By Paul Varney
I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans between March 24th and March 31st 2003 for a meeting and luckily I managed to get some birding in either side of the meeting. I was lucky enough to enlist the help of Nancy Newfield and Lehman Ellis - 2 local birders I contacted through the internet. They were very helpful and actually took me out on a couple of occasions.
I arrived March 24th and transferred from the airport at Metarie to the hotel in the French Quarter of downtown New Orleans - right near the infamous Bourbon Street.
Tuesday 25th was a free day and I had contacted Nancy on my arriva and she had a day planned for me starting at 6.00am. I got a cab from the hotel to Nancy's in Metarrie ($18.0) and first we sat on Nancy's porch for a while - a male Rufous Hummingbird had been visiting a feeder - he didn't return but having not been to the States before I notched up some of the common garden species including a spectacular male Baltimore Oriole and White-throated Sparrow and a flock of Cedar Waxwings.
We then headed north out of New Orleans over the immense (24 miles) causeway crossing Lake Pontchartrain. Heading over the bridge you can't stop but I did add Great Northern Diver, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gulls, and Forsters Terns.
Our first port of call was Big Branch NWR - a site noted for Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman's Sparrow. The habitat is pine wood interspersed with marsh and lagoons. Biting insects can be an issue so we sprayed up before venturing out along the boardwalks/made up paths. Almost the first bird I saw was perhaps the bird I most wanted to see Swallow-tailed Kite - a gorgeous raptor sailed overhead. In about 2-3 hours at Big Branch the following were noteworthy for me:
Wood Duck - several, Mottled Duck - several, Bald Eagle - 2 distant, Northern Harrier - 1 ringtail, King Rail - 1 - superb close views from the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk, Solitary Sandpiper - 1 flying over, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker - 2, Eastern Kingbird -1, Brown-headed Nuthatch - several, Sedge Wren, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet - displaying crown, Eastern Bluebird, Pine Warbler - many heard, Bachman's Sparrow - poor views, Swamp Sparrow
The site is also known for Le Conte's Sparrow but they, along with the Red cockaed Woodpeackers and Bachman's Sparrows were not obliging today. I was too early for Blue Grosbeaks which apparently breed here.
We then headed into Mississippi - to Walkiah Bluff Water Park hoping to see more Kites ! We were not disappointed and as well as Red Shouldered Hawk were treated to 5 displaying Swallow-tailed Kites - fantastic - these birds showed really well overhead calling, diving and chasing each other - superb. At this site also added Cliff Swallow, heard Northern Parulas and saw Prothonatory Warbler.
The next location was Covington and on the way Nancy spotted a Wild Turkey at the roadside - a good local bird apparently.
The next place is a must for any birder visiting this area (although you need the contact with Nancy to gain access) - it is the garden on John and Margaret Owens in Covington. Nancy's great love is Hummingbirds and she has spnt many years studying and ringing the Hummingbirds of Louisiana especially. Many species winter here and this garden is one of her study sites. In the garden the birds show fantastically well and it is a hive of activity with all the food John and Margaret provide. The following were noted:
3+ Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 3 Rufous Hummingbird, 3 Calliope Hummingbird (good local birds), White-throated Sparrow, Common Grackle, Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Myrtle Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Purple Martin, Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch
We then headed back into New Orleans and on the way saw 2 Great Northern Diver, Great Blue Heron, Boat-tailed Grackles and Loggerhead Shrike.
March 26th 2003
Managed a quick wander around the City Park - very disappointed with the lack of birds but did see several American Robins.
March 28th 2003
I headed out to Jean Laffite Natural Historical Park 20 miles south of New Orleans. I went by cab which cost $55 - expensive and the driver had no idea where he was going ! Eventually got there about 6.00am and first walked the visitor centre trail and then the Bayou Coquille Trail. I noted:
Anhinga (male soaring), White Ibis -10, Plegadis Ibis sp -10, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl - brilliant views, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker 2, Pileated Woodpecker 2-3, White-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler 4-5, Prothonatory Warbler 10-15, Common Yellowthroat 2, Swamp Sparrow, 4 Alligator - out on the bank basking
Getting back to New Orleans was interesting - started to hitch and got picked up by Forest Rangers - you cannot hitch in the park. They took pity on me and drove me to main road where I started hitching again and got a lift to a bus stop from where I got the bus back to New Orleans $1.60 - different from the taxi !
Arriving in New Orleans I was at the Audubon Park where the prime target was the Heronry. Right in the middle of the park is an island stacked full of Herons. It holds breeding Cattle, Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue, Tricoloured, Black-crowned Night and Green Herons and also White Ibis and 2 pairs of Anhinga. Wood Duck are also common in the park.
March 29th 2003
This was my big day out but maybe it was bit too early to hit Grand Isle in full migration swing. Lee and Nancy were my guides and it was a great day. It was perhaps a week or two early for the peak passage of Warblers and Tanagers etc but I noted many good birds and enjoyed the whole day. We headed south to Port Foucheron and then on to Grand Isle where we watched the Exxon fields and the Woods around Bobby Santini's.
Pied Billed Grebe - 2, American White Pelican - several, Tricoloured Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill -10, Blue-winged Teal -10, Osprey - 3, Bald Eagle - 1, American Kestrel - 2 (1 male), Clapper Rail - 2, Wilson's Plover - 1, Semi-palmated Plover - 1, Killdeer - many, Black-necked Stilt, Marbled Godwit, Caspian Tern - 3 +, Royal Tern - 3-5, Black Skimmer - 10+, Inca Dove - 1 - Bobby Santini's, Great Horned Owl - 1 on nest at, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 1, Eastern Wood Pewee - 1 - Bobby Santini's, Loggerhead Shrike - many, Red-eyed Vireo - several, Tree Swallow - 1 over Exxon Fields, Prothonatory Warbler, Hooded Warbler - 1 male - wonderful, Summer Tanager - 3 male, Scarlet Tanager - 3 male at Bobby Santini's, Savannah Sparrow - 3, Indigo Bunting - several around the feeders at Bobby Santini's, Eastern Meadowlark, Bronzed Cowbird - 3-5, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole - 1-2 male, 2 female, Bottle Nosed Dolphin - seen from the Exxon fields pier.
March 30th 2003
My final day so I got up early and had a walk around the Audubon Park - it was cold but some good birds were added:
White-winged Dove - 15+ along the perimeter of the zoo, Red-eyed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo - 1-2, American Robin, Brown Thrasher - 2, Orange Crowned Warbler - 1, Northern Parula - 3, Myrtle Warbler - many inc some smart males, Prothonatory Warbler, Summer Tanager - 1 male, Indigo Bunting - 2 (1 male), House Finch.
Obviously I slotted the birding in and did pretty well considering I wast tight for time but if you find yourself meeting in New Orleans and want more info please contact me if I can be of any assistance. My e-mail is email@example.com
A week or two later would have seen a big influx of other species including Mississippi Kite, a speciality of the area and of course many more Warblers, Tanagers, Thrushes etc.
Many thanks to Lee and Nancy for their help and guidance.