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|No. 146||NEW ORLEANS, LA||2 April 1992|
The LOS Yard Lists, 1991
L.O.S. members sent 27 yard lists for 1991 from Louisiana and one each from Mississippi and Texas. From your comments, I think those of you who worked on your lists had a lot of fun with them. The lists were very carefully compiled, too. Nobody checked off an unrealistic bird while leaving an adjacent easy-to-see bird unchecked, for instance. Christmas Count compilers please note.
Louisiana is a good state to watch birds in. We live near the water, reporting seven different heron and egret species from at least 16 yards. Migration birding is good here; 35 species of warblers turned up. It can be dangerous for those small birds, though; we reported lots of Sharp-shinned Hawks (17 yards), Cooper's Hawks (12), Merlins (8), and even Peregrine Falcons (4). We have big, beautiful, soaring birds: Wood Stork (5), American White Pelican (11), American Swallow-tailed Kite (2), Bald Eagle (5). We have tiny jewels of birds (7 species of hummingbirds).
You reported 230 species all told, 223 of them from Louisiana. All reporters saw Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue Jay, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Grackle, and American Goldfinch. Downy Woodpecker, Purple Martin, Northern Cardinal, and Brown-headed Cowbird were missed in one yard each.
At the other end of the scale, there were 30 count exclusives in Louisiana and 6 more in the neighbor ing states. Six LBRC review-list species turned up in yards last year. Later in the article you'll see a table that names all the Louisiana species and tells how many yards they appeared in.
Where were we strongest? Well, if you look at a field guide you'll see that Louisiana has only one hummingbird species within its borders, with no other species' ranges nearby. How did we manage to get seven (with six in one yard, five in another, and a Calliope Hummingbird that wasn't reported)? We did well with 7 vireos (including Bell's), 5 dove species, and 15 from the hawk and vulture group (all seen from one yard!).
Yard-listers in the northern part of the state checked off House Finch almost as a matter of course. Several reporters from the southern part of the state pointed with pride to their House Finches. In fact, 16 people had it. No wonder the LBRC took it off the review list.
Where were we weakest? Birds that swim and dive (loons, grebes, mergansers, coots, bay and sea ducks) were a problem. We were weak on shore birds, too. When we do this again, someone who sets up a tent on, say, Fourchon Beach for the year could get a lot of count exclusives. Well, it was just a thought.
The Birders (and their yards)
The longest list in the Challenge was from Van Remsen and Catherine Cummins, who had 172 species. Just down the road Donna Dittmann and Steve Cardiff reported 158. Joseph Kennedy of Houston had 153, and Ron Stein had 148 in Reserve. Here are all the birders, their yards, and their totals, in alphabetical order by name.
Richard and Elizaheth Bello live in a residential neighborhood about 3 miles north of Thibodaux, LA. Their lot is small, but there is a bayou nearby and a dense cypress swamp a couple of miles away. This helps explain the adult Bald Eagle pair that flew directly over the neighborhood in March. They had 60 species.
Joyce Bennett has a rural lot with deciduous woods and open water in Hebert, LA, south of Monroe. Her count of 103 species (including Wood Stork) was the largest in the state outside the hotly competitive corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Chris Brantley and his wife are building a house on a wooded lot on Bayou Chinchuba in Lewisburg near the Causeway north of Lake Pontchartrain. "It was supposed to be finished last summer," he says. He got 55 species on his lot, including Bald Eagle.
Roger Breedlove had 78 species in and around his house and long, narrow property in the Garden District of Alexandria. He had the only Warbling Vireo reported from the yards of the state.
Bedford Brown lives on a half-acre lot in an old section of Slidell. His lot borders on a canal with heavily wooded banks. He had 99 species, including Chuck-will' s-widow (an exclusive), but not House Sparrow.
Kermit and Betty Cummings have a yard of about 0.6 acres in a pine-mixed hardwood habitat in Pineville. Their yard backs up to a densely thicketed, wooded area. They reported 64 species.
Donna L. Dittmann and Steven W. Cardiff had the state's second largest list, 158 species, near St. Gabriel in Iberville Parish. Their only exclusive was Canvasback. They shared several near-exclusives with Van Remsen down the road, including Ross' Goose, Gadwall, and American Wigeon.
