Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving morning- flight at South Point

I made a quick walk out to South Point in Bayou Sauvage NWR today, to have a look at any corrective flight that might be occurring in the wake of the front.  This is traditionally a pretty good date for such movements by Robins and Yellowrumped Warblers, the last significant flights before winter.

Driving up I-10 through New Orleans East, I passed two small (~15) flocks of Robins flying NE along the interstate- a good sign movement was underway.

I stopped briefly at the base of the highway 11 bridge across the Lake, where three Dark-eyed Juncos were foraging on the shoulder. This species winters regularly north of the Lake, but is scarce south- with the best time probably being immediately after these late fall cold fronts. In the little woodlot there, a White-eyed Vireo scolded me when I spished, but did not come into view.

I parked at the gate at the "crabbing bridge," and walked the road and levee north to the base of the railroad bridge at South Point.

A Horned Grebe was close in at the crabbing bridge; a distant flock of birds on the water appeared to be ten more of the same.

Along the levee, there was a flock of about 150 ducks in the impounded marsh; mostly Gadwall, with Blue and Green-winged Teal and Black-bellied Whistlers mixed in.

A flock of a dozen sparrows around the base of the high tension tower included Song, Swamp, Savannah, Chipping, and- the least expected- a Field.  Field is uncommon south of the Lake.

There were shallows in the marsh, where a hundred or so shorebirds were resting and foraging.  Five Dowitchers flew by close and one obligingly cried "peep"- showing itself to be a Long-billed.  Overall, Dunlin seemed to dominate, but I also picked out Lesser Yellowlegs and Western Sandpiper, and more dowitchers. One Wilson's Snipe spooked from the edge, giving its usual "urp" alarm call.  Several small groups of Black-necked Stilts flew back and forth, giving their strident calls.

A flock of 70 or so American Pipits was milling about the levee "lawn;" they swarmed past a Kestrel, which appeared to make a pass at one of them.

Two Red-tails were atop the high tension towers, and two Northern Harriers were cruising low over the impounded marsh.

The scrubby woods scattered through the impoundments were swarming with milling Robins, Yellowrumps, and Tree Swallows.  Periodically, groups would cross the levee and head northeast over the water, bound for Slidell.  In 30 minutes of counting, I saw about 700 do this (330 Robins, 70 Yellowrumps, 300 Tree Swallows).  The swallows may just be dispersers from their roosts to the west; the Robins and Yellowrumps I generally interpret as migrants making corrective movements after having been wind-drifted farther south than intended by the northerly post-frontal winds .

Two solo Common Loons flew northeast overland across the point, cutting the across from open water to open water- always a treat to see their weird, dangling-leg silhouettes.  Flying loons are expected at this spot this time of year.

Walking back along the levee, I flushed the usual scattering of Savannah Sparrows from the short grass.  Two Eastern Meadowlarks were also in the open along the levee, somehow missed on the walk out.  Oddly, the swale with the ducks had now acquired a flock of 150 American Coots.

Driving out to the interstate at 0900 AM, I stopped briefly for a streaky hawk on a pole- immature Red-shouldered.

On the I-10 headed back into town, I passed an Osprey hovering over a canal near Crowder- and when I looked farther up the canal, saw a second one doing the same.

Good birding,


Sunday, November 24, 2013

mega Tree Swallow roosts on internet radar

One of the more spectacular late fall events in the birding calendar of southeast Lousiana is the formation of huge Tree Swallow roosts.  These are usually in sugar cane fields, and usually persist until the cane is cut around the present date.

This year there have been no (publicized) reports of such roosts, including from the usual stronghold, a location on the West Bank upriver in Vacherie.  The birds normally become a milling mass that covers the sky near twilight over the roost field, and eventually settle down into the cane through a weird downward extension of the flock that looks like a funnel cloud- birders often refer to it as a "swallow tornado."  This conduit drains the great mass of swallows from the sky until they are down in the cane for the night.  It is quite possible that the Vacherie roost has a million birds, but estimating is very difficult.

