Friday, May 31, 2013

Sightings May 31 Purple Martin twilight chorus

This morning I was awake at 5:20, and stepped outside to hear one of my favorite avian features of this time of year:  the early (very early) morning Purple Martin chorus.  The birds take to flight while it is still dark, and fill the air with their notes.

Just enough glow was beginning to show in the east that I could see the outlines of some clouds.  No other birds were vocalizing yet, just the martins.  I can't say how many there were- perhaps just a few very vocal individuals, or perhaps many more, but they produced a constant chortling overhead, concealed by the darkness. 

In about a month, the size of their nocturnal roost under the Causeway should be peaking.  For now, many are still in their boxes all over the city. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sightings May 30- Chef Pass and Lake Catherine area

Today I spent a few hours doing some marsh bird surveys in the vicinity of Chef Pass and the Lake Catherine community farther out Highway 90.

Along Almonaster on the way out, I passed a group of Black Vultures at roadside, hopping around a freshly road-killed armadillo.

Perhaps the biggest highlite was watching a group of ten Forster's Terns at close range, sitting on a cement slab at the water's edge.  Eight were full breeding plumage- something that is short-lived, so it was a treat to see them in full color.  Orange beaks and legs, the beaks with black tips, and full black caps.  They were unconcerned with me because I was in the car.   After a nice study, a much larger Caspian Tern settled with them.

A short time later, five huge American White Pelicans came over cruising southeast into the breeze.  This species is much more common in winter than summer, but there are a handful that hang around at this time of the year when the rest are up in the northern prairies breeding.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sighting May 29 Mississippi Kite

Today as the thunderheads grew, I watched a Mississippi Kite maneuvering in the air high above my neighborhood.  At first light this morning, probably the same kite had been perched silhouetted against the morning glow to the east on a bare branch on the crown of my neighbor's huge Live Oak.

Mississippi Kites nest all over residential New Orleans, including in tall shade trees in peoples' back yards.  For the third year, they are nesting high in a large sycamore visible from my back yard.  New Orleanians are lucky to have them- their  breeding range is somewhat restriced, and most urbanites in the USA don't live within it.  In fact, most major cities do not do not have any raptor as numerous as Mississippi Kites are in summer in New Orleans.

Read more about Mississippi Kites on p.70 in Birding Made Easy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sightings May 28 Wood Ducks

This morning at 8 am in Old Jefferson, as I was driving across Jefferson Highway at St. George, two Wood Ducks came flying low overhead.  They circled low several times.  Presumably a nest is somewhere in the immediate area, in one of the large trees.  This species nests in cavities, from which the young plunge to the ground when they fledge.  They bounce off the ground unscathed, and follow their mother to water, which may be some distance away.

Some years ago, I stopped traffic on River Rd to allow a hen Wood Duck to lead her brood across the road into the batture.  And I have heard that for years in succession a house near there on Dodge had Woodies nesting in its eaves each year. 

Woodies are on p. 76 in Birding Made Easy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sightings May 27 Common Grackle

Twice today I have spooked a male Common Grackle coming to eat Purina Dog Chow from a bowl I have on my back patio here in Old Jefferson.  They do that every nesting season, sometimes in small flocks.

Common Grackles have an interesting geographic variation- birds in the northwestern half of Louisiana have bronze gloss on their backs and green on their heads.  Birds near Lake Pontchartrain (including New Orleans) have purple gloss on the head, and green on the back.  In between are intergrades that tend to have purple heads and-oddly- purplish backs.  Some of the intergrades presumably wander into our area as well.  The US is split between these two types overall, with the blending zone stretching from here up to New Jersey.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sightings May 26 Night-Heron nest

Every moment spent out and about in New Orleans, is a moment when you can see a cool bird.  Today I was walking on Madrid from my car to the Greek Fest, and noticed some white wash on the road as I passed below a large live oak.  I looked overhead, and sure enough, about forty feet up there was an adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron standing next to its nest!  These crazy birds nest above a number of streets in New Orleans, because of our tradition of planting live oaks (their favored nesting tree) along sidewalks, and allowing them to extend their canopy over the road.  The nests are dishevelled looking affairs, that look to small for a bird of that size.

You can find more about Yellow-crowned Night-Herons on p. 22 of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, including a list of some of the larger colony locations in the city- great places to visit.

This particular heron site was also host to a Mississippi Kite, a common nesting raptor in residential New Orleans.  It was circling low over the neighborhood, probably not far from a nest in a tall tree in the vicinity.

Good birding,


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Birding Made Easy is off the ground!

Here it is, my inaugural post to accompany my new book, Birding Made Easy-New Orleans.

This is the start of a project that I have been envisioning for years- to increase the appreciation of New Orleanians to the birds that our city has in abundance.  Having taught bird courses at UNO for years, and led people from all walks of life on birdwalks and regional bird tours, I have come to see that there are a great many people who find birds interesting but have been kept from pursuing their interest.  Many are intimidated by the challenges of learning how to find birds and, especially, to indentify them.

Through my book and this blog, I want to make it a lot easier for everyone to appreciate the birds of our city- and its surrounding regions.

The first order of books is now ready, and I will be bringing them to local bookstores to try and make them as widely available as possible.  In the meantime, they can also be ordered from me directly for $19.95 plus shipping.  Send me an email:

I intend to blog frequently, and to report on what is going on bird-wise in the city, and also share notes on what I have seen personally day to day.  I hope that this will help bird enthusiasts to see that, if one is aware, there are birds to be seen every day as we go about our normal activities.

Good birding,

Peter Yaukey