Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sightings June 29 evening stroll in Jefferson batture

I just returned from an evening stroll in the Jefferson batture.  The river has receded almost all the way back into its banks, but standing water is still trapped within the batture, extending out from the wood margin across the lawn toward the levee base, filled with emerging herbaceous growth.  

An adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron stared patiently at the muck, and was rewarded with a crawfish.  Another, fifty yards down the levee, caught another mud bug.  Both maneuvered them around in their beaks longer than they probably needed to merely for the sake of getting them into position before swallowing- removing appendages?

A Great Egret was a few feet from one of them, standing in its characteristic posture with neck stretched diagonally upward, and beak continuing the trajectory upward at the same angle.  It was an adult, with aigrette plumes still visible.  It stood stock still, and then, to my surprise, began to sway its neck side to side, for about 45 seconds.  Each motion (back to starting point) took about a second, and spanned about two inches.  The head kept fixed in space while this happened.  I have never seen this before- seems it must be a foraging behavior, perhaps a prey deception of some sort.

The woods were almost silent of birds, just a few singing Cardinals.  The cacophonous cicadas, frogs, and toads filled the void quite well.  On the river bank by the pumping station, about fifteen tiny frogs (half inch?) kicked up in front of my feet, making prodigious jumps many times their body length.

Five Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were also in the levee swale, two pairs and a single.  As I was preparing to leave, a hen Wood Duck came barreling out of the batture and looked me in the eye as she flew past headed upstream.  Perhaps a local nester.

So nice to have nature in the city.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at, or look for it at the Maple Street Book Shop or Garden District Book Shop.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron colony failure- due to movie set?

Today I went to check on the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron colony over Dodge Avenue in Old Jefferson, where I found 22 nests with young last year at the end of May.  It is in the first block north of Jefferson Highway, in a stand of large live oaks that arch over the road and median.  This is the largest nesting cluster of the species I have  been able to find in the metro area.

Today I could see 14 nests that appeared to be from this year- but I did not see any birds, and there was very little whitewash on the ground.  Whitewash is usually a good way to confirm nests advancing well into the nestling stage.

So, it looks like this colony produced few young this year, if any.

A friendly homeowner said that about six weeks ago, the colony site was used for a movie shoot- crammed with vehicles, and working after dark.  My impression was it took several days.   I have to think this is the prime candidate for the reason for the colony's failure this year.

Perhaps it happened early enough that they simply relocated somewhere else and renested?

Sad, but there are still lots of this species around.

A list of colony sites is on page 23 in Birding Made Easy.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, or look for it at the Maple Street Book Shop or Garden District Book Shop.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Purple Martin roost- WOW!

This evening I checked out the Purple Martin roost under the southern end of the Causeway bridge. 

What a treat!   I got there ten minutes before sunset, and there were only a hundred or so milling in the sky overhead.  The numbers built gradually, and as it started getting dark shortly after 8 pm, they began swarming to the sides of the bridge. 

The construction is finally complete, so you  can walk right out next to them- I approached the closest end of the roosting swarm to within about five yards, and they seemed completely oblivious.  Birds in the air were passing within a yard of me, but they did not appear to be pooping at all (good thing!). 

I also walked under the Causeway and checked the area between the spans, and the east side.  The biggest concentration was perching on the west side (~2500), with ~1500 in the middle and ~500 on the west side, for ~4500 total.  Unlike my last visit (last summer), none appeared to still be arriving after the light began to fail.

All the birds appear to be in female/immature plumage (ie, they had ashy gray underparts, throats, collars, and foreheads).

To top it all off, I saw the fabled "green flash" of the sun when it set below the surface of Lake Pontchartrain.  First time in my life!  Lime green, lasted longer than I expected- about a full second.

In Birding Made Easy, I suggest access from North Hullen- now I would recommend accessing on the east side of Causeway from the end of Ridgelake (and areas accessible therefrom).  Park, walk the jogging path under the bridge, and walk along the bridge's west side out to the waterfront.


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, or get a copy at Maple Street Book Shop or Garden District Book Shop.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Eurasian Collared-Dove- the odd addition

New Orleans has three common dove species- Rock Pigeon (city pigeon), Mourning Dove, and Eurasian Collared-Dove.

(if you are lucky you may also have White-winged Doves in your hood; and on the North Shore Inca Doves are establishing a presence in places)

The Eurasian Collared-Dove is a newcomer to the state, having first appeared here at Ft. Pike around 1990.  They were brought to the Bahamas by humans, and spread westward like gangbusters.  They are now established to the West Coast states!

Although they are superficially like Mourning Doves, they are paler and grayer- a light gray color.  They had a black chevron mark on the back of the neck.  Their tail is square tipped (round when fanned)- very unlike the pointed tip of the "MoDo."

Two things about this species always strike me:

- over and over, they fool me for a second into thinking I am seeing a raptor.  This happens when they are doing their gliding courtship flight with wings held broad and tail fanned (which unfortunately, they do alot!)

- in addition to their very dove-like, mellow courting call (ooo ooo-ooo), they had a common vocalization that always hits me as utterly un-dove-like: a harsh, raspy, slurred hurrrrr.

In the early days, their stronghold was at the river edge by Audubon Park (and the grain elevator across the River).  Now they are pretty widespread, and often visible on the wires along commercial streets.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wandering Coot

This evening as I merged onto S Clearview Pkwy from  the Earthardt Expressway, I was very surprised to see an American Coot in one of the water retention ponds.

Although coots sometimes occur on these ponds during migration and winter, I have never seen one here between May and September, when they are normally only found outside town and in much smaller numbers than the rest of the year (the large majority leave us for parts north).

My guess is it was not an early migrant, but a wandering member of the breeding population.  At this time of the year some of the local nesting species do start to appear out of nesting areas, either young hatched earlier in the spring/summer that are now striking out on their own, or locals adults that had not found a mate or had finished nesting.

But not usually coots!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mississippi Kite nest fails by tree collapse

Last week, I serendipitously spotted a Mississippi Kite sitting on a nest in River Ridge, 38 feet up in a Live Oak, in a front yard.  I revisited it for a few days, during which time an adult was sitting on it consistently.

Tuesday morning, a huge section of the tree fell- including the portion with the nest.  Jeff Parish cleaned the mess up before I could search for nest remains, but I am sure that the eggs (or small nestlings if hatched) were destroyed in the fall.  No idea about an adult that might have been sitting there at the time.

The freaky thing is that there was no inclement weather event to cause the huge piece of trunk to fail.  A large portion of the tree had fallen last year in Isaac, so perhaps that had made it vulnerable and stresses had accumulated to where a tiny influence caused it to fail.

Oddly, I was told of another weather-induced raptor nest failure earlier this spring.  The Red-shouldered Hawk nest between the Jeff Parish high rise buildings in Elmwood was destroyed by high winds, probably before it had eggs.  They seem to have not rebuilt, although they hang in the area.

Below is a pic of the kite standing on the edge of the nest.

By the way, it was taken with a pair of photo-binoculars from The Sharper Image that was given to me for Father's Day.  As per review, they seem to not be up to par with a normal SLR camera for quality pics (less crisp), but they are very light weight and quick to use- I think they are handy for documenting sightings.  Being light weight makes them easier to carry around, so easier to keep them handy for when documentation is needed quickly.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sightings June 22: suddenly a Yellow-billed Cuckoo

After not receiving any hint of their being a cuckoo in my neighborhood all spring-summer, one was calling stridently in my back yard this morning.  It was giving the resonant but monotonous cuuk cuuk cuuk cuuk ... call.

It is hard for me to believe it has been around all nesting season undetected- I suspect a lovelorn male wandering with fading hopes of attracting a female.  

