Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No Bird Brain

According to this study, and according to our BirdCam....

These guys are as smart as apes.....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Magic Merlin

Lisa and I were out every morning the last three days, looking for some rarities that have been seen locally, including a White-Winged Crossbill. (None has been seen in Maryland for 10 years). Well, we struck out. But birding is its own reward, and when you go looking for one thing, you invariably find another.

This Merlin flew 10 feet in front of Lisa's car, and then perched for 5 whole minutes on top of a small fir tree. I photographed it as it flew away. I have to say, modestly, that this is one of the best nature photos I've ever taken. The bird is watching me as it flies.

Here it is, a few minutes earlier, still perched. And still watching me.

This photo is a bit washed out, but I like it because you get the head-on effect of this magnificent predator.

To round out Christmas Eve day, we saw a Northern Pintail, relatively rare in Anne Arundel County. Both these birds were new for my county list, which now stands at 158...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

To one and all....

- The BirdCouple

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last Minute Gifts for the Holistic Birder

Looking for just the right gift for the nature lover or geared-out birder in your life?
Looking for just the right gift that gives something while giving something back?

Looking for just the right gift that supports conservation and/or education?

Consider donating to some of the following organizations that need the support of the birding community:

Ducks Unlimited DU has conserved more than 11.6 million acres of waterfowl habitat in North America. Their mission is to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl.

Audubon The mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. Audubon's long range goal is to bring about a national and worldwide culture of conservation. (Wonderful, eh?)

Saving Birds thru Habitat The mission is to protect, enhance and restore habitat for North American birds and to educate people of all ages about how to achieve it. The goal is to improve habitat for migrating birds one backyard at a time.

The Nature Conservancy The mission is to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. Since 1951, this organization has protected more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is dedicated to the conservation of the 2,175-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The mission is to ensure that future generations will enjoy the clean air and water, scenic vistas, wildlife and opportunities for simple recreation and renewal along the entire Trail corridor. (BirdCouple has seen many a bird along the AT)

Now you might want to add a beautiful piece of artwork to this special holiday gift.

BirdCouple highly recommends:

Look for this jewel next year - the 2008 Duck Stamp

The Duck Stamp! This little treasure has some real bang for the buck. Nighty-eight cents of every dollar of sales goes directly to the purchase or lease of wetland habitat. The Federal Duck Stamp Program has been called one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated and is a highly effective way to conserve America’s natural resources.

And finally, you might want to include something to wrap a big bow around.

The masterful design and easy set-up of the BirdCam by Wingscapes makes it the perfect gift for any nature lover.

But the real joy of this cool toy could be felt by purchasing one and donating it to a school.

Future curious naturalists, future birders and hopefully future conservationists are made!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Delaware has a Birding Trail!

Saturday was a super-duper, triple-happy good day. We got to go birding with our friend Paul Baicich, saw two new life birds (American Pipit, you are a nemesis no more!) and attended the inuaguration of the Delaware Birding Trail, at Bombay Hook NWR, one of our all-time favorite places. Almost too much fun!

More on the Birding Trail in a moment. But first, I'd have to say the Snow Geese were the stars of the show. First, they came in ones and twos...

Then in dozens.....

Then the hundreds and thousands:

Which way is dinner?

The Delaware Birding Trail was created in just 18 months from inception, put together by an incredibly smart and enthusiastic team from the Delaware Ornithological Society, Delaware Audubon, Delaware state agencies, with help from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This guide - which is FREE - takes you through the state's top birding spots, divided into regions, with helpful hints about what you can expect to see and what other attractions are nearby.

These guides, which are proof that avi-tourism is coming on in a big way, are now available for many states, including Texas, Florida, New Jersey and others. Our home state of Maryland is starting to develop one.

Delaware is a small state, but it has some great birding spots, particularly along the bays and oceans. You can see all kinds of stuff....

Like this beautiful immature Red-Tailed Hawk:

Paul showed us what mistletoe looks like when it is growing. He said - correctly - that BirdCouple doesn't really need any encouragement to smooch:

And guess what helps pay for all this great stuff? You guessed it:

Congratulations, Delaware, on your new Birding Trail! BirdCouple looks forward to exploring it often.