I noticed yesterday morning that two roosts appear to be visible on online weather radar (unfiltered, thus the birds remain visible; such images are available at  It is normal to be able to see the dispersing roosts in dawn images on such radar.  Although other densely roosting species can cause similar radar echoes, Tree Swallows are the most likely this time of year (and Purple Martins in summer; possibly other species at other seasons also).

Interestingly, the present roosts seem to be in wetlands- not cane.  One is north of Thibodaux (about one mile south of Hwy 3219 x Hwy 3127), and the other appears to be near the Airline Hwy entrance to the Ormond Estates, west of the I-310 overpass!  That is, in the wetlands north of Airline. There may be interesting viewing there in the evening- anyone with any observations, please let me know!

Here are two images from yesterday near dawn.  The red arrow in the top image shows the Ormond roost beginning to disperse (small dot).  The second image shows both roosts dispersing shortly thereafter- the Ormond birds have now created a crescent echo headed east or northeast; the red stars are where the two echoes first appeared, and are the best estimates of the actual roost sites.  There was some hint of another roost at Manchac, which may have merged with the Ormond birds in this second image.  The fact that the radar echoes are moving east is probably just an artifact of the position of the radar beam coming from Slidell- they probably disperse in all directions.

Good birding,


Saturday, November 23, 2013

bird worth chasing: Iceland Gull

This morning a birder posted a photograph of an Iceland Gull at the Mandeville lakefront, at the east end of the park.

This is a gull of normal size, but is strikingly whiter (with merely some tan smudging).  The wingtips are white.  The bill is black.

This is a species that is very similar to another, only slightly less rare (here) species, called the Thayer's Gull, and full steps have not yet been taken to make sure it is not the latter- but it looks good.

The Iceland Gull was see first in our state only last winter, in Venice- despite people being on the alert for it for decades.

The bird is very tame, and may even come to bread.

Good birding!



The bird has been seen by many observers today.  While you are there, look for a flock of 16 Black Scoters (well out on the water) and some Buffleheads that are also present.  I mistakenly said west end of the park before- the birds are at the east end, by the breakwaters and Bayou Castine mouth.

Here is an Iceland Gull pic taken there today by John Sevenair.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bald Eagle sightings four days in a row

I have seen Bald Eagles each of the last four days, only leaving the city once, and without making an effort for any of them:

Monday- perched on a high tension tower in Metairie
Tuesday- spotted at a distance while I counted robins flying across the UNO campus
Wednesday- two on the I-10 span between Kenner and Laplace (one at the nest by I-310, another while crossing the spillway)
Thursday- one three year old (dark tip on white tail) over the UNO campus
Friday- none, bummer!

What a wonderful thing, given that the species remained essentially extirpated from our area just a few decades ago.

Good birding,


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

215 American White Pelicans flying over City Park

While driving I-610 east across City Park about an hour ago (4:20 pm), I came alongside a large flock of white pelicans that were strung out into two massive "V" formations on the north side of the interstate.  They were slowly making their way east, alternately flapping and gliding (often such flocks are instead seen circling and drifting in their intended direction- perhaps a time-of-day difference?).

Good birding,


for a copy of Birding Made Easy, email me at, or look for it at local bookstores.  It is now available at:
Uptown:  Garden District Book Shop, Maple Street Book Shops
French Quarter and the Marigny:  Peach Records, Fauborg Marigny Art Books Music, Librarie Book Shop, Beckham's Bookshop, Arcadian Books and Prints, the Crabnet
Mid City:  Community Book Center

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

800 American Robins passing UNO in 30 minutes

This morning there were droves of American Robins flying northeast, performing their classic "correction" flight, an apparent retreat into the northeast wind to correct for wind drift that happened as they migrated behind the front that just passed.  (At least, that is the interpretation I favor for these ~northward flights in fall, which occur regularly for various species).

