Friday, August 31, 2007

BirdCouple's Been Bad

Actually, we've been very busy, unfortunately with non-birding stuff! We did, however, get to go out last Sunday to local Fort Smallwood Park with son Adam and our new birding pal Ross Geredien, who has some cool photos on his web site.

They are much better than this:

Little Blue Heron

We digi-scoped this guy (gal?) at Fort Smallwood's central pond, which was chock full of wading birds - Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blues, a Tricolored Heron and Great Blues. Our bird list for Fort Smallwood Parks is 84 species!
Here's another sort of ghostly look at the same bird:

All in all we had 40 species in one day, including two lifers for Adam, the Tricolored Heron and Caspian Tern.
Meanwhile, the newspapers have been filled with odd bird news. First, came a swarm (OK, flock) of starlings that seem to be bedeviling parts of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The local paper, predictably, called it Hitchcockian.
Then came the "Green Pigeon" seen at one of our favorite local birding spots, Annapolis' Greenbury Point. Turns out is was a bird that escaped from a local business that dyes pigeons for special occasions like parties, etc.
Must be August. For another few hours.
It's also Labor Day weekend, so we're off to knock another 24-25 miles off the Appalachian Trail, AT for short. Check out our AT Blog in a day or two to see the results.
Happy End-of-summer Everyone!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our Habitat

We are super proud to have our love nest certified by the National Wildlife Federation. The certification involves creating or restoring a yard to a natural habitat that supports wildlife all year.

Certification includes gardening without chemicals, planting native plants and conserving water. A yard that provides food, water and areas of cover for wildlife is essential.

Our Butterfly Bush is not native and is listed as invasive by "Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas". I am having a little trouble removing this beauty due to the many visitors this summer.

Tiger Swallowtail. Butterflies enjoy the nectar of this bush, but don't lay their eggs here. This year we planted 3 Pawpaw trees, which are native. Pawpaws also provide the only foliage that Zebra Swallowtail butterfly's larvae eat.

Praying Mantis on Butterfly Bush. The Praying Mantis feeds primarily on other insects, using their camouflage to blend in. If an insect, or a small reptile is in striking distance, the Mantis uses its pincer-like front legs to catch and devour the victim.

Praying Mantis have also been known to catch small birds. Yikes! Warning to our yard Hummers!

Female Praying Mantis are perhaps best known for sexual cannibalism of their mate.

Praying Mantis are not endangered, but they are threatened by habitat destruction, so we are quite pleased he enjoys hanging out in our habitat.

Red Spotted Purple. The red spots are under his wings. These butterflies enjoy rotting fruit, sap and carrion. Apparently it found one of those in our front yard mulch.

Male cardinal on one of the branches of an oak tree that fell in our back yard last winter. We decided to leave the tree as is and the birds are feasting on insects the decaying tree attracts.

So what's up next for our little habitat?

One of our favorite places in the world, The Adkins Arboretum , is having their annual native plant sale in early September!

And... I am hoping that Cute Husband remembers our 38th month anniversary next month and presents me with this cool bat box....!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Yeah, we're cool

We love to take every chance we can get to destroy the "Birders are Nerds" stereotype. (Ever tromp through bear-infested territory in Alaska looking for an Arctic Warbler? Frozen your tail off at a bird count on a blustery New Jersey shore in November? Birded a garden in southern Africa with venemous snakes hiding in the trees above? We have....)

Anyway, the US Fish and Wildlife Service does a survey every 5 years of fishing, hunting and wildlife watching in the United States. The 2006 survey, released in May, found that 71 milion people participated in wildlife watching, (of that, 23 million did some away-from-home wildlife watching). That was up 8 percent from 2001. Birding, OF COURSE, led the way... The total economic impact of wildlife watchers? $44.7 billion.

The number of anglers and hunters (and we have nothing against anglers and hunters), declined by 12 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Here's a news article about same. Thanks to Papa Carl for passing it on.

Yeah, we're cool.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hummer Fuel

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have been hitting our feeders - and the Cardinal Flowers in the front yard - like crazy today. Birdcouple thinks they must be fueling up in preparation for the long and amazing fall journey back to Central America and the Caribbean.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blog Update

As you can see (above), we are experimenting with BirdCouple's layout a little bit, trying to make this blog a bit easier to navigate. ... It will get better, we promise. .. Ah, learning HTML one step at a time....

.... Meanwhile, Science magazine has a pair of interesting articles, one on how birds benefit from cooperative breeding, and another excellent review of the controversy over the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and the increasingly disputed sighting thereof. (Full articles available only by subscription, but the Washington Post today has an article based on the first study....)

Monday, August 13, 2007

LOOK, Up in the air!

This is the inside of an inflated hot air balloon.

It's the dog days of summer - even the birds are taking a break. So further to our occasional forays into the non-birding world, we bring you the world of hot-air ballooning, courtesy of aeronaut extraordinaire Carl Strobel.

Birdcouple went out early Sunday morning -- and I DO mean early - to "crew" the balloon, along with crew chief John Hall (Warren's stepbrother). That means helping set up the balloon and then chasing it by car, because you never know where the darn thing is going to go - how far and how fast. Dad always misses the powerlines, but he usually finds a nice remote, insect-plagued field to land in!

Sunday's passengers were...

Hmm.. Are we sure we want to do this?

Our good friends Louis and Vencka. That guy on the right is the pilot and said aeronaut extraordinaire.

Of course, they had a safe, calm and fun-filled flight, coasting over Maryland's Eastern Shore.

It's almost as good as being a bird.

Lisa and Warren DID do a bit of birding on the side. We saw Barn Swallow, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Indigo Bunting and heard Eastern Wood Pee-Wee, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrows and more....