Yellow-billed is the only cuckoo in our area during the nesting season; indeed, even when Black-billed does occur in spring and fall migration, they are still greatly outnumbered by Yellow-billed.  Active skilled birders will miss Black-billed most years in our area.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sightings June 20: Pontchartrain Park rookery

The mixed heronry at the Bartholemew golf course/Pontchartrain Park is really hopping.

The number of fledged young hanging around the shoreline of the rookery island is still relatively small- most young are still in nests.  There were a handful of Tricolored, Little Blue, and Black-crowned Night-Heron juveniles at the water's edge.  A constant cacophony was coming from the island, which despite being made by numerous birds somehow coalesced into a rhythmic chack chack chack...

In addition to the above species, Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets and White Ibis are nesting there.  A few Great Blue Herons were present, but I am not sure if they are nesting.  An Anhinga was perched on a high snag. 

This rookery is described on pp. 8-9 in Birding Made Easy.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, or look for it at the Maple Street Book Shop or Garden District Book Shop.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sightings June 19 Nine Mile Point batture

Today I was in the Nine Mile Point area on errands, so I decided to take a peak from the River levee near the grain elevators.

The place was crazy with Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.  I counted 670 (by fives).  There was one small cluster of a half dozen or so half-grown young, still downy gray. 

There was also a scattering of waders:  Great and Snowy Egrets on the water's edge, and a dozen or so Cattle Egrets sitting on the lowest rung of one of the huge metal towers.  Twenty or so White Ibis, including my first juvenile of the summer (solid brown neck and back, and upper wing surfaces).  A Black-necked Stilt was stalking amongst the ducks with its outrageously long legs.

Suprisingly, an alligator (~ 5 footer) was in the shallows- I have seen very few in the River before.

If you throw in the hundreds of Rock Pigeons swirling around the grain towers, and a smaller flock of a dozen or so Eurasian Collared-Doves, it was all-in-all a very birdy scene.


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or, visit the Maple Street or Garden District Book Shops

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Beleagured Cooper's Hawk

A few days ago I saw an immature Cooper's Hawk flying across the marsh in St. Bernard Parish, headed over a treeless expanse of hundreds of yards.

Unfortunately for the hawk, it was pestered the entire way by Eastern Kingbirds and Purple Martins- between three and five diving at its back the whole way.  As soon as it made the far shore, it plunged down into the trees for relief.

Kingbirds and martins are well known to mob raptors; nothing unusual there.
What was notable was the duration of the attack, which lasted for hundreds of yards.  I have to wonder whether an adult hawk would have exposed itself on such a long overwater trek with no place to take cover!

Good birding,


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at

Monday, June 17, 2013

Birding Made Easy is available again at Maple Street Book Shop

For those of you who tried to get it there when it was sold out...


The marshes of Shell Beach and Hopedale

A few days ago I drove out to Shell Beach and Hopedale in St. Bernard Parish, stopping along the road, enjoying the marsh birds.

The soundscape of the scrub along the roadside edges out this way is dominated by the rich song of the Orchard Oriole- a bird that we used to have in urban New Orleans a few decades back, but no longer do.  Popular wisdom is that they were driven out by Bronzed Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other birds' nests- and apparently targeted the orioles.

There are plenty of cowbirds at Shell Beach/Hopedale as well, but the orioles seem to be holding their own.

The marshes are salty enough here to have the classic salt marsh avifauna- Willets flying about calling pill will willet in defense of nesting territories, Seaside Sparrows singing and flying about among the grasses, Clapper Rails calling invisibly, and Red-winged Blackbirds chasing to and fro.  And of course the usual assortment of herons, egrets, ducks, Laughing Gulls, and terns flying about looking for places to feed.   And as seems to usually be the case in this particular spot, on the distant eastern horizon, some frigatebirds up high in the air.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at

Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16: Early morning Screech Owl

Today I got up a few minutes before 6 am to let my dogs into the yard, and was surprised to hear an Eastern Screech Owl calling despite the fact that it was quite light already.

