Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ever heard a Blue Jay imitate a Red-Shouldered Hawk?

How well can a Blue Jay *really* imitate a Red-Shouldered Hawk? Caught these two on video today. Thought the Hawk was flirting with another hawk til the Jay showed up!!

10 feet tall and bullet proof!

Had a visitor to the yard today….a beautiful Cooper’s hawk! Needless to say, every bird in sight disappeared instantly…except for the juvie male Rufous hummer who guards the end of my driveway. He was divebombing the hawk if it moved, and cussing at it incessantly for as long as it was there. Fortunately it had its eyes on other things (house sparrows) and couldn’t be bothered with this tiny feisty morsel!

The dive-bombing in this video doesn’t show…but you can hear him cussing in the background (turn up the sound, but cover any tender ears in the room—such language, tsk tsk!!)

And here’s a closeup of the tough guy. Does he look 10 feet tall and bullet proof to you???

Friday, December 29, 2006

They do eat bugs, they do, they do, they do!

There were some postings recently on humnet (listserv for humnuts) regarding whether or not hummers are flycatchers to any significant degree. I don't think there's really a debate...I believe it's been ruled by examining stomach contents that they are, but it's rare to actually witness them at it. I was watching this little hummer today -- he's an overwintering juvenile male Ruby-Throat --and I caught him in action! You can even see the insect he's after! Some times it pays to be patient :-)

The short version of the video:

The longer version of the video:

And a neat short clip of a great stretch and tail flare…

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sorting out winter hummers...

I'm trying to sort out the hummers that have visited me so far this winter, or at least the ones I've managed to photograph. There appear to be six distinct birds:

#1 - The first winter bird was an adult female Sel R/A with a distinct triangular gorget and a lovely bracelet on her left leg. Since Nancy banded two female Rufous here last year and she bands on the left leg, it stands to reason she is a returnee. Hope to confirm that at some point. She’s the only one that I’ve confirmed is banded – thought I saw a band on one of the others, but when I view the video I can’t see it.

#2 - I have another Sel R/A that has a LOT of rust-color on it. The gorget is smaller compared to the other Sel R/A birds. It’s not an adult male Rufous though… but it has a lot of rust for a female. What do you think?

#3 – I am pretty sure this is a third Sel R/A. The coloring and the gorget looks different to me than my #1 bird. Also see no evidence of band.

#4 – I observed #4 and #5 on the same day. Or rather…I knew I had a bird that was not a Sel R/A but I hadn’t sorted it out yet. When I did manage to get a picture, two birds showed up! I call #4 “Fatty” because it’s, well, fat. J It also has a single reflective gorget feather to the lower right so I’ve been able to ID it by that (not definitive, I know, but raises probability with so few birds around). I think it might be a Ruby-throat, although it’s the mildest-mannered one I’ve seen. Twice I’ve seen it allow other birds on “his” feeder. His feather’s get ruffled but he rarely rants or take action. Very laid back bird, for a hummer.

#5 – First observed this bird when it visited the feeder that #4 was guarding! He has a distinct 5-oclock shadow, but no reflective feathers in it that I can see. This is a closer look at just #5

#6 – This last one is definitely not a Sel R/A, nor is it the same bird as either #4 or #5 because her throat is completely clear – no shadow or gorget feathers in sight. I’d say she’s either a RTHU or a Black-chinned.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Geese! Thousands and thousands of geese...

You read about this stuff, or even watch it on tv, but it's much more impressive to actually *be* there!

We visited the ricefields below Rayne, LA last weekend and came across a substantial group of "speckled belly" geese (formally known as Greater White-fronted) and Snow Geese, both in the white form and blue morph form. Pretty darn spectacular!

A great gaggle of geese

Monday, October 16, 2006

Birding class

I've been taking an Intermediate Birding class through LSU Union Leisure classes. Richard Gibbons is the instructor, although he's brought in guest speakers. The class is focused on birds that are more difficult to ID, like fall warblers, hawks, sparrows, and shorebirds. We've done field trips to the rice fields and a couple to the Miss River levee. Picked up a few lifers along the way, but few pictures or video.

I've also been down to New Orleans to City Park, which is an overgrown jungle right now and not a particularly safe place to be. It's also hard to get around between trees down over trails and a year's worth of growth reclaiming the area.

I participated in the Big Sit on October 9. Justin and Devin Bosler did this last year and again this year in the spring and wanted to continue the effort. Basically, a group stakes out a 17-foot diameter circle somewhere and counts all the birds they can see from that location. The Boslers have chosen a spot at Richfield Riversilt. Last year they could see the river pretty well, but this year the successional growth blocked much of the view. They counted 88 species even so, which is not bad at all, and only 3 shy of their list last year. They started at about 4:15am and lasted until 7:30 pm. I arrived at 8:30 or so and stayed til 7:00pm. There were only 4 people and another half dozen would have really helped to be able to scout around the area and point things out to the circle sitters.

A common migrant for us right now is the Magnolia Warbler. It looks a lot like other warblers, but is easily distinguished by the underside of the tail, which has white undertail coverts, with large black tips -- making the tail look half white, half black. A feature easily seen in this video. I can see how this could be confused for a Yellow-rumped Warbler because it also has a yellow rump patch, but the underside of the tail clinches it.

Magnolia Warbler

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More madness!

Dick Lancaster sent an email saying he had even more birds this week, if I wanted to come see and video them. Well, even though I'd spent all morning at Tickfaw, how could I resist. I mean, a cold front can come through at any time and they'll all be gone...

He was right -- even more birds! It was something to see. He said he had 50 feeders up and was going through about 50 pounds of sugar a week. That's a lot of work!

