Birding in the New Orleans Area
by Peter Yaukey
NEW ORLEANS PROPER
If you are confined to the city, there are some spots you can try. Audubon zoo is accessible by public transport or by driving St Charles toward uptown, and left on Broadway just past Tulane University (on right). The zoo harbors many "freeloading" wild birds, including Bronzed Cowbirds and Eurasian Collared-Doves. Black-crowned Night-Herons and Wood Ducks will also be evident. In the Flamingo impoundment, a good collection of large waders accumulates each evening. In spring and fall, migrants will sometimes be evident in the vegetation within the zoo. In early 2000, a communal Bronzed Cowrbird roost was next to Cuco's restaurant on Carrollton Ave; continue down St Charles past the zoo for a mile or so, and turn right on Carrollton, and look for Cuco's on the left.
City Park is accessible by public transport, or by driving I-10 west from downtown and taking the City Park Ave exit, heading right on City Park Ave for a few miles (and past the Park on your left), and turning left on Wisner, which forms the east boundary of the Park. The art museum will appear quickly on your left; the pond there is worth checking for ducks in winter, including Lesser Scaup (worth looking for Greater with them) and Ring-necked Duck. A Ross' Goose of questionable origin has been there for a few winters recently (summers too?). Farther up Wisner, Bayou St John parallels you on the right; look here in winter for Lesser Scaup, coots, Pied-billed Grebes, and occasional Common Loons, especially in sections beyond Harrison Ave. If you turn left on Harrison Ave, a woodlot laced with trails will appear on the right just beyond the traffic circle; this is probably the best migrant trap for songbirds in the city in spring and fall. The bayou along the far edge of this woodlot has held Anhingas the last few winters; alligators can sometimes be seen as well.
Farther down Harrison, Marconi marks the west side of the Park. Turn right on Marconi, and look for Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, coots, and Pied-billed Grebes in winter in the bayou on the right. Follow Marconi to the end of the Park at Robert E. Lee. The grassy area on the left across Robert E. Lee can attract shorebirds if wet in spring. On the right across Robert E. Lee is the Lake Vista residential area, well known as a migrant trap and laced by sidewalks traversing attractively landscaped areas with shade trees. Despite the urban setting, Mississippi Kites form a staging concentration in areas around Lake Vista in August; look for them up hanging in the air anywhere in this vicinity, hunting cicadas. If you continue straight on Marconi you will shortly run into the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, at Lakeshore Drive. Boat-tailed Grackles should be evident, and watching the lake will often produce Caspian, Royal, Forster's and Least (spring and early summer) Terns, and Brown Pelican (cold months).
If you turn right on Robert E. Lee, and proceed a few miles and bend left onto Leon C. Simon Blvd., this will take you in a few miles past the UNO Lakefront Arena (Keifer Arena) on the left, with extensive athletic fields that often hold a variety of shorebirds (ONLY immediately after rainstorms) in spring and fall. Especially check the northeast and southeast sides of the stadium. The scrub farther to the northeast can often hold migrant songbirds in spring and fall. If you follow Leon C. Simon for about a mile farther, exit right immediately before the Senator Ted C. Hickey bridge over the industrial canal and drive beneath the bridge to scan the breakwaters there; this is usually a good place for gulls, except during a northwest wind when the breakwaters are washed over. Many gull rarities have been seen. Rock Wren occurred here years ago. The aforementioned terns should be evident here as well, and Brown and American White Pelicans in winter.
A nesting colony of Black Skimmers and Gull-billed Terns is accessible in the spring and summer on the roof of a shopping center in Metairie. Take I-10 west from downtown New Orleans, and exit in several miles on Clearview Pkwy, turning right (north). A shopping center is on the right at your first intersection, at Veterans Memorial Blvd. Public bus transport goes up and down Veterans as well. By car or foot, wind your way behind the shopping center (ie, onto the side nearest I-10), ascend to the top of the parking garage, and look down onto the top of the Sears Building from there. These birds can often be seen fishing the canals in the median of Veterans Mem. Blvd. as well. Various other terns and wading birds frequent these canals as well, as well as the canal of West Esplanade Ave, which crosses Clearview Pkwy. a mile or so past (north of) Veterans. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are widespread nesters in the metropolitan area, and may frequent any area with water during the warm months. If you turn left on Veterans and follow it for several miles, you will see a left turn to Lafreniere Park immediately after passing under the interstate. Drive the circular park road within the park, and you will find a boardwalk winding its way through a marshy spot on the edge of the lake. Various egrets and White Ibis roost here in winter (and summer?) at night; Lesser Scaup and coots inhabit the pond.
The best general birding in southeast Louisiana is about 2.5 hours from New Orleans, on the coast at Grand Isle. Take I-10 west from the city, and in about 5-10 miles from downtown take I-310 south to Hwy 90. Turn right onto Hwy 90, and proceed about 15 miles to Hwy 308; turn left onto Hwy 308 and begin the long drive to the coast, much of which is along the shore of Bayou Lafourche. After perhaps 25 miles, when you reach a traffic light and a Delchamps super market (on the left), cross the bayou and take Hwy 3162 a short ways and then turn left onto Hwy 3235, a bypass which gives you a faster road until you are past Golden Meadow (watch your speed in Golden Meadow, a notorious speed trap). This will dump you onto Hwy 1, which goes the rest of the way to the coast, again following the bayou.