It was making its quavering whinny call, a series of mellow notes strung together, which at a distance merge together into a slur.  This is their most common call in our area.

It is not uncommon to hear Screech Owls calling at odd hours, especially answering to whistled imitations or recordings (which birders use to draw songbirds into view, as they come to mob the owl).  But it seems to me to happen more in late summer and early fall.  I have always presumed it to be the gullible young that respond to the imitations and recordings,  because of this seasonal pattern.

Screech Owls are our most common urban owl, and seem to be in nearly every neighborhood with a good number of large trees.  I typically hear or see them spontaneously several times per year at my house in Old Jefferson.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Saint Bernard State Park

Today I spent from 7:20-8:40 AM walking all the access roads in Saint Bernard State Park.

As is typical of wooded areas of southeast Louisiana, the air was echoing with the songs of Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens.

There were a number of other interesting species present that are very scarce or absent in nesting season in the more urban parts of New Orleans, including White-eyed Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Tufted Titmouse, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. 

A Black-bellied Whistling-Duck standing by a tree cavity near camping slot 25 seemed a lot like it might have a nest inside there.

Always nice to see White-tailed Deer.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Birding during the commute- Clearview water retention ponds

One good thing about living and working in New Orleans is that one can regularly see interesting birds simply while driving to and from work.

I always peak at the ponds at Clearview x Earhardt in Metairie whenever I happen to use that interchange.

Today there were five Least Terns dive bombing the pond on the southeast corner of the cloverleaf- probably the most I have seen fishing these ponds at one time before.  Leasts are easily told from other terns even at a glance because they are half the size of the next larger species (Forster's). 

There was a Great Egret standing on the edge of the southwest pond (by Home Depot).

A few weeks ago I was surprised to see an Anhinga flying low over the ponds as if it was prospecting them.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sightings June 11 A closer look at UNO Least Terns

Today I found a spot to look at the Least Tern colony atop Milneburg Hall at UNO.  Unfortunately, the viewing spot is from the top floor of an adjacent building, from (for now) a restricted area. 

There were 19 terns sitting with their bellies nestled on the rooftop gravel, apparently incubating eggs.  Other adults were coming and going, several per minute.  One tern had a downy fledgling already, which it had brought into the shade of one of the rooftop pipes.  It must be hot up on the roof!

Believe it or not, terns were not the only species nesting on the roof- a Killdeer was tending a small downy fledgling.  The adult was involved in several minutes of altercation with an adult Least Tern, in which neither seemed to have the upper hand.  I can only imagine that the Killdeer, in the process of getting its young to where it was (in the shade of another rooftop fixture), had gotten close to the tern's nest.


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at

Monday, June 10, 2013

Are those birds at my feeder House or Purple Finches?

Folks with feeders in New Orleans are likely to see brown finches eating seed, some of them with red breasts and rumps*.   The all-brown individuals can be distinguished from the similar female House Sparrows most easily by the finches' streaked undersides. 

If you look in a book, you will see three similar finches.    One, the Cassin's Finch, is only found from the Rockies westward- easy to rule that one out.

But the House and Purple Finches both occur in Louisiana.  They look hard to tell apart in the book.

Fortunately for us, House is so much more common than Purple in southeast Louisiana, that birds can safely be assumed House unless you have a reason to think otherwise. 

If you do see one that looks suspicious, have a closer look- you may be lucky.  Purple males are a more purplish red, and have unstreaked sides.  Purple females have bold white stripes over the eye and under the cheek.  

*the "rump" is the lowermost back in birds

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sightings June 8 waders in the batture

The flooded batture is always a good place to see large wading birds stalking prey.  The river flood has now receded to where there is lots of good habitat, with shallow wet areas just inside the levee.