This video gives you an idea of what his patio looks like with all the feeders lined up like a row of strawberry plants

And this one concentrates on a single feeder. This feeder for some reason was especially popular. Where most feeders had 3 or 4 birds trying to use it, this one had 'em lined up on the heli-pad.

I love the shot of this little guy -- his little belly is fairly hanging over the edge of the post!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tickfaw on Sunday

I decided it had been too long since I'd been to Tickfaw State Park, and I was hoping I'd run into some warblers over there. Left the house around 7. It was a warm and humid day, but the bugs weren't too bad. Had about a 30 species day. Highlights were the Hooded Warblers, a group of about 15 wild turkeys, *seeing* a Barred Owl (usually I just hear them), a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches, and a Black-and-White Warbler. The White-eyed Vireos were especially vocal, as were the Pileated Woodpeckers, and of course the Carolina Wrens. I didn't get down to the river -- should have as I might have picked up a wading bird or two. There was plenty of tree damage, but overall the park was in good shape.

Got a t-shirt that says "Life is Simple. Eat. Sleep. Bird"

Saw a funny sight as I was leaving the park. Two horse drawn wagons with a couple (man and woman) in each...but instead of a hard plank bench to sit upon, the wagons had each been outfitted with plush bucket seats. Very anachronistic.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hummingbird and Butterfly festival - Folsom, LA

Folsom, LA is roughly north of New Orleans and was in the path of destruction from Katrina last year. Needless to say, the Butterfly and Hummingbird festival was cancelled last year, but rebounded with a bang this year. They reported over 1100 people attended the event, which is held at Mizell Farms nursery in Folsom. Featured was hummer banding by Linda Beall (she banded over 50 birds on this one day!), booths from Sierra Club, Native Plant societies, as well as Wildlife and Fisheries and others. There were several speakers, including Kathy Hutchinson, hum-bander from southern Illinois, Olga Clifton who specializes in hummer plants (esp winter hummers), and Margie Jenkins, native plant guru, and Dennis Demcheck, who has studied sugar contact of nectar plants to understand which ones hummers are attracted to. Dennis is also the host of the Mighty Calliope hummer that has graced his yard for 4 (or is it 5?) years in a row. Dennis featured a couple of the videos I'd made of local hummers for his presentation, which was a neat thing.

They also did a butterfly release, which I suppose would have been more spectacular on a sunny day when the butterflies would have been more inclined to fly. It was still fun, but they did have to help the insects out a little.

Butterfly release

Personally, I think the slight overcast helped make the colors pop...

What do you think?

and, because one can never get enough of the Mighty Calliope... Here he is again

Migration madness!

How many hummingbirds have you ever seen in your life? 10? 20? 100? How many hummers have you ever seen at one time in your life??

Back in July, the nature society in West Feliciana hosted a hummingbird festival and invited folks out to watch the banding and enjoy the birds in general. The last house on the tour was not a banding site, it was simply a viewing location. Mr. Lancaster had about 24 feeders up on his patio...and more birds than I've ever seen! But the amazing thing was, he was starting a call list for folks that were interested in coming back later in the season "when he really had some birds!" Last week, I got the call, so I went up there on Sunday.

oh. my. goodness.

There were so many birds that the wing hum was a roar! And the chittering and twittering was a cacophony! I tried to capture it on video, but I don't think I did it justice...I may have to ask him if I can go back again!

Here's a sample. Be sure to have the sound turned up!

Bird banding at Whiskey Bay

They held a migratory bird event earlier this year at Whiskey Bay which is at the edge of the Atchafalaya basin. In addition to having birding experts on hand to point out the birds, they also had Wildlife folks using mist nets to catch and band birds. Here are some clips from the event. Don't miss the extreme close-up of the White-Eyed Vireo!

What exactly *is* a mist net?

Unhappy Vireo in mist net

Banding the Vireo

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Birding Whiskey Bay

It was raining when I left Baton Rouge and rainy when I got to Whiskey Bay. Thought I was foiled, but thankfully it cleared and it was actually cool all morning -- the thermometer on my car didn't get above 80 til after noon.

The buntings were plentiful, but either I didn't see any mature male painted buntings or they've already lost their breeding plumage, because I didn't see any that made me go "wow!" Saw a Yellow Warbler near the tower just past the watering hole...didn't look it up at the time, just made field notes. Headed on down to Happy Town road and saw a young turkey in the road -- later I would see a group of 5 more. Nothing much happening at the bridge -- couple of fisherpeople there who were not having any luck either.

The Miss. Kites were numerous. Largest single group I saw was 5 in one tree. No swallow-tail kites this trip. Cardinals and tanagers were numerous and vocal. Had one Roseate Spoonbill flyover while it was still early. All the other wading birds were found at the campground end, as were the Bluebirds. I did see several hummingbirds throughout the trip, and interestingly enough, saw a couple of pairs that had to be mother/child. Even observed one fledgling begging, altho mom wasn't cooperating. Juveniles of several species were present, and usually very vocal! Other wildlife included a family of rabbits, two live armadillos (which I believe is a personal record) and one spectacular large gray snake (at least 6 feet but not too thick at the middle). The Golden Silk Spider webs were most impressive decorated with the rain drops.

