Friday, December 25, 2015

Great Horned Christmas gift

About an hour ago, around midnight, I was in the backyard gathering in my dogs when the vibrant hooting cadence of a Great Horned Owl surprised me from the lot behind mine- or maybe even from my own rear yard. Although I know them to be a relatively urban tolerant species, it was new to my yard list.
Thank you Santa😊

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Peregrines perched in two places in urban Jefferson Parish

In the last few days I have seen Peregrines perched in two places in urban Jefferson Parish.

One was the traditional Jeff Parish water tower near Causeway x I-10- as usual, perched on the first horizontal wire below the tank.  South side of the tower, facing north, around noon.

The other was in a spot where I have not heard of one sitting before:  a large snag tree at the far western end of the West Bank Expressway.  This tree is the largest snag in that area, and stands alone c. 25 m south of the expressway.  The bird was there in late afternoon.

How awesome to have this species around our city! 


Friday, November 27, 2015

Rare kingbird hanging around by Jefferson Playground

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find a rare kingbird along River Road in Old Jefferson.  It was still there this morning. It is either a Couch's Kingbird or Tropical Kingbird, both species from Mexico or southernmost Texas.  The two species are bright yellow below and dull olive/tan above with pearly gray heads that bear the semblance of a dark mask.  They are inseparable except by voice, and this one has yet to utter anything in the presence of myself of other birders.

Although a vagrant, this bird is not unheard of here- in fact, Tropical/Couch's Kingbirds show up somewhere in the state annually, or nearly so.

As vagrants go, this individual has been relatively easy to locate- perching on wires and conspicuous bare stems near the tops of trees.  Any bird on such a perch in this location that is conspicuously yellow below will very probably be this bird.  It has been making long flights from its perches to snatch insects from the air.

The bird has been most commonly seen along the batture edge, but this morning was on the roadside wire next to the FLEA MARKET sign across from Jefferson Playground. 

Good birding,


PS- upon seeing its attraction to the FLEA MARKET sign, I immediately went home, pulled out some plywood and paint, and stuck a BUGS FOR SALE sign on my roof.  Thinking further, I added BLACK FRIDAY SALE.  Now I'm waiting for the parade of insectivores to appear in my back yard. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ten more days of fall migration- more or less

This afternoon as I stepped out my front door, I heard the pleasantly mellow note of an Eastern Bluebird- a species that I have never detected in or from my urban yard before, and which only occurs in my part of the city in passage.  

Shortly thereafter, a White-throated Sparrow chimed a series of its distinctive peek notes from behind my neighbor's house- another one that normally graces my 'hood only when passing through.

It's probably not coincidence that these birds showed up on a day of north winds following a frontal passage- such conditions provide a nice tailwind for migration.  It may be late November, but their migrations are still in swing for the next ten days or so.  Various fall migrants continue to arrive through November- but the pace drops off precipitously in the first week of December.  After that, among land birds, only a few atypical species continue to arrive.

So enjoy these last few days of southbound arrivals- and wait for the first northbound Purple Martins, just around the corner at the end of January!


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 5: identifying Savannah Sparrows by habitat and behavior

This morning as I was walking the levee in Old Jefferson, a small brown sparrow flushed from the short grass (lawn) that carpets the embankment, and flitted back and forth a bit before settling again back onto the lawn.  I knew immediately what it was, even though I do not normally see the species there:  Savannah Sparrow.

Savannahs are migrating in this time of year, and will spend the winter in nearby areas outside town.  They are infrequent this far into the city, so this bird was probably a new arrival that was still searching for a good wintering spot and found itself (for the moment) in the city.

Savannah is our only common sparrow (besides the familiar House Sparrow) that normally ventures more than a quick jump from cover.    The only other expected species that does so regularly is Vesper, which is much less common in our area, and looks quite different from the small, short-tailed Savannah:  noticeably larger, with a longer tail with conspicuous white outer feathers. 

Good birding,


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Transition to wintering avifauna is getting underway

This morning as I was walking in my neighborhood in Old Jefferson, I heard the check of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  A block later, the sip of an Eastern Phoebe.

These are both winter arrivals- they will not be crossing the Gulf to continue their migration.  They are early representatives of our arriving wintering land bird contingent.  It was my first Yellow-rump of the season; I have had only a few other Phoebes.

Late October is the time when the last gasp of Neotropic-bound migrants comes through, and the first substantial waves of wintering land birds arrive.  Indigo Buntings and Gray Catbirds, arguably our most numerous late-season tropic-bound migrants, are in the waning phases of their passage.  While present in small numbers in winter, the vast bulk of both head for Mexico or farther south.

Most of our wintering land birds have been reported back already, though mostly in small numbers.  Larger waves of arrivals will continue through November, and taper rapidly in early December.  Pulses usually arrive after cold front passages, riding in on the northerly tailwinds.

Enjoy the change of seasons!


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Will Patricia bring us any storm waifs?

Tropical Storms and Hurricanes are well known for displacing seabirds to places outside their normal geographical ranges, sometimes even depositing truly pelagic species well inland.  This is a predictable enough phenomenon that experienced birders are out scouring bodies of water and lawns after every storm.

What about Patricia?  Conventional wisdom is that the best tropical-weather birding is near the track of the storm, or on its east side- so far, so good.  However, Patricia's unusual path across the highlands of Mexico makes it hard to believe that any birds will be displaced from the Pacific all the way to here.  Could it displace something to us from the southwestern Gulf of Mexico?  Maybe- we don't have much precedent to judge by, given this storm's unusual track.  However, since winds will not be particularly strong in the Gulf, it seems unlikely.

The species most readily displaced by tropical weather in our area is the Magnificent Frigatebird.  This species occurs normally on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, and nearly every tropical system that comes our way pushes a few inland as far as New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.  So, keep your eyes open for frigates in the sky- maybe Patricia will have enough punch left to send some inland to us.   

The rain produced by Patricia may also produce some good birding- causing water birds that would pass over to pause in our area.  Hurricane Opal in 1995 deposited a Sabine's Gull at Southshore Harbor on the Lake- still the only one I have seen in Louisiana. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 4: telling Sapsuckers in flight

This morning as I was walking the levee in Old Jefferson, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew across it heading from the batture into the large shade trees of the Magnolia School.  I was not in position to see its white wing stripes.  Fortunately, sapsuckers differ from our other small-ish woodpeckers in another way:  their profile.

Sapsuckers are noticeably more streamlined than Downy or Hairy in flight.  The body appears more attenuated fore and aft and, especially, the wings are longer and more tapered.  Downy and Hairy are overall more pudgy, with shorter rounder wings.  The difference is presumably linked to the sapsucker's migratory habit, requiring it to be more aerodynamic.

Wing length alone was enough to give away a second Sapsucker a half hour later, as it flew down my street ahead of me, directly away- showing nothing but its lanky strokes.

Good birding,


PS- my first two sapsuckers of the fall!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peregrine back in town

This evening at 6:45, as the sun was about to plunge below the horizon, a red light caused me to stop on David Drive, staring across Vets at the Jefferson Parish water tower that looms over the intersection.  I have scanned it countless times over the years for a perched Peregrine, since the species does occasionally use the tower a couple miles east at Causeway x I-10.  Until now, my efforts on David Drive had been fruitless.

I was shocked tonight to see that there was actually a raptor on the uppermost wire.  Hastily grabbing my "emergency" pair of binoculars from the glove box, I trained my lenses on it:  adult Peregrine.

It was on the horizontal wire immediately below the tank, on the southwest side of the structure- its back toward the setting sun, its underside and face in my direction.

I imagine it was settling in for the night- anyone passing the spot in the early AM might find it there as well. 


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 3: Using chickadees and titmice to find migrants

Today I was walking through the woodsy part of LaSalle Park, looking for migrants.  My first circuit of the boardwalk and adjacent glade produced a single Eastern Wood-Pewee, singing perweee.  The second circuit produced a Brown Thrasher, calling its hearty chuck, and then a chickadee giving its namesake call from a tall water oak.  I swished at it, and it immediately flew down to my level in an  adjacent tree.  With it came a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a White-eyed Vireo, and a Summer Tanager.