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday's Bits & Pieces

Photo: Ryan Farrell

Here's an image of Maryland's recent immature White Ibis (clue for non-birders: it's NOT one of the white birds), courtesy of Prince George's county birder Ryan Farrell. Many thanks for sharing the photo, Ryan. To confuse matters more, the two white birds in the lower left hand corner are Little Blue Herons, also immature birds. Non-adult birds can be tricky, especially this time of year, when 1st-year birds are all around, and on the move.

Meanwhile, if you haven't heard of it yet, there is an amazing new desktop gadget from Google that delivers reports of rare bird sightings in your region direct to your desktop. Check it out here. It's free. What will they think of next? I've read, in Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway, among other places, of the pre-Internet '70s and '80s, when birders would chase rarities around the country, stopping every now and then to put coins in a pay phone and call the local rare bird alert hotline. How times change...

Finally, a fond farewell/hello to A DC Birding Blog, whose author, John, recently moved from DC to New Jersey. That leaves a huge gap in the on-line world for info on local birding, natural history, conservation legislation and much, much more. But the soon-to-be renamed blog is still as good as ever. Today, he's got a bunch of conservation news--some of it even good! Check it out... and Good Birding.

The BirdCouple

Monday, August 6, 2007

Summer birds

This isn't the greatest picture, but hopefully you can tell it's a Grasshopper Sparrow. We saw our first one on Sunday, calling from the top of some long grass in an overgrown field - exactly where it is supposed to be!
The birding wasn't bad for the middle of a hot August day - we also found the immature White Ibis we were looking for (those pictures are really bad, unfortunately), which is a really uncommon bird in Maryland, keeping mostly to the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast of the U.S.
There are always birds around, 365 days a year!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Now That's A Lot of Birds!

August 9 Update: Peter now has 8,108 species, thanks to the latest, 6th edition of Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. It includes some species "splits," when one previously recognized species is divided into two or more, and a few "lumps," when two or more previously recognized species are "lumped" into one.

A quick congrats to our dear friend, Peter Kaestner, on seeing his 8,100th bird! Actually, 8,102.

Peter is a great birder (and lister, obviously), diplomat and family man. He is currently the senior U.S. consular officer in India and #4 on the all-time world life list. (That includes the late Pheobe Snetsinger).

Peter's 8,100th bird was a rare Lesser Florican.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Long-Billed or Short- Billed Dowitcher?

I can't help it.

Sometimes when I am faced with something like the scene below, I shut down.

Thousands of birds.

Shore birds.

Defiantly a few different species mixed in the bunch. Potentially a life bird in the crowd.

And all I can do is hold my binoculars to my eyes and say to Cute Husband, "Look at that bird, Honey, he's tucking his bill behind him and taking a nap."

That bird.

Not, "Honey! (I would say this no matter what) Look at the bright rufus patches on that Short-billed Dowitcher. He must still be in his breeding plumage."

No, I am just simply overwhelmed by so many birds in one place. And, after not seeing shorebirds for quite some time, I am also overwhelmed by the foreign-ness of a new set of birds brought to us by fall migration.

I just started nailing the warblers I knew like the back of my hand this time last year.

So, I have my binoculars out and I can't even start to process if what I am looking at has yellow legs or an upturned bill or if the streaking on the breast ends abruptly at the belly.

I'm just looking at a mess load of birds.

It takes me awhile to look at the group for some diversity.

Give me a conspicuous bird. The odd bird something that stands out and I can scream to the heavens, "Why, that is a Pileated Woodpecker!"

Or give me my well known feathered friends who, if I care to impress my non-birding buddies, I will say, "That bird is called a Red-winged Blackbird."

It takes me a while to start to examine.

Not my guy. Warren is immediately processing.

Warren taught me all I know about birds and teaches me something new each day.

We were at Bombay Hook NWR last weekend and the list of recent sighting included a Wilson's Phalarope.

Oh, that would be super cool!

We checked out Sibley's Field Guide. Wilson's Phalaropes have an unusual feeding pattern; they spin in circles to draw prey to the surface.

A couple of minutes after I pointed out the bird that was napping, Warren said in his confident voice, "I see them! Three of them!"

Yes, three of them in the middle of hundreds of Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, Avocets and Black-necked Stilts.

And what were they doing? Spinning in circles. No other birds were feeding in the same manner.

Aha! Look for the birds doing something different from the rest!

And, together, Warren and I have also had the opportunity to learn from other birders.

Like the time we went to Bombay Hook NWR with Peter Kaestner. Peter is so gracious, he always wants to help us get a lifer or a year bird on each visit.

After he got over his initial shock that we had not yet seen a Pipit, (AKA non-existent bird) as he had spotted 6 on his way over to our house, he started searching madly for a Lesser Blacked-Backed Gull for addition to our list.

We told him that they, also, simply do not exist. We had studied thousands of Great Black-backed Gulls in Maryland looking for yellow legs. Those yellow legs would tell us that this gull was not a Greater (with pink legs) but the elusive Lesser. There were simply no yellow legged gulls like that in our area.

Perhaps they are extinct in our region.

So, he took us to a field with thousands of gulls. He patiently pointed out the gull that looked exactly like the Greater, however he was much smaller. This gull was about the same size as the Herring Gull he was hanging with.

Aha! Size does matter.

So, the lesson here?

The more you bird, the more you learn.

The text, along with the pictures, make field guides good things to carry along.

If it acts different, it probably is different.

Birding with someone who has seen over 8,000 birds is very helpful.

Birding with a cute, funny, interesting guy is a definite plus.

If the birds aren't cooperating, you are still ensured a good time.