Just before I left, I decided I'd go back and try to video the Yellow Warbler because I thought it might be an early migrant, so I turned around and headed back to the spot, and pulled off the road...right into a well-disguised mud hole. I drive an SUV, but it’s one of those “citified” versions which doesn’t have 4-wheel drive. As it was, the front tires were completely coated with slick gray clay and I was very stuck. Now for those of you who've birded at Whiskey Bay you know that there is usually a never-ending parade of guys with trucks, usually pulling a boat and hauling a** down that road. Well, evidently they all stayed home today. I waited for over an hour for *anyone* to pass by. And then it was some guys in a minivan! But shortly thereafter came the guy in the Big Truck, with the Tool Box, who rigged up a rope and hauled me right out. So, thanks to my Good Samaritans. Lesson learned: stay on the road or the obvious gravel driveways.

Number of species: 52

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Brat Pack

Green Herons are abundant around the LSU lakes this time of year. In May you could find breeding birds in every stage...setting up nests, sitting on eggs, feeding fledglings, and then, like this group, learning to forage on their own. I love this group of "teenagers" with their punk hair, bickering in the cypress trees..

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Broad-tailed hummers

One of the great things about visiting Colorado this summer was getting to see birds that I would not normally see at home.

These Broad-tailed hummers are western birds, and while a few are found each year in the South, they are very rare. Plus when they are found, the wing feather that causes this wonderful whistle is worn down, so we don't get the show!

Listen to the wing whistle!

See the pretty ladies

You know that's not a's magenta!

Hummingbird festival

I am so behind! Not sure how I'll ever catch up.

This weekend was the Feliciana Hummingbird festival. Banding by Nancy Newfield and Linda Beall at two locations and then hummer watching at the third! More hummers than I've *ever* seen in my life!

This wonderful picture was taken by my birding friend, Sybil. What a great shot!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


We are seeing young’uns everywhere! In the backyard, the Downy Woodpeckers, the Cardinals, Mockers, Brown Thrashers, Crows, and the Chickadees are all bringing their babies to the yard and showing them the ropes. But today I got a special treat! I work in a 12 story building in downtown Baton Rouge. I’m on the 11th floor and this floor is the only one with a significant ledge – it’s about a foot wide. I looked over and saw a bird on the ledge, so I crept over to look out. There was an American Kestrel eating a house sparrow! I tried to be careful, but after a minute I realized it wasn’t the least concerned about me…it was into its dinner! It stayed there for over an hour, eating and resting. People trooped in and out of my office to goggle, we took digital pictures, the cleaning service vacuumed, but still the bird stayed! I was convinced it couldn’t see us…but then Poppa showed up! He flew the ledge briefly, holding another bird part, saw us standing inside the window, and high-tailed it! He would come by every few minutes after that to check on Junior, but Junior was busy with the HOSP. He ate every single feather, beak to toenail.

After work I went by City Park/Univ lakes to try out my new scope. Not much to see at a distance, but I did get a very close look at a trio of Juvenile Green Herons. They were along the lake bank, almost in the duck and pigeon congregation. When they saw me looking, they beat it for the safety of a cypress tree. No parents in sight. I’ll go back tomorrow to try to get pictures. They were not quite adult size and still in juvie plumage – but obviously could fly a bit to get off the ground to get into the tree. I sought out one of the Green Heron nests to see how things were coming there. This one is in the “cove” near the gazebo with the scalloped bridge. The nest is under a cypress and not easy to see from shore, but I could make out 3 fuzzy, wobbly heads in the nest there too! Tomorrow I’ll check the other nest near Baton Rouge Beach and see if those eggs have hatched.

What fun!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Green Heron Nest!

Ah yes, Springtime! What a lovely Mother's Day present!

These great shots were taken by Sybil McDonald near the Univ Lakes in Baton Rouge. Isn't she a beauty! I'll be checking back to see how she's coming with that nest!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Hummingbird nest!!

I happened to be in the right place at the right time when someone spied a Ruby-Throat Hummingbird nest. It's at a local park and the nest is right above the boardwalk. Here's hoping she keeps the nest a secret. She was amazingly still while we watched her, so I'm sure she'll do fine.

And now for the videos - live and in living color

And once in silohuette

I went back this weekend and the nest is still there. Momma didn't come to it while we watched, and another observer said he had to wait over an hour to see her come to the nest -- but he did see her feed at least one nestling! woo-hoo! Maybe it'll be a little more visible once the baby 's a little couldn't possibly hide in that teeny-tiny nest very long!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

An Endangered Species here in Louisiana

One of the features of the Great Louisiana Birdfest sponsored by Northlake Nature Center is a trip to the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge near Mandeville, Louisiana. The ranger at Big Branch told us a little bit about it. Basically it was started by a group of private citizens in the area that saw the influx of population from New Orleans and wanted to preserve the natural areas that surrounded them. They wanted their families to be able to enjoy hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. So they put their land together and asked the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service to run it for them. As they were exploring the land and deciding about management, the biologists discovered something interesting...the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, a bird designated as an endangered species. This link will take you to a page that tells about the birds. They really area a unique bird--particularly for a woodpecker. For example, they nest in live trees, live in colonies containing multiple generations and ward off predators with sap wells that protect the entrance to their nest holes.

The forest where the birds live in Louisiana is primarily loblolly pine, although they are replanting the longleaf pine for the birds -- they just grow extremely slowly. They've helped the colonies along in some places by placing nesting boxes in the trees, which the birds seem to acccept. The nesting trees are marked with white rings around the trees, which is great for us lowly visitors. The forests are managed with fire. That is, they do controlled burn of the forest to thin and remove underbrush periodically and they also keep the trees at a certain density to keep it all healthy.

This first video is of a tree that shows a man-made nesting box that was inserted into a tree. You can see it's been well used...the sap wells around the hole are well-developed.

