Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The migrants are here!

Migrating birds from South America, Central America and the Carribean have begun to arrive in large numbers in the Eastern U.S. - warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles and more. They are here for two main reasons - to breed, and to chow down on the large number of insects that come with the warmer weather and long days.

We heard our first wood thrush of the year in our back woods yesterday. A welcome sound!

More on the wood thrush soon, along with (hopefully) photos of some of the new arrivals. But in the meantime, let's not forget about or friends who were here all through the winter:

Sunday, April 22, 2007


- Warren and Lisa, The Birdcouple.
Photos: 1) Tulips, our front yard; 2) Northern Mockingbird; 3) Mallard; 4) Chipping Sparrow; 5)Sunlight through trees, Tuckahoe State Park, Caroline County, Maryland; 6) unidentified frog; 7) Spring Beauty flowers, with Mayapple; 8) Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher; 9) Trees over creek; 10) Eastern Bluebird, peeking out of nestbox; 11) Zebra Swallowtail butterfly; 12) Ladybug; 13) Unidentified caterpillar; 14) Fallen tree with lichen; 15) White Dogwood blossom
Pictures taken Saturday & Sunday April 21-22, 2007.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Better Pics!

The quality of the photos here at BirdCouple is about to improve, thanks to the fancy new zoom lens that beautiful wife encouraged me to buy.

Here's an American Goldfinch taking a seed from our back feeder.

Now if we could just work on the photographer's skills a bit!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Early Warblers. Early Wildflowers.

On Saturday, Warren and I ventured out in hopes of some early warbler action. Cute Husband discovered Adkins Arboretum about a month ago and I was anxious to check out a new birding spot.

We made a quick stop on Kent Island before heading to the Arboretum and Warren found our first of the year Black Crowned Night Heron blending in with the reeds in a small pond.

Photo: Ed Bustya © Copyright Ed Bustya

Follow the above link to check out Ed's work. His award winning images are amazing!

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Their mission is to promote the appreciation and conservation of native plants of the Delmarva Peninsula. The Arboretum boasts 4 miles of paths through woodland, wetland and meadow.

Bring on the birds!

Almost immediately we were treated to bluebirds soaring around the parking lot followed by sparrows galore as we walked the path to the wetland. Chipping, Swamp and Field Sparrows were a lively welcome to this beautiful place.

Once we entered the woods, the trees weren't exactly dripping with birds, but it really didn't matter. We were struck by the sheer beauty of the place. Wooden bridges cross creeks lined with Skunk Cabbage.

Skunk Cabbage unfolds its cigar-like bright leaves in early spring to soak up as much sun as possible before the leaf canopy emerges. Skunk Cabbage is a busy little plant even before its leaves emerge.

This cabbage has the ability to to produce enough heat to melt away frozen ground and to produce a flower. The heat helps spread a foul odor, which gives this cabbage its name, and attracts pollinators such as carrion-feeding insects.

BirdCouple had no clue about Skunk Cabbage until we ran into Beverly, a naturalist who invited us to join her walk through the Arboretum. Beverly knew just about everything that was popping out of the ground and a ton about how the natural systems of the forest work.

Beverly explained the importance of this braided creek that flows into the Tuckahoe River. The bends in the creek slow the water down, allowing pollutants to be filtered before dumping into the river. The creek's tea colored water is caused by the tannins in the leaf litter. These tannins also help filter water.

Before yesterday, the only thing I knew about Mayapple was that the deer in our woods love it and one time my great uncle made some wine from it.

Beverly taught us that only Mayapples with a fork in the stem and two leaf heads are mature enough to produce fruit (see above center). The leaves are deadly poison (apparently not to deer), but you can make some tasty jelly from the berry.

While I was inspecting the Mayapples, Warren taught Beverly about this beauty who was hanging out in the trees above.

Photo: David Goldberg

Yes! A Palm Warbler! Now it is starting to feel like spring!

We rounded the corner and Beverly was beyond excited to show us a Serviceberry (AKA Shad Bush). Very cool!

Birds love Serviceberries in the summer when they produce boat loads of fruit, but I had never seen them in bloom.

I always assumed that they got their name for the service they provided in feeding the deer, insects and birds. Not so.
According to folklore, when the Serviceberry started to bloom, the ground had thawed enough to perform burial services for those who died during the winter.

Before we parted ways and after I repeatedly tried to coerce Beverly into letting me dig up some Skunk Cabbage for my garden (not allowed in an arboretum), she asked us to do a wonderful thing.