Old Jefferson is one of the places that usually attracts waders in such circumstances.  Across from Jefferson Playground this morning, the following were all haunting the wet lawn along the levee in the batture.
5 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
7 White Ibis
2 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
1 Black-crowned Night-Heron

The Black-crowned is not usually here.  It was an immature.  They can be tough to tell from Yellow-crowneds when young, both being streaky brown.  In flight, Yellow-crowned has longer legs (a bit of leg, not just feet, sticks past the tail).  But with some experience, you can also tell them by the head and neck shape-  Yellow-crowned have a more block-shaped (squared) head, and a fatter shorter beak.

Yellow-crowneds are described (with pic) on page 22 of Birding Made Easy.

Good birding,


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at


Friday, June 7, 2013

Sightings June 7 approachable Red-shouldered Hawks in Elmwood

There are a pair of unusually approachable Red-shouldered Hawks in Elmwood, hanging around the large ornamental bald cypress trees between the pair of Jeff Parish government buildings across Citrus from Home Depot (one is the Joe Yenni building).

They have nested there in the past, including a nest that was destroyed by inclement weather earlier this spring. 

Today one of the hawks was perched on the roof a black Nissan Altima (!), and then jumped to the ground and was walking around on the cut grass like a wanna be Secretary Bird*

It let me approach within about 20 feet, in my vehicle

A number of people who work in these buildings have been following the nesting cycles of this pair for at least a couple years now.

A photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk and notes on urban birds of prey in New Orleans can be found on p.50-51 and p.70-75 in Birding Made Easy-New Orleans.


*the Secretary Bird is an iconic raptor from the African Savanna, that strides about on its long legs hunting snakes.  The origin of the name is a feather that projects from the rear of the head, like a quill pen sticking from behind a secretary's ear.

for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mockingbird noisy fledglings

Every year for two decades I have kept track of mockingbird reproduction on the UNO campus. 

Right now, there are begging young in front of the student center, and in two places around the Liberal Arts building.

When they first fledge, they have tiny tails- just a stub.  They keep begging food for a month or more, during which time the tail growns to the same length as adults.  So one can estimate how long a youngster has been out the nest by tail length.  Even at full tail length, they retain the streaky breast indicative of being a newbie.

Their fledglings are among the noisiest of our New Orleans urban birds, making a high shrill single note that is easy to recognize once learned.  That makes it relatively easy to keep tabs on how the mockers around your house are doing in a given nesting season- a successful nest will produce noisy fledges that hang around for weeks, and are hard to miss once you know the sound.

You can read more about mockers, and see a pic, on p 63 of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy, email me at

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sightings June 5 new Least Tern colony

Today I found a new Least Tern rooftop colony nesting site in New Orleans- on top of my office building!

That is, Milneburg Hall at the University of New Orleans.  I am on the top floor, so there could be tern nests within ten feet of (over) my head while I sit at my desk. 

After a hiatus of nearly a month during intersession, I returned to campus to prep for summer term, and was approaching Milneburg when 25 Leasts burst from the rooftop, spooked by something.  This indicates that they are nesting there- they do not flock on rooftops otherwise.

This is the first UNO campus nesting in several years, but they at times nested atop the campus center building here in past years.   They also nested on top of the Lakefront Arena before Katrina.   

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

tips for finding nests

Today I watched a Blue Jay fly into the ten foot crape myrtle on our curb.  I knew what was about to happen- jays seem to only go to that little tree for one reason.  Gathering twigs for a nest.

Sure enough, the jay  maneuvered to where it could grab a small stem in its beak, and wrestled with it for twenty seconds, fluttering wildly as it tried to break it off.  It was frustrated this time, but usually gets a piece, and takes it promptly to the nest location.

This is the best way to find bird nests.  Keep alert for birds carrying nest material, or food.  Then stand back enough that them to remain comfortable, and watch where they go- to a tree crotch, or the heart of a bush.  If they are carrying material, wait ten days before you approach the suspected nest location for confirmation- if you look immediately, they may abandon the spot because it has been discovered, and start building elsewhere.  If they are carrying food, you can approach the nest right away.  The notion that birds will abandon the nest if you touch it (or touch the young) is myth- researchers do it all the time.  Just be gentle if you have to shift branches to get a view!

