Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sandpipers returning to the Earhardt x Causeway ponds

Well, there has been low water in the retention ponds beneath Causeway at Earhardt for most of the summer, but no migrant shorebirds till today.

This morning there were a single Least Sandpiper, single Pectoral Sandpiper, and two Spotted Sandpipers.

Leasts are tiny and brown above, Pectoral is twice as large (but still smaller than Killdeer) and also quite brown above; Spotteds are most easily told by their exaggerated bobbing of their rear ends as they walk about. 

They were in the company of 8 Black-necked Stilts and 8 Killdeer- nesters in the New Orleans area.  And the usual large waders- today Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and a young Black-crowned Night-Heron.  An adult Red-shouldered Hawk was atop the utility pole where it often sits.

Someone has put four duck decoys out there in the marshy section east of the overpass- not sure what they are thinking!?!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Time to bid the kites farewell

Within the next week or so, there will be a dramatic change in our bird scene. Our Mississippi Kites, so prevalent in our skies in August, will disappear. Their departure to head around the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most abrupt changes in our bird communities each year.
We will have to wait until next April to enjoy them again!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill at Nine Mile Point on West Bank

Yesterday I made a visit to the grain elevators on River Rd at Nine Mile Pt. A Roseate Spoonbill was plying the shallows of the pool just downstream of the entrance, seen from the Miss River levee. It was an adult, as revealed by scattered rich pink feathers among the paler pink overall body tones. I am 90% sure another individual of the species flew out as I approached.
The usual horde of Black-bellied Whistling- Ducks was in attendance, 3000 strong, 20% adult-sized juvs hatched this year. The spot was busy with waders, including 60 Great and 20 Snowy Egrets, 55 White Ibis, and 22 Black-necked Stilts.
Good busy birding spot.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fledged Miss Kite; Kingfisher back south of Lake Pontchartrain

I have been treated to two seasonal milestones in the last two days:

July 25- my first fledged Mississippi Kite of the summer, flying about awkwardly among the tall shade trees near my home in Old Jefferson.  Young birds can be told by their streaked underparts and barred tail (and goofy behavior).

July 26- Belted Kingfisher in the batture in Old Jefferson.  This bird is too early to be called a true migrant (in my book)- more aptly said to be dispersing from their breeding grounds north of Lake Pontchartrain.  Arrival of a few such birds on the south side of the lake in mid summer is normal.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

First migrant Yellow Warblers reported

The first fall migrant land bird to return to our area southbound each fall is usually Yellow Warbler- and the first two were reported today, in late July right on schedule!  David Muth detected them in Pass Manchac.

Yellow Warblers frequently migrate diurnally in late summer in south Louisiana, often revealing themselves by a husky seet note while they fly over.  They are most commonly heard in the early morning; keep your ears open!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trip report: Breton Sound islands

This past Friday I had the great pleasure of visiting three of the islands on the east edge of Breton Sound:  Gosier (now two islands), and Breton Island.  Steven Liffman piloted us out in his fast boat and also took the photos that appear below, and Dave Muth and Dan Purrington rounded out the party.

The islands are low and sandy, easily overwashed by storms.  There was essentially no vegetation on North Gosier, sparse patches of grasses on South Gosier, and a mixture of low dense scrub (north end) and scattered grassy growth (southern) on Breton Island.

The large numbers of nesting seabirds on these islands has long been recognized, and is a reason that Breton NWR was an early member of the wildlife refuge system.  They did not disappoint!  We visited North Gosier first, where there were thousands of terns, dominated by Royal and Sandwich, along with Black Skimmers.  They were along the water's edge, and packed densely into colonies in the slightly higher interior of the island.  Generally, Royals and Sandwiches nested together, and Black Skimmers were grouped off by themselves with a handful of Gull-billed Terns mixed in.  Some Caspian Terns were mixed in.  As we walked the beach of North Gosier, skimmers gave distraction displays to try and draw us away from the colony, by flying by so low their breasts touched the sand, wiggling their bodies as they did so- a ruse to look injured. 

top:  Caspian Tern settling into Royal Tern nesting colony
bottom:  Sandwich Tern nesting colony

Terns and skimmers were also abundant on South Gosier.  We rescued four Caspian chicks that were swimming in the surf, and carried them onto the beach.

As great as these islands were, they did not hold a candle to our next stop, Breton Island.  There were tens of thousands of terns crowded on the beaches of the north end, and scattered liberally elsewhere along the perimeter.  Thousands of Brown Pelicans were loafing along the shore, and the heads of more on nests were poking up from the scrub.  Scanning the sky over the island as we approached showed 3300 terns in the air, not spooked, just going about their activities.  As we walked through the interior, creches of 100-200 large but still flightless tern chicks scuttled out of our way.  We decided it prudent to not approach too closely, and headed back for the boat.  At that point our first unexpected bird of the day flew by, headed out to the water:  Neotropical Cormorant, a bird normally confined to Baton Rouge and points west.   We boated a bit south and pulled on shore again, and while disembarking spotted the trophy bird of the day:  Arctic Tern.  It allowed close approach and study for the next half hour or so, showing the full suite of marks:  solid blood red bill, gray underparts separated from black cap by a white line, pencil thin black line on ventral and dorsal surfaces of transparent primaries, short legs.

Other interesting aspects of these islands included the prevalence of Reddish Egrets- we had ten or so, the only large waders except for a single Great Blue Heron.  Hundreds (thousands?) of Black Terns were loafing, apparently summering on the islands despite not breeding in the state- half or so were in black breeding plumage.  Scattered shorebirds included Marbled Godwits, Avocets, an Oystercatcher, and a Black-necked Stilt with three downy young.  Frigatebirds appeared now and then cruising overhead.

What a great day!


Friday, July 10, 2015

Quarter of a million purple martins at north end of Pontchartrain Causeway- awesome!!!

Yesterday evening I kayaked out to the martin roost off Mandeville. I knew that it was about two miles offshore, but had a hard time targeting the spot while heading over from Sunset Point until, shortly before dusk, I was enveloped in a river of birds headed that direction- a flow that seemed to buoy me along. As dusk gathered,the flow gradually grew to about 50 birds passing by per second, chattering as they went. I then reached the bridge; birds were swarming noisily underneath, flying up to perch on the understructure. I ended up kayaking 1.3 miles of roosting birds; each bridge segment had about 1900 birds, which grew to 2400 before I turned around. This comes to 125,000 in the portion I covered; because I know it stretches twice that far, it seems that 250,000 is an appropriate estimate.
Being immersed by this huge mass of birds, together with lightning in the distance and the lapping lake swells, ranks this among my peak birding experiences.