This illustrates a valuable strategy for searching for migrants in wooded habitats.  First, chickadees (and titmice) are often accompanied by migrant passerines.  Second, chickadees are usually responsive to swishing/squeeking, and when they approach their migrant companions often will as well.  


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Lots of migrants around the region

Reports have been coming in of good numbers of migrant songbirds. Warblers especially, with notable numbers of Blackburnian (normally uncommon in fall). The best spot in NewOrleans proper to catch up with the goings-on is probably the Couturie nature trails on Harrison Ave in City Park.
Good birding,

Sunday, September 6, 2015

September milestone: Mockers resume singing

The birding year is filled with avian milestones.  One that I am tuned to is the resumption of song by Mockingbirds after their August hiatus (after nesting, while they moult).  They are staking out their winter territories.

Today in Old Jefferson, I heard the singing in two places- my first since the hiatus.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Creepy avian spectacle at Walmart

Yesterday evening I was walking out of Walmart in Harahan around 10 pm, and encountered a black night sky filled with ghostly white specters.  They were coming from the direction of the Elmwood Shopping Center, in groups.  I counted by fives, then tens, then fifties- reaching 3500 in the space of several minutes.  They advanced silently overhead and wheeled to land on the roof, more constantly emerging from the darkness to replace those that settled. 

They were, of course, the Laughing Gulls that roost atop buildings in the Elmwood area every July through October.  They shift from building to building; I often see a bunch flocked atop the Intralox roof (behind Walmart) from the Huey P bridge as I am ascending it in the early morning headed for the West Bank.

I think the Haunted New Orleans tours need to add a Harahan stop.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sandpipers returning to the Earhardt x Causeway ponds

Well, there has been low water in the retention ponds beneath Causeway at Earhardt for most of the summer, but no migrant shorebirds till today.

This morning there were a single Least Sandpiper, single Pectoral Sandpiper, and two Spotted Sandpipers.

Leasts are tiny and brown above, Pectoral is twice as large (but still smaller than Killdeer) and also quite brown above; Spotteds are most easily told by their exaggerated bobbing of their rear ends as they walk about. 

They were in the company of 8 Black-necked Stilts and 8 Killdeer- nesters in the New Orleans area.  And the usual large waders- today Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and a young Black-crowned Night-Heron.  An adult Red-shouldered Hawk was atop the utility pole where it often sits.

Someone has put four duck decoys out there in the marshy section east of the overpass- not sure what they are thinking!?!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Time to bid the kites farewell

Within the next week or so, there will be a dramatic change in our bird scene. Our Mississippi Kites, so prevalent in our skies in August, will disappear. Their departure to head around the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most abrupt changes in our bird communities each year.
We will have to wait until next April to enjoy them again!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill at Nine Mile Point on West Bank

Yesterday I made a visit to the grain elevators on River Rd at Nine Mile Pt. A Roseate Spoonbill was plying the shallows of the pool just downstream of the entrance, seen from the Miss River levee. It was an adult, as revealed by scattered rich pink feathers among the paler pink overall body tones. I am 90% sure another individual of the species flew out as I approached.
The usual horde of Black-bellied Whistling- Ducks was in attendance, 3000 strong, 20% adult-sized juvs hatched this year. The spot was busy with waders, including 60 Great and 20 Snowy Egrets, 55 White Ibis, and 22 Black-necked Stilts.
Good busy birding spot.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fledged Miss Kite; Kingfisher back south of Lake Pontchartrain

I have been treated to two seasonal milestones in the last two days:

July 25- my first fledged Mississippi Kite of the summer, flying about awkwardly among the tall shade trees near my home in Old Jefferson.  Young birds can be told by their streaked underparts and barred tail (and goofy behavior).

July 26- Belted Kingfisher in the batture in Old Jefferson.  This bird is too early to be called a true migrant (in my book)- more aptly said to be dispersing from their breeding grounds north of Lake Pontchartrain.  Arrival of a few such birds on the south side of the lake in mid summer is normal.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

First migrant Yellow Warblers reported

The first fall migrant land bird to return to our area southbound each fall is usually Yellow Warbler- and the first two were reported today, in late July right on schedule!  David Muth detected them in Pass Manchac.

Yellow Warblers frequently migrate diurnally in late summer in south Louisiana, often revealing themselves by a husky seet note while they fly over.  They are most commonly heard in the early morning; keep your ears open!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trip report: Breton Sound islands

This past Friday I had the great pleasure of visiting three of the islands on the east edge of Breton Sound:  Gosier (now two islands), and Breton Island.  Steven Liffman piloted us out in his fast boat and also took the photos that appear below, and Dave Muth and Dan Purrington rounded out the party.

The islands are low and sandy, easily overwashed by storms.  There was essentially no vegetation on North Gosier, sparse patches of grasses on South Gosier, and a mixture of low dense scrub (north end) and scattered grassy growth (southern) on Breton Island.

The large numbers of nesting seabirds on these islands has long been recognized, and is a reason that Breton NWR was an early member of the wildlife refuge system.  They did not disappoint!  We visited North Gosier first, where there were thousands of terns, dominated by Royal and Sandwich, along with Black Skimmers.  They were along the water's edge, and packed densely into colonies in the slightly higher interior of the island.  Generally, Royals and Sandwiches nested together, and Black Skimmers were grouped off by themselves with a handful of Gull-billed Terns mixed in.  Some Caspian Terns were mixed in.  As we walked the beach of North Gosier, skimmers gave distraction displays to try and draw us away from the colony, by flying by so low their breasts touched the sand, wiggling their bodies as they did so- a ruse to look injured. 

top:  Caspian Tern settling into Royal Tern nesting colony
bottom:  Sandwich Tern nesting colony

Terns and skimmers were also abundant on South Gosier.  We rescued four Caspian chicks that were swimming in the surf, and carried them onto the beach.

As great as these islands were, they did not hold a candle to our next stop, Breton Island.  There were tens of thousands of terns crowded on the beaches of the north end, and scattered liberally elsewhere along the perimeter.  Thousands of Brown Pelicans were loafing along the shore, and the heads of more on nests were poking up from the scrub.  Scanning the sky over the island as we approached showed 3300 terns in the air, not spooked, just going about their activities.  As we walked through the interior, creches of 100-200 large but still flightless tern chicks scuttled out of our way.  We decided it prudent to not approach too closely, and headed back for the boat.  At that point our first unexpected bird of the day flew by, headed out to the water:  Neotropical Cormorant, a bird normally confined to Baton Rouge and points west.   We boated a bit south and pulled on shore again, and while disembarking spotted the trophy bird of the day:  Arctic Tern.  It allowed close approach and study for the next half hour or so, showing the full suite of marks:  solid blood red bill, gray underparts separated from black cap by a white line, pencil thin black line on ventral and dorsal surfaces of transparent primaries, short legs.

Other interesting aspects of these islands included the prevalence of Reddish Egrets- we had ten or so, the only large waders except for a single Great Blue Heron.  Hundreds (thousands?) of Black Terns were loafing, apparently summering on the islands despite not breeding in the state- half or so were in black breeding plumage.  Scattered shorebirds included Marbled Godwits, Avocets, an Oystercatcher, and a Black-necked Stilt with three downy young.  Frigatebirds appeared now and then cruising overhead.

What a great day!


Friday, July 10, 2015

Quarter of a million purple martins at north end of Pontchartrain Causeway- awesome!!!

