Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring!? (3)

Just a quick post to note that the first Osprey, also known in some parts of the world as a fish hawk, has been spotted in our area. These beautiful birds, almost wiped out by the pesticide DDT in the 1970s, return early each spring from South America to mate and nest.

Along with the Great Blue Heron, they are the symbolic bird of the Chesapeake Bay.

This return was just a little bit earlier than I had predicted.

In other signs of spring, the birds were singing up a storm around our house this morning, and several flocks of passerines were flying, in what looked to be migration, directly over our house, a bit too high up to identify. A few Tree Swallows have also been seen. (BirdCouple had their first-of-the-year Tree Swallows two weeks ago....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Lost" Cuckcoo Speaks...

Newswise — A team of biologists with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have recorded for the first time the call of the extremely rare Sumatran ground cuckoo, found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

The bird was captured by a trapper and handed over to WCS biologists, who recorded the bird’s call while it nursed an injured foot. Once fully recovered, the bird will be released back into the wild.

Known only by a handful of specimens collected over the past century, the Sumatran ground cuckoo is considered to be one of the world’s rarest, most secretive birds, and is restricted to Sumatra’s deep jungles and rainforests. In fact, ornithologists believed the bird was extinct until 1997, when a single individual was briefly seen. Last year a second bird was photographed by a remote camera trap. It is now believed to be critically endangered.

Until now, however, no one knew the bird’s call – a key field diagnostic ornithologists use to identify birds that live in forest. According to WCS, having a recording of the bird’s call will also make it easier for biologists to locate other individuals, and to possibly evaluate the bird’s total population.

“We were extremely lucky to have recorded the bird’s unique call,” said Firdaus Rahman, of WCS’s Indonesia Program. “Our team will use the recording to hopefully locate other Sumatran ground cuckoos, and to eventually secure their protection.”

The recoded call can best be described as a pair of sharp screams. It is unknown at this point whether the bird has additional vocalizations.

Sumatran ground cuckoos are relatively large birds (half a meter long) with long tails. It has green plumage with a black crown and green bill, and striking blue facial markings.

The Wildlife Conservation Society operates a field conservation projects throughout Indonesia, and works with local partners to safeguard this archipelago’s amazing wildlife, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.

The WCS project to relocate the Sumatran Ground Cuckoo was supported by the Swedish 300 Club Foundation for Bird Protection. Their Chairman, Henrik Lind, adds “We are delighted with the result of this work and we hope it highlights the need to support such work into the future”.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I am a hunter

The Washington Post had an article a couple weeks back about the decline of hunters in Virginia. Hunting license sales have dropped 13% over the last ten years, while the state’s population grew by a million residents.

One of the reasons for the decline in hunting is that there are fewer open spaces to safely fire a gun and therefore, fewer habitats for wildlife. Hunting and fishing license sales covered more than half of The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries $47 million budget. A budget which is used to establish and maintain wildlife habitats.

According to the article, another reason for the decline in hunting is a cultural shift. "As Americans become busier, more urbanized and less rooted in family and social traditions, they're less inclined to go into the woods on a cold, wet morning to wait in breathless silence for a deer to walk by." Maybe.
Or maybe our sports-related family traditions have changed, as we are more inclined to spend a cold, wet morning on the side of soccer field.

When I was growing up, all the men in my family hunted. It was a tradition. It was also a treat to be included in the inner circle. Granny prepared sandwiches, Mom made sure we had hand warmers and the car was loaded the night before. When I wasn’t invited, I waited to hear the stories my Pop-Pop, Dad, uncles and cousins told of who got what. And, sometimes stories of who fell out of the tree stand or who was dead asleep when the geese flew over. Pictures were taken of the victors with their prizes.

My father hasn’t hunted in years. My brother was on the rifle team in college, but he no longer hunts. I don’t hunt with a gun anymore. Why?

