Friday, December 26, 2014

Bald Eagle over the Mississippi River in Old Jefferson

Fifteen minutes ago, as I drove River Road headed upstream past the Jefferson Playground, the familiar silhouette of a Bald Eagle appeared high over the Mississippi River.  It was also headed upstream, flapping occasionally but mostly gliding on set wings- a welcome accent to the Turkey Vultures that more commonly frequent the skies of this area.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tufted Titmouse in an unusual spot

At 8:30 this morning I was treated to the mellow peter peter peter peter of a Tufted Titmouse in Harahan, near 6th Street x Hickory.  I was surprised, since the species is quite restricted in its occurrence in East Jefferson.  The closest I would have expected to perhaps find one would be the batture, which is 0.85 miles distant (thank you, Google Earth).  I listened for several iterations to make sure it was not a mockingbird's imitation (mockers will always break into something else after a handful of repetitions).

It's doubly interesting, since the peter peter peter is its nesting season song- another early sign that the birds are starting to gear up for the spring ahead, even though we are not yet at the solstice (well, okay, just short of it by a few hours...)


Friday, December 19, 2014

Peregrine perched on Jeff Parish office building

An hour ago in the rain, I was in Elmwood and saw a Peregrine disappear behind one of the high rise Jefferson Parish office buildings on Citrus.  It looked like it was approaching a landing, so I drove around through the parking lot and there it was- clinging to the ledge below a window on the top floor.

The bird was relatively brown backed, suggesting an immature.  The perch looked rather uncomfortable, and not very sheltered from the rain- not sure how long it will stay.

It is on building 1201, the twin of the Joe Yenni building.  Facing it from the Yenni building, the bird was on the left end of the top floor, just below the window.  I hope somebody was enjoying the view from inside!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Unseasonable Bronzed Cowbird flock

At the corner of Hickory and Jefferson Highway in Harahan sits a pair of feeders, stocked frequently with generic store-bought wild bird mix.  I often view them at close range since they are right next to the sidewalk and conveniently positioned at the stop light.  Usually they are thronged by House Sparrows, and occasionally Monk Parakeets, but yesterday a flock of 25 or so Cowbirds was in attendance.

All but two of them were Bronzed Cowbirds- distinguishable from Brown-headed Cowbirds by their more hefty beak with a "Roman nose" shape, and in some birds by the red eye.  The other two in the flock were male Brown-headeds, a nice comparison.

Bronzed Cowbirds typically leave for the winter, so I was not expecting them.  Some readers may be surprised that they were here at all, as some field guides do not show southeast Louisiana as being in their geographical range.  We have for decades had a local disjunct population here, separated from their primary range in Texas.  Our birds are of unknown origin- an ornithological puzzle.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean Lafitte yesterday afternoon

Yesterday I walked the Coquille Trail in the early afternoon with a group of about ten families members and church friends.

Early on the trail we came across a flock of a dozen or so American Robins energetically feeding on berries in the canopy, flying back and forth over the trail from tree to tree.

A few minutes farther down the trail, two Barred Owls started hooting back and forth to each other.  I tried to bring one in by imitating, and seemed to maybe get them a bit more energized, but they did not approach.

As expected, there were Yellow-rumped Warbler checks to be heard everywhere, and an occasional Swamp Sparrow chip, Phoebe sip, Carolina Wren teakettle, or Carolina Chickadee deedeedee.

After we turned along the Kenta Canal, a Hairy Woodpecker passed by through the trees, giving its characteristic sharp peek.

From the observation platform at trail end, two flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were visible out in the marsh.  Birds peeled from them in small groups for the next twenty minutes, passing over or past the platform and calling check as they headed over the cypress swamp.

Raptors were a general plus, totaling two harriers, a kestrel, a Bald Eagle, and tons of vultures- mainly Turkey but a few Blacks.

Good birding!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sign of spring already! Mourning Dove performing courtship flight in Jefferson.

It may seem a stretch to think that our spring nesting species can be getting into the mindset already, but today I stepped out to my car and saw a Mourning Dove arc over the street on stiff wings.  This is their courtship flight!

This may seem crazy, but actually happens fairly regularly- my notes record that I witnessed it in December in both 2011 and 2012. 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Peregrine and Pipits

Yesterday about 1 pm, a Peregrine was under the Jefferson water tower at Causeway x I-10.  A traditional spot for the species, though always hit or miss.

This morning as I was driving Hwy 90 below the gently descending Huey P Long railroad bridge in Bridge City, a flock of about 30 American Pipits came flying into the neutral ground, showing the  relaxed, weaving movement diagnostic of pipit flocks.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Pine Warbler in for the winter

This morning as I stepped out my door, a familiar smacking note came from the three tall pines across the street.

Pine Warbler.

Pine Warblers are scattered throughout residential New Orleans in winter, and although they are not strictly limited to areas where mature pines are present, they certainly are much more often found where some are present.  Even a mere handful of tall pines- perhaps just three or four- seems to be enough to coax one into spending the winter.

Male Pine Warblers are sharp-looking, green above, with bright yellow breast and throat, and two crisp white wingbars.  To me, they bear more resemblance to a Yellow-throated Vireo to any other warbler- but the latter are not around in winter so don't create confusion this time of year.  Female Pines are duller: browner above, with dingier and more restricted yellow below.  Immatures are also dull, with some so muted that they appear essentially gray-brown above (with wingbars) and off-white below.

Pine Warblers nest commonly on the North Shore, where they are present and widespread the year round and often venture into yards from surrounding pine stands.   South of Lake Pontchartrain, they are exclusively a winter visitor, with us till March or April.

Good birding!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Two thousand migrants making corrective flight this morning

I walked ut to South Point in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge this morning.  This takes around a half hour, starting from the I-10 frontage road, which hugs the north side of I-10 as it works back west from the base of the Highway 11 bridge.

Rather than walking along the crest of the lake levee, I hugged the edge of the willow scrub on the walk out.  Forty American Pipits were foraging on the mown levee, repeatedly taking up and resettling as a group.

As I approached a spot where the willows broke and gave a view into the impoundment, I heard duck noises coming from behind the scrub.  Suddenly, 500 Gadwall erupted into the air, splitting into two groups which rejoined and settled back into the marsh beyond view.  A hundred more sat tight long enough for me to spy a handful of American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal among them.

Winds seemed approximately ENE, which is a little more easterly than the ideal N-NE for corrective movements following cold fronts at South Point.  Nevertheless, birds heading out across the water toward Slidell were in evidence already during the latter half of my approach.  I ended up conducting a count from one spot near the point for 50 minutes, during which time flocks of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow-rumped Warblers staged a consistent procession into the headwind, past me and out over the lake toward Slidell, five miles or so distant.  Totals in the timed count were  remarkably evenly split:  655 robins, 615 waxwings, and 635 yellowrumps.  The waxwings were nice to see; while robins and yellowrumps are a predictable feature of late November flights here, waxwings are essentially absent some years.

While I counted, I was treated to a Cooper's Hawk and two Northern Harriers- one a gray adult male-  working the point.  A Clapper Rail clacked out in the tidal marsh.  A Common Loon swam in the lake, and another flew past westbound.

Walking back, I stopped to make coaxing noises at one spot, and drew an immediate response from hoards of agitated, chipping Swamp Sparrows.  A few minutes later they were joined by a flock of small insectivores, including a Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Phoebe, several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a half dozen or so Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Moving on, I came upon a Marsh Wren, which volunteered itself without coaxing, jumping into view atop a reed to fuss at me.

As I approached my car, a pair of Chipping Sparrows spooked off the shoulder of the shell road.  Where had they been on the walk out?  Finally, while leaving, I was treated to both a hefty Red-tailed Hawk and a dainty Sharp-shinned Hawk, the latter flapping energetically as it was buffeted by the wind.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Three more raptor species

The day after my last post, I added three new raptor species while out and about in the city!

Yesterday, while I was leading a birdwalk on the UNO campus, a Peregrine came zipping eastbound down the lakefront.  (This happened seconds after an eager student had to peel off and go to class- why does it seem to happen that way??)

The remaining participants spied an Osprey tearing into a fish on a pylon out in the lake.

Finally, while leaving campus on Elysian Fields at 5 pm, I drove beneath a Cooper's Hawk perched on the horizontal arm of one of the streetlights.  Streaked below:  immature.

Gotta love it,


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Raptors around the city

There are birds of prey around New Orleans all the time, and just keeping your eyes open will produce sightings as you go about your daily business.  Here is my tally from today and yesterday:

Turkey Vulture-  a dozen or more total, including six circling low over the UNO Research and Technology Park, descending like they were coming down to carrion.  Also one on the ground in a busy median on the UNO campus, surrounded by several crows- at food, presumably.