For most species, locating nests by watching adult behavior this way is much more efficient than simply searching for nests visually.  That technique can find a lot of nests, but they are almost all going to be old and inactive- maybe even from previous years.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at


Monday, June 3, 2013

Sighting June 3 one year old White Ibises

This morning I walked a bit on the batture levee in Old Jefferson, along the River Rd.

The river had flooded all the way to the base of the levee recently, and now has receded, but only about a foot.  A the end of this flood pool across from the Magnolia School, there was a flock of 17 White Ibis probing along the water's edge with their long downturned bills.  Four more flew in from the downstream direction as I watched.

They were almost all in the blotchy brown and white plumage that indicates that they one-year olds.  They usually do not breed at this age, which is why they are not at the nesting colonies now.

We are lucky to have this species- it is restricted to the southeastern USA, and lots of bird watchers around the country would love to see one.

Good birding,


For a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Birding Opportunity- reedbed wader rookery at Little Woods

This nesting season there is an unusual opportunity to get up close to a rookery of White-faced Ibis and Tricolored Herons in New Orleans East.  The nests are in a reed bed adjacent to a levee that you can walk on, allowing you to get close.  Most rookeries we get to approach in this area are in patches of trees, so this is unusual.

It has been active since at least late April, and when I visited this week, there were three young White-faced Ibis standing on some low branches over the water- products of the rookery.  I had never seen young ibis of this species before; their beaks are about half sized with a whitish ring around them, making them look very weird.  They remind me of something I have seen in a Dr. Suess book, but I can't place it.

Tricolored Herons are also nesting here, and there is a nest within about 20 yards of the levee.  When I visited this week, an adult arrived and fed three young as they jostled for attention.  Looked like something from a nature film.

The adult ibis are not as evident now as a few weeks ago- I only saw two adults last week.  They may be out finding food for the young.  Be aware that the nests are hard to see in the reeds- you basically see the adults coming and going and dropping down into the reeds, but don't usually see the nest.  So it is hard to say how many might be sitting there hidden.

Purple Gallinule and Least Bittern have also been reported here this spring/summer, so keep alert for these.  The gallinule would be spied at waterline along the reeds, and the bittern could be doing that to, but they also are seen flying from spot to spot. 

Take the Hwy 47/Little Woods exit (246) off I-10 in New Orleans East, and follow Hwy 47 toward the lake.  The reed bed is a bit short of the lake, where the levee on the right of Hwy 47 makes a crook.

As described on p 28 of Birding Made Easy, there is also a bustling Purple Martin colony where Hwy 47 meets Lake Pontchartrain, just up the road from the rookery.  There are often terns of several species on the posts out in the lake at this spot.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sightings June 1 wader roost on Monticello

This evening I followed up on a tip I received last winter, that large waders were roosting in the evenings in the waste water treatment plant on Monticello, between Jefferson Hwy and River Rd right on the Orleans-Jefferson Parish line.

There were about 100 large waders roosting in a grove of willows there this evening as night approached.  About 80% were White Ibis, the rest split between Snowy and Great Egrets.  This is more birds than I expected in early summer, when I would expect them to spend the nights in their nesting colonies outside the city.

There was also a blackbird roost, overwhelmingly Common Grackles, in the same facility a bit closer to Jefferson Hwy, in another patch of willows.  I saw 40 enter, but there were many more already present and hard to count.  Eight Chimney Swifts were hawking bugs over the blackbird roost, twittering.  Small flocks of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were flying here and there, some settling in the treatment plant.

The waders are adjacent to 1000 Monticello, visible from up on the levee there.   I parked on a side street, Byron, a little closer to River Rd.

Some other info on roosts and rookeries in the city is on page 8 in Birding Made Easy.