Friday, May 22, 2015

Barred Owl nesting in residential New Orleans? Never say never!

If you had asked me a week ago whether Barred Owl nests anywhere in residential New Orleans, I would have categorically responded that it does not.  Although common in the swamps outside town, and also present (at least at times) in a large forest fragments deeper into the city, I have never caught hint of it occurring in nesting season in any residential 'hood.

So imagine my surprise earlier this week, when I was walking a minor residential street in Harahan looking for Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nests in the curbside oaks*, and looked up to see a Barred Owl resting quietly thirty five feet up in a water oak!  And another, presumably its mate, twenty yards away, lounging 40 feet up in a live oak.

A local resident said they have been around at least two years, and that he feeds them "locusts" by his streetlight, but has "not yet" gotten them to come take them from his hand!

This site is typical shade trees over manicured yard, nowhere near the batture or any forest fragment.

Pretty nice way for me to get humbled!


*three nests, by the way- all with large young

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 2: Sandpipers and rain

Rainy weather is widely recognized as a catalyst to improved shorebirding* .  The general paradigm is that migrating shorebirds are strong fliers, most of which will normally migrate overhead undetected, even into a headwind.  Rain is the one thing that will make them pause.  Rain may also create temporary pools that these birds can congregate in, especially on wide expanses of open lawn.  The grassy expanse known as the Exxon Fields on Grand Isle is the best such example in southeast Louisiana at this time- and at times attracts thousands of shorebirds.  Before Katrina, the athletic fields on the UNO east campus were good- but they have been encroached on by too much development in the last decade.

Today I went to check the storm water retention ponds at Causeway x Airline that I posted from several days ago.  The small collection of birds that has been hanging out there was augmented today by a flock of 25 Semipalmated Sandpipers, which were presumably pausing because of the rain.

One characteristic of shorebird rain fallouts is that they do not last long- birds often disappear as soon as the rain lets up, even the same day they put down. 

The earlier-reported Semipalmated Plover and pair of Lesser Yellowlegs continue, suggesting that there is indeed enough food there to make it worth an extended stay for some birds.


*the term "shorebird" is generally used by birders to refer to sandpipers, plovers, yellowlegs, and their kin- not large waders such as herons.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Collection of shorebirds developing at Causeway x Airline

An unusual set of circumstances has conspired to create some decent shorebird habitat right in the middle of Metairie.  It can be accessed from Airline Hwy, at the first light west of Causeway- turn toward the River on Shrewsbury, and watch for the rough dirt track that proceeds under Earhardt and along the pool.  Several months ago, parish personnel smoothed out the soil on the bed of the pool- it had been deeply furrowed.  Since the torrential rains of two weeks ago they have been actively pumping it out- revealing more expansive mudflats than have ever been here previously.

I have made three visits, most recently today, when the shorebirds included:
2 Black-necked Stilt
2 Killdeer
1 Semipalmated Plover
2 Lesser Yellowlegs
4 Least Sandpiper
3 Semipalmated Sandpiper

It ain't Bayou Sauvage or Grand Isle, but hey, nice to have some shorebird habitat in Metairie!  

The two previous visits also produced Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, and up to a dozen Leasts.

I have been checking this spot for years, without much in the way of shorebirds.  Maybe rains tonight will cause more to stop over!?


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mississippi Kites are everywhere!

It is always a joy when Mississippi Kites return in the spring, and in the past week or so the initial returning vanguard has swelled to become a multitude.  It seems I cannot drive anywhere in town without seeing them floating in the air! 

Yesterday, at 9:30 AM, I decided to keep count during my daily routine- just for kicks.  By day's end, I had tallied 28 kites!  The largest groups were of 8 and 7, both during a foray to Westwego; I had them in c. 15 separate locations throughout the day.

Surely New Orleans must be among the most kite-rich cities in the range of this species.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Tricks of the Trade #1: telling Bank and Rough-winged Swallows without seeing their throats

For the last few weeks, I have been seeing Northern Rough-winged Swallows zipping along the flooded batture of the Mississippi River.  Most were identifiable without seeing the species' classic field mark, the brown-washed throat that separates it from Bank Swallow- which sports a brown neck ring.  How?

