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:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sticks to the Roof of your Bill....

Cute Husband agreed to share his jar of peanut butter with our feathered friends and our very cool BirdCam captured the sticky party yesterday.

Downy Woodpecker . The smallest and most common woodpecker in North America.Tufted Titmouse. Pairs remain together after breeding season, rather than joining larger flocks (Good BirdCouples!)
Most Tufted Titmice live their entire lives within a few miles of where they were born.

Hairy Woodpecker.
The Hairy and Downy feed on wood-boring insects, but the Hairy forages on tree trunks (note the big 'ole bill) while the Downy feeds on tree limbs.

The omnivorous American Crow. Young crows remain with their parents until they can find a home of their own.

Hmmm... if I was a crow, I would drag that out into my mid-twenties.

What a 'sec.... I did drag it out that long...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hasta la vista lead bullets

Governor Schwarzennegger signed a bill this weekend that will ban hunting big game with lead bullets in several California counties.


Scientists with the research group Craighead Beringia South tested lead levels in the blood of ravens in and around Grand Teton National Park before and after hunting season. The scientists found blood lead levels were roughly 5 times higher after hunting season.

Lead stays in the blood for only about two weeks and then it gets deposited in the brain and other internal organs. Lead can make a mess of the reproductive and nervous systems and at high levels, cause death.

Ravens, eagles, vultures, California Condors and other scavengers ingest lead bullet fragments as they dine on carcasses and gut piles left behind after hunting season.

Biologist Bryan Bedrosian is now collecting bear, wolf and coyote carcasses to begin looking for lead contamination in those animals.

The contamination could be avoided by using alternatives such as copper bullets, which are readily available, although more expensive.

And, according to Bedrosian, "As a hunter myself who has switched, I haven’t noticed any change in hunting success. The only change I’ve noticed is that I’m eating lead-free meat.”

Plus, because lead is a big old toxic heavy metal, the less that is added to the food chain or dropped in fragile ecosystems the better.

California Condor, "Thanks Arnie!"

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Migration Mainline

That's right!

BirdCouple headed to the Jersey Shore to shoot up as many birds as possible as they make their journeys South.

Cape May! A birder's Mecca.

A place where you can sport your binoculars with pride.

A place where conversations start with "See anything good today?"

A place where bird T-shirts and hats are the rage.

The place to experience fall migration on the East Coast.

Greater Black-Backed Gull off the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.

We love the Ferry! There is always the possibility to catch some offshore birds or something migrating over.

Besides, BirdCouple prefers to travel in style. And, at this point of the trip, we can still actually get into the car without maps, water bottles, yesterday's lunch, the day before's coffee, twelve bird guides and all our clothes falling out of the car door.

Upon our landing in Cape May, we headed straight to the Cape May Bird Observatory to check out the recent sightings.

Pete Dunne personally welcomed us to birders' paradise.

Ok, actually, he asked Cute Husband if he liked his binoculars and Cute Husband recognized him for the Birder Rock Star he is.

I got all awestruck and tongue tied.

Cute Husband calmly took me by the hand and led me out the door to ....
Birds don't migrate because the temperature is dropping. They migrate to follow or find food sources.

The temperatures were crazy high for October in Cape May. We spent an amazing afternoon in shorts in the sun watching Peregrines, Merlins, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks cross the sky. A look through the scope showed literally 100s of birds in the distance traveling South.

The whole experience would have been so BirdCouple romantic if we had the place to ourselves...

This is the scene from the deck.

Birders galore and birds galore above. It was actually quite wonderful. It was also nice to see some younger birders who really knew their Accipters and such. Plus, getting so many continuous looks at hawks and falcons was a great learning experience.

Birder's cars and Cape May Lighthouse.

We joined the Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) bird walk the next morning at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge. The walk was led by Don Freiday, Director of Birding Programs and Pete Dunne joined the party!

That's Pete Dunne! The guy with the scope over his shoulder!

We learned mounds from Don and his crew. If you are in Cape May, a CMBO walk is a must.

On the beach we caught Northern Gannet and a Parasitic Jaeger and Black Skimmers sailing above the waves.

Northern Flickers were everywhere on the Cape. Flickers in North America are the yellow-shafted form.

I found this on the beach and Cute Husband promptly identified its previous owner by the yellow shaft.

I verified with Pete Dunne.

About this time I was itching to get my photo with Mr. Dunne.

Luckily, Cute Husband reminded me that this would be beyond geeky... even in Birders' Paradise.

Birds weren't the only creatures in full blown migration. Monarch butterflies were everywhere!

My first attempt at digiscoping. All other attempts were not so pretty.

The main reason we were in Cape May this weekend was to meet up with Frank Caruso .

Frank, Professor of Plant Pathology at University of Mass Amherst, fellow birder and all around great time.

We met at Brigantine (Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge).

Boat-tailed Grackle, Snow Geese, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-crowned Night Herons, Pectoral Sandpipers....

The purchase of your Duck Stamp at work!

Back at Cape May. Next day. Hawk Watching.

We searched Two Mile Landing outside of Wildwood for American Golden Plover.


We did see dolphin.

We did get bitten by a million evil flies.

Off to the inlet at Wildwood in hopes of Red Knot.

Red Knots rely heavily on horseshoe crab eggs to fuel their spring migration.

The Red Knot makes an incredible 18,000 mile roundtrip journey each year from its winter home at the tip of South America to the Arctic and back again.