Rohert G. Eble lives a block and a half north of the Mississippi River in Harahan (Jefferson Parish). He has a large back yard and several feeders, and reported 42 species, plus a parakeet sp. and Ringed Turtle-Dove.
Bill and Lydia Fontenot live five miles east of Carencro near Lafayette. They had 98 species including American Swallow-tailed Kite. For more information on how Bill keeps up his yard, see his article in this issue.
Martin D. Floyd of Starkville, Mississippi, did a week-by-week list of species. The resulting abundance chart is an article in itself. He also kept similar charts for reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and butterflies. He had 69 species of birds. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was reported from both Mississippi and Texas, but not from Louisiana.
Judy Fruge' of Cameron lives about a mile north of the Gulf of Mexico. Her yard has pecan, live oak, and pine trees with a ligustrum hedge. She reported 87 species, including state exclusives Roseate Spoonbill, Canada Goose, Virginia Rail, Inca Dove, and Great-tailed Grackle.
Almena P. Gudas has a 100x300' lot in Baton Rouge that slopes gradually upward from the street to a strip of woods in the back. She counted only birds that touched the yard and its plantings, and reported 37 species.
Dale Gustin lives near Morganza, and he sent in a colored map of his area. It shows his home with a brushy lot behind it and farmland and a pecan or chard to the sides. There's a borrow canal across the road with trees on the far side, and the Morganza Spillway in the distance. He reported 89 species including Wood Stork.
Adam and Phyllis Huhner have a small yard in New Orleans near the 17th Street Canal. They maintain a variety of bird-attracting plantings, feeders, and baths, and had 81 species, including Sander ling and Black Skimmer (exclusives).
Tom Kee, former L.O.S. News editor, lives in a residential area of Monroe. His yard has oaks, pines, and several feeder areas. He only counted birds that landed in his yard or flew directly above it, and had a total of 55 species. Exclusive: Fox Sparrow.
Joseph C. Kennedy reported 153 species from his Houston, Texas yard. Exclusives: Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Upland Sandpiper, Swainson's Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, and Alder Flycatcher.
Helen S. Landry lives about 3/4 mile from the Mississippi River in River Ridge (Jefferson Parish). She has a large lot with a few trees and many bushes and feeders. She reported 40 species.
Virginia Mouw of Hammond has a large lot in Hammond. She reported 62 species. 'The real rarity, which had to be an escape from somewhere, was an Indian Bank Myna. I will never forget seeing this oddity standing in the 'lake' in our backyard after last spring's heavy rains, and then searching my books to see what it was."
David Muth lives in the city of New Orleans, not near a park or the lake. He saw 130 species from his yard and 135 on his block, which is little short of amazing. He had 29 species of warblers and five of hummingbirds, including Broad-tailed Hummingbird (exclusive).
Norton Nelkin patrolled a block of New Orleans' Lake Vista subdivision near Lake Pontchartrain. The area has quite a few trees but little undergrowth. He had 27 species of warblers, including Black-throated Blue (an exclusive), and a total of 121 species.
Nancy Newfield had six species of humming- birds. The state's first Broad-billed Hummingbird revisited her Metairie yard for the last time early last year, and she also had the only Allen's Hummingbird and Royal Tern. She had 112 species all told (plus Monk Parakeet and Blue-crowned Parakeet).
Van Remsen and Catherine Cummins had the Challenge's largest list near St. Gabriel. They had an amazing 172 species in and from the half acre around their home, near their mailbox, and at the back canal. They had 30 species of warblers and 15 of hawks and vultures, including an adult Bald Eagle, an American Swallow-tailed Kite, and 3 Peregrine Falcons. They had 2 Wood Storks and about 10 early-arrival dates for the Baton Rouge area. Their three exclusives were Green-winged Teal, Bell's Vireo, and Mourning Warbler.
Mike Rhodes and his family have a home in a rural part of Thibodaux, LA, east of Nichols State University. They have shrubs and trees (pine and cypress) in their yard, with the Bayou Country Club golf course in sight of the back yard. They had 63 species.
