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.