Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BC's Year in Review

Warren is sitting here at work, eager to get home and watching the last few minutes of 2008 tick away. What a year it's been - economic turmoil, a historic presidential election, tragedy and promise around the globe.

But, the heck with that. Let's get to the important stuff, like family, friends, adventure and ... birding.

In January, Warren saw his first Northern Saw-Whet Owl, (sorry Lisa), while Lisa explored why male Ring-Neck Ducks seem to outnumber males by 4 to 1.

February, home to Valentine's Day, (and also the month Lisa and Warren met), is BC's month. Lisa sent me a lovely Valentine. We saw a rare--in Maryland, in winter--Painted Bunting with Adam. Warren also copped a Common Redpoll. Sorry again, Lisa.

March? March took us to northeast Maryland with friends Dan Haas and Ross Geredien, and also brought a touch of sadness when a Golfinch with conjunctivitis visited our feeder.

April brought new birds and brought out (Lisa's) bees.

We have a hard time blogging in May. We are too busy birding and hiking. BC did a fun, exhausting Big Day in Washington, D.C. and did bird surveys and bird walks at Virginia's luxurious Keswick Hall. And a lot more.

Four words for June. North Dakota. And North Dakota.

July brought big news in the life of the Birdcouple blog: we were now sponsored by Alpen Optics, which makes great optics and cares about both its people and the environment. Twenty-one posts this month, a record high for the year.

In August, Lisa went birding on the Eastern Shore with Peter Kaestner. Warren spent most of the month on assignment in the Philippines and Indonesia, where he managed a few lifers in between work. Lisa, my honey, got honey while missing her honey.

September's hurricanes sent us scuttling to the Atlantic shore with Paul Baicich and Lisa Rock for some storm-bird chasing. We also chased our goal on the Appalachian Trail. (Later this year, we made it - crossing the 500 trail mile mark, nearly 1/4 of the way there. Wahoo!)

October was fabulous, with the release of the new federal Duck Stamp, a life Pine Siskin, (Warren's 400th ABA bird), and more L and W hiking on the AT.

As the temperatures cooled in November, all manner of critters tried to invade the Lovenest. Shrike was a nemesis bird no more. The Birdcouple blog, our little baby, turned two.

In December, Warren was deployed, with little notice to Iran. He did not bring his binoculars and wander around looking at things. More death-defying adventure awaited him at home. Dan Haas joined the Maryland elite, and Lisa led the way to (and back from) BC's first Snowy Owl.

I love you Lisa. Bring on 2009!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy New Year to all our friends and readers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A few notes as 2008 comes to an end

2008 is fast passing into history, and it hasn't been all bad news....

Science Daily reports that researchers in Nevada have found a way to make energy - biodiesel, to be precise - out of waste coffee grounds. This is important news for birders, given the close relationship between coffee growing, particularly in Central America, and bird habitat, not to mention the fact that billions of pounds of spent grounds end up in the trash each year.

And guess what? The biodiesel actually smells like java, the magazine reports. (Thanks to Paul Baicich for passing this item on....)

Meanwhile, our dear friend and birder extraordinaire Peter Kaestner capped the year with five new lifers in November 2008. If you think that's unextraordinary, try getting five new birds when your life list is 8,192! The five new birds on his list (now 8,197) are: Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Grey-sided Thrush, Naga Wren Babbler, Striped and Browned-capped Laughingthrushes. Go Peter K!

Peter reports that he's also spent some time showing new birds to Allen Davies and Ruth Miller of the Biggest Twitch, who are continuing to add species to their amazing year as it comes to a close. As they report on their site, settling back into "reality" could be a problem.

Tomorrow: Birdcouple's Year in Review.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nice surprises at year's end

    We've had some wonderful surprises as 2008 winds down into 2009. A couple of wayward hummingbirds have shown up in Maryland's Calvert County, just to the south of us. Warren went and saw them on Christmas Eve day with Dan Haas and Chris Murray. But ... we had to do a return engagment today so Lisa could share the fun.

    As always when we head out in to the field, we got more than we bargained for. We were at a suburban feeder near Prince Frederick, Maryland, when this amazingly yellow Pine Warbler popped up.