Hunting is not easy work. Deer hunting, in particular, takes stamina. As my grandfather and uncles aged, hunting became more of an occasional sport. Maybe some of the reasons my brother and I don't hunt anymore is the stigma hunting received in the late ‘70s-‘80s, not to mention the stigma of owning a gun. Nobody wanted to be accused of shooting Bambi.

Another reason could be that deer were not a common sight in our neighborhood when we were growing up. We didn't have any deer in our backyard. As the deer population grew around my parent’s home, we grew fond of our favorite family groups. Dad watched the deer as they repopulated areas once rare when he was a hunter. The deer came to us and we fed them and named them and worried when one went missing.

Deer and geese started thriving and without the large carnivores of yesterday; the herbivores flourished. An overabundance of deer can denude the woodland, changing the vegetation that birds and other critters depend on. Not to mention gardens with tasty tulips and hostas.

Do I think hunting is wrong?

No, I think hunting is vital to the preservation of remaining habitat. I know the revenue from hunting licenses provides critical funding for habitat conservation. I think proper hunting in our area would save the tiny bits of forest that exist between the many subdivisions in our city. I think it would save many deer from becoming road pizza.

According to the Washington Post article, most people agree with me.

But can I hunt anymore?

Only for birds with my binoculars.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday's Nature News 2/25/07

Today, we're inaugurating a brief weekly feature highlighting the top nature or environment story (other than birds and birding) of the week before.

This week's honors go, hands-down, to the suprising and somewhat disturbing news that researchers have witnessed chimpanzees in Senegal making spear-like tools to kill prey. Humans get less and less "unique" by the year, it seems.

If you haven't read the story, check out the BBC's version here.

- Warren and Lisa

Friday, February 23, 2007

Spring!? (2)

According to BirdLife International, Barn Swallows have just started to return to the south of the continent in Cyprus, Spain and Portugal. This is the same species we have here (althugh they are not yet here) in North America.

Check the story out here. It has a cool link to BirdLife's Spring Alive project, where birdwatchers throughout Europe can enter their bird sightings.

Meanwhile, back in the mid-Atlantic U.S., it's cold again....

Bird Flu. It's not the birds that migrate

This from the International Herald Tribune:

ROME: Most of the scattered bird flu outbreaks so far this year probably can be traced to illegal or improper trade in poultry, scientists believe. This probably includes recent outbreaks in Nigeria and Egypt as well as the large outbreak on a turkey farm in England.

Last winter, wild migrating birds were deemed the primary culprit in the bird flu infestations that hopscotched across Europe and Africa. Dead swans and ducks were found in many countries, including Austria, France and Italy.

"Many of us at the outset underestimated the role of trade," said Samuel Jutzi, director of Animal Production and Health at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. "The virus is behaving rather differently than last year — it's rather enigmatic."

No outbreaks have been attributed to wild birds so far this season and not a single infected wild bird has been detected in Europe or Africa, despite a heightened surveillance system devised in the wake of the crisis last year.

You can read the rest of the article here

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lost World

We're very fortunate to have this lecture of international importance by Dr. Bruce Beehler coming to our little city of Annapolis. If you live locally, please try to make it!


You, your family and friends won’t want to miss naturalist Dr. Bruce Beehler’s amazing presentation of the incredible discoveries in the remote, mist-shrouded jungles of New Guinea’s Foja Mountains. Come and see this vivid account of what few humans have seen. New species of birds, frogs, butterflies, palm trees, and flowers are discovered, tame tree kangaroos and echidnas that you can pick-up and hold, a long-lost species of bird-of-paradise rediscovered!

This inspiring adventure story made headlines in 500 newspapers around the world and was covered on Nightline, CNN, NBC Nightly News, BBC, and PBS’s Lehrer’s NewsHour

You can attend Bruce Beehler’s vivid accounting and presentation of photographic footage of this journey of discovery on Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. at Quiet Waters Park's Great Blue Heron Room in Annapolis. Dr. Beehler will present his amazing story of adventure documented in the press worldwide of his DISCOVERY OF A LOST WORLD: A FASCINATING TRIP TO AN UNDISCOVERED GARDEN OF EDEN.

