Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Birds of a decade

Wow! Hard as it is to believe, a decade comes to a close tomorrow. The decade in which Lisa and Warren met, married and discovered/renewed their joint love of the outdoors and of birds. The decade in which we traveled to Africa, India, Costa Rica, Texas, Florida, California, North Dakota and a lot of other places in search of adventure and avian friends.

The decade, too, when our boys Mitch and Adam graduated from high school and started college and the road to full adulthood. And the decade, sadly, that Lisa's father, Tom, did not live to see completed.

Like other blogs, including A DC Birding Blog, have done, we are going to mark the occasion with a recap of the decade's 10 best birds. Well, at least some of the 10 best. There were so many! These aren't just bird sightings, of course, but life experiences and learning adventures.

1. Resplendent Quetzal. September 21, 2003, Monteverde, Costa Rica. Almost all had migrated away for the season, but our Tican guide found the last one in a rainy rain forest. Warren proposed to Lisa the next day.

2. Snowy Owl. December 21, 2008, Assateague Island, Maryland. A bird we'd long longed to see. We wandered around the beach until a Park Ranger drove up and offered to take us right to the bird. He did. Lisa declined a ride back down the beach, for which Warren will forever tease her.

3. Ostrich. May 15, 2007. En route Okanjima, Namibia. As many times as you've seen pictures and TV shows, this bird is stunning in real life. Namibia was a magical vacation, full of amazing wildlife, birds and panoramas. Shhhhh! It's also a well-kept secret.

4. Painted Stork. March 11, 2009. Bharatpur, India. Hard to pick a favorite among the more than 100 species we saw in India, but the lovely, goofy Painted Storks stole our hearts as they necked and nuzzled. (Original post is here).

5. Baltimore Oriole. May 3, 2002, Sanderling, North Carolina. Our first real birding trip together. Would Birdcouple work? Did Lisa think Warren was a weird birder, or did she like it? She did! And she was captivated by a bright male oriole hit by a shaft of sunlight on an otherwise cloudy, windy day.

6. Grey-Crowned Yellowthroat. Sabal Palm Refuge, Texas, April 2, 2005. Quick, but great, looks at this rare border-crosser from Mexico, one of the rarest North American birds on our lists.

7. Tropical Kingbird. Somerset County, Maryland, December 30, 2006. Found by others during a Christmas Bird Count, this was a stunning first record of the bird for Maryland. Warren dipped on it on his first try, but Lisa and he went back and got their prize, a great way to celebrate year's end.

8. Clark's Nutcracker. Cathedral Lake, Yosemite National Park, California, August 20, 2002. Another early trip. We hiked deep into back country--and bear country--without really knowing what we were doing. As the full moon rose, we heard the voices and saw the lights of mountain climbers on nearby Cathedral Peak. Walking around the lake in the morning, a bird flew nearby, flashing white wing and tail patches. Warren had never seen one, but knew what it was. One way to impress the new girlfriend.

9. Wood Thrush. Point No Point Drive, Annapolis, Maryland. Every April 23-24. They arrive like clockwork in the back woods and sing throughout the spring, "our" little miracles from Central America.

10. Hummingbird, species. April 29, 2006. Loggerhead Key, Dry Tortugas, Florida. Warren was standing on the beach looking out at the ocean when he saw a tiny object fly in across the water and buzz a few feet over his head. It was a hummingbird, and it had just completed the journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Awe-inspring and unforgettable.

Bring on the 2010s!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Peanut Allergies Here...

After the big snow, it was hard to find any of our backyard friends who didn't enjoy the peanut feeder.....

All pictures captured by our Wingscapes BirdCam... White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren

Tufted Titmouse

Carolina Wren.

Red-bellied Woodpecker... showing a little red belly.

White-breasted Nuthatch.
Hairy Woodpecker.

Pine Warbler!

Cute, huh?

Hairy Woodpecker showing why he is different from a Downy Woodpecker.

White-breasted Nuthatches are very photogenic and apparently really like peanuts.

Tufted Titmouse posing for the BirdCam.

And, last by not least ... I'm a Downy Woodpecker.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Socked in, with the birds

One thing about a major snow storm, it does force you to slow down the pace of life. Well, we got nearly 2 feet of the white stuff here at the Lovenest on Friday/Saturday, leaving us well socked in, and with plenty of extra time. We spent a lot of it watching the birds flock to our feeder, even as the snow continued to pour down.

