Sunday, September 29, 2013

Roseate Spoonbills roosting this evening at Lafreniere Park

At evening twilight tonight there were five spoonbills roosting with the other waders at the boardwalk in Lafreniere Park.  Just as when I saw them here last year, they were all at the very tops of the roost trees- two in one tree, three in the other.

Good birding,


Friday, September 27, 2013

Distinguishing Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers

One identification challenge that is commonly faced by birders in southeast Louisiana is that of separating Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.  Apart from barring on the outer tail feathers of the Downy (white in Hairy), there is no simple mark that can be used to separate the species- only more subjective characters of size, bill size, and voice.

The following should provide additional help:

1) Relative abundance

in our area overall, Downies greatly outnumber Hairies.  In urban New Orleans, the ratio is greater than 100:1.  In non-urban forested areas, it is not so lop-sided, but Downy is still notably more numerous than Hairy.  So keep in mind that the odds are with Downy from the start.

I probably detect a half dozen or fewer Hairies per year in urban New Orleans (this includes one this morning in the Jefferson batture, which prompted this post!).  However, in forests outside town, they are regular enough that it is reasonable to hope for one on a given day's list.

2) Bill size

Hairy bills really are noticeably larger than Downies- enough so that an observer familiar with both can know immediately which one they are looking at.  A Hairy bill looks like a chisel, a Downy like a pick.

3) Call note

Although the pik of the Downy and peek of the Hairy may seem (from these descriptions) quite similar, these are again different enough that an observer familiar with them can separate them with confidence, even a single note heard at a distance.  The Hairy note is louder and more robust.

The long calls of the species are not confusable- the Downy being a trailing-off series of rather delicate notes, and the Hairy being a loud evenly pitched rattle- maybe even more like a kingfisher than a Downy.

A little publicized difference is the length of the drum roll- Hairy notably longer, with (in my experience) little or no overlap in length.  However, it is rare to have opportunity to use this.

4) Body size

Again, the species differ enough that this difference will often make the species identity obvious to an experienced observer immediately.  Even flying across an opening.

Go out and find a Hairy!

Good birding,


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Roseate Spoonbills continue in Metairie

Roseate Spoonbills are still hanging around the drainage canals along West Metairie Ave and Airline Highway in Metairie.

Yesterday, I saw three flying west along West Metairie around 8 AM, first a single and then a pair ten minutes later, both near David Drive.

Today, a single was foraging in the canal along Airline Drive, just west of Lester (which is also a bit west of David Drive).

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, make a check out to Gulf South Environmental Investigations LLC for $24 (including $4 shipping), and mail it to
Peter Yaukey
330 Jefferson Heights Ave
Jefferson, LA 70121

or look for it at the Maple Street or Garden District Book Shops.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Some migrants around: flock at UNO

Today I made what I intended to be a brief stop at the small woodlot beside the Fine Arts building on the UNO campus, which is a spot I regularly check for migrants passing through.

I started out seeing a Northern Parula high in a tallow tree, but then had no more contact with any migrants until ten minutes later.  Then I got a different perspective on (probably the same) tallow crown from another direction, and saw movement.  It was a Blackburnian Warbler.  More movement, a Red-eyed Vireo.  Then a Magnolia.  Then a Redstart. Then another Redstart.  Then a Yellow-throated Vireo.  They were hanging with chickadees.

Birds were moving slowly south, putting them into the sun.  So I walked around the south side of the woodlot to try and get them in better light.  The flock continued easing my direction, and I added a Scarlet Tanager, and then a Summer.  Then the same warblers and vireos I had already spotted began to appear in the trees on the edge in front of me.  Just when I thought I had seen everything there was to see in the flock, a Black-and-White Warbler showed itself.

Walking back around the woodlot's east edge to return to my car, another Scarlet Tanager startled me by sallying out to snag a bug over the lawn, about ten feet over the ground.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, mail a check for $24 (includes $4 shipping) made out to Gulf South Environmental Investigations LLC, to
Peter Yaukey
330 Jefferson Heights Ave
Jefferson, LA 70121

or look for it at the Maple Street or Garden District Book Shops.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Screech-Ambulance duet

Yesterday morning I stepped from my house in the morning twilight and heard what I first took to be distant sirens in two directions- one to the east, and one to the west of me.

