Saturday, August 30, 2008

It really is a small world

Smaller and smaller. This is our very able bird guide and Forestry Ministry employee Pak Umar, who took Warren, Antony Sutton of the Jakarta Birding blog and Antony's wife Mai (hope I'm spelling that right) around the Pulau Dau reserve in Western Java, Indonesia on Saturday morning. Well, after hiking through the mangroves for several hours, we went back to a small roadside store that Pak Umar and his wife run in a pretty small village. As we were waiting, he dialed up on his brand new mobile phone. That's him up there checking out this blog. Amazing.

And I'm posting this from a free Internet terminal at Singapore airport, en route home. Also amazing.

Pak Umar, who had eyes like an eagle, showed us some amazing birds, like Little Blue Kingfisher, Scarlet-Headed Flowerpecker, and Bar-Tailed Prinia. More on that soon..

I am headed home to my Princess!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cute, Huh?

Maybe. But not at 4AM.

4AM every morning for the last week. Two babies plus their mother climb the deck each night to check out the bird feeders, wash their hands in the birdbath and get a sugar rush from the Hummingbird feed.

It doesn't matter that the bird feeders have been empty for days and I am now bringing in the Hummer water each night.

They still make the deck rounds each night.
Making that crazy raccoon chitter-chatter noise.

The group then heads to the empty trash can.
(I know Cute Husband will be disappointed if he doesn't get to take out a month's worth of trash when he returns ---see trash issues here).

They climb the trash can and rock it until they knock it over and sniff the stuff inside.
Not exactly a comforting sound coming from the yard in the middle of the night.

Last night, however, they showed up without mom.

I did my usual 4AM yelling and stomping which normally gets them right off the deck.

Not this morning. Both kits headed straight for me and the open door.

Hungry and fearless.
Plus, super cute.

It took every bone in my body to not got out fill up the feeders, bring out the sugar water, throw the trash in the can and make them an apple pie with ice cream.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

“Birding, after all, is just a game. Going beyond that is what is important.”

Roger Tory Peterson, ornithologist‚ artist‚ author, and one of the the greatest advocates for the natural world was born 100 years ago today.

His work and field guides were probably the most important contribution to bird and nature study in the twentieth century

In celebration of the centennial of his birth, Peterson's original publisher, Houghton Mifflin, is launching this new book, which combines the Peterson Eastern and Peterson Western guides into one volume.
The package includes almost three hours of video podcasts.
Love that!
The guide is larger than most Peterson guides (we need another bird bookcase, Cute Hubby) and combines Peterson's works of art into one guide.
The compilation was a team effort by well-known birding experts and artists.
John aka The DC Birding Blog recently reviewed the new guide and you can find his opinion here.
From the man who brought us the modern field guide and introduced millions to the pleasures of bird watching...

"The truth of the matter is, the birds could very well live without us, but many - perhaps all - of us would find life incomplete, indeed almost intolerable without the birds."

“Even civilized Man needs the aesthetic stimulation which the wilderness alone can provide. Some of us would even die spiritually if we could not withdraw occasionally from crowded contact with our fellow Man.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paul, Pants and Birds

Yup, I was correct!

Paul Baicich, of Birding Community E-Bulletin fame, prefers jeans or just plain shorts to zip-off pants.On Saturday morning, I begged Paul to go birding with me. I'm missing my #1 Cute birding buddy and Paul kindly offered to show me some birds. We headed to Greenbury Point at the crack of dawn (ok, it was actually 7AM) on Saturday in hopes of finding something wonderful. And, that we did. See that speck? Peregrine Falcon. Hanging out on the old radio towers along with some very vocal Osprey. Oh, I miss Cute Husband, the photographer!Immature Blue Grosbeak, just starting to show some blue around the head and orange bars on the wings. Protective dad. Not thrilled with me chasing his offspring through a field to capture more fuzzy pictures. A study in Mallards, Black Duck and mongrel Mallard/Black Ducks. Birding with Paul is the best!

Even though Paul has seen a zillion ABA birds, he is still always patient and willing to study the most ordinary among them.

So, I thought I would finish this post with another lame picture.

See the bird nicely framed in the middle of branches? Perhaps you can see his eye?

This Hermit Thrush (I think) hung out around the bee hives early morning and late evening for a couple of days. Silent.

I didn't expect to see him each time I went to check the bees, so I never thought to bring my bins. I brought the camera to capture some bee stuff.