Black Vulture- every morning they are hanging around Segnette Blvd x Lapalco on the West Bank, where they roost on the tall electrical towers.

American Kestrel- one on Jamie Blvd about a quarter mile off Lapalco, where I have see it on the wire about half of the times I passed so far this fall.

Sharp-shinned Hawk- one yesterday morning over the Earhardt Expwy in Metairie, buffeted by the high winds.  Quite small- probably a male (males are smaller than females in raptors, generally).

Red-shouldered Hawk- one on a roadside wire on River Road yesterday, near Ochsner.  Another today, circling over Old Metairie not far from the Galleria.

Red-tailed Hawk- one came low overhead in Harahan in the cold early morning yesterday, chased by noisy crows.  Another perched near the Earhardt in Metairie today.

All this without the usual Cooper's Hawk! 

Good birding,


Friday, November 14, 2014

Recent weird records from around the state

The last few weeks have produced an interesting array of strange bird records from around the state.

Top of the list is a Lucy's Warbler, which has been seen periodically on a Nature Conservancy property at Grand Isle after being found by LSU professor Van Remsen while he was showing the island off to a visiting birder from the Northeast.  Now that northeasterner has a bird on his state list that is the envy of many Louisianans.  Lucy's Warbler is from the desert southwest, and has occurred in the state before, but not in recent decades.

About a week ago, another LSU ornithologist, Steve Cardiff, was in the rice country of southwest Louisiana at evening dusk, checking out geese.  A group of four specklebellies (Greater White-fronted Geese) was trailing a fifth, odd bird- which on inspection proved to be a Brown Booby, a tropical seabird that normally remains beyond sight of land and is quite rare in Gulf waters anyway.   A few have surprised people by turning up in recent years on inland water bodies- Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Calcasieu- but to pick out one flying past overland is mind boggling.

Finally, it appears that a Vaux's Swift- a bird of the western USA that winters in the tropics- is again frequenting the downtown lakes in Baton Rouge.  This species has a truly strange history in our capital city- they have inexplicably been turning up periodically there in winter for decades, longer than the life span of a swift, often multiple individuals at once.  The species is essentially unknown anywhere else in the eastern USA at any season.  Why?  And why Baton Rouge?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bird to look for # 9: Black-crowned Night-Heron

There are not many bird species that vocalize at night in New Orleans, but one call that the keen listener can generally expect to hear from time to time is the kwok of the Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Like their Yellow-crowned cousins, Black-crowned Night-Herons use a variety of waterways in our area, including urban canals and batture ponds.  Although commonly active at night, they are not strictly nocturnal, and can often be seen out and about by day.   A reliable place to find them is in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit in the Audubon Zoo, especially where the path exits the indoor exhibits and runs into the lagoon.  These are freeloaders, not part of the zoo collection, but are generally closely approachable.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky waterbirds, noticeably more robust than almost all other large waders.  Adult Black-crowns are strikingly patterned, with black crown and back and gray wings- all very clean, with no mottling.   Birds in their first year are brown and white streaked, and can be tricky to separate from Yellow-crowns.    Birds in this plumage have a noticeably different bill and head shape than do Yellow-crowns, having a more slender bill and less blocky head (more tapered in the front).  In flight, only the tips of their feet extend beyond the tail.  Because  the large majority of Yellow-crowns migrate to the tropics for the winter, any night heron from now through February will most likely be a Black-crowned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Season of Sapsucker Skirmishes

A report came across my path yesterday of two birds that were on the ground locked in intense combat.   They ended up being sapsuckers fighting over who would claim the surroundings as their winter territory.

Sapsucker altercations are commonplace in late fall in southeast Louisiana, as birds arrive from the boreal forests of the northern USA and Canada and try and stake out their wintering grounds.  The skirmishes usually consist of birds pursuing each other from tree to tree and vocalizing angrily.

Our sapsucker species, the Yellow-bellied, is one of three allied species that are arranged east-west across the continent.  The Yellow-bellied is the easternmost, replaced by the Red-naped in the Rockies, and the Red-breasted in the Cascades and Sierras.  The Red-naped has occurred in Louisiana, and is always enough of a possibility that seasoned birders usually  keep alert for a sapsucker that looks suspicious.  The identification is complicated though- mere presence of red on the nape is not sufficient.  The Red-breasted is one of my nemesis birds- having eluded me in repeated trips out west.  I even took my wife down a conifer trail on our honeymoon years ago hoping for a glimpse.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a Sapsucker fracas!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yellowthroat in the shrubbery

Just now as I was walking across the UNO campus to my night class, I heard a familiar chunk note come from one of the ornamental hedges by the student union building.

Another Common Yellowthroat- my third or fourth serendipitously detected in the shrubbery on campus in the last month.  A small brown bird with a yellow throat and upper breast, and- in adult males- a black mask.

Common Yellowthroats are by far the most common migratory species for me to detect in ornamental vegetation on the UNO campus- probably by a margin of 10 to 1 over any other migrant species.  This is enigmatic, since the species is near the picky end of the spectrum when it comes to using urban habitats in winter or summer.  It is so averse to the urban landscape then that I know of no nesting sites or wintering sites for it here within the city, even though it is numerous at both seasons just outside our perimeter in freshwater marshes.

Yellowthroats show up in the city in fall migration- September and October.  So for the next few weeks, keep your ears open for their short husky chunk note, even in the most perfectly manicured shrubbery.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Black-bellied Plovers and Least Sandpipers still on Lakeshore Drive

I checked the swale behind the UNO Lakefront Arena again yesterday.  Despite the habitat looking prime, there were relatively few shorebirds- but two Black-bellied Plovers and six Least Sandpipers continue to be present.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Large Indigo Bunting corrective movement at South Point

This morning I took the mile walk out to South Point in extreme eastern Orleans Parish, where the railroad bridge begins to cross Lake Pontchartrain headed for Slidell.  This spot is accessed by getting off the I-10 at Irish Bayou/Hwy 11, and heading back west along the gravel (north) frontage road to the gate, then walking to the point.

Weather was delightful.  On the walk out I saw the usual marsh birds, including small flocks of Blue-winged Teal and Mottled Ducks, and a fine bright pink adult Roseate Spoonbill.  Over a hundred Great and Snowy Egrets were concentrated in one small waterway.  Clapper Rails called outside the levee.  An Eastern Meadowlark flitted along the tree line.

No significant "morning flight" corrective movement was evident until I reached the point itself, but there it was in peak form.  Small songbirds were passing northbound in a constant parade of small flocks.  Most were Indigo Buntings, which are just approaching their peak of fall passage.  Both sexes are brown this time of year, though often with some bluish sheen on the flight feathers.   Too many were passing to keep a true count- so I took rates.  The first 100 took 2:00 minutes to pass; a bit later, another 100 took 2:40; sometime after that, another took 2:10.  Overall, this produces an estimate of a bit over 2600 birds in the hour I watched.  About 90% were Indigos.  This more than doubles my maximum previous hourly estimate of Indigos at this site.

In the mix, I noticed a dozen or so American Redstarts, eight Summer Tanagers, eight Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and smaller numbers of others, including Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Magnolia, Black-and-White, and Yellow Warblers.  A Flicker crossed with them, as did three Scissor-tailed Flycatchers- an expected October migrant, but always a thrill to see.

Flights of this sort normally occur exclusively on mornings of north or northeast winds- today they were from the north.  Although a wind as stiff as today's will usually cause a lot of birds that start out over the water to subsequently give up and let themselves be blown back, there was surprisingly little of that today- they kept going.

Good stuff!


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Five Roseate Spoonbills on Jamie Blvd

Today the foraging aggregation of waders was present again, as last Friday, in the drainage canal along Jamie Boulevard on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, by Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy.

In a tight stretch of the ditch (15 yards?), there were:
30 Snowy Egret
7 Great Egret
2 White Ibis
1 Tricolored Heron
5 Roseate Spoonbill

This foraging concentration has been absent on most days- not sure what happens to suddenly draw the birds in.

No Little Blue Heron- funny how Little Blues seem to consistently avoid road-associated drainage ditches and canals.  I have been doing a lot of ditch and canal monitoring over the last year or so, and seen only a single Little Blue.

As I crossed Lapalco headed back toward the Huey P Long bridge, a flock of six dark ibis (White-faced or Glossy) flew over- not a frequent sight inside the urban perimeter.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lakefront swale update; Snipe

Just stopped by the swale on the lakefront behind the UNO Arena.  Water has dropped considerably; it takes closer inspection now to pick out the birds among the muddy stubble.  Probably too shallow for yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilts now, but better for peeps.
The tally:
1 Wilson's Snipe (my first of the fall)
2 Black-bellied Plover
6 Killdeer
1 Pectoral Sandpiper
18 Least Sandpiper

Three Brown Pelicans were plunge-diving offshore in the Lake.  They are generally infrequent on the Lake in summer, when they instead hang on the immediate Gulf coast.  Then some move  inland to the Lake for the winter- these are probably part of that coming influx.

