Monday, September 15, 2014
At 6:00 pm this evening as I was westbound on the I-10 passing Causeway, it occurred to me to glance beneath the water tower to see if a Peregrine had yet returned from the north to use the site.
There it was! Hopefully in to spend the winter.
The bird was perched on a horizontal cable on the perimeter of the tower (the first encircling cable below the water tank itself), on the southeast side.
Last year this spot produced multiple Peregrine sightings for me, but was usually empty- a bird was present probably only 1/20 of the times I looked while driving past.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
This morning I made a visit to Point Aux Herbes and South Point in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. These are where the Highway 11 bridge and Twin Span leave New Orleans for Slidell, and where the railroad bridge does the same, respectively. The former can be reached by car simply by taking the Hwy 11 Exit from I-10 shortly before crossing Lake Pontchartrain; the latter can be accessed by a 30 minute walk from the gate on the shell frontage road that runs west from the first site.
These sites are both notable for being departure points from which small land birds participating in "morning flight" head out over the water bound for the North Shore in autumn. This happens almost exclusively under north or northeast winds, which in turn happen mostly after cold front passages. Watching such flights is one of my favorite birding activities- a visible spectacle, revelation of the migratory urge. They are heading northward despite it being fall- when they should be southbound. I think the most likely interpretation of this is that they have been wind-displaced onto the coastal wetlands (and urban New Orleans) over night as they migrated, and having found themselves in hostile (for these species) terrain are now struggling to regain suitable surroundings again by heading back into the north winds that displaced them to begin with.
At any rate, this morning there was a moderate passage, of perhaps 100 birds/hour.
In 20 minutes (710-730) at Hwy 11, all crossing:
10 Blue Grosbeak
8 Eastern Kingbird
3 unidentified warblers
3 Barn Swallows
1 Chimney Swift
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
In 30 minutes at the railroad bridge (755-825), all crossing:
20 Eastern Kingbird
25 unidentified small passerine
3 Yellow Warbler
4 probable Bobolink
8 swallows (Barn, Rough-winged among them)
In addition, a Roseate Spoonbill was flying over the marsh near the railroad bridge. Two flocks of Blue-winged Teal (40,25) appeared to be newly arriving across the lake.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
I swung by the rain pool on Lakeshore Drive behind the Lakefront Arena again this morning at 9 AM. Water is higher than on my last visit- it must have been hit by a thundershower. The shorebird mix has swung more towards yellowlegs, which often favor wetter habitats than other species:
2 Black-bellied Plover
5 Greater Yellowlegs
9 Lesser Yellowlegs
2 Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs (too distant to call)
2 Pectoral Sandpiper
2 Least Sandpiper
there were also Snowy and Great Egrets working the edge, and an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron
On the UNO Campus, I came across my first singing Mockingbird of the fall. Mockingbirds normally cease singing at the end of nesting (c. August 1), and then resume at about this time- so this bird was right on schedule.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
I just checked out the rainpool behind the UNO Lakefront Arena on Lakeshore Drive, to see if water was low enough to begin attracting shorebirds.
Bingo! Ten minutes produced:
2 Black-bellied Plover (one in breeding plumage with the black belly)
2 Greater Yellowlegs
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
50 Least Sandpiper
4 Pectoral Sandpiper
There may have been another "peep" or two mixed in with the Least Sandpipers, at least among the 20 or so that were a little to far for binocular assessment. Western and Semipalmated are the two other small sandpipers (peeps) that are most likely to mix with Leasts and Pectorals. They both have dark legs, while the Leasts and Pectorals both have pale (yellow-green) legs. Though similar in shape and color pattern, the Leasts and Pecs are easily told apart when together- Pecs being much larger. Pecs also have a crisply demarcated boundary between the breast streaking and white belly, seldom found in Least. The large majority of Leasts at the swale today were in adult plumage, dull brown-gray above, but a few retained brighter rufous tones indicative of being juveniles (hatched this summer).
Direct size comparison is also the easiest way to tell Greater from Lesser Yellowlegs. Failing that, Greater can be told by the longer bill with very slight upturn (shorter and straight in Lesser), usually much more extensive dark flecking on the sides/flanks, and longer call (3+ notes).
If water continues to fall, the pond is likely to get more birdy. Light is rather problematic at mid day- I suggest coming early or late and approaching with the sun at your back.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
This past week I was teaching a night class at UNO, and let the students out for a 15 minute break at 7:30. Ten minutes later, one of the students came back and held out their smart phone, asking "What's this bird? It was calling outside the building just now!" After two or three seconds of crickets on the tape, the whinny of an Eastern Screech-Owl came through the speaker loud and clear.
Late summer and early fall are classically the best time of year to hear Screech Owls in our area. I am not sure why- possibly the increase in vocalizations is due to adults solidifying their territories for the winter, or possibly it is due to young testing out their vocal "pipes." At this season it is actually not surprising to hear them during early morning daylight hours. The most common situation for this is when imitating (or playing a tape) of one to try and draw in small songbirds intent on mobbing- a common technique used by birders. The place I have heard of birders encountering them in this fashion with greatest regularity is in the Couturie Forest of City Park, but they widespread in residential areas wherever there are large trees. Sometimes they seem to also respond to ambulance sirens.
Before the age of convenient hand-held electronic playing equipment, many birders trained themselves to imitate Screech Owl calls. This is done by holding the tongue up just below the roof of the mouth, trapping a small amount of saliva there (above the rear edge of the tongue), and bubbling through it with head tilted slightly back. It takes some practice- the shower is good place! I still do this alot in the field.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
The Eastern Kingbird is a common migrant through our area in spring and fall, and the species also nests here. The most notable feature of its migration, however, is the sharp peak in its autumnal passage- which occurs with regularity on or about September 5- today!
Eastern Kingbirds engage in "morning flight," the habit of moving in the early morning hours in their migratory direction. This often makes their movement more visible than most other songbirds- since most others make their migratory movements at night.
Kingbirds travel in the morning in flocks, often up to a few dozen together, sometimes many more, often near treetop level. These groups are relatively loose, and the individual movements of the birds appear to me to give each flock a sort of "weaving" appearance in aggregate.
Keep your eyes open for kingbirds!
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Following up on a report by Bill Bergen, I dropped by Lafreniere Park today and saw a Roseate Spoonbill. Here is Bill's stunning picture, taken Friday.
At 11:00 this morning, the bird was standing on the railing of the cement bridge near the start of the boardwalk, and was easily spotted from my car while circling on the park access road.
Roseate Spoonbills have in recent years become regular late summer-early fall visitors to our urban landscape, primarily in Lafreniere Park (where the evening wader roost along the boardwalk may offer the best shot of finding one) and in the drainage canals in Metairie. Last year, the most productive drainage canal segments for them were in the neutral ground of West Metairie (between David Drive and Clearview), and in the canal along the edge of Airline Hwy between David Drive and Williams Blvd.
The bird in the picture is an immature, and those that come to our area are most likely post-breeding dispersers from one or more of their rookeries in the tidal marshes nearer the outer Gulf Coast. They are frequently also found at this time of year in the wetlands outside the city, such as at the Madere Marsh overlook in Bayou Sauvage NWR.