I noticed fifty or so flying over Canal Blvd on my way to UNO, so counted as I walked onto campus from my car, and then spent 20 more minutes counting from the fourth floor of Kirschmann Hall (before my 9:30 class).

The total was 812 robins in 30 minutes, all headed northeast.  They came in a series of flocks, the largest of which was 325.   During the same period, 54 warblers passed headed northeast as well- presumably mainly or entirely Yellow-rumpeds.  Also two small waves of Tree Swallows totalling 33, and a tight flock of ten or so Cedar Waxwings- my first of the fall.

All these were headed northeast- I expect there was quite a show at South Point this morning (where the highway bridges leave for Slidell), where even more birds should have accummulated.

While scanning, I picked up some milling raptors: an adult Bald Eagle distant to the southwest (over City Park perhaps?), a closer Osprey, and four or so Turkey Vultures.

Good birding,


Monday, November 18, 2013

Bald Eagle perched along David Drive in Metairie a few minutes ago

At 10:25 AM I was driving up David Drive between West Metairie and West Napoleon, and noticed an adult Bald Eagle perched atop one of the high tension towers to the west.  It was straight across from Lafreniere Street (not Lafreniere Park).

I had noticed a large raptor in this same spot yesterday morning as well, but hadn't gotten a good look.  Presumably it was this eagle.

The towers farther north have scattered Double-crested Cormorants roosting on them.

Good birding,


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Birding opportunity: low water at Bayou Sauvage NWR

One of the birding highlight of Greater New Orleans is the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge of New Orleans East.

While it is worth visiting under any circumstances, the areas south of I-10 are presently experiencing exceptionally good conditions.  When water levels are low, the ponds and marshes in that area gather thousands of waterbirds. Although birds may be distant, the numbers of them will be exhilirating nonetheless.
The refuge is currently experiencing such conditions- making now a prime time to visit.  There is no telling how long these conditions will last- their attractiveness could even be severely reversed by just a few rainstorms.   Many months can sometimes pass between low water episodes, so now is a great time to get out and enjoy the throngs of waterbirds.

Good viewing is available along Chef Menteur Hwy, east of I-510.  Just into the refuge, a gated road on the right (Recovery Road) can be walked to a large pond- if you want, you can walk the levee track for miles around its perimeter (the levee eventually separates it from the Intracoastal Waterway and tidal marshes).  You can also view the habitat from the Joe Madere boardwalk just a bit farther down Chef Hwy.  Light is generally best in the afternoon in both places, since the wetlands lie to the east of the vantage points.  There are land birds to be seen while walking Recovery Road, in the roadside scrub.

These places are described on pp. 35 + 36 in Birding Made Easy-New Orleans.

Good birding!


for a copy of Birding Made Easy, email me at, or look for it at local bookstores.  It is now available at:
Uptown:  Garden District Book Shop, Maple Street Book Shops
French Quarter and the Marigny:  Peach Records, Fauborg Marigny Art Books Music, Librarie Book Shop, Beckham's Bookshop, Arcadian Books and Prints, the Crabnet

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Birding the evening chorus

This evening as dusk was falling I took a stroll down to the Old Jefferson batture. 

A path that leads into the batture woods had been recently mowed- making it easy to walk (not sure why anyone would mow it, but I was happy to take advantage!)

Two huge Great Blue Herons, which had probably settled into their evening roost spots, launched over one of the tree-rimmed, weed-choked swales with their slow but powerful wingbeats.

Swamp Sparrows began to call on both sides of me- their distinctive sharp chip note.  They are a species that characteristically (in my experience) goes through a short period of vocalizing in the failing light of dusk. During such evening choruses, it is always fun to hear how many there are out there in the marsh that were otherwise undetected.  

I have heard other species do this elsewhere in Louisiana- White-throated Sparrow and Sedge Wren, for instance.  About a decade ago I found a wintering Summer Tanager- usually absent at this season-  in this same woods when it began chorusing at dusk with its ticky toc toc call.  For those species that do it, it is a great way to detect birds that you did not know were around.  I have never heard an explanation for the behavior.