A long distance discussion with Warren gave the possibility of immature Wood Thrush, although I have not heard or seen them in the yard for over 2 weeks.

If you can make anything from my appalling picture and help with my mystery... I could maybe count a Hermit Thrush as a Bigby Bird.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Going Batty

As many BC readers know by now, I've been going batty with the lack of birding action during my current trip to Southeast Asia. Am now in Jakarta, Indonesia.

But it looks like I'll be heading out next Saturday for some birding at a great site outside this huge city with the owner of the Jakarta Birding blog as my guide and companion. Then home to my sweetie. Hooray on both counts (especially the second one)!

Meanwhile, here is a pic of some Fruit Bats hanging out in a tree in the southern Philippine island of Tawi-Tawi. The photo doesn't really do these things justice - they are ginormous. They also taste yummy, or so I was told. Didn't get a chance to partake.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Zip-Off Pants

Oh, our mailbox is just brimming with such interesting questions from BirdCouple devotees!

We recently received this email from Doris in Port Clinton, PA:

Dear BirdCouple,
I love your blog! Read it everyday!

I have a somewhat strange question that I hoped you could help me resolve. I recently went birding with my local birding club and it seems that the vast majority of birding participants wear zip-off pants.

Please be assured that I am not asking you some sort of kinky question. I am referring to the zip-off pants that exist as long pants but have a zipper capability that allow them to become shorts.

Anyway, I wondered if this was standard birding equipment. Or is it akin to the boxer/brief issue?
I have my Alpen Binoculars , my field guide... but do I also need zip-off pants?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

Doris- first, we want to congratulate you on birding with your local birding club. Local birding clubs are a great way to learn tons about birds and birding.
In general, birders are really nice people who will be delighted to show you a new bird and teach you about birding.

Regarding the zip-off pants issue....

I, too, have contemplated purchasing zip-off pants, as I don't own a pair right now.

I went deep within the BirdCouple files to answer your question and found that ...
Well... it depends...
Here we find Cute Husband and Van, who teaches biology at Gunnery wearing jeans.

Not zip-offs.

Now, this was taken in February in Maryland and I was there.

It was cold. Zip-off pants are thin.

In the month of October we met Frank Caruso, Professor of Plant Pathology at U Mass in Cape May.

I was there.

It was unusually warm for October. Frank is sporting jeans. Cute Husband, zip-offs.

Peter Kaestner, #5 in the world for most birds seen.
Unusual mild August weather.
Zip-off Pants Man.
Dan Haas, of Nervous Birds.
I don't recall ever seeing Dan is zip-off pants. Although, Dan is also a musician. I have never seen Billy Idol or Britney Spears in zip-off pants.
Well, not these kind of zip-off pants.

Pete Dunne, October (with the scope over his shoulder).

No zip-offs, but note other birders sporting them. Paul Baicich, author of A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds.

Paul wears jeans.
I'll test this tomorrow when I bird with him in 80 degree weather.

New birders at Keswick Hall. I don't see any zip-offs.

North Dakota. Jeans 3. Zip-offs 2.

So, Doris, the zip-off pant issue...

My theory is that the wearing zip-off pants is a deeply personal issue.

It may be weather dependent. It may be a birder's creative license.

But, our research shows that jeans are also acceptable birding attire.

Doris, I think the best advice we can give you is to keep birding and keep wearing some sort of pants while birding.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thinking about it...

"There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew."

~Herbert Marshall McLuhan, professor, philosopher and scholar, patron saint of Wired magazine.

McLuhan also said this:

"Diaper backward spells repaid. Think about it."
P.S. - Someone is missing you in Manila, on the other side of this big and wonderful planet. - w

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Catching Up with Some Birding Buddies....

Warren and I have only birded in real life with one of these guys.

The remainder we bird with electronically by reading their blogs.

I feel a real kinship to these bloggers. I always learn something new or special from them on each read.

And this is what some of our favorite bird bloggers where up to this week....

Dan of Nervous Birds is flying a new banner of his most adorable wife and child. Dan is a fellow National Public Radio freak and he is currently highlighting the Science Friday broadcast on biodiversity.

John, of DC Birding Blog, is my daily vitamin of birding news, conservation issues and environmental news. Check out his thoughts on the current administration's decision to weaken the Endangered Species act here.

Larry, who creates The Brownstone Birding Blog , is running some fab shorebird pictures with an essay on the challenges of Peep and Sandpiper identification.

