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!