Red Knots only stop a few times on the way to refuel. One critical stop is the Delaware Bay, where they feast on horseshoe crab eggs. Since the early 1990's horseshoe crabs have been commercially harvested. And, as commercial harvesting increased, the number of Red Knots who reached their Artic breeding grounds and successfully reproduced dramatically declined.

In 2003, some projections showed that at their current rate of decline the American subspecies might go extinct as early as 2010.

We spotted a group of 50 Red Knot offshore in their winter clothes.

Our elation at seeing these long distance migrants for the first time was tempered by thoughts of what may become of them.

We also became official members of the Cape May Bird Observatory so that they can send us stuff and torture us with all the cool stuff happening in Cape May that we are missing.

Note that Pete Dunne signed our welcome letter.

Ok, ok... this is a form letter for all new members.

Twenty minutes until the ferry sailed. Twenty minutes of birding at the Beanery.

As we walked to the car a Peregrine flew over followed by a Merlin.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Friends in Hawaii

Our dear friends Vencka and Louis have been in Hawaii the last few weeks. We're so glad that they are on their way back! But we must admit to being a wee bit jealous that among the fun, they saw a few birds we never have. :)

This is a Nene (pronounced "nay-nay," according to our extensive research) or Hawaiian Goose. It's the state bird of Hawaii, and has come close to extinction several times.

What a handsome fellow! Vencka is a great shutter-bug, no?

She and Louis also sent along this picture. They say this bird is prevelant all over the islands. BirdCouple can't quite make it out.. Sort of looks like a Cattle Egret, but too big. More like a Great Egret, but they don't have those brownish nape feathers. At least not around here...

Finally, they saw some chickens that have gone wild. Love that little chick.

Conclusion? BirdCouple must go to Hawaii!
Welcome home, Vencka and Louis!!!!

Just the Usual Suspects...

We upload the pictures each day in hopes that the freak bird will return.

So far just the normal neighborhhood gang continues to eat us out of house and birdseed. Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee

White Breasted Nuthatch

Monday, October 1, 2007

Carolina Chickadee or .....

Oh, weird bird, could you be a Common Redstart?

This is the actual picture (we cropped the pic in the post below) of the possible freak bird captured by our Wingscapes BirdCam on Friday.

The experts report the following regarding this bird....

Opinion 1: Something doesn't look quite right to me for that bird being a Common Redstart, although we all know how single photos can give misleading impressions. But it sure is one heck of a strange creature whatever it is. (Upperparts don't look right for Redstart, legs maybe too thick, etc....) And its being at a seed feeder can't be right for that species....

Opinion 2: It looks like a Carolina Chickadee with the top of the head turned away from the viewer.

Opinion 3: The color in the photos is "off" in the sense that the buff on the sides seems too bright, and the mantle too brown; these are artifacts of the exposure taken by the automatic camera. The bird is cocking its head, as many an inquisitive chickadee will do from time to time. The giveaway, besides bill and leg shape, is the gray spilling onto the sides of the face from the nape, a classic Carolina Chickadee feature. Funny how one's brain fills in details to make one thing into another when the angle does not work for the brain's image processor. Most instructive, and entertaining.

Opinion 4: My vote is for a fresh Carolina Chickadee. The bird has its head tilted upwards as if looking at a raptor in the sky, so you are seeing its throat and just the bottom of its cheek patch. Most of the head/neck is not visible although a little bit of black on the nape can barely be discerned. That small bill is perfect for a chickadee but does not at all seem like a warbler bill to me.

Opinion 5: Not a Carolina edgings on wings, wrong bill size/shape, etc. ...weird bird...looks mostly like a young (HY) male Redstart from Europe, but legs look a tad thick... Have seen non-seed eaters on feeders scrounging tiny scraps of sunflower chips, etc. (eg, Pine Warblers).

Opinion 6: This is a chickadee with its head cocked sideways so that you are looking at its throat, not the side of its head. Notice there is no eye. The head of Phoenicurus looks nothing like that. Funny how birders always hope for the rarest….

Opinion 7: Virtually any European resident passerine is kept as a cage bird and captive bred in Europe. All should be close-banded, and all are imported for aviaries and bird breeders in the USA (or could be). They won't show up in a pet shop, but they will be available through major dealers. The offspring would likely also be closed-banded (to increase value by proving year of hatch/age of bird) but not necessarily. It's not required by law here as it is in their native range (to ensure the captive birds are captive bred). Annapolis has a lot of ships docking from across the globe is the next thing that comes to mind. If a migrant redstart came in to a ship it could end up in Annapolis. Seeds? Why not. Most of my seeds right now are full of moths anyway! It's more common to put out meal worms or fruit in Europe, the bird could have been just scoping out the feeders to see what was available.

Opinion 8: Common Redstart, adult male, rather washed-out in color but probably within range of variation. The confusion species might be one of the rare Redstarts or even eastern races of Black Redstart (P. ochruros) but the latter would show more black on the upper breast. Not sure if any record of vagrancy to No. America. Or whether it is ever held as a cage bird.

BirdCouple Opinion: Why can't we be home to see all the cool stuff that happens in our own yard?

Thanks to Bart Stephens for making such a cool device and Phil Davis for his expertise and also for gathering the comments and reviews of other experts.

Ok, so we are searching our woods and crossing our fingers that freak bird got captured today on our new favorite toy.

If so, we'll invite all you bird nutters over for big old bird sit... but you have to bring a bottle of corked wine.....