John Sevenair, your editor, saw 56 species from his 30x30' back yard in New Orleans. He's planning on doing more birding and less editing.
Gwen and Al Smalley had 91 species in their yard in the Lake Vista area of New Orleans. They have a small yard with a garden pond, a birdbath with a small fountain, and feeders. Exclusives: Black-bellied Plover, Black Tern.
Ronald J. Stein was the initiator of the Yard List Challenge. He lives in a rural subdivision in Reserve, LA, with shrubby fields and a hedgerow and drainage canal in the rear. He had 148 species, including seven exclusives: Sora, Groove-billed Ani, Willow Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and Bobolink. He also had a Eurasian Collared Dove.
Thomas A. Sylvest of Gramercy reported 76 species. His lot is in a subdivision with some mature trees. Behind the lot is a drainage canal about 20 wide, and across the canal is a grove of hardwood trees and brush.
Eleanor M. Talley of Vidalia, LA, lives in front of a levee. Over the levee there is a borrow pit, followed by bottomland hardwoods and an oxbow lake. This is a good location; she had 91 species, including Bald Eagle and Wood Stork.
Melvin Weber has a 90x60 lot in Reserve with a similar-sized vacant lot behind it. There are over grown fields nearby and a cypress-tupelo swamp half a mile away. He had 143 species, including exclusives on Black-necked Stilt and Pectoral Sandpiper.
|Yard Lists 1991||- Species and number of yards||Purple Martin 26||Palm Warbler 3|
|Tree Swallow 21||Bay-breasted Warbler 4|
|Am White Pelican 11||Sanderling 1||N Rough-winged Swal 11||Blackpoll Warbler 1|
|Double-cr Cormorant 18||Pectoral Sandpiper 1||Bank Swallow 7||Cerulean Warbler 3|
|American Anhinga 9||Common Snipe 5||Cliff Swallow 5||Black-and-white Warbler 13|
|Great Blue Heron 19||American Woodcock 6||Barn Swallow 19||American Redstart 14|
|Great Egret 21||LaughingGull 12||Blue Jay 27||Prothonotary Warbler 16|
|Snowy Egret 19||Bonaparte's Gull 4||American Crow 24||Worm-eating Warbler 4|
|Little Blue Heron 16||Ring-billed Gull 14||Fish Crow 21||Swainson's Warbler 2|
|Tricolored Heron 8||Herring Gull 8||Carolina Chickadee 24||Ovenbird 9|
|Cattle Egret 19||Caspian Tern 7||Tufted Titmouse 17||Northern Waterthrush 7|
|Green-backed Heron 18||Royal Tern 1||Brown-headed Nuthatch 3||Louisiana Waterthrush 4|
|Black-cr Night Heron 8||Forster'sTern 8||Brown Creeper 3||Kentucky Warbler 9|
|Yellow-cr Night Heron 12||Least Tern 8||Carolina Wren 23||Mourning Warbler 1|
|White Ibis 17||Black Tern 1||House Wren 12||Common Yellowthroat 16|
|White-faced Ibis 2||Black Skimmer 1||Winter Wren 4||Hooded Warbler 14|
|Plegadis sp 8||Rock Dove 18||Marsh Wren 2||Wilson's Warbler 5|
|Roseate Spoonbill 1||White-winged Dove 3||Golden-crowned Kinglet 11||Canada Warbler 6|
|Wood Stork 5||Mourning Dove 27||Ruby-crowned Kinglet 25||Yellow-breasted Chat 12|
|Gr White-fronted Goose 4||Inca Dove 1||Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher 20||Summer Tanager 21|
|Snow Goose 13||Common Ground-Dove 2||Eastern Bluebird 8||Scarlet Tanager 11|
|Ross' Goose 2||Black-billed Cuckoo 3||Veery 9||Northern Cardinal 26|
|Canada Goose 1||Yellow-billed Cuckoo 22||Gray-cheeked Thrush 5||Rose-breasted Grosbeak 16|
|Wood Duck 10||Groove-billed Ani 1||Swainson's Thrush 12||Blue Grosbeak 8|