Dr. Beehler, Vice President of Conservation International’s Melanesia Center for Biodiversity Conservation, led an expedition of 12 researchers from the U.S., Indonesia, Holland, and Australia to Indonesia’s remote, mist-shrouded Foja Mountains located just north of the vast Mamberamo Basin of north-western Indonesian New Guinea in Papua province. This pristine, remote area covers more than two million acres of old growth tropical forest with no trails, no sign of civilization, no sign of even local communities ever having been there. The expedition to one of the most remote, pristine jungles in Asia found 20 new species of frogs, 4 butterflies, 5 new palms, and new species of flowers. These new discoveries included what may be the largest rhododendron flower on record, almost six inches across and a new frog species was a tiny microhylid frog, no more than ½ inch long.

The first bird seen at their remote jungle camp was a new species: a Wattled Smoky Honeyeater with a bright orange facepatch, the first new bird discovered on New Guinea since 1939. The team spotted 15 of these birds. This new species has received a scientific name for Dr. Beehler’s wife, Carol.

The team captured the first photos of a male Berlepsch’s Six-Wired Bird of Paradise, named for the wiry strands that extend from its head in place of a crest. The amazed scientists watched as a male Berlepsch’s Bird of Paradise performed a mating dance for an attending female in the field camp, the first time a live male of the species had been observed by Western scientists, and this proved that the Foja Mountains was the species’ true home, after several earlier expeditions failed to find its home. The scientists also took the first photos of the Golden-fronted Bowerbird displaying its bachelor pad to females as part of a mating ritual.

Large mammals that have been hunted to near extinction elsewhere were located in abundance, and such rare species as Long-Beaked Echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal, and the Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo, an arboreal jungle-dweller new for Indonesia and previously thought to have been hunted to near extinction. Both species showed no fear of humans and could be picked up.

Bruce Beehler first conceived of this incredible journey of discovery in 1987 when on an earlier expedition to New Guinea he flew over the Foja Mountains and noticed a patch of flat, open ground in the jungle suitable for a helicopter landing. Nineteen years in the conception and planning phase, the rented missionary helicopter dropped Bruce and his team on to the boggy patch of ground that would serve as their exploratory base camp for two weeks of discovery. Dr. Beehler hopes to return this year with a crew from 60 Minutes to continue the explorations and discoveries in the Foja Mountains and document new species on film.
Dr. Bruce Beehler, a native Marylander who resides in Montgomery County, is an ornithologist, birdwatcher, and tropical ecologist, and an expert on the ornithology of the Southwest Pacific and South Asia. After conducting pre-doctoral and doctoral fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, he worked for 10 years at the National Museum of Natural History, followed by stints at the Wildlife Conservation Society, U.S. Department of State, and Counterpart International. Today he oversees a field program that conducts conservation initiatives in Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Papua-- Indonesia. Dr. Beehler is author or co-author of several natural history books: Birds of New Guinea (Princeton); The Birds of Paradise (Oxford); A Naturalist in New Guinea (Texas); and A Biodiversity Assessment for Papua New Guinea (Biodiversity Support Program).


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Celebrating the GBBC and other great stuff

Goldfinch Photo: Vencka Peterson

Warren and I tore up the weekend birding and playing along the Maryland and Delaware shores. After counting the regulars at our feeders on Saturday morning, we set out for 3 days with a goal of 75 species to tally for the Greater Backyard Bird Count.

Mourning Dove Photo Vencka Peterson
We knew we would pick up a great variety of ducks at Greenbelt Lake, so we went West before hitting the shore. The Lake was great! Close looks at Ringed-Neck Ducks and Hooded Mergansers. Canada Geese and more Canada Geese.