   Warren likes this picture, because you can actually see the shadow of the bird's bill on its throat:

Nice to have a sunny day for a change! It was very birdy while we waited for the hummers. Wow - check out this cardinal:

     On the way down to Calvert County, we passed a field of .. ugh.. Canada Geese. Warren glanced over and saw a white bird in the flock. Lisa dutifully (and skilfully) turned the car around. Sure enough, it was a Snow Goose. This bird is very common in fall and winter on Maryland's Eastern Shore, but infrequently seen on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This was the first one we'd seen in our home Anne Arundel County.

    Life is good. 

    Oh, and those hummers? They showed up, too, thrilling Lisa and re-thrilling Warren. Here's a female Rufous Hummingbird, far from where she should be:


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Owl on a Beach

   After having dipped big-time on the Barn Owl last Saturday (and risking a nasty accident in the process), Birdcouple was undeterred. Natch. We set off early Sunday morning, with both hope and trepidation, to see the Snowy Owl that has been hanging out on the beach about 2 1/2 hours southeast of us, on Assatague Island National Seashore.  

   This bird hangs out on the Arctic tundra in summer, so the mid-Atlantic beach in December must feel balmy compared to the temperatures up north.

   The bird was well down into Assateague's over-sand vehicle zone (we didn't have one), so we knew it would be quite a walk. We were right.

       The morning started out dreary and rainy. But Birdcouple's usual luck kicked in. Virtually the moment we arrived at the Ranger Station (where the rangers were extremely nice and helpful), the rain stopped and the skies slowly cleared. Compare the photo below with pictures from later in the day: 

    Well, walking on sand is different from walking on solid ground, for sure. Birdcouple knows how to walk - we're hiking the Appalachian Trail, after all - but after a while, I actually found myself saying out loud how I wished for some good ol' Pennsylvania AT rocks. Never thought I'd ever say that. Lisa was a machine, just cruising ahead, even when we took a detour and found ourselves out in the middle of a marsh.

    A few minutes later, we ran into Ranger Craig, who was the first to spot the Snowy Owl when it arrived some weeks ago. He kindly escorted us five kilometers down the beach, and deposited us ... right in front of Mr. Owl.  

    Lisa was, as usual, the first to find the bird. Isn't that a magnificent, beautiful creature? I meant the owl. (Lisa is, too). It was also quite skittish, making really good pictures difficult. If we approached closer than about 80-90 yards, it flew off down the dunes - not far, but to what the bird must've considered a safe distance. I felt somewhat relieved that our good friend Dan Haas, who is really becoming an ace shutterbug, had the same experience.

   The Snowy Owl is beautiful in flight as well:

   We stayed for about 20 minutes, enjoying this amazing life bird. But we did not want to intrude on its space any more than necessary. And we also knew that we had a long walk back down the beach to the ranger station and Lisa's Volvo, plus a 2 1/2 hour drive home to the Lovenest.

    See ya, Snowy Owl.

   We began walking down the beach. Lisa's Volvo was 7+ kilometers away. We were happy, with a spring in our step, after seeing Mr. Owl. After about a half hour of walking, Ranger Craig drove back by us, returning from the southern end of Maryland's portion of Assateague Island. He stopped his truck, rolled down his window and started chatting. Silently, I said to myself: Please offer us a ride down the beach.

    He did! I opened my mouth to gratefully accept and was about to make the move to Craig's truck when... Lisa ... said ... no ... thanks ... we ... are .. fine. We'll walk the rest of the way.

    HONEY, are you out of your mind ???!!

   Craig kindly repeated his offer, and then tooled off down the beach, his white truck a bright gleam in the distance.

   But of course, Lisa was RIGHT and I had suffered a momentary lapse of resolve. Birdcouple is hard core. Birdcouple does the whole enchilada. Birdcouple takes the hard - but worthwhile - route, stopping to smell the roses, see the sights, and enjoy the birds.  

   And we always get out of the woods (or off the beach) on time. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, darling.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Hoping your day is...
especially bird-y...

Best Wishes....
Lisa and Warren

P.S. There are also some lovely bird ornament pictures over at Picus Blog.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Death Wish

Warren and I are so hungry to round out the year with a nice even 300 birds for our year list that we decided to spend some of the weekend strategically birding.

Yes, there are gifts to wrap, cookies to make and holiday decorations still in boxes, but somehow the idea of reaching 300 and spending several hours together searching for a particular bird, while coming across many other birds, sounded much more appealing.