|Green-winged Teal 1||Barn OwI 3||Hermit Thrush 16||Indigo Bunting 19|
|Mallard 5||Eastern Screech-Owl 6||Wood Thrush 16||Painted Bunting 13|
|Northern Pintail 3||Great Horned Owl 8||American Robin 27||Dickcissel 4|
|Blue-winged Teal 3||Barred Owl 13||Gray Catbird 19||Rufous-sided Towhee 16|
|Northern Shoveler 4||Common Nighthawk 20||Northern Mockingbird 27||Chipping Sparrow 13|
|Gadwall 2||Chuck-will's-widow 1||Brown Thrasher 23||Clay-colored Sparrow 1|
|American Wigeon 2||Whip-poor-will 3||American Pipit 4||Field Sparrow 8|
|Canvasback 1||Chimney Swift 24||Cedar Waxwing 24||Vesper Sparrow 1|
|Lesser Scaup 3||Broad-billed Hum 1||Loggerhead Shrike 18||Savannah Sparrow 3|
|Black Vulture 10||Buff-bellied Hum 5||European Starling 24||Fox Sparrow 1|
|Turkey Vulture 16||Ruby-throated Hum 27||White-eyed Vireo 20||Song Sparrow 9|
|Osprey 6||Black-chinned Hum 7||Bell's Vireo 1||Lincoln's Sparrow 4|
|Am Swallow-tailed Kite 2||Broad-tailed Hum 1||Solitary Vireo 12||Swamp Sparrow 8|
|Mississippi Kite 20||Rufous Hum 10||Yellow-throated Vireo 14||White-throated Sparrow 23|
|Bald Eagle 5||Allen's Hum 1||Warbling Vireo 1||White-crowned Sparrow 3|
|Northern Harrier 6||Belted Kingfisher 16||Philadelphia Vireo 7||Dark-eyed Junco 14|
|Sharp-shinned Hawk 17||Red-headed Woodpecker 13||Red-eyed Vireo 14||Bobolink 1|
|Cooper's Hawk 12||Red-bellied Woodpecker 22||Blue-winged Warbler 7||Red-winged Blackbird 24|
|Red-shouldered Hawk 18||Yellow-bellied Saps 25||Golden-winged Warbler 2||Eastern Meadowlark 11|
|Broad-winged Hawk 11||Downy Woodpecker 26||Tennessee Warbler 14||Rusty Blackbird 8|
|Red-tailed Hawk 21||Hairy Woodpecker 13||Orange-cr Warbler 20||Brewer's Blackbird 8|
|American Kestrel 18||Northern flicker 25||Nashville Warbler 2||Great-tailed Grackle 1|
|Merlin 8||Pileated Woodpecker 16||Northern Parula 17||Boat-tailed Grackle 12|
|Peregrine Falcon 4||Olive-sided flycatcher 3||Yellow Warbler 15||Common Grackle 27|
|Northern Bobwhite 4||Eastern Wood-Peewee 13||Chestnut-sided Warbler 8||Bronzed Cowbird 7|
|Virginia Rail 1||Acadian flycatcher 8||Magnolia Warbler 12||Brown-headed Cowbird 26|
|Sora 1||Willow flycatcher 1||Black-thr Blue Warbler 1||Orchard Oriole 21|
|Black-bellied Plover 1||Least flycatcher 2||Yellow-rumped Warbler 27||Northern Oriole 17|
|Killdeer 18||Eastern Phoebe 21||Black-thr Green Warbler 13||Purple Finch 17|
|Black-necked Stilt 1||Great Crested Flycatcher 19||Blackburnian Warbler 7||House Finch 17|
|Greater Yellowlegs 4||Brown-cr Flycatcher 1||Yellow -throated Warbler 7||Pine Siskin 3|
|Lesser Yellowlegs 5||Eastern Kingbird 14||Pine Warbler 18||American Goldfinch 27|
|Solitary Sandpiper 6||Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 2||Prairie Warbler 3||House Sparrow 24|
A Late Fall Pelagic Bird Survey off Western Louisiana, Part II
We covered a lot of "ground" on 31 Oct (Day 6), traveling 85 mi. and completing 4 trawling stations. Unfortunately, most of those miles yielded no birds. My first sighting of the day, 65 mi. S of Cameron, was the 6th, and last, Cory's Shearwater that I saw in LA waters. (I was unable to collect or photograph this species during the cruise, so its addition to the state list may be considered premature by the Louisiana Bird Records Committee.) At this point we were heading N to our 1st station of the day.