These next videos show the birds in and around the nesting hole. It was fairly early in the morning and the light wasn't great, not to mention the hole was about 20 feet above the ground, but I did the best I could. I hope to go back and try again one day.

Red-cockaded WP - best shot

Red-cockaded WP at the hole

Red-cockaded WP working the tree

Yellow Breasted Chat -- what a bird!

Whiskey Bay is an area just east of the Atchafalaya Basin. You take the highway 975, going north. It's a gravel road, and it follows the Atchafalaya River for 17 miles to Krotz Springs if you take it the whole way. Almost immediately after the exit is a "watering hole" on the right hand side that has been very productive for birds, especially in the evening this spring when it was so dry. Something less than a mile north on 975 you'll enter Sherburne Wildlife Management Area. This is a state area run by LA Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries. You're supposed to have a Wildlife stamp or any kind of hunting or fishing license.

I ran into a new bird on my first visit to Whiskey Bay. There were plenty of these guys and they are anything but shy! I get such a kick out of watching them. They have terrible posture, and they look like they're retching when they sing. The field guides describes their flight as "awkward" -- that's putting it mildly! How on earth do these birds migrate across the gulf!

Here are some shots of the Yellow-Breasted Chat.

Chat on a wire -- talk about bad posture!

Chat in a tree

A little bit closer

and a close up of the Chat singing his song

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Audubon Country Birdfest

This weekend was the Audubon Country Birdfest in St. Francisville. It was a three-day event, but I only participated on Saturday and Sunday. I actually signed up for the Cat Island trip, but come to find out that the entire two hour trip was going to involve paddling a canoe! Couldn't figure out how I'd paddle, use binoculars, and take pictures all at the same time, so decided to forego.

Saturday they had two busses running to the three locations. The early bus took the first group of about 15 to Murrell Butler's country home. What an outstanding property! It had a sprawling ranch feel, but had a little bit of everything -- forest, pond, swampy lake, fields, orchards, live oaks, and ornamentals around the wonderful natural wood sided home.

We immediately saw a pair of nesting Canada Geese. The hen was lying prostrate across the nest when was a man-made island in the pond. It was a little amusing. I guess she was trying to be innocuous, or maybe she was trying to rest up before the babies are born -- smart goose. There was also a pair of Eastern Kingbirds at the pond, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Green Heron, and a pair of green birds?? Yes, indeed, there's a pair of Monk Parakeets over there! It would have been a little freaky if Mr. Butler hadn't been there to tell us that he raises them...he has a large cage near the house but lets them out to fly. He said at one time he had a colony of 14, but the predators got them.

We saw the first of many Orchard Orioles, including a second-year male in his yellow plumage (so pretty!). Eastern Bluebirds were everywhere. Our coolest flyover of the day was a male Bald Eagle off in the distance. Down by the lake we saw several different shore/wading birds including Common/Wilson's Snips. We also saw our first Prothonotary warbler -- exciting moment! There were Ruby-Throat Hummers by the house, and no wonder with the coral honeysuckle, red buckeye, and various and sundry other hummer-friendly plants in bloom.

At Ouida, we finally saw the elusive Northern Parulas, which are vocal and hide very well. Also saw my first Broad-wing Hawk. We heard a Hooded Warbler and looked for him for a good long while but just couldn't find him. The Am Goldfinches were still there at the thistle feeders -- especially fun because they've molted back to summer plumage and are so pretty and bright!

It was late by the time we got to Rosale and we didn't pick up anything new. The day count was over 50 by the point, so not too shabby! I stopped by the Port Hudson Cemetery on the way back to BR...I'd never been and could see on the map that there was water nearby. Turns out there's a good lake system right there, but it's all on private property across the fence from the cemetery. I did manage to pick up 8 more birds just from the road though, so that wasn't bad.

On Sunday,we carpooled to Wyoming plantation. It's over a thousand acres! A caretaker drove us down the road a piece. We got out and walked back toward the front, detouring by a lake at one point. Finally saw that elusive Hooded Warbler! Prothonotary Warblers were very visible and everyone had a good shot at a pair that were showing off for us. Had a couple of Mississippi Kite flyovers - first of season for them. A Scarlet Tanager was another Pick of the Day -- could easily have been missed since the tendency is to dismiss all "red-birds" as cardinals, but someone was paying attention to this one and we got it.

Fun, birdy weekend! Didn't get a lot of videos because most of the birds were very distant -- if I filmed them you'd see little moving specks and you'd just have to take my word for it :-) Not all of the great wildlife was feathered -- the butterflies were out in force, and some of them rivaled the birds...

This Green Heron deserves his own post...

Found this beautiful GREEN HERON hunkered down in a tallow tree growing over the water on the University Lake in Baton Rouge. He was NOT the least bit excited that I wanted to photograph him and make him a star!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Redneck Vireo

You've heard of the Red-Eyed Vireo, the Blue-Headed Vireo, and the Yellow-Throated Vireo... and of course, the White-Eyed Vireo. There are several mnemonics for its song... including "Step to the rear, Quick!" But my new favorite is "Quick, get me a beer, Chick!" hence it's other nickname...the "The Redneck Vireo."

Great little video of the Redneck Vireo

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lucky Ducks!

'Tis the season for babies...and who can resist baby ducks. This momma didn't like me coming so close, but I had to get a good look at the babies...right? This is a Muscovy Duck and her little ones.

On the other side of the lake was a Momma Mallard. She had a very large brood...twelve ducklings. She was leading the group from a feeding spot to the lake, when one of the little boogers got turned around and headed the wrong way...straight for the road! I wasn't going to interfere but he seemed to determined to get into harm's way. Momma was busy with the other eleven and couldn't go after I stepped in. He didn't like his first flight...but he was relieved to get back to Mom. What a bunch of cuties!!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I do have a Ruby Throat!