Good birding,


Friday, September 26, 2014

Roseate Spoonbill on Jamie Blvd on West Bank

This morning a Roseate Spoonbill was mixed in with a flock of 40 or so egrets that were foraging in a short (10 meter or so) stretch of the drainage canal along Jamie Blvd on the West Bank, in front of the new campus of Patrick F Taylor school.  This is a minute or so south on Jamie Blvd from its intersection with Lapalco.  This spot is apparently not part of any of the towns in that region, though close to both Avondale and Westwego.

The dense congregation of waders in itself was interesting- I wonder why the foraging was so good in that particular spot on the canal.  There was also a smaller gathering there yesterday.

Nice to see pink amidst the white!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lakefront swale update

Yesterday I swung by the rainpool on Lakeshore Drive behind the Lakefront Arena, to see if the recent dry days have been able to re-expose some muddy edges (and draw in some shorebirds!).

Still pretty wet.  However, there were some species of interest.

At the west end of the swale:
3 Blue-winged Teal (all females)
1 Mottled Duck
(together with the usual exotic Mallards and Canada Geese)

At the east end:
1 Great Blue Heron
2 Black-necked Stilt
2 Black-bellied Plover
2 Lesser Yellowlegs

Also this week,  my first two Sharp-shinned Hawks of the fall- one over my home in Old Jefferson, one over a parking lot in residential Lakeview.

Migration continues!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Peregrine Falcon back under the Causeway x I-10 watertower

At 6:00 pm this evening as I was westbound on the I-10 passing Causeway, it occurred to me to glance beneath the water tower to see if a Peregrine had yet returned from the north to use the site.  

There it was!  Hopefully in to spend the winter.

The bird was perched on a horizontal cable on the perimeter of the tower (the first encircling cable below the water tank itself), on the southeast side.

Last year this spot produced multiple Peregrine sightings for me, but was usually empty- a bird was present probably only 1/20 of the times I looked while driving past.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

South Point corrective movement this morning

This morning I made a visit to Point Aux Herbes and South Point in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.  These are where the Highway 11 bridge and Twin Span leave New Orleans for Slidell, and where the railroad bridge does the same, respectively.  The former can be reached by car simply by taking the Hwy 11 Exit from I-10 shortly before crossing Lake Pontchartrain; the latter can be accessed by a 30 minute walk from the gate on the shell frontage road that runs west from the first site.

These sites are both notable for being departure points from which small land birds participating in "morning flight" head out over the water bound for the North Shore in autumn.  This happens almost exclusively under north or northeast winds, which in turn happen mostly after cold front passages.  Watching such flights is one of my favorite birding activities- a visible spectacle, revelation of the migratory urge.  They are heading northward despite it being fall- when they should be southbound.  I think the most likely interpretation of this is that they have been wind-displaced onto the coastal wetlands (and urban New Orleans) over night as they migrated, and having found themselves in hostile (for these species) terrain are now struggling to regain suitable surroundings again by heading back into the north winds that displaced them to begin with.

At any rate, this morning there was a moderate passage, of perhaps 100 birds/hour.

In 20 minutes (710-730) at Hwy 11, all crossing:  
10 Blue Grosbeak
8 Eastern Kingbird
3 unidentified warblers
3 Barn Swallows
1 Chimney Swift
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

In 30 minutes at the railroad bridge (755-825), all crossing:
20 Eastern Kingbird
25 unidentified small passerine
3 Yellow Warbler
3 Dickcissel
4 probable Bobolink
8 swallows (Barn, Rough-winged among them)

In addition, a Roseate Spoonbill was flying over the marsh near the railroad bridge.  Two flocks of Blue-winged Teal (40,25) appeared to be newly arriving across the lake.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lakeshore shorebird update; mockingbirds resume singing

I swung by the rain pool on Lakeshore Drive behind the Lakefront Arena again this morning at 9 AM. Water is higher than on my last visit- it must have been hit by a thundershower.   The shorebird mix has swung more towards yellowlegs, which often favor wetter habitats than other species:
2  Black-bellied Plover
2 Killdeer
5 Greater Yellowlegs
9 Lesser Yellowlegs
2 Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs (too distant to call)
2 Pectoral Sandpiper
2 Least Sandpiper
there were also Snowy and Great Egrets working the edge, and an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron

On the UNO Campus, I came across my first singing Mockingbird of the fall.  Mockingbirds normally cease singing at the end of nesting (c. August 1), and then resume at about this time- so this bird was right on schedule.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shorebirds now gathering in swale on Lakeshore Drive

I just checked out the rainpool behind the UNO Lakefront Arena on Lakeshore Drive, to see if water was low enough to begin attracting shorebirds.

Bingo!  Ten minutes produced:
3 Killdeer
2 Black-bellied Plover (one in breeding plumage with the black belly)
2 Greater Yellowlegs
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
50 Least Sandpiper
4 Pectoral Sandpiper

There may have been another "peep" or two mixed in with the Least Sandpipers, at least among the 20 or so that were a little to far for binocular assessment.  Western and Semipalmated are the two other small sandpipers (peeps) that are most likely to mix with Leasts and Pectorals.  They both have dark legs, while the Leasts and Pectorals both have pale (yellow-green) legs.  Though similar in shape and color pattern, the Leasts and Pecs are easily told apart when together- Pecs being much larger.  Pecs also have a crisply demarcated boundary between the breast streaking and white belly,  seldom found in Least.  The large majority of Leasts at the swale today were in adult plumage, dull brown-gray above, but a few retained brighter rufous tones indicative of being juveniles (hatched this summer).

Direct size comparison is also the easiest way to tell Greater from Lesser Yellowlegs.  Failing that, Greater can be told by the longer bill with very slight upturn (shorter and straight in Lesser), usually much more extensive dark flecking on the sides/flanks, and longer call (3+ notes).

If water continues to fall, the pond is likely to get more birdy.  Light is rather problematic at mid day- I suggest coming early or late and approaching with the sun at your back.

Good birding!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Peak time of year to hear Screech Owls

This past week I was teaching a night class at UNO, and let the students out for a 15 minute break at 7:30.  Ten minutes later, one of the students came back and held out their smart phone, asking "What's this bird?  It was calling outside the building just now!"   After two or three seconds of crickets on the tape, the whinny of an Eastern Screech-Owl came through the speaker loud and clear.

Late summer and early fall are classically the best time of year to hear Screech Owls in our area.  I am not sure why- possibly the increase in vocalizations is due to adults solidifying their territories for the winter, or possibly it is due to young testing out their vocal "pipes."   At this season it is actually not surprising to hear them during early morning daylight hours.  The most common situation for this is when imitating (or playing a tape) of one to try and draw in small songbirds intent on mobbing- a common technique used by birders.  The place I have heard of birders encountering them in this fashion with greatest regularity is in the Couturie Forest of City Park, but they widespread in residential areas wherever there are large trees.  Sometimes they seem to also respond to ambulance sirens.

Before the age of convenient hand-held electronic playing equipment, many birders trained themselves to imitate Screech Owl calls.  This is done by holding the tongue up just below the roof of the mouth, trapping a small amount of saliva there (above the rear edge of the tongue), and bubbling through it with head tilted slightly back.  It takes some practice- the shower is good place!  I still do this alot in the field.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Eastern Kingbird migration should be peaking

The Eastern Kingbird is a common migrant through our area in spring and fall, and the species also nests here.  The most notable feature of its migration, however, is the sharp peak in its autumnal passage- which occurs with regularity on or about September 5- today!

Eastern Kingbirds engage in "morning flight," the habit of moving in the early morning hours in their migratory direction.  This often makes their movement more visible than most other songbirds- since most others make their migratory movements at night.

Kingbirds travel in the morning in flocks, often up to a few dozen together, sometimes many more, often near treetop level.  These groups are relatively loose, and the individual movements of the birds appear to me to give each flock a sort of "weaving" appearance in aggregate.

Keep your eyes open for kingbirds!



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roseate Spoonbill in Lafreniere Park, Metairie

Following up on a report by Bill Bergen, I dropped by Lafreniere Park today and saw a Roseate Spoonbill. Here is Bill's stunning picture, taken Friday.

At 11:00 this morning, the bird was standing on the railing of the cement bridge near the start of the boardwalk, and was easily spotted from my car while circling on the park access road.

Roseate Spoonbills have in recent years become regular late summer-early fall visitors to our urban landscape, primarily in Lafreniere Park (where the evening wader roost along the boardwalk may offer the best shot of finding one) and in the drainage canals in Metairie.  Last year, the most productive drainage canal segments for them were in the neutral ground of West Metairie (between David Drive and Clearview), and in the canal along the edge of Airline Hwy between David Drive and Williams Blvd.  

The bird in the picture is an immature, and those that come to our area are most likely post-breeding dispersers from one or more of their rookeries in the tidal marshes nearer the outer Gulf Coast.  They are frequently also found at this time of year in the wetlands outside the city, such as at the Madere Marsh overlook in Bayou Sauvage NWR.

Good birding,


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cooper's and Red-tailed make for fun morning commute

This morning as I was driving eastbound on Airline Hwy under the Causeway overpass, the wire-loafing pigeons arose in a great panicked ball and began maneuvering overhead.  A glimpse revealed a Cooper's Hawk dodging through their midst, hoping for a meal.  This is not the first time I have seen this scenario played out at this intersection.

Fifteen minutes later, back on Airline at the 17th Street Canal, a large raptor flew very low over the highway toward me and tee'd up on a post, showing the diagnostic belly pattern of a Red-tailed Hawk (black belly streaks, with white fore and aft of them).  Red-tails don't nest south of the Lake, and their main migratory period is in the late fall, so I'm guessing this one wandered from breeding grounds relatively nearby- they nest as close as St. Tammany.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Bird to look for # 8: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Last week I was visiting an apartment complex in Harahan, and stepped around the corner into the small fenced in back yard.  There, out of place on the lawn surrounded by walls and high fences was a strange brown bird with long legs and sturdy beak, standing about thigh-high.  I called my kids over, and it began to walk away from us, and then flapped awkwardly up onto a nearby roof, which was covered by a temporary tarp.  It spent several seconds slipping backwards on the tarp as it flapped and tried to make its way to the crest, finally settling for a spot half way up where it was able to regain its composure.

It was a young Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, fledged earlier this summer, and still not smooth in its ways. There are a good number of them around the city this time of year.

Young Yellow-crowneds are entirely streaky and spotty brown and white, except for their red eye.  Here is another picture of one hatched this summer, offered up by Kathy Wells, who photographed it in coastal Mississippi.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are also around our parts, and their young are similar in plumage.  To the trained eye they are readily distinguishable by bill shape (more slender and pointed in Black-crowned) and neck/head proportions (thinner necked with a more blocky head in Yellow-crowned, thicker necked with  amore streamlined head in Black-crowned).  They can also be told by the leg length in flight- only the feet extend beyond the tail in Black-crowned, while a bit of the leg also does in Yellow-crowned.

Yellow-crowneds will be with us through October, with a very few hanging around for the winter.  This species turns up in a variety of wetland contexts, including right in the city.  One place where they are notably regular is in the ditch that flanks Nine Mile Point Road in Bridge City on the West Bank, where I see them each morning.  I see a juvenile most mornings in exactly the same spot; twice I have seen it act utterly unafraid as people walked by within about ten feet of it on the shoulder.  Today it drew a double-take from a jogger.  There are often Yellow-crowned adults along this road- two today. They are much more dapper: blue gray with a black head decorated with a white cheek, yellowish crown, and the same red eye.

Good birding,


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is there decent shorebirding around New Orleans?

August is a month when many birders around the country focus on shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers, and their relatives).  It's a bit early for numbers of land birds to be moving, but shorebird migration is in full swing. Adults in faded/worn plumage dominate in August, followed by juveniles (which migrate separately in many species of shorebirds) later in the season.

In southeast Louisiana, the outer coast- between Grand Isle and Fourchon- offers the best shorebirding.

But what about finding shorebirds in and near New Orleans?  Finding shorebirds here takes more effort, and numbers are almost never on a par with what is on the coast two hours to our south.  However, there are some places that are productive when water levels are right, and sometimes additional hot spots appear in unlikely places- experienced birders are generally alert for rain pools (etc.) that look like they have potential.
Here are some tips.

1.  When water is low, the impoundments at Bayou Sauvage NWR in New Orleans East can be good or even great- a single impoundment can hold > 10,000 shorebirds if it is really low.  Unfortunately, water on the refuge is not particularly low at this time (thanks to all the rain we've been having).  Additionally, shorebirds on the refuge are generally fairly far away from viewing posts such as levees or boardwalks, requiring a scope and a lot of patience.  The most productive places in the past have been the impoundments along Recovery Road, at the Madere Marsh Overlook, and at the pullovers along Hwy 11 between Hwy 90 and Irish Bayou.

2.  The Bonnet Carre Spillway upstream from New Orleans can be good, especially the areas closest to the Mississippi River.  I haven't heard any reports from there recently, and don't know the conditions- worth a scouting visit!

3.  While the above two sites stand head and shoulders above any others, it is sometimes possible to find shorebirds in swales or muddy edged-pools that pop up fortuitously elsewhere in the region.  One year I found a borrow pit in Ama (West Bank) that had a nice selection of species.  Another year a similar pit dug into the lakefront fill at Bucktown was productive.  Sometimes a few birds turn up on flats exposed by low water in Lake Pontchartrain, on the South Shore or North Shore.  On occasion, the lawns fringing Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans have rain pools with birds.

This morning I toured Lakeshore Drive, and managed to find a pair of Pectoral Sandpipers (with a dozen or so Killdeer) behind the UNO Lakefront Arena.  Nearby, three Ruddy Turnstones were on the breakwaters at the Ted Hickey Bridge.  Not much, but the rain pool with the Pectorals may become more productive if it dries out a little.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mississippi Kites- young fledging, mass exodus near

For a week or two I have been hearing my neighborhood's nesting pair of Mississippi Kites getting especially vociferous, they way they seem to do when the time approaches for their nestling to fledge.  I have been eyeing the birds as the circle and dive about the neighborhood, looking for an especially tentative looking individual that might be the young bird.  Sure enough, it made its appearance this weekend- circling over the neighbor's house, fanning its tail to reveal the bands that are the easiest plumage mark for separating it from the (solid-black tailed) adults.

Mississippi Kites are generally most conspicuous in our area in August, presumably because the young are large enough to free the females from incubation duty, allowing them to roam the skies with their mates, visible to humans.   At the end of the month they will make what is perhaps the most startling exodus of any of our nesting birds. Within about a week, they go from being hard to miss while running any errand around town, to being essentially absent. After that, we won't see them until mid April next year.  In the mean time, they will be making their way southward around the Gulf.  In the process, they become concentrated by the Gulf shoreline and turn up in shocking numbers at the River of Raptors hawk watch near Veracruz, Mexico.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bird to look for # 7: Green Heron

(this post resumes a series I began from January to March this year; the first six installments covered Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant/Anhinga, the three white egrets, Great Blue Heron, and Tricolored/Little Blue Herons)

Today as I was sitting at the traffic light on Jefferson Highway at the base of the Huey Long bridge, a small dark heron- crow sized- came awkwardly flapping and gliding low over the road, banked and wheeled a few times, and plopped down into the stand of cattails that has come up between the two lanes of Clearview Parkway, beneath the shadow of the railroad bridge.  Green Heron.

Although generally solitary, Green Herons are common and widespread summer residents in southeast Louisiana, and a few hang around for the winter.  They are easily distinguished by their small size- similar to a crow.  The only other small member of the heron clan on the continent is Least Bittern, which is virtually never seen away from relatively pristine expansive marsh habitats- and thus is essentially unknown inside our hurricane protection levee.  Green Herons are much more tolerant of human development, as illustrated by the sighting above, and are also much less secretive.  You are likely to find one working the bayou edge at Couturie Forest in City Park, along the edge of the lagoon in Audubon Park, or stalking a marshy edge in a batture pond.  They are also in more "natural" habitats outside the city, tending toward fresh rather than salt water.

Green Herons are an example of a bird named for one of its less striking features, its blue-green body.  It's chestnut neck, with white trim along the ventral edge, is much more memorable, as is its shaggy (when erected) black crest.  The bird is rather squat compared to most other herons, sporting a heavy neck.  They are rather vocal, often crying skeow when flushed- sometimes the first clue to their presence.


Green Heron at Bonnet Carre Spillway
photo:  Beth Wiggins

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Yellow Warblers overhead in August

A few minutes ago I was out in the front yard, and heard my favorite sound of August:  the seet of a Yellow Warbler passing overhead.  Sometimes they are slightly buzzy, sometimes quite clean- this one was the latter.