Station 1 was birdless, but as we started heading back S toward nearby Station 2, I spotted a relatively small, dark, and long-winged bird flying low over the waves. At first I thought that the bird, which was heading SE(!) and paralleling the boat from stem to bow, was going to be a Black Tern or storm-petrel. But, much to my surprise, the bird was actually a nighthawk, and as I was able to scrutinize the bird as it gradually overtook the ship and pulled away, I realized that I was looking at a Lesser Nighthawk! Certainly, this was one of the last species that I had expected to see. Also seen during this stretch were 4 Black Terns.
After Station 2, which was also birdless, we headed back W for Station 3 (62 mi. S of Sabine Pass), where the best I could do was 6 Royal Terns, a possible Black Skimmer (too far away to be sure), and a frustratingly unidentifiable sulid speck.
Our 4th and last station of the day was way back E, about 51 nil. S of Grand Cheniere. Here, I amassed a total of one distant unidentified sulid, a jaeger sp., a Laughing Gull, 3 Royal Terns, 3 Black Terns, a Barn Swallow, and a flock of 3 small passerines (probably Indigo Buntings).
The jaeger was first spotted as it raced low over the water well off the bow. As had been the case with the Cattle Egret incident the previous day, I suspected that the jaeger had a potential meal in its sights. Following the jaeger's trajectory, I spotted the above trio of probable buntings as they were flying low and S. Again, I watched in amazement as the jaeger closed in on dinner.
At the last possible second, the buntings spotted their pursuer and began to spiral straight up into the late afternoon sky. The jaeger went into a steep climb and overtook the buntings from below. The buntings responded by splitting up and making evasive maneuvers as the jaeger tried to snatch them from the air. But the jaeger, not to be denied, began to concentrate its efforts on one of the 3. The unlucky one managed to elude the jaeger with twisting and turning maneuvers as they continued to gain altitude. Several times, the jaeger would feign that it was breaking off the attack, only to veer back and resume the pursuit.
Having gained an estimated height of 500+ ft., the bunting committed a fatal tactical error by starting to descend. Now with the height advantage, the jaeger bided its time and let the tiring bunting drop almost to the surface before deftly picking it out of the air and settling on the water to consume it.
That night, a major cold front moved through the South and penetrated well out into the Gulf. Prior to this, conditions had been balmy, with relatively calm seas and light E or S winds. The few land birds that I had seen had mostly been moving S. Now, on the morning of 1 Nov., it was suddenly cold and rough, with strong N winds, overcast, and poor visibility due to heat waves coming off the relatively warmer water.
With the weather change came an amazing assortment of non-pelagic birds that had presumably been moving S in association with the cold front and had overshot the mainland. Especially for the smaller passerines, such a miscalculation puts them in a serious predicament. Undoubtedly already running low on energy stores, and now vulnerable to attacks by jaegers and gulls, they still instinctively fight their way back toward shore against a stiff, cold head wind and sea spray.
When I came on deck shortly after sunrise, we were about 55 mi. S of Holly Beach. It was too windy and rough for trawling, so we were moving slowly NW hoping that it would be calmer by the time we reached our next sampling position. My first indication that the front had pushed birds out to sea were a probable Indigo Bunting that briefly followed the boat, and a flock of probable Lesser Scaup moving W or NW.
About 08:15 an Eastern Meadowlark appeared off the stern and followed the ship for the next 2+ hrs. The bird was obviously desperate, but wouldn't land on board. Several times the bird disappeared after crashing into waves or after attempting to land on patches of white foam, only to reappear. It finally vanished for the last time about 10:30. Other birds seen during this 20 mi. stretch from 55-35 mi. out were: another flock of 15-20 ducks, 3 jaegers, 7 Laughing Gulls, a Herring Gull, 6 Royal Terns, a Common Tern, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher(!).