After several seconds, I realized that the one to the west was actually not a distant siren, but a close screech owl- in my back yard.  Its whinny call was remarkably similar to the siren (ambulance, apparently) in pitch and length; it was making the usual trembling notes but was just far enough away and obscured enough by ambient noise to blend them into a more continuous sound.  It was following the same cadence, matching it one for one.

This is probably the same screech that wigged me out earlier in the month by calling at the exact moment that I mused to myself, "It's been a long time since I heard a screech owl around here."

Just what I need, a mischievous owl.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

overview of today, and possibly a good night to listen for migrants after dark

Lots of birds were reported in the area today, including around the metro area.  I just snuck over to LaSalle Park in Metairie and, in the difficult light around 6 pm, had 7 Northern Waterthrushes, 3 American Redstarts, and singles of Black-and-White, Hooded, and Magnolia Warblers.  Also a Pewee and two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

A couple of birders who went to Grand Isle reported lots of birds, with 23 species of warblers.  Among their counts were 67 Red-eyed Vireos, and 20+ each of Black and White, Magnolia, and Tennessee Warblers, and American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush (which led the warblers at 41).  They also reported 36 Pewees.

It is never possible to predict with certainty, but tonight seems a good setup to detect nocturnal migration. The vast majority of small land birds migrate at night. Low cloud cover with north winds are good conditions to listen for the flight notes of migrants passing overhead.   On the best nights, the calls may be audible at around one per second or better.  But even a night with just a few calls detected per minute can be fun. Thrushes often make up the bulk of call notes at night (this is something of a paradox, since we tend not to find so many "grounded" during the day, but call note frequencies can sometimes suggest large numbers overhead at night).

The most common are usually the heep of the Swainson's Thrush, and the husky veer of the Wood Thrush. There are recordings available that sort out the nocturnal flight calls of different species, and some birders really get into identifying them.

One problem in the city is ambient noise; I find it helps to cup my hands behind my ears to amplify sounds.

Start listening about a half hour after dark, and on into the night.

Good birding!


Appears to be a good day for migrants

Early reports from this morning indicate that a wave of migrants may have arrived on the heels of the cool front passage.  This is commonly the case, as birds wait for the north winds behind the front to head south, taking advantage of the tail wind.  Scout Island (across the street from the Couturie Forest on Harrison Ave in City Park) was reported to lave lots of warblers and flycatchers today.  The Couturie Forest itself is closed  for a film shoot.

In just a few minutes of watching in my back yard, I turned up an American Redstart and a Tennessee Warbler, corroborating the impressions of a migrant pulse.

And the cool air feels wonderful!

Good birding,


Friday, September 20, 2013

Birding tip: noisy Acadian Flycatchers

The Acadian Flycatcher belongs to arguably the most difficult to identify group of birds in North America, the flycatchers in the genus Empidonax.  They are all small (warbler sized), have wingbars, are colored in subtley different hues of olive and gray above, and are white below, usually with yellowish tinges.  Many Empidonax seen in the field are not identified to species, especially if they are silent.

The Acadian is the only species in the group that nests in our area, and is common in shady bottomland forests such as in Jean Lafitte Park and the Honey Island Swamp.  It can be located in the nesting season (May-June) by listening for its sneezy song, and then peering patiently at the subcanopy for the bird to move perches since it is difficult to pick out in its shady habitat if it just sits tight.

Oddly, this species goes through a season of enhanced vocal activity in the late summer (now!), when they notably utter a rather bold whee! call.  On many occasions, they will string these into series that commonly reach a dozen or two utterances, spaced about a second apart.

Hearing this call gives away the presence of the species, easier than at any other season.

Today I heard one whee-ing away in a shady spot of the Jefferson batture, redeeming an otherwise migrant-less visit.  It uttered 20 of these phrases in a steady sequence before I stopped counting.  This bird was passing through as a migrant- they don't nest in the batture.

My bird today shows that they sometimes do this away from breeding sites, but my general impression is that the best chances of hearing one uttering this call at this season is in bottomland forest areas such as the ones they nest in.  For instance, some birders at Honey Island Swamp yesterday reported 9 in 3-4 hours. Another visit there on Sep 5 produced 16 in 4-5 hours, and 17 were reported on Aug 20 in 5 hours.  In all three cases, I would predict that most were detected by their uttering this call.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, make a personal check out for $24 (incl $4 shipping) payable to Gulf South Environmental Investigations LLC, and mail it to
Peter Yaukey
330 Jefferson Heights Ave
Jefferson, LA 70121

or look for it at the Maple Street or Garden District Book Shops.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

First cormorant of the fall, other sightings

Today I saw a Double-crested Cormorant flying down the 17th street canal, at treetop level, headed south across Metairie Road.  My first of the fall.  Numbers will build from now forward; they are common around our drainage canals in winter.  Sometimes in migration they occur in flocks, often passing in (loose) V formation.  I hope to see such a group sometime in the coming weeks as well.

I also made a quick stop at the Bucktown artificial marsh and the adjacent weedy area.  I spooked a Blue Grosbeak along the mowed trail, an adult male in blue plumage (males of this species do not molt into brown fall colors like male Indigo Buntings do).   I also did some "spishing" and pulled in a couple Common Yellowthroats, both young males with hazy black masks.  Not many birds there, but the habitat still looks enticing!

Good birding,


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A bird to look for this time of year: Common Yellowthroat

The next three weeks or so are the best time of year to look for a species of warbler called the Common Yellowthroat.  Although they occur in scrubby wetlands in our area all winter, and some also in summer, this window of fall migration we are entering is a time when they turn up all over urban areas as well.

They may simply show up in shrubs in your yard, but can also be found by targeting any unkempt weedy area, even a single vacant lot that has become overgrown.  Stand on its edge and "spish"- the species is often responsive to this.  They usually respond initially with their short check (or chunk) call, and quite commonly approach and take a peak at you.  They typically occur solo, although a few may be attracted to the same habitat patch.

Yellowthroats are almost always within just a few feet of the ground, and tend to occur in bright sunlit weedy and scrubby areas (not below shady canopy).  However, at this time of year I often find them in all kinds of odd places- small urban tree copses, even isolated manicured shrubs on the UNO campus.  Presumably these are recently arrived birds that are passing through and using whatever passes for the best habitat in their immediate environs.

Males are easy to tell even in fall- adults retain an essentially full black mask, while young males usually have a thin black wash delineating the same mask area.  In either case, this allows quick recognition.

Females, adult and immature, are basically tan all over except for their clean yellow throat and breast, and yellow undertail coverts.  Compared to other nondescript olive above/yellow below warblers, they differ in 1) being quite brown/tan (vs. olive) on the upperparts, and 2) having this upper part color extend broadly onto the sides and flanks.

They are chunkier/more squat than is typical of the warblers, and may remind you more of a wren.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, make a check for $24 ($20 book, $4 shipping) out to Gulf South Environmental Investigations LLC, and mail it to
Peter Yaukey
330 Jefferson Heights Ave
Jefferson LA 70121
please include the address you would like it shipped to.

or, look for it at the Maple Street or Garden District Book Shops.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

small reverse morning flight at South Point

Today I spent a brief 35 minutes at South Point, where the railroad bridge leaves for the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans East.  This is on the Bayou Sauvage NWR, and is a 30 minute walk up the levee (p36-37 in Birding Made Easy).  By the way, refuge personnel have assured me that birders can ignore the "construction vehicles only" signs on the way out.

This is the best spot to see the weird reverse-directional movements of birds northeastward across Lake Pontchartrain after cold front passages in fall.  These appear to consist of birds that have been wind displaced onto the coastal marshes by the north winds after cold fronts, and are making their way back to terra firma on the North Shore, by purposefully heading back into the wind.

Today's flight was relatively mild by South Point standards, probably because the front was barely past the site.  These headed out across the lake during the 35 minutes:
55 Eastern Kingbirds (now in the dwindling stages of their passage through our area)
30 Unidentified Warblers (apparent Yellows, Am. Redstart, and Northern Waterthrush among them)
3 Blue Grosbeak
8 Barn Swallow

As usual there were waterbirds around, the most interesting of which were a Lesser Yellowlegs and a flock of a dozen or so Blue-winged Teal.

Flights here are dependent largely on cold front passages, so become more common as the fall progresses and fronts more commonly reach our area.

Good birding,



Friday, September 13, 2013

Site report: migration in LaSalle Park, Metairie

I found myself at 8 am this morning fortuitously near LaSalle park in Metairie (at David x Airline), which I have never had the opportunity to visit during migration season before, and do not recall hearing any reports from this season previously.

The park is relatively new, mainly athletic fields, but a substantial piece of "native" forest was left intact and remains surrounded by a buffer of remnant canopy trees shading open ground underneath.  There are lots of notably large, mature hardwoods both in the remnant woods and in the surrounding manicured areas.  These woods are part of a larger woodlot that was present at least into the 1990s, when I surveyed it as part of a project looking at urban woodlot use by birds.  Don't quote me on this till I can review my records, but I think there were Broad-winged Hawks and Barred Owls in it during the nesting season at that time (not any more- but it still sticks out as a habitat island amongst its surroundings).