The next big highlight of the trip was outside Easton, where we found a small flock of Horned Larks. Wow, I love that crazy looking bird. After ticking Bald Eagles, Red-Tail and Red-Shoulder Hawks, we made it to the visitor center at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Blackwater is one of our favorite places. The refuge has a great driving path and a beautiful visitor center which sports Bald Eagle nesting cameras.

One our first sightings was the Great Blue Heron munching on an enormous frog. Frogs are unable to sustain energy when the temperature drops, so they burrow underground for protection and go into hibernation until the weather turns warm again. Frogs also lack teeth, so like this Great Blue Heron, they often swallow their meals whole.

BTW, we saw the GBH later, he had finished his lunch and was immobile on the side of the road.

At the Visitor Center, we were told that a Golden Eagle was hanging out at the exit of the refuge. Bird Couple was off! We nailed him right before he flew out of sight over a cornfield. Warren and I were still high-fiving when we realized our car was blocking the exit to the refuge.

Our goal was to make the Ocean City Inlet before dark in hopes of some cool sea ducks. We had views of Surf Scoter, and a flock of Purple Sandpiper.

Did I mention how cold it was? brrrrrrrr.....

Doesn't cute husband look even cuter?

As we packed up, who should show up, but our birding buds Van and Evelina with hot tea! When we realized it was happy hour somewhere, we headed off for beers and that is when my fingers finally started to defrost.
These guys are happy because the birding is great and the both have great gals.

On Sunday morning, we headed again to the inlet at Ocean City and had great looks at both Common and Red-Throated Loons along with a bunch of Ruddy Turnstones. One lone Sanderling was mixed in this motley crew. We also had nice looks at a Peregrine Falcon surveying his territory from the water tower.

We then checked out the Indian Head Inlet where my clever husband quickly id'd a Great Cormorant. That man is always teaching me something.

Did I mention how cold it was?

February 19, 2007 (Warren and I met exactly 5 years ago today!)

Monday we headed to the OC inlet for one more look before heading North through Delaware. We dipped on the Eiders that had been seen a few times, but we did have some lovely looks at Mergansers and some not so lovely looks at tons of Ring- billed Gulls. This time, it was really cold. I mean serious cold.

Inland, Bird Couple!

We went straight to the visitor center at Cape Henlopen State Park. The feeders were rocking with Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, Chickadee, Red-winged Blackbirds and Cardinals. A bunch of Bluebirds blew in and hung out as an added attraction.

Warren (oh my patient chauffeur) then ferried us to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge where we hoped to spot the Northern Shrike, aka the butcher bird. He wasn't in the usual spots so we walked through the boardwalk trail and checked out the Green-winged Teal and found a Brown Creeper.

We also flushed a pair of Woodcocks or Snipe or maybe they were Virginia Rails. Ugh! Why can't they just stand still? And, where was a name tag?

We searched without luck for another hour for the Shrike and took a million pictures of a Savannah Sparrow who ran through the field like a mouse. I kept trying to convince cute husband that it was a Seaside Sparrow. Thank goodness that man is a stickler for proper identification. Although, my life list would probably be twice the size.....

Bird Couple was pooped, but not done! We headed home admiring the flocks of Snow Geese and discussing our favorite birds of the trip.

Trip total = 81 species! Goal met!

Five years of wonder, adventure, laughs and joy! Thanks, My Love!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Frog-eating Heron

On Saturday, we saw this Great Blue Heron eating (or trying to eat) a massive frog about 1/3rd its own size. This was outside the entrance to Blackwater NWR on Maryland's eastern shore. Minutes later, we saw our life Golden Eagle soaring overhead.
More soon on our 3-day, 81-species President's Day weekend trip..... Over to you, Lisa.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Of all the many things I like about birding, one that I like most is that watching our feathered friends keeps us more closely attuned to the rhythms of nature, and the rhythms of the year.

For most people trapped in this icy mid-Atlantic freeeze, it must seem like the middle of winter. The calendar shows spring, as measured by the vernal equinox, to be five weeks away. But spring (loosely defined) has actually begun!

