Urban Ovenbird

2016-05-09 12.23.32On Monday (5/9/2016), I was walking to my office in the New Orleans Central Business District.  I passed through a breezeway lined with marble planters containing oaks and Bradford Pear trees and I noticed a small brown bird fly down from the trees to a planter.ovenbird - 2016.05.09 - New Orleans, LA (3)The bird was grayish brown with white belly marked by thick dark brown streaking all the way down to nearly the rear, much like a thrush although smaller and more compact. The only marking on the back and face was a white eye-ring and an orange-colored stripe on top of the head.  It was an Ovenbird!ovenbird - 2016.05.09 - New Orleans, LAOvenbirds are typically seen in Louisiana only during migration (though a few individuals seem to winter locally); March through May in the spring and August through October in the fall.  They travel from their wintering grounds in Central America, Florida and the Caribbean islands to the northeastern North America as far south as the Ozarks and Appalachian Mountains.  We are just a pit stop for them. ovenbird - 2016.05.09 - New Orleans, LA (4)I thought that this was an unusual species to see in an open urban setting. I usually find Ovenbirds in dark forests (especially coastal live oak groves) foraging on the ground in heavy leaf litter.  This bird was content to scratch around inside the leafy bottoms of the planters, flying back into the low canopy when a person passed.  It continually fascinates me what odd visitors can be found during migration.

Southern Devil Scorpion (Vaejovis carolinianus)

southern devil scorpion - 2016-03-19 20.29.50 - Tunica Hills WMA, LA

On an overnight naturalist class with the Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater Baton Rouge to Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana we were shining for spiders when someone overturned a log and found a scorpion.   It was tiny, just a little larger than my fingernail and mostly brown.  Eight legs and that classic tail with the stinger identified it as a scorpion.  I had no idea that scorpions even existed east of the Mississippi River so we took plenty of photos and a quick internet search later, we had an answer; Southern Devil Scorpion.

Southern Devil Scorpions are one of only two scorpions naturally found in Louisiana with the other being the Striped Bark Scorpion (Centruroides vittatus).  They’re primarily nocturnal and found in leaf litter and under logs.  Their sting is said to be painful but not deadly.  I couldn’t quite nail down a range on this species, so I created a range map based on the reference below.

southern devil scorpion range mapReferences:
Southern Devil Scorpion on insectidentification.org


Metairie Shorebird Spot

Another week stuck in the office during spring. That’s always how it works out.  I’m sure I’ll be out in the field for months at a time again as soon as the weather becomes unbearably hot.  The weather IS finally warming up as we’ve had our first consecutive week above 80F recently. I venture outside every few hours to give my eyes and brain a rest from the computer screen.  It’s migration season and I have an itch that needs to be scratched.  The trees outside my office building are dead silent. I forgot my lunch, so I decided to drive out to Metairie for a bánh mì. On the way, I decide to follow a lead from Peter Yaukey’s blog about some unusual suburban shorebirds.

least sandpiper - 2016.04.26 - Metairie, LA

Least Sandpiper in the surface water impoundments in the middle of Metairie

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Birding New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo

My three year old son and I found ourselves with Good Friday off this year and after a faster than expected round of morning chores, decided to enjoy the weather and take a trip to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA.  Being the start of migration here in Louisiana and having just read a post on the ABA Blog where Ted Floyd explored birding at the Denver Zoo, I was inspired to keep my own list of birds at the Audubon Zoo.  And yes, he explains why it’s not cheating and I will too.

northern mockingbird - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Northern Mockingbirds are year-round suburban residents and could be found singing from many of the animal enclosures.

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Mediterranean House Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

mediterranean house gecko - 2016-03-14 19.56.37 - Covington, LA.37

When I was a child in the 80’s, every now and then we’d get a glimpse of a “gecko” and it was a real treat because they were so rare.  Yesterday, I counted eight of these Mediterranean House Geckos on various windows across my house hunting for bugs.  Along with the Carolina Anole, this introduced species is one of the most common reptiles I see at my home.