I do, I do, I DO have a Ruby-Throat! A handsome male with a full and shiny gorget has come to call. I saw him first on the driveway feeder--happened to notice a bird on the feeder Monday and thought the green was slightly different. Sure enough--he is much more emerald than the Rufous. Knowing how territorial they are, I was afraid he'd driven off the Rufous, so yesterday when I got home I staked out my patio feeder, waiting with the video camera. She showed up, right on cue, but the camera wouldn't focus with the weird setting sun light and she was gone before I could get a good pic. Waited some more, and who shows up at this feeder, but Mister Flashy RT! Got a great closeup of him. The resolution isn't quite as good as I'd like, what with shooting through the window in the odd light. But it's a great intro to the summer hummer season!

Click to see Mr. Flashy

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hummer census

I still have two Rufous females in the yard! Heard the electric zzzt and snap this morning when I went out to fill the other feeders. Also saw one on the feeder and witnessed it chasing off a rival. Of course the rival may be the Ruby-Throat I think I saw on Monday! The feeder has shifted and the bird's full-on back was to me, but it looked like a whole different color green and when it flew off I thought I got a glimpse of full gorget. So, we'll see! I'm excited my little ladies are still with me though...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Second trip to Lake Martin

Went back to Lake Martin on Sunday to see what changes have taken place. Daniel and Lee and Jason came with me. Jason just got a new camera and wanted to try his hand at nature photos.

The Spoonbills had gotten a little farther along in their mating process. They seemed to be pairing off and building nests. I bet they'd give anything for opposable thumbs!

Everything has to be just so...

I TOLD you not to touch that!!

The Egrets were definitely paired off and had well-established nests. We saw some Egret-nookie going on, and I shan't be surprised to see little Egret babies before too long...

Love, Egret Style

The Little Blue Herons were on alert looking for the odd frog or fish...

Got one!

And the ungainly Common Moorhen looked on with envy in his eyes...

Get a load of those feet!

Mama Gator and her pups were enjoying the sunny day...hoping a bird would stop by for a snack...

Here, birdy-birdy-birdy!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Trip to Tickfaw

BRAS and LSU Bird Club sponsored a trip to the Tickfaw State Park today. 19 people showed up, so the Boslers and Richard Gibbons each took a small group on the different trails. We totaled 55 species for the day, starting out with a Wild Turkey while we were not even out of the starting gate (picture to follow)! We saw all the usual suspects for this time of year, including several Northern Parulas. Our guide, Richard, was big on birding by ear and even had bird sounds loaded on his palm pilot for us to listen to and to help call the birds in. Probably our best bird of the day, and the most elusive was the Yellow-Throated Warbler, but we finally got a great look at it at the very top of a tall pine. No pictures of it though as it was much too far away.

I picked up about a dozen different types of Salvia at Naylor's yesterday and got them planted today. Should be quite a smorgasbord at the end of the driveway for my summer hummers! People all over the South are spotting Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds already, but I haven't seen one yet. I saw a female Rufous yesterday and today at two different feeders. Not sure how many birds though...

Tomorrow Lake Martin again!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Weekend birdwalks

It was a pretty Saturday morning, and we had a good group for the birdwalk at Bluebonnet Swamp. Unfortunately there was no guide from BRAS and I kinda got elected leader. Knew we were in trouble then :-) Fortunately John the nature photographer was there to show us the newer trails. We started out in the clearing to the left and picked up a dozen or more birds just standing there. Then we headed for the other newer trail on the north side, but didn't see a whole lot. We did spot a Brown Creeper in the distance at one point. Also had a mystery bird that a bunch of us were trying to ID...turned out to be a White-Eyed Vireo that was singing its song, which we haven't heard in a while! Someone yesterday called it the "Redneck Vireo" because its song sounds like "Bring me a beer, chick!"

On Sunday morning I spent some time at Summit Lake. Saw my first-of-the-year Towhees. Sparrows are still hanging out (White-Throated and Swamp). Also saw at least two House Wrens. Not an outstanding day, but not bad either...

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras outing...

We had bee-yoo-tee-full weather in Louisiana this year for the Mardi Gras. I decided to forego the revelry and head for the woods instead. Decided to try a new location today and headed with a BR Audubon society friend to Lake Martin near Breaux Bridge. It was an easy hour drive and we were rewarded immediately on arrival to the rookery with a great view of Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets in the cypress trees. The Spoonbills are the greatest color this time of and strawberry sherbet! They haven't quite paired off yet and started nesting, but there sure is a lot of clacking going on! I can't tell if they're mating or fighting! We got some great views of Red-Shoulder Hawks as well. Gorgeous colors!

The Great Egrets were in full-on breeding mode. Some were doing the
Egret Mating Dance.
It was very cool...they would show off the long breeding plumage tail feathers and do their repetitive, ritualistic dance. Some had paired off and started nests. I couldn't tell if there were eggs yet.

We saw a few shy Moorhens working along the water's edge. Along with many Alligators that were just hanging
around looking for, shall we say, lunch opportunities.