Yellow Warblers are circum-Gulf migrants in fall, a label given to migratory bird species that are bound for the tropics to winter, and chose to navigate around the Gulf of Mexico instead of across it.  Yellow Warblers are more inclined to continue nocturnal movements into the early morning than are most species, and are commonly seen and heard in Greater New Orleans coming over at c. treetop level up to a few hours after sunrise.   They are usually headed some version of west.

They can be heard and seen doing this with frequency as far east as (at least) the Florida panhandle, but such overhead Yellows are generally less common farther inland than New Orleans- being less numerous even as close as Baton Rouge.  In places where shoreline configurations concentrate them, hundreds can be seen in an hour or two by scanning- I have seen such flights on the lakeshore at Fontainbleau State Park, and at South Point (RR bridge) and Point Aux Herbes (the base of the Hwy 11 bridge) in Bayou Sauvage NWR, although their occurrence at these places may be highly  dependent on wind direction.  I have seen abnormal spikes of 100 or so in an hour at Bucktown, and even over my yard in Old Jefferson, though I could not discern what was special about those days that would cause peak movements.

Although lots of warblers make seet notes similar to that of the Yellow Warbler, the numbers of them that fly long distances (disappearing over the treetops and not just jumping tree to tree while foraging) are very small compared to Yellows in the first three weeks of August- and really still somewhat outnumbered by Yellows into mid September.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Recent reports of migrants and Black-whiskered Vireo in City Park

Couturie Forest in City Park (on Harrison Avenue) has yielded various reports of migrants lately- including up to 30 Yellow Warblers in a visit, as well as American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, and Orchard Oriole.  Some of these could perhaps be wanderers from relatively nearby, but this is the month when bona-fide directional migration of songbirds begins to again pick up.  It may not feel like fall otherwise, but some birds are already on their way to their wintering grounds!

If you go, keep your eyes open for a pair of Black-whiskered Vireos that have been seen in Couturie off and on for some weeks now- including a recent flurry of reports ranging from the north end all the way down to the sections along Harrison.  They have sometimes been seen with flocking warblers, and sometimes singing- check out their song at  While at that site, notice that the species map shows them no closer than southern Florida.  One or two do wander to south Louisiana annually, but are not usually so convenient as City Park.  Keep in mind that Red-eyed Vireo also occurs in our area (though not reported recently in Couturie)- best to make sure you see the whisker mark!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yellow-billed Cuckoo wandering through Old Jefferson

This morning as I was fiddling with my keys at my front door, I heard the characteristic haunting monotone call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in my neighbor's yard, seemingly coming from his live oak:

oo  oo  oo  oo  oo  oo  oo  oo  oo

I stopped to hear it again to make sure it wasn't something else, and it repeated about six more series of notes over the course of a few minutes.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo's don't nest anywhere in my hood, although they are scattered around the city in places will lots of mature trees or in woodlot fragments such as Couturie in City Park.  So it didn't necessarily have to wander far to get here.  I'm not even sure they didn't nest in the batture 3 blocks away.

Just another example of the late summer wanderings of the local nesting avifauna.  This past week Prothonotary and Black-and-White Warblers were reported in City Park (Couturie)- other species that nest in Louisiana, but had to wander a bit to get to where they were found.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Laughing Gull roost in Elmwood is re-forming

This evening, perhaps 30 min before sunset, I noticed Laughing Gulls streaming to the rooftop of Intralox, the building behind Wal Mart.

Right on schedule, the annual post-breeding roost is beginning to form.

I counted 150 landing over about five minutes, before I left.  If past patterns hold true, the roost will shift from rooftop to rooftop erratically until late October, growing into the multiple thousands (or tens of thousands), after which they will shift their nocturnal roosting to Lake Pontchartrain.

Most of the birds I saw tonight were white-headed, whereas breeding adults have black hoods.  I am not sure that none of the nesting population could have molted out of their hoods yet, but I expect these are individuals that summered in LA without nesting, and did not acquire full nuptial (=black headed) plumage.  Most did not appear to be juveniles hatched this year- they were heavily in wing and tail molt and were pale chested, whereas juveniles right now have fresh new feathers and a dark wash on their chests.  A few had smattering of dark on the tail tip, an indication that they were first year birds- which in many species are less likely to find a mate.  Just like a freshman boy in high school might have a hard time getting a date.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

City Park today: Orchard Orioles, Yellow Warbler

This morning I spent 1.5 hours in Couturie Forest on Harrison Avenue in City Park.

Four (or so) Orchard Orioles were moving about in the tall shade trees north of Couturie, along the cement path that runs north along the canal.  These birds do not nest in City Park, but do so as close as the outskirts of the city- a post-breeding wanderer.  One was still juiced enough with hormones- a one year old male- that it was singing, albeit somewhat feebly.

I also heard a sweet chip, and stopped to investigate, by the model airplane field in Couturie.  A few minutes of sleuthing, and a Yellow Warbler popped up.  This is my first bona fide migrant of the "fall"- the species does not nest anywhere closer than northern Arkansas.  It is, however, one of the first songbirds to show up each year, and end of July is typical.

Other than that, a Northern Flicker on the ground alowing a nice view, and three or so Brown Thrashers (City Park is their stronghold in urban New Orleans) were also nice additions.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sounds of Summer: Common Nighthawk

One of the sounds of summer evenings in southeast Louisiana is the call of the Common Nighthawk, a species that is likely to be heard whenever you are out enjoying a summer evening twilight, such as taking in a baseball game or walking from your car to a movie theater entrance.  The nighthawk is an odd-looking creature, about the size and shape of a tern (but not fond of water), with similarly long, pointed, crooked wings.  They are colored a camouflaged gray-brown, with distinctive white patches on the outer wing (visible from below).  A relative of the Whip-poor-will and Chuck-wills-widow.

Nighthawks call all summer, a distinctive nasal peent is easily recognized when learned.  Once they take to the sky at dusk, they may be up in the air for a long time, since they both forage (on flying bugs) and advertise territory on the wing.  In urban areas they nest on flat gravel rooftops, while along the marsh fringe they nest in barren situations such as scantily-vegetated mudflats.  The adults and nestlings are well camouflaged- here is a picture of two chicks I took out between Chef Pass and the Rigolets a couple years ago:

What, you say, where are they?  Look closely near the bottom, just right of center.  

I don't think I have ever been to an evening Zephyrs game without hearing a nighthawk from the stands. They have also been especially consistent around my house in the last week or so.   Keep your ears open this evening!  


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Least Bitterns along Paris Road in Chalmette

Yesterday I had just enough time while en route to an appointment in Chalmette, to exploit a handy pullover on Paris Road, facing the marsh and the city skyline.  I had time for two quick binocular scans.

First scan: an adult Tricolored Heron, a Least Tern, a Great Egret, another Least Tern, a Great Blue Heron- and a Least Bittern flying low over the marsh, left to right.  I watched it for several seconds before it plopped down.  Second scan, add a Snowy Egret, and then another Least Bittern, closer to me, flying right to left, big buffy wing patches on display.  It also plopped down into the marsh after maybe ten seconds of flight.  I imagine these are adults scrambling  back and forth to get food to bring to their young.

When I was growing up in Massachusetts, the only realistic chance of Least Bittern was at one spot at the coast, Hellcat Swamp on Plum Island, where you had to be really lucky to see a bird in flight over the reed tops (there may have been only one nesting pair).   It was a two hour drive, each way. Louisiana has such a wealth of marsh birds- gotta  love it.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Unseasonal Red-tailed Hawk in East Jefferson

Today as I drove westbound on Earhardt between Clearview and David Drive, a large raptor cruised over the highway.  I anticipated it would be one of the usual Red-shouldered Hawks of the area, but was surprised how white it was underneath.  Then it swooped up to a roadside perch, fanning the dorsal orange surface of its tail in my direction:  adult Red-tailed Hawk!

Redtails nest on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, but not typically on the south side.  This bird is presumably a post-breeding wanderer.  This phenomenon- late summer dispersal of birds to the south side of the lake from nesting areas on the north side- is of regular occurrence in some species- such as Belted Kingfisher.  But it's not usually exhibited by Redtails.   A Eastern Towhee reported a day or two ago in City Park may well be a post-breeding wanderer from the North Shore, since they do not usually nest there.  Post-breeding dispersal is perhaps most famous in the herons and egrets- wandering individuals of which are eagerly anticipated by birders in the northern states, for whom this phenomenon provides the best chance of seeing them.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Purple Martin roost this evening at the Metairie end of the Causeway

I just returned from a visit to the Purple Martin roost at the South Shore terminus of the Causeway Bridge. The martin roost usually peaks about this date.

