Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday for Birders

Welcome to the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.


Cute Husband and I have no plans to hit the malls or shopping centers today (just not our thing), but we are intrigued by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's new online holiday store (and the fact that we don't have to brave the mall to shop until we drop).


This online store's theme is “Change the Present,” with gifts presented by Cornell to help inspire a love of birds and nature.
Gifts like memberships to the Lab, participation in citizen science projects, a subscription to the Birds of North America Online, bird ID cards, or my favorite.... A Home Study Course in Bird Biology!
And, of course by purchasing through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology you are also supporting the conservation, research and education efforts of this important organization.
Shop on!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BirdCouple Turns Two!


Wow! Lisa and I are sitting here having a glass of wine and marveling over the fact that our lil' baby, http://www.birdcouple.com/, turned two years old today. ... A lot of blogs don't survive two months, let alone two years......

And what an adventure it has been. Here is our first LAME post from November 25, 2006. But it got better... You really never know what is going to attract and keep readers' attention. Well, we have tools to check how often you good folks visit the site, and where on the blog you land.

So, what are BirdCouple's greatest hits? That crazy Frog-Eating Heron pic has got to be close to No. 1. Zip-off pants are a huge hit. Or a huge question mark? People around the country and around the world are dying to know about the Real Roadrunner. (They seem to be trying to find out if the Roadrunner is a real bird. Yes. It is. It is not just a cartoon).

In terms of birder excitement and scientific (or at least rare bird) interest, probably our most viewed post was the Carolina Chickadee that showed up at our feeder and, in a really odd optical illusion, ended up looking exactly like a Common Redstart from Europe. Even David Sibley, the renowned ornithologist and bird artist, weighed in on the bird. His verdict? Chickadee.

People from around the world check in to learn about the exploits of the amazing, unstoppable, Peter Kaestner.

And if there is ONE person who has provided us with more inspiration for blogs, and helped mold our views of nature, birds and conservation... well, that one person would be one Paul Baicich. Thanks to Paul, Warren and Lisa have joined the ranks of published authors on the subject of birds. Here's an article Paul and Warren did for a recent issue of Birder's World.

Personally, Warren's favorite post is one of Lisa's (of course), Hug A Hunter.

Ok, Lisa here. Sweet, I already shamelessly promoted that post a few days ago....

Personally, Lisa's favorite post is one of Warren's (of course). It was this recent one about finding a nemisis bird..... Also, Cute Hubby's post on century birds and his pieces of art from Namibia.

We have learned so much about birds, conservation and the natural world in the last two years just from writing and researching what we discover.

How wonderful to think what the next two years may bring....

BC (with wines in hand) signing off....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November Day on the Eastern Shore

Red-Tailed Hawk


Birding in November can be a bit like the month itself, sometimes somber and even dreary, with most of the excitement left for the end of the year - with Christmas bird counts, waterfowl coming in and odd birds floating down from Canada and other points north during the winter.

So BirdCouple set out Saturday with our friend Paul Baicich en route to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland, just to see what was what. This is usually the time when you begin to see mass gatherings of Snow Geese on the Eastern Shore, but strangely, we did not see one all day. A lot of the ducks didn't appear to have arrived yet, either.

But we had a grand time, and some really great birds, 51 species in all. That includes the first Red-Tailed Hawk I've ever encountered that flew toward us, rather than away for us, so I could get a better picture. That's him (her?) up there. Here's another shot:





Without fail, Red-Tailed Hawks when seen at rest are normally on a wire or tree at the edge of a field, and always fly off away from you across the field just as soon as you've spotted them. This one was a contrarian.

Tooling about in Talbot County, we also encountered a flock of thousands of Common Grackles rumbling around like a motorcycle gang looking for leftover corn to vacuum up. Then with Paul at the wheel, and Lisa snuggled up in back, we were off to Blackwater, one of the East Coast's finest refuges. Top bird there was a great look at a Fox Sparrow, a bird that Princess loves. It was our first, and maybe last?, of the year.

With things a bit slow, we headed further south, on the long one-way road to Hooper's Island, which is actually a chain of three islands in the Chesapeake Bay connected by bridges. The land is so narrow that, at some points, you could literally throw a rock from one side to the other and graves are encased in concrete or other protection to protect them from the ever-present water. The population of the islands, inhabited since the late 17th Century, was 441 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Life and work revolves around the bay and seafood industry.

We had an amazingly yummy and affordable lunch at Old Salty's restaurant, which has Cream of Crab soup and fried clams to die for, and a cool gift shop. The surprise birds of Hooper's Island were four Brown Pelicans--unusual for this time of year--flying away across the Bay. We drove to where the road ends and then turned around for home, which was 90-odd miles away by Paul's odometer. We had a fun pair of Sharp-Shinned Hawks and some other nice stuff as we headed for the Western Shore....

But for birders, the road calls ever onward:



Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Shout Out to One of Our Favorite Orgs....

Saving Birds Thru Habitat is one of our favorite bird friendly organizations.

We are enjoying the redesign of their website which features a native plant of the month, great habitat improvement tips and a library of informative columns written by the Executive Director, Kay Charter.

Kay's passion for birds and education constantly inspires us.

Her organization, Saving Birds Thru Habitat (SBTH)was established to help stem the decline of our migratory songbird population by teaching people of all ages how to protect, enhance and restore habitat for North American birds.

What we like the most about this organization is their land certification work that educates and helps corporations preserve and maintain healthy bird habitats on their properties.

Warren and I were flattered when Kay asked to reprint one of our favorite posts - Hug a Hunter in SBTH's newsletter- which we found in our mailbox last night.

Kay, thanks for the opportunity to spread the word about the valuable work SBTH is doing.

Warren and I look forward to keeping up with your ongoing progress!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Life of...

Regular readers of BirdCouple are completely aware of the fact that Cute Husband and I are somewhat nerdy.

In fact, we are proudly nerdy when it comes to birds and the environment and our goofy craziness for each other.

We are also extremely nerdy, wholeheartedly not-with-it and completely clueless on current television programs and the advertisements that are jammed within them.

Friends discuss the Dancing with the Stars show the latest Idol or some funny commercial that everyone knows the punch line.

Our faces go blank.

We have no idea what they are talking about.

Other than an occasional sports event with friends or Mitch and Adam, we just don't watch TV.

Our television doesn't have rabbit ears and we don't have a rooftop antenna, but our one and only TV is about one step above requiring them.

We do, however, love to snuggle in and watch anything and everything presented on DVD by David Attenborough.

Coolest guy on Earth, right after Cute Husband.


Yes, of course we marched through all 5 disks of the popular BBC presentation of Plant Earth (narrated by Attenborough rather than Weaver).

But, we enjoyed Sir David long before everyone was talking about this show when it was presented on TV.

Naturally, we went crazy for The Life of Birds despite having to wait months for some other crazed bird/Attenborough fan to return to Netflix so they could pass to us.

Then we went nuts for The Living Planet, The Life of Mammals, Life in the Undergrowth... and last night we finished the Life in Cold Blood series.

Each is a beautiful journey in which Attenborough walks across various landscapes and whispers something like....(and this always makes us soooo jealous)....

"Here I am in off the Northern coast of New Guinea" or "Here I am in the rain forests of Costa Rica" or "Here I am in a cave in New Zealand" as we are glued to the TV watching spectacular bits of nature such as the mating of wood ants, the communication behavior of chameleons or the survival techniques of tiger beetles.

We learn something new and wonderful and charming from this gentleman with each view.

And, all commercial free.

And, it is Friday!

And, Attenborough in Paradise in next in the queue!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Home Invasion

It happens each year right about this time at the LoveNest.

The inevitable home invasion of spiders, bugs and other creepy crawly things.

As winter rolls in and the nights get colder, all the vermin decide to march right in and make themselves at home.

Spinning little webs around our bird books, creeping through the living room and jumping in protest when we turn on a light.

We would never resort to any kind of pesticide to dissuade them from coming in.

We (Cute Husband) try to be as kind as possible to each little bugger as we (Cute Husband) manually return the creature to the great outdoors.

I am most bugged by this bug... yuck. Disgusting.

I was going to post a picture of one, but I can't bear to look at it up close.

If you have not encountered a Camel Cricket (consider yourself lucky), they can jump and are quite adept at fleeing. Plus, they have the creepiest long antennae.
Yuck.

In honor of Friday and all the bugs that are not Camel Crickets, please enjoy these two lovely insects (who, you will note are living outside) from photographer extraordinaire, Louis Peterson....


Thanks Louis!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Squirrel

Pictures taken over a 4 hour uninterrupted period with our Wingscapes BirdCam. The Squirrel Poem by Anonymous

Although, it is possible that no one will fess up to actually writing it....

Whisky, frisky,Hippity hop;Up he goesTo the tree top!Whirly, twirly,Round and round,Down he scampersTo the ground.Furly, curlyWhat a tail!Tall as a feather
Broad as a sail!Where's his supper?In the shell,
Snappity, crackity,
Out it fell.

Wrong.

Apparently, his breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, supper, dinner and in-between snacks are at our feeder....

Sunday, November 9, 2008

SHRIKE?!?

Shrikes, either Northern or Loggerhead (our two North American species) have been a nemesis bird for Birdcouple. Shrikes flee at the sound of our name. They go to the next county. Or state. They hide behind fenceposts and snicker at us as we drive by. I mean, we've seen a bloody Crimson-Breasted Shrike in Namibia (beautiful bird, by the way), but none here on our home turf. It's become a running joke with us....

So, when news broke middle of last week that a Northern Shrike had been spotted over in Queen Anne's County, less than an hour's drive away, and was giving every birder for miles great looks, we naturally decided to go not see it again. What the heck, it would be a nice drive. And our friend Ross Geredien was up for some spontaneous adventure.

So off we went. And guess what?



Lisa's smile tells it all. The shrike appeared at the top of a tree as soon as we got out of the car. It must not have heard we were coming.....



Life bird! This is a beautiful bird. But not a gentle one. Shrikes are nick-named "Butcher Bird" because they have a lovely habit of impaling their prey--mice, insects, small birds--on barbed wire or thorns before dining. Vlad the Impaler bird.
Shrikes are not super-rare or endangered, but irregular. They wander far and wide in search of stuff to skewer. Here's another look at this handsome devil:


A Mockingbird in the area apparently didn't like Mr. Shrike cutting in on the action. This photo is fuzzy and the lighting was bad, but just check out the body language between these two avians:



On the way home, we stopped at a field overloaded with Snow Geese , our first of the season. Ross Geredien scoped for Ross' Goose. No luck. Still, it was a beautiful sight:



Birdcouple needs a new nemesis bird. Hmm, how about American Golden Plover?

P.S. BirdCouple has been kind of lame this year, but we finally got on the ball today and purchased our Federal Duck Stamp. It's only $15, and 98% of the price goes to buy habitat for National Wildlife Refuges. The ones YOU love to visit and bird. So please please please get yours now, if you haven't already. You can do it on-line right here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Day Birding

After doing his civic duty and taking Adam on a college visit to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Tuesday, Warren headed over to Piney Run Park in Carroll County, one of Maryland's 23 counties that Birdcouple has not spent a lot of time birding in.

Looks like all the birds were elsewhere, maybe standing in line to vote:




Seriously, photo conditions were bad -- grey skies and intermittent showers. I think the pattern of rain falling on a body of water is really extraordinary:



And there actually were a lot of birds - waterfowl, to be precise. Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Bufflehead, American Wigeon. And American Coot. I had the distinct sense that the birds had just arrived from parts north, but had no way to be sure.

This Ruddy Duck is pretty, but a lot less bright than the ones we saw in mating plumage in North Dakota in June:


P.S. - A hearty Birdcouple shout-out to UK birders Alan Davies and Ruth Miller of The Biggest Twitch, who in late October appeared to have broken the world record of bird species seen in one year, which was 3,662. They're at 3,718 and counting....

Monday, November 3, 2008

One Year Goal Acheived!

BirdCouple makes our year goal of 100 trail miles on the Appalachian Trail and breaks the 500 mile marker!

Plus, we flushed a Timberdoodle, spotted loads of Golden-crowned Kinglet and watched an immature Bald Eagle soar over Culver's Gap.


More on the frosty adventure soon on our AT blog....