Friday, October 14, 2016

Peregrine Falcon returns to Jefferson water tower

Yesterday evening a brief stop in traffic on the Causeway overpass over I 10 gave me just enough time to grab binoculars from my glove box, and train them on the small silhouette perched high on the Jefferson water tower. Sure enough, it was a Peregrine, using this familiar haunt for the species during our "winter" months. Good to see it in use again!

Friday, September 2, 2016

1000+ kingbirds crossing Lake Pontchartrain at South Point

Yesterday I made a quick foray out to South Point in New Orleans East, where the railroad bridge leaves the South Shore headed for Slidell.  This is a great spot for witnessing morning flights of migratory birds.    

I was hoping for a good Eastern Kingbird flight, since that species often stages major movements at this site when we get mornings of northeast winds in early September.  Getting those conditions at this time of year requires some luck, since the cold fronts that produce northerly winds are hard to come by until later in the fall.  However, Tropical Storm Hermine was moving through the eastern Gulf and her cyclonic circulation provided a gentle northeasterly breeze.  Skies were sunny this far from the storm, although a broad bank of clouds off to the east and southeast studded by cumulonimbus tops seemed like it might be a distant view of Hermine's closest edge.

I pulled over at  the base of Highway 11 bridge for brief look, which will usually give an indication of whether a flight is in progress.  Sure enough, within a few minutes, a Blue Grosbeak, a scattering of warblers, and a flock of 80 kingbirds passed overhead and out over the water shadowing  the bridges.  I then headed for the Point, where the flow volume is often greater than at the bridge- though the differences between the two sites are something I am still working out.

On the mile or so hike up to the point, a handful of migrants crossed overhead headed out over the water toward Slidell- including a few Purple Martins.  This species is commonly part of early September movements at South Pt, even after they have departed the New Orleans region otherwise.  I had not seen one elsewhere for weeks.

At the point, a more or less continuous movement was ongoing, with scattered small flocks of warbler-sized songbirds punctuated by larger groups of kingbirds, often 50+.  I took a ten minute count starting at 8:40, and tallied 232 heading out over the water for Slidell, about 70% kingbirds.  For the next ten minutes I just enjoyed the show.  I capped it with another ten minute count at 9:00:  252 birds, again mostly kingbirds.  These indicated a passage rate of about 1450 per hour, about 1000 of them kingbirds.  Since the peak is usually in the first two hours or so after sunrise, and I arrived after that, it may have been stronger earlier.

As usual for this time of year, the second most common participant was Yellow Warbler, but I also was able to pick out a Blackburnian Warbler, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo, Waterthrush sp, American Redstart, Summer Tanager, and Great Crested Flycatcher.  I suppose I could have worked harder at identifying more species, but I am always torn between trying to make identifications and merely putting the binocs down and soaking in the phenomenon.

I then headed back to the Highway 11 bridge, where I had arranged to meet five zoology students from University of Holy Cross, my new academic home.  We counted another 450 birds crossing there in 45 minutes (10:00-10:45), in this case about 90% kingbirds.  

Good stuff!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Say goodbye to the Mississippi Kites

The time has come for the annual exodus of the Mississippi Kites- one of the most abrupt and conspicuous changes in our avifauna each year.  They change from being numerous to essentially absent in the course of the last week of August each year.

Yesterday I saw five during my normal running of errands around the metro area, and today four so far- including two from my yard.  Pretty much in line with how numerous they have been all summer. But that will change in a matter of days, and skies will be kite-less until April.    

A side note- this afternoon I saw four Black Vultures circling over the batture by Ochsner Hospital in Old Jefferson.  This is the only place I have seen them regularly on the East Bank of Jefferson Parish, and it is good to know they are still using the spot (it had been several months since I last saw them there). For reasons unclear to me, Turkey Vultures penetrate New Orleans' urban developed zone much more frequently and deeply than do Blacks- making any East Jeff sightings noteworthy.  Turkey Vultures were themselves much less regular in NOLA's urban landscape prior to Katrina, and have increased since for unknown reasons.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Fallout shorebirds from the tropical disturbance

