Friday, November 28, 2014
I walked ut to South Point in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge this morning. This takes around a half hour, starting from the I-10 frontage road, which hugs the north side of I-10 as it works back west from the base of the Highway 11 bridge.
Rather than walking along the crest of the lake levee, I hugged the edge of the willow scrub on the walk out. Forty American Pipits were foraging on the mown levee, repeatedly taking up and resettling as a group.
As I approached a spot where the willows broke and gave a view into the impoundment, I heard duck noises coming from behind the scrub. Suddenly, 500 Gadwall erupted into the air, splitting into two groups which rejoined and settled back into the marsh beyond view. A hundred more sat tight long enough for me to spy a handful of American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal among them.
Winds seemed approximately ENE, which is a little more easterly than the ideal N-NE for corrective movements following cold fronts at South Point. Nevertheless, birds heading out across the water toward Slidell were in evidence already during the latter half of my approach. I ended up conducting a count from one spot near the point for 50 minutes, during which time flocks of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow-rumped Warblers staged a consistent procession into the headwind, past me and out over the lake toward Slidell, five miles or so distant. Totals in the timed count were remarkably evenly split: 655 robins, 615 waxwings, and 635 yellowrumps. The waxwings were nice to see; while robins and yellowrumps are a predictable feature of late November flights here, waxwings are essentially absent some years.
While I counted, I was treated to a Cooper's Hawk and two Northern Harriers- one a gray adult male- working the point. A Clapper Rail clacked out in the tidal marsh. A Common Loon swam in the lake, and another flew past westbound.
Walking back, I stopped to make coaxing noises at one spot, and drew an immediate response from hoards of agitated, chipping Swamp Sparrows. A few minutes later they were joined by a flock of small insectivores, including a Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Phoebe, several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a half dozen or so Yellow-rumped Warblers. Moving on, I came upon a Marsh Wren, which volunteered itself without coaxing, jumping into view atop a reed to fuss at me.
As I approached my car, a pair of Chipping Sparrows spooked off the shoulder of the shell road. Where had they been on the walk out? Finally, while leaving, I was treated to both a hefty Red-tailed Hawk and a dainty Sharp-shinned Hawk, the latter flapping energetically as it was buffeted by the wind.
Friday, November 21, 2014
The day after my last post, I added three new raptor species while out and about in the city!
Yesterday, while I was leading a birdwalk on the UNO campus, a Peregrine came zipping eastbound down the lakefront. (This happened seconds after an eager student had to peel off and go to class- why does it seem to happen that way??)
The remaining participants spied an Osprey tearing into a fish on a pylon out in the lake.
Finally, while leaving campus on Elysian Fields at 5 pm, I drove beneath a Cooper's Hawk perched on the horizontal arm of one of the streetlights. Streaked below: immature.
Gotta love it,
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
There are birds of prey around New Orleans all the time, and just keeping your eyes open will produce sightings as you go about your daily business. Here is my tally from today and yesterday:
Turkey Vulture- a dozen or more total, including six circling low over the UNO Research and Technology Park, descending like they were coming down to carrion. Also one on the ground in a busy median on the UNO campus, surrounded by several crows- at food, presumably.
Black Vulture- every morning they are hanging around Segnette Blvd x Lapalco on the West Bank, where they roost on the tall electrical towers.
American Kestrel- one on Jamie Blvd about a quarter mile off Lapalco, where I have see it on the wire about half of the times I passed so far this fall.
Sharp-shinned Hawk- one yesterday morning over the Earhardt Expwy in Metairie, buffeted by the high winds. Quite small- probably a male (males are smaller than females in raptors, generally).
Red-shouldered Hawk- one on a roadside wire on River Road yesterday, near Ochsner. Another today, circling over Old Metairie not far from the Galleria.
Red-tailed Hawk- one came low overhead in Harahan in the cold early morning yesterday, chased by noisy crows. Another perched near the Earhardt in Metairie today.
All this without the usual Cooper's Hawk!
Friday, November 14, 2014
The last few weeks have produced an interesting array of strange bird records from around the state.
Top of the list is a Lucy's Warbler, which has been seen periodically on a Nature Conservancy property at Grand Isle after being found by LSU professor Van Remsen while he was showing the island off to a visiting birder from the Northeast. Now that northeasterner has a bird on his state list that is the envy of many Louisianans. Lucy's Warbler is from the desert southwest, and has occurred in the state before, but not in recent decades.
About a week ago, another LSU ornithologist, Steve Cardiff, was in the rice country of southwest Louisiana at evening dusk, checking out geese. A group of four specklebellies (Greater White-fronted Geese) was trailing a fifth, odd bird- which on inspection proved to be a Brown Booby, a tropical seabird that normally remains beyond sight of land and is quite rare in Gulf waters anyway. A few have surprised people by turning up in recent years on inland water bodies- Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Calcasieu- but to pick out one flying past overland is mind boggling.
Finally, it appears that a Vaux's Swift- a bird of the western USA that winters in the tropics- is again frequenting the downtown lakes in Baton Rouge. This species has a truly strange history in our capital city- they have inexplicably been turning up periodically there in winter for decades, longer than the life span of a swift, often multiple individuals at once. The species is essentially unknown anywhere else in the eastern USA at any season. Why? And why Baton Rouge?
Saturday, November 8, 2014
There are not many bird species that vocalize at night in New Orleans, but one call that the keen listener can generally expect to hear from time to time is the kwok of the Black-crowned Night-Heron.
Like their Yellow-crowned cousins, Black-crowned Night-Herons use a variety of waterways in our area, including urban canals and batture ponds. Although commonly active at night, they are not strictly nocturnal, and can often be seen out and about by day. A reliable place to find them is in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit in the Audubon Zoo, especially where the path exits the indoor exhibits and runs into the lagoon. These are freeloaders, not part of the zoo collection, but are generally closely approachable.
Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky waterbirds, noticeably more robust than almost all other large waders. Adult Black-crowns are strikingly patterned, with black crown and back and gray wings- all very clean, with no mottling. Birds in their first year are brown and white streaked, and can be tricky to separate from Yellow-crowns. Birds in this plumage have a noticeably different bill and head shape than do Yellow-crowns, having a more slender bill and less blocky head (more tapered in the front). In flight, only the tips of their feet extend beyond the tail. Because the large majority of Yellow-crowns migrate to the tropics for the winter, any night heron from now through February will most likely be a Black-crowned.