Sunday, July 29, 2018

Harahan Laughing Gull roost building up- on schedule

The Harahan Walmart is traditionally the focal spot for thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of Laughing Gulls that roost at night on commercial rooftops in the Elmwood area of Jefferson Parish in late summer and early fall.  The roost usually forms in July, and disperses in October, after which they take up roosting out on Lake Pontchartrain.  Their dispersal may be stimulated by the House of Shock firing up its pyrotechnics nearby as Halloween approaches, although I have never quite been sure what role that plays in the shift to the lake.

This evening, on schedule, there were hundreds- possibly thousands- gathering on the Walmart and Intralox roofs and adjacent parking lot. 

In the parking lot photos below (apologies for the dim lighting- it was cloudy and getting toward dusk), you will notice both black-gray-white adults, and brown juveniles.  These juveniles are birds that hatched this summer- they only keep this very brown plumage for a short while.  The adults are in various stages of transition from their breeding plumage, in which they have black heads, to their white-with-gray-smudge winter head dress.   By my count, there were 222 adults and 45 juveniles in this particular group.

It is often possible to pick out birds that are in their second summer because they retain faded remnants of their tail band.   These are less common than adults or juveniles, and I did not detect any tonight.

One advantage for birders who are just beginning to tackle the rather daunting challenge of identifying gulls, is that essentially every gull in the New Orleans metro area in summer is a Laughing Gull.  No need to sweat over identifications!


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Stilt Sandpipers in the Causeway Retention Ponds

I just found myself running errands in the vicinity of the storm water retention ponds at Causeway x Earhart in Metairie, and decided to zip in for a quick look.

There was lots of mud- the habitat looked great for waders large and small.

There was one species of migratory shorebird present:   Stilt Sandpiper, of which there were three.  All in adult plumage.  This was a notable sighting for the city- a birder could easily pass a season without seeing one inside the hurricane levee.  What was doubly odd, was that there were no other migratory shorebirds present- just the resident Black-necked Stilts.  Normally, there is sort of a hierarchy one works through at small inland shorebird habitats like this one.  The lowest hanging fruit are Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Spotted, Solitary and Least Sandpipers.  Only after a site has attracted the presence of a few (or all) of these does one usually hope to start picking up some of the more selective species that require higher caliber habitat:  a Black-bellied or Semipalmated Plover, Western or Pectoral Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, etc..  It is usually only after one or a few of this second tier starts using a site, that one hopes to find something like a Stilt Sandpiper (or a dowitcher, White-rumped Sandpiper, etc.). 

The point is, it is odd to have three Stilt Sandpipers here when the site has not yet attracted any of the "easier" species.

Also present was a White-faced or Glossy Ibis (I couldn't see the diagnostic eye and face pattern), 20 White Ibis, 11 Snowy Egrets, and singles each of Little Blue, Tricolored, and Great and Cattle Egrets.  A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was on the shore, and a lone adult Laughing Gull was standing in the shallows. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Visit to the Monticello wader roost

I happened to be in the neighborhood of the Monticello wastewater treatment plant this evening at dusk.  So, I took a quick stroll on the levee to see how the usual wader roost was doing in the cement-lined ponds there.  This site is right on the Orleans-Jefferson Parish line, in very urban surroundings. 

The roost was used by about 150 waders tonight, with a breakdown of something like 120 White Ibis, 20 Great Egrets, and 10 Snowy Egrets.  The ibis were all adults.  These were joined by five Anhinga.   No Cattle Egrets, and only two Wood Ducks (usually there are a dozen or two Woodies that fly in for the night). 

The biggest surprise was the paucity of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.  The last time I was here a few years ago there were hordes of "Squealers."

There were three Black-necked Stilts, one of which was very vocal as it flew around, acting like it might be attending young.  There were ten or so Cliff Swallows, which as far as I can remember would be a new nester at this site (the species has been gradually colonizing the city from various directions).

The number of waders tonight was pretty low compared to some past counts I have had, but I suppose that some birds may still spending their nights at the nesting colonies.

This site always looks like it is ripe for something really unusual to show up- I need to keep checking it!

Good birding,


Friday, June 22, 2018

It's Purple Martin roost season!

The annual gathering of Purple Martins beneath the Causeway is underway!  I visited the roost at the Metairie shoreline this evening, and could detect a couple thousand birds.  Keep in mind that, when I studied the roost extensively three years ago, counts of the departing birds in the morning (a steady directional flow that can be quantified easily) were consistently much higher than could be obtained in evening (when they form swirling masses). As usual, they were clinging to the edges of the lengthwise concrete beams underneath the bridge, both on its west and east faces and underneath.    My poor and grainy video shows the scene on the west face.