Friday, December 7, 2007

David Sibley and the "mystery" bird

David Sibley, author of the renowned Sibley Guides and a premier authority on bird identification, has weighed in on his blog on our "mystery bird" of last September, captured by BirdCam.

To recall, here's the picture BirdCam took (we never saw the bird):

Readers variously idenitifed the bird as a Common Redstart (European species almost never heard of in North America); a Red-Breasted Nuthatch; a Boreal Chickadee; or a morph Carolina Chickadee.

The consensus now is that this is a Carolina Chickadee, and through a trick of timing and light, it has been captured with its head tilted almost 90 degrees to the right, looking up at the sky (perhaps watching for predators).

David goes through this in some detail in his post, and agrees with the Carolina Chickadee ID. He also talks about the pitfalls of snap identification, writing: "This story demonstrates that there are nearly infinite possibilities for misidentification, and shows how one misleading glimpse can trigger assumptions that set us firmly onto the wrong path."

Many thanks to David for taking the time and sharing his expertise.

- W &L

PETER KAESTNER UPDATE: Our friend Peter K has added 7 more birds to his life list since we last checked, and now is at 8.141. Check it out here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Weighing in at 40 Ounces...

Black-capped Chickadee

Guess who shows up in 90% of our BirdCam pictures?

Not the Pine Siskins that everyone in Maryland is seeing at their feeders...

The photo hog in our feeder shots is the Carolina Chickadee. How this tiny bird (and his Northern cousin above) make it through the winter while other birds head for warmer climates is featured in the new issue of National Wildlife.

Chickadees, thanks to an assortment of adaptations, can brave harsh winters where other birds of the same size would not dare.

Its been known for some time that Chickadees cache food in hundreds of places and can recall the locations of each hiding spot. Chickadees also eat constantly during the daylight hours to reserve fat stores to survive long winter nights. Chickadees may also group together in communal nesting cavities to conserve heat.

Perhaps the most amazing Chickadee adaptation is the ability to lower its body temps up to 14 degrees Fahrenheit at night to save energy, allowing the birds to decrease their metabolic rates and burn fewer calories.

A whole new appreciation for the biggest chow hounds at our feeders....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fall Feeder Action

Cute Husband went on a bird feeder binge last week in hopes of attracting some new yard birds.

I love that man! He brings home the best goodies!

A larger thistle feeder, a peanut feeder and tons of bird food!

An irruption of winter finches from Canada's northern parts are being reported at feeders not too far from our love nest.

Now with a total of 9 feeders filled to the brim with a variety of bird treats, the yard is bustling with winter bird action.

A Pine Siskin could come in for a snack at any time.

Or, perhaps, a Common Redpoll might drop by for lunch.

Who knows? Maybe a White-winged Crossbill might pop by for supper.

In the meantime....

White-breasted Nuthatch getting a peanut fix

Goldfinches enjoying some thistle.

White-breasted Nuthatch hanging out on the thistle feeder

Carolina Wren working the peanut feeder.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Year Ago Today....

BirdCouple. com was born!

We are in the midst of preparing for the Mid-East Peace Conference to ascend on our little town of Annapolis this week and hoping that something wonderful comes from it all..

But nothing could stop us from recalling the date of today.

Warren and I conceived of our little plot on the big web one year ago today in hopes that we would learn more about birds and perhaps, in that process, pass along something new or thoughtful to some random reader of our little blog.

So what happens after one year of posting?

Well.... we met some wonderful people, who happen to bird, who taught us much about birds, conservation and the environment.
We became more than birders. We became engaged birders.

And, I hope we have a passed a little of this to you during the past year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Our Name in the Big Lights

It is obviously just a matter of time before BirdCouple's name and blog is known throughout the land....

Bart Stephens, maker of our prized possession and favorite toy, the BirdCam, mentioned BirdCouple (us! yes! us!) in the same paragraph as David Sibley .

Here you go.... read it and weep...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hug a Hunter

Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The November issue of my favorite piece of mail, National Geographic, has a piece on hunters and the part they play in wildlife management.

