Monday, February 20, 2017

Second migrant species reported

A pair of American Golden Plovers, passing through en route from southern South America to the Arctic, was reported yesterday near Shreveport.

This, the second species of migrant reported, comes about four weeks after the first- Purple Martin. This gap of weeks between the first martin and the next species to follow is pretty typical- although it remains baffling why the vanguard martins always show up long before anything else.

The plover observers also reported an apparently departing group of migrating Greater White-fronted Geese, northbound.  A few additional species should be reported back in the next week or so.....


Monday, January 30, 2017

The first spring migrant has returned- right on schedule!

Every year, the first species that is detected returning from parts south of us is the Purple Martin.  They seem to always get reported from somewhere in the last week of January, when we are still in our coldest month.  And this despite relying entirely on flying insects for their food!  

Right on schedule, Martins were reported a few places over the weekend, as close as East Baton Rouge and St. James Parishes.  However, the earliest bird reported this year, spotted sometime last week, was in Oak Grove in the far northeast corner of the state (!).

The fact that the first martins are back, however, does not mean their nesting boxes will be full this week.  There is usually a time lag of several weeks between the first report and the bulk arrival of the species.

Usually the first birds back are males, which is actually a widespread pattern among songbird species.  Males precede females in spring migration, so as to have an edge against rival males of their species in procuring nesting territories.

One of the oddities of our spring migration schedule is that it is likely to be a solid month before any other species arrives back.  The next returnee to be reported is less easy to predict- a Swallow-tailed Kite or Northern Parula perhaps?


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Brazen Cooper's Hawk at Harahan Walmart

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Walmart in Harahan, pulling out of parking space in the crowded lot.  The local flock of panhandling Boat-tailed Grackles took flight in apparent alarm, so  I stopped to scan for a raptor.  Sure enough, an adult Cooper's came bombing through.  However, it was not flying at normal height, but weaving and maneuvering among the cars and shoppers.  It then dove into one of the small ornamental trees near the store front, scattering several House Sparrows from its foliage, and quickly reappeared, heading back along a row of cars.  It flew at eye level ten feet in front of two oblivious shoppers, and swept up to the top of a rather short light pole.  

I pulled up that aisle, trying to get close, when it dove back to near ground level and zipped between two parked cars.  It seemed to be using these to conceal itself as it hunted, but came up empty, and flew across Jefferson Highway to park on a wire in front of the Chisesi Ham warehouse.

I say it was hunting, but I suppose it may have just become frustrated trying to find a parking space.

Cooper's Hawks are one of our most frequently seen urban raptors, but it was not always so.  As recently as the 1990's, urban Coop nests were noteworthy and sightings still pretty infrequent.  Its recent increase in numbers and urban occurrence have been reported in many parts of the country, begging the question what could cause these changes in such widespread areas essentially simultaneously.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blue Jays imitating...Cooper's Hawk?!?

Vocal mimicry is well known in the bird world, but prominent in relatively few taxa- most famously parrots and mynas in the realm of pets, and in members of the family Mimidae (most notably Northern Mockingbird) among our native species.

One additional case of local relevance to birders has always been the penchant of Blue Jays for imitating one particular hawk species, the Red-shouldered Hawk.  Jays are quite good at rendering the strident kyah notes made by the hawk, and do so a lot.  Because both species are common in our area, birders hear a lot of both the hawk and its impersonator.   The jays can be very convincing-  usually sounding a little more frail than the real raptor- but I find myself sometimes uncertain of whether I am getting duped.

At any rate, I had never heard a jay imitate another raptor until today.  On my way out to my car in the driveway, I heard an apparent Cooper's Hawk in my live oak.  Coops make a series of short chants, quite different from a Red-shouldered.  The sound appeared to be coming from the exact location in the tree where a Blue Jay was moving about, seemingly unconcerned about any nearby predator.  I became suspicious.  The jay then moved fifteen feet through the crown of the tree, and the Cooper's Hawk call moved with it.

Another identification complication to add to the list!  Bring it.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Seasonal milestone: first Mourning Dove calling

A few moments ago I went outside to let my dogs into the yard, and sat for a moment on the steps.  The first sound I noticed was the soft coo coo-ooo, cooo cooo cooo of a Mourning Dove, their breeding season advertisement.  The first I have heard for the upcoming nesting cycle.

Okay, so I suppose it is after the solstice, and by that standard we are sliding ever so slightly toward spring astronomically.  But the bald cypress are still not bald- indeed they remain in peak foliage coloration- and the sharpest bite of winter temperatures (however blunt it may be at our latitude) is still ahead of us.  

Every December it strikes me funny when I see the first signs that my local yard birds are beginning to think in terms of nesting, when I am still thinking "ahead" to winter.  


Friday, December 16, 2016

The DDT Survivor's Club

During the past week I was treated to almost daily observations of some terrific species while running errands in the city, all species that we almost lost in the 1960s due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT.

Tuesday-  While sitting at the stoplight waiting to exit Ochsner Hospital onto River Rd, I was afforded a great look at an adult Bald Eagle flying rather low downstream along the Mississippi River levee.  After a few moments it turned to cross the river, and flew beneath a Brown Pelican that was circling high above.

Wednesday morning- Driving the River Road on the West Bank side, I was surprised to see two Bald Eagles perched cozily together on the top of a light pole atop the levee.  They were smack on the Westwego-Harvey town line.  One was adult, the other still had lots of dusky on its white head- a three year old bird, I would guess.

Wednesday afternoon- an Osprey was hovering vigorously over the drainage canal at Earhardt and David in Metairie.

Wednesday- Preparing to turn onto David Drive from Veterans in Kenner near dusk, the traffic light gave me just enough time to grab my binocs and focus in on a Peregrine Falcon that was sitting on the guy wires beneath the Jefferson Parish water tower.

Thursday-  another adult Bald Eagle on the West Bank, this time atop a tall utility pole on Lapalco, near its terminus at Hwy 90 in Avondale.

When I was growing up and learning to bird in western Massachusetts, Peregrines were in the depth of their pesticide woes.  They had almost legendary status; every sighting afforded bragging rights, and most years I had none.  Bald Eagles were so scarce there was only one place in the state (Quabbin Reservoir) where they occurred regularly, and trips out to see them (scoped at a great distance) were an event.   At their low point in southeast Louisiana, the one remaining eagle pair at White Kitchen was (I am told) regarded quite special as well.   In the 1970s I wrote a letter to the author of Birds of Nova Scotia after a family trip to the Maritimes, to report some Osprey sightings- his species account had so emphasized their demise that their whereabouts seemed worth reporting.

When I arrived in New Orleans in 1991. Brown Pelicans had not yet resumed wintering on Lake Pontchartrain.  Hard to imagine today, when one can see scores- or more- in a casual visit!

How great to have all four species around.


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: