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.


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