The highlight of tonight's stroll, however, came when an ambulance siren pierced the evening air of the batture- and stimulated a pack of Coyotes to start howling in response!  They seemed to all be in one small area, perhaps fifty yards away, in the trees across the swale that the herons had crossed.  Their voices overlapped so that counting them was impossible- but it seemed to be four or five.  A treat!


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at, or look for it in area bookstores.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Movement on the front- Bucktown and UNO

This morning I swung by Bucktown and spent 20 minutes out on the peninsula, starting out at the north end of the artificial marsh.

There were Swamp Sparrows in the marsh, and a Savannah.  I flushed a larger sparrow up from the edge that I suspect was a White-crowned, but it went for cover.

Farther out on the peninsula, a few Savannah Sparrows were out in the short grass.  Two Red-winged Blackbirds flew in from high up- probably newly arrived migrants looking for habitat, given that they don't winter at the site.  Looking from the tip across toward West End revealed fewer terns and gulls than usual, but 28 Brown Pelicans on pylons- about 60% adults.

Walking back on the peninsula, I heard a Song Sparrow calling in the scrub.  A Yellow-rumped Warbler flew in, probably from over the water, and chipped restlessly.  It then took off westward, climbing high in the sky, appearing conflicted as it faced north but drifted west.  This matches a phenomenon we often see in south Louisiana on mornings after a frontal passage in fall- birds trying to head back north into the wind, apparently drifted farther south than they wished.

Shortly thereafter, two birds passed heading east at moderate height- which proved to be American Pipits in the binoculars, uncharacteristically silent in flight (usually they give their frail sipit notes).  These were also covering ground, probably also new arrivals on the front.  While they were passing, an American Goldfinch flew westward, also high, and solo, giving its usual potatochip call.  These were my first of both these species this season.

As I approached the car, I stopped once more to swish, and was rewarded by the dry tek of a Marsh Wren, which soon climbed a weed stalk into view.  I circulated back along the edge where I had spooked the suspected White-crowned, but it had not returned.

At UNO, I noticed a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in an ornamental baldcypress in front of my office building (Milneburg) as I walked in.  It flew into an exotic elm that is riddled with sapsucker diggings from winters past (holes drilled in short horizontal lines).  I could actually see sap glistening in some new holes high in the tree- not something I can recall seeing before.  A chickadee was there; I swished at in, and 4 Pine Warblers, an Orange-crowned Warbler, and a Blue-headed Vireo all materialized from the shade trees.  The vireo does not normally winter on campus, and is probably passing through; the warblers may stay, although they also go through a pulse of elevated numbers in late fall that fades into winter.  A student en route to my 9:30 hurricane meteorology class paused and inquired "anything good?"  I said "Yeah-Yellow-bellied Sapsucker."  He looked surprised that something that exotic sounding would be in front of our building.


for a copy of Birding Made Easy- New Orleans, email me at, or look for it in area bookstores.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Water features

A great way to attract birds to your yard is to put out water features.  The best ones have running water of some sort- such as a cascade or mister.  Even a hole in a hose running over the basin can do the trick.  Having such moving water can greatly increase the amount of traffic a bath receives.

Baths should be shallow, and ideally be on the ground near plant cover.  If they are elevated, try to make them seem like they are part of a raised ground surface, such as a ledge or embankment.

One great advantage of water is that it can attract birds that will never be attracted to feeders.

To whet your appetite, here are three pictures from a yard in Harahan that is well equipped with water features.  The first remarkable photo shows a crowd of seven Tennessee Warblers joined bathing by a single Northern Parula- taken late last month.  The photographer said more than twice this many Tennessees were clustered in and around the bath at once.  The other pics are of a male Wilson's Warbler (yellow), and a shot of a male Summer Tanager (red) bathing with an Indigo Bunting (brown and blue).  Notice the natural settings simulated by these baths- not just a pedestal out on the lawn!

