Thursday, October 31, 2013

Front may bring birds

The cold front that will be passing tonight will probably bring in a wave of migrants along with the cool weather.  We may notice an arrival of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Most birds will, like the Yellowrumps, be species that winter in our area.  However, we tend to see many of them in especially high numbers after November fronts compared to the numbers that will spend the winter.  Many species that do not normally winter in urban landscapes are likely to show up immediately after a front at this season, before seeking out their preferred winter haunts outside the city.  For instance, a Hermit Thrush or Swamp Sparrow is more likely to turn up in your garden now than in January.

Also, several species that usually winter north of Lake Pontchartrain overshoot to the South Shore with such fronts.  These include Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Vesper Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and others.

If it remains rainy tonight, things may be slow still tomorrow- with the main pulse of birds delayed to Friday night.  Of course, with migration, nothing is entirely predictable!


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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Longvue Garden yesterday

I led a short birdwalk for a group who came to Longvue Gardens yesterday (Saturday) morning, in association with doing a book signing.

It was a beautiful fall day.  The grounds are very well planted for birds, and under-visited by local birders.

We had a small flock of American Robins swarming over some fruiting camphor trees, accompanied by a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  An Eastern Wood-Pewee was also in the tree, through it is not a fruit-eater and was sallying for bugs.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk was perched in a pine.

In the Nature Garden, two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were chasing each other from tree to tree.  This species often does this in late fall when they first arrive here (they will spend the winter).  An Eastern Phoebe was also there, and 1-2 Brown Thrashers.

We also had the usual array of resident species, including Blue Jays, Fish and American Crows, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Carolina Wren, etc.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Barred Owl in residential yard

This morning in the 6 am darkness, I slid open my rear sliding glass door to let my dog come inside.

In the brief period in which the door was open, a Barred Owl gave its full eight-phrase hooting call from my Live Oak, straight over my head.  This call is often described as who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.

I had a Barred Owl calling several times on and near my yard a few winters ago.   Those are my only other records in my neighborhood, or indeed anywhere in residential New Orleans.

The Barred is the species of owl most commonly encountered in the swamps outside of town, but it does not reside in the city, except for a very few that occupy our few large urban forest fragments (like the Nature Center).


Thursday, October 24, 2013

My first vulture feeding in East Jefferson (ever)

Turkey Vultures were scarce far into the city before Katrina.  I rarely saw them in East Jefferson, Lakeview, Mid City, or Gentilly.  

After Katrina, they seem to me to be several fold more frequent in this area, but are almost always in the air.

In the last few years, I have begun to see them perched- on high poles or towers, or on the ground apparently nocturnally roosting.  Probably fewer than a half dozen total.

Today as I was in Metairie taking the "hidden" entrance to the Earhardt Expressway off Airline (across from the country club), one came in swooping low, and picked up an apparent small dead animal (rat?) in its beak as it stood on the ground.  Another approached low, and several crows were drawn in.

This is the first time I have actually seen a Turkey Vulture find food here.   Black Vultures continue to be even rarer this far into the city.

Good birding,


Monday, October 21, 2013

Bird to watch out for: American White Pelican

A bird to keep your  eyes open for this time of year is the American White Pelican.  They are making their way south to the Gulf Coast from the northern prairies, where they nest in colonies.  The coastal marshes of southeast Louisiana are an important wintering area for the species.

White Pelicans will appear overhead almost anywhere, including over urban New Orleans.  They usually circle overhead, low enough to catch your eye as you as you glance skyward while walking to your car or doing whatever.  They are usually seen in flocks, commonly dozens together, wheeling slowly in the sky, white plumage flashing in the sunlight.  They are huge birds, and heavy, with broad wings with black tips.

There is perhaps no avian sight in Louisiana as stirring to me as when I am surprised by a flock of white pelicans circling overhead as I go about my daily business.  I suspect many others have similar emotions.

This note was prompted by a sighting:  a local observer reported 100 over Helios in Metairie today.

Keep your eyes skyward!


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.

I will be having a book signing (and leading a bird walk) at Longvue Gardens in Metairie on Saturday October 26.  Come and join in!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Visit to Kenner wader roost

This evening I stopped by the wader roost in the Kenner City Park at Vintage and Loyola.  There were 150 waders roosting, mainly White Ibis, but with smaller numbers of Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets, and Tricolored and Little Blue Herons.  One Anhinga, and one Black-crowned Night-Heron.

I was mainly interested in whether spoonbills were roosting here- none tonight.

It was also curious that there were zero Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.  I don't imagine that will last much longer!

About ten American Coots were present- not sure how many might have been new wintering arrivals.

Good birding,


Friday, October 18, 2013

Migrants this morning at LaSalle Park

A 25 minute visit to LaSalle Park this AM did produce an array of migrants, though not in huge numbers.  Still, enough to suggest arrivals from last night's front.

A mixed flock with chickadees mostly got away after frustrating me in bad light, but had at least a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and male Northern Parula.  The flock was on the margin of the main woods and the adjacent glade with shade trees, along the paved path.

Nothing was in the ragweed patch.

At the far end of the boardwalk, a small cluster of birds included five or so Indigo Buntings, a Summer Tanager (probably two), and a Northern Flicker.

I swished for a few minutes by the drip, drawing in a Gray Catbird.

Last night, a brief listen outside around 9:45 produced a single call note (by an overhead migrant- probably Wood Thrush).  However, another birder in Baton Rouge reported a higher volume of overhead notes around 10:10 pm, mostly thrushes.

Might be an interesting next few days- it is possible that the stalled cold front will allow birds to keep coming down to us, but prevent them from departing across the Gulf- perhaps causing them to accumulate.  Worth thinking about, anyway!

Oh yeah, the Roseate Spoonbill was back on Canal Street in Old Metairie this morning at 8 am.


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.

I will be having a book signing (and leading a bird walk) at Longvue Gardens in Metairie on Saturday October 26.  Come and join in!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Roseate Spoonbill in Old Metairie

Today I had a Roseate Spoonbill in a new location- the narrow drainage canal along Canal Street, which runs diagonally from the I-10 overpass at Oaklawn, southeastward toward the pumping station on the 17th Street Canal, in Old Metairie.  1:30 pm.

This small canal usually has White Ibis, Tricolored Heron, and Snowy Egret in it.

I have also seen or heard of Spoonbills in a few other new locations the last few weeks:  one reported by a visiting birder in City Park just north of I-610 in a pond, and one that I spied last week in Kenner in the West Metairie Ave drainage canal at Indiana (which is near Williams Blvd).

Air is feeling nice outside now!  If the cloud cover continues tonight, it might be a good night to listen for call notes.

5:14 pm

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.

I will be having a book signing (and leading a bird walk) at Longvue Gardens in Metairie on Saturday October 26.  Come and join in!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Migration and tonight's front

A front is scheduled to pass tonight.  It may not get by us until morning, but winds have been out of the north half of the compass for a few hours now at Lakefront Airport- perhaps it is already passing.

There is usually a pulse of birds after a fall front-  it will be worth getting out and looking around after this one.  There may be call notes overhead tonight if there are north winds.

There should still be Indigo Buntings, Gray Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks coming through with this front- among our last neotropical migrants (i.e., migrants headed for the American tropics to winter).  The earlier season groups (neotropical migrant vireos and warblers, etc) are over their peak in numbers now, but some should still be mixed in.

Early waves of birds that are primarily temperate zone winterers should be evident as well - such as Swamp Sparrow, PineWarbler (arriving on the South Shore- already present year round on the North Shore), and Eastern Phoebe.

It is also a good time to find a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  Keep your eyes on fences, powerlines, tips of small trees, etc- they often perch in the open.

It is hard to say whether the best birding will be tomorrow AM or the next day.  And of course, some fronts mysteriously produce little movement at all- while others are truly memorable.  Let's get out and look!

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.

I will be having a book signing (and leading a bird walk) at Longvue Gardens in Metairie on Saturday October 26.  Come and join in!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A short stop at Bucktown Marsh

Today I stopped by the Bucktown Marsh on the way to work.

As before, a vocal Loggerhead Shrike greeted me from the picnic area.

Immediately in front of the parking area, on the scrub edge, a little party of birds gathered to fuss at my swishing:  3 Common Yellowthroats, a Marsh Wren, a Northern Waterthrush, and my first Swamp Sparrow of the fall.

Not much along the cut path along the lakeshore, until the far end of the thicket it passes through, where there were three more Swamp Sparrows and two more Yellowthroats.

Today I walked out to the tip of the peninsula for the first time in a couple years- there is good weedy habitat along both the lake and harbor edges of it.  On the walk out I put up three Savannah Sparrows- my first of the fall.  An immature (white) Little Blue Heron took off from the rip-rap shore, as did two Spotted Sandpipers, which  flew  in an arc over the water with their usual ringing weet weet weet and stiff wingbeats.  From the tip, I counted 115 Forster's Terns sitting on pylons (etc) across the way at West End, accompanied by about an equal number of Laughing Gulls and five or so Royal Terns.

I walked the scrubby harbor edge on the way back to the car, which looks great but produced nothing today.  The three Savannahs had ventured out onto the open ground in the center of the peninsula, and flitted back into the lakeside weeds at my approach.

"Land's End" sorts of places like this often seem especially likely to produce oddities, so it is a tantalizing spot. I will be back.


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.

I will be having a book signing at Longvue Gardens on Saturday October 26, when I will also lead a birdwalk on grounds.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Migrants in a Katrina lot

Today I stopped by a shotgun-sized Katrina lot in Gentilly near UNO, that is overgrown with scrubby growth, tallows, and ragweed.  I have been checking it regularly for a few years now.

Today's visit produced the most birds there so far this fall- surprising given the lack of recent frontal activity.  Eleven Indigo Buntings, three Blue Grosbeaks, a White-eyed Vireo, and a Brown Thrasher.  Also, a Cardinal was present- quite likely my first ever there (Katrina-flooded residential areas in Orleans Parish are now essentially Cardinal-free).

Good birding,


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bird to look for: Gray Catbird

We are now entering what is arguably the peak week of the year for an interesting species, the Gray Catbird.

Gray Catbirds are a smooth medium gray all over, without streaks or mottling.  The only exceptions are a black cap, and rusty undertail coverts.  They are about the same shape as a mockingbird (and are in the same family), but a touch smaller.  They tend to hold their body horizontally like a mocker as well.

Gray Catbirds usually occur in dense undergrowth, although they will work their way upward into trees where fruit (usually berries) are available.

Although small numbers remain in south Louisiana in winter, and a very few nest here in summer, they are far more numerous during their April and October peaks of migratory passage.  They are one of our most common migrants in both spring and fall, and it is not uncommon to see a half dozen or more gathered in one suitable area during passage.  They depart from here across the Gulf of Mexico, to winter in Middle America.

Catbirds commonly turn up in yards with ample vegetation within the city, so be on the lookout in your back yard.  A front is forecast for late next week, which may bring a wave of them in- but there are some around right now.

They are pretty responsive to swishing, so do not be surprised if one pops into view when you are swishing up other birds.  They often call when they approach, and commonly give several different vocalizations in this context.  One is the class mew that gives the bird its name; it sounds so very catlike that you will recognize the similarity immediately.

Good birding,


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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Twenty minutes at Bucktown Marsh

Today I swung by the Bucktown Marsh on the way to work.  This is across the lake levee from R & O's restaurant.

The brushy marsh edge had a cluster of birds that responded to swishing along its south edge, and another at its north end.  The former had 2 Marsh Wrens, 1 Sedge Wren, and 2 Common Yellowthroats.  Not easy to get Sedge Wren in the City, so that was a pleasant surprise.   They winter in grassy marshes outside the city.

The northern cluster of birds one had a Lark Sparrow, another Marsh Wren, and four more Yellowthroats.  Lark Sparrow is another goodie- I normally see less than a half dozen per year.  Fall migration is the most likely time for them, and today was a typical date.  It was teed up on top of the brush before I began swishing.

Walking the cut trail north along the lake edge, and then back via the unfinished road to the car, was relatively unproductive- though I had another Yellowthroat and a House Wren, swished up together.

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, or look for it at the Garden District Book Shop or Maple Street Book Shop. $24.95 in book stores, $24 (including shipping) from me direct.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gorgeous field of cosmos in City Park is loaded with birds

This fall there is a shocking field of orange cosmos, perhaps 25 yards across, along Marconi Drive by Tad Gormley Stadium.  I stopped there and swished this morning, and birds started popping out of the cosmo patch in every direction.  There are two small trees within it, and many jumped up into these.

They were all Common Yellowthroats and Indigo Buntings.  About 15 of the former and 10 of the latter.  The field may produce other species as well in the next few weeks, with House and Marsh Wrens and Swamp Sparrow especially likely.

