Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Morning is the best time for birding...or is it? Thoughts from Couturie.


Yesterday I was treated to a nice show of migrants in a one-hour visit to the Couturie Forest in City Park:
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
4 Eastern Kingbird
1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
10 Red-eyed Vireo
7 Yellow-throated Vireo
2 Wood Thrush
1 Veery
1 Gray-cheeked Thrush (doubtfully a Swainson's)
1 Gray Catbird
1 Black-and White Warbler
1 Yellow Warbler
2 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Magnolia Warbler
7 Scarlet Tanager
8 Summer Tanager
1 Orchard Oriole
2 Blue Grosbeak
12 Indigo Bunting
3 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Would it surprise you to know that such a nice list was tallied from 5-6 pm?  Isn't that a less than ideal time for birding?

The answer is that, yes, morning is best for birding- usually.  But one of the exceptions is that of spring migration on and near the Gulf Coast.  The reason is that migrating birds coming across the Gulf of Mexico usually cannot reach our area until the afternoon, so that there is often an influx late in the day- sometimes making afternoon better than morning.

After a good afternoon arrival event, if there is inclement weather (head winds, rain) that persists after sunset, the arrivals generally stick around in good numbers- in which case the following morning can also be really good.  It might be even better, given that the weather may clear in the interim and provide better viewing conditions, and the birds may also become more visible due to their usual morning up-tick in activity.  But if the nocturnal weather is fair and a southerly tail-wind prevails, afternoon arrivals are likely to be gone the next morning.

Were most of the birds on my list afternoon arrivals?  Without having been there earlier the same day to provide a comparison, it is hard to know.  But the spring phenomenon of afternoon arrivals is well worth factoring into decisions about when to go birding!

Peter



Friday, April 22, 2016

Shorebird numbers building under the Earhardt

The storm water retention ponds at the intersection of Causeway x Earhardt (accessible via Shrewsbury from Airline, by going beneath Earhardt) are now attracting a good number of shorebirds, providing better opportunity to view such species than is usually available within the urban core of our city.    A ten minute visit on Wednesday turned up:
118 Least Sandpiper
1 Western/Semipalmated Sandpiper
14 Lesser Yellowlegs
12 Black-necked Stilt
11 Solitary Sandpiper
2-3 Stilt Sandpiper
2 Killdeer
1 Semipalmated Plover
Ten Blue-winged Teal had joined the shorebirds.
This site floods after major rain events, and most of the shorebirds seem to disappear- but mudflats and birds are often back within a few days.
Enjoy!
Peter

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lots of migrants around- and a good night to watch for them leaving on radar

Judging from reports from City Park, and my own incidental observations around town, there are a lot of passage migrants hanging around the city now- presumably forced to stop over for a few days due to the rain impeding their progress.  In my back yard late this AM, I was treated simultaneously to the chatter of an Orchard Oriole, the lazy phrases of a Red-eyed Vireo, and the spunky chip weebee weedoo chip of a White-eyed Vireo.  Two Blue-winged Teal have been hanging in the flooded roadside ditch by my kids' school, where there were also a couple Solitary Sandpipers yesterday.  Lots of Barn Swallows zipping around lawns here and there, too many to be just the local breeders.

Since the rain has now abated, and winds are easterly and thus no longer oppose northward movement, it is likely that lots of  migrants will depart shortly after sundown.  If so, they are likely to be visible on radar (rap.ucar.edu is a good site for viewing such departures), or audible as flight notes in the sky overhead immediately after dark.  Sometimes a pulse of flight calls overhead seems to happen in spring around 9 pm as well, which I presume is the overhead passage of the concentration of migrants originating on the immediate Gulf Coast.

Migration is so cool!

Peter

Update next day:

The exodus was not as large as I anticipated- perhaps the migrants could detect the rain bands north of the lake at sunset, and chose not to take flight.  However, some departure still appears evident on the images below- see how the dark blue blob (apparent departing birds) starts south of the Lake at 9 pm and is gone (actually gradually shifting northward across the lake to merge with/replace the echoes there) three hours later.




Thursday, April 7, 2016

Seasonal milestone: first Mockingbird fledgling


This morning I stepped out the front door and immediately noticed a sound that had been absent since last August:  the shrill seeeee note of a recently fledged Northern Mockingbird.  Each spring, when I first hear this note, it takes be aback- always seeming to be to early in the season for young to be out of the nest.  But, just like before, when I count backward, the 3-4 weeks of nest occupancy (egg and nestling phases) of the species would put the egg laying in early March- certainly within the normal range for Mockingbirds in our region.

Peter

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Burst of firsts: spring arrivals in Old Jefferson

Yesterday I stepped out my front door at sunrise, and was greeted by three Chimney Swifts coursing over the neighborhood. An hour later, as I drove a nearby section of River Road, an Eastern Kingbird flew from the levee and alighted on a the roadside wire. Shortly thereafter, I was treated to the boisterous song of an Orchard Oriole in the mulberry behind my house. Three new arrivals for my spring list, fresh from the tropics, in a few hours. The fun continued this morning, with a Great Crested Flycatcher calling "reap" from down the street.
Gotta love the spring!
Peter

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Migration is gearing up!

The first migratory species to return to the state this year was the Purple Martin.  As usual, it was reported back at the tail end of January- this year in Baton Rouge- after which a month or so passed before the next species returned.


The first sightings of at least five others have now been reported in Greater New Orleans: Swallow-tailed Kite, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows.  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron as been reported in the southwestern corner of the state, so is probably not far behind... 


Peter

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tricks of the Trade # 6: picking out a singing Thrasher among the Mockingbirds

The Brown Thrasher resides all year in southern Louisiana, and is generally common, but is peculiarly scarce in the nesting season south of Lake Pontchartrain.  I typically find them in only 1-2 locations each spring-summer.

Thus have I been delighted over the past few weeks to have one singing in my neighborhood in Old Jefferson, apparently intent upon attracting a mate.  I first detected this bird three weeks ago in my back yard, scrounging for food on the ground along a shrubby edge.  A few days later it reappeared across the street, singing heartily from the top of a large live oak.  Thrashers have not nested on my block for a decade or more, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Because Brown Thrashers sound very much like Mockingbirds, they are easy to overlook amid the vociferous throngs of the latter species.  It is worth listening for a mocker that sounds slightly hoarse, and employs mainly singlets and doublets.  Mockingbirds are more repetitive- repeating more of their phrases three or more times than do thrashers- and have a cleaner, more liquid voice.  Mockers are also more likely to sing from a man-made structure such as an antenna or telephone pole, while thrashers prefer tall trees.

Keep your ears open!

Peter