#360-363 on the New Orleans CBC

Saturday I joined David Muth, my brother Tommy Harold, and about a dozen others for the New Orleans Christmas Bird Count. Over the course of the day, the various teams tallied up 139 species, including four personal life birds and a state first record.

We met at 6:00 A.M. at the McDonald’s off the Reed Blvd. I-10 exit (New Orleans East for non-locals) to divide up areas and arrange teams. McDonald’s wasn’t open because their computers were down, but they let us in to organize matters anyway. We were a little short handed because one team leader was stuck in Colorado due to the Denver airport mess. Tommy and I joined up with count leader David Muth to cover Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge and areas west to about Lakefront Airport.

We started the morning at Seabrook Bridge just before 7:00. David knew this as the most reliable place to find Caspian Tern and Black Skimmer, though we had to get there early before they took off hunting breakfast. We found 5 Caspian Terns (my first life bird of the day), 20 Black Skimmers, and 1 Royal Tern. We also tallied 50 Ring-billed Gulls, 5 Herring Gulls, 2 Brown Pelicans, 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 1 Great Blue Heron, 85 American Coots, 102 Laughing Gulls, and several Double-crested Cormorants. (Aside from the singletons, numbers are best estimates. Birds kept flying in and out making it hard to get a perfect count.)

Brown Pelicans, American Coots

Seabrook Bridge was at the Western edge of our area, but since the winds were blowing from the North, David decided to race over the eastern edge next to pick up early flights of passerines that had overshot their marks during the night. We took I-10 to Irish Bayou and entered the Northeastern corner of the Bayou Sauvage Refuge. From the road we picked up our first Red-tailed Hawk and several egrets and crows. Passing by the tower, we spotted out first Killdeer in the road.

The refuge was fairly quiet (one Eastern Phoebe, a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins, one Greater Yellowlegs, and some Swamp Sparrows) until we crossed the first bridge. (Vehicles aren’t normally allowed, but David had a key for the event.) We drove out the levee where birds started picking up. Flocks of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings were flying over every couple of minutes. The swamp edge along the bottom of the levee was bursting with sparrows including White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and one Field Sparrow. Savannah Sparrows were feeding in the levee grass along with several American Pipits.

2 White-crowned Sparrows

American Goldfinches were calling from the woods. About 30 Red-winged Blackbirds roosted in one of the leafless trees. Tommy and I found our first Palm Warbler, and David and Tommy found an Orange-crowned Warbler.

The ponds and channels a little deeper inside the refuge were also fruitful. Mallards and about 70 White Ibis were feeding. A channel inside the refuge was hosting a Snowy Egret, a Little Blue Heron, and a Tricolored Heron.

Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron

Slightly further up where the levee turns along the lake, half a dozen or so Killdeer and Dunlin were feeding. An Amtrak train rumbled by and scared up several different species including Savannah Sparrows, American Pipits, and Yellowlegs.

There were so many birds at this spot, that it was hard to leave; but we had a large area to cover so regretfully we pulled ourselves away. We drove along the levee, stopping periodically to scan the lake on one side and the woods on the other. Ducks, especially Lesser Scaup, were notable by their absence from the lake. David hypothesized that recent heavy rains may have opened up more sheltered pools for them deeper inside the refuge and lured them off the lake. We did add Downy Woodpecker, Mottled Duck, Carolina Wren, Northern Harrier, Tree Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Forster’s Tern.

About halfway along the levee toward the bike path, we spotted our first really unusual bird of the day. The bright yellow belly was striking, and the perching behavior revealed it as a Western Kingbird. Or did it? It didn’t have white along the tail edges, like most Western Kingbirds should have; the tail seemed a tad forked; and it was really very bright yellow. Could it be an even more spectacular find? A Cassin’s or Couch’s Kingbird? Well, no. It couldn’t; but after half an hour of chasing the bird up and down the levee trying to get a better look that would definitively identify it, it joined a second Western Kingbird! It wasn’t one bird. It was two! I was reminded of the Ash-throated Flycatcher pair that showed up in Prospect Park a couple of years ago. It seems flycatchers like to travel in pairs. This was my second life bird of the day. I had kept putting off the trip to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx to see the Western Kingbird that showed up there a month ago. Now I don’t have to.

Western Kingbird, Bayou Sauvage

We continued driving along the levee to the bike path. We added several more species including American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture, American Crow, Lesser Scaup, Black Vulture, Horned Grebe, and Bonaparte’s Gull.

Groove billed Anis had been reported along the bike path a couple of weeks earlier, but we didn’t find any. We did however add Hermit Thrush, Blue Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Gadwall, Eastern Towhee, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-headed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, and a flyover by several White Pelicans. We also flushed one wild hog near the I-10 exit.

Red-shouldered Hawk, Bayou Sauvage NWR

The levee board had locked the exit from the bike path. We had park service keys, but not levee board keys, so we drove back down the bike path and continued west along the levee. We kept adding more numbers to our current count but didn’t add any more species inside the refuge.

After exiting the refuge from the western end, we hopped over to a small undeveloped area known as Little Woods. Here we added Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Chipping Sparrow, and Cattle Egret to the day list. Driving around the residential area behind Little Woods we eventually found about eight Eurasian Collared Doves, though we were unable to locate any Common Ground Doves, Inca Doves, White-winged Doves, or even Rock Pigeons.

As we were driving to the next spot, David’s cell phone rang. I only heard half the conversation but you could tell A) somebody had found something really good and B) he didn’t believe it. He kept quizzing the person on the other end to make sure they were really sure. It turned out that Glenn Ousset had happened on a Mangrove Cuckoo, the first ever seen in the state. We and pretty much every other team deserted our assigned area and raced over to Chalmette to find it ourselves. Fortunately the cuckoo cooperated, and we only lost about an hour to it. This was my third life bird of the day.