Even if there were not a bird here, it would be an uplifting experience to walk around this riot of color.  The birds make it extra cool.

Both birds are small and brown (Indigos are not blue at this season).  The buntings are uniformly brown, though you may see a hint of blue-gray wash in places such as the tail.  The yellowthroats have (surprise) a bright yellow throat and upper breast.  Males will have either a full or faded black mask.

Good birding, Peter

for a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, or look for it at the Garden District or Maple Street Book Shops.  $25 in the bookstore, $24 (including shipping) shipped.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Still lots of migrants around

Today I stopped for 40 minutes in Gentilly at a woodlot near Delgado, and had a nice little collection of migrants.  A small ragweed patch and associated woodland edge along the wooded edge had 5 Common Yellowthroats, 7 Gray Catbirds, an American Redstart and a Red-eyed Vireo.  Farther north along the same woody edge, another flock with chickadees held White-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a Northern Parula.  A handful of other birds were scattered here and there, including single Yellow and Magnolia Warblers.  With a few exceptions, these are all species that neither nest nor winter in the city, so these are all migrants passing through.  I did also see my first Eastern Phoebe of the fall; they should begin arriving in numbers in the next few weeks.

I also spent 30 minutes in the small woodsy patch next to the Fine Arts building at UNO, which was also pretty busy with migrants.  I started by swishing a mixed flock in low over my head, including 2 Redstarts, 2 Magnolia Warblers, 2 Pine Warblers, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a House Wren.  A Pewee was singing, and I managed to track down 4 Common Yellowthroats and 2 Catbirds elsewhere in the woodlot.  A Great Blue Heron was perched in its usual roosting spot in a tall pine (always an odd site, hundreds of yards from water).  These land birds were also all passage migrants, and none of them nest or winter on the UNO campus, except that the Pine Warblers are likely to winter at this site.

A few days each fall are (to me) Common Yellowthroat days, when they seem to be all over, including in ornamental shrubs.  Today was such a day- with one in a shrub in front of the student union at UNO, and another near the library in a water garden.

These are all birds moving in the wake of the recent frontal passage; fall migrants move south after fronts because they benefit from the tailwinds and fair weather that usually come after the front passes.  Usually the peak numbers occur in the few days  after the front, and then they slowly dwindle (sometimes rapidly dwindle) until the next front.

Get out and enjoy it while the weather is cool but the migrant birding is hot!


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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some migrants today at LaSalle Park

I just spent 40 minutes in LaSalle Park in Metairie, where there were some migrants.  I was there at 11:00 am.

Walking through the wooded glade (open understory area) on the paved path, I heard a few chickadees.  When I swished them in, a Red-eyed Vireo and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher came down with them.  A probable Hooded Warbler ticked in the adjacent understory.

A fit farther down the paved path, where the sliver of woods on the right ends, there was a busy patch of ragweed.  Six Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (streaky fall birds), four Summer Tanagers (all ochre-yellow female types), two Indigo Buntings (fall brown plumage) and two brown-plumaged Blue Grosbeaks.  A Nashville Warbler joined them in an adjacent oak.

Circling back via the boardwalk in the woods, there were no migrants until I reached the drip, which was being inspected by a female-type (green) Painted Bunting and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

A bit farther along, a thicket near ground level held a skulking female-type Common Yellowthroat.

At the other end of the boardwalk, where it rejoins the paved trail, was another pulse of birds.  White-eyed Vireo, Eastern-Wood Pewee, male (red) Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and two Indigos.  All with chickadees.

Keep your eyes open!


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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Likely a good night for migration

It sure feels odd to go overnight from thinking tropical storm waifs to thinking about migration coming down from the north, but hey- I don't make the weather!

Apart from eight probable Magnificent Frigatebirds that I saw circling over Harahan at a great distance yesterday, I have not heard any reports of birds displaced by TS Karen.  There are probably birders still afield who have not reported their sightings yet, so a few may yet be reported.

The cool front that has now passed New Orleans (ah- feels good!) will probably bring in a wave of migrants.  Tomorrow it will be worth checking the trees in your yard, or stopping by a woodsy spot like Couturie Forest in City Park.  We are still in the peak period for neotropical migrants (ie, birds headed to tropics), but this will only be true for another two weeks or so.  Then we will still get migrant pulses, but they will be predominantly species that will remain around in winter.

 Tonight seems like it is going to have the somewhat unusual combination of a low cloud deck and north winds, which means that there may be a lot of audible vocalizations of birds flying overhead.  Worth stepping outside and listening, especially after about 9 pm.  Remember that earlier in the evening, there may not be much plying our skies, since we have 25 miles of lake to our north- we may have to wait for the birds from north of the water to arrive overhead. Usually thrushes are the most audible- the peeper-like heep of Swainson's, and the grainy veer of Wood Thrush being the most likely.


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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hurricane waif birding

While tropical storms such as Karen may be a nuisance in nearly every other respect, they do offer opportunities for seeing unusual bird species inland in Louisiana.  The regularity with which land falling tropical cyclones deposit coastal birds- or even tropical seabirds- inland after landfall is predictable enough that birds are now found after virtually every storm.  Indeed, some of the most feverish birding behavior can take place immediately after storms pass.

The general strategy of most birders is to stay at home (as often advised by authorities) during the storm's passage, making frequent trips outside to scan the sky during breaks in the rain.  Many a birder has added unusual birds to their "yard list" this way.

After things settle down and any official prohibitions are lifted, most birders then scan large bodies of water to look for seabirds, which can be either sitting on shore (or on the water), or flying - often purposefully heading back in the direction of the Gulf.  Lake Pontchartrain is usually targeted by birders in our area under these circumstances.  Birds will also often sit on wet lawns, such as those in City Park, or the fields across the street from Armstrong Airport (etc.).  There is also some indication that birds will continue to come down the Mississippi River for days after a storm passage, if the storm has crossed the Mississippi well upstream from us.  This was likely the reason for a jaeger (apparently Pomarine) I saw on the River near the Luling Bridge days after Isaac last year.  But generally, the best birding is immediately after the storm passes.

The storm waifs most often reported in the New Orleans area are pretty consistently Magnificent Frigatebirds and Black Terns.  Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, and Black Skimmers may be boosted in numbers.  Bridled and Sooty Terns are the most likely truly pelagic species to occur, either over large water bodies or flying steadily overland.  Jaegers often turn up as well, especially Pomarine.   Many other species are possible, and records in or near Louisiana have been as odd as American Flamingo (after Isaac, last year).

Birds that migrate over us but normally do not pause before reaching the Gulf can sometimes be put down in conspicuous numbers- especially shorebirds.  This is also probably the mechanism behind the appearance of a Sabine's Gull I found near the Lakefront Airport during Hurricane Opal (which passed to our east) in 1995.  It was accompanied by several Franklin's Gulls, less rare but also hard to come by here  under normal circumstances.

Although waterbirds are the main attraction, odd songbirds sometimes turn up.  I have seen Gray Kingbird after tropical weather at UNO, and 1984's Hurricane Juan (before I came here) produced a remarkable list of late records of species that should have been in Latin America at the time.  Nobody is quite sure how the storm managed to produce this effect.

Unfortunately for us with Karen, the left side of the storm is usually not as good as the east side.  But some pelagics can get blown left of the track- as did some Sooty Terns when TS Lee came inland in Louisiana in 2011.  These may (?) be birds that were wrapped around in front of the advancing storm by the counterclockwise wind circulation, carrying them all the way around to the left side before the center of the storm passed.

Two main mechanisms are presumed to be involved in storm displacement:
1) birds becoming "caught" in the eye by retreating continuously from the advancing eyewall, sometimes to the point that they will even travel within it miles overland to avoid settling and enduring the eyewall winds.
2) birds are drifted by the counterclockwise circulation, sometimes far inland

Karen has no eye, so the second mechanism should apply.

Tropical cyclones have caused some remarkable displacements.  In 2008, a Cory's Shearwater was reported in Oklahoma after Gustav.  Several Black-capped Petrels have occurred well inland in the northeastern USA.

Because most tropical weather hits us earlier in the season, Karen's potential for producing waifs may not fit the patterns typical of earlier season storms- it will be interesting to see.

Be safe, and good birding!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Seven Roseate Spoonbills in two places Metairie

Today I had a high count of the fall, seven Roseate Spoonbills during my morning commute.

Four were in the drainage ditch along Airline Drive, just west of Lester (which is a bit west of David Dr).

Three were in the median ditch of West Metairie, between Clearview and Transcontinental.

A visiting birder also reported one in City Park two days ago, in a pond just north of I-610.

Good birding!


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