So, we headed to one of our favorite Wildlife Management Areas in search of a Barn Owl that we dipped on in July.

There is a big difference between birding a Wildlife Management Area in July versus December.

Yes, it is colder in December.

It is also hunting season.

Deer. Squirrel. Goose.

Right after we walked through the gate of the area, we met two very nice deer hunters who were dressed head-to-toe in bright orange.

They suggested that I take off my white hat, as it might be confused with a deer's white tail bobbing through the woods.

That sounded like a good suggestion, so I let me ears freeze.
We had to walk across this field to get to the barn where the Barn Owl likes to hang out. The difficulty in getting across the field was that there was a goose hunter all set up in a blind with decoys to the left of the field.

I waved at him as he stared at us through his binoculars.
He pointed back up the hill.

Cute Hubby and I decided the best plan was to go around this field to get to the barn.

We met these two goose hunters (Father and Son) right after an uncomfortably close firing of guns came from the edge of the field.

They suggested that it was probably not the best time of the year to go birding in a Wildlife Management Area.
They also told us that the chances were pretty slim that the Barn Owl was hanging in the barn with all the activity in the area.
Then, the hunter (who happened to know tons about birds in general and who had hunted this area for over 30 years and seen the changes - both good and bad to the area) offered us a ride back to the gate.
Well, that sounded like a pretty good idea.
On our way, we passed a guy walking his dog.
The hunter says to his son, "There goes somebody else with a death wish."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just another crazy BC adventure

Lisa and Warren went in search of a Barn Owl this morning. We didn't find it. But....

... as usual we managed to find more adventure than we bargained for.... Lisa will explain in our next post, "Death Wish."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fox Sparrow on a Winter's Day

Paul Baicich and I took one of our occasional walks this morning around two of Columbia's lakes (Elkhorn and Centennial) in Howard County. These walks are one-fourth birding, one-fourth catching up between friends, one-fourth talking about birds and conservation, and one-fourth exercise. I think we put in more than four miles!

The birding wasn't great - not huge amounts of waterfowl in yet. But we had beautiful looks at male Hooded Mergansers, some cute Ruddy Ducks, and a pair of (apparently) mated Red-Shouldered Hawks.

I have never gone birding without learning something new (we always learn loads from Paul) from observing bird behavior and trying to identify species. No matter how mundane, there's always some treat--and the treat often shows up toward the end of the outing, just when you think it's going to be a bird-bust. Not sure why that is.

Anyway, today's treat was this Fox Sparrow, perched -- and posing for me! -- high in a tree (rather than flitting in the brush, where they are often found). Lisa and I love this handsome sparrow, which can be quite uncommon. This is only the second we've seen this year, with as few as a dozen or so lifetime sightings.

It's all good.

P.S. - Here is a bit more on the Fox Sparrow from the Cornell Lab.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Among the Maryland Elite...

We are so proud of our birding bud, Dan Haas of Nervous Birds who accomplished what a few top birders in Maryland attempt each year.... identifying 300 species in the state of Maryland in one calendar year.

The amazing thing is that Dan accomplished this feat in the same year he and his wife, Emery had their first child, Declan.

I can only imagine how happy Emery must be for this year to end!

Dan's #300 was a Lark Sparrow and with 15 days left in 2008, we are watching for his final tally.

Check out Dan's blog for some of his amazing photo footage of the birds he ticked.

Congratulations, Dan!

So, Cute Husband... makes me start to wonder what kind of bird goals we should set for 2009...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Even "scary" places can be beautiful

Warren just got back from 2 weeks in Iran and is so HAPPY to be back with Birdcouple's better half!!

Not a lot of chance to bird. Something told me that walking around looking at things with binoculars was not the best way to introduce myself to my Iranian hosts. I did see four birds, all fairly common: White Wagtail, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Magpie and ... drum roll ... House Sparrow.

Tehran itself is not the world's most beautiful city. The people are incredibly lovely, however. And the city backs right up to the Alborz Mountains, which rise to over 15,000 feet at their tallest peak. Tehranis go walking, hiking (and skiing) in the mountains, especially on the weekend (Thursday afternoons and Friday), where they can escape the city and where social restrictions, like women's dress, is a little more relaxed.

