Monday, December 5, 2016

Waterbird bonanza at Bayou Sauvage (video)

There has been a tremendous concentration of waterbirds this fall at a particular impoundment of the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.  It takes about a half hour to walk to a vantage point.

Across Chef Hwy from the kiosks/restrooms at the western refuge boundary (at the Snowy Egret sign) is a gated road (Recovery Rd) that heads south, tracking just inside the refuge boundary.  About a half hour walk in, past the dilapidated shed, a levee on the left can be climbed for a view of the spectacle.

Great waterbird concentrations are to be expected at this spot whenever there is a prolonged dry spell, so that lots of shoreline mud gets exposed for sandpipers and the open water becomes shallow enough for larger waders and dabbling ducks.  I am not sure how much rain it has received this weekend, and what effect that will have, but I expect it to remain good.

This video, taken by LSU professor Van Remsen, gives a feel for the enormity of it:



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Peregrine on another Jefferson water tower

This afternoon I spotted a suspicious silhouette perched on the large water tower in Old Jefferson, and took a quick U-turn to come back and check it out.  Sure enough, a Peregrine.

This is the first time I have seen one there.  The only raptor I have seen perch there before- and I have checked a lot- was a Kestrel, about a month ago.  It makes the third urban Jefferson Parish water tower on which I have seen a Peregrine.  Yay!  This tower is adjacent to Riverdale High School.  The bird was about half way up, on one of the major horizontal beams.

As an aside, I also saw two Bald Eagles flying about in the vicinity of the West Bank Expressway-Hwy 90 interchange in Avondale this morning.  A nice diversion amidst the gridlock of rush hour!  Perhaps a new nest location is in the works...


Monday, October 31, 2016

Peregrine under the water tower at David x Vets

Around 5:20 this afternoon, I was taking one of my kids (in Halloween regalia) to his friend's house in Metairie. As I pulled up to the end of the cue of cars lined up northbound on David Drive waiting for the light at Veterans Memorial Blvd,  I leaned forward to look up and inspect the wires on the water tower that loomed above.  I was looking for a perched Peregrine, as is my habit at pretty much every water tower in the area that I find myself close to.  This particular tower has only yielded the Lord of the Skies for me once before, a few years back.

Today made it number two!  It was an adult, sitting on the highest wire beneath the tank, tight in against one of the tower's "legs." The red light gave me a moment to pull my "emergency" binoculars from my glove box and have a look.  It was facing north, showing its blue-gray back- indicating an adult.

I cruised by Lakeside Mall on I-10 immediately after, hoping for a bird at that (more often used) tower, but it was empty.  That's okay, one is enough to get me pumped!


Friday, October 14, 2016

Peregrine Falcon returns to Jefferson water tower

Yesterday evening a brief stop in traffic on the Causeway overpass over I 10 gave me just enough time to grab binoculars from my glove box, and train them on the small silhouette perched high on the Jefferson water tower. Sure enough, it was a Peregrine, using this familiar haunt for the species during our "winter" months. Good to see it in use again!

Friday, September 2, 2016

1000+ kingbirds crossing Lake Pontchartrain at South Point

Yesterday I made a quick foray out to South Point in New Orleans East, where the railroad bridge leaves the South Shore headed for Slidell.  This is a great spot for witnessing morning flights of migratory birds.    

I was hoping for a good Eastern Kingbird flight, since that species often stages major movements at this site when we get mornings of northeast winds in early September.  Getting those conditions at this time of year requires some luck, since the cold fronts that produce northerly winds are hard to come by until later in the fall.  However, Tropical Storm Hermine was moving through the eastern Gulf and her cyclonic circulation provided a gentle northeasterly breeze.  Skies were sunny this far from the storm, although a broad bank of clouds off to the east and southeast studded by cumulonimbus tops seemed like it might be a distant view of Hermine's closest edge.

I pulled over at  the base of Highway 11 bridge for brief look, which will usually give an indication of whether a flight is in progress.  Sure enough, within a few minutes, a Blue Grosbeak, a scattering of warblers, and a flock of 80 kingbirds passed overhead and out over the water shadowing  the bridges.  I then headed for the Point, where the flow volume is often greater than at the bridge- though the differences between the two sites are something I am still working out.

On the mile or so hike up to the point, a handful of migrants crossed overhead headed out over the water toward Slidell- including a few Purple Martins.  This species is commonly part of early September movements at South Pt, even after they have departed the New Orleans region otherwise.  I had not seen one elsewhere for weeks.

At the point, a more or less continuous movement was ongoing, with scattered small flocks of warbler-sized songbirds punctuated by larger groups of kingbirds, often 50+.  I took a ten minute count starting at 8:40, and tallied 232 heading out over the water for Slidell, about 70% kingbirds.  For the next ten minutes I just enjoyed the show.  I capped it with another ten minute count at 9:00:  252 birds, again mostly kingbirds.  These indicated a passage rate of about 1450 per hour, about 1000 of them kingbirds.  Since the peak is usually in the first two hours or so after sunrise, and I arrived after that, it may have been stronger earlier.

As usual for this time of year, the second most common participant was Yellow Warbler, but I also was able to pick out a Blackburnian Warbler, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo, Waterthrush sp, American Redstart, Summer Tanager, and Great Crested Flycatcher.  I suppose I could have worked harder at identifying more species, but I am always torn between trying to make identifications and merely putting the binocs down and soaking in the phenomenon.

I then headed back to the Highway 11 bridge, where I had arranged to meet five zoology students from University of Holy Cross, my new academic home.  We counted another 450 birds crossing there in 45 minutes (10:00-10:45), in this case about 90% kingbirds.  

Good stuff!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Say goodbye to the Mississippi Kites

The time has come for the annual exodus of the Mississippi Kites- one of the most abrupt and conspicuous changes in our avifauna each year.  They change from being numerous to essentially absent in the course of the last week of August each year.

Yesterday I saw five during my normal running of errands around the metro area, and today four so far- including two from my yard.  Pretty much in line with how numerous they have been all summer. But that will change in a matter of days, and skies will be kite-less until April.    

A side note- this afternoon I saw four Black Vultures circling over the batture by Ochsner Hospital in Old Jefferson.  This is the only place I have seen them regularly on the East Bank of Jefferson Parish, and it is good to know they are still using the spot (it had been several months since I last saw them there). For reasons unclear to me, Turkey Vultures penetrate New Orleans' urban developed zone much more frequently and deeply than do Blacks- making any East Jeff sightings noteworthy.  Turkey Vultures were themselves much less regular in NOLA's urban landscape prior to Katrina, and have increased since for unknown reasons.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Fallout shorebirds from the tropical disturbance

The winds from the tropical disturbance that has been affecting us the last few days may not have been strong enough to push many birds around, but the rains of such a system often produce a different sort of birding opportunity: water birds that would normally migrate past without pausing are often induced to stop over until the weather passes.
This afternoon, while waiting in the carpool line at Patrick Taylor Academy in Avondale, I noticed some movement in the flooded grassy fields behind the building. Yanking the binoculars out of my glove box-where I keep a pair for such emergencies- I was able to pick out a half dozen Pectoral Sandpipers, a Black-bellied Plover, and a couple Lesser Yellowlegs! These were passage migrants; they were accompanied by four Black-necked Stilts, as many Killdeer, and a small flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, all most likely local residents attracted by the rain pools. Never before have I been eager for the carpool line to move as slowly as possible!