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No. 184 BATON ROUGE, LAJanuary 1999

Newsletter of the Louisiana Ornithological Society

Table of Contents

LOS Winter Meeting Southeastern Kestrels
LOS Pelagics 1999 Oiled Wildlife Workshop
Great Backyard Bird Count Longspur ID
Longspur tails Longspur figure
Fall Trans-Gulf Migration BREC Bluebonnet Swamp
1998 Parish Contest 1999 Yard List Competition
Louisiana Birds Spring 1998 New Members
Membership Dues New LA Checklists Available
LOS Officers LOS Sales
Membership Form

January 29 - 31, 1999
Marty Guidry
Vice-president LOS
The LOS Winter Meeting was outstanding - despite the efforts of Mother Nature to outdo us. Thanks to Jim Ingold and his 'crew' who did superb planning for all contingencies. Their willingness to step in and help each other out where needed made for a very smooth meeting. LOS thanks these folks for making our Winter 99 meeting such a success: Terry Davis, Paul Dickson, Margaret Fontaine, Vera Garlough, Mac Hardy, Hubert Hervey, Pat Hervey, Collen Kulesza, Vicki LeFevers, Charles Lyon, True Mann, Larry Raymond, Rosemary Seidler, Will Smolenski, Betty Speairs, Dick Speairs, Ellen Stevenson, Judy Townes, Jean Trahan, Jeff Trahan, Kathryn Trahan, and Bill Wood.
The three speakers - Don Simon, Kathryn Trahan and John Smallwood - were very interesting and informative. It was encouraging to see how our education funds are well used by stimulating young birders to pursue their interests. Thanks, Kathryn, for making us wish we were young again and could attend Camp Chirachuahua. Don Simon used excerpts from Audubon's journal and artwork to put us 'in the mind' of John James as he journeyed down the Mississippi from Cincinnati to New Orleans. A unique and very educational approach. John Smallwood's study of the American Kestrel in Florida was quite interesting. Through his efforts the Kestrel is making a strong comeback in central Florida. (See article, page 2.)
Although the rains washed out several of our field trip locations, the flexible staff of the Shreveport Bird Club quickly developed alternate and equivalent trips that produced the birds. Our Saturday night tally was 109 species, which is very good. We had very knowledgeable leaders who knew the area well and made last minute itinerary changes when a "Road Closed" sign suddenly appeared. Thanks for the persistence and positive attitudes.
Some interesting birds seen included White-breasted Nuthatch, Bald Eagle (on the nest), Northern Pintail, Winter Wren, Le Conte's Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Bewick's Wren, Brown Creeper, Horned Lark, Cedar Waxwing, Palm Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) and Western Meadowlark. I guess we can't count the pair of Ruddy Shelducks at Paul's farm nor the Emus. Many of us also found Greater Roadrunners along I-49 as we departed Shreveport and a few saw Lapland Longspurs on Sunday outings. Again, thanks Jim for spearheading this effort and seeing it through the many twists and turns that occurred at the last minute. It was an excellent birding experience for all of us.
And for those unfamiliar with the Shreveport area - go up there and do some birding. They have some superb habitat and some birds that we don't get below Alexandria. Start with the Walter Jacobs Nature Center - what a neat, wild park - and include the area around Cross Lake - which has many niche habitats.
Table of Contents

Southeastern Kestrel
Our Saturday meeting included an interesting presentation on the non-migratory American kestrel, by Dr. John Smallwood from Montclair State University. The southeastern subspecies Falco sparvarius paulushas declined throughout most of this century. One of the factors limiting the breeding success of the birds has been availability of nesting cavities. When Dr. Smallwood was at the University of Florida in Gainesville, he established a program to oversee placement and management of monitored nestboxes and studied the success of this nestbox program.
As Dr. Smallwood explained it, approximately 400 nest boxes were placed on trees, utility poles and erected poles in north central Florida. The boxes were placed at heights of 11 to 20 feet. Squirrels and starlings were ejected from boxes by monitors. The program was generally quite successful and a good deal of data about the breeding biology of the subspecies was collected and has been published.
Factors associated with nesting successes and failures were monitored. Amongst the competitors for nesting cavities mentioned by Dr. Smallwood were Eastern Bluebirds, woodpeckers and Tree Swallows. However, the biggest problem for the breeding birds turned out to be the Imported Fire Ant. The relative sparsity of ants was felt to partially account for the finding that Florida sandhill habitats supported greater nesting success rates than the hardwood hammocks of central Florida.. A labor-intensive program of Amdro® application on visible fire ant mounds near nest boxes was found to decrease the failure rate from a baseline of 35% to 15 - 17%.
It would be interesting to learn what it might take to try and establish a cavity nesters support program in Louisiana. This would seem to me be the sort of project that local clubs or schools with Partners in Flight funding could accomplish. ---- Carol Foil
Table of Contents

Oiled Wildlife Response Workshop
Wildlife Rehab & Education Inc., sponsored by a grant from the Texas General Land Office, is providing the first of four oiled wildlife response training workshops in La Porte, Texas on Friday February 26, 1999 from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
The purpose of the workshop is to certify and train personnel that would be interested in assisting the WR&E Oiled Wildlife Response Team during a spill. The workshop will cover topics such as the effect of oil on wildlife, initial intake and exam of oiled wildlife, and introduction to OSHA training and actual hands on cleaning of oiled feathers.
Directions to the Dupont LaPorte Plant: from Baytown, take 146 South over bridge; Exit 225 West, turn right (North) on Sens Rd. There is no cost for the workshop but space is limited. Register early by calling Sharon 281-332-8319 or Michele 281-481-3528.
This is an excellent workshop and we need to get more Louisiana people certified to help in the event of an oil spill on the Louisiana gulf coast.
Table of Contents

Log On and Be Counted!
2nd Annual Great Backyard Bird Count Needs Families, Classrooms, and Individuals
to Put Their Bird Sightings on the Map
Ithaca, NY - Last year, El Niño meant rough weather and rough times for people in parts of North America. Now, after the warmest year on record, how are our beloved birds faring? Bird enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds are being urged to help researchers find out by participating in the 2nd Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 19-22, 1999.
A project of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count asks everyone - kids, adults, seniors, families, classrooms and community groups - to count the birds they see at their backyard bird feeders, local parks, and other areas. Reports are entered online at BirdSource, an interactive, state-of-the-art web site developed by the Cornell Lab and Audubon.
"Bird watching is the fastest-growing outdoor recreation in the country, enjoyed by millions every year," says Frank Gill, senior vice president for science at National Audubon. "Combined with the cutting-edge Internet technology of BirdSource, this observation power will allow us to immediately begin assessing 1999's distribution and abundance of North American birds, the week before spring migrations begin."
The count follows last year's first-ever tally of its kind, the Great '98 Backyard Bird Count, during which over 14,000 people tallied more than half a million birds. Findings will be especially important in this post-El Niño year. Last year, this weather phenomenon dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on the West Coast, induced a hot, dry summer in the Southeast, and may have been responsible for devastating ice storms in the Northeast. "We know this meant hard times for many people," says Gill. "Now we need to know what effect, if any, El Niño had on the birds."
To do this, Cornell and Audubon are counting on the estimated 60-million people who feed or watch birds. "We need them to help us by spending as little as 15 minutes - on any or all of the days - counting the numbers and kinds of birds they see during their morning coffee break, while driving to work, taking a stroll, or while purposefully out bird watching," continues Gill. Participants tally the highest number of each species seen at one time (so as not to count the same birds more than once). When logging onto BirdSource to report their observations, participants click on their state or province and receive a checklist of the most frequently reported birds in their region. Within hours, they will be able to see how their reports combine with others across the continent to create a kind of "snapshot" of North American birds.
"The Internet has become an important tool for conservation because it can gather, analyze, and distribute vast amounts of information quickly, and the number of people online is increasing substantially every year," says John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab. "Some reports show that 75 percent of American households now own PCs and that 65 percent of these have Internet access. The number of online computer users worldwide has doubled to 140 million in the last 18 months."
Prospective bird counters don't have to be online to participate in the 2nd Annual Great Backyard Bird Count. One count sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited, a birdfeeding and nature retail business with over 250 locations across North America, will be entering reports at many of their stores for people who are not online. (To find out how to get your information to them, call toll-free 800-326-4WBU). "We're especially excited about this," says Fitzpatrick. "It means we'll have that many more eyes out there scanning the North American landscape and counting for the birds. We want every U.S. ZIP code and Canadian postal code to be represented on this year's maps."
Wild Birds Unlimited and another exclusive Great Backyard Bird Count sponsor, the Ford Motor Company, also provided support this year for the development of exciting new beginner-level materials for the web site. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a perfect family or youth group activity, and last year, many classrooms logged on for the count.
This year, to encourage even more schools and families, the site features a vocabulary list to help them learn words commonly associated with birds and their environments. There's also a bibliography suggesting reference books, field guides, even novels that might be of interest to educators, students, and beginning birders. There are tips on how and what to feed birds, and steps everyone can take to make sure they're ready for the big event. Site visitors will be able to view colorful bird images, hear examples of their vocalizations, and look at trend data from last year's count and other citizen-science projects, such as Project FeederWatch and Christmas Bird Counts.
"We're excited to see how this year's data compare to what we accumulated last year," says Fitzpatrick. "Each year of the count is important and serves as a vital component in establishing a picture of North American birds' long-term population trends. The more information we have, the better we'll be able to ensure our common birds will remain common and take measures to protect species already in decline. That's why it's so important to get as many people as possible to tell us what they're seeing."
To participate, simply go to the BirdSource web site at and click on the Great Backyard Bird Count button. Directions and other information are provided at the site. Participation is free and no registration is necessary. All the information you need is available at the web site. If you have further questions, call toll-free 800-843-BIRD (2473). — Allison Wells (607) 254-2475 amw25@cornell.edu
Table of Contents

