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.