I took this pitcure of a waterfall for you, Princess. It was a fun adventure, but it is GOOD TO BE HOME.

P.S. - After two weeks in another part of the world, Tufted Titmice and White-Breasted Nuthatches look really interesting again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We knew Patty when....

Cute, huh?Northern Saw-whet Owl, perhaps being held by our good friend Patty.

See, we knew Patty when she was a virgin birder... just getting her first set of nice binoculars to check out the wide world of birding.... anxiously wondering how she would ever find a particular bird while leafing through the 537 pages of Sibley's Guide to Birds.

When we met Patty, I don't even think Patty had zip-off pants or a big floppy hat.

Cute Husband and I invited her to join us on our Christmas bird count.
We started pre-dawn using tapes to call a variety of owls.

None answered.

The day progressed and we showed Patty flocks of Starlings, a Mockingbird and some Cardinals. I think we may have even had a Mallard.

Patty was intrigued.

Flash forward a year and Patty is hanging out with the gang at Project Owlnet (go on, click on the link and hear a Northern Saw-whet welcome) helping out with their banding project at Assateague Island.

Yes, that is right, hanging out with Project Owlnet folks (new birder friends) without her good buds, BirdCouple....
I'm kidding, of course (she said bitterly).

What could be more wonderful than introducing someone to birds and they go off-the-wall nuts and understand how completely cool and important and interesting birds are!

A new birder who will surely share the joy of birds with their family, their friends, their children....

A new birder who starts to care about bird research and protecting bird habitat ...Here, you can clearly see the Northern Saw-whet Owl asking Patty why she forgot to invite her friends Lisa and Cute Husband. So, Patty sends us these wonderful pictures along with the Snowy Owl that has been hanging around the Island and reported by tons of birders on mdosprey. The Snowy Owl that we keep meaning to go chase. The Snowy Owl that would be a life bird for us.

Snowy Owl in flight.
So, Patty, we have that same territory for Christmas count this year.
See you at 4AM?
You are in charge of calling the owls.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Owl and the Woodpecker

The Owl and the Woodpecker, by award winning photographer, Paul Bannick provides a ravishing look at all 41 species of owls and woodpeckers found in North America.
I'm prone to gushing, Oprah style, but BirdCouple loves, Loves, LOVES this book.
Along with being an accomplished photographer, Bannick is an experienced naturalist, a regular contributor to and the Director of Development for Conservation Northwest.
Bannick is also an extremely patient guy.
His photography is absolutely stunning.
Burrowing Owls peeking out from their burrow.
A Gilded Flicker stepping off in flight from a cactus blossom.
A Snowy Owl targeting prey on the tundra.
A Pileated Woodpecker chick waiting for the arrival of a parent with food.
A Great Horned Owl in mid-vocalization.
You can tell none of these shots came easy.
They took hours of waiting for the right moment.
And, as Bannick waited for the moment, he learned intimate details about his sources' movements, behavior and habitat. Great stuff he shares by linking the interdependent habitats of these two groups of birds.
Did you know that that Yellow-shafted Flicker provides nest sites for dozens of species including Eastern Bluebirds, American Kestrels and Eastern Screech-Owls?
Did you know that the Great Gray Owl uses the abandoned nest of hawks and other raptors?
Did you know that many Woodpeckers are important pollinators?
As an added bonus, the book includes a concise profile on each of the North American Owl and Woodpecker Species and a CD with the calls and drumming (which I am enjoying as I post this).
BirdCouple's copy of this large coffee table book has been awarded the place of honor on our... well... on our coffee table.

And since this beautiful book has taken residence we have noticed that even non-birder guests to the LoveNest can't help taking a peek...
Bannick hopes his book will inspire appreciation for the diversity of North America's owls and woodpeckers and also for the role they play on other plants and animals that share their habitat.
It is a beautiful piece of work and the photography is enough to intrigue even the slightly curious to turn a few pages and learn a little more birds.
And, a great Holiday gift!

Where you been?

It is always nice when we haven't posted in a week or so and we get a few emails asking what happened....


I've been helping nurse my super human Dad back to good health and Cute Husband is reporting from Iran.

You can check out his adventures on McClatchy's Nukes and Spooks blog.

He left the Alpen bins at home, but I can't wait to hear what he adds to the BC year list upon his return...

Thanks for your kind thoughts...