Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Green is Your Patrimony?

There's just one day left in June - the month of Father's Day - and even though the day itself is long past, we didn't want the month to slip away without sharing this lovely essay by Bill Herald, co-owner of the Wild Bird Center of Annapolis:

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it is attached to the rest of the world. - John Muir.

This quotation, taken from the writings of John Muir, the prominent naturalist of a century ago, gets to the essential connectedness of the natural world. The insight that Muir is expressing is one that we know today under the once popular heading of "Ecology." That is, living things exist within a complex web of relationships that humans seldom understand completely.

Muir was reminding people how one action taken now has a set of impacts both here and there. In another way, however, an action can have impacts both now and then. That is, the dimension of time is similar to the dimension of space. In this way, we can understand that a "tug on a single thing in nature," can have impacts for a lifetime. Because June is the month for Father's Day, it is worthwhile to consider how the actions of parents can shape their children's appreciation of the natural world over their lifetimes. At the Wild Bird Center, we are often privileged to witness and to assist in the kind of inter-generational hand-off that makes us hope for the future of the environment.

One of the most popular articles ever published in our little newsletter was the piece entitled, "Lawns and God." This short essay, reprinted from another source, provided a humorous, but devastating look at the Creator's assessment of the suburbanite's perverse obsession with a green lawn. Since this is the time of year that people are getting back to outdoor living, it seems appropriate to follow up by suggesting that your lawn, your backyard is actually, to use John Muir's phrase, the "single thing nature" that you have control over. The suggestion here is that in this month of Father's Day, you use your "single thing in nature" to re-attach it to the rest of the world and to the world you children and grandchildren will live in.

Thus, Father's Day becomes an opportunity to consider the concepts of patrimony and stewardship from the perspective of the environment. Webster's Dictionary defines patrimony as "Anything derived from one's father or ancestor's." Although we are accustomed to using the word in the sense of inherited land, position or fortune, it is wonderful to think of an environmental awareness, sensitivity and commitment as a child's patrimony this Father's Day. While you're at it, develop in your children a sense of stewardship, which Webster's defines as "careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." That thing "entrusted to your care" is your backyard. Why not take advantage of the opportunity this year to use the day to put up a bird house with your kids or create your own backyard nature area?

Why not make Father's Day another Earth Day and take some actions to re-attach your backyard to the rest of the world? Sweep fertilizer off the walks and hard surfaces to prevent runoff. Better yet, forgo the use of chemical fertilizers this year. Think twice about watering your lawn and wasting all that water. Perhaps you and your kids can plan and build a newly landscaped area using native plants that don't need additional sources of water and fertilizer. Leave the weed killers and insect sprays alone for a year.

Newspapers and magazines today are filled with good practical suggestions about things we can all do to save the planet. Take your stand in your one single patch of the environment and re-connect it to the wider natural world. Most important, use it as an opportunity to re-connect your children and grandchildren to the environment in their own backyard.

In this way, "going green" can be your children's patrimony. A sense of environmental stewardship can be the greatest Father's Day gift of all.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

He hates when I brag...

But I can't help myself!
It was a thrilling week for Warren with the culmination of loads of hard work all showing up in some form of print this week. First there was this:

If you can get past the breath-taking pictures of Gisele and make it to page 127, you will find the article, "The Informed Man's Guide to Following the Election".

Warren and his colleague, Jonathan Landay, are listed as "The Best Reporters You Don't Know". I've been bragging about that this one for days...

Cute Husband in GQ....I'm sure you can imagine what fun I've had with this.

Then there was this:

Warren was invited by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard to write an essay showcasing his reporting on Iraq.
No Gisele pictures in this prestigious magazine, but if you turn to page 63 of the Summer 2008 edition, you will find Warren's work entitled, "Investigative Reporting on Iraq: From Beginning to End".

And, finally, the mail last night included this treat:

Our well loved friend, Paul Baicich, invited Warren to co-write an article in the August 2008 Birder's World Magazine. See page 43 for the article entitled "Small Wetlands, Small Wonders" which gives birders yet another great reason to purchase a Duck Stamp.
Well done Cute Husband! I am beyond proud of you!
Ok, I'm off to chill the champagne....

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's Stamp Day!

OK campers, listen up! Today is the day that the "Duck Stamp," formally known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, goes on sale.

