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!