The winds from the tropical disturbance that has been affecting us the last few days may not have been strong enough to push many birds around, but the rains of such a system often produce a different sort of birding opportunity: water birds that would normally migrate past without pausing are often induced to stop over until the weather passes.
This afternoon, while waiting in the carpool line at Patrick Taylor Academy in Avondale, I noticed some movement in the flooded grassy fields behind the building. Yanking the binoculars out of my glove box-where I keep a pair for such emergencies- I was able to pick out a half dozen Pectoral Sandpipers, a Black-bellied Plover, and a couple Lesser Yellowlegs! These were passage migrants; they were accompanied by four Black-necked Stilts, as many Killdeer, and a small flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, all most likely local residents attracted by the rain pools. Never before have I been eager for the carpool line to move as slowly as possible!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Yellow Warblers- a key August migrant

Well, it may not seem like fall migration should be underway, since we are essentially in the hottest partof summer.True, most.of migration is still ahead of us- but for a few species, things get rolling earlier.  This is true for many shorebirds especially, but also for some other species, including some small land birds.

In our area, the Yellow Warbler is probably the most conspicuous song bird migrating this time of year.   Because the species often actively migrates in the early morning, and frequently calls while doing so, it is often possible to pick one out by its vocalizations, and with a quick look up, see it passing overhead.  Their flight note is a somewhat husky seet- not a sound that is likely to grab your attention, but one that you can notice if you stay aware.

Once in a while, you might get treated to a bunch of Yellows passing over the same spot in a short period.  Once such flight was reported by an observer in Marrero this morning- who reported 26 in an hour over his yard.  They were headed west for the most part, which is generally the most common direction for August Yellows in our area.  I have on two occasions over the years counted numbers around 100 in an hour, once on the Bucktown lakefront, and once in Old Jefferson.  Both times, most were headed west.  At the migratory concentration site on the lakeshore at South Point, when (infrequent in August) northeast winds occur, over a 1000 are possible.  Flights have been noted on the north shore of the lake as well, such as at Fontainbleau State Park, but their frequency and magnitude in St. Tammany have yet to be worked out.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Report on Pontchartrain Park ibis/heron rookery

Yesterday I swung by the mixed heronoid rookery in Pontchartrain Park (aka Bartholomew golf course), which is on an island in a lake on the golf course.

The joint was jumping, as is typical this time of year.  Numbers seemed similar to past years, dominated by White Ibis, which had lots of small young in their nests.  They were followed in decreasing abundance by Black-crowned Night-Herons and Cattle Egrets (roughly tied), and smaller numbers of Tricolored and Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets.  Although one Great Egret was hanging around, none were evident nesti

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Status of Least Tern colony on Levitz roof in Elmwood

This morning I spent a half hour watching the Least Tern colony on the rooftop of the Levitz warehouse in Elmwood.  I scoped it from the top of a nearby building.

The peak number of sitting terns (bellies on the surface- not standing) was 15.  I figure such posture to be a reasonable indication that the birds were on active nests.  Based on my experience with the UNO colony, the actual number of active nests would be a bit higher, since some are usually not being incubated/brooded at any given moment.  So, maybe 20-25?  There were ten or so other adults hanging around on the gravel roof surface and the structures that adorn it.  One such pair appeared to be in a courtship display.

I have seen little evidence of successful fledging of young at this colony in the past, but did see one medium sized downy chick this morning.  I picked a time of day when shadows of the various rooftop structures would be angling toward me, so that chicks clinging to the shade (as they tend to do) would have been relatively visible (i.e., would be on the sides of the roof structures that were facing toward me).  Nevertheless, olthers may have been out of view.

There were also four Killdeer on the roof, two of which appeared to be incubating.  

Least Tern is the most widespread rooftop-nesting seabird in New Orleans, but Gull-billed Terns and Black Skimmers also do so regularly.  Killdeer and Common Nighthawks also nest in this habitat.  I suspect the largest colony of Gull-billed Terns is one that sits on a warehouse Uptown off the end of State Street - in a poor location for viewing.  I have not actually visited it this year (yet), but have seen commuting terns following trajectories that appear to head them to and from it.