Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Season of Sapsucker Skirmishes

A report came across my path yesterday of two birds that were on the ground locked in intense combat.   They ended up being sapsuckers fighting over who would claim the surroundings as their winter territory.

Sapsucker altercations are commonplace in late fall in southeast Louisiana, as birds arrive from the boreal forests of the northern USA and Canada and try and stake out their wintering grounds.  The skirmishes usually consist of birds pursuing each other from tree to tree and vocalizing angrily.

Our sapsucker species, the Yellow-bellied, is one of three allied species that are arranged east-west across the continent.  The Yellow-bellied is the easternmost, replaced by the Red-naped in the Rockies, and the Red-breasted in the Cascades and Sierras.  The Red-naped has occurred in Louisiana, and is always enough of a possibility that seasoned birders usually  keep alert for a sapsucker that looks suspicious.  The identification is complicated though- mere presence of red on the nape is not sufficient.  The Red-breasted is one of my nemesis birds- having eluded me in repeated trips out west.  I even took my wife down a conifer trail on our honeymoon years ago hoping for a glimpse.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a Sapsucker fracas!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yellowthroat in the shrubbery

Just now as I was walking across the UNO campus to my night class, I heard a familiar chunk note come from one of the ornamental hedges by the student union building.

Another Common Yellowthroat- my third or fourth serendipitously detected in the shrubbery on campus in the last month.  A small brown bird with a yellow throat and upper breast, and- in adult males- a black mask.

Common Yellowthroats are by far the most common migratory species for me to detect in ornamental vegetation on the UNO campus- probably by a margin of 10 to 1 over any other migrant species.  This is enigmatic, since the species is near the picky end of the spectrum when it comes to using urban habitats in winter or summer.  It is so averse to the urban landscape then that I know of no nesting sites or wintering sites for it here within the city, even though it is numerous at both seasons just outside our perimeter in freshwater marshes.

Yellowthroats show up in the city in fall migration- September and October.  So for the next few weeks, keep your ears open for their short husky chunk note, even in the most perfectly manicured shrubbery.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Black-bellied Plovers and Least Sandpipers still on Lakeshore Drive

I checked the swale behind the UNO Lakefront Arena again yesterday.  Despite the habitat looking prime, there were relatively few shorebirds- but two Black-bellied Plovers and six Least Sandpipers continue to be present.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Large Indigo Bunting corrective movement at South Point

This morning I took the mile walk out to South Point in extreme eastern Orleans Parish, where the railroad bridge begins to cross Lake Pontchartrain headed for Slidell.  This spot is accessed by getting off the I-10 at Irish Bayou/Hwy 11, and heading back west along the gravel (north) frontage road to the gate, then walking to the point.

Weather was delightful.  On the walk out I saw the usual marsh birds, including small flocks of Blue-winged Teal and Mottled Ducks, and a fine bright pink adult Roseate Spoonbill.  Over a hundred Great and Snowy Egrets were concentrated in one small waterway.  Clapper Rails called outside the levee.  An Eastern Meadowlark flitted along the tree line.

No significant "morning flight" corrective movement was evident until I reached the point itself, but there it was in peak form.  Small songbirds were passing northbound in a constant parade of small flocks.  Most were Indigo Buntings, which are just approaching their peak of fall passage.  Both sexes are brown this time of year, though often with some bluish sheen on the flight feathers.   Too many were passing to keep a true count- so I took rates.  The first 100 took 2:00 minutes to pass; a bit later, another 100 took 2:40; sometime after that, another took 2:10.  Overall, this produces an estimate of a bit over 2600 birds in the hour I watched.  About 90% were Indigos.  This more than doubles my maximum previous hourly estimate of Indigos at this site.

In the mix, I noticed a dozen or so American Redstarts, eight Summer Tanagers, eight Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and smaller numbers of others, including Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Magnolia, Black-and-White, and Yellow Warblers.  A Flicker crossed with them, as did three Scissor-tailed Flycatchers- an expected October migrant, but always a thrill to see.

Flights of this sort normally occur exclusively on mornings of north or northeast winds- today they were from the north.  Although a wind as stiff as today's will usually cause a lot of birds that start out over the water to subsequently give up and let themselves be blown back, there was surprisingly little of that today- they kept going.

Good stuff!


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Five Roseate Spoonbills on Jamie Blvd

Today the foraging aggregation of waders was present again, as last Friday, in the drainage canal along Jamie Boulevard on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, by Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy.

In a tight stretch of the ditch (15 yards?), there were:
30 Snowy Egret
7 Great Egret
2 White Ibis
1 Tricolored Heron
5 Roseate Spoonbill

This foraging concentration has been absent on most days- not sure what happens to suddenly draw the birds in.

No Little Blue Heron- funny how Little Blues seem to consistently avoid road-associated drainage ditches and canals.  I have been doing a lot of ditch and canal monitoring over the last year or so, and seen only a single Little Blue.

As I crossed Lapalco headed back toward the Huey P Long bridge, a flock of six dark ibis (White-faced or Glossy) flew over- not a frequent sight inside the urban perimeter.