As you approach the coast, take Hwy 3090 to the outer beach at Port Fourchon. On the way you pass a large impoundment on the right; explore its muddy edges. A variety of shorebirds should be present, especially August through May. Roseate Spoonbills are often seen here, and nest nearby. Reddish Egret is often found in the area, year round. Hwy 3090 ends on the beach; in recent years the beach was driveable, but has been closed to the east recently, although still driveabale to the west (look for an access road immediately before reaching the beach). Be careful of loose sand, or avoid driving if it looks too soft. The beach to the east has traditionally been a good place for Wilson's Plover except in winter, and for Piping Plover except in early summer; I am not sure how easy they will be to the west of Hwy 3090. Scan for gannets offshore in late winter and frigatebirds in the warm months. Sandwich Terns are often here in the warm months, with various other tern species. Look for gulls on the beach, including occasional stray species.
Return to Hwy 1, and continue to Grand Isle. Go several miles to the Sureway supermarket, and explore the woods behind. There are various other woods access points immediately east and west of here, and it is worth exploring roads. In the woods a few streets to the west of the Sureway, Bobby Santini operates a productive feeding station that can be chock full of buntings, grosbeaks, and dickcissels in spring. This is at the far end of a road, on the right side, at a house with a swimming pool (walk up onto the pool deck to see more feeders). Adjacent to Bobby Santini's feeders is the Lafitte Woods sanctuary, recently acquired by The Nature Conservancy. Farther east on the island, out of the woods, is a watertower; explore the roads near it and look for a house with very active feeders right in the driveway. This is a good place to look for Shiny Cowbird in spring. There may be Bronzed Cowbird as well. Driving the open fields east of here often produces shorebirds. Finally, at the east end you can scope a cove and spit that often has waterbirds. Explore the beach and state park as you wish, although the state park is not usually one of the birding priorities. Remember that, in spring, birds arrive from over the Gulf in mid-day- so an increase in birds in the woods and fields may be evident in the afternoon. The island has lots of migrants in fall as well.
Pine woods species, including Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman's Sparrow, can be found approximately one hour from New Orleans on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain at Big Branch NWR. From downtown, take I-10 west into Metairie, and take the Causeway exit. Drive the causeway north across the lake, and take Hwy 190 East approximately 10 miles to Lacombe; turn left onto Hwy 434 for a short distance to the Visitor's Center to pick up a map and checklist. Return to Hwy 190 and proceed east a mile or two to Transistor Rd; turn right here and proceed another couple of miles to Boy Scout Road on the left. This gated dirt track traverses nice pine habitat. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers occupy open pine woods, and their cavity trees can be identified by the coating of whitish sap. The woodpeckers leave their holes in the early AM, and may be hard to find at mid-day as they range rather widely. There are trees with nest boxes implanted into their trunks and white "sap" painted onto the trunks; I am not sure which if any of these have woodpeckers.
Another option is to go an hour from New Orleans to the entrance road into the River Pines subdivision in Livingston Parish. Drive west from New Orleans on I-10 for about 15-20 miles and take I-55 north for perhaps 25 miles. Then take I-12 west for about 7 miles and exit onto Hwy 441 south. In about 2 miles you run into Hwy 42; turn left, and in 1-2 miles right onto Hutchinson Rd. In 2-3 miles you will run into Hwy 1037; turn right, and look for the entrance to River Pines on the left in 1-2 miles. Look for Red-cockadeds (and their trees) and Bachman's Sparrows in the open pine woods along the first section of the River Pines entrance road.
Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve is a favorite swamp experience for many New Orleans visitors. Take the downtown bridge across the Mississippi River, which puts you on the West Bank Expressway. In several miles exit onto Barataria Blvd; turn left at the second light after exitting to get on Barataria Blvd. Follow Barataria Blvd for a number of miles as it winds through developed areas, and finally out into woods, having turned into Hwy 45 in the process. You will see signs announcing your entry into the Park. The second right after entry is the trailhead to a marvelous boardwalk called the Coquille Trail. Along this you should find Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers and Northern Parula, Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Painted Bunting, Mississippi Kite, etc.. Alligators are normally evident. If you want Hooded Warbler, contine down Hwy 45 to the first drive on your left (a few miles), and walk the Ring Levee trail.
The Honey Island Swamp WMA about 45 min from the city is the premier area near New Orleans for bottomland species, but requires a Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Stamp. If you have one, take I-10 east from New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain past the Pearl River exit to the Honey Island Swamp exit. Take old Hwy 11 into the swamp, on foot. In addition to the Jean Lafitte species, this area harbors Swallow-tailed Kite and Swainson's and Kentucky Warblers. If you do not have a stamp, you can find Hwy 41 north from within the community of Pearl River, and look for other access- I think there is public access on the right about 7 miles north of town, with about 1-2 miles of swamp access road to explore enroute to a public boat ramp. You can detect many Bottomland species from a small detour from a trip to River Pines (see PINE WOODS above). From the directions to Hwy 441 given above, turn right (not left as above) onto Hwy 42. In 2-3 miles, this traverses bottomland habitats with the full contingent of bottomland species except perhaps Swallow-tailed Kite.
MARSH AND SWAMP
The Paradis Oil Field approximately 30 minutes from the city offers good open marsh and swamp birding. Take I-10 west from downtown through Metairie and Kenner to the I-310 exit, and take I-310 south to its terminus on Hwy 90. Turn right onto Hwy 90, and proceed perhaps 4 miles through the towns of Boutte and Paradis. As you leave residential Paradis, there will be a Catholic Church on the left at the intersection with Hwy 306. Turn right here, and quickly left onto Hwy 631 which follows the base of a raised railroad. In less than a mile, take the driveway up over the railroad (BE VERY CAREFUL- TRAIN FATALITIES HAVE OCCURRED HERE), and through the gate, which for over a year has been kept open 24 & 7. Explore the shell roads winding back through the marshes and swamps. Look for a wide variety of wading birds, including about equal numbers of Glossy and White-faced Ibises. Bald Eagles are likely, and have at least two nests in the area. There are lots of gators here.
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