Want to know the best place to look for birds and be happier? Photographer has the answer. | Louisiana Inspired

Want to know the best place to look for birds and be happier?  Photographer has the answer.  |  Louisiana Inspired

Research proves what birders likely knew all along. Birding makes people happier. The science shows that living and bird watching in areas with at least 14 different varieties of birds can improve human well-being. The data shows that the happiest people experience numerous different bird species in their daily life.

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A summer tanager sings it song Friday, June 17, 2022, in Indian Bayou near Butte La Rose, La.

Leslie Westbrook, photographer for The Acadiana Advocate, is a living testament to the growing body of evidence that birding is an antidote to despair.

Westbrook is relatively new to birding.

“I got into it 10 years ago, more so in the last five years where I really spent a lot of time going out and enjoying the birds and photographing them,” he said.

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A crow looks out of its perch atop an eastern cottonwood tree as a three-quarter moon rises in the background Friday, June 17, 2022, in the Indian Bayou near Butte La Rose, La.

Going out on photo assignments, Westbrook said he realized he spent a lot of time waiting around for something to happen — at the courthouse, before or after games, concerts or other events.

“I’m often just waiting for something to happen,” he said. “In that downtime, I realized I could look wherever I was — there were always bird stories going on in Louisiana. I could watch them and be entertained.”

Since he was standing there with a camera waiting to photograph something else, the natural progression of events was for him to start taking photographs of the birds he saw.


A great egret perches on a piece of wood as a nearby turtle enjoys the sunshine, Monday, April 12, 2021, at Heymann Park in Lafayette, La.

Once he got started photographing birds, he wanted to learn what he was taking pictures of — and in the years since, he’s learned a lot about birds of Louisiana, including how to identify various birds by sight and sound, whether he’s on his back steps or the Atchafalaya Bridge.

“I can identify the birds we have here and lots of the migratory birds too,” he said.

Westbrook doesn’t carve out large chunks of time to devote to the hobby or take many out-of-the-way birding trips.


A cedar waxwing perches atop a tree at Heymann Park Thursday, January 26, 2023, in Lafayette, La.

“I just do it when I have time. It wasn’t something I had to commit to learning. It didn’t feel like a chore — just a fun thing to do,” he said. “A lot of people go around and don’t notice the variety of birds around us. The birds are just in the background.”

It’s the ubiquitous nature of birds that appeals to Westbrook most.

“Wherever you are is a good place to watch birds — even if it’s a sparrow in a Walmart parking lot,” he said. “If you pay attention to it, you’re going to see it do something fun.”

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A Forster’s tern rises from the water with a small fish Friday, November 4, in the Atchafalaya Basin near Henderson, La.

For those who want to approach the hobby more earnestly, various birding classes are available across Louisiana.

The Orleans Audubon Society hosts birding field trips to New Orleans. They advise participants to bring binoculars, field guides, bug spray, rain gear, sunscreen and refreshments. They say that boots and cell phones may be useful, and snacks and drinks are recommended.

The Orleans Audubon Society asks eBird users to share their eBird account email address with the trip leader, and the trip leader or designee will keep the trip list to share with participants.

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A squirrel leaps toward a tree with an acorn in its mouth as a Mockingbird gives the rodent a piece of its mind at Beaver Park Monday, June 5, 2017, in Lafayette, La. XMIT ORG: BAT1706051448201156

eBird is among the world’s largest biodiversity-related science projects, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed annually by eBirders around the world and an impressive average participation growth rate of approximately 20% year over year.

When entering sightings in eBird, observers are presented with a list of likely birds for that date and region. The checklist filters are developed by some of the most knowledgeable bird distribution experts in the world. When unusual birds are seen, or high counts are reported, the regional experts review the data submitted.

In Lafayette, Westbrook often goes to Heymann Park, behind Paul Breaux Middle School.

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A roseate spoonbill carries a twig back to its nest at Lake Martin Friday, April 9, 2021, in St. Martin Parish.

“It’s wonderful. It’s one of the places I’ve found the largest variety of birds in the area,” Westbrook said. “The park is right next to the Vermilion River and it’s got a swamp in the middle of it.

He’s seen egrets, spoonbills, kingfishers, orioles and a variety of warblers. He often sees 8-12 species of birds there in an hour.

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A White-Eyed Vireo takes flight from a branch Wednesday, May 9, 2018, at the Cypress Island Preserve near Lake Martin in St. Martin Parish.

He also recommends Beaver Park and the internationally known Lake Martin (for songbirds, warblers, bald eagles, cormorants and all the south Louisiana water birds, spoonbills, pelicans and more). He also likes the less-known Indian Bayou area, north of I-10, along Oxbow Trail that ends at an oxbow lake.

Westbrook says Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is another excellent location for birding with “thousands and thousands of birds everywhere you look.”