How do we know? Well, the American Goldfinches that stop by our feeders periodically during the colder months started, just in the last week or two, sporting a tad more yellow around their heads and a lot more white in their white wingbars. Other birds that have been around all winter are a little bit brighter, too, as they get ready for springtime courtship and mating. Some members of our local birding listserv, MDOsprey, have reported signs of bird courtship behavior, like seed-sharing. And when I get up in the morning to trudge through the ice and snow to get the newspaper, the birds are chattering and singing a lot more than they were three weeks ago.

Thanks to birding, and a handy-dandy piece of software called AviSys, I know with a fair bit of certainty that I'll see a returning Osprey sometime between Feb 28 and March 10. Then Spring will have really begun.

In the meantime.... Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

(BirdCouple is off this holiday weekend for our annual LATE winter birding excursion to the Maryland and Delaware shore. We will celebrate 5 years since we first met - love you, Lisa - and hopefully see some great winter birds before they, too, sense it is spring and head back north. Stay tuned).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Who's Counting?

We are so excited! Tomorrow marks the first day of the 10th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! The event is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society and runs from February 16th through 19th.

The GBBC is a great opportunity to get anyone with the slightest curiosity about the natural world involved in a little birding. Simply count the highest number of birds of each species seen during any 15 minute period over the four days. Then go to and enter your totals.

The GBBC data collected by citizen birders helps the scientists at Cornell determine if bird populations are changing and if conservation efforts are working. The information from past GBBCs was studied to track the spread of the West Nile virus and the conjunctivitis epidemic in Eastern house finches.

Last year 7.5 million birds and 623 species were reported through the GBBC and this year, Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are calling for even greater participation. The more checklists submitted, the more data we have about bird population trends.

The Birdwatchers Digest has a lovely quote from Janis Dickinson, director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a community celebration of birds, birding, and nature. We often fail to notice how rich our surroundings are, but counting birds, even for just 15 minutes, is not only educational - it can provide a lasting source of enjoyment, turning a daily walk into a treasure hunt.”
Join us in helping the Cornell Lab of Ornithology track abundance of species, distribution of birds and migration patterns. Or even better, introduce a future birder to the treasures outside your window.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Birds of a Feather....

Wood Ducks Photographer: Dave Herr

Ring Necked Ducks Photographer: Dave Herr

Redheads Photographer: Dave Herr

Red Crossbills Photographer: Dave Herr

Ruddy Ducks Photographer: Dave Herr

Cowbirds Photographer: Dave Herr

Osprey Photographer: Dave Herr

Canada Geese Photographer: Dave Herr

Common Mergansers Photographer: Dave Herr

Common Ground Doves Photographer: Berlin Heck

Cinnamon Teals Photographer: Dave Herr

Birding Couple Photographer: K. Sullivan

Happy Valentine's Day, Cute Husband!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Great friends in the neighborhood

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker
All Photos Courtesy of: Vencka Peterson

And I'm not just talking about the feathered ones.....Thanks L and V!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Whooping Crane survivor was always a rebel

Photographer: John Van de Graaff

NPR has the background story of Whooping Crane 15 (referred to as Crane No. 615 by Operation Migration) who survived the Florida storms last week.

"Kind of an independent bird," Duff said, describing No. 15. "On the migration south, he was a bit of a problem. He kept dropping out."

"That bird was lost on the migration just at the Florida-Georgia border. It dropped out, and we tried to track it, but we couldn't find it. It was actually discovered two days later."
No 15 came across the Florida border by truck, not by air.

Another whooping crane chick did not drop out and successfully made its historical fall migration without the assistance of an ultra-light. Wild601, guided by parents #211 and #217, is the first whooping crane hatched in the wild in Wisconsin to migrate to Florida in over 100 years. Love it!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Threatened Habitat

A new report out today from the American Bird Conservancy on threatened bird habitats in the United States.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Eternal Embrace

Love this story .... Archeologists in Italy unearthed a couple, who died 5-6,000 years ago, locked in a hug. Hey, nothing to do with birds, but it's almost Valentine's Day! And it makes a nice counterpoint to that wacky astronaut.

Check out the photo. It's amazing.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Sad News

Heard about this yesterday from a fellow birder. The news is now posted over at A DC Birding Blog.

A group of young Whooping Cranes that had been led from Wisconsin to Florida to try and create a second migratory flock were killed in last week's violent storms, the same ones that killed 20 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Latest news is that one of the 18 Cranes, which has been missing, survived.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Petroleum and coffee had no value a few centuries ago. ~Author Unknown

Paul Baicich loaned Warren and I the DVD Birdsong and Coffee: A Wake Up Call along with a piece he did for the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology entitled Coffee Lessons, Coffee Links.

Paul is really tuning us into the need to be bird-conscious consumers. Or as Paul puts it: consumer- birders. Through our buying patterns, we (and you!) can make a big difference in habitat conservation.

The type of java you decide to purchase could actually be a choice that saves birds and preserves their habitat. Here's the 411 on coffee labeling to make an informed choice.....

Shade grown coffee is grown under the canopy of shade trees, often using traditional techniques that avoid the use of chemicals. Coffee that is grown under tree canopy flourishes in leaf litter. This organic material contributes to the nutrients in the soil, reduces erosion and acts as a natural fertilizer. And, coffee grown in the shade provides food and shelter for songbirds and other plants and animals.

According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, "studies in Colombia and Mexico found 94-97% fewer bird species in sun grown coffee than in shade grown coffee. This comes as no surprise since over two-thirds of the birds are found in the canopy of shade plantations and less than 10% are found foraging in coffee plants."

Here are some sites where you can buy shade grown coffee.

Selecting certified fair trade coffee ensures that coffee farmers get a fair price for their product. According to TransFair USA, fair trade certification "guarantees farmers a set minimum price for their coffee and links farmer-run cooperatives directly with US importers, cutting out middlemen and creating the conditions for long-term sustainability."

A fair price for coffee is important because when coffee prices crash, farmers and their families are driven into poverty and are often forced to clear the land for other crops or other livelihoods, such as cattle.

Here's where you can purchase fair trade coffee direct from the farmers.

Selecting organic coffee ensures that the planet is not raped by the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Chemical treatments not only endanger the lives of the farmers but also pollute the birds and animals that feast on the exposed insects.

Want to use your coffee budget to do it all: save bird habitat, sustain coffee farmers and avoid chemical use? Go triple certified, which is getting easier to find. For Fair Trade Organic and Shade Grown Coffee, try here.

If you only drink specialty coffees, the cost differential makes it easy to buy a better world. Starbucks Breakfast Blend is about $9.75 a lb. You can buy Fair Trade Organic and Shade Grown for about the same plus shipping.

Organizations such as Global Exchange organized a campaign to pressure Starbucks to offer Fair Trade Certified Coffee as their daily Coffee of the Day offering. You can fax a letter directly to Starbucks from their site to show your support.

After all that Warren and I learned about coffee, our only option is to buy the right beans. Millions of Americans drink coffee. Birders looking for an early morning fix before hitting the hunt drink coffee. Our coffee choice could make a huge impact for birds.

And guess what I found at Trader Joe for the non-coffee drinker? ORGANIC FAIR TRADE HOT COCOA.

To my cute husband (it is the weekend!) ....

He was my cream, and I was his coffee -
And when you poured us together, it was something.
~Josephine Baker

Thursday, February 1, 2007

DiploBirds!? (2)

Time for a silly post. Was having coffee this afternoon at the Foggy Bottom cafe in the basement of the State Department's headquarters building, when what should pop up but a pedestrian little House Sparrow? Must have snuck in through the doors of the underground parking garage, looking for warmth and a winter's day snack.

I can definitely say this is the first bird I've seen inside the State Department building, although there were a pair of mallards that gained notoriety a few years ago for taking up residence right outside the department's main entrance...

Come on spring!