Are you a birder? Then you need NEED NEED to buy one. Now.

Why? This ain't just the hunters' stamp folks. It's our stamp, too.

That sucker up there pays to buy millions of acres of land for conservation. Without it, large portions of your favorite National Wildlife Refuges--in some cases upwards of 90%--wouldn't be there. And if you're a real birder, you've been to lots of NWRs.

Since it debuted in 1934, the stamp has raised $670 million and preserved 5.2 million acres of wetland, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

You can buy the Duck Stamp at most major U.S. Post Offices, at large outfitting stores like Bass Pro Shops, or via (this site was down for maintenance when I checked it).

More here from Jim Williams in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

And here is an editorial in the Shreveport, La., Times.

(Both columns passed on to us by Paul Baicich, who else? Wow Paul, maybe people still do need to read newspapers).

So go get your stamp - and a bunch for friends and fellow birders. Any questions?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Sweet Treat AND Great Birding!

Cute Husband and I arrived back at the Love Nest last night after a 23 mile walk in the woods and a 2 day fun filled and exhilarating stay at one of our favorite places in the world, Keswick Hall.

A crazy two part adventure... with more to come on our hike and the forest of nesting Hooded Warblers on our Appalachian Trail site.

In a nutshell, we went from sleeping here:
To resting our birded-out bodies here:

Bird list and binoculars standard equipment at both locations.

But, first Keswick Hall...

We've talked about the wondrous place before, but Warren and I are very proud to be a part of what Keswick Hall and Estates are trying to achieve.

Through the interest and dedication of Director of Operations, Matthias Smith and the support of his enthusiastic staff, we are helping Keswick conduct it's first ever survey of bird life on the 600 acres of property at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Along with the survey, we are getting the opportunity to introduce the members and residents to birding and the avian attractions that enjoy the diverse habitat that is Keswick Hall and Estates.

Development on the property is carefully managed and the golf course is certified as an Audubon Sanctuary (there are only 66 fully certified golf courses in the U.S.)!

The recent completion of nature trails takes visitors through pine forests, woodland streams and open fields.

A naturalists dream!

We went from following the white blazes of the AT to the tasteful signage which starts each of the Keswick trails.

We discovered loads of nesting birds, butterflies, deer and a two female box turtles enjoying the walk.

But, the highlight of our visit was taking some of the members, guests and residents out for a bird walk.
There is no shortage of nesting robins on the property, so it was quite a treat when one of our dedicated birders, Eric, started our first walk by sharing this egg he found on the golf course.

The Keswick birds cooperated on both our walks. Baltimore Orioles, Pine Warblers and Indigo Buntings all made singing appearances. Great looks at Green Heron and Brown Thrasher and we heard Wood Thrush, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and a Great Horned Owl.

Birds as diverse as the habitat they share with the wonderful folks who live, work and enjoy Keswick.

Thanks for birding with us and sharing this amazing place with us!

Friday, June 20, 2008

On the road yet again...

We're writing from another swanky Days Inn, this one in Waynesboro, Virginia. (Actually, it's perfectly fine)...

We're off this morning to hike another 23 miles of the App Trail over 2 days and then head over to Keswick Hall to complete our bird survey of that lovely estate and lead a few bird walks.

Kind of a schizophrenic, roughing-it/deluxing-it kind of vacation, but what they hey... And birding all the time of course.

More soon

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Images of North Dakota

As we've said many times before, birding takes us places we might otherwise never go, and we see a lot besides birds along the way.

Our intention in this post is not to make fun of North Dakota, far from it. It's a special, unique place. But as National Geographic magazine documented recently in an article titled "The Emptied Prarie," many small farms and homesteads are being quietly abandoned.

Our friend Paul Baicich discovered the "ghost town" of Temple, North Dakota on a trip last year, and on our journey this year, he took us back. With a quick Google search, I found that someone has also posted a video of Temple on YouTube.

All of these pictures were taken at Temple, with the exception of the Edsel and the abandoned house on the prarie:

Desk and chair outside abandoned schoolhouse.

View of Temple church from inside schoolhouse.

Edsel automobile (Williston, North Dakota).

Lisa took this amazing shot of an abandoned house out on the prarie.

View of Temple's church.

Hallway inside the schoolhouse.

A check for $3.50: "Meals for election board on July 15, 1935."