Yesterday evening I kayaked out to the martin roost off Mandeville. I knew that it was about two miles offshore, but had a hard time targeting the spot while heading over from Sunset Point until, shortly before dusk, I was enveloped in a river of birds headed that direction- a flow that seemed to buoy me along. As dusk gathered,the flow gradually grew to about 50 birds passing by per second, chattering as they went. I then reached the bridge; birds were swarming noisily underneath, flying up to perch on the understructure. I ended up kayaking 1.3 miles of roosting birds; each bridge segment had about 1900 birds, which grew to 2400 before I turned around. This comes to 125,000 in the portion I covered; because I know it stretches twice that far, it seems that 250,000 is an appropriate estimate.
Being immersed by this huge mass of birds, together with lightning in the distance and the lapping lake swells, ranks this among my peak birding experiences.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

First fall migrant reported: Solitary Sandpiper in Bossier City

Well, on schedule, the first southbound migrant (that I have word of) has been reported in our state:  a Solitary Sandpiper up in Bossier City in the northwest corner.  Thank you Terry Davis!

A shorebird of some sort is often our first non-Louisiana-nesting species to return from the north- and this one is all the way from Canada, likely fresh from nesting in some boreal forest wetland.  



Since my post, a report of 19 Piping Plovers in the Fourchon-Elmers area has come to light from June 30- claiming rightful ownership of the title of first fall migrants reported!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Causeway Crossover Birding 2.0

Made another foray up the Causeway today, again with special permission to stop at crossovers between mile 13 and 16.5 and scope.  Prime goal was to see the Brown Boobies that have since March been seen in this area.

Bingo!  Two adults cruising northward just off the west railing at mile 16.3, seen from the adjacent crossover.   They were in view for about 30 seconds and then dipped below the railing, never to appear again- giving fuel to the suppositions of some that they are in the habit of roosting on the bridge itself. 

A bit later, an immature (extensive dark speckling on belly, which is white in adults) flew northbound past us while we were at the 15.5 crossover.  It veered gradually eastward away from the bridge until we lost it behind the railing, which angles upwards there toward an overpass.

Not much else out there:  two northbound Purple Martins, three Rock Pigeons, a southbound Cattle Egret, a couple Laughing Gulls, a Brown Pelican, and five distant terns that looked like Royals.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Birding from the Causeway Crossovers

Spurred on by the recent Brown Booby sightings, which continued yesterday when 7 (!) were seen at mile 16.3 by Judy Shugart, I made arrangements with the Causeway authorities to stop on the crossovers at miles 13, 15.4, and 16.4 today for short scanning bouts of 10-15 minutes.

I got skunked by the boobies.  I did see one bird in the scope at a ridiculously great distance to the southwest from the 15.4 mile crossover that was a booby candidate, but it was so far I couldn't do anything with it. 

There were very few birds of any sort, mostly perched on structures in the water:
1 adult Brown Pelican
1 white bird, probably an egret, headed southwest
1 Laughing Gull
3 terns (2 probably Royal, 1 medium or large unidentified)

Still, it felt  cool to be able to scan from those crossovers, which I have been eye-ing up for decades!

(This is not normally permitted by the way, so please don't bird these crossovers on your own).


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Entering the... Week of No Migration?

Migration is stereotyped as occurring in spring and fall, with summer instead being a time of nesting activity, and winter of sedentary residence on the nonbreeding grounds. 

This is an oversimplification.  Even in the heart of winter, some species are shifting progressively south in an opportunistic fashion.  Yellow-rumped Warbler does so, and inland waterfowl are commonly recognized to progress southward from the northern states as freeze up drives them our way.  Irruptions- mass movements apparently driven by poor food conditions in the normal wintering grounds, famously of Canadian boreal finches and owls- can also be ongoing through the winter.  And before all this winter movement is concluded, the first northbound migrant Purple Martins reappear from the tropics at the tail end of January!

What about summer?  Is there a window when the last spring migrants have gone, but the first southbound fall migrants have yet to appear? 

The last of the spring migrants- notably certain shorebirds and terns- are now pulling out of Louisiana for points north.  The vanguard of southbound birds- notably certain shorebirds- might start appearing around month's end.

If any week is a candidate for Louisiana briefly becoming a migration-free zone, the next seven days are it.  But realistically, there are bound to still be migrants of some species passing through, somewhere in our borders, even this week.


If there is a week of the year

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Red-cockaded Woodpecker picture

I am posting today primarily to offer this wonderful photo of two Red-cockaded Woodpeckers from the Boy Scout Road site in Big Branch Marsh NWR, taken about a week ago by visiting birder Kevin Smith from Oregon.  I was showing him the roost/nest trees in the early morning, and we waited for about two hours before a group of four of the woodpeckers came in from the south and put on a show!

Note the orange leg bands- this is an endangered species, so the Fish and Wildlife Service bands them to keep track of the individuals.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Another twist in the post-Katrina Lower Ninth Ward Cardinal story

Today I spent a little over two hours in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, arguably the part of the metro area hardest hit by Katrina ten years ago.  It has grown up into a patchwork of new homes, old blighted structures, mowed lots, and tangled thickets. 

The most striking feature of today's visit was the numbers of territorial Northern Cardinals.  I counted 37 adult males, almost all singing to advertise territory (so attempting nesting).  In two locations, I found fledged broods.

This is especially interesting because the Cardinal, widespread and common in residential New Orleans before the storm, has been the hardest hit species.  Today, the species is so rare in Katrina-flooded residential areas of New Orleans and St. Bernard that I keep track of each one I hear about. 

So how ironic that the one residential area they have resurged in, is the 'hood hardest hit by the storm!  The amount of brush growing up there is presumably a reason for their success in the area.  I am not sure if there is any less pressure from the brood-parasitic Bronzed Cowbird (which targets Cardinals) here than elsewhere.  I saw one of this species, but only one.

Another appealing aspect of the area is the frequent passage of Gull-billed Terns (12 today) and Black Skimmers (2) over the area, apparently in transit between the Bayou Bienvenue marshes and the nesting colony on the Poland Street Wharf.  However, when I went to the wetland overlook at the end of Caffin, there were none working the open water there- not sure where exactly they are foraging.

Good birding,


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Least Tern count in Elmwood

I just made a scope scan of the tern colony on Levitz's rooftop in Elmwood, which is just off the cloverleaf intersection of Clearview x Earhardt.  I viewed it from a nearby building.

Today there were 18 sitting adult Least Terns, plus a pair tending two small downy young, and another downy young by itself.  So, evidence for 20 pairs.  There are probably more than that nesting at the site, since usually some nests will be unattended during a given scan.

Always fun to see! 

Good birding,


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill again at Causeway water retention site

As I drove over the Causeway water retention area (where Causeway crosses the Earhardt Expressway and Airline Highway in Metairie) early this afternoon, and looked west, I could see a Roseate Spoonbill was again present.  It's pink coloration was visible from the overpass, naked eye.

How cool!


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk nest near the Rivershack; Harahan nest fledges

Saturday I parked by the Rivershack in Old Jefferson to take a stroll on the levee, and heard a frail version of a Red-shouldered Hawk call overhead.  Since this can either be a young bird or a Blue Jay doing an immitation, I inspected the live oak that sprawled over the car.  There was a stick nest 45 feet up in the tree, with one young hawk visible in it!  Looks pretty close to fledging.

The next day I walked the river levee in Harahan, and had a look at the Ravan Rd Red-shouldered nest that I reported in an earlier post.  It is empty, and the two young hawks were in the adjacent batture.  One was on the cement slabs that reinforce the levee slope, bouncing around, apparently chasing bugs.  Young juvenile hawks do sometimes act goofy like this, although I have seen it more from young Cooper's Hawks than from this species in the past.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill at the Causeway storm water retention pond

This morning at 8 am and again just now at 1:30 PM, a Roseate Spoonbill was in the water retention pond underneath Causeway near its intersection with Airline Hwy in Metairie.  This is the same place I reported Semipalmated Sandpiper and Plover from a few weeks back.

From Airline Hwy westbound, turn left at the first light beyond the Causeway overpass (=Shrewsbury).  Take the dirt track that forks off and passes under the Earhardt Expressway; the bird is in the near end of the pool, in the company of five Black-necked Stilts (a new high count for the site).