Bob Russell and Van Remsen
Our study of trans-Gulf migration (TGM) on offshore oil production platforms had a successful fall season -- despite the hectic pace of evacuations in September resulting from unusually frequent tropical storms. The stalwart field team consisted of Rick Knight (on British Petroleum's Ewing Bank 826), Bob Russell (on Mobil's South Pelto 10), Brian Gibbons (on Phillips' South Marsh Island 147), Mac Myers (on Exxon's Vermilion 265), and Jon King (on Texaco's Garden Banks 189), with able relief provided by roving observers Stacy Peterson and Dave Patton. Observations during the fall confirmed some expectations, but also provided a number of surprises.
Radar observations indicated that trans-Gulf migrants staging along and near the northern Gulf coast departed southward beginning around a half hour after sunset, and that migration traffic comprising these birds was aloft over our platforms throughout the night. During the early part of the fall (mid-August through early October), species of trans-Gulf migrants that winter in the Neotropics began arriving on the platforms late in the night and reached peak abundance just before sunrise. Most of these birds departed the platforms and continued southward at or shortly after first light, without resting or attempting to forage.
In contrast to the spring, when heaviest migration was apparent at our western-most platform (Garden Banks), our eastern-most platform (Ewing Bank) was the beneficiary of the heaviest migration traffic in the fall. This difference reflects major differences in trans-Gulf flight routes between spring and fall. In the spring, the majority of migrants departing from the Yucatan make landfall on the Upper Texas Coast (UTC) and in southwestern Louisiana (SWLA), traveling directly over Garden Banks. Populations of migrants destined for the UTC/SWLA are augmented by a substantial (and previously undescribed) movement traveling northeastward from south Texas or Tamaulipas, which passes just to the west of Garden Banks (but also sometimes contributes to migration traffic there, as indicated by the western flavor to the species composition). In the fall, radar observations seemed to indicate that the majority of fall trans-Gulf migrants depart from the Florida Panhandle and bypass Louisiana waters. We suspect that we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg at Ewing Bank, and that platforms off Alabama and western Florida may literally swarm with Neotropical migrants during the early fall.
In addition to the expected southbound trans-Gulf movements involving early-season Neotropical migrants such as Prothonotary Warblers, northbound movements were often detected both visually by our platform observers as well as remotely by radar imagery. These northbound movements, which occurred from early October into mid-November (and probably beyond), began at first light and continued through morning and into the afternoon. Our platform-based observations indicated that these return movements consisted primarily of shorter-distance migrants that winter wholly or in part along the Gulf Coast (such as wrens, kinglets, sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-rumped Warblers), and that accidentally "overshot" the coastline during the previous night and ended up over the Gulf following nocturnal flights in strong north to northwest winds. Platform use by these "overshoot migrants" was heavy, and because of the abundance of migratory moths and other insects offshore during the fall, these birds were usually able to feed successfully on the platforms.
Another interesting type of reverse movement involved true Neotropical migrants departing from the Florida Panhandle which aborted their trans-Gulf flight and returned to the coast flying downwind in easterlies. This situation seemed to account for episodes of unusual late-afternoon arrivals of warblers on the platforms. For example, on the night of October 2, 1998, a cold front just barely penetrated over water into the Gulf in the vicinity of the Florida Panhandle, and a large migratory flight departed from the northeastern Gulf coast with favorable tailwinds. Shortly into the night, the front withdrew northward such that the migrants unwittingly crossed the