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Join us for a most unusual birding event: Louisiana’s Yellow Rails and Rice Festival. This unique event brings together rice harvesting and birding, thanks to friendly local farmers who allow access not only to their fields, but also to the combines used to harvest the rice.

We also make time to visit Louisiana’s rich coastal region, alive with herons, egrets, and beautiful Roseate Spoonbill. We walk the beaches and learn skills to identify shorebirds. Forested areas bring the possibility of seeing Crested Caracara, Painted Bunting, Pileated Woodpecker, and more.

Andrew Haffenden coordinates and guides this fun journey. See up to four kinds of rails, bird from a working combine harvester, enjoy energizing Cajun music, and indulge in Cajun delicacies. Andrew combines the festival, great food, and exceptional birding—don’t miss the fun!

Please note: The timing of day-to-day events is weather dependent?if there is very heavy rain, the fields cannot be harvested until they dry out a bit. We have allowed several days for the rice field birding for Yellow Rail, and our other birding activities are arranged around our days in the fields. Generally, half to one day is devoted to working a rice field while it is harvested, but if few rails are seen, we add another session. Thus, the following itinerary is likely to change around due to weather and bird activity—flexibility is key.

Tour Highlights

  • Bird from a working combine harvester, in search of four different species of rails
  • Explore Longleaf Pine savannah, one of the most endangered habitats in the U.S., for Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, and Pileated Woodpecker
  • Walk the beaches of Cameron County in search of five species of plover and other water and shorebirds
  • Embark on a bayou boat ride, looking for large numbers of geese, ducks, ibis, shorebirds, and even Crested Caracara

Trip Itinerary

Wed., Oct. 27: Arrivals at Lafayette Airport


Fly in to Lafayette today. Delta, United, and American fly to Lafayette, and all have flights arriving between 4:00 and 5:00 PM. Do try to book one of these mid- to late-afternoon flights; earlier flights mean a longer wait at the airport before our group transfers to the hotel. From Lafayette we drive to our hotel in Jennings, about 30 minutes away, where the festival is centered.

Enjoy a welcome dinner, perhaps some wonderful local seafood if you like, and a chance to get to know your travel companions.
Accommodations at Hampton Inn & Suites, Jennings (B,L,D)

Thurs., Oct. 28: Rice Fields


Today is our first chance to look for rails. We first travel to a watery field to look for feeding birds. Typically, we see some species in numbers ranging from hundreds to thousands, including Greater White-fronted Geese, dark ibises?mostly White-faced but there are a sprinkling of Glossy and hybrids?and several species of shorebirds, including Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Red-winged Blackbird can also number in the tens of thousands. Other species often seen are Gull-billed Tern, American Avocet, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and often Vermilion Flycatcher. In the afternoon we watch the combine harvesting the rice, flushing birds such as Yellow, King, and Virginia Rails and Sora, with the latter two often counting in the 50 – 100 range. American Bittern is also often flushed. Although we typically see the most birds (and enjoy the most comfortable birding) from the sidelines, we do get an opportunity to climb aboard the combine for a close, though often dusty, view.
Accommodations at Hampton Inn & Suites, Jennings (B,L,D)

OPTIONAL BLACK RAIL FIELD TRIP: Tonight, the Festival offers an optional Black Rail field trip for the adventurous among us—let us know when you sign up if this is of interest. Assist with a salt marsh banding operation in Cameron Parish using rope pulls and spotlights! Target species is Black Rail, which has been flushed and banded during the previous festival Evening Black Rail Survey trips in 2017, 2018, and 2019. However, since 2019, the coast has experienced two major hurricanes with tidal surge in 2020; we do not know what to expect this year. The number of participants is limited. Note that this activity is AFTER DARK in a coastal salt marsh. This field trip is strenuous. Walking in salt marsh can be extremely hard especially in the dark; the ground is uneven with holes, vegetation is thick and knee-deep, and it is wet. During previous banding efforts, groups have walked about half a mile to flush a handful of rails. There are no standing, sitting, or side-viewing areas—to see the rails you have to walk into the marsh and keep up with the group.

Fri., Oct. 29: Pineywoods Birding


Today we explore Longleaf Pine savannah, one of the most endangered habitats in the U.S. We look especially for pine savannah specialties, including Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, and Pileated Woodpecker. We also visit several crawfish ponds for an array of herons, egrets, Roseate Spoonbill, and often raptors, including Bald Eagle. To the east we also visit the Crowley Sewer Ponds, which always provide something of interest.
Accommodations at Hampton Inn & Suites, Jennings (B,L,D)

Sat., Oct. 30: Cameron County


Today we head to the southeast corner of the state to look for marsh birds, waterbirds, and shorebirds along the beaches. Cheniers?oak hummocks?should provide late migrant warblers and arriving winter residents. Resident Mottled Duck and early arriving northern ducks provide added variety. We expect to find all five species of plovers on the beaches: Black-bellied, Semi-palmated, Snowy, Piping, and Wilson’s, plus other shorebirds such as Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, American Avocet, and Western Willet.