There were approximately 2500 martins coming to roost this evening.  As usual, maximum numbers were not visible in the sky until after sunset.  As is typical, they swarmed into the roost sites in waves, now and again bursting back out, until they were settled (though still restless when I left in the failing light).  They were clinging to the extreme east and west outer faces of the bridge, as well as both faces of interior gap between the northbound and southbound lanes (one can sneak under the bridge on foot to view this area).  They were also on at least four of the cement struts that run lengthwise underneath the northbound span.

I approached as closely as ~10 yards from the near edge of the clinging birds, without them flushing.

As last year, I saw no adult males.  I wonder where they go?

Online radar shows a much larger echo at the roost site at the Mandeville end of the Causeway, but this site probably does not afford a rewarding birding opportunity, not being accessible on foot, being farther out over the water.  Here is the echo from it dispersing on June 30 in the early AM, viewed from the Mobile, AL radar.  The donut shape on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain is distinctive of roost dispersal.  Note that the roost at the south end of the Causeway is not even visible- presumably 2500 birds is not big enough to show up!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

UNO Least Terns making progress

Today I spent 25 minutes around 2 pm watching the UNO tern colony from an adjacent building.

28 adults were sitting- apparently incubating.  Some of these locations are different from where I mapped them sitting last week, and may  be new nests (re-nests after failures).

Young were more in evidence- 5 or so visible, all still downy, including one large enough to be running large distances over the roof (which I did while I watched).  Still weeks away from being capable of flying off, however.  Another four adults were up close to metal fixtures, holding their bodies in posture that suggested they were sheltering young beneath.

Two adults had chicks shading on the north side of the same metal fixture.  One of these adults took a stab at the other's young, resulting in aerial pursuit of the aggressor by the assailed chick's parent.  I wonder what prompted the stab?  The aggressor moved a fair distance to reach the young bird before pecking it- it was a quick, deliberate aggressive attack rather than a get-away-from-me action.  The pecked chick was a bit larger than the two belonging to the aggressor- perhaps it had been somehow been interfering with them (?).

One mass alarm event happened, raising many birds off the roof- when a Mississippi Kite came over fairly low.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Visit to Segnette vulture roost

This morning at 0845, I went by the vulture roost at Segnette Blvd x Lapalco on the West Bank, not far from the Alario Center.

There were 57 Vultures, entirely or nearly entirely Blacks, on the two tension towers.  An additional 16 were already circling overhead, with two Turkey Vultures and two Mississippi Kites among them- it is not clear whether more might have departed the roost earlier in the morning.

A bunch of Blacks were actually on the cement base of the closest of the two high tension towers that the birds perch on.

Funny how Blacks from this roost and elsewhere are so reluctant to wander across the River to the East Bank, where Turkeys make up >90% of the vultures.  The only place I see Blacks regularly in East Jefferson (and usually only a few) is in the immediate vicinity of river batture adjacent Ochsner Hospital.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Lower Ninth Ward this afternoon

I was in the Lower Ninth late today with a film crew shooting a TV show about nature in the Lower Ninth.  There appeared to be two Mississippi Kite territories on N Robertson; one of the adults twice brought food from afar, as if tending a nestling.  A Great Crested Flycatcher in a cluster of trees offered better-than-average views.  Most pleasing were four singing Northern Cardinals- encouraging, as this species is still struggling to recover in the residential parts of Katrina flood zone of Orleans.

The wetland at the observation deck at the end of Caffin was fairly birdy.  An Osprey perched on a snag, and Anhinga dried its wings on a stump, and there were Snowy and Great Egrets and Green Herons scattered about.   The most Gull-billed Terns in one scan was a half dozen; there were also some Least Terns scattered about.  I imagine this site is frequented a lot by the terns nesting on the Poland Street Wharf, which is nearby.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Least Tern pics from UNO rooftop colony today

Missy Bowen took some pics of the Least Tern action atop Milneburg Hall at the University of New Orleans today.  Notice the small downy chick in the upper right corner of the top photo.  They tend to hang out next to metal fixtures on the rooftop to benefit from the small amount of shade they throw (although it was cloudy today).

The sitting bird in the bottom photo is not a young of this year, despite the slight fading of the crown and traces of dark mottling on the wing- though juveniles will attain adult size by mid or late summer, they will be much different from an adult, with extensive brown wash above, barring on upperparts, etc.

Thanks Missy!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hairy Woodpeckers successfully nested in Audubon Park

Today I noticed two Hairy Woodpeckers in the large live oaks along the bayou in Audubon Park, behaving like an adult and a newly fledged juvenile- lots of soft, short vocalizations.

This is unusual in that Hairy Woodpeckers are scarce as nesters in urban New Orleans.

The birds were also much easier to approach than Hairies are generally.

Good deal!


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Least Tern rooftop colonies update

During the past two days I have visited both the UNO and Elmwood rooftop colonies:

UNO- 33 birds sitting, apparently incubating- this is more than the peak number last year, which was in the 20's.

Elmwood (Levitz)- 24 birds sitting, accompanied by a sitting Gull-billed Tern.

One downy chick was visible at UNO, none at Elmwood.

I am not sure whether the drop in numbers from ~100 earlier in the season at Levitz is meaningful; it was immediately following several hours of rain, so perhaps birds were taking the opportunity to get away after having been pinned on their eggs all morning (?).

What a kick to have two colonies that can actually be watched- usually the only views afforded by rooftop colonies is of birds coming and going, or bursting into the air for a few minutes when disturbed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Birding while shrimping

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day on a shrimping boat in Lake Borgne.  Thank you Captain George!

When well away from shore, the shrimper primarily attracted Laughing Gulls, and Royal and Forster's Terns. And dolphins-  a pod of a dozen or so shadowed us for nearly two hours.  We were in Lake Borgne, about 15 miles north of Shell Beach and just a couple miles west of the marshes of the Biloxi Wildlife Management Area.

The greatest avian diversity was in Shell Beach and the adjacent marshes.  Willets flew about issuing their strident cries and displaying their shocking black-and-white wing patterns.  Common Nighthawks peented and chased each other about.  Seaside Sparrows flew in short forays just over the tips of the marsh grasses, and Red-winged Blackbirds tee'd up to show off for their rivals.  In the scrub along the spoil banks, Orchard Orioles sang their animated songs, Great Crested Flycatchers called reep, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo gave a long series of oo notes.  It is always interesting to me to see the later two out in the marsh scrub, since they inhabit much talller trees in most of their other haunts.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

whiny juvenile Barred Owl at Jean Lafitte

Yesterday I was walking the Coquille Trail in Jean Lafitte National Park south of town, and came upon a Barred Owl perched thirty feet above the trail, unobscured.  It stared down at me and gave a long, high pitched cry- fussing at me.  It repeated this at regular intervals, just seconds apart, while I stood and inspected it through the binculars.  Remnant down on the head confirmed what was already apparent from its behavior:  a recently fledged juvenile.

It kept fussing for minutes, weaving its head side to side in classic owl fashion.  Sometimes when I would move it would give a start, but then settle back down.  Two young  Northern Parulas came in and began chipping at it: pale blue above, white wingbars and underparts, with just a hint of the yellow throat and breast.

The owl eventually flew off into the swamp, but quickly began its cry all over again, now out of sight.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Visit to the Pontchartrain Park heronry

I spend a half hour today walking the fringes of the Pontchartrain Park (Bartholomew Golf Course) heronry, watching the nesting show.  So much energy  in such a small spot!

White Ibis now dominate the colony- hundreds of adults I suppose, although it is hard to assess since they can be pretty hard to see sitting on nests.

Great Egrets, the first to nest, are almost done: in most nests, the young are almost indistinguishable from their parents except for the lack of the nuptial aigrettes (long plumes on the back used in courtship display). I did see one nest with smaller young, approximately Snowy Egret sized, which were vying for the food that their newly returned parent was prepared to regurgitate.  Their aggression was amazing, literally fighting over access to mom's beak.

A handful of young Black-crowned Night-Herons, Tricolored Herons, and White Ibis were out of the nest- seems like the main waves of fledgings for those species are yet to come.  Cattle Egrets were seen feeding young in nests.  Snowy Egrets here and there, and two pairs of Little Blues.

The colony is quite noisy- quite a din when you are on the east shore, where you are only about 20 yards from the closest nests.  But you can hear it a long ways off.

One Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was loafing- a one-year-old, mainly gray with just a trace of the adult head pattern.

Barn Swallows were continually zipping above the water surface snatching bugs, and a Mississippi Kite came over from the south just as I was leaving.


Friday, May 30, 2014

WWNO story on local musicians imitating mockingbirds

A piece aired this morning on WWNO public radio about the four note whistle used by local musicians as a call to arms, and its similarity to a common phrase in the songs of  mockingbirds.  Have a listen if you want to hear your blogger's voice and opinion!   The mockingbird they recorded was on my street in Old Jefferson.

Also, Louisiana birder Tom Finnie provided a mocker photo that is at the link with the story.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Today in Jean Lafitte National Park's "Big Woods"

Most birders who visit Jean Lafitte National Park go to the Coquille Trail, a worthy destination.  However, one of the most significant natural resources of the park is across the street- an area called the "Big Woods" that is one of the two best remaining mature forest areas south of Lake Pontchartrain (the other being the forests of the English Turn area).  The area is accessed by the Ring Levee Trail, Wood Duck Trail, and Plantation Trail loop, and other trails.  I walked those three trails this morning, from 6:30-9:30 AM.

Perhaps the highlight was seeing and hearing nine Pileated Woodpeckers- the most I've had in a day in a while.  Three were close.  That was twice as many as all the other woodpeckers combined.  There were also five or so hollering Barred Owls.

The neotropical migrant nesting chorus was fun as usual.  I tallied a total of 13 Northern Parulas, 11 Hooded Warblers, 8 Prothonotaries, 8 Red-eyed Vireos, 5 Yellow-throated Warblers, 4 White-eyed Vireos, and two Acadian Flycatchers- all by song.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

New Least Tern rooftop colony in Elmwood

Least Terns have colonized the Levitz Furniture rooftop in Elmwood, which is adjacent the southeast edge of the Earhardt x Clearview cloverleaf junction, i.e. across Clearview from Home Depot.  I have driven by there frequently in nesting season virtually every year for the last dozen summers without noticing birds above that roof, so this probably a new colony site.

The nesting group is quite large- from a nearby vantage point yesterday afternoon, I counted 106 adults that appeared to be incubating (i.e., were sitting vs. standing).  There were already six downy young visible- surprising to me; their incubation period lasts three weeks, and I first saw them in this vicinity in mid-April (see my April 11 blog post)- so they had to get down to business pretty quickly.

There was a single Gull-billed Tern sitting with them- apparently also incubating- much larger, looking the odd-ball.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A day in the tidal marshes

Yesterday I spent several hours in the tidal marshes of Highway 1 in Lafourche Parish, between Caminada and the loch at Golden Meadow, including a bit down by Port Fourchon.  Many birders pass through these marshes without stopping en route to the usual coastal birding targets (e.g., Grand Isle, Elmer's Island beach, and Fourchon impoundment).  Having grown up fascinated with wetlands, it is a treat for me to just bird long the roads (including the bypassed and little-used stretch of Old Hwy 1) and soak it up.

One of the most interesting sightings was a flock of 70 or so American White Pelicans, a species that is most common in winter, sitting on a distant shore in the marsh to the north of the highway.  At Fourchon, a Marsh Wren was singing out in the mangroves- hard to come by as tidal marsh nesters in coastal Louisiana  these days.  At the same spot, a rangy-looking raccoon stumbled onto the road and then retreated to the mangroves upon seeing me; a nighthawk was peenting and flying about in mid-day; and nesting Willets were issuing their strident cries- they seem to always be hyped about something.   A Wilson's Plover favored a small rain puddle in an empty parking lot, and allowed me to approach closely in my car.  Whimbrels were flying about over the marsh in several places, as they usually are this time of year- pausing as they migrate through northbound.

As usual, there were hundreds of terns sitting behind the beach at Elmer's Island.  While I was scoping them, a Least Bittern repeated called (they make an inconspicuous oo-oo-oo-oo-oo... that can be easily overlooked).  Just south of the Leeville bridge, a "pied" Little Blue Heron was hunting; Little Blues are scarce in the tidal marshes (preferring fresher water).

Sandwich Terns seemed more plentiful over the marshes than in years past, when they have been pretty confined to the sections flanking the coastal beach; yesterday I had five so far inland they were almost to the Golden Meadow loch.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Is spring migration over?

April is the peak of spring migration in south Louisiana, dwindling rapidly in May.  This past cold front produced a few reports of continued migration, with respectable numbers of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Red-eyed Vireos at Grand Isle.  These are two species that often are still passing in mid-May, at the tail end of songbird migration.

When it comes to songbirds, migratory passage is indeed winding down steeply.  However, some other groups of birds are still passing in good numbers and will be for another week or two- notably the terns and shorebirds.  We don't usually see these species in numbers unless we make a special effort.  A good muddy-edged rain puddle in New Orleans, especially near the lakefront, might be patronized a half dozen or so species of shorebirds (and dozens of individuals) at one time.  Unfortunately, I don't know of such a puddle this year.  Sometimes muddy edges will be present in the Bayou Sauvage NWR (e.g., at Madere Marsh Overlook) or west of town in the Bonnet Carre Spillway.  A visit to Bayou Sauvage may also yield a handful of Black Terns, passing through en route to the prairie states and provinces.

The one area that will always have some form of good shorebird habitat is the immediate coast, around Fourchon and Grand Isle.  The outer beaches are also good places to look for terns.  Still worth the trip in May!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A highlight of mid May: Ruddy Turnstones on the Lakefront

We are currently in the annual small window of time when the chances are best of finding Ruddy Turnstones on the New Orleans lakefront.  About a week ago, I saw five scattered around on the breakwaters by the Ted Hickey Bridge, a place they commonly occur (though under the current strong north winds, the waves crashing over the breakwater might drive them off).  Another good spot is the peninsula at West End, where closer approach is more likely under most conditions- find them by driving the access road and scanning the rip rap.  Or get out and walk the water's edge.  I believe that is where the wonderful picture below, by local birder Bill Bergen, was taken.

Ruddy Turnstones are more or less starling-sized, and often occur in small flocks.  They may be surprisingly inconspicuous along the lakeshore, until they move from one rock to another.  They often call tu-tu-tu when they move around.  They are stopping over enroute to nesting in Canada or Alaska.

Good birding, Peter

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Viewing opportunity: Sora at Wal Mart in Kenner

Word has just circulated that a Sora has been stalking the home and garden section of the Kenner Walmart for weeks, walking about the cement floor.   Rails turn up in odd places more than do most groups of birds do (someone reported a dead Virginia Rail about a week ago at Carrollton x Claiborne in Uptown New Orleans), but its prolonged occurrence at this spot is very unusual.  The Sora is common in the marshes of southeast Louisiana from fall through spring, but is reclusive and is much more often heard than seen.  This individual is presumably stopping over en route northward.

I have no information on how bold or easy to find this individual is- to find it, it would seem a reasonable strategy to walk around, staring underneath tables- I would imagine it hides behind their legs, etc.

Good birding!


Monday, May 5, 2014

Checkup on nesting eagles and waders in Pontchartrain Park

Today the two adult Bald Eagles were hanging out with two adult-sized young in the nest in Pontchartrain Park.  The nest is in the top of a baldcypress across from the Lutheran Church just south of the SUNO campus.  Fledging looks imminent.

The rookery in south-central Pontchartrain Park is jumping with birds.  Great Egrets dominate the scene, and are the earliest nesters- their nests are now full of large young, which have reached about Snowy Egret size. Tricolored and  Black-crowned Night-Herons, White Ibis, and Snowy Egrets are also present in numbers, some sitting on nests, some flying in with twigs for nest-building.  Single Cattle Egrets and Little Blue Herons were also there, so may be nesting.  One Anhinga was there, perched on a snag, nesting status uncertain (not recorded nesting here previously).  The colony is noisy, bill clacking presumably coming from the Great Egret nestlings.

Cliff Swallows are again nesting on the underside of the Ted Hickey Bridge on Leon C. Simon (over the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal).  This is one of the best spots to see this species' nests, since they are over land (many other locations are over water).


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Still birds in my hood today

The unusual wealth of migrants that has graced the New Orleans area since the last front were still in evidence in Old Jefferson today, where my back yard and environs held Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Gray Catbird, Swainson's Thrush, and a distant song that was pretty surely a Magnolia Warbler.

A Mississippi Kite is again building a nest in its usual spot- the neighbor's sycamore behind my house.  That nest failed last year, so it is interesting to see they have not given up on it.

Some bold echoes are turning up on the radar tonight, probably an exodus of our migrant songbirds under the tailwind, which turned southwesterly at 6 pm; no front appears to be approaching in the next week (sigh).


