Friday, November 21, 2014

Three more raptor species

The day after my last post, I added three new raptor species while out and about in the city!

Yesterday, while I was leading a birdwalk on the UNO campus, a Peregrine came zipping eastbound down the lakefront.  (This happened seconds after an eager student had to peel off and go to class- why does it seem to happen that way??)

The remaining participants spied an Osprey tearing into a fish on a pylon out in the lake.

Finally, while leaving campus on Elysian Fields at 5 pm, I drove beneath a Cooper's Hawk perched on the horizontal arm of one of the streetlights.  Streaked below:  immature.

Gotta love it,


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Raptors around the city

There are birds of prey around New Orleans all the time, and just keeping your eyes open will produce sightings as you go about your daily business.  Here is my tally from today and yesterday:

Turkey Vulture-  a dozen or more total, including six circling low over the UNO Research and Technology Park, descending like they were coming down to carrion.  Also one on the ground in a busy median on the UNO campus, surrounded by several crows- at food, presumably.

Black Vulture- every morning they are hanging around Segnette Blvd x Lapalco on the West Bank, where they roost on the tall electrical towers.

American Kestrel- one on Jamie Blvd about a quarter mile off Lapalco, where I have see it on the wire about half of the times I passed so far this fall.

Sharp-shinned Hawk- one yesterday morning over the Earhardt Expwy in Metairie, buffeted by the high winds.  Quite small- probably a male (males are smaller than females in raptors, generally).

Red-shouldered Hawk- one on a roadside wire on River Road yesterday, near Ochsner.  Another today, circling over Old Metairie not far from the Galleria.

Red-tailed Hawk- one came low overhead in Harahan in the cold early morning yesterday, chased by noisy crows.  Another perched near the Earhardt in Metairie today.

All this without the usual Cooper's Hawk! 

Good birding,


Friday, November 14, 2014

Recent weird records from around the state

The last few weeks have produced an interesting array of strange bird records from around the state.

Top of the list is a Lucy's Warbler, which has been seen periodically on a Nature Conservancy property at Grand Isle after being found by LSU professor Van Remsen while he was showing the island off to a visiting birder from the Northeast.  Now that northeasterner has a bird on his state list that is the envy of many Louisianans.  Lucy's Warbler is from the desert southwest, and has occurred in the state before, but not in recent decades.

About a week ago, another LSU ornithologist, Steve Cardiff, was in the rice country of southwest Louisiana at evening dusk, checking out geese.  A group of four specklebellies (Greater White-fronted Geese) was trailing a fifth, odd bird- which on inspection proved to be a Brown Booby, a tropical seabird that normally remains beyond sight of land and is quite rare in Gulf waters anyway.   A few have surprised people by turning up in recent years on inland water bodies- Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Calcasieu- but to pick out one flying past overland is mind boggling.

Finally, it appears that a Vaux's Swift- a bird of the western USA that winters in the tropics- is again frequenting the downtown lakes in Baton Rouge.  This species has a truly strange history in our capital city- they have inexplicably been turning up periodically there in winter for decades, longer than the life span of a swift, often multiple individuals at once.  The species is essentially unknown anywhere else in the eastern USA at any season.  Why?  And why Baton Rouge?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bird to look for # 9: Black-crowned Night-Heron

There are not many bird species that vocalize at night in New Orleans, but one call that the keen listener can generally expect to hear from time to time is the kwok of the Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Like their Yellow-crowned cousins, Black-crowned Night-Herons use a variety of waterways in our area, including urban canals and batture ponds.  Although commonly active at night, they are not strictly nocturnal, and can often be seen out and about by day.   A reliable place to find them is in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit in the Audubon Zoo, especially where the path exits the indoor exhibits and runs into the lagoon.  These are freeloaders, not part of the zoo collection, but are generally closely approachable.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky waterbirds, noticeably more robust than almost all other large waders.  Adult Black-crowns are strikingly patterned, with black crown and back and gray wings- all very clean, with no mottling.   Birds in their first year are brown and white streaked, and can be tricky to separate from Yellow-crowns.    Birds in this plumage have a noticeably different bill and head shape than do Yellow-crowns, having a more slender bill and less blocky head (more tapered in the front).  In flight, only the tips of their feet extend beyond the tail.  Because  the large majority of Yellow-crowns migrate to the tropics for the winter, any night heron from now through February will most likely be a Black-crowned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Season of Sapsucker Skirmishes

A report came across my path yesterday of two birds that were on the ground locked in intense combat.   They ended up being sapsuckers fighting over who would claim the surroundings as their winter territory.

Sapsucker altercations are commonplace in late fall in southeast Louisiana, as birds arrive from the boreal forests of the northern USA and Canada and try and stake out their wintering grounds.  The skirmishes usually consist of birds pursuing each other from tree to tree and vocalizing angrily.

Our sapsucker species, the Yellow-bellied, is one of three allied species that are arranged east-west across the continent.  The Yellow-bellied is the easternmost, replaced by the Red-naped in the Rockies, and the Red-breasted in the Cascades and Sierras.  The Red-naped has occurred in Louisiana, and is always enough of a possibility that seasoned birders usually  keep alert for a sapsucker that looks suspicious.  The identification is complicated though- mere presence of red on the nape is not sufficient.  The Red-breasted is one of my nemesis birds- having eluded me in repeated trips out west.  I even took my wife down a conifer trail on our honeymoon years ago hoping for a glimpse.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a Sapsucker fracas!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yellowthroat in the shrubbery

Just now as I was walking across the UNO campus to my night class, I heard a familiar chunk note come from one of the ornamental hedges by the student union building.

Another Common Yellowthroat- my third or fourth serendipitously detected in the shrubbery on campus in the last month.  A small brown bird with a yellow throat and upper breast, and- in adult males- a black mask.

Common Yellowthroats are by far the most common migratory species for me to detect in ornamental vegetation on the UNO campus- probably by a margin of 10 to 1 over any other migrant species.  This is enigmatic, since the species is near the picky end of the spectrum when it comes to using urban habitats in winter or summer.  It is so averse to the urban landscape then that I know of no nesting sites or wintering sites for it here within the city, even though it is numerous at both seasons just outside our perimeter in freshwater marshes.

Yellowthroats show up in the city in fall migration- September and October.  So for the next few weeks, keep your ears open for their short husky chunk note, even in the most perfectly manicured shrubbery.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Black-bellied Plovers and Least Sandpipers still on Lakeshore Drive

I checked the swale behind the UNO Lakefront Arena again yesterday.  Despite the habitat looking prime, there were relatively few shorebirds- but two Black-bellied Plovers and six Least Sandpipers continue to be present.