Introduction to Grand Isle, Louisiana GPS Coordinates: 29.2366° N, 89.9873° W
At 10:30am Friday, April 12, 2019 the temperature in Grand Isle was 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and partly cloudy. Grand Isle is located 109 miles from downtown New Orleans on the Gulf Coast and drive time is around 2 hours.
Grand Isle is a Louisiana town on a narrow barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s known for its beaches, including those at Grand Isle State Park, which also has trails, campsites and a fishing pier. The Grand Isle Birding Trail meanders through oak forests. The Butterfly Dome is home to native butterflies and plants.
We were in town the same week as the annual Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration. This Annual Celebration Event, initiated in 1998, was created in part to support the purchase and management of the Grand Isle Sanctuary to protect some of the last remaining undeveloped chenier habitats (live oak ridges). The event is hosted by the Grand Isle Sanctuary Group, Grand Isle Community Development Team, Town of Grand Isle, The Louisiana Nature Conservancy and Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “After a long flight across the Gulf of Mexico, migrating birds flock to Grand Isle to rest after their difficult journey. The island has become one of the best places in the world to see the variety of species flying north,” said Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle. “The Migratory Bird Festival not only celebrates their arrival but provides easy viewing access to visitors.” 
Birding at The Nature Conservancy Grilletta tract
In the peak of bird migration, about 2.5 million birds a day are passing through South Louisiana on the way to their next destination.
As the sun is setting on Mexico\’s Yucatan Peninsula and Central America, millions of small song birds are taking flight on a nonstop crossing of the Gulf of Mexico. Wave after wave of migrating birds struggle through storms and the strong headwinds of late-season cold fronts, passing offshore drilling platforms and shrimp trawlers before finally reaching land at Grand Isle.
“In the peak of bird migration, which is about late April, about 2.5 million birds a day are passing through South Louisiana on the way to their breeding grounds,” said Erik Johnson with the Louisiana Audubon Society.
On a day like this, Grand Isle experiences a “fall-out” of birds that fill the few dozen acres of thick coastal forests.
“They\’ve been just flying nonstop for 18 hours,” Johnson said. “So, they land here on Grand Isle. It\’s a beautiful day today, lots of insects out, and they just pack on as much food as they can so that they can re-accumulate the energy they need to continue that journey northward.” 
What a treat to experience this first-hand! Thunder, lightning and rain during the night forced the birds to take shelter. We were out in the forest early the following morning and I spotted the following birds:
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Eastern Kingbird
- Northern Mockingbird
- Gray Catbird
- Common Grackle
- Baltimore Oriole
- Red-eyed Vireo (possibly White-eyed Vireo)
- Black and White Warbler
- Painted Bunting
- Indigo Bunting
- Summer Tanager
- Northern Cardinal
Shore Birds spotted at the fishing pier at Grand Isle State Park
Willets are among the larger shorebirds seen in North America. They are recognized by their chunky bodies, sturdy legs and thick bills. When these birds fly, one can see large white stripes through their wings, situated between black wing tips and coverts. It is quite common to see them feeding on crabs during low tide waters.
Charadrius wilsonia & nivosus
Once considered a game bird, the plovers were under threat from hunting. Today, the plovers are facing another kind of threat, which is the loss of their habitat. Land loss, development of wetlands and the ever-expanding use of sand beaches for recreational use is affecting their feeding and nesting grounds.
Several populations are endangered. On coasts, nesting areas often disturbed by beach-goers – also the reason why dogs are not allowed on the beaches. Lives along the coast generally where sand beaches are close to extensive shallow waters for feeding.
Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge Restoring the Barrier Shorelines
To address the significant land loss occurring along the Caminida Headland, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) has restored the beach habitat by transporting sand from Ship Shoal, and sand body located approximately 28 miles away. A technical feat, this is the first project in Louisiana to dredge sand from an offshore shoal in the Gulf of Mexico to restore habitat on a barrier shoreline.
The first portion of the project (the western half) restored approximately 300 acres and 6 miles of beach and dune habitat, while the second portion (the eastern half) is larger and restored approximately 500 acres and 7 miles of beach and dune. In total the two projects valued at over $200 million restored 13 miles of Louisiana’s barrier shoreline and represent one of the largest restoration projects ever.
What Continued Land Loss Means
- Land loss in Louisiana is caused by many different factors, both natural and man-made.
- Levees and floodgates on the Mississippi River have successfully provided national flood control and economic benefits. But these forms of river management have also channeled the Mississippi River and its tributaries into the Gulf of Mexico, depriving the coastal ecosystem of the fresh water and sediment it needs to survive.
- Dredging canals for oil and gas exploration and pipelines provided our nation with critical energy supplies, but these activities also took a toll on the landscape, weakening marshes and allowing salt water to spread higher into coastal basins.