We saw a few Swamp Sparrows and some other un-identified "little brown jobs" . One of the coolest things for me was the flock of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets. Usually I would just see one, but there must have been a dozen or more all in one place chittering away. And they brought a Northern Parula with them! Another first :-)

A Black-Crowned Night heron was there see us off as we headed back to town it had the neatest tail presumably its version of breeding plumage

It was a great outing and I plan to go back a few times this spring to see the Spoonbills and Egrets nesting and fledging... I tell you, I felt completely inadequate with my little camera and vid-cam though--you should have seen some of the rigs these folks had! Next time I'll take a picture of them :-)

Monday, February 27, 2006

My little yellow spot

This little beauty is one of the birds that was banded by Nancy Newfield a while back. She was still hanging around as recently as a week ago. Note the ruffled feathers under the paint on her can tell she has been working hard to get rid of the paint mark!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Beautiful day for a field trip!

Well Saturday was the complete pits, but Sunday turned out to be an outstanding day, weather-wise. The Piersons offered to go with me to the spot where Winston saw some interesting sparrows, so we set off for a field on S. Choctaw. It's a wide-open area near an Entergy facility, and obviously bush-hogged regularly or the growth would be much more significant. It was almost marshy -- lots of grasses and brambles (going to be lots of berries there a few weeks!) and uneven ground. Rubber boots and careful eye fact, I was glad it was not warmer weather because I kept thinking "snake" as we were making our way.

I saw a Red-Headed Woodpecker first thing out of the box! First one I've seen all winter. A couple of Mockers and Shrikes were hunting and tussling from the fence. We were here to find sparrows though, so we set out to find them. We walked, listened, and did not see a thing except hawks and vultures in the distance. I heard something calling, but could not find it. Finally I flushed a "LBJ" and we tried to close in on it, but it eluded us. Bob and I both got the impression of "wren" but we couldn't be sure, and it made no sound.

A bit later we did see a couple of sparrows that hid in the shrubbery and we id'd them as swamp sparrows. Since there wasn't much to see in this location, we decided to head to St. Gabriel to go Snipe hunting.

On hwy 30 (Nicholson) just as you cross the parish line from the north, there is a hardware store on left near a sheriff's substation. Behind these buildings are two grassy, marshy open area and a fenced area of shrubby growth. We immediately saw a pair of Mockers and Shrikes--this was the day for them. We started out in the grassy field and immediately spotted several Killdeer and then suddenly SNIPE! They popped up as they were startled out of the grass and surprised us, too. Their camouflage was one point I came within 15 feet of one that I did not even see until it flew. I know I didn't get any good pictures but got great looks! We also saw a group of about 8 or 9 Eastern Meadowlarks in the same area. They were almost as leery and hard to photograph.

We made our way back to the edge of the shrubby area and found a small flock of White-Crowned Sparrows working the edge of the fence. I managed to get within 10-12 ft or so so the pictures should be fairly decent.

We detoured out Ben Hur road to see what we could see. Found significant flocks of Chipping Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and blackbirds (Cowbirds, Starlings, RWBB) and the occasional wader (Cattle, Great, Snowy Egrets). Lots and lots of hawks (90% chance of Red-Tailed :-) ), several vultures and a few Kestrels. No Pipits this time, which was unusual considering their abundance just last weekend.

All in all, a good birding day and I added 5 birds to my List :-)

Sunday, February 19, 2006


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Rusty Rufous - full frontal

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Rusty Rufous shows off his new gorget

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2006

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all levels in counting birds and reporting their results to create a mid-winter snapshot of the numbers, kinds, and distribution of birds across the continent. Participants count birds for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period and tally the highest number of birds of each species that they see at any one time. At the Great Backyard Bird Count web site, they fill out an online checklist to submit their counts. The website is:

I contributed the list from yesterday as well as what I've seen in the yard yesterday and today. I'll also let them know about this wonderful Selasphorus Rufus that I was lucky enough to photograph in neighbor Carol Thomas's yard today. Isn't he a beauty? But then I'm partial to redheads :-)

Click here to see the Rusty Rufous

Saturday, February 18, 2006

LeConte's Sparrow (lifer - 2/18/2006)

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BR Audubon society field trip...

Cold and rainy Saturday morning. When I got up, I looked outside at the gloomy weather and *almost* crawled back in bed. Then, I thought, "nothing ventured, nothing gained" so I bundled up and hurried to the meet point. The group was small but willing :-) We stopped a few times along Ben Hur road on the way to Richfield Riversilt as we caught sight of birds. Lots of hawks along the way, and great flocks of mixed blackbirds. We also stopped a couple of times along river road at the woody areas. Our leader had a recording of a screech owl that he used as a lure. It brought in half a dozen birds easily!

Had forgotten to account for wind down on the river -- it was cold and much breezier down there, not to mention muddy. I was wishing I had my gloves and another layer of jacket! We made a wide circle at Richfield Riversilt...veering off the left off the main road at first to pick up water birds in the pits. It's positively amazing how well camoflaged those shorebirds are! Sparrows were abundant -- we picked up eight different species over the course of the morning. Here are links to videos of two of the sparrows we saw today -- both of which were lifers for me:

Le Conte's Sparrow:(19Mb file)
Le Conte's Sparrow (9Mb file, excerpt from above)
Le Conte's Sparrow (18Mb file - different angles)

Vesper Sparrow: (8Mb file)

We picked up 50 species altogether. Here's a complete list:

