Monday, March 31, 2014

Prothonotary at City Hall

Didn't get out to do much birding today, but in the course of my daily activities I found myself at City Hall in downtown New Orleans.  In the park facing the front entrance, a Prothonotary Warbler was singing in full force in one of the live oak shade trees!  I walked over and swished a bit, without binoculars, and the bird came in for a peak- as did about eight other warblers/vireos with it.  Among them were a Red-eyed Vireo, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a white-breasted vireo of some sort (probably White-eyed), and either a second Prothonotary or female Hooded (yellow below, flashing white tail spots).

Where were my binocs when I needed them!

Some birds usually hang around from a fallout as long as north winds prevail to impede their movement onwards.  These were presumably hangers-on from this weekend.  The sloppy weather forecast for later in the week may potentially bring another concentration.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Migrants crossing Lake Pontchartrain this morning

In the wake of fallouts reported downriver and at Grand Isle yesterday, I went to South Point this morning to check on a phenomenon I first noticed last spring:  migrants crossing the lake the morning after a coastal fallout.  My interpretation last spring was that birds were departing the areas on or near the coast where they had fallen out the day before, flying against the northeast winds (which follow cold fronts, the common precipitator of fallouts), continuing their way northward.

There was a cross-lake movement evident this morning.  At the base (south end) of the Hwy 11 bridge, I stood from 0740-0755, and estimated:
30 Tree Swallow
1 Cliff Swallow
8 Barn Swallow
20 Purple Martin
15 Chimney Swift
4 unidentified warblers
4 cowbirds
these were all crossing the lake northward.

I then drove to the gravel frontage road back west to its gate, and walked out the levee to the railroad bridge, where the light is better and context more charming.  I spent 45 minutes out there, 830-915, and estimated (all lake crossers):
120 Tree Swallow
24 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (6 flocks)
15 American Goldfinch (all one flock; chickened out and reversed back)
13 Little Blue Herons (flock of adults)
10  Barn Swallow
9 Cowbirds (flock; one was a male Brown-headed)
8 Yellowlegs (flock of 7 Greaters with one Lesser)
7 Eastern Kingbird (five singles or flocks)
6  Chimney Swift
6 Purple Martin
2 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
2 Yellow-rumped Warbler (only!)
2 Orchard Oriole (both full adult males)
1 Indigo Bunting (male)
there were also 40 or so other small landbirds (and not swallows or swifts) that I did not identify, crossing,
in addition a Belted Kingfisher flying higher above the ground than usual seemed to want to cross the lake but also aborted.

The greatest highlight was two Swallow-tailed Kites that came through, barely above ground level- from atop the levee, I was looking down at them!  They also crossed the lake.

There were other birds around, most notably a Roseate Spoonbill in pale pink plumage- an unusual date for this far inland.  Along the road between the gate and levee were a male Blue Grosbeak, a Prothonotary Warbler, and three gnatcatchers.  The impounded marsh along the levee had its usual coots, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, egrets, etc., and a Bald Eagle.   The tidal marsh along the levee had calling Clapper Rails- three or so.

Good birding,


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Swallow tailed Kites over zoo; other migrant reports

While leading a UNO field trip to the Audubon Zoo this morning, I spied four Swallow-tailed Kites circling high over the Africa Savanna exhibit.  They drifted northeast.

Only other migrants I noted at the zoo were singing White-eyed Vireo and Hooded Warbler, neither of which nests nor winters there.

Observers have reported a fallout in progress at Grand Isle- 19 warbler species before noon today.  A good warbler morning report has also come in from Jean Lafitte National Park south of town.

Good day to get out and look!


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, 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
Metairie:  Double M Feed on W. Esplanade
Harahan:  Double M Feed on Jefferson Hwy
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Some more migrants at UNO

As I walked across campus this morning in the chilly north wind, I stopped for a few moments to swish in the grove of shade trees just south of the library- a spot I do not search for migrants often, since the Fine Arts woods has more to recommend it (namely, understory).