- Sea level rise, subsidence, storms, and invasive species add further stress. 
Coastal Mangrove-Marsh Shrub Land Black Mangrove
The black mangrove is a shrub that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and on the Atlantic coast of tropical Africa, where it thrives on the sandy and muddy shores that seawater reaches.  In an environment where the water is filled with high concentrations of dissolved salts, water levels are constantly changing, and in oxygen deprived sediments would certainly exclude most plants. However, mangroves thrive in these conditions. They have evolved certain morphological and physiological responses, which allow them to avoid the pitfalls of these harsh conditions.  The lenticels are hydrophobic, so that while a root is covered by water, they are in effect closed: neither air nor water can enter. Respiration removes oxygen from the air spaces and produces carbon dioxide. Because it is highly soluble in water, the carbon dioxide does not replace the volume of oxygen removed, and gas pressure within the root is therefore reduced. This is confirmed by direct measurement of gas composition in a submerged Avicennia root. After a root is covered by the tide, oxygen within it falls, carbon dioxide levels do not increase to compensate, and pressure falls. When the tide recedes and the lenticels are again open, air is sucked in. 
1. Resource partitioning
How do living things divvy up resources in the environment? In order for plants and animals to live together, they must use adaptive strategies to partition necessary resources.
2. Plant/animal intelligence/awareness
Covers the intelligence and perceptiveness in plants and animals. We don’t give this much thought, but animals are quite aware of their surroundings. And, their senses may be acute.
Here is an example of the above-mentioned threads. Observe the Ghost crab taking advantage of a dead fish on the beach… moving in right next to his food source. Ghost crabs are semiterrestrial crabs of the subfamily Ocypodinae. They are common shore crabs in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, inhabiting deep burrows in the intertidal zone. They are generalist scavengers and predators of small animals. The name \”ghost crab\” derives from their nocturnality and their generally pale coloration. They are also sometimes called sand crabs, though the name refers to various other crabs that do not belong to the subfamily. 
I’ve always been a keen bird observer. However, I experience the same challenges with birdwatching as I do with plant and animal identification. If you consider the five climate regions in the world: tropical (hot & humid), dry, temperate (Mediterranean), continental (warm to cool summers and very cold winters) and polar … the only region I’ve not lived in during my life is polar… even though Montreal was close! And, every region has its own unique fauna and flora… and its own experts that can tell them all apart. String all the places where I’ve lived together… and it’ a challenge identifying birds, animals and plants; and very easy to get confused.
Having said that, the weekend at Grand Isle was a real treat. Spending time with local experts like Dr. Eric Johnson and Mark Meunier made it an unforgettable experience. Even though I didn’t see most of the birds they spotted, just that fact that I’m more aware now made it worthwhile.
To add onto that, I’ve become super aware of my natural surroundings, and, whenever possible, I educate and teach people around me. This past week I volunteered as a course marshal at the Zurich Classic golf tournament in New Orleans. I\’ve been a golfer for many (frustrating… lol) years, but only recently made the connection between playing golf and being outside in nature. It\’s a perfect match! And observing the spectators this past week at the golf tournament, kids and adults alike, and seeing how they enjoyed interacting with nature was fascinating and made me very happy. We are fortunate here in Louisiana that we have abundant birds and wildlife. There is a sign at the first tee on the golf course that reads: \”WILDLIFE WARNING\”…
There were plenty resident and migratory birds, ducks, dragon & damsel flies; swamp creatures like snakes, fish, frogs, and off course alligators; and all sorts of flying insects that demanded as much attention as the world-famous golfers. It was great to see the expressions of joy, terror and amazement as \’Tripod\’, the three-legged gator made is appearance on the 17th tee! 
NATURE IS GREAT!
Interesting factoid: GREAT Fishing in Grand Isle.
Grand Isle is a fishing paradise with more than 280 species of fish and four seasons of fishing
About the Author Eugene Brill
Eugene Brill does not hold a PhD in Environmental Science, Botany or another scientific field. He earned an MBA in business/marketing and is a mentor to startup entrepreneurs… but he’s a dedicated Wannabe Naturalist, an avid gardener and an amateur nature photographer. He does not ‘speak’ in taxonomic groupings, species and genera; but can communicate clearly with ‘Joe Public’ in language everyone understands. Eugene is constantly improving his ability to translate science into plain English. He loves to share knowledge, believe that Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is real, agrees that ‘forest bathing’ (fully clothed, off course… ?) makes us happier, healthier and more creative. He subscribes to the teachings of Edward O. Wilson and the Biophilia Hypothesis and loves the stories told by Aldo Leopold in his book A Sand County Almanac.