The fellows over at 10,000 Birds are raising funds to support survey and educational work in Kenya to raise awareness about the endangered Sharpe's Longclaw.
Please ChipIn to help these guys make their $2,000 goal.

And thanks to the gents at 10,000 Birds for motivating us to promote and support this effort!

Monday, August 18, 2008


This post is not about my #1 Honey who I am missing something terrible.

Yes, something terrible.

Warren is currently embedded with U.S. Special Operations soldiers in the Phillipeans. He is reporting on Nukes and Spooks about his work and posting on his birding frustrations here on BC.

I still miss him something terrible.

This post is also not about birds.

Rather, it is about what my girls in the Athena Hive produced this year.

This is capped honey and today was extraction day.

Dr. Harrison Monk is an outstanding Veterinary and bee master. Dr. Monk shares his extraction equipment each August so that my Dad and I can get his house all sticky rather than ours.

I know Warren is tortured because he would have so enjoyed extracting the end product of the amazing work of our back yard hives.

I enlisted the help of our best pals, Louis and Vencka to make work of honey filled frames.

This is me using a heated knife to uncap the wax and ready it for extraction.This is Dr. Monk telling me the correct way to use the knife and uncap the wax and prepare it for extraction. Louis. Working like a dog churning the extractor.
Dr. Monk's extractor is a hand crank.
Arm powered.
No plugs.
Just pure strength and the satisfaction of muscle power.
I'm sure Louis feels completely satisfied now, since he did all the cranking, all the lifting of heavy stuff and all the really sticky gooey work.

Right, Louis?
All that super human cranking sucks the honey out of the comb where it drips down the inside of the extractor.
Honey coalesces in a pool at the bottom of the extractor. The extractor spigot is then turned and out drips liquid delicious-ness.

This is the first honey I have extracted from the LoveNest hives and the taste is very fruity.

Lovely, actually.
Our neighborhood is laced with ornamental fruit trees and I think this year's honey is a product of fruit trees rather than the Popular or Locust trees that bloom a little later.

So, how do I feel right now?

Well, immense pride in what these hard working creatures created.

This hive worked together and visited about 225,000 flowers per day.
A single bee from this hive visited between 50-1000 flower a day.
These bees worked 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey.
To produce 2 pounds of honey, these bees traveled a distance equal to 4 times around the earth.

So, I am feeling a little like a thief.

A little like Winnie the Pooh.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In a "Bird," but not birding

In a chopper, getting ready for take off somewhere in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. And half a world away from Birdcouple's better, cuter, smarter half....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Birding torture

Warren is in birding nirvana and he can't go birding (much). Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

I am currently on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, which has got plenty of tropical specialties, and even a few endemic birds, I think. I also happen to be embedded (i.e. living and traveling with) U.S. Special Operations soldiers here. Which means I am working my butt off. Nor can I exactly go wandering around the Filipino military base here with a pair of binoculars, looking at things. Oh, and there happens to have been some fighting over the weekend about 60 miles away from where I am.

One takes what one can get, though, and it's not been a complete drought. I've seen plenty of Black-Headed Munia, which seems to be sort of like the local Brown-Headed Cowbird.

Back in Manila last Sunday, I went birding for a few hours at the Manila American Cemetery, which is actually a well-known birding spot in the Philippine capital. I picked up Pied Fantail, Zebra Dove, Barred Rail and four or five other lifers.

As BirdCouple says, every day you see a new bird is a good day.

Know what? It's not the birds I'm missing most of all. It's the Princess ... and Mitch and Adam.

Damn - some crazy looking thing with a foot-long streamer-like tail just flew overhead......

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Showing Peter Kaestner Some Birds

Did you know that you can tell a Fish Crow from an American Crow in flight by comparing the crow's head size?

This is just one of the many hints I passed on to Peter Kaestner while birding Saturday on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Yeah, who am I kidding?

I was lucky enough to join Peter and his daughter, Katie for a day of birds on a beautiful day.

Peter's life list currently stands at 8189, making him #5 in the world for most birds seen. Among his accomplishments (including a successful diplomatic career and a lovely family) are his discovery some years ago, of a previously unknown species, the Cundinamarca Antpitta.

Cute Husband and I love when Peter is in town!

Birding has taken Peter to some of the most dangerous corners of the world and his adventures have the plots of Indiana Jones movies.

Almost drowning, taking headers off cliffs, chased by snakes, lost in the forest for days, hitching rides with armed guerrillas... all just a part of Peter getting the bird.

Luckily, Peter wasn't up for any danger birding, so we explored the areas around Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in search of the secretive Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Unfortunately, the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow remained a secret. Photos: Peter Kaestner

But, we did see oodles of Osprey. Adults and juveniles lined the marshes where we poked around looking for birds.

I was excited to show Peter the Alpen Apex binoculoars that Warren and I have been using. Peter gave the thumbs up and proclaimed them worthy of world birding!

It was nice to see how close the clarity was to his Leicas.... for about a $1,000 less.

Blooming Swamp Rose-mallow also lined the banks of the marshes. The huge blossoms made a stunning show as we noted Bank, Barn and Tree Swallows staging on a telephone wire.

A mature Bald Eagle flew over and we saw Northern Harrier hunting far out in the marsh. Loads of Great Blue Herons and a single Great Egret stalked the shore.

A curious Marsh Wren answered Peter's phishing.

The only real disappointment was the lack of Kestrels. We had only one the whole day, where just a couple of years ago, Warren and I would see several during a day of Eastern Shore birding.

Here I am filling Peter in on the life cycle of the Laysan Albatross.

Or, maybe I was telling him the exact Philippine island he should search for that Monkey-Eating Eagle he needs.

Or, I could have been telling him about the time that Warren and I went birding and I almost lost an eye when I walked into a tree. And this lovely lady, is Katie K.

I am beyond sure this girl is going to be a super star someday.

Her photography is amazing(check it out here! Really...beautiful stuff), she speaks a repertoire of languages, she is witty and fun. And, lucky for Cute Husband and I, she will soon be living within an hour from the LoveNest!

More on her catapult to fame and her gallery show in future posts....

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Final Demise of the Yellow Jackets

The Front Yard Yellow Jacket nest finally bite the dust. Dang, I just realized this is the second post in a row that talks about killing pests in our house and yard...

I'm not proud of killing them.

I am, however, proud of the means by which I killed them.
No insecticides. No pesticides. No chemicals of any sort.
In the dead of night, I put a glass bowl over the hole and then ran.

The "glass bowl over the hole method" took a while (about a month) to finally get rid of them.
This method also burned or suffocated all the vegetation in a 2 foot diameter around the covered hole.

But, I know I didn't kill a whole bunch of other unsuspecting insects or damage our little ecosystem by nuking them.

In other LoveNest yard stuff:

Cardinal Flower! Native!
Cute Husband and I add a couple of Cardinal Flowers each year. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds go completely nuts for this plant. Cardinal Flowers bloom into early fall in Maryland, so they are a great source of nectar for Hummers that are fueling up for migration.

Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are also native and attract a wide variety of insects, butterflies and birds which munch on the seeds.

This Monarch was a treat, as we don't get many in the yard.
Probably because we need to plant more milkweed for them to feed on.

We were also pleasantly surprised to see some of my girls feasting on the treats in the front yard.

I'm not sure if this gal is from the Athena or from the Diana hive, as the bees from both hives are very similar in color.
mmmm...Echinacea Honey....

Saturday, August 9, 2008

BirdCouple Squabbles

Mary from Topeka, Kansas recently wrote to ask me:

Dear (Princess) Lisa,
Do you and Cute Husband ever have a fight?
Thanks and keep up the great work!


Nope. Never.

Mary, Mary, Mary....

Of course, Cute Husband and I have our occasional marital spat!

In fact, sometimes we have rip-roaring, knock-down, cardinal fighting a mirror emotional brawls.

And, as I will demonstrate, I rarely win these squabbles.

Consider this:

Trash pick up is twice a week.
Twice a week.
You would think that Cute Husband would let me take out the trash at least once a week.
We could switch off, I've begged.
You get Thursday and I'll take ... well... I'll take the other day.
But, no.
Not even on recycling day, when there are tons of heavy wine bottles (from the neighbors).
Warren will have none of it. He always gets to take out the trash.

And this:

Apparently, mice really enjoy living in our house.
After looking and caulking every entry crevice, We found a humane way of letting them know that rodent homesteading is not part of the deal.
The Electronic Mouse Trap.
Now, I know what you are thinking, Mary.
Surely, just once Cute Hubby would let me dispose of the dead mouse.
Please, Warren, Please!
But... no... I never get to take care of decaying mouse issues.

And then, there is this:

Sometimes, for whatever reason, a toilet in the LoveNest will back up.
Now, I know I don't have any formal training in de-clogging plumbing fixtures, but you would think that my exuberance over the task at hand would pass off as the needed skill.
Nope, Warren insists.
He must do the plunging.
There will be no more discussion.

So, as you can see, Mary, BirdCouple does have our occasional conflicts.

And, obviously, I endure quite a few inequalities in our marriage.

Yes, it is my burden.

However, somehow, I manage to overcome the indignity of not winning every fight.

And, I do this because...

I really love that funny, smart, creative Cute Husband.
And, I also really miss him when he is not here to argue about who will take out the trash, clean up the mice and unplug the loo.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Osprey nest

Papa Carl, also known as "The Old Aeronaut," sent us these pics of a very impressive Osprey's Nest on a neighbor's waterfront property here in Annapolis. This is really one amazing bit of construction!

Since we know a bit about birds, friends and family are always asking us questions when they see a bird nest or interesting bird behavior. We don't always have the answers, but it keeps us on our toes and keeps us learning.

I decided to consult The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior to learn a little bit more about raptor nests.

Sibley says that raptors line their nests with softer material to provide insulation and cushioning for the eggs. "Bald Eagles and Ospreys sometimes use a lining of seaweed," it says. Didn't know that.

Pairs of raptors often have alternate nests within their territory, and they will switch nests occasionally, especially in a year after brood failure or a parasite infestation, Sibley says. Didn't know that either.

"Ospreys are quite versatile and will use a variety of tall structures, inclusing cacti, rock towers, and, increasingly, nest platforms built by humans." We knew that. Well, not the cacti part.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gi-normous moth!!

Was all dressed for work today, had all my gear in the car, and was about to start the engine. I look up at the outside of the garage door, and what to do I see? This huge, beautiful insect. Princess would be most upset if I didn't get a shot of it! So I dash back inside, grab the digital camera, dash outside and snap a couple of quick shots.
Careful investigation reveals this is a Rose Hooktip moth, scientific name Oreta Rosea. This is the only moth of its genus in Eastern North America.
We've been at the Love Nest for two years, and never seen this guy before. We recently painted the house, and think maybe it's attracted to the deep red color, since we've found a lot of other pictures online of these moths on reddish backgrounds. (Or is that wishful thinking?)
Anyway, Rose Hooktip moth now joins the legions of birds, bugs, deer, raccoons, squirrels, mice, snakes, turtles, trees, flowers and other biota on our lovely two acres.
Tomorrow: back to da birds.
PS - What's That Bug is a cool website.

Thanks to our friends and colleagues who have corrected our entomological misidentification, and correctly pegged this as an Imperial Moth!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Saturday Morning at Oxbow Lake

Success! Cute Husband and I met up with some old pals from the Anne Arundel Bird Club at the Oxbow Lake Nature Preserve to search for a pair of Least Bitterns who had attempted a nest on some vegetation in the middle of the lake. Marcy Stutzman and Jay Sheppard (who are constantly at work to protect and maintain this lovely area in the middle of the suburbs) led the excited and large group of birders.

The bittern pair had not been seen for days, but a mammoth Snapping Turtle was seen lounging in the nest vicinity. With at least 10 scopes and another 10 binoculars scanning the lake, the male Least Bittern was discovered far from the original nest area.


#399 for Cute Hubby and #803 for me.


I don't have a clue how many birds I have seen.
I count too much stuff in my day job.

Least Bitterns are super cool birds that also happen to be super small and super well camouflaged.
A tricks-y birds to say the Least. (that bordered on a bad Dan Haas joke...)

The male Least Bittern looks all male-bird-smart with a dark cap, brown bod and orange and white stripes running down his neck. The female looks muted, dull and boring.

Just your typical bird sexual dichromatism.

What makes them super cool is that in Least Bittern world, the male does quite a bit of the housework. The male is the primary nest builder while the female watches. The male Least Bittern also helps with incubation. He even hangs around long to feed the young.

Committed fellows, wouldn't you say?

We also saw a life tree!

The American Chestnut Tree. At one time, there were over 3 billion of these trees.

In the late 1800's, imported Asiatic Chestnut Trees introduced these majestic trees to Asian bark fungus aka chestnut blight.

Within a few decades, billions of American Chestnut died.
Today, there are probably fewer than 100 American Chestnuts that survive to see a circumference larger than 24 inches.

Good luck, Oxbow Lake American Chestnut!

And, best of luck to you, ginormous frog.
You look like the perfect meal for a Oxbow Lake Snapping Turtle.