Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Great Egrets back at Pontchartrain Park nesting colony

Today I swung by the wader rookery in Pontchartrain Park (Bartholomew golf course).  The Great Egrets have returned to the nesting island in the pond near the southern end of the golf course, as in years past. About fifteen were visible from the road.

Great Egrets usually turn up at nesting colonies to begin breeding activities before the other heron/egret/ibis species.

Good birding,


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at birding.made.easy.new.orleans@gmail.com, or look for it at area book stores.  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
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Saturday, February 22, 2014

3000 birds roosting in Monticello wastewater plant

I just got back from a quick visit to the wastewater facility on Monticello Ave, on the Orleans-Jefferson line, where I went to check on the evening roost.  Birds there can be viewed from the levee along Monticello.

The number of roosting White Ibis is several fold larger than on my last visit, which was back in late summer or fall.  Tonight there were about 2100 White Ibis, 98% or more adult (ie, white).  There were perhaps 100 egrets also:  Great, Snowy, and Cattle.  No other heron species were seen, although I heard a Black-crowned Night-Heron's kwok several times.  Four Anhingas were roosting in the ibis throng.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were everywhere, lined up single file on the handrails- almost comically.  I estimated 1000.  They were becoming quite noisy by the time I left.

A male Ring-necked Duck and a pair (male, female) of Lesser Scaup were together in one pond, where another duck in the failing light looked like a Mottled Duck, but I can't say for sure it couldn't have been a Mallard in female-type plumage.  One Pied-billed Grebe, three American Coot.  Three Wood Ducks were seen flying in- actually less than in the warm season.

Starlings were coming to roost in the reeds, where Red-winged Blackbirds were audible- singing actually.  It is impossible to tell how many had settled in there for the night.

Good birding,


Friday, February 21, 2014

145 American Pipits at UNO

Yesterday I was treated to a flock of 145 American Pipits on the athletic fields at the southeast corner of the main UNO campus (Leon C. Simon x Elysian Fields).  They were there at 9:00 when I walked onto campus, and at 11:30 when I walked off.

American Pipits are common winter residents in New Orleans, but you have to know where to look for them:  large grassy expanses.  There are usually some flocks that work the lakefront in Orleans and Jefferson, and others along the River levee.  They are also common in similarly open habitats outside the city. They depart in early spring, to nest on the Arctic tundra.

Pipits walk on the ground, and don't like to be in areas with much cover.  They are grayish above, streaky below, and rather nondescript.  Thin beaks. Their easiest "handle" is their white outer tail feathers, which are easily seen in flight.  Pipis are named for their call, which sounds to me like "sipit."  When you flush a flock, many of the birds will make this high-pitched doublet- seldom do they flush quietly.

A flock hung out from Jan-Mar on this same athletic field last winter; I hope these birds will hang around as well.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Purple Martins back in Gentilly

This morning I had single male Purple Martins in the air in two places over Gentilly- both between Elysian Fields and Franklin, between Mirabeau and the lakeshore.

Males are usually the first to come back- with a few returning before the end of January, before the main push arrives.

There were also four Black Skimmers at the breakwaters at the Ted Hickey bridge; they have been pretty regular there this winter.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Merlins in New Orleans

A few Merlins can be found around New Orleans each winter, even in the developed urban landscape.  I have seen two this winter- both in the last week.

The Merlin is a small falcon- not much larger than a Mourning Dove, although a bit more robust of build.  Their sharply pointed wings and small size separate them from all other birds of prey except the American Kestrel, which outnumbers Merlin in our region.  The two species are both much smaller than Peregrine Falcon, our other bird of that group- enough to make confusion unlikely.  Although Mississippi Kites are also pointed-winged, they overlap little with Merlins in their dates of occurrence- late April being the only time both are likely to be around.

A perched Merlin will differ from a kestrel in being darker:  more heavily streaked below, lacking any rufous tones on the upperparts or dorsal tail, and having a dark (slate or brown) back.  Merlins are much less likely to perch on a wire (but they use poles), and do not bob the tail up and down like a kestrel often does.  The underside of Merlin's tail is mainly dark.

The two species may be most easily distinguished in flight, when their different personalities are apparent.  Kestrels look like lightweights in flights, and do not convey an impression of strength.  Merlins fly very directly and swiftly, and ooze power and attitude- the "Harley Davidsons" of the bird world. This difference is remarkably consistent.  Merlins do not hover, a common habit of hunting Kestrels.

My two recent sightings were in Lakeview (a bird flying fast northwest over the I-610/Canal Blvd overpass), and in Gentilly (a bird spooked by my car, from atop a utility pole in the residential neighborhoods south of UNO).

Good birding,


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kenner City Park this evening

At dusk this evening I visited Kenner City Park, at Vintage x Loyola.  The wader roost of this summer is still active, holding about 230 birds, almost all white.  In the failing light they seemed to be mostly White Ibis, though there were at least Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Heron, and Black-crowned Night-Heron mixed in.  The night herons departed, calling, presumably headed for feeding grounds.  Nine Double-crested Cormorants adorned the treetops above the waders.

The usual exotic ducks have been joined by about forty Northern Shovelers, which have become similarly trusting, allowing for good viewing (and photo ops).  There were also about eight teal, including both Blue-winged and Green-winged drakes, close enough for nice looks.

Among the exotic birds were a few interesting birds to look at, including drake Mandarin Duck, and Barnacle Goose.  Although some of the Mallards could be bonafide wild birds here for the winter, there is no way to distinguish these from the domesticated individuals.

In the failing light, a small bird alighted on one of the islands with roosting ducks, and bobbed its rear exaggeratedly- presumably a Spotted Sandpiper.


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at birding.made.easy.new.orleans@gmail.com, or look for it at area book stores.  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
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Monday, February 10, 2014

Brown Thrasher singing at Longvue; tips for identifying their song

Today at Longvue Gardens I had my singing first Brown Thrasher of the spring.  The nesting sites of this species in New Orleans have become mysteriously few in the last five or ten years- likely a Katrina casualty.  The Longvue territory is the only one I currently know of, although in recent years I have also suspected nesting at Audubon Park, in Lake Vista, and on the grounds of the Research and Technology Park at the north end of Elysian Fields.

Singing Brown Thrashers sound quite a bit like mockingbirds, but differ in two primary ways:

1- a much higher proportion of their phrases are repeated twice (vs singles or triplets).  Mockingbirds have a noticeably higher proportion of triplets.  Although this is a matter of degree, if doublets seem to dominate, it is almost surely a thrasher.

2- thrashers have a rougher, more grainy voice.  Mockingbirds are clearer.

Thrashers often sing from high in a tree- less often from  a man made structure such as a light pole.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bird to look for #5: Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron, the largest heron in North America, is not hard to find in the New Orleans area. They are hard to confuse with any other species because of their size- standing (neck extended) chest high or better on a human.  The only other bird regularly in southeast Louisiana approaching it in height is the Great Egret- which is all white, compared to the dominant gray tones of the Great Blue.

Great Blue Herons are most commonly seen solo- adding to their stoic aura.  The back and wings are blue-gray, and the neck gray; the underparts are flecked dark and light.  If you get a good view, you may see rufous leggings.  Immatures are more mottley than adults, which can be quite dapper.

Yesterday, one flew over River Road in Jefferson near dusk, and wheeled to descend into the batture ponds.  A few weeks ago I see a tight group of nine roosting on a cold, windy morning on the shore of South Shore harbor- viewed from the edge of Lakefront Airport- an odd gathering and probably my largest ever away from breeding colonies.  I spooked four from a wet woodlot in Gentilly one morning last week- perhaps gathered at a night roost.  There is commonly one roosting in a high pine on the UNO campus in the woodlot beside the Fine Arts building.  Another place I frequently see one is on the lakefront seawall between Franklin Ave and the Ted Hickey Bridge (Industrial Canal).  I suspect the latter bird has learned to gather scraps from shore fishermen, though I have yet to confirm this (I have seen similar behavior by the species elsewhere).  If so, it could be a great photo op.


Thanks to Louisiana birder James Beck for the photo:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Western Kingbird chase-able at Audubon Park

A number of observers have reported seeing a Western Kingbird in Audubon Park in the last few days, near Bird Island and south along the lagoon edge.  Seems like a good bird to chase, since it generally perches in conspicuous locations.

Western Kingbirds are a bit larger than our normal winter flycatcher (Eastern Phoebe), and not really confusable with them.  Westerns are primarily a light gray/tan, but are yellow bellied, and have a tail that is dark with whitish edges.  These edges distinguish it from Tropical and Couch's Kingbirds, Mexican/Texan species that also turn up from time to time (believe it or not) in Louisiana but are less regular than Western.  Tropical and Couch's also have noticeably larger bills.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cardinals, Redwings, Chickadees starting to sing

More signs of spring:  Northern Cardinal is singing in my back yard in Old Jefferson, as was Carolina Chickadee yesterday.

A few days ago, two or more Red-winged Blackbirds were singing in the batture in Harahan.

Mockingbirds and Mourning Doves continuing to sing also.

As far as migration, more Purple Martins have been reported back- this time in Lacombe.

Good birding,