The appeal of the Metairie roost is that some of the birds are quite close, and can be easily viewed while perched.  As I have noticed before, the birds appear to be essentially all females and immatures- which have pale gray on the underparts and much of the head.  Out of a couple hundred examined closely, none were adult males (which would appear all black in dusk lighting).

The roost at the Mandeville end of the Causeway is usually much larger, but is too far from shore to be seen from land.  Three years ago when I kayaked out at night (not advisable- lots of speed boats!) I was able to reach 125,000 of them and estimated that the total number may have been twice that, based on the extent of the whitewash seen there from a boat during the day..

That roost off Mandeville is active again this year, as judged from the green blob in last night's radar image (thank you,

 Good birding!


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Evening departure

I just pulled up the radar (a site that does not filter out birds: and looked at the latest radar images.  A mass of intense reflections appears to be lifting from coastal or near coastal areas and progressing northward.  Birds that crossed the Gulf today and were forced to stop in the wetlands and barrier islands at and near the coast by the north-ish winds that occurred around mid day.  Or so I would guess.

For verification, I stepped outside just now (9:20)  and watched the moon with binoculars for 5 minutes.  Six bird silhouettes (songbird-like) crossed it northbound, most quite high up, presumably migrants departing from points south.  Another that looked more like it might have been a shorebird crossed westward, a path harder to interpret.  Six in 5 minutes is a pretty good rate, compared to most most moon-watching I have done.  Because the coastal birds will be beyond us soon on tonight's northward movement, I wouldn't expect many to visible as silhouettes against the moon for long.

Last night there seems to have been another departure, as evidenced by radar images and by a Wood Thrush that I found around 10 pm stunned on the sidewalk in front of a hotel in Harvey on the West Bank.  A photo below was taken inside the hotel where I inspected and found no obvious injury.  I have it in a standard "bander's grip."  I blew back the breast feathers and saw that it had a small fat deposit (it appears white) inside the furcular region (the depression between the bird's neck and rib cage), which is typical of migrants.   I put it back outside and presume it fared okay.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The fallacy of small birds being babies

Last week this image appeared on my computer screen, provided as part of the rotating supply of daily imagery that adorns my screensaver.  The software has provided loads of stunning natural scenes, but this one made a faux pas!

This is a quite common misconception about birds, especially among lay people:  that a small bird accompanying a larger bird is  a "baby" of the larger individual.  The caption reads "Eastern Great Egrets," indicating that the two are the same species, and the "Watch carefully young pupil" caption implies the smaller is a youngster.  But they are clearly different species.   The larger is indeed a Great Egret- the same species we have in Louisiana, which is very widespread globally.  The smaller looks to me like an Old World species called the Little Egret, although I have not done the necessary analysis to make a definitive call.  At any rate, it is not a Great Egret!

By the time young birds acquire normal (vs. downy) feathers, they are approximately the same size as adults.  Thus, it basically never makes sense to interpret a small but otherwise normal appearing bird as the baby of a larger bird.  Babies are only smaller than adults when they are still in the downy, stubby-tail phase, which typically only lasts a few weeks out of the nest.

The evening after this picture appeared, my sixteen year old came walking in the front door, excited because he had spied an Eastern Screech Owl on the wire in our front yard.  He promptly announced, "Dad, there's a baby owl on the wire outside!" 

Even in my own family!  Aargh!


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Urban Barred Owl at 12:30 AM

Yesterday morning at about 20 minutes after midnight, I was on my front step letting my dog answer one last call from nature before retiring for the evening.

Across the street, coming from the midst of a typical residential block, came the hoots of a Barred Owl! The call was atypical:  rather than the usual who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all, it was more like who cooks for you, who cooks.  

Here was a case where familiarity with a bird's tone or general vocal quality was important for making the identification- the hoots were recognizably those of a Barred Owl in clarity, pitch, etc- rather dog-like- even though their cadence was perhaps more like that of a Great Horned.  The latter usually gives a call a few phrases shorter than the classic Barred arrangement, but more deep and breath-y.   

Residential hoods are not typical Barred habitat, but they do wander into such areas sporadically in the winter.  The fact that I am just a few blocks from a pretty woodsy part of the batture probably helps.

I hooted back to it several times (I have been practicing imitating Barred Owls since I was a pre-teen- which is not unusual- it is probably the first owl that most birders learn to copy), and the bird seemed to be trading responses with me.  But it never adopted its standard call.