Friday, May 2, 2014

Migrants still around- Longvue Gardens

I spent 0820-0905 at Longvue this morning, entirely in the Nature Garden, Secret Garden, and adjacent live oaks on the lawn.  Not bad for 45 minutes; the north winds continue to hold birds in town:
5 Gray Catbird
1 Wood Thrush
3 Red-eyed Vireo
2 Tennessee Warbler
2 Magnolia Warbler
1 Bay-breasted Warbler
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Black-throated Green Warbler
2 Scarlet Tanager
1 Summer Tanager
3 Indigo Bunting

There were a few presumably breeding American Robins- here at one of their few known breeding sites in the city (ie, Old Metairie and City Park).


Birding Made Easy-New Orleans can be purchased via the Paypal button on this blog ($24 including shipping), or by sending me a personal check (email me for specs), or for $24.95 at local bookstores.  It is now available at:

Uptown:  Garden District Book Shop, Maple Street Book Shop, Octavia Books
French Quarter and Marigny:  Peach Records, Fauborg Marigny Art Books Music, Librairie Book Shop, Beckham's Bookshop, Arcadian Books and Prints, the Crabnet
Mid City:  City Park Botanical Garden, Community Book Center
Metairie:  Double M Feed on W. Esplanade
Harahan:  Double M Feed on Jefferson Hwy
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Questions?  Email me at

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Still migrants around this morning

Today on my way to work I stopped off briefly at a woodlot in Gentilly that borders the London Outflow Canal.  I stepped into the wood margin and swished in three different spots, and pulled in a half dozen migrants or more at each spot.

The cumulative list of migrants, in 20 minutes at the site:
1 Gray Catbird
2 Gray-cheeked Thrush
1 Swainson's Thrush
1 Wood Thrush
2 Black-and-White Warbler
7 Magnolia Warbler
3 Hooded Warbler
2 Ovenbird
3 American Redstart
1 Scarlet Tanager (plus a pair in a nearby pecan)

Good stuff!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Good numbers of migrants on the UNO campus today (to my surprise)

As I walked onto campus this morning, I was not expecting many migrants to be around- there were south winds last night, which normally stimulates any migrants that have stopped over head out on the next leg of their journey.

In between the Education and Liberal Arts buildings, a group of ornamental Water Oaks was buzzing with warblers:
3 Bay-breasted Warbler
American Redstart
Black-throated Green

This prompted me to have a look at the Fine Arts Woods, where about 35 minutes of effort produced a nice collection:
4 E Kingbirds
3 Eastern Wood-Pewee
1 Gray Catbird
2 Swainson's Thrush

3 Bay-breasted
2 Magnolia

2 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Summer Tanager
and I'm sure that more time would have turned up more- even in a tiny area of habitat like that, stuff can escape detection.

On my way out an hour or so later, I noticed a Pewee on the south side of the library, where a few other birds moving in the shade trees seemed to be another Pewee and a Tanager, but I couldn't stop to confirm.

With north winds tonight, hopefully birds will stick around for tomorrow.

Of course, after completely mis-forecasting the number of birds today based on last night's weather, perhaps I should shy away from more prognostication!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Couturie this afternoon

Prompted by various reports of migrants accumulating in City Park along the Couturie nature trails during the day, I stopped by for 20-30 minutes in the early afternoon.

I only scratched the surface of the area, but ran into a fine selection of birds and other birders- I can remember the day when running into birders in such numbers in New Orleans was much rarer.  A fine trend!

I spent most of my time with a single flock that was focused on some mature Live Oaks a few hundred yards in:

1 Eastern Wood-Pewee

2 Yellow-throated Vireo
2 Red-eyed Vireo

3 Tennessee Warbler (one male, two female)
2 Bay-breasted Warbler (male and female)
2 Baltimore Oriole (both male)
1 Blackburnian Warbler (male)
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler (male)
1 Magnolia Warbler (male)
1 Yellow Warbler (male)
1 Black-throated Green Warbler (male)
1 Prothonotary Warbler (female)

2 Baltimore Oriole

I also had a scattering of other migrants elsewhere on the walk in and out, and other observers during the day reported Blackpoll and Cape May Warblers, among others.

The birds will probably depart tonight, unless more rain moves in by nightfall, or north winds arrive by then (the front approaches, but looks like it will arrive too late to deter departure)


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Migrants in Jefferson batture

I spent 50 minutes today, mid-morning, in the Jefferson batture across from Jefferson Playground.  This area is laden with mulberries, which often hold a selection of migrants this time of year even when weather conditions (like today's south winds) are not conducive to making birds stop over in our area.  Highlights were:
30 Cedar Waxwing
10 Indigo Bunting
2 Tennessee Warbler (one singing)
2 Painted Bunting (female-type plumage)
1 Baltimore Oriole
1 Summer Tanager
1 Blue Grosbeak
1 Wood Thrush (singing)
1 Gray Catbird
1 Northern-Rough-winged Swallow
1 Sedge Wren (the most surprising species, as it is out of habitat; sang vigorously for ~ 2 minutes)


Friday, April 25, 2014

Mississippi Kites back on territory

Yesterday in the late afternoon I spotted my first Mississippi Kite of the spring- a bird swooping eratically over West Esplanade just west of David Drive, on the Metairie/Kenner line.

This morning as I drove away from my house in Old Jefferson, a pair was perched shoulder to shoulder in a large Water Oak on my street.  Their seemingly simultaneous arrival is is interesting- I wonder if mated pairs migrate across the Gulf together?

Mississippi Kites are among our last tropical migrants to return each spring- arriving typically right about this time.

This does not mean migration is over- indeed, the next seven days are (more or less) the traditional all-around peak of migration in south Louisiana.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Playing the weather to see more spring migrants

Along the Gulf Coast (and in the New Orleans area), spring migration is notoriously boom and bust- there can be huge numbers of migrants around one day, and virtually none the next.  Although the birding and ornithological communities don't have this entirely figured out yet, it is generally understood that most of this variation can be explained by weather patterns, and how migrants respond to them.

Some basic background information:

1)  warblers, buntings, thrushes, and other smallish land bird migrants tend to wait for favorable weather conditions before they migrate.  The most critical deal-breaker is a headwind, but active precipitation can also make them delay.

2) the bulk of these species migrate nocturnally.

3) they usually fly a couple thousand feet overhead.

In spring, these migrants are arriving from across the Gulf of Mexico.  They are generally understood to leave the tropics (especially the Yucatan) near sunset, fly all night, and arrive over the Louisiana coast in the middle of the next day- most commonly between 11 am- 3 pm but it may be earlier if they are hastened by a strong tailwind, or later if delayed by a strong headwind. Thus, while over land they would normally land shortly before sunrise, they are forced to continue flying during daylight by being over the water.  Their arrival can usually be seen on unfiltered weather radar (eg, as a light blue haze of echoes that appears to our south and then envelopes us. 

Amazingly, the norm under favorable weather (lack of precip or headwind) is for these migrants to head straight over us undetected, and land in a dispersed fashion in the parishes to our north, beyond Lake Pontchartrain, maybe tens of miles beyond.  LSU ornithologist George Lowery, who figured most of this stuff out decades ago, dubbed coastal and near-coastal areas of state the "coastal hiatus" for this reason.

Any inclement weather (a switch to headwinds with the passing of a cold front, or rain) confronting birds migrating across the Gulf will cause increased numbers of birds to stop in New Orleans (and on the coast), which we call a fallout.  However, timing is critical- if the headwinds arrive in late afternoon or later, the migratory flight may have passed us and fallout is less likely.  Likewise, if a rain event happens before or after they are passing overhead, it may produce little or no grounding.   

Rain-induced fallout birds will generally leave us at nightfall if the rain has moved on, while many frontal-fallout birds will hang around for days until tailwinds resume.  Thus, for a rain event, it is advisable to ditch work and get out biriding in the afternoon immediately after the rain falls.  For a frontal fallout, you can wait and call in sick the next morning.
There are no fronts scheduled for the next few days, so we may have to wait a bit for our next major pulse of birds, unless we luck out and get a midday rain event.  In general, frontal passages become farther and farther apart as spring progresses, providing fewer opportunities for fallouts.   There are enough migrants passing to make decent fallouts possible until May 12 or so, after which the volume of migratory flow drops sharply.

Good birding,


Birding Made Easy-New Orleans can be purchased via the Paypal button on this blog ($24 including shipping), or by sending me a personal check (email me for specs), or for $24.95 at local bookstores.  It is now available at:

Uptown:  Garden District Book Shop, Maple Street Book Shop, Octavia Books
French Quarter and Marigny:  Peach Records, Fauborg Marigny Art Books Music, Librairie Book Shop, Beckham's Bookshop, Arcadian Books and Prints, the Crabnet
Mid City:  City Park Botanical Garden, Community Book Center
Metairie:  Double M Feed on W. Esplanade
Harahan:  Double M Feed on Jefferson Hwy
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Questions?  Email me at