Today I was pleasantly surprised when just seconds of swishing brought a dozen or so Yellowrumps out of a large live oak into a bare bald cypress to fuss at me, and they were accompanied by a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a male Northern Parula, and a glorious male Prothonotary Warbler.

Figuring that Fine Arts would be even better, I circled by there a few hours later, but in twenty minutes was only able to pull out two migrants:  both gnatcatchers.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Great Horned Owl at UNO campus

This morning on campus I was drawn to a few crows going nuts in the top of a forty foot magnolia tree.  Because this often indicates they are onto a predator, I approached- and a large Great Horned Owl flew out.  It landed again in the woodlot beside the Fine Arts building, where a colleague saw it again about three hours later, still harassed by crows.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Wave of migrants

A brief stop at the Fine Arts Woodlot today at UNO between classes revealed that the cold front has put some trans-Gulf migrants down in the city.  In about twenty minutes, mixed with Yellow-rumped Warblers,I found:

1 White-eyed Vireo
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Black-and-White Warblers (both male)
1 Northern Parula (male)
1 Yellow-throated Warbler (male)

It is typical for the earliest migrant waves to be dominated by males, since they arrive back on their breeding grounds the earliest in most species.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Pine Warblers, both of which winter at this spot, have now begun singing.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons back at nests

I just stopped by the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nesting colony in the big oaks on Dodge Ave, first block north of Jefferson Hwy, in Old Jefferson.  There were two pairs- each with one bird standing on the nest and another on a branch a few feet away.  Also a lone adult.  It is early yet, and more will presumably arrive from across the Gulf in the coming weeks.

This is especially encouraging because this colony was apparently abandoned mid-season last summer, probably due to a nocturnal movie filming episode at the spot.  Glad to see they have not given up on the site.


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, 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
Metairie:  Double M Feed on W. Esplanade
Harahan:  Double M Feed on Jefferson Hwy
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Snowy Owl in Louisiana?

The Louisiana birding community is abuzz with discussion of a photograph of an apparently all-white owl perched on a baldcypress knee along the shore of the Amite River Tuesday.

The prevailing opinion at the moment is that it is a Snowy Owl.  Louisiana birders have been searching for a Snowy all winter, since there is an historic irruption of them this winter, with birds as far south as Vicksburg, MS, and Jacksonville, FL so far.  I personally have made several trips to the Lakefront Airport to scan from the terminal second floor, since Snowies have a track record of liking airports (most famously Logan Airport in Boston), and coastlines in general.

The photos can be seen here:

The main uncertainty about the photographed bird is the possibility of an albino or leucistic (another condition confering white coloration) Barred Owl, for which a cypress swamp would be much more reasonable as habitat.  Snowies are tundra birds, and are normally only seen in wide open habitats.  The Louisiana State Museum has a committee that evaluates unusual records (the Louisiana Bird Records Committee); they will ultimately try to find ways to solve that question.

Keep your eyes open- winter birds from the far north sometimes linger well into the spring when they do show up around here, so we may several more weeks to find another!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bonaparte's Gulls on UNO lawn; Swallow-tailed Kite over City Park

Today as I exited campus around 130 pm, there were two Bonaparte's Gulls foraging with the hundred or so others (mixed Ring-billed and Laughing) on the athletic fields on the SE corner of the main UNO campus.  I don't recall ever seeing Bonaparte's on the main campus lawns any time in my prior 22 years here.

Joan Garvey reported a Swallow-tailed Kite northbound over Marconi Drive (which forms the western edge of City Park) today.  Keep your eyes up!


Afternoon stroll at Couturie

Around 5 pm, I found myself near City Park with a few minutes to spare.  I spent twenty minutes in Couturie, mostly along the western bayou.

A five foot alligator was out in the water, lying still.

Red-shouldered Hawks were calling across the water; later, another flew over from the east.

At the large log that has been made into a waterside bench (north of the viewing deck), a brief bit of screech-owl imitating to bring in songbirds got a response- from a Screech Owl.  It only called once, its mellow monotone.  This occasionally happens in the early morning, and especially in late summer/early fall, but to have it happen in full afternoon sunlight in spring was odd.

Along the trail back in the scrub (not far from the hide), an immature Broad-winged Hawk spooked but gave nice looks on a nearby perch.  Possibly a migrant, but two have been spending the winter in the area.

Lots of Laughing Gulls and Purple Martins wheeling overhead.

On the bayou edge, a Great Blue and a Black-crowned Night-Heron sat patiently.  One Anhinga did the same, while a Double-crested Cormorant swam fishing.  A hen Wood Duck squealed past, but otherwise the wintering waterfowl appear to have split.

Not a lot of passerines- a few Yellowrumps, a House Wren, an Orange-crowned Warbler.  Red-winged Blackbird singing across the water.  The usual cardinals and jays.  But it was late afternoon.

Good birding,


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at, 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
Metairie:  Double M Feed on W. Esplanade
Harahan:  Double M Feed on Jefferson Hwy
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Migration gathering steam

Migration is gathering steam along the Gulf Coast.  Species that don't winter much in Louisiana that have been reported back include Purple Martin (since January), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (2 places), American Golden Plover (Grand Isle), Pectoral Sandpiper (near Shreveport), Swallow-tailed Kite (2-3 places), Yellow-throated Vireo (Grand Isle), Yellow-throated Warbler (2 places), Northern Parula (3 places), Louisiana Waterthrush (Grand Isle), and I am probably forgetting some others.

The first migrant "wave" was reported at Grand Isle yesterday, highlighted by 40 Northern Parulas.  Yellow-throated Warblers (2) were seen foraging on open lawn there, usually an indication of coping after recent cross-Gulf arrival.

On my street, a White-throated Sparrow was calling this evening- none has been around this winter, so this is probably a bird on the move, although there is not much territory for it to have migrated from south of here (they do not cross the Gulf for winter).

With the east winds today, I am hoping for some reports of Swallow-tailed Kites moving east over New Orleans.  Reports in past springs have suggested they occur here as migrants in spring more often after east winds, which might deflect them our way from their center of abundance in Florida (whereupon they head east through our area to get "back on track").  Sounds good, anyway!  No reports today yet, though.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cedar Waxwings in Metairie

Late winter usually begins the peak Cedar Waxwing season in southeast Louisiana, an odd pattern of seasonality matched by few (if any) other species.  The peak may last through April.  However, waxwings are famously erratic in their migratory movements, and numbers vary drastically from year to year.

I saw two flocks yesterday in Metairie; I hope this portends a good year for them.

The first flock was of about 30 birds feeding in a tree along eastbound West Metairie Ave, just east of Airline Park Blvd.  Most flew off together, northbound.

The second flock, of about 20, was flying north over I-10, between Cleary and Causeway.

Waxwing flocks have a distinctive configuration, tight amorphous clouds of birds, often dozens, flying large distances through the air often without alighting.  They look a lot like starling flocks, but are distinguishable with practice.

When they are around, waxwings often frequent trees with berries or fruits.  A flock may descend en mass, and overwhelm a tree.   Often many will perch in a nearby "resting" tree and zip back and forth to the adjacent food tree, producing a continuous ebb and flow.  A feeding flock is usually noisy, making shrill, soft zzzzzzzzzzzz noises.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Junco and Palm Warbler in Lafreniere Park

Two slightly odd sightings today, in the same small flock with Yellow-rumped Warblers  in Lafreniere Park in Metairie.

The "Western" Palm Warbler is odd for being in manicured park habitat- usually they are in unkempt weedy/scrubby growth in our area.  I first saw this bird about a week ago, so it seems to be hanging around the area despite its odd habitat.

The Dark-eyed Junco was unexpected because they are a bit hard to come by south of Lake Pontchartrain, and seem to most often occur at the start of the winter.

Both were in the area just beyond the far end of the boardwalk, where the walkways are arranged in a circular pattern.

Good birding!


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Birds to look for # 6: Tricolored and Little Blue Herons

Louisiana has two herons that are medium in size (comparable to Snowy Egret), elegant in shape, and mainly or entirely  blue.  They are easily told apart by belly coloration:  white in Tricolored, blue in Little Blue.

The Little Blue Heron has a maroon neck and blue body.  The Tricolored is more complex in coloration above, with details of purple, white, and buff amidst the blue.  The Tricolored has white head plumes, and is slightly more slender in the neck and bill than is the Little Blue.

In immature plumage, Tricolored also has a maroon neck- but a white stripe down its front makes it unlike the solidly maroon neck of a Little Blue.  Young Little Blues are completely different, solid white for their first year, then adopting a "pied" plumage covered in splotches of blue and white.  When white, they is easily mistaken for a Snowy Egret, but are readily distinguished with practice by the bluish-gray beak with crisp black tip, green legs (including in front), and chunkier neck and beak.  Some have dusky wing tips, mainly visible in flight- these are diagnostic when present.

Tricoloreds appear more slender-bodied and longer-legged in flight, a lankiness that can distinguish them from Little Blues (with practice) even when too far away to make out the white belly.

Both species are to be expected in any of the freshwater wetlands outside the city, but the Little Blue becomes less common in saline habitats (eg, near Fourchon).  Inside urban New Orleans, Tricoloreds can sometimes be found in drainage canals- I have seen them pretty regularly in the canal along Canal Street in Metairie (the short Canal Street that cuts from Oaklawn down toward the 17th Street Canal pump station).  For unknown reasons, Little Blues seem to eschew the roadway canals entirely, but are frequently found in urban batture ponds and floodwaters along the Mississippi River, where they occur more often than do Tricoloreds.

I grew up on bird books in the 1970's in which the Tricolored bore its old name, the Louisiana Heron.  I expect there are still those in our state who are miffed that the bird was renamed Tricolored by the American Ornithologists Union (the bird is not really three-colored anyway!).


The pictures below are (in order) immature Tricolored Heron (James Beck), adult Tricolored Heron (Beth Wiggins), and adult Little Blue Heron (yours truly).

Monday, March 3, 2014

Alert: Cinnamon Teal along Paris Road

Yesterday around noon local birder Glenn Ousett reported a male Cinnamon Teal (quite a dapper duck!) with Blue-winged Teal along Paris Road, between the I-510 bridge and the St. Bernard Parish line.

Cinnamon Teal are less than annual in occurrence in southeast Louisiana.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

A few notes from Monticello Wastewater Plant

I made a visit to the  Monticello Wastewater Plant shortly after sunrise yesterday.  The ibis roost had already dispersed; there was just one adult, and a few Great Egrets were fishing along the edge.  A half dozen Cattle Egrets sitting idly.  Hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were present, and flocks were arriving- presumably coming in from their nocturnal foraging forays.  Seems this must be a morning as well as dusk gathering area.  An Anhinga was on the edge, as were a dozen or so Common Grackles.

About twenty Ring-billed Gulls were perched on the infrastructure in the distance.  A Red-shouldered Hawk was on the edge of a building overlooking a pond, intently staring downward, presumably looking for prey (they are a sit-and-watch predator).  A Cooper's Hawk was sitting atop a chimney on the large white administration builiding in the southeast corner.

A single Red-winged Blackbird was posturing and singing in the middle of the willow patch the ibis roost in.  I can only imagine what it will be like if he attracts a female to nest there, inundated by ibis each night.

A lone Spotted Sandpiper was poking around the cement edge of one of the drained enclosures.  Two Double-crested Cormorants were swimming in another as if fishing- though I can't imagine there was anything to catch there.