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