of the eastern United States can be seen here during the spectacular “fallouts” that occur during rainy weather or the passage of cold fronts in the spring. Western vagrants such as Groove-billed Anis, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and Western Kingbirds are regular, particularly in fall, and there is always the possibility of Gray Kingbird or Black-whiskered Vireo. Warning: the understory in the woods on Grand Isle is mostly poison-ivy, so exercise caution if you are susceptible. For instructions on reaching Grand Isle, see the comments on Fourchon Beach. The distance is about 105 miles, requiring about 2-1/2 hours each way. Grand Isle has stores, restaurants, motels and campgrounds, but reservations may be necessary, particular in summer. WARNING: Speed limits are strictly enforced, not only in Golden Meadow, but also on the island. The numbers of the section below refer to the numbers on the map.

1. West end of island. Check for birds on the beach and over the Gulf of Mexico.

2. Grassy fields along the north side of the highway here should be checked for Whimbrels.

3. Rosethorn Street is the best access road to the back bay. Scan for Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers and other waterfowl, and gulls and terns.

4. Sureway Supermarket. Cross LA 1 and check Gulf waters for Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds, and the beach for Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, and Red Knots.

5. Grand Isle Woods (see the detailed map of this area). The woods are for the most part on private property. The residents are usually friendly toward birders combing the area on foot, but object to careless parking of cars on narrow lanes. Many migrating birds leave the Yucatan Peninsula at night, and the trans-Gulf trip is a lengthy one, so the “Yucatan Express” does not arrive until after noon. If there is an afternoon rainstorm in the spring, go to these woods. All of the lanes are good birding, and lead to fields at their northern ends.

LUDWIG LANE: Drive to the north end and park. Bird the fields to the east and a pond to the west.

SUREWAY MARKET: To bird the woods, park at the Sureway and walk north along the shell road. These extensive woods are the best on Grand Isle. They may be teeming with migrants or virtually empty, but the potential is always there for something good. There are nearly 10 acres which can be birded here, on either side of the shell road. A good starting point is the red fire hydrant (A) at the intersection of the main E-W trail and the shell road. You can go to the back (B), where it is more open and brushy, looking for flycatchers or bobolinks, check out the pond, circle around to the left through the northernmost live oaks, and back south along a ditch to the main path. From there, you can continue south, or take the path to the west, then plunge south into the woods again, eventually coming out on the shell road not far from the supermarket. The east side of the woods can be explored in a similar fashion. The next woods to the west can be reached either on foot from the Sureway Woods, or by car, to Naccari Lane. On foot, exit the Sureway Woods by the E-W path, walk north for a half block, jog west for a block, and enter the big woods ahead of you. These woods are somewhat more open and can be more easily birded. Check fields to the north for Painted and Indigo Buntings. Exit west to the next paved road and walk north. At the end of this lane (E) you will find mulberry trees which may be filled with orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and warblers in the last half of April, look over the fields and a ditch to the north for White-winged Doves of flycatchers, and check the feeders around the property at the end of the road on the right. Return to the Sureway Supermarket.

CEMETARY (sic) LANE: Park at the cemetery, where there is a playground and picnic tables. Some of the best birds of the day (e.g., Swallow-tailed Kite, Bullock’s Oriole) have been seen here while eating lunch. There are more fields at the end of the road. Auto access to these fields is best via OAK LANE.

EXXON FIELDS: Continue east on the highway and turn left at the prominent EXXON sign. Proceed straight north, leaving the blacktop for a shell road. The pond on the right is good for Black-necked Stilts, dowitchers, and Clapper Rails. Drive the roads through the mowed fields for Lesser Golden-Plover, Upland Sandpiper, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. This is very private property, so be as discreet as possible. Return to LA 1. Just west of the Exxon fields and north of the watertower are some good mulberry trees ( fruiting April-May) and a “T” junction near a large water tank. This whole area can be interesting (and unfortunately may have a Shiny Cowbird or Eurasian Collared Dove). You can drive up the dead-end road at the “T” and walk (or “bush-whack”) to a small patch of trees to the northeast. There are mulberry trees in here, good in spring migration, the fields will have Bobolinks in late April or May, and this is probably the best spot on the island for flycatchers, regular and vagrant. Continue eastward on LA 1 toward the east end of the island, checking fields for White-faced Ibis and Glossy Ibis, and looking for Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Gray Kingbird (in spring), or perhaps a Vermilion Flycatcher, on utility wires.

GRAND ISLE STATE PARK: There is a $2.00 admission and an additional camping fee. There are also rest rooms, a tower with a panoramic view of the Gulf, and some good rail ponds. The east end of the park is excellent for bottle-nosed dolphins. You can walk the spit the better part of a mile to the east and north, in hopes of finding a concentration of pelicans, gulls, terns, etc. The wax myrtle thickets can sometimes be good, and Palm Warblers are regular here in winter. Beyond the park entrance, you can drive east on the road along the boundary of the park. Park at the end and walk to the rocks, scoping the water and sand spit for Brown Pelicans, Reddish Egrets, Black Shimmers, cormorants, shorebirds, gulls, and terns.