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!