Farm machinery at Temple, N.D.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cornell wants you

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is redesigning its web site, including a place we visit very often, their All About Birds section.
Cornell is asking for help from birders and bird-bloggers. So go check them out. You might just learn something new about birds, or get a great idea for their site (and yours).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Birds of North Dakota, Part 2

Without comment, or further ado, here are a few more of our photographs of the birds of North Dakota from our trip last week with friends Paul Baicich and Lisa Rock. Much more still to come about the prarie, habitat and culture of that under-appreciated part of our country...

Western Meadowlark

Cliff Swallows, gathering mud for their nests


Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Wild Turkey

Ring-Necked Pheasant

Birds everywhere!

Cliff Swallows

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Birds of North Dakota

Baird's Sparrow

.... don't get the respect that they deserve. Most birders - and non-birders - go gaga over the brilliantly colored songbirds we see in migration, the rare vagrants that sometime show up on the shores of Alaska or sneak across the border from Mexico, big raptors like Bald Eagle and endangered birds like the California Condor.

But what about the birds of the heartland? The prarie of the Upper Midwest is a special place for many reasons, some of which we will talk about in upcoming posts. In late spring and summer, the prarie provides habitat for some very special birds who literally have nowhere else to go. They are short-distance migrators, wintering in the southern U.S. or northern Mexico, and mating and raising young in the heartland. Some can be seen nowhere else in their gaudy breeding plumage.

Ruddy Duck

Lisa, who is doing some research, just told me that more than 300 of the 800 migratory bird species in North America rely on this region - many for breeding and nesting, others as a waystation and feeding ground on their way north and south.

American Avocet

Lisa and I got a kick out of discovering that many of the waterfowl (and some shorebirds, too) that we see in winter, in faded plumage often, spend their summers here on the prarie, in the thousands of "potholes" carved out long ago by glaciers and filled with water. We sort of knew this, but seeing it in action - seeing all the birds either paired up or calling for territory and mates - filled in some blanks in our understanding of birds and the environment.

Pied-Billed Grebe

The males, of course, are the gaudy birds - at least in most species - but let's give a bit of credit to the gals (and I'm thinking Birdcouple here):

Yellow-Headed Blackbird, female

Red-Winged Blackbird, female

Much more to say in upcoming posts about the vanishing prarie and the unique culture and history of North Dakota. We'll sign off with a few last pics:

Marbled Godwit


Finally, a great big THANKS to all the wonderful folks at Birding Drives Dakota, Pipestem Creek, where we spent four lovely evenings, enchanted at every moment, and the fabulous, caring people from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who not only helped guide us, but taught us a lot. Did you know there are more National Wildlife Refuges in North Dakota than any other state? We didn't, until we visited.

Paul Baicich and Lisa Rock, who we shared this wonderful week with - hope you are still having a grand time. YOU ARE THE BEST!


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Waylaid on the way home

No, not this Black-Crowned Night Heron and its reflection. BirdCouple is. Sometimes adventures like our trip to North Dakota turn into ... well, adventures. We are blogging from the swanky Days Inn in West Bloomington, Minnesota because our plane from Minot this afternoon was delayed for hours, putting us in late in the Twin Cities, much too late to catch our flight home to BWI.

Well, we had a truly amazing trip to North Dakota and the Praries and Potholes Birding Festival in Carrington, N.D. Nineteen new life birds for Lisa, and 17 for Warren. Just as important, we learned about the history of the prarie, and its importance as an ecosystem for birds and much more. We visited a bison ranch, and many wonderful National Wildlife Refuges. We made lots of new friends.

Lots more photos soon. But we are tapped out this evening. Why? We got up at 4 a.m. to go birding, of course! Like these Cliff Swallows, we just want to be back at the nest!

_ W and L

Monday, June 2, 2008

North Dakota, Day 2

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Need we say more? We will ... soon. But BirdCouple has been up birding since 4:30 a.m. Saw amazing stuff - as well as beautiful prarie, mammals like Pronghorn Antelope and Skunk, and lots more.

G'night, Dakota.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


North Dakota, despite its reputation, is actually a wonderful place to be in the summer. Much more soon on all the birds we are seeing - some found only in this area in North America in breeding season -- and the wonderful people and landscapes.

Princess decided this Brewer's Blackbird captured the place better than any other (so far):