Because they are both brown-backed, short-tailed, and give similar grating vocalizations, these two species are more easily confused with each other than with any other swallow.  Even if you can't see the throat, with practice a couple other differences will almost always enable a correct identification:  1)  the Roughwing is slightly larger, appearing less "compact" than Bank; 2) the back and fore wing (wing coverts)  of the Rough-winged are warmer brown, contrasting with the slightly darker rest of the wing; the Bank is more uniformly dark brown above.

These marks are insufficient for identifying these birds outside of their normal range or season- for that, you need the throat.  But for sorting through a flock or making rapid assessments, they are very useful distinctions. 

It will also help that from mid May through July, only Rough-wings will be in southeast Louisiana- Banks do not nest here.

Good birding,


Friday, May 1, 2015

Scouting report: West End park

For years I have been wanting to check out the potential for the large live oak stand and scrub-bordered pond at West End to act as a migrant trap.  Its position close to the lakefront could cause migrating birds to linger if they are reluctant to cross the water- a factor that I believe sometimes causes migrants to stop over in the woodlot farther east at UNO.  The north-ish winds yesterday provided a good situation for migrants to stop over, so I swung by in the morning.

I spend thirty minutes (845-915) searching the oaks and edges of the pond, to moderately encouraging results.  At the pond were a female Blue Grosbeak and male Indigo Bunting, both foraging on the paved walkway, and female Yellow and Black-and-White Warblers in the scrub.  I found a busy flock in the oaks by the amphitheater, that included two Red-eyed and one Yellow-throated Vireo, a Gray Catbird, a male Black-and-White Warbler, a female Orchard Oriole, and two male and two female Scarlet Tanagers.  Other birds of interest included foraging Barn Swallows, and presumably nesting Eastern Kingbird and Great Crested Flycatcher.

Not bad for a half hour; worth another visit!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Migrants in Harahan this morning- to my surprise

This morning I walked twenty minutes upstream on the levee of the Great River in Harahan, following my customary route from Elaine to the abandoned Colonial Club property, and back on the same path.  I was not expecting any real showing of passage migrants, since conditions had been good for northward movement last night and in general we get spring migrants stopping over under the opposite conditions- when opposing winds or widespread rain force birds to pause in our area and wait.

The first migrant was a Solitary Sandpiper on the flooded levee lawn, by the Kirby driveway (the only batture industry on this stretch).

Next were two female Indigo Buntings along the batture edge at Doyle, while a Red-eyed Vireo sang in the woods behind them.

Across from Donelon, a Yellow-breasted Chat sang its weird conglomeration of phrases from the dense understory.

Across from O K Street, a singing White-eyed Vireo (judged a migrant because it has not been there previously).

I reached the far edge of the country club, and turned around.  None of the birds detected outbound showed again on the walk back, but others did:

Fifty Double-crested Cormorants crossed overhead northbound at medium height in an almost perfect V - in the act of migrating, I expect.

Moments later, six Lesser Yellowlegs came over low southbound- seemingly new arrivals prospecting habitat.

A female Blue Grosbeak chinked from a weedy edge on the club property.

Then the oddest sighting of the morning:  an Orchard Oriole came past above the tree tops eastbound.  As I watched in my binoculars, it ascending higher and higher for 1-2 minutes, at its peak probably beyond unaided vision.  It wheeled slowly clockwise all the while, making a 3/4 turn, and finally fell back toward earth.  I do not recall seeing this before- was it trying to get an overview of the area, to look for better oriole habitat?

A Prothonotary Warbler had begun singing sweet sweet sweet sweet across from Doyle.

Finally, as I stepped up to my car at Elaine, a male and two (four?) female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks moved between trees in the adjacent yards.  As they did, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped past at canopy level, headed for the batture.

Not a bad migrant tally.

Other notables included the continued singing of the White-eyed Vireo across from Elaine (where it has been doing so since late winter), two Red-bellied Woodpeckers going in and out of a cavity in a snag near Kirby, a drake Wood Duck in a tree (likely nest site) near the same spot, and the presence of white downy hawk-lets in the Red-shouldered nest at Ravan.  Ten Yellow-crowned Night-Herons flying around on the country club  suggested there may be a nesting aggregation somewhere nearby.

Busy walk, in the best way.