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!