front into unfavorable headwinds. Apparently, they attempted to fly into the headwinds for several hours, but then aborted the flight and returned downwind, arriving in our study area during the afternoon of October 3 and yielding numerous exhausted and moribund Neotropical migrants on all five platforms. Fortuitously, one of these migrants was a Magnolia Warbler that had been banded several weeks earlier in coastal Maryland, lending support to an eastern origin for the movement. Yet another qualitatively distinct type of return movement involved birds and insects that apparently flew downwind from south Florida or the Caribbean region with high pressure to the north, such as on September 6-7, September 10-11, and October 5-6. These events seemed to account for the presence of American Kestrels, Black-throated Blue Warblers, at least one Gray Kingbird, and a variety of exotic insects (including Uraniid moths) over Louisiana waters.
One of the most interesting phenomena of the fall was the appearance of large numbers of migrant Peregrine Falcons on offshore platforms, sometimes immediately preceding weather events that induce large landbird movements. Because of their high subsequent success preying on nocturnal migrants, it seems that Peregrines are "anticipating" ephemeral periods of high resource availability. We wonder whether this adaptive behavior may be a precursor to more dramatic evolutionary changes in the life history of the species, and whether Peregrines are being influenced by the installation of oil platforms in the Gulf in a fashion similar to how Eleonora's Falcons have adapted to breeding on islands in the Mediterranean during the fall, when abundant trans-Mediterranean migrant landbird prey are available for provisioning young.
In addition to migrating birds, we documented extensive migration by dragonflies and moths -- notably the Sphingids known as Pink-spotted Hawkmoth, Tersa Sphinx, and Mourning Sphinx. We found no evidence to support a recent published assertion that large numbers of Monarch Butterflies undertake trans-Gulf flights; indeed, butterflies are scarce in general offshore, and the Gulf Fritillary is probably the most numerous fall migrant offshore. Other highlights of the fall included observations of a suite of seabirds considered rare in Louisiana waters (but which are probably common in the southeastern Gulf), including a Red-footed Booby, a Red-billed Tropicbird, a Manx Shearwater, a Long-tailed Jaeger, and numerous Cory's Shearwaters.
With the assistance of three notebook computers donated to the study by a generous member of the Louisiana birding community, our team was able to remain in daily contact, and to compare observations and discuss migration events as they transpired. The computers will also allow us to implement an internet-based system of near real-time data synthesis beginning this spring, which will give us better control over our already large and rapidly growing data base.
The study will continue through spring 2000. We are actively looking for sources of funding to permit an expansion of the platform network to the east and west in fall 1999 and spring 2000, which will enable us to achieve a more Gulf-wide perspective on TGM and to field-truth some of our radar observations concerning flight routes. In addition, we are hoping to deploy pressure zone microphones with high-fidelity recorders on each platform during the fall to monitor migration traffic aloft via nocturnal call notes (since the majority of fall migrants pass over our platforms in darkness). Because of the declining profitability of the oil industry, the feasibility of continuing the study beyond spring 2000 seems unlikely, so fall 1999 and spring 2000 may be one- time opportunities to conduct a Gulf-wide study of TGM. We welcome any and all suggestions concerning possible sources of funding for these expanded operations (e.g., corporate donations or matches). Please contact Bob Russell at bob@transgulf.org if you have any ideas.
Table of ContentsLOS News, Page 2
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LOS News Editor: Carol Foil, 1180 Stanford Ave, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
(h & fax) 504.387.0368; (w) 504.346.3119;

posted 11February1999