Mangrove Cuckoo in Chalmette

On the ride back from Chalmette, I spotted two Mottled Ducks, my fourth life bird of the day. David had seen several earlier on Lake Pontchatrain, but I hadn’t been able to make them out. These two were naked eye visible from a moving car, though. Essentially they look exactly like American Black Ducks when flying–silvery white underwings–but that species is rare this far south while Mottled Duck is relatively common.

Our next stop was a New Orleans Visitors Information Center, abandoned since Katrina. A field next to it had turned up interesting sparrows in the past, but today all we could manage was a few raptors and crows, 7 White Ibis, and one Wilson’s Snipe.

We next drove through various residential neighborhoods, checking out little pockets of wetlands and undeveloped oak forest, mostly just a few acres each. We added several more species this way including Pine Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Loggerhead Shrike, and a lone Eastern Bluebird.

We also scoped one pond and lots of canals, which can be quite attractive to waterfowl and herons at this time of year. Here we found several more species including Ring-necked Duck, Redhead, and Anhinga. We never did find Ruddy Ducks, but we did run up our totals on the egrets and Double-crested Cormorant.

Anhinga wings spread

We finished the day by driving back east along the lake shore, stopping every half mile or so to scope the lake. Mostly this found lots more gulls, pelicans, coots, and a few ducks. However, at our penultimate stop David picked out a Black-bellied Plover and a Willet, both the only members of the species that day, and out 99th and 100th species respectively. I would have had trouble identifying them myself since they were in very different plumage than they display on migration in New York.

We knocked off a little before 6:00 as dusk approached, and headed to Mona’s in the Faubourg Marigny for the compilation and a light dinner.

Carrying a scope, sunset, Lake Pontchatrain

My team found an even 100 species (or 101 if you count Muscovy Duck). I personally saw 88 of those. We should have had at least a couple more, but we missed Ruddy Duck, Rock Pigeon, and White-winged Dove. Here’s the complete list from my team:

  1. Muscovy Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. Mallard
  4. Mottled Duck
  5. Redhead
  6. Ring-necked Duck
  7. Green-winged Teal
  8. Lesser Scaup
  9. Common Goldeneye
  10. Red-breasted Merganser
  11. Common Loon
  12. Horned Grebe
  13. American White Pelican
  14. Brown Pelican
  15. Double-crested Cormorant
  16. Anhinga
  17. Great Blue Heron
  18. Great Egret
  19. Snowy Egret
  20. Little Blue Heron
  21. Tricolored Heron
  22. Cattle Egret
  23. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  24. White Ibis
  25. Black Vulture
  26. Turkey Vulture
  27. Northern Harrier
  28. Red-shouldered Hawk
  29. Red-tailed Hawk
  30. American Kestrel
  31. American Coot
  32. Common Moorhen
  33. Mangrove Cuckoo
  34. Black-bellied Plover
  35. Killdeer
  36. Greater Yellowlegs
  37. Lesser Yellowlegs
  38. Willet
  39. Dunlin
  40. Spotted Sandpiper
  41. Wilson’s Snipe
  42. Laughing Gull
  43. Bonaparte’s Gull
  44. Ring-billed Gull
  45. Herring Gull
  46. Forster’s Tern
  47. Royal Tern
  48. Caspian Tern
  49. Black Skimmer
  50. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  51. Mourning Dove
  52. Belted Kingfisher
  53. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  54. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  55. Downy Woodpecker
  56. Hairy Woodpecker
  57. Northern Flicker
  58. Eastern Phoebe
  59. Western Kingbird
  60. Loggerhead Shrike
  61. White-eyed Vireo
  62. Blue-headed Vireo
  63. Blue Jay
  64. American Crow
  65. Fish Crow
  66. Tree Swallow
  67. Carolina Chickadee
  68. Carolina Wren
  69. House Wren
  70. Winter Wren
  71. Sedge Wren
  72. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  73. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  74. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  75. Eastern Bluebird
  76. Hermit Thrush
  77. American Robin
  78. Northern Mockingbird
  79. Brown Thrasher
  80. European Starling
  81. American Pipit
  82. Cedar Waxwing
  83. Orange-crowned Warbler
  84. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  85. Pine Warbler
  86. Palm Warbler
  87. Common Yellowthroat
  88. Chipping Sparrow
  89. Eastern Towhee
  90. Field Sparrow
  91. Savannah Sparrow
  92. Song Sparrow
  93. Swamp Sparrow
  94. White-throated Sparrow
  95. White-crowned Sparrow
  96. Northern Cardinal
  97. Red-winged Blackbird
  98. Common Grackle
  99. Boat-tailed Grackle
  100. American Goldfinch
  101. House Sparrow

All teams taken together, the count circle found 139 species. We definitely could have used more people though. Our coverage of the area was a little thin. The circle also only covered New Orleans East and Chalmette. Orleans Parish is quite large, and some nice areas like U.N.O., City Park and Audubon Park fell outside the circle. It might be nice to add a West New Orleans/East Jefferson count on a different day in the future. But overall it was a fun day, and I hope I can do it again next year.

One Response to “#360-363 on the New Orleans CBC”

  1. Mokka mit Schlag » #476 Inca Dove Says:

    […] tallied about 90 or so species in our section of the count circle. That’s somewhat under the 101 we saw back in 2006, but that year we also covered large chunks of Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge and a […]

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