Beverly asked us to feel a tree. It was a big 'ole Poplar Tree. I haven't really done that since I was a kid.


Friday, April 13, 2007

What kind of bird was it?

From the Associated Press:

A bird struck the plane that vice president Dick Cheney was traveling in today as it landed in Chicago.

Or… did the plane strike the bird?

He was unharmed, no word on the bird.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Canada Goose vs Cackling Goose

As most birders know, in 2004 the American Ornithological Union divided what were then the nine subspecies of the well-known Canada Goose into two species: the existing Canada Goose and the new Cackling Goose. To be honest, I still have trouble telling the difference between the two sometimes, as IDs like this can be a bit tricky.

I photographed this goose Monday at a small natural area in Prince George's County, MD, outside Washington, DC. (It's one of a half-dozen places I often bird for 30 minutes on my way to work).

Here's a closer-in shot. This bird caught my eye for a couple of reasons - its small size, generally darker color and the prominent white eye ring. I was hoping it was a Cackling Goose, which are much more uncommon than the ever-present Canada, and generally breed on the northern tundra of North America.

After looking at this picture and doing some research, however, I think it's more likely that this is simply an immature Canada Goose. Other opinions welcome!

For further reading, David Sibley has an excellent, if somewhat technical, discussion on the difference between the two species (and nine total subspecies) ...

And here are some really amazing photos illustrating the difference between the two birds.

Now my laptop battery is about to die.. all for now...

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Saturday, April 7, 2007


This is the time of year we should be out walking in the woods, temps in the mid-60s, listening to the first neotropical migrants and dreaming of getting in our kayaks in a few weeks... Someone had other plans. The East Coast got hit with a freak April snowfall yesterday. They say its going to be colder on Easter than on Christmas!!

The birds seem to be taking it all in stride, although they are hitting the feeders like mad. Along with this guy, 4 American Goldfinches have been crowding around this morning.

Lisa had to bring some plants back inside last night. Good thing she did:

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Real Road-Runner

Photo: Roger Hall

OK, this one's just for fun. ... My stepbrother, Roger Hall, who lives outside Sante Fe, N.M., was home sick one day recently and nabbed this picture of a RoadRunner on a pickup truck. Almost looks like the bird thumbed a ride and took a break....

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Night Herons in Love

In nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, not far inside the Washington, DC, Capital Beltway, we have had a group (flock?) of Yellow-Crowned Night Herons nesting annually for several years. I don't know much about Night-Heron nesting behavior, but this seems like a bit of an odd choice for a home.

The tree above is right over a small creek, it is true, but a fairly well-traveled road runs by just a few feet away, and a busy intersection is not far off. Another nest not far from here is currently unused, probably thanks to some major roadwork going on.

None of this seemed to perturb this pair, who, uh, mated right out there in the open as I was leaving.... Good luck with the brood, you two.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A New One for the Yard

Early spring!

I was out in the garden yesterday checking out all the wonderment that was popping out of the ground. Warren was on the roof doing some spring cleaning.
We haven't had many super warm days this spring, so I was enjoying the first bumblebees of the season. Other than that, the insect population was nil. Until this beauty flew by.

I dropped the rake, in chase across the yard. I also left the ladder unattended, so Warren was stuck on the roof until I could get a good look and dig up the butterfly guide.
Lucky for me, cute husband understands the need to know.
Although, I think Warren was actually hoping to add to his list of birds seen from our roof....

Mourningcloaks are members of the Nymphalidae family, known as the brush-footed butterflies because their front legs are small and hairy. Mourningcloaks got their name because of their resemblance to a traditional dark colored cloak worn when one was in mourning.

So what's this mature butterfly flitting about on the last day of March when there is little to no pollen to feast on?

As adults, Mourningcloaks spend the winter frozen in tree cavities. When they wake from hibernation, they feed on tree sap, (preferably oak tree sap). When tree sap starts to flow in the spring, it often seeps out of the bark in places where the tree was damaged over the winter. The Mourningcloak walks down the trunk and feeds with its head pointing downward.

The Mourningcloak also has the advantage of dark colored wings to help heat up flight muscles in early spring. Butterflies must be warm to fly, and when the days are still chilly, they will bask, or open their wings and angle toward the sun to absorb heat for takeoff.

In addition to basking and feeding on sap, Mourningcloaks are also seeking mates in early spring. With a ten month life span, the Mourningcloak is one of the longest living butterflies. In early spring, the males die after mating and the females follow after laying the next generation.
Most likely, I am already mourning the one I saw yesterday.