The article features a picture of the first Duck Stamp (1934-1935), an ink drawing of Mallards by J.N. "Ding" Darling. (Dang! I wish this inaugural stamp was part of my Dad's collection of Duck Stamps)

In February, we blogged about a similar article in the The Washington Post that discussed the decline of hunters in Virginia. The decline in hunting in Virginia is mostly due to the loss of open space for wildlife, which also means less open space to safely fire a gun without hitting a Walmart or a subdivision.

The decline in hunting was also due to cultural shifts in how we spend our free time.

In the last few decades the sport of hunting has also been heavily criticized by animal rights advocates.

According to National Geo, "The great irony is that many species might not survive at all were it not for hunters trying to kill them."

There are over 12 million hunters in the United States and the revenue generated by these 12 million hunters is essential to wildlife management and the purchase or conservation of habitat.

Since 1934, the Duck Stamp (which serves as a hunting license) revenue has added 5.2 million acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System. Hunters also pay excise taxes on guns and ammunition. Some of this excise tax revenue is used to buy new public game land, thereby preserving habitat.

Hunters also contribute $280 million yearly to nonprofits such as Ducks Unlimited who focus on restoring and conserving habitat. Habitat that benefits the game, but also other indigenous plants and wildlife.

Ethical hunters understand our connection to the land. They understand our connection to their prey. They understand the impact of habitat destruction and are often the first to speak of declines in certain species.

And, they are paying for the privilege of hunting.

As the number of hunters decline each year, the revenue generated by their sport is also declining.

On the other hand, the number of wildlife watchers continues to grow, with bird watching being one of the most popular.

As birders, perhaps it is time we pay for the privilege of enjoying our sport.

You can do that by purchasing a hunting license (the Duck Stamp) and supporting non-profits who are dedicated to conservation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bird Savior or Cat Killer ... or both?

UPDATE: On Friday, according to the Associated Press, Mr. Stevenson's trial ended in a mistrial, with the jury unable to reacha verdict.

Here's one sure to generate controversy. Our dear friend Paige Bowers passed along this New York Times article about James M. Stevenson, the founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society in Texas. He's in court after having deliberately shot a feral cat that was terrorizing the rare Piping Plover, which occur on Galveston Island.

There's apparently some debate about how "feral" the cat was. BirdCouple can't condone the method used, but if it comes down to cat vs Piping Plovers, we side with Plovers.

Sorry, Vencka.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AT Cam!!!!

The Washington Post has a fascinating article this morning about the results of a study in which Smithsonian Institution scientists put up motion-sensitive cameras along the Appalachian Trail to see what critters are about when we're NOT hiking. (And we ARE hiking as often as we can.....)

Result: White-Tailed Deer, elusive Bobcat, more Black Bear than expected, even Coyote. But none of the hoped-for Eastern Cougar, believed to be extinct.

Interestingly, the closer the Trail got to exurban areas, the more Opposum and Raccoon were about.

The Post webpage also has a great gallery of shots from the cameras. For more on the AT, check out our AT Blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blackwater Refuge in Fall

Long time, no blog. Birdcouple has been BUSY!

We were glad to see that Lisa's testimonial about BirdCam made it on the main page of Wingscapes' Web site. Check out what we and others have been saying about this really cool toy. Christmas is on its way, after all.

Last Sunday, we headed down to Blackwater NWR with our friend, artist-musician-birder Dan Haas. We went hoping to spy a Red Phalarope that had been spotted there (a very rare bird inland) as well as some American Avocets. As seems to happen so often, we missed what we were looking for, and found something else.

A Vesper Sparrow.

There he is, right there. See him?

Ah, that's better. A very pretty, if well-hidden sparrow - and a lifer for BirdCouple! This was Warren's 220th species seen in Maryland.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, in Dorchester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, is a really special place. It wasn't very birdy on Sunday, but we did see a Red-Tailed Hawk chase a Merlin off some carrion. Cool. Also, this turtle was neat:

And we found a lone Tundra Swan, sitting by itself far away from its bretheren. Probably needed some Chill Time.