Good birding!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

A great spot to find American Kestrel in the city

Among the birds of prey that visit New Orleans in winter is the American Kestrel, our smallest falcon (and smaller than any of the hawks).  While you may chance upon this species in a wide variety of open habitats, there is one especially reliable spot:  the wide neutral ground between Pontchartrain and West End Boulevards in Lakeview.

For several years, a few kestrels have taken to perching on the wires that run across this expansive lawn.  The birds are back this year; last Thursday, during an afternoon drive by, I saw one perched on the wire just north of Filmore, and another on the wire just south of Harrison.

American Kestrels are similar in size and body posture to a Mourning Dove when sitting on a wire.   Females are reddish above and pale below, and males are similar but have bluish wings (and more ornate head and underpart markings).  A male kestrel is one of Louisiana's most dramatically colored bird species.

Kestrels often bob their tails when perched.  When hunting, they often hover- something that rules out the other falcon species in our area immediately, as well as our other small hawk, the Sharp-shinned.  None of these species perch on wires, either.

Good birding,


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Peregrine by the Galleria

Today as I was driving west on I-10 at 8:45 am, I passed a Peregrine Falcon that was heading eastbound, more or less over the eastbound lanes, at low enough altitude for an easy naked-eye view.  Near the Galleria in Metairie.

It was flying more hesitantly than usual for this species, which is usually flies quite directly.  Maneuvering for a strike at prey?

Peregrines are known to sometimes roost on the Jefferson water tower just west of here; perhaps it was coming from there.  How great to have Peregrines in the city!  When I was growing up, it was rare- practically a fantasy bird.

Later in the day, two Red-shouldered Hawks were perched conspicuously side by side, clearly a mated pair, on the corner of a rooftop on the north side of I-10, just west of Clearview.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wintering species returning- sightings this weekend

As expected, wintering species have jumped up in evidence around New Orleans with this latest frontal passage.

In ten minutes on the LaSalle Park boardwalk this morning, I was able to find a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and then heard a chickadee, which when I swished turned into three chickadees, two Ruby-crowned
Kinglets, a Blue-headed Vireo, and a Tennessee Warbler.  These are all standard woodland wintering species in the region, except for the Tennessee (bound for the tropics).

I led a church youth group on the Coquille Trail this afternoon, where there were also winterers that had presumably arrived sometime recently:  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, Sedge Wren, Northern Harrier, and Pine and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The Sedge Wren was in odd habitat (semi-open swamp forest, lacking the grassy understory they tend to prefer), suggesting it was a very recent arrival still searching for preferred habitat.   Two Black Vultures tearing into a carcass on the edge of the canal (large boned- deer?) were unconcerned with our presence.

A few notable sightings came from the North Shore this weekend:  a flock of 80 Greater White-fronted Geese (a lot for our area) headed southwest over Folsom, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher adjacent I-10 in Slidell just north of the twin span, described as particularly long-tailed for the species (indicative of a mature male).

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, or at the City Park Botanical Garden gift shop.

Friday, November 1, 2013

John Snell/WVUE piece on Roseate Spoonbills

WVUE in New Orleans ran a good piece last night on Roseate Spoonbills, discussing the history of their demise and recovery, and occurrence in the canals in the metro area.

I recently took John Snell around to find some in the canals along West Metairie Ave and Airline.  The canal he is standing in is along Airline, the first bridge west of Lester (we found a spoonbill there- it is in the piece, foraging next to a concrete slab).  The first shot of me talking is at Lafreniere Park (no spoonbills there at the time).

Most of the nesting footage I suspect was at Lake Martin near Lafayette, but I'm not sure.  He also incorporated foraging shots he took in Bayou Sauvage NWR in New Orleans East, where he found 20-30 earlier in the season.

There were still spoonbills in the canals, as of two days ago on Airline by Lester.  They seem to be more regular there now than in the West Metairie canal.


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