The Northshore Visitor Guide Fall/Winter 2023-'24

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Bird Fest - Great Blue Heron at Big Branch
Great Blue Heron at Big Branch


Just the thought of catching a glimpse of the rare red-cockaded woodpecker is enough to give birdwatchers goose bumps. The endangered little bird is elusive but has been spotted on the Northshore, home to a number of bird-rich wildlife refuges and The Great Louisiana BirdFest.

Having been canceled for the past two years due to COVID-19, Northlake Nature Center was determined to hold this popular event in 2022, but scaled back to reduce risk. As such, the four-day festival  returns in 2022 as the all-outdoor Mini-Birdfest: Bayous and Canals of the Manchac Swamp. The single-day event is a boat ride with an expert guide, and stops at two distinct habitats. For details and information on registration and admission, check out this year's event on our calendar.

While the red-cockaded woodpecker is non-migratory, scores of species seasonally spotted here are not. On some days in spring, more than one million birds reach Louisiana’s coast, migrating through the Northshore from Mexico and South America. As many as 150 different species have been seen during previous BirdFests, usually held in April. The 2022 event is a scaled-back event, reduced from four days to one, as Mini-BirdFest, a boat trip through the bayous and canals of Manchac Swamp.

The BirdFest is hosted by the Northlake Nature Center, a lovely 400-acre non-profit preserve just outside Mandeville. The center has seven miles of trails for self-guided tours offering such highlights as a grove of giant magnolias, a beaver pond on Bayou Castine, cypress trees and a resident flock of 20 wild turkeys.

The Northlake Nature Center is only the beginning on the Northshore for birding enthusiasts, however. There are more than 80,000 acres of wildlife preserve in St. Tammany Parish, held in areas like the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, the Big Branch National Wildlife Reserve and the Nature Conservancy’s Abita Flatwood Preserve. The Great Louisiana Bird Fest organizes workshops and self-drive tours for birders in these and other areas, including Manchac Swamp.

Birders can be on the lookout for seasonal visitors like the scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, ruby-throated hummingbirds, raptors, orioles, and a host of waterfowl species. Resident birds, besides the red-cockaded woodpecker (there are eight species of woodpecker found in St. Tammany’s refuges!) include great blue herons, great and snowy herons, white ibis, numerous hawk species and many others.

For dates and details regarding the Great Louisiana BirdFest, check out this year's event in our calendar.

Bird Fest Northshore scenic beauty at the Northlake Nature Center
Bird Fest - Red headed woodpecker Fontainebleau
Gulls flying over Big Branch March National Wildlife Refuge at sunset
Birdwatching at Big Branch March National Wildlife Refuge
Great Egret Big Branch Marsh NWR
Northern Cardinal at Fontainebleau State Park