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Crossing the Causeway? Keep an eye out for a Brown Booby!

There has been a peculiar spate of sightings in recent weeks along the Causeway to/from Mandeville, of a tropical seabird called a Brown Booby.

Up until just a few years ago, the Brown Booby was very rarely reported from our region- and entirely offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, never close enough to see from shore.  Then a rash of weird sightings began:  from Lake Calcasieu in southwest Louisiana, from Madisonville on Lake Pontchartrain, flying upriver below Venice, and even- the most bizarre- flying with geese in the rice country. 

The recent Causeway sightings began in late March, and have been clustered around mile markers 16-18, although the birds have occurred elsewhere along the bridge as well.

As you can see from the photos below (taken yesterday at marker 16.4- thanks Jody Shugart!), the species is distinctive looking, with dark brown upperparts, head, and chest.  The chest is crisply demarcated from its white belly.  Its pale bill is gradually tapered, and its tail is narrow.  The wings are long, and its wing beats fluid.   It is the size or a large gull, or a bit larger.

Nobody knows why these birds are suddenly turning up, nor how long the phenomenon will continue.

Keep your eyes open as you drive the Causeway!


Friday, May 22, 2015

Barred Owl nesting in residential New Orleans? Never say never!

If you had asked me a week ago whether Barred Owl nests anywhere in residential New Orleans, I would have categorically responded that it does not.  Although common in the swamps outside town, and also present (at least at times) in a large forest fragments deeper into the city, I have never caught hint of it occurring in nesting season in any residential 'hood.

So imagine my surprise earlier this week, when I was walking a minor residential street in Harahan looking for Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nests in the curbside oaks*, and looked up to see a Barred Owl resting quietly thirty five feet up in a water oak!  And another, presumably its mate, twenty yards away, lounging 40 feet up in a live oak.

A local resident said they have been around at least two years, and that he feeds them "locusts" by his streetlight, but has "not yet" gotten them to come take them from his hand!

This site is typical shade trees over manicured yard, nowhere near the batture or any forest fragment.

Pretty nice way for me to get humbled!


*three nests, by the way- all with large young

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 2: Sandpipers and rain

Rainy weather is widely recognized as a catalyst to improved shorebirding* .  The general paradigm is that migrating shorebirds are strong fliers, most of which will normally migrate overhead undetected, even into a headwind.  Rain is the one thing that will make them pause.  Rain may also create temporary pools that these birds can congregate in, especially on wide expanses of open lawn.  The grassy expanse known as the Exxon Fields on Grand Isle is the best such example in southeast Louisiana at this time- and at times attracts thousands of shorebirds.  Before Katrina, the athletic fields on the UNO east campus were good- but they have been encroached on by too much development in the last decade.

Today I went to check the storm water retention ponds at Causeway x Airline that I posted from several days ago.  The small collection of birds that has been hanging out there was augmented today by a flock of 25 Semipalmated Sandpipers, which were presumably pausing because of the rain.

One characteristic of shorebird rain fallouts is that they do not last long- birds often disappear as soon as the rain lets up, even the same day they put down. 

The earlier-reported Semipalmated Plover and pair of Lesser Yellowlegs continue, suggesting that there is indeed enough food there to make it worth an extended stay for some birds.


*the term "shorebird" is generally used by birders to refer to sandpipers, plovers, yellowlegs, and their kin- not large waders such as herons.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Collection of shorebirds developing at Causeway x Airline

An unusual set of circumstances has conspired to create some decent shorebird habitat right in the middle of Metairie.  It can be accessed from Airline Hwy, at the first light west of Causeway- turn toward the River on Shrewsbury, and watch for the rough dirt track that proceeds under Earhardt and along the pool.  Several months ago, parish personnel smoothed out the soil on the bed of the pool- it had been deeply furrowed.  Since the torrential rains of two weeks ago they have been actively pumping it out- revealing more expansive mudflats than have ever been here previously.

I have made three visits, most recently today, when the shorebirds included:
2 Black-necked Stilt
2 Killdeer
1 Semipalmated Plover
2 Lesser Yellowlegs
4 Least Sandpiper
3 Semipalmated Sandpiper

It ain't Bayou Sauvage or Grand Isle, but hey, nice to have some shorebird habitat in Metairie!  

The two previous visits also produced Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, and up to a dozen Leasts.

I have been checking this spot for years, without much in the way of shorebirds.  Maybe rains tonight will cause more to stop over!?


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mississippi Kites are everywhere!

It is always a joy when Mississippi Kites return in the spring, and in the past week or so the initial returning vanguard has swelled to become a multitude.  It seems I cannot drive anywhere in town without seeing them floating in the air! 

Yesterday, at 9:30 AM, I decided to keep count during my daily routine- just for kicks.  By day's end, I had tallied 28 kites!  The largest groups were of 8 and 7, both during a foray to Westwego; I had them in c. 15 separate locations throughout the day.

Surely New Orleans must be among the most kite-rich cities in the range of this species.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Tricks of the Trade #1: telling Bank and Rough-winged Swallows without seeing their throats

For the last few weeks, I have been seeing Northern Rough-winged Swallows zipping along the flooded batture of the Mississippi River.  Most were identifiable without seeing the species' classic field mark, the brown-washed throat that separates it from Bank Swallow- which sports a brown neck ring.  How?

Because they are both brown-backed, short-tailed, and give similar grating vocalizations, these two species are more easily confused with each other than with any other swallow.  Even if you can't see the throat, with practice a couple other differences will almost always enable a correct identification:  1)  the Roughwing is slightly larger, appearing less "compact" than Bank; 2) the back and fore wing (wing coverts)  of the Rough-winged are warmer brown, contrasting with the slightly darker rest of the wing; the Bank is more uniformly dark brown above.

These marks are insufficient for identifying these birds outside of their normal range or season- for that, you need the throat.  But for sorting through a flock or making rapid assessments, they are very useful distinctions. 

It will also help that from mid May through July, only Rough-wings will be in southeast Louisiana- Banks do not nest here.

Good birding,


Friday, May 1, 2015

Scouting report: West End park

For years I have been wanting to check out the potential for the large live oak stand and scrub-bordered pond at West End to act as a migrant trap.  Its position close to the lakefront could cause migrating birds to linger if they are reluctant to cross the water- a factor that I believe sometimes causes migrants to stop over in the woodlot farther east at UNO.  The north-ish winds yesterday provided a good situation for migrants to stop over, so I swung by in the morning.

I spend thirty minutes (845-915) searching the oaks and edges of the pond, to moderately encouraging results.  At the pond were a female Blue Grosbeak and male Indigo Bunting, both foraging on the paved walkway, and female Yellow and Black-and-White Warblers in the scrub.  I found a busy flock in the oaks by the amphitheater, that included two Red-eyed and one Yellow-throated Vireo, a Gray Catbird, a male Black-and-White Warbler, a female Orchard Oriole, and two male and two female Scarlet Tanagers.  Other birds of interest included foraging Barn Swallows, and presumably nesting Eastern Kingbird and Great Crested Flycatcher.

Not bad for a half hour; worth another visit!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Migrants in Harahan this morning- to my surprise

This morning I walked twenty minutes upstream on the levee of the Great River in Harahan, following my customary route from Elaine to the abandoned Colonial Club property, and back on the same path.  I was not expecting any real showing of passage migrants, since conditions had been good for northward movement last night and in general we get spring migrants stopping over under the opposite conditions- when opposing winds or widespread rain force birds to pause in our area and wait.

The first migrant was a Solitary Sandpiper on the flooded levee lawn, by the Kirby driveway (the only batture industry on this stretch).

Next were two female Indigo Buntings along the batture edge at Doyle, while a Red-eyed Vireo sang in the woods behind them.

Across from Donelon, a Yellow-breasted Chat sang its weird conglomeration of phrases from the dense understory.

Across from O K Street, a singing White-eyed Vireo (judged a migrant because it has not been there previously).

I reached the far edge of the country club, and turned around.  None of the birds detected outbound showed again on the walk back, but others did:

Fifty Double-crested Cormorants crossed overhead northbound at medium height in an almost perfect V - in the act of migrating, I expect.

Moments later, six Lesser Yellowlegs came over low southbound- seemingly new arrivals prospecting habitat.

A female Blue Grosbeak chinked from a weedy edge on the club property.

Then the oddest sighting of the morning:  an Orchard Oriole came past above the tree tops eastbound.  As I watched in my binoculars, it ascending higher and higher for 1-2 minutes, at its peak probably beyond unaided vision.  It wheeled slowly clockwise all the while, making a 3/4 turn, and finally fell back toward earth.  I do not recall seeing this before- was it trying to get an overview of the area, to look for better oriole habitat?

A Prothonotary Warbler had begun singing sweet sweet sweet sweet across from Doyle.

Finally, as I stepped up to my car at Elaine, a male and two (four?) female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks moved between trees in the adjacent yards.  As they did, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped past at canopy level, headed for the batture.

Not a bad migrant tally.

Other notables included the continued singing of the White-eyed Vireo across from Elaine (where it has been doing so since late winter), two Red-bellied Woodpeckers going in and out of a cavity in a snag near Kirby, a drake Wood Duck in a tree (likely nest site) near the same spot, and the presence of white downy hawk-lets in the Red-shouldered nest at Ravan.  Ten Yellow-crowned Night-Herons flying around on the country club  suggested there may be a nesting aggregation somewhere nearby.

Busy walk, in the best way.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Least Terns return to rooftop colonies at UNO and Elmwood

I have been watching the Least Tern colony sites at UNO and Elmwood in nervous anticipation this month, hoping that the birds would return to these rooftops, both of which have been occupied for the past two summers.

Yesterday, the amount of tern activity in the vicinity of Milneburg Hall at UNO was pretty encouraging- I highly suspect they will use that roof again this nesting season.

This morning, there were finally birds visible again above the Levitz roof in Elmwood, visible from the Earhardt/Clearview cloverleaf ramp as I drove by.  Seemed to be about 8-10 birds low over the roof.

Tern colonies are notorious for moving from place to place year to year, and neither of these sites produced many young last year- so I feared they would be abandoned.  But it appears not to be the case.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Grand Isle today: migrants galore!

I drove down today to take part in the annual Grand Isle Migratory Bird Festival.  Although the morning was rainy, the afternoon did not disappoint: there were loads of migrant songbirds everywhere.  In most of the Landry-Leblanc tract of The Nature Conservancy's Lafitte Woods Preserve, a shady maritime live oak forest, there were so many birds it seemed every six paces we would kick another bunch out of the foliage, and that at any moment we had to pick between a half dozen we might want to look at.

The migrants were dominated by throngs of Gray Catbirds, Wood Thrushes, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings.  In one spot 100+ migrants zipped across the track in front of us in response to the approach of another birder through the woods.   In that same area, two dozen or so Green Herons, new arrivals resting after crossing the Gulf, jumped from the scrub as we moved through.  Lots of other species were around, including a variety of warblers:  I saw a dozen warbler species myself, and the total list of by festival participants topped 20.

These sorts of "fallouts" are weather dependent, occurring most often when inclement conditions (such as today's rain) makes the birds' trans-Gulf crossing strenuous, causing them to make first available landfall.  There did not appear to be any exodus on the radar tonight, so there will probably still be lots of migrants in the Grand Isle woods tomorrow.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Nine Mile Point grain elevator birds

This morning I took a stroll along the Mississippi River levee on the West Bank at Nine Mile Point, walking from the grain elevator for a distance of a half mile upstream.

The backwater by the elevator  was crowded with Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, perhaps 1000.  Four Fulvous Whistling-Ducks among them were unusual for southeast Louisiana.  Seven Blue-winged Teal were also mixed in (six drakes and a hen), as was a comically large brood of Wood Ducks- the hen was followed by 14-15 small ducklings.  Five Lesser Scaup remained on the river, lingering past the normal March departure of their kind.

Shorebirds were also using the edges of the backwater:  20 Lesser and 1 Greater Yellowlegs, 10 Black-necked Stilts, and 15 Least, 5 Solitary, and 3 Spotted Sandpipers  A Red-shouldered Hawk called loudly from a low tree, a Painted Bunting sang from another, and two or three pairs of Eastern Bluebirds frequented open perches along the levee.  A circling flock of 17 Black Vultures appeared to be rising from a nocturnal roost in the batture willows, while ten or so Tree Swallows foraged beneath them.

All birds were seen from the paved trail on the levee top- the batture itself is posted.

Good birding,


Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Mississippi Kite; other Harahan notes this morning

This morning at 7 am I noticed a Mississippi Kite perched on a wire crossing the Mississippi River levee in Harahan.  My first of the spring- they will be common in residential areas within a few weeks.

Also surprising were 28 White-faced/Glossy Ibis commuting past, headed southeast- very unusual this far into the city.

The batture was busy with migrants this morning; I noted these without leaving the walkway:

1 singing Yellow-throated Vireo
1 singing Red-eyed Vireo
15 Indigo Bunting
2 Rose-breasted Grosbeak (sitting quietly in tall snags)
4 Orchard Oriole

Good birding,


Monday, April 13, 2015

Apparent exodus of migrating birds this evening

Judging from the unfiltered (ie, birds not removed) radar available from Slidell on, the migrants that have been hold up with us the last few days have departed northward this evening.  Check out northward movement of the two major green regions between the first (836 pm) and second (1013 pm) images below from this evening.  The mass of (apparent) birds south of the Lake Pontchartrain crosses the lake between the two images, and the mass over southern Mississippi progresses northward.

This is pretty typical- when decent conditions (lack of opposing wind or active precip) are available in early evening, birds will use them to continue north during migration.   These would be mostly small landbirds- warblers, buntings, thrushes, orioles, etc. 

Hopefully more will replace them as the crummy weather induces more to stop over!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Early signs: some migrants this morning

My early morning stroll along the Mississippi River levee in Harahan this morning under glowery skies and drizzle produced a few passage migrants:
3 Orchard Oriole high in a snag (adult male, one year old male, and a female)
1 Wood Thrush (singing its flute-like, resonant ee-o-lay)
1 White-eyed Vireo (singing its typical chip-weedoo-chip)

In addition, the small flock of Blue-winged Teal has grown to 5 males and 2 females. 

It will be interesting to see what reports emerge from our region today- it is often birdy when north winds (which often induce migrants arriving from a Gulf crossing to pause in our area) and rain (ditto) coincide with a weekend when birders can get afield!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Bald Eagle over West Metairie Ave

This afternoon, while on West Metairie eastbound between Rooseveldt and David, and looked up to see the massive silhouette of a Bald Eagle circling rather low over the road.   It was a full adult, with white head and tail (which take four years to acquire).  It dwarfed the crow that was harassing it.

The only known urban nests in our area are in Orleans, nowhere near this sighting.  It could have a nest somewhere outside town, or maybe not even be nesting, but its presence is intriguing- could there be an unreported nest in urban East Jeff?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Honey Island this morning

I spent about two hours in Honey Island Swamp this morning with some visiting birders.  The usual dawn chorus did not disappoint; the sheer volume of spring bird song here is always a treat. 

We stopped at each of the first seven bridges.  Woodpeckers were everywhere, as usual, led by Red-bellied, and Red-headed, and including Pileated (vocalizing and drumming in the distance) and Downy.  By imitating them, I was able to get 4-5 Barred Owls to start a prolonged bout of hooting to each other back and forth across the road.  White-eyed Vireos were singing everywhere, along with a scattering of Red-eyeds.  Most of the nesting neotropical warblers are back; we heard or saw lots of Prothonotary Warblers, and several each of Hooded, Swainson's, and Northern Parula.  A single Kentucky sang in the distance.  No American Redstarts yet.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were building a nest 30' up in a small tree at bridge 3 in plain sight; a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nest was also conspicuous at bridge 7.  A female Ruby-throated Hummer appeared to be gathering nest material as well.

Good stuff!


Monday, April 6, 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk nest, and Bald Eagle perched, in Harahan

This morning on a walk along the Mississippi River levee in Harahan, I was treated to an adult (or near adult- it seems to still have some dark on the tail tip) Bald Eagle perched high in a naked tree in the batture off the end of the Colonial Club golf course.  An all-female flock of 37 Red-winged Blackbirds was scattered through the same tree crown, seemingly unconcerned about their mammoth companion.  Three Blue-winged Teal were in the nearby flood waters along the levee base, where a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows were also zipping around.  One Roughwing stopped to gather nest material, and carried it off toward the river. 

A mile or so downstream, a Red-shouldered Hawk was adding a stick to a nest at the corner of Ravan x Riverside.  This nest is 35 feet up in a stately 70 foot pine that sits only  a few feet from the actual street corner.  Also in that immediate vicinity:  my first Green Heron of the spring, three White-winged Doves (which have been regular there over the last few weeks), and a Northern Flicker repeatedly giving its long-call from high in a batture snag. 


Monday, March 30, 2015

Update on the Pontchartrain Park nesting eagles and waders

Last Friday I swung by Pontchartain Park (aka Bartholomew Golf Course, in Gentilly by SUNO) to check on its two main nesting attractions.

The Bald Eagle nest looks poised for success again this year: a nestling was perched a few feet outside the nest while an adult sat above it in the same tree.  The young bird is already adult sized.  This is their second year at this site.

At the wader colony in the lake near the south end of the park, 118+ Great Egret nests were being attended by adults.  No chicks visible yet.  The adults were posturing, spreading their aigrettes, etc- quite a treat.  Normally other species join them and begin nesting in April;  on Friday there were small numbers of loafing White Ibis, Cattle and Snowy Egrets, and Tricolored and Black-crowned Night-Herons- maybe the early representatives of what is to come.  Still small flocks of American Coot in the rookery lake.  Northern Flicker and Loggerhead Shrike on the golf course adjacent.

Good birding,


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Swarming swallows in Bayou Sauvage

This morning I walked with Dave Muth out to South Point in Bayou Sauvage NWR.  This is where the railroad bridge leaves for Slidell in extreme New Orleans East. 

We were hoping for some migratory movement across the lake, and did see a flock of eight Anhingas and a group of four Little Blue Herons that appeared to be crossing.  But the most striking feature of the visit was the impressive swarm of swallows that were foraging over the levee and marshes, sitting out in the emergent grasses, and even hunkered down on the cement flood control structure to gather warm solar rays.  They were overwhelmingly Tree Swallows- 400 plus- with healthy numbers of Barns, Cliffs, and Purple Martins, and three Northern Rough-wingeds.  Cliffs were conspicuously back in residence at their nesting colonies at the Hwy 11 overpass over I-10, and the "crabbing bridge" nearby.  Oddly, none were yet in evidence at their colony farther west at Almonaster x Paris Road. 

The usual marsh birds were in attendance along the walk out to South Point, with Clapper Rails calling, liberally scattered American Coots and Blue-winged Teal, groups of four each of Mottled Ducks and Northern Shovelers, six circling Anhingas, scores of White Ibis working the muddy shallows, etc...


Friday, March 27, 2015

Three Swallow-tailed Kites over City Park

At 9:50 this morning, as I was driving up Wisner along City Park, I was surprised and delighted to see three Swallow-tailed Kites together circling over the road.  They were just north of Filmore.  One of them seemed low enough that it might have just taken off from a perch in the vicinity.  I pulled over on the shoulder, and followed one in my binoculars for a few minutes while it drifted eastward across Bayou St. John and over Gentilly.

This species winters in South America, and returns to the USA after crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  It nests on our North Shore, but only occurs on the South Shore as a passage migrant- March and April are by far the most likely times to see them south of Lake Pontchartrain.  

Just up the road, thirty or so Chimney Swifts were foraging over the grass- also recently returned from the tropics.

Good birding,


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oddly cozy Merlin and Kestrel

Early this morning I again walked the batture levee in Harahan.  It has flooded extensively since my last visit two weeks ago.  Newly returned migrants included a Northern Rough-winged Swallow that passed overhead giving its buzzy call note, and a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that stood stock-still in the floodwaters of the batture woods.

The biggest surprise came in finding an American Kestrel and a Merlin perched five feet apart in the crown of a tall leafless pecan.  The tree was about 45 feet tall.  It was in the batture across from the southwest corner of the country club property.  Neither bird seemed concerned about the other's presence- the Merlin sat still as it gathered the early morning rays, and the Kestrel preened.  Both were males.  Neither nest in Harahan- Kestrels do so as close as the Florida Parishes, but Merlins no closer than the Canadian border region.

Other highlites included two White-winged Doves, growing numbers of Cedar Waxwings (150 or so, including 15 busily bathing), and 350+ Lesser Scaup in a series of flocks flying up-river at low-medium height.  Birdsong is still intensifying; a dozen Cardinals were singing between Elaine and Colonial Club Drive.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Honey Island today

I spent a few hours in Honey Island Swamp today with some visiting birders.  The weather was beautiful, and the foliage is still early enough along that we could see a good distance back into the swamp from the elevated closed highway (Old Hwy 11) that traverses the area within the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area.

As usual for this habitat, a highlight was the volume and variety of bird song- led by Carolina Wrens, Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, White-eyed Vireos, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers in approximate descending abundance. 

There were striking numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers- a species of relatively open woodlands that has essentially colonized the Pearl since its canopy was opened by Hurricane Katrina.  They seemed to be nearly everywhere we stopped, chasing each other about, tee-ing up on snags, and inspecting holes.

A number of tropical migrants have returned.  Northern Parulas were all over the place, with several nicely plumaged males low enough to offer good views, and many others belting their buzzy songs from the still essentially leafless canopy.  A few Prothonotary Warblers were also around, with one male showing off his golden plumage at close range.  Two pairs of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were at bridge number 7; one pair was erecting their crown and back plumes in display.

There were healthy numbers of wintering species still present, with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet still around.  A couple Blue-headed Vireos were singing, and a flock of White-throated Sparrows haunted the understory.

Good birding,


Saturday, March 14, 2015

More migrants have returned

Today I saw a spattering of newly returned migrants around the city:

Two pairs of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were at their usual nesting site in the big live oaks just east of the UNO campus.  They were spreading their back plumes, posturing, and grabbing sticks.  Love is in the air!

A Barn Swallow was sitting on a wire where Harrison Ave crosses the Marconi canal.  This is another traditional nesting site.

Three adult Little Blue Herons flying high overhead at West End early this morning were, I suspect, newly arriving migrants- rather than commuters from our wintering population.  They were flying higher than commuters usually fly, and not headed toward any logical commuting destination (headed out over the lake).  Six more far out over the lake westbound also seemed to be in an odd place- perhaps also new returnees.

Elsewhere in the state, various observers have reported returning Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, and even an American Redstart.

The momentum is building!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

First fledged brood of the spring: Pied-billed Grebes in Joe Brown Park

Glenn Ousett has reported the first fledged brood that I have heard of this spring:  four downy young Pied-billed Grebes accompanied by a pair of adults at the south lagoon in Joe Brown Park.  This is off Read Boulevard in New Orleans East.

This observation is also noteworthy in that it is the only urban (inside the hurricane levee) nesting site I know of for this species.  They nest sparingly in wetlands elsewhere in southeast Louisiana, such as in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

Lots of other species are now into their nesting cycles, so other fledglings will not be far behind.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

More migrants reported back

A trickle of migrants have been reported returning to southern Louisiana, joining the Purple Martins that have been back for some weeks.

Two flocks of Swallow-tailed Kites were reported moving east through St. Tammany.  These are freshly back from crossing the Gulf, and may be headed east to Florida where their nesting population densities are higher than in our neck of the woods.  Another was reported from Avery Island.  They are often reported back in March, and will continue passing through April, with some staying to nest on the North Shore.

Hummingbird guru Nancy Newfield reports that two male Rubythroats have visited her study areas- another typical March returnee, although her normal first returns are not until March 10.

Finally, a male Indigo Bunting was reported back in New Iberia.  This species will not peak until next month, when it will be arguably our most common migrant.

There are probably birds coming in across the Gulf this afternoon, since these nice tailwinds extend to the Yucatan (from whence they often depart) and up thousands of feet (where they usually fly when migrating).  It is common for the males of a species to migrate first in spring, so they are likely mostly of that sex.  From here, migration will gradually build until it peaks in late April. 

Good birding,


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Wood Ducks at likely nest tree in Harahan

This morning in the fog in Harahan I heard a strange sound, similar to the muffled fussing noises made by young woodpeckers in a tree cavity.  I approached the large roadside Sweet Gum they were emanating from, to find a pair of Wood Ducks perched 35 feet up in front of a tree cavity.  The tree is alive and of substantial girth, but its top half is missing- apparently snapped by some past windstorm.  The noise was coming from the hen Woodie, whose slightly-open bill quivered as she produced it.  I retrieved my camera and returned, to find the male had taken over making the noise.  It seemed they were prospecting this as a nesting site.   

Wood Ducks nest regularly in residential areas near the River; I once stopped traffic on River Road near Jefferson Playground to let a hen and her entourage of ducklings cross onto the levee and then into the batture.  Someone told me that years ago the eaves of their grandfather's house in the first block off River Road in Jefferson was a regular nesting site.  The spot I saw them in this morning was much farther from the River- if used, it will require quite a trek for the young.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk on nest- City Park

Yesterday morning I stopped by the northwest corner of City Park (Marconi x Robert E Lee), where I spent 20 minutes working the bald cypress glade and the northern end of the bayou along Marconi Drive.
The most exciting find was an active Red-shouldered Hawk nest- a big clump of sticks about 35 feet up in a cypress.  It is ~30 yards south of the dirt driveway that leaves Marconi, and also ~30 yards into the woods from the levee edge.  One adult was moving from tree to tree nearby, keeping tabs on me; the other was sitting low on the nest- usually a sign of incubating- with her tail sticking out visibly over its south rim. 
Finding few land birds among the cypresses, I walked across Marconi to scan the lagoon.  A couple dozen swimming birds there included 11 Gadwall, 10 Lesser Scaup, 1 Ring-necked Duck (male), and a Pied-billed Grebe.  An Anhinga was sitting on the far shore, wings stretched to dry.
Songbird activity was mainly concentrated in the scattered trees along the bayou edge, where a mixed flock included 3 Carolina Chickadees, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 2 Downy Woodpeckers, and a bright male Pine Warbler.  A Yellow-rumped Warbler and a very vocal Eastern Phoebe were loosely affilitated with this group.  A duo of Loggerhead Shrikes sat quietly in a tree, apparently paired in anticipation of nesting.
My main reason for coming to this spot was that an Ash-throated Flycatcher has been reported spending the winter here.  No luck finding it today, but that just gives me an excuse to make another visit.
Good birding,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Birding visit to the batture in Harahan

Early this morning I spent 50 minutes walking the edge of the batture in Harahan, from Elaine St to the closed Colonial Club property and back.  Gray skies, tough light, but lots of songbird activity.  I stayed on the edge, although lots of small trails looked like tempting avenues to probe into these riparian woods.

Not surprisingly, Yellow-rumped Warblers were chipping everywhere, accompanied (as they usually are) by Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Orange-crowned Warblers.  I saw five or so Downy Woodpeckers, and there was a healthy scattering of Cardinals, some singing.

Perhaps the most interesting sight was an unusual feeding assemblage of blackbirds (15 Red-winged, 2 Brown-headed Cowbird) and four Northern Flickers on the levee grass.  This is a large number of flickers for one spot, and I don't recall them associating with blackbird flocks.  A few sparrows (which spooked before they were identified) and a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers joined in.  Twenty five yards beyond was a Red-shouldered Hawk- also on the grass!  All this action was by the entrance to the Kirby facility.

Other mentionables:
1 (other) Red-shouldered Hawk- allowed ridiculously close approach
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
4 Eastern Phoebe
1 White-eyed Vireo (singing c. across from Elaine)
1 American Robin
1 Brown Thrasher (singing by Kirby)
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Palm Warbler
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow

notably absent:  Carolina Wren (though one was singing across the levee in a residential yard)

Good birding,


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Big cowbird flock regular at busy intersection

Since December, I have regularly been seeing cowbirds at the small roadside feeding station at Hickory Ave x Jefferson Hwy in Harahan.  I posted on December 17 that I had seen 25 or so there, almost all Bronzed.  As the winter has worn on, the Bronzed have disappeared but Brown-headeds have grown in number- today reaching 165, approximately half males and half females.  Some Bronzed may reappear soon, as they are one of our earliest migrants to return each spring.

It is weird to see so many birds foraging so close to traffic.  Today there were even a few chasing seed out into the northbound lane during a red light.  Despite the numbers, I have only seen four species at this feeding station:  the two cowbirds, Monk Parakeet, and House Sparrow.

Good birding,


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Purple Martins return to the metro area

Today there were four male Purple Martins circling and calling above the martin houses at Little Woods (Hayne Blvd x Hwy 47 in New Orleans East).  They are back from South America, our first spring migrants to return! 

It could be as long as 2-3 weeks before any other species that depart for the winter return.

Also at Little Woods were an Osprey (sitting on one of the remnant pylons in Lake Pontchartrain), a dozen or so Buffleheads, and eight Common Loons.  A substantial number of Forster's Terns were moving westward out over the lake, and there were the usual loafing Brown Pelicans and gulls (Herring, Ring-billed, and Laughing).

Good birding,


Friday, February 13, 2015

Great Horned Owl eases the pain of traffic jam

This evening I was passenger in a car on I-310 northbound, just short of the Hwy 61 interchange.  Traffic was gridlocked by some unseen drama on the road ahead.  As light was failing, I tried to lighten the mood by announcing to the driver that it would be a good time to spot a Great Horned or Barred Owl in the surrounding baldcypress swamp forest.  On cue, a large silhouette appeared on the tip of a 40 foot cypress snag not far off to our right.  I put my binoculars on it:  Great Horned Owl!  Its white "chin" patch fairly glowed in the gathering dusk.

Great Horneds become active at dusk this time of year, and it is always worth keeping your eyes open if you are out in the marshes or swamps at evening twilight.  Another place I have seen them in such circumstances is on the north side of I-10 in the LaBranche marshes (between Kenner and Laplace).

Good birding,


Friday, February 6, 2015

Report from "Katrina Lots" of Lower Ninth Ward

Last Saturday I took an hour and a half and walked/birded 1.6 miles of former densely populated  residential streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, the part of New Orleans most badly hit by Hurricane Katrina over nine years ago.  My route was on N. Dorgenois from the old school property (Andry St) east to St. Maurice (another abandoned school), then south two blocks and back west on N. Tonti to Andry, and back north two blocks to the starting point.  I formally surveyed birds here for several years after the storm, but had not done much here in the last four years or so. 

My main interest was to see how the bird community had changed, both since before the storm (when it was densely populated residential streets), and since immediately after the storm (when it had very few birds of any sort).

I am pleased to report that there were good numbers of wintering landbirds.  The species composition now is a much like a rural weedy/scrubby habitat, thanks to the old field succession happening on many lots.  Densities of characteristically rural species were also pretty similar to those typically found at rural sites. 

Species seen that are normally scarce or absent in urban residential New Orleans:

Gray Catbird- two in as many places. 

House Wren- three in as many places. 