Photographing birds in flight is hard. Warren is still working on it:

Birds sitting still, like these Double-Crested Cormorants and Forster's Terns are much easier:

Ahh, the open road, a scope, Lisa my love and good friends. What could be better?

Friday, November 2, 2007

'Tis the Season

Most of this pile of junk mail and catalogs is made from virgin timber from Canada's Boreal Forest.

Canada's Boreal Forest is over 1 billion acres stretching from Alaska to the Atlantic. Almost half of all bird species in the United States and Canada rely on the Boreal Forest Region for survival.

And, Canada's great northern forest is disappearing.

Large scale logging to produce paper for junk mail, catalogs, tissue and toilet paper is one of the direct threats to the Boreal Forest Region's ecosystem and the birds that breed there.

So, my new mission is stop receiving bits and pieces of the Canadian Boreal Forest in our mailbox each day.

I call the "to order" number on each catalog that travels to our address and ask to be taken off their mail list.

I thank the responsible companies that use recycled paper.

And, I tell the poor person who answered the phone about the remarkable Boreal Forest and how vital it is to birds and how this wilderness helps to mitigate the affects of global warming....

Perhaps word of the Boreal Forest bird freak will travel throughout all the world's call centers. The call centers will meet and discuss how inefficient my tirades make their operators.

All the call center operators will know about the threat to the Boreal Forest!

Call center operators will go on strike demanding that all catalogs and junk mail be made from recycled materials.

Or, maybe, all call center operators will demand training in processing only online orders. Catalogs will become extinct!

See! One person can make a difference. Now, off to make some phone calls....

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not a Raven.....

Scary, though! Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

She's the Bees' Knees

A.P. (Amazing Princess) is a true Renaissance woman. Among her many talents and interests are that she is a beekeper. A.P. has a small hive in our back woods, which has been growing and changing throughout the spring and summer. We've got our fingers crossed that it will make it through the winter.

I know next to nothing about bees, but am trying to learn by watching and listening. Here's A.P. smoking out the bees as she opens the hive. Smoking calms them down. Hmm.

Honey! That's the whole purpose of this exercise, right? Well, MY honey says hold on a sec- that honey is for the bees to feed them through the winter. We may not get any until next year. Huh?

The CUTEST bee of all. Actually, A.P.'s bees are pretty tame. We got them mail-order from Georgia, but they are actually a Russian strain. I don't put "Russian" and "tame" together necessarily, but that's what she tells me....

Once you open the hive, the bees immediately go about trying to repair it. Which is why you don't want to tamper with it all the time. It stresses them out. Sort of like my commute, I guess. This looks like a healthy hive - thousands of bees.
These pictures were from a few weeks ago. A.P. was putting some medicine in the hive to help them survive a mite that attacks and kills many hives in the winter. Right now, she's over at her Dad's house (he's the master bee-keeper), getting some tar paper to wrap up the hive for the winter. Hmmm ... seems like a lot of work. Seriously, bees are fascinating, and keeping them is very good for the environment and our local flora...

This one seems to have a dash of pollen on its left hind leg. Pollen=honey. Some day.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dairy Farm

BirdCouple has an important new assignment! We've been asked to help do a bird survey/bird list of the old U.S. Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills, Maryland. Back in the day, this actually was the farm that supplied milk and other dairy products for the Midshipmen at the Academy, about 15 miles away.
It is now an organic farm - and we sure hope it stays that way. As you can see from this aerial map, it is an island of green in a sea of nearby development.

Our bird survey got off to a good start on a beautiful morning last Sunday. Here are some Brown-Headed Cowbirds, following a horse. Maybe they think it's a cow.
We tallied more than 30 other species, including (immature) Bald Eagle, Brown Creeper, Palm Warbler, Eastern Meadowlark and a lovely White-Crowned Sparrow pair.

Looking back at the farm from the middle of the fields. Isn't this beautiful. Or would more townhouses go nicely here? NOT.

Some Canada Geese flew in with the morning sun.

Warren pished in some cows! Why do cows always look so .... unfriendly? We moved on...

I wish we knew what kind of berries these were. My first guess was Hawthorne. Can anybody out there help?

Princess and I cannot wait to go back and discover more of this place! And not just the birds: