Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Seasonal milestone: first Mourning Dove calling

A few moments ago I went outside to let my dogs into the yard, and sat for a moment on the steps.  The first sound I noticed was the soft coo coo-ooo, cooo cooo cooo of a Mourning Dove, their breeding season advertisement.  The first I have heard for the upcoming nesting cycle.

Okay, so I suppose it is after the solstice, and by that standard we are sliding ever so slightly toward spring astronomically.  But the bald cypress are still not bald- indeed they remain in peak foliage coloration- and the sharpest bite of winter temperatures (however blunt it may be at our latitude) is still ahead of us.  

Every December it strikes me funny when I see the first signs that my local yard birds are beginning to think in terms of nesting, when I am still thinking "ahead" to winter.  


Friday, December 16, 2016

The DDT Survivor's Club

During the past week I was treated to almost daily observations of some terrific species while running errands in the city, all species that we almost lost in the 1960s due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT.

Tuesday-  While sitting at the stoplight waiting to exit Ochsner Hospital onto River Rd, I was afforded a great look at an adult Bald Eagle flying rather low downstream along the Mississippi River levee.  After a few moments it turned to cross the river, and flew beneath a Brown Pelican that was circling high above.

Wednesday morning- Driving the River Road on the West Bank side, I was surprised to see two Bald Eagles perched cozily together on the top of a light pole atop the levee.  They were smack on the Westwego-Harvey town line.  One was adult, the other still had lots of dusky on its white head- a three year old bird, I would guess.

Wednesday afternoon- an Osprey was hovering vigorously over the drainage canal at Earhardt and David in Metairie.

Wednesday- Preparing to turn onto David Drive from Veterans in Kenner near dusk, the traffic light gave me just enough time to grab my binocs and focus in on a Peregrine Falcon that was sitting on the guy wires beneath the Jefferson Parish water tower.

Thursday-  another adult Bald Eagle on the West Bank, this time atop a tall utility pole on Lapalco, near its terminus at Hwy 90 in Avondale.

When I was growing up and learning to bird in western Massachusetts, Peregrines were in the depth of their pesticide woes.  They had almost legendary status; every sighting afforded bragging rights, and most years I had none.  Bald Eagles were so scarce there was only one place in the state (Quabbin Reservoir) where they occurred regularly, and trips out to see them (scoped at a great distance) were an event.   At their low point in southeast Louisiana, the one remaining eagle pair at White Kitchen was (I am told) regarded quite special as well.   In the 1970s I wrote a letter to the author of Birds of Nova Scotia after a family trip to the Maritimes, to report some Osprey sightings- his species account had so emphasized their demise that their whereabouts seemed worth reporting.

When I arrived in New Orleans in 1991. Brown Pelicans had not yet resumed wintering on Lake Pontchartrain.  Hard to imagine today, when one can see scores- or more- in a casual visit!

How great to have all four species around.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Waterbird bonanza at Bayou Sauvage (video)

There has been a tremendous concentration of waterbirds this fall at a particular impoundment of the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.  It takes about a half hour to walk to a vantage point.

Across Chef Hwy from the kiosks/restrooms at the western refuge boundary (at the Snowy Egret sign) is a gated road (Recovery Rd) that heads south, tracking just inside the refuge boundary.  About a half hour walk in, past the dilapidated shed, a levee on the left can be climbed for a view of the spectacle.

Great waterbird concentrations are to be expected at this spot whenever there is a prolonged dry spell, so that lots of shoreline mud gets exposed for sandpipers and the open water becomes shallow enough for larger waders and dabbling ducks.  I am not sure how much rain it has received this weekend, and what effect that will have, but I expect it to remain good.

This video, taken by LSU professor Van Remsen, gives a feel for the enormity of it: