Monday, April 28, 2008


This is Athena. Hive #1, the girls that made it through my first winter of total clue-less-ness as a beekeeper.

A beekeeper.

Yes, that is what I have become.
Just ask the two most important men in my life - my Dad and Cute Husband.

My Dad (master beekeeper and mentor) gets my frantic calls at all hours of the night. "Dad, why are the bees making a roaring sound after I opened them up and rearranged their whole living conditions" or... "Dad, do you think I am giving them enough ventilation? Maybe I should drill some new entrances..." or

"Dad, I really think Athena's bees are a super strong force of honey making nature ... and... can you believe I may actually get some honey from this hive?"

(Secretly, I could care less about the honey ... but don't tell Cute Husband)

So, Dad gets the frantic hive management calls.

Warren, my Love, gets bees 24/7.

I tell him the daily activities of both Athena and Diana (Hive #2).


I tell him all the interesting bee behavior theories that I learn from endless reading of bee journals. I relay any new bee news that might make me a better keeper of the bees.

I tell him if ants are messing with Diana or if Athena looks like she is going to swarm again. I lure him to the "bee yard"to see all the bee activity. I go on and on for hours about the discussions at the bee club meetings.

I hide the evidence of bee paraphernalia purchases like some women hide shoe boxes in hopes their husbands will not notice.

"What? That new feeder, swarm trap and bottom board? Oh, no, no.... these are old ones, had them for years... you never noticed?"


"Oh, yes, yes, these are new... last season's frame and wax. Super beekeeper sale that I hit last fall".

So, obviously I have tons of wonderful male support.

But I also have over 100,000 females in the back yard. And Athena's females are acting quite odd.

Last week a group of them decided to swarm and landed about 10 feet away from the original hive. They hung out on the ground in a big ball, which I thought I had recaptured, only to return the next morning and find no sign of them.

Perhaps they were queen-less and decided to return to their original abode. My next inspection showed little to no difference in bee numbers. So, maybe.

The trouble is... I don't speak bee.

On Saturday, some of Athena's gals were just hanging out on their fancy landing ramp. All clumped together perhaps waiting for further instructions from the realtor worker bees who look for a new home. Or, maybe they were waiting for the queen to exit so they could take off together. Or, maybe they just get sick of me looking at them all the time.

Again, I don't speak bee.

I recently whined to our bee club president, "I just have no idea if I am doing any of this beekeeping stuff correctly... and I feel so responsible for their well being...."

Apparently, bee club president thinks these are exactly the traits that make a good beekeeper.


Stay tuned to see if any of these bees decide to continue to live in the housing I provide.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Go Navy!

Given where BirdCouple lives, and the fact that Warren's father, Carl, is a retired U.S. naval officer, we are just a wee bit partial to the U.S. Navy to begin with.

So we know, Army, Marine Corps or Air Force wouldn't have done this for a bird:

U.S. Navy photo

Here's the photo caption the Navy released with this picture:

080318-N-1688B-002 PERSIAN GULF (March 18, 2008) Airman Jacob Larsen holds "Fod," a screech owl that was found on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The owl was discovered in the left-main wheel well of an F/A 18 Hornet during a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft. Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 are deployed supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew Bookwalter (Released)

Good thing for the pilot, the F-18 and the owl that the bird was discovered before take-off.

We don't expect the Navy to be bird identification specialists - so we'll point out that folks who have seen this picture say it is probably some species of Scops Owl, not a screech owl.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Healthy Eyes

Our Wingscapes BirdCam captured these pictures last week of the now healthy population of neighborhood finches. It looks like the nasty case of Finch conjunctivitis we saw in March has not continued to spread through the rest of our feeder visitors.

Plus, check out the spring finery on these two males. The House Finches are making their summer home under the deck and we have at least 2 Goldfinches families nesting in the yard.

And, yesterday, we heard our first of the year flute-like serenades from our favorite summer visitors, Wood Thrushes.

Cute Husband, master of record keeping, tells me that this arrival is one day earlier than last year.

Nope, I'm not going to blame it on global warming.

I'm just going to be happy I didn't have to wait any longer for their return.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Arrivals

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

This is the time of year when we try to get out every chance we can - mornings before work, evenings, weekends, because new birds are showing up on our doorstep and all around us. It's the beginning of spring migration, and birds that have flown from Central and South America are suddenly here. The swallows have arrived, along with a few raptors like Broad-Winged Hawk. Also a few warblers. The peak of this mass movement of hundreds of millions of birds is still a few weeks away. To say we cannot wait is an understatement. Northern Rough-Winged Swallows almost never pose patiently for a portrait like this.

Blue-Winged Teal, male

This Blue-Winged Teal, which I photographed on Tuesday, is the 98th species of bird that I have seen at Schoolhouse Pond in downtown Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Getting close to the century mark.

