Friday, November 20, 2015

Ten more days of fall migration- more or less

This afternoon as I stepped out my front door, I heard the pleasantly mellow note of an Eastern Bluebird- a species that I have never detected in or from my urban yard before, and which only occurs in my part of the city in passage.  

Shortly thereafter, a White-throated Sparrow chimed a series of its distinctive peek notes from behind my neighbor's house- another one that normally graces my 'hood only when passing through.

It's probably not coincidence that these birds showed up on a day of north winds following a frontal passage- such conditions provide a nice tailwind for migration.  It may be late November, but their migrations are still in swing for the next ten days or so.  Various fall migrants continue to arrive through November- but the pace drops off precipitously in the first week of December.  After that, among land birds, only a few atypical species continue to arrive.

So enjoy these last few days of southbound arrivals- and wait for the first northbound Purple Martins, just around the corner at the end of January!


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 5: identifying Savannah Sparrows by habitat and behavior

This morning as I was walking the levee in Old Jefferson, a small brown sparrow flushed from the short grass (lawn) that carpets the embankment, and flitted back and forth a bit before settling again back onto the lawn.  I knew immediately what it was, even though I do not normally see the species there:  Savannah Sparrow.

Savannahs are migrating in this time of year, and will spend the winter in nearby areas outside town.  They are infrequent this far into the city, so this bird was probably a new arrival that was still searching for a good wintering spot and found itself (for the moment) in the city.

Savannah is our only common sparrow (besides the familiar House Sparrow) that normally ventures more than a quick jump from cover.    The only other expected species that does so regularly is Vesper, which is much less common in our area, and looks quite different from the small, short-tailed Savannah:  noticeably larger, with a longer tail with conspicuous white outer feathers. 

Good birding,


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Transition to wintering avifauna is getting underway

This morning as I was walking in my neighborhood in Old Jefferson, I heard the check of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  A block later, the sip of an Eastern Phoebe.

These are both winter arrivals- they will not be crossing the Gulf to continue their migration.  They are early representatives of our arriving wintering land bird contingent.  It was my first Yellow-rump of the season; I have had only a few other Phoebes.

Late October is the time when the last gasp of Neotropic-bound migrants comes through, and the first substantial waves of wintering land birds arrive.  Indigo Buntings and Gray Catbirds, arguably our most numerous late-season tropic-bound migrants, are in the waning phases of their passage.  While present in small numbers in winter, the vast bulk of both head for Mexico or farther south.

Most of our wintering land birds have been reported back already, though mostly in small numbers.  Larger waves of arrivals will continue through November, and taper rapidly in early December.  Pulses usually arrive after cold front passages, riding in on the northerly tailwinds.

Enjoy the change of seasons!


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Will Patricia bring us any storm waifs?

Tropical Storms and Hurricanes are well known for displacing seabirds to places outside their normal geographical ranges, sometimes even depositing truly pelagic species well inland.  This is a predictable enough phenomenon that experienced birders are out scouring bodies of water and lawns after every storm.

What about Patricia?  Conventional wisdom is that the best tropical-weather birding is near the track of the storm, or on its east side- so far, so good.  However, Patricia's unusual path across the highlands of Mexico makes it hard to believe that any birds will be displaced from the Pacific all the way to here.  Could it displace something to us from the southwestern Gulf of Mexico?  Maybe- we don't have much precedent to judge by, given this storm's unusual track.  However, since winds will not be particularly strong in the Gulf, it seems unlikely.

The species most readily displaced by tropical weather in our area is the Magnificent Frigatebird.  This species occurs normally on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, and nearly every tropical system that comes our way pushes a few inland as far as New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.  So, keep your eyes open for frigates in the sky- maybe Patricia will have enough punch left to send some inland to us.   

The rain produced by Patricia may also produce some good birding- causing water birds that would pass over to pause in our area.  Hurricane Opal in 1995 deposited a Sabine's Gull at Southshore Harbor on the Lake- still the only one I have seen in Louisiana. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 4: telling Sapsuckers in flight

This morning as I was walking the levee in Old Jefferson, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew across it heading from the batture into the large shade trees of the Magnolia School.  I was not in position to see its white wing stripes.  Fortunately, sapsuckers differ from our other small-ish woodpeckers in another way:  their profile.

Sapsuckers are noticeably more streamlined than Downy or Hairy in flight.  The body appears more attenuated fore and aft and, especially, the wings are longer and more tapered.  Downy and Hairy are overall more pudgy, with shorter rounder wings.  The difference is presumably linked to the sapsucker's migratory habit, requiring it to be more aerodynamic.

Wing length alone was enough to give away a second Sapsucker a half hour later, as it flew down my street ahead of me, directly away- showing nothing but its lanky strokes.

Good birding,


PS- my first two sapsuckers of the fall!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peregrine back in town

This evening at 6:45, as the sun was about to plunge below the horizon, a red light caused me to stop on David Drive, staring across Vets at the Jefferson Parish water tower that looms over the intersection.  I have scanned it countless times over the years for a perched Peregrine, since the species does occasionally use the tower a couple miles east at Causeway x I-10.  Until now, my efforts on David Drive had been fruitless.

I was shocked tonight to see that there was actually a raptor on the uppermost wire.  Hastily grabbing my "emergency" pair of binoculars from the glove box, I trained my lenses on it:  adult Peregrine.

It was on the horizontal wire immediately below the tank, on the southwest side of the structure- its back toward the setting sun, its underside and face in my direction.

I imagine it was settling in for the night- anyone passing the spot in the early AM might find it there as well. 


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 3: Using chickadees and titmice to find migrants

Today I was walking through the woodsy part of LaSalle Park, looking for migrants.  My first circuit of the boardwalk and adjacent glade produced a single Eastern Wood-Pewee, singing perweee.  The second circuit produced a Brown Thrasher, calling its hearty chuck, and then a chickadee giving its namesake call from a tall water oak.  I swished at it, and it immediately flew down to my level in an  adjacent tree.  With it came a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a White-eyed Vireo, and a Summer Tanager.

This illustrates a valuable strategy for searching for migrants in wooded habitats.  First, chickadees (and titmice) are often accompanied by migrant passerines.  Second, chickadees are usually responsive to swishing/squeeking, and when they approach their migrant companions often will as well.