Double-crested Cormorant - 3
Great Blue Heron - 1
Great Egret - 3
White Ibis - 30 (Observed on Lee Drive on drive back to Coffee Call)
Northern Harrier - 1 (possibly 2)
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1 (or Cooper's)
Red-tailed Hawk - 10
American Kestrel - 1
Killdeer - 25
Spotted Sandpiper - 1
Western Sandpiper - 2 (debate about Western or Semipalmated, but I think the consensus was Western)
Least Sandpiper - 4
Common Snipe - 1 (St. Gabriel)
Ring-billed Gull - 5 (flyover, so hard to tell, but probably)
Rock Pigeon - 12
Mourning Dove - 6
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 4
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Eastern Phoebe - 2
Loggerhead Shrike - 1
Blue Jay - 1 A
merican Crow - 8
Carolina Chickadee - 2
Carolina Wren - 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1
Eastern Bluebird - 3
American Robin - 1
Northern Mockingbird - 4
Brown Thrasher - 1
European Starling - mixed flock with RWBB
American Pipit - 50
Orange-crowned Warbler - 2
Eastern Towhee - 1 (heard not seen)
Chipping Sparrow - 50+
Field Sparrow - ~10
Vesper Sparrow - 3
Savannah Sparrow - ~90
Le Conte's Sparrow - 3
Song Sparrow - 4
Swamp Sparrow - 1
White-throated Sparrow - 10
White-crowned Sparrow - 1 (St. Gabriel)
Northern Cardinal - 12
Red-winged Blackbird - 100's maybe 1000's
Eastern Meadowlark - ? (heard not seen)
Common Grackle - 4 (but may have been more in mixed flocks)
Brown-headed Cowbird - 100's (separate and mixed flocks)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

First Saturday in February

How did it get to be February already? Amazing!

BR Audubon Society sponsors a birdwalk the first Sat of every month at Bluebonnet Swamp, a park here in Baton Rouge. We didn't have a BRAS guide this month, so we made do. Fortunately we had some experienced birders to help us spot and identify the interesting birds. The highlight for me was the Barred Owl that we got very good looks at, and the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, which isn't that rare but is always a treat. It was a cool, breezy but clear day and fun to meet new "birdy" people...

The complete list is as follows:
Wood Duck
Great Egret
Black Vulture
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Warbler sp. - we got a brief glimpse of a very yellow bird with greenish wings. *Might* have been the Wilson's Warbler that was counted here on CBC day.
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Monday, January 23, 2006

Calliope whiskers

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The Mighty Calliope -1

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The Mighty Calliope

Had the pleasure of revisiting one of the hummer tour yards today to see if I could capture the Mighty Calliope on, well, digital media. (Doesn't really have the same ring as "captured on film" does it?). He was
*very* cooperative (for which his host takes complete credit :-) ). I got several minutes of him posing but here are the highlights:

Ready for my close-up

The action shots

I did get another shot of the Junior Calliope as well, but I'm not pleased with it. You can't really see the distinguishing characteristics of the bird, other than short bill and long wings--I need a different angle. Also got a great look at the Male Rufous that stays at the same house, but he did not cooperate for the camera. Another time for that one, too.

Also went over to LSU campus lake searching for the Yellow Warbler they've been warbling about on the LABIRD list. Found another birder on the same quest and together we found the bird. She was very hard to capture in the camouflage of the willows and from the distance (over 50 feet certainly from shore to the little swampy area she had staked out). But when an Orange-Crowned Warbler had the audacity to invade her space, she became very riled and I did get a few decent shots. The large version (26Mb) and the small version (5Mb)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Another new bird!

It's hard to watch birds when you work every day, ya know? I have been worried about my banded birds...afraid the trauma would scare them off. I spotted the Yellow-Spot bird right away -- she was at her familiar spot in the back yard. I didn't see the Red-spot bird for over a week though, and thought she'd run away. Today I was cleaning the feeders and saw them both together -- arguing over the spot the feeder was supposed to be in :-) But then, a little later, I saw another Rufous (or more accurately Selasphorus Rufus/Allen's since I don't know for sure it's Rufous) without a mark! That means I have at least three! And I have at least one Black-Chinned female that's visiting the feeder near the driveway. The interesting thing is that the Red-Spot had taken over the Yellow-Spot's feeder in the back for at least part of the day. And all 3 Rufous were sharing (well, not at the same time) the feeder on the patio.

I am participating in Cornell's Backyard Feeder Watch this year. It's been interesting because while I see a lot of the same birds every week, I think I've seen at least one new bird each week as well. This week was a small flock of cow-birds. Not too glamorous to be sure, but it adds to the list!

Monday, January 16, 2006

hummer plants

I was fortunate on Saturday to take home cuttings of two all-star winter hummer plants, red Abutilon, and dark red shrimp plant. I have never really tried to start cuttings before, so we'll see if I have the fortitude for it. I found an article in a magazine this week about start cuttings with a forsythe pot so I started mine today.

I want to add more plants... I am seriously considering expanding further into the back yard. Ned doesn't really *like* cutting all that grass, right? So he'll appreciate it if I add some trees, shrubs, planting beds....right?? hmmm, I'll have to do some planning.

I've got the planting bug...didn't help that it was warm and spring-like today...

Had an exciting moment this afternoon! I was standing in the driveway when all of a sudden a Sharp-shinned hawk flew about 10 feet from me, landed on the neighbor's arbor, perused the bushes for sparrows, dropped down in the azalea trying to catch one!! but missed and finally flew off to a nearby tree. I wouldn't have minded if he took a house sparrow with him :-)

Still have 3 hummers -- Yellow-Spot Rufous, Red-spot Rufous, and one unmarked Unknown.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Another hummer day...