Away from the beach, migrating Long-billed Dowitcher and Stilt Sandpiper may be seen. Probable terns include Caspian, Royal, possibly Sandwich, and Black Skimmer, with Gull-billed over the marshes and occasionally on the beach. Nelson’s and Seaside Sparrows inhabit the marshes here, and with a bit of patience both can usually be seen. We are especially on the watch for Crested Caracara as we drive the more northern part of this area.
Accommodations at Hampton Inn & Suites, Jennings (B,L,D)

Sun., Oct. 31: Greater Jennings Region


We return in the general direction of Cameron again to bird Cameron Prairie NWR and Lacassine NWR and other locales in the area. We take a boat ride on the bayou. Today should provide us with Fulvous Whistling-duck, Wood Stork, Wilson’s Phalarope, Crested Caracara, large numbers of geese, ducks, ibis, shorebirds, and others. Vermilion Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, Sprague’s Pipit, Lark Sparrow, and Yellow-headed Blackbird should also be present. Le Conte’s and Henslow’s Sparrows and other soggy area birds are likely as well.
Accommodations at Hampton Inn & Suites, Jennings (B,L,D)

Mon., Nov. 1: Departures


This morning we transfer to Lafayette Airport for our departure flights. Please book flights out from 10:00 AM onwards. (B)

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  • American Bittern, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • Bachman's Sparrow, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • Bald Eagle, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • King Rail, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • Pileated Woodpecker, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • Roseate Spoonbill, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • Sora, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • Vermilion Flycatcher, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature
  • YRARF, Louisiana Birding Tour, Louisiana Birding, Louisiana Rail tours, Louisiana Birding Festival, Naturalist Journeys, Louisiana Nature

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the Journey: $2290 DBL / $2590 SGL from Lafayette, Louisiana.

Tour cost includes five night’s accommodations, all meals from dinner day one to breakfast day six, airport transfers, transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, festival registration, $200 festival fee and $50 field trip package, and miscellaneous program expenses.

Tour cost does not include round-trip airfare to and from Lafayette, personal expenses such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or other services. Guide gratuities are at your discretion.

Travel Details

Please plan to arrive between 4:00 and 5:00 PM on October 27 at the Lafayette Regional Airport (LFT), Louisiana. We list this time based on when a number of flights on varying airlines come in to Lafayette. If you arrive early, it will just mean a bit of a wait for our group transfer. Please book flights out for 10:00 AM onwards on November 1.

  • Andrew Haffenden

    Andrew started in the tourist industry in 1968 on Australia’s Dunk Island, then worked in the Melbourne Zoo's reptile department, followed by a stint at the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service. Here he did field work, supported by captive studies, on Brolgas, Sarus Cranes, Magpie Geese, Herbert River Ringtail Possums, Longtailed Pygmy Possums and a few others. He also participated in captive studies of tree kangaroos, antechinuses and leatherback turtles. In 1986 he started a small eco-tour company in North Queensland, which grew into a nature and adventure company. Once Andrew moved to the US, he was responsible for tours to the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Chile and Alaska, before starting Nature Travel Specialists in 2003. He resides in the peaceful birding haven of Dauphin Island where he quickly entered the local community to share interests of conservation. He enjoys cooking, reading, networking with friends and colleagues, and the challenge of a new adventure.

    Photo credit: Peg Abbott

    Other trips with Andrew Haffenden


Photo credits: Banners: Yellow Rails & Rice Festival, courtesy yellowrailsandrice.com; Egret in Louisiana, Morgane Perraud via Unsplash; Blue Heron, Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash; Cajun Crawfish, Sidney-Pearce on Unsplash; Festival, courtesy yellowrailsandrice.com; Rail, courtesy yellowrailsandrice.com; Louisiana Swamp, Joshua J. Cotten Unsplash; Sora, Becky Matsubara via flickr; YRRF, courtesy yellowrailsandrice.com; King Rail, Carlos Sanchez; Alligator in Louisiana, Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash; White-fronted Geese, Steve Buckingham; Roseate Spoonbill, Steve Shunk; Male Yellow-Headed Blackbird Hugh Simmons; Yellow_Rail by Dominic Sherony via wikimedia; American Bittern, Carlos Sanchez; Bachman's Sparrow, Carlos Sanchez; Bald Eagle by Richard Lee via Unsplash; King Rail, Carlos Sanchez; Pileated Woodpecker, Carlos Sanchez; Roseate Spoonbill, Steve Shunk; Sora, Doug Greenberg; Vermilion Flycatcher, Carlos Sanchez; YRARF, courtesy yellowrailsandrice.com.

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