Northern Cardinal, male.

Of course, we can't forget our year-round residents, either.

Annapolis, Maryland - State House and US Naval Academy

Year-rounders, or summer visitors - it's not a bad place to call home!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Turn Your Head For a Sec...

And spring is in full swing! BirdCouple has been too, too busy. Warren had to fly down to Atlanta last Sunday to care for his Mom, who fell sick coming back from a cruise vacation. (She's better.) Of course he brought his bins, and of course he managed to get a little Georgia birding squeezed in (Red-Headed Woodpecker, Prarie Warbler, Great-Crested Flycatcher, etc). But other than that, it's been work, work, work. Lisa has been working her sweet self especially hard.

So it was fun to take an hour off Saturday to wander around one of our favorite little spots in nearby Prince George's County, and see how much is going on out there suddenly. Birds! Bugs! Turtles! Butterflies! Not like we haven't seen this stuff before, but it seems new every spring.

Nesting Canada Goose.

Painted Turtle.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies.

We include this last picture, although it is a bit out of focus, because April 12 is by far the earliest we have ever seen a Blue Grosbeak, which are summer denizens here in Maryland and don't usually show up until May or June.

Blue Grosbeak, male.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is this my best side?

The backyard residents ham it up for Wingscapes BirdCam

Obviously, someone other than me loves Trader Joe Trail Mix

Niger? Wasn't the acorn production over the top this year?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

News from the Yard...

The feeders are back up! It was a tough week for BirdCouple.

Due to a nasty case of conjunctivitis that Warren found in our Goldfinch population, we took down all the feeders for over a week.

After a good scrubbing and a little bleach, the feeders returned to their usual spots yesterday.

Our friend, Shawn, who is trained in veterinary medicine, commented that conjunctivitis is usually seen in animals with a vitamin A deficiency. Try dried fruits, said Shawn.

Our peanut feeder now contains a small serving of the most delicious (and low sodium) of all trail mixes, Trader Joe's Antioxidant Trail Mix. Get better neighborhood finches!

Of course, as soon as the feeders came out, so did our Wingscapes BirdCam. It was a rainy cold Sunday, so the lighting was not optimal, but I really missed our favorite toy.
BirdCam lay face up indoors for a week where it caught some interesting and unsuspecting pictures of the daily life of BirdCouple.

I love this moment.

Cute Husband is checking off the new life bird (Virginia Rail) we saw last weekend to his old field guide from 1988. Freak that I am, I missed BirdCam bird pictures so much that I tried the device out on my bee hive. I'll need to work on placement for optimal focus, but it was interesting seeing the increase in activity as the day warmed and the bees started foraging.

Speaking of bees... my first hive (Athena) survived the winter and is bustling with activity. So much activity, that I am now worried about swarming. Athena's bees are bringing in early pollen and the queen is laying. Our major nectar flow is still weeks away, but during the last peek inside, I saw honey stores, pollen and brood.


Yesterday, my Dad and I picked up our packaged bees for our second hives. I had hoped to install my second hive with a friend (and future beeman), Shawn on Sunday, but the weather looked bad, so hive #2 (Diana) went into their new home yesterday.

Hopefully, Diana's bees are now in the process of getting to know and love their queen.

No bees out and about today. Rainy and only 40 degrees in Naptown.

And, I have completely lost it.

I was actually thinking about putting a Bee Gees song to finish out my beatitude about the bees....

Oh, what the heck...

Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother, You're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin', people, Stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Birds prefer the country life over the urban jungle

Not really that shocking...

But according to this from ScienceDaily, most ecologists thought that the high rate of nest failures of migratory birds who set up homes in the city was due to urban predators such as house cats and raccoons.

The results of a six year study "showed that predators weren’t the main problem: instead, the birds just didn’t seem to like urban areas and gave up more easily." Urban dwelling birds arrived late in the spring, left early in the fall and attempted fewer nests.

Acadian Flycatchers, who nested in cities, tended to be smaller than those that nest in rural areas, leading researchers to believe that smaller or lower-quality Acadian Flycatchers were forced to nest in urban areas due to lack of habitat in rural areas.

Researchers are now trying to determine if a bird's city life of noise, light pollution, invasive plants and cowbird nest parasitism are leading to nest failures.

According to Amanda Rodewald, associate professor of wildlife ecology at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, “So much of the world is becoming urbanized, from a conservation perspective, really understanding how animals respond to urbanization is going to be important for protecting biodiversity.”

In other news, a city Red-Tailed Hawk, living in Fenway Park attacked a girl who was touring the park. The girl wandered within 40 feet of the hawk's nest and the mother hawk swooped down and cut the girl with its talons.

The girl was released from the hospital and the nest and egg were removed from the ballpark.