The Baton Rouge Audubon Society organized a field trip to three local yards here in Baton Rouge who are hosting wintering hummingbirds. About 30 people showed up for the event, which they were surprised about -- normally it's been less than 15. So we trundled into various automobiles, and caravaned over to the first house. This house is on over an acre wooded lot with mature trees and LOTS of mature evergreens (camellias, hollies, pines, ligustrum, etc). It was also loaded with blooming hummer plants like shrimp plant, abutilon, even a blue salvia in bloom! Remember, even though we are in Louisiana and the winters are mild, this really IS the middle of winter for us -- I was amazed that so much was in bloom. She said the hummer plant of preference was the red abutilon, which she said is very nectar-rich. She had many feeders up -- either the 8oz Perky Pet pinch waist bottle style (with the flowers removed, interestintly enough) or the little Perky-Pet 3 oz beginner feeders. Her yard hosted over a dozen birds and I believe she said that seven had been banded and marked the week before. I saw my first male Rufous -- what a handsome bird with that wonderful rusty color! But he was outdone by the Buff-Bellied hummer...I am still in awe! It's a large and colorful hummingbird and it even sounds distinctly different than the Rufous or Black-chinned she's also hosting. She says the evergreen cover is the key -- I'm sure the nectar rich plants don't hurt either. She gave out cuttings of the abutilon and red shrimp plant so I'm looking forward to trying to root those.

The next house hosted a slew of Black-Chinned birds. There was a live oak with several blooming hummer plants, dominated by the large Turk's cap. EAch bird seemed to have staked out its tiny territory, but every once in a while the boundaries would be violated and then the battle was on! There was a male Rufuous at this house as well, but he'd staked out a claim to the back yard. We also saw two Baltimore Orioles, a Blue-Headed Vireo, Red-crowned Kinglet, and a Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

The last house on the tour had a small yard and the owner told us he was hosting only three birds, but much to his surprise, a 4th showed up while we were there. The new one was a Black-Chinned female. He also had an adult male Rufous (wonderful coloring!). But the stars of the show were the Calliope hummers. The young male was fairly nondescript, but he was still neat to see because of his shape--small bird, short bill (compared to other hummers) and wings longer than his body which gave him a big-headed, pot-bellied look. The adult male, however, has this wonderful metallic purple gorget that is unlike any other hummer and certainly makes him stand out! What a treat to see!

As for my own hummers... my back-yard Rufous(yellow spot) is still around. I have seen another bird or birds, but have not yet ID'd it/them. I haven't seen the Red-spot Rufous, so it may have moved on after the trauma of banding.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

And the Black-Chinned females...

No, they don't have little beards. Black-Chinned makes them sound like like pirate hummingbirds, eh? But they are just delicate little females, with green backs and gray bellies. They look an awful lot like Ruby-Throat females, except a few differences have been pointed out to me -- they do a lot of "tail-wagging" while hovering. Their wing primaries are more pronounced. They don't seem quite as green and they have more of an overall gray sheen.

This is the larger of the two and the BC that I saw first:

Sleek beauty

This little pretty I saw a few days later. I saw her at first from across the yard and thought the pink spot on her head was feathers...I'm looking all through my book for a pink-headed hummer! Turns out she was already marked. I posted a message on Humnet and she might have been marked and banded as far away as Alabama! How cool would that be! Unfortunately neither one of the Black-Chinned hummers cooperated with us on banding day. Maybe there will be a chance to try again.

Hummer with a pink spot

Here are the hummers

This first one is one of the Rufous hummers. It's the one that hangs around in the back yard. Nancy says it's a mature female. She marked it with the Yellow spot and it's still hanging around, defending its feeder fiercely!

Back yard Rufous

The front yard Rufous is a younger bird. Nancy marked it with a Red spot. Unfortunately I haven't seen it since last Sunday when it was banded, and I sincerely hope we didn't frighten it away permanently.

Li'l Rufous cusses me out in the morning

later in the day, when all is quiet and good with the world, she rests

Sunday, January 08, 2006

And the release! (note the smiles :-) )

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Marked for life! (or at least a few weeks)

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Measuring feathers...

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Hummer banding at home

It was a warm and windy day today, and I had fewer birds overall, which may be why we only saw two hummers today. Nancy and Kevin came to band, and some interested neighbors came to observe. They took down all the feeders except two, one in the front yard and one in the back yard. These they put into trap cages. Then we set up our surveillance with remote controls on hand to work the automatic doors. It didn't take long to get the first bird, but Nancy set it aside to wait for more. About 15 minutes later we got another. We waited and chatted and watched, but we didn't get another one, so Nancy went ahead and banded and marked the first two. She confirmed that both of them are Rufous, both female. One is older... she said it was definitely not a first year bird, but the second one is younger and was probably born last season. What a treat to get to hold one in my hand before it was let go! It felt like a single feather -- not a whole bird!

I have some pictures to share, and will be posting video as well. What a fun experience!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Four winter hummers!

Until this year I had no idea that hummingbirds would sometimes stay over the winter. But this year I got to witness it firsthand...I have four winter hummers in my yard! My front yard Rufous (or to be specific Selasphorus Rufous or Allen's -- they say it's impossible to really tell without an up close and personal inspection) appears to be a younger bird with a smallish gorget. The Rufous in the back yard is larger and the gorget is more well developed. They've been here for a month or more. Then a few days ago, two more birds showed up. I was all excited to see a new bird with pink feathers on its head...until I got a better look and saw it was marked with liquid paper. A banded bird! And it was a Black-Chinned, probably a young female. And then I saw another one that same day, only this one didn't have a pink mark. Another Black-Chinned female! Woo-hoo!

All the birds have been ID'd by video and in person by our local experts... and tomorrow they are coming to band them, if they can catch them. You can be sure I'll have pictures!

In the meantime here are some pictures of my hummers...

Li'l Rufous cussin' at me in the morning

And then later in the day, sun gently shining, no others hummers or humans around, the Li'l Rufous sips