I spent 45 minutes, and did have some migrants.  A flock up in the canopy along the north edge had
2 Summer Tanager
1 Great Crested Flycatcher
1 immature Prothonotary Warbler (kinda odd to be so high in the trees)

From the boardwalk in the interior of the woodlot, near the "outdoor classroom," I had another flock in the understory:
1 Acadian Flycatcher
1 Black-and-White Warbler
1 Worm-eating Warbler

I failed to find any chickadees (which may have hurt the list- finding chickadees is often a good way to locate migrant warblers this time of year, as they tend to join chickadees).

There were 3-4 Cardinal family groups, all with cardinal (not cowbird) young- a heartwarming thing to see in the heart of Bronzed Cowbirdland.

Kudos to the landscapers here, who have actually set up a drip and pool for birds by the outdoor classroom. There were no birds using it, but the understory flock was close by and may have been drawn to it.

Good birding,

Peter Yaukey

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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Some tips on those confusing fall warblers

For most birders, the fall warblers are some of the hardest birds to learn.  

While it is true that fall warblers can be confusing, here are some tips specific to southeast Louisiana that can greatly simplify things.

First, it helps to narrow the field.  While dozens of species are possible, ninety percent of the warblers you encounter before mid-October will be of these ten species:
Black-and-White Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
American Redstart

Here they are again, with identification tips.   The first character I list for each is the one that I consider the easiest feature for identifying the species, and is what I usually look for first.  Not every birder will key in on the same marks, however.

Black-and-White Warbler- hugs branches like a nuthatch; streaky black and white.

Tennessee Warbler- nondescript, olive above, variably yellowish below, short black eyeline,  small

Yellow Warbler- yellow (or yellow w/olive wash) all over, even on undertail coverts and tail feathers

Magnolia Warbler- neat white squares on outer edges of tail; sides and flanks yellow with blackish streaks

Black-throated Green Warbler- yellow patches cover sides of head; mainly white underparts, green back

Hooded Warbler- face with faint "helmet" look, flashes white in tail feathers; usually low in shady habitat;
    tink call

Northern Waterthrush- walks on ground teetering; brown above, streaky below

Common Yellowthroat- yellow throat and breast, brown upperparts and sides, open sunlit
     weedy areas.  Often some hint of the black mask.

Wilson's Warbler- like female Hooded (faint helmet face), but smaller without the white in tail; clep call

American Redstart- flaunts large yellow rectangles on base of tail (both sides), pale yellow-orange
    "shoulder" patches on white underparts

After these species, I would place these in the next tier of likelihood (birders would debate this):
Prothonotary Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Northern Parula
Prairie Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Kentucky Warbler

Keep in mind that for some species, you may still run into males that look much like they do in spring (e.g., Hooded Warbler).  I have focused here on the the dingy female and immature plumages.

Yellow-rumped, Pine, Palm, and Orange-crowned will arrive around mid-October (or later) and be important members of our winter avifauna.  Pine will also be on the North Shore before then, because it nests there.

Good birding, Peter

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Some migrants in a brief stop in Gentilly

This morning on the way to UNO I stopped for 45 minutes at a woodlot that abuts the London outflow canal.

I walked its east face without detecting any migrants, staying next to the flood wall to benefit from its shade (gotta love that September heat!), then started back to the car.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee began singing steadily in the woodlot, in an area I had just walked past outbound (perwee!).  I decided to duck inside the wood margin, and a Wood Duck spooked from a small pool concealed inside the trees.  I decided to spish a bit, and promptly a Great Crested Flycatcher appeared in the sub-canopy, energetically swooping around to get bugs, followed by a Yellow-throated Vireo with its usual lazy movements.  Moments later, a more animated female/immature American Redstart came in, fanning is tail.

Nothing more showed itself in a few more minutes of spishing, so I stayed inside the woods but maneuvered about thirty yards parallel the levee back toward my car, stopping to inspect a Red-shouldered Hawk primary feather on the ground en route.  I heard a chickadee at a distance, and stopped to swish it in.  Within thirty seconds, a half dozen Chickadees came flying up through the woods, and gathered ten or so feet over my head chicka-dee-dee-ing.  This was the response I was hoping for, knowing that it would be likely to draw in other songbirds that might be around.  Sure enough, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher promptly joined them, and then a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler, all 15-30 feet up. Two female/immature Redstarts appeared, though one may have been the bird I had seen thirty yards earlier, drawn to the renewed excitement.  A Hooded Warbler started making its tink call in the underbrush, but remained out of sight.

Time to get to UNO!  No more excitement on the walk back to the car, except for a Cooper's Hawk that flew up the levee toward me before ducking into the woods.

Good birding,


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

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A good bird to chase: Great Kiskadee seen at Bayou Sauvage

It may sound like a long shot to chase an individual rare bird that someone has found, but a good opportunity has just turned up.

A Great Kiskadee was found on the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge yesterday morning by veteran birder Dave Muth, and was seen again by birders who looked for it again around noon yesterday and again this morning.  This species normally occurs in Texas, and turns up in Louisiana only occasionally.  When it does, it  usually sticks around a while once found, so is likely to remain chase-able for a few days or longer.

The bird is boldly marked, and is often vocal and conspicuous.  Walk in Recovery Road, which is gated and is across the street from the Bayou Sauvage NWR rest station and kiosks on Chef Hwy in New Orleans East (and described on p.35 of Birding Made Easy).  Look for the bird after about a ten minute walk in, around the railroad crossing and the abandoned shed just beyond it.  Listen for its weird kis-ka-dee (kip ki-whur to me) call, which you can listen to at

This is also a good bird to chase because it is in an area that is generally quite birdy this time of year.  Expect to see Yellow Warblers and other species during your search.  Just a bit farther down Chef Hwy, the Madere Marsh Overlook is a good place to look for marsh birds, and just a bit beyond that, another deck from which to scan for marsh birds is back across on the north side of Chef.

Here is a picture of the Bayou Sauvage Great Kiskadee taken by Claire Thomas yesterday.

Good birding,


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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Forty eight Wood Ducks coming to the Monticello Roost

Tonight I made another dusk visit to the roost at the water treatment plant on Monticello.

There were ~780 large waders roosting, all white species (White Ibis, Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets).  Hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flying about, hundreds of Laughing Gulls roosting, as usual.

Wood Ducks continue to fly in at dusk; tonight's count was 48.  Every time I arrive, they are already coming in- so I don't know how many arrived before hand.  They typically disappear into the wet thickets so it is not feasible to count them after arrival.

Good birding,


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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A bird to watch for this month: Eastern Wood-Pewee

September is the peak month of passage for a migratory bird that often turns up in people's shade trees:  the Eastern Wood-Pewee.  They are much more common in fall than spring passage, so now is the time to keep an eye (and ear) open for them.  They will still be passing through in October, dwindling in the second half of the month.

Pewees are not brightly plumaged, but are appealing because they have lots of attitude.  They are small gray bird that habitually perches in the open on an exposed twig.  Pewees sally from their perches to snag bugs from mid air, often returning to the same perch.  Sometimes you can hear their bill snap shut on their prey.  They are usually at mid-level in a large tree, but can range higher or lower.  When there is another pewee nearby, they often vocalize a lot, and sometimes give chase.  Their vocalizations are various short slurred whistles (including peweeee- the source of its name) and hard "chip" notes.  They are pausing here en route to the tropics.

Although there are other species in our area that bear some resemblance to it, the Eastern Wood Pewee will be much more common and conspicuous than its look-alikes until mid-October, when the similar Eastern Phoebe arrives.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bucktown marsh area looking good for fall birding

Today I spend 20 minutes in Bucktown, across the levee from R&O's restaurant, at and around the artificial marsh there.  It was noon, and thus not very birdy, but the habitat looks worth focusing some attention on over the next few months.  Lots of weedy and scrubby thickets, with a trail cut into them for ease of access.

One characteristic about fall migration is that more species use open sun-lit weedy and scrubby habitats than in spring- perhaps because the weed layer is substantially more tall and dense after a summer's worth of growth. This area should be good for Yellow Warblers right now; the most common species in September will probably be CommonYellowthroat, and in October Indigo Bunting and SwampSparrow.  Many others should join them.

Of course, there is the bonus of having the lakefront there- today I had Green, Yellow-crowned Night, and Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egret, and Spotted Sandpiper in my binoculars at once on the rip-rap shoreline.

Over the decades this spot has turned up lots of interesting birds, ranging from Lark Bunting to Burrowing Owl.

Good birding,


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