We arrived at our first Station (35 mi. S, 1 mi. W Sabine Pass) just before 11:30, and remained until almost 3PM. Highlights here included a flock of 4 Snow Geese, 3 Lesser Scaup, 3 different Pomarine Jaegers, a jaeger sp., 3 Common Terns, Mourning Dove, and Yellow-rumped Warbler, in addition to the usual small numbers of Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns.
Except for some Station 1 tag-alongs (jaegers, gulls, terns), I saw nothing en route to our next Station at 26 mi. S, 1 1/2 mi. E Sabine Pass. One of the tag-alongs was the jaeger sp., which I had been leaning towards calling a Pomarine based on apparent size (central pair of rectrices in molt). Fortunately, I was able to collect the bird and determine that it was actually a Parasitic Jaeger - Louisiana's 3rd specimen and the only one seen the entire trip. The only thing new at Station 2 (there until dark) was a flock of 10 Little Blue Herons flying S, apparently taking advantage of the tail wind.
On 2 Nov., the N winds and the parade of mainland overshoots continued. At Station 1 (40 mi. S, 9 mi. E of Calcasieu Pass), I saw one each of Herring Gull, Common Tern, and Royal Tern, 4 Laughing Gulls, 2 Mourning Doves, both Swamp Sparrow and Orange-crowned Warbler on board, and 4 Yellow-rumped Warblers. One of the crewmen reported a flock of 30 Snow Geese.
Nine mi. closer to shore at Station 2, in addition to Laughing and Herring gulls and Royal Tern, I had 2 Franklin's Gulls, 9 Mourning Doves, a Gray Catbird on board, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and another Yellow-rumped Warbler. I watched the hapless Swamp Sparrow be killed by Laughing Gulls when it made the mistake of leaving the haven of the ship.
During the long run N from Station 2 to 3, which was located within sight of the Cameron jetties, we encountered 3 White Ibis, a flock of 70 Snow Geese, 5 Mourning Doves, Yellow-shafted Flicker, and Savannah and (another) Swamp sparrows on board. Also seen were 108 Common Terns, and some of the more expected inshore marine species such as Ring-billed Gull and Forster' 5 Tern.
Birds of interest seen on Station 3 included 3 Dunlin, a jaeger sp., Caspian Tern, and 4 Mourning Doves. I watched the Savannah Sparrow head for shore, but the catbird seemed reluctant to jump ship, even though land was in sight. Only half-way through the trip, just a little homesick, and within sight of the East Jetty Woods (I wondered if anyone was birding there at that moment...), I had to fight my own urges to jump ship. As we moved east to Station 4 (just off the Grand Cheniere area) the catbird finally tried to make shore, only to come struggling back after being attacked by Laughing Gulls. Finishing up the day at Station 4, 1 saw many flocks of scaup heading N, 3 more Dunlin, possibly the same jaeger sp., and a warbler sp.
The weather over 3-4 Nov. (Days 9-10) continued rough, windy, and cold. On 3 Nov. at Station 1 and vicinity (34 mi. S, 7 1/2 mi. W Pecan Island), I had what may have been one of the stranger list compositions of the cruise: 2 large sulid sp., 4 Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Kestrel, 2 Pomarine Jaegers, Laughing and Herring gulls, Common, Forster's, Royal, and Black terns, warbler sp., and Red-winged Blackbird.
Heading SSE toward Station 2, I added a flock of 22 Snow Geese, 5 Lesser Scaup, and a Mourning Dove, and I watched 6-8 Laughing Gulls and a jaeger attack and kill a medium-sized blackish passerine in the distance. At Station 2 (49 mi. S Pecan Island), the best I could do was a Pomarine Jaeger, 2 Laughing Gulls, and one each of Herring Gull and Royal Tern. Moving back toward shore, we finished the day at Station 3 (30 mi. S, 6 mi. E of Pecan Island) with Pomarine Jaeger, 3 jaeger sp., 8 Herring and 100 Laughing gulls, and 2 Royal Terns.
We spent 4 Nov. working south of Marsh Island. Noteworthy sightings at Station 1 (51 mi. S of west end Marsh I.) included Great Blue Heron, Lesser Scaup, Pomarine Jaeger, and 16 Mourning Doves still heading N in groups of 1-7 (1 on board). Station 2, closer to shore at 31 mi. S of Marsh I., produced Cattle Egret, Franklin's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, 2 Sandwich Terns, and a Mourning Dove.