Savannah Sparrow- a flock of 22, just east of the described route. 

White-throated Sparrow- six in one flock. 
Swamp Sparrow- Nineteen in 13 places! 
Red-winged Blackbird.  One singing, apparently advertising a nesting territory. 

Notes on regular urban species-

White-winged Dove.  This species has now colonized the area in numbers; I saw them in six places, 29 total.  This was higher than my count of Mourning Doves.

Northern Cardinal.  This species was decimated by Katrina and is still very scarce in other Katrina-flooded neighborhoods, but they have been surprisingly successful at recolonizing the Lower Ninth.  Eight places, 13 total. 

House Sparrow.  Still none!  This species was presumably very common in these residential hoods before the storm, but they had conspicuously tanked immediately after and have not returned.

In addition, the overall diversity of typically urban species appeared to be up- I found both crow species, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, etc.  

Good birding, Peter

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Report from Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle interpretive overlook in Lower Ninth Ward

Today around 10 AM I scanned the wetlands visible from the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle interpretive overlook in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.  This relatively new birding spot is at the north end of Caffin Street.  Interpretive signage there describes the problem of coastal land loss, including the coversion of this site from bald cypress swamp in the 1930's to open water with "ghost" cypress snags and stumps today. 

Hundreds of waterbirds were spread across the wetland.  Some were fairly close in, but the bulk required scoping.  I was surprised and delighted to see a raft of 465 Bonaparte's Gulls sitting on the water.  I have not seen a flock of this species approaching this size in our area before.  They were by far the most numerous gull at the site, although there were a handful each of the more normal species (Ring-billed, Laughing, and Herring).

It was also nice to see 80 or so loafing American White Pelicans.  Two Brown Pelicans were present, and  thirty or so Double-crested Cormorants were teed up on snags.  Four Anhingas were perched along the distant tree line.

Ducks were dominated by 130 Lesser Scaup, 80 Gadwall, and 70 Northern Shovelers.  Mixed among them were six Ruddy Ducks, two Ring-necked Ducks, a single hen Bufflehead, and a lone female Hooded Merganser.  Eight Pied-billed Grebes and  a few score American Coots rounded out the tally of swimming birds, although an additional hundred or so ducks were present but so distant and back-lit that I declined to wrestle with them.

A shrieking Osprey landed atop a cypress snag.  Single Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks stuck to the edge.

This is an out of the way spot seldom visited by birders; it should probably be on our agenda more often!   I also worked the overgrown (former) residential areas of the Lower Ninth; look for that report in a subsequent post.

Good birding,


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Common Loon pics from UNO

Steven Liffman took these Common Loon pics recently in the London Avenue Canal adjacent the University of New Orleans- very nice.

Loons are winter residents in our area.  Although Red-throated and Pacific Loons have also been reported along the Gulf Coast, they are only vagrants here.  Because >99% of loons here are Common, it is generally assumed that any loon will be this species.

Common Loons are among our largest swimming birds, although they are often far enough from shore that their size is not obvious.  For birders just getting started, separation from Double-crested Cormorants can be a challenge when the birds are sitting on the water.  Cormorant necks are longer and thinner, and often show a slight crook; their beaks are typically held upward at a slight angle (loons are shorter and thicker necked, with a smooth neck shape, and hold their beak horizontal).  Adult cormorants are also black on the fore neck, whereas winter loons are whitish there (though so are immature cormorants).  Loons are infrequently seen in flight (I typically see <10 flying per year), whereas cormorants- solo or flocked- are common sights in the air.  Loons never perch out of water in our part of the country- whereas cormorants commonly hang out on electrical towers, pipes, pylons, etc. 


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bald Eagle perched at City Park

Boyd Crochet sent me these photos of a Bald Eagle he recent photographed at the northeast corner of City Park, taken from across Bayou St. John.  Eagles nest in Pontchartrain Park, but not yet City Park, so it is an unusual place to find a perched bird.  Over the last few years I have received a picture of one on a light post on the lakefront, and seen one atop the Engineering Building at UNO, so they do land in our area from time to time.  However, they are still most often seen merely overhead.

Keep in mind that when you see a huge raptor with a dark body and white head perched anywhere in southeast Louisiana, and especially in New Orleans, the odds are still in favor of its being an Osprey rather than a Bald Eagle.  Ospreys have a wide black stripe running from the back of the head forward through the eye, whereas Bald Eagles' heads are all white (in adults).  

Nice going, Boyd!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Woodlands Conservancy netting visit

Today I paid a visit to the netting operation at the Woodlands Conservancy in Belle Chase.  This is an open invite, and happens two weekends per month- one at the Woodlands trail area, and another at a second nearby site also in the English Turn area.  It is a nice spot to spend a morning, surrounded by woods and thickets, without any reminders that you are in an urban area.  There were about eight or so volunteers, led by bander Don Norman, checking eleven nets.

There was a steady stream of birds to look at in the hand, including various Cardinals, a Gray Catbird, and an Eastern Phoebe.  The latter had been netted two months earlier, and was recaptured today.  I had to leave at 9:30 or so, and they probably caught more after I left.

The woods also featured a vocal Pileated Woodpecker heard repeatedly in the distance, and a singing White-eyed Vireo. As I was driving out, a one year old Bald Eagle (mottled brown and white) circled near the road.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Merlin and Pipits by Ochsner

Today as I sat at the light at Deckbar x Jefferson Highway, facing the River, a Merlin came hurtling past at around tree top level, left to right.  All I saw was silhouette, but the pointed wings and small size pinned it as a Merlin or Kestrel and the behavior- flying fast and hard throughout the observation- are diagnostic of the former.  This is one identification where plumage markings are usually unnecessary- the behavior of small falcons will reveal the species.  Kestrels are much less forceful in flight.

Merlins are winter residents here, and are uncommon in the urban landscape but present every year.

Yesterday, a flock of thirty or so American Pipits was along the levee in the same general area (a bit closer to Jefferson Playground), seen from River Road.

Good birding,


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Refugee Bluebirds?

Late this afternoon in Harahan, I heard the distinctive mellow notes of Eastern Bluebirds overhead.  A glance upward revealed a loose flock of five, headed approximately westward. 

Bluebirds winter only in very small numbers south of Lake Pontchartrain, and typically not in such an urban context.  My guess is that they were new arrivals, prospecting for habitat, driven south from St. Tammany or somewhere else to the north by the cold snap.  Such opportunistic cold weather southward retreats are well known, though more often discussed for waterfowl (shifting south as water freezes over) and boreal finches and raptors (searching for food).  In our area Killdeer are perhaps most often identified making such movements; during last winter's January cold snap, a flock of a thousand was reported on the Chalmette Battlefield during the battle reenactment.  Mid-winter southward movements have also been documented for Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Good birding,


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Unseasonable Yellow-throated Warbler at UNO

I would not be surprised to spy a Yellow-throated Warbler in summer in a cypress swamp outside the city, or in a shade tree anywhere within the city proper in spring or fall, when a few stop over on migration.  But I was surprised to notice one on campus as I walked to my office at UNO today.  It was with a small songbird flock at the northeast corner of campus, in a row of live oaks that fringe Lakeshore Drive. 

Yellow-throated Warblers are rare winter visitors to southeast Louisiana, but a few usually turn up somewhere.  This is my second winter record from UNO, the first being a bird that overwintered near the Fine Arts building in the early to mid 1990s.

Good birding,


Friday, January 2, 2015

Ninety American White Pelicans over Old Jefferson

Moments ago, I pulled into my driveway in residential Old Jefferson to find a flock of 90 American White Pelicans wheeling in lazy circles over my roof.  They were awesome- not far up- perhaps a hundred feet over the rooftops.  After I admired them for a few minutes, they set their sights westward and moved off.

Although white pelicans are numerous in the wetlands of the delta and easily found south and east of the city, I am only treated to this sight over the city itself a few times each year, as birds pass over, presumably commuting to feeding areas.  Made my heart jump in my chest!