This species is originally from southern Europe and Northern Africa but has become established all across the world helped by its ability to survive in urban areas, generally living in the cracks and crevices of buildings during the day and emerging and night to feed on the bugs attracted by man made light sources.

Mouton Cove Rice Field Roost at Sunset

wading bird tree - 2014.08.05 - Mouton Cove, LA

One of my favorite places for birding in the oppressive heat of summer is the community of Mouton Cove, Louisiana.  The working wetlands are in a period of transition from summer rice and the flooded fields are drained which coincides perfectly with the fall southward migration of millions of birds.  In the evenings, you can drive the roads between bermed fields and see thousands of wading birds, shorebirds and gulls.

The photo above was taken this time last year over a pond where I had just seen my lifer Neotropic Cormorant.  It was sunset and the birds were starting to gather in the lonely trees between fields and a nice woman with a raccoon greeted me on the road and invited me to walk around her property and enjoy this little slice of paradise.

King Rail

I was working down in Southwest Louisiana in Cameron Parish and we’d been hearing this loud cackling from the roadside marsh all week.  After one such bit of cackling, someone spotted a chicken-sized bird running across the road.


I knew right away what it was since I had looked for one all last year at Big Branch NWR in St. Tammany Parish.
“Marsh chicken!” one guy said
“Galinule” said another, slightly disinterested
“A king rail!” I exclaimed as I dove for my camera.
“Take a good look, because I’ve never actually seen one before and it might be years before you see one again”.
And just as if to prove me wrong to my colleagues, the marsh and the universe; this happened.

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Islands in the Marsh – the Louisiana Cheniere Plain (1 of 3)

sunrise over Cameron Parish

Sunrise over the Hackberry marsh

From Vermilion Bay west to the Sabine River and south of the Intracoastal Water Way to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico is a stretch of land that’s generally more wet than it is solid.  Its residents’ primary occupations are shrimp and oil, it’s home to some nasty populations of biting insects and when the Gulf whips up a particularly nasty storm, the whole region can be completely covered in a salty tidal surge.
It’s not pretty, but it can be beautiful.
The vast majority of land remains untouched; a different kind of big sky country made of a marsh 20 miles tall and 100 miles wide.  It’s home to some unique specialist species and a stopover location for one of the most massive bird migrations on the planet but even in our modern day and age, it’s still a little too wild to be completely tamed by people except upon isolated slivers of high ground.  These landlocked former beach ridges are a fascinating geologic occurrence that makes up the Louisiana Cheniere Plain.

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Albino(?) Squirrel

albino squirrell - 2015.02.15 - McKinney, TXI visited some family in McKinney, TX (just north of Dallas) over the Mardi Gras holiday and had a chance to visit the Heard Natural Science Museum with my nephew.  Apart from the museum, Heard has a 289 acre wildlife preserve with trails and boardwalks.  I got to see Harris’ Sparrow, which winters in a small corridor in the center of the United States, Hooded Merganser, a rookery of Great Blue Heron, Red-eared Slider turtles and this interesting white squirrel.
I’m not sure if it’s albino or just a white morph, but it was definitely an interesting find and the first time I’ve seen its like.


Ty really like the dinosaurs.



2014 Big (Learning to Bird) Year Wrap-up

As I posted back in late 2013, I decided to pursue a birding “Big Year” for 2014 to learn the ins and outs of bird identification.  Although I was relatively new to birding and hadn’t been keeping a “life list”, I had a long history of taking pictures of any wildlife I saw.  As I learned to identify birds over the past year, I slowly unraveled the mysteries of my old vacation photos and found I had documented 105 species! Keep in mind however, at this point, I was an absolute newbie at birding.  On January 3, I saw a flock of black speckled birds that had me stumped for 2 weeks.  They were Common Starlings (the most numerous invasive songbird species in the United States).

european starling
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