After finishing Station 2 at 10:45, we were obliged to honor a Coast Guard request to assist a disabled shrimp boat located about 70 mi. S of Pt. Chevreuil. While at Station 2, I had managed to chum a large flock of gulls and terns (40 Herrings, 40 Laughings, 20 Royals), and many of these stayed with the ship as I continued chumming during the rescue mission. The Franklin's Gull followed us until at least noon.
At 1:30 (61 mi. S of Pt. Chevreuil) an adult Black-legged Kittiwake joined the feeding frenzy. I was able to photograph it; this is apparently the first LA record for Nov., and the first state record of an adult. Also joining the flock during this period were a Black Tern and a Common Tern. When we reached the disabled shrimper, we rigged a tow line until a Coast Guard vessel relieved us during the night.
The final 4 days of the trip were anticlimactic. The weather improved temporarily and we covered considerable ground between 23-81 mi. out and from off Pecan Island on the west to off Isles Dernieres on the east, but birds were few and far between and most of the potentially interesting ones were uncooperative and stayed out of ID range. For example, I saw 20-25 unidentifiable jaegers and another mystery sulid during this period.
Here is a list of mentionables seen: 5 Nov. - an ad. Herring Gull and 2 Black Terns at 60 mi. S Pecan Island; 4 Herring Gulls at 70 mi. S of Pecan I.; 4 Herring Gulls and a Mourning Dove at 73 mi. S of Pecan I.; 6 Nov.- 2 Herring Gulls, Royal Tern at 81 mi. S of Pt. Chevreuil; 7 Nov.- Pomarine Jaeger at 45 mi. S of Raccoon Pt.; 15 Black Terns at 32 mi. S of Oyster Bayou; Pomarine Jaeger at 27 mi. 5, 2 mi. E of Oyster Bayou.
During the night of 7-8 Nov. we were hammered by another cold front, and our last day at sea was nota pleasant one (the crew's continuous attempts at "seasickness humor" did not make things any easier). We managed to finish one trawling Station at 23 mi. S, 6 mi. W of Oyster Bayou before throwing in the towel and heading for Pascagoula. Of interest at this last Station were a Brown Pelican, a Ring-billed Gull, and 5 Common Terns. During the next several hours it was touch and go for my stomach as we crashed through 10+ ft. seas in a violent corkscrewing motion (OK, I did have to take just one dramamine).
I continued watching for birds, but it was too dangerous to do much moving around on deck (not to mention cold and wet). I saw a number of small passerines being blown past the ship, but the only one that I could identify for sure was an Eastern Phoebe (about 23 mi. S of Raccoon Pt.). Unfortunately, we were moving SE or E instead of N, and the land birds were opting to continue fighting toward land rather than seek the shelter of the ship.
By 3 PM I put away my binoculars and sought shelter inside the ship. That night was uncomfortable, but we made good time in spite of the rough seas, and by dawn we were sitting at the entrance to the Pascagoula ship channel.
In addition to the relatively rare species that I saw, the main highlights of the trip were: 1) the surprisingly large distances from shore for species that we normally think of as being restricted to inshore waters (e.g., Royal Tern, Herring Gull, etc.); 2) the numbers of Common and Black terns seen far offshore and so late in the fall; 3) establishing that Pomarine Jaegers are present in substantial numbers off LA in late fall; 4) the diversity of mainland species that can be pushed out to sea by late fall cold fronts; and 5) indications of substantial mortality of some non-pelagic species due to bad weather and predation by jaegers and gulls. Lowlights included the depressing overall scarcity of pelagic birds in the Gulf.
In the future I hope to be able to participate on other excursions through LA waters. Additional field work of this sort at different seasons will gradually help fill the void in our knowledge of the status and distribution of birds in the Gulf of Mexico off LA. I thank Butch Pellegrin, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the NOAA, and the officers, crew, and scientists of the NOAA Ship Oregon II for allowing me to participate on the cruise and for making the journey as pleasant as possible.
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