Hairy Woodpecker

We had quite a variety of visitors, including:

_ Hairy Woodpecker
_ Downy Woodpecker
_ Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
_ Red-Bellied Woodpecker
_ American Goldfinch
_ House Finch
_ White-Breasted Nuthatch
_ Carolina Chickadee
_ Tufted Titmouse
_ Dark-eyed Junco
_ Pine Warbler
_ White-Throated Sparrow
_ Carolina Wren
_ Hermit Thrush
_ American Robin
_ Mourning Dove

Juncos, also known as "snowbirds," don't normally come to our feeder, but we had two or three of these handsome fellows and ladies scratching in the snow for seeds out on the deck.

Dark-Eyed Junco

New birds continued to arrive after the snow stopped on Sunday morning, including this Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker:

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

A wonderful weekend was capped off with some non-avian bird action. I'm speaking of the Baltimore Ravens, of course. Warren and Mitch went up to Balmor' to see them trounce the Chicago Bears, 31-7!!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New feeder bird

Warren is back at the Lovenest, enjoying Lisa AND all our winter birdlife. Chickadees, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches - they all look new again after a month and a half in the Middle East.

A special treat was this Pine Warbler, which Lisa spotted a couple of weeks ago. First time we've had one at the back feeders. Hopefully it will keep coming back, so we can get a better picture!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baghdad Update 6 (and last)

Warren is leaving Baghdad on Sunday morning, after 6 weeks, and Birdcouple will be united again! To say that he can't wait to see L is the understatement of 2009.

Warren won't miss: blast walls, checkpoints, men with guns everywhere, the sameness of the meals, security restrictions, sandstorms, trash everywhere in the streets, the lack of good Zinfandel and real steak.

Warren will miss: the amazing, resourceful, funny, brave Iraqi staff who work for McClatchy's Baghdad bureau; the resilient Iraqi people; the call to prayer from mosques (especially the one at sunset); and, perhaps, most of all, the White-Cheeked Bulbul that calls outside his window every morning.

Here's an example from YouTube.

Lovenest, here I come!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Apparently, they like the new seed mixes...

Happiness is a well fed bird.

And, Cute Husband home soonest...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Baghdad Update 5

Warren took this picture Tuesday during another walk in Abu Nawas park in downtown Baghdad. This Pied Kingfisher was hovering over a marshy area at the banks of the Tigris River.

W even got to go on a boat ride, because small tour boats have begun operating on the river for the first time in years, a tentative bit of normality in a war-scarred city.

There were a fair number of birds, although most of them unidentified, since W was sans bins: a big heron (Grey Heron or Purple Heron), a white egret near some reeds, lots of White-Cheeked Bulbuls which are frequent around the city, and Great Cormorants. Even saw a bat at another Baghdad park just at dusk.

Ten more days and W will be eating up the wintering East Coast birds. And more importantly, eating up Lisa!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Looking for the Perfect Toy for a BirdLover?


We have it!Cute Husband and I are crazy for our Wingscapes BirdCam .

Set-up was a breeze.

The pictures are quality.

And, we get to see all the action we missed at our feeder during the day.

Perfect if you leave the house at dark and return at dark.

Not to mention, it is giving us an archive of which birds enjoy what feed.

So.... imagine how thrilled we were when Wingscapes introduced three new cameras to capture all the other wonderful things that happen in your backyard habitat.

PlantCam! - Seriously cool - this camera automatically stitchs together still photos to create a movie of your plants growing in fast forward. (Cool, right. Hint, hint - Cute Hubby)

BirdCam 2.0! - Flash that bird! - the camera includes a flash for low light or night viewing. Catch nighthawks, owls and other nocturnal creatures (I'm thinking our raccoons raiding the feeders).

The Audobon BirdCam! - Hear that bird! - this weatherproof, motion-activated camera features a 5-megapixel sensor for crystal clear photos and videos with sound!

The only bad thing about the Wingscapes BirdCam is when you download a bunch of pictures of unwanted feeder guests hogging the bird goodies....


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Baghdad Update 4

I went walking in a park in Baghdad for the first time since I got here four weeks ago. It was pure bliss. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, Baghdadis were out celebrating the Eid festival, a 4 (or more) day holiday that this year roughly coincided with the long Thanksgiving weekend back home.

This is a scene Sunday from the park along Abu Nawas Street, which winds along the banks of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, and has had an up-and-down history over the last few years, to say the least. Security at the checkpoints was tighter than normal as we drove toward the park (crowds=targets for suicide bombers), but my Iraqi colleagues tell me the area is much more normal than during the terrible years of 2004-2007. It was amazing and wonderful to see families strolling, pictures being taken, youths banging drums and playing other musical instruments, and shy couples walking hand in hand or going for rides in horse-drawn carriages like the one in the photo above.

The Tigris River could use some serious urban reclamation, sadly. Trash washes up on the river banks, and untreated sewage pours from pipes into the river. The Tigris itself is sadly low, due to the drought Iraq has suffered for many years in a row, and to what locals say are dams that Turkey has built along the river's headwaters.

For those who don't work (or live, like Iraqis) in a war zone, it's hard to describe the feeling of walking in the open sunshine, enjoying blue skies and seeing people act normal. Think of being seriously ill in the hospital for weeks on end, and then taking your first steps outside on a nice spring day.

And the birds - hadn't forgot them. A pair of Pied Kingfishers hovered over a swampy area close to the river's banks. Great Cormorants sailed over the rivers. (Two ticks for my Iraq list). A White Wagtail did its wagtail thing on a sidewalk, before flying up into a tree. My Iraqi colleague, L., who's into birds a bit, excitedly pointed to a bird skulking about some bushes that he assured me wasn't a House Sparrow. He was right. We never got a great look at it, but with its stiff, upturned tail, it was obviously a wren or prinia or something in that zone.

At one point, I suggested we should have brought our bins. Without missing a beat, L. disagreed. "They'd probably snipe you from the American Embassy," across the river, he said.

It's still a war zone, after all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


The Wild Turkey, a North American native, enjoys foraging in hardwood forests with scattered openings feasting on acorns, seeds, insects, fern fronds and the occasional salamander.

The male Wild Turkey is quite the flirt.

It all starts in late February.

The male (aka the Tom) will gobble to attract a gal and once he gets her attention, he struts his stuff by fanning his tail, raising the feathers on his back, inflating his crop and engorging his facial skin.

That seems to work for the females. Many females, as one Tom will often keep several hens.

Females will build a nest on the ground and deposit 4-17 eggs. She will do all the chick raising, perhaps because the male is exhausted from all his rigorous displaying.

The Wild Turkey is one of our greatest conservation success stories. Hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century, the Wild Turkey has returned to near abundant status in some locations.

The domesticated turkey that you are most likely enjoying today is a descendant of the Wild Turkey bred specifically for their size, white meat and broad breasts.

Mmmm.... I can almost feel the tryptophan kicking in already....

Happy Thanksgiving!

BirdCouple does Kurdistan!!!!

They made this one for us, darling. Happy Thanksgiving. Wish you were here. Or I was there.

(This picture was taken -- where else? -- at a checkpoint).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm ok... really... it is all perfectly normal... really...

I am perfectly normal.

In fact, I think if you asked any woman who was desperately missing her Cute Husband, she would do the same thing as me...

It all started when I realized that the birds were coming to the feeders and then staring inside the house at me.

You see, Warren is the feeder-filler guy in the house.

Every feeder was dead empty.

And, every bag of bird food was dead empty.

Sadly, I had not noticed their plight because I have been very busy spending all the money in our house fund to update one of the bathrooms before Cute Husband's return.

So, off to one of my favorite stores I went. The Annapolis Wild Bird Center is a super cozy all-things-bird kind of store. A perfect place to chat with other bird lovers and pick up a bag of seed and make your wish list for the holidays.

So, I pick up my big bag of a delicious mixture of sunflower seeds and peanuts. The Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees are going to be so happy!

Then I started thinking how much the Downy Woodpeckers and the White-breasted Nuthatches enjoy peanuts...looks good enough for human consumption, right?That thought led me to wonder about the Goldfinches and how their Niger was looking a little stale.

I really needed to get them this tasty treat which is Niger and another finch loving seed mixture.

All of that made me remember my special relationship with the many squirrels and raccoons who love eating bird seed.
So, I'm all checked out with my goodies and Bill, the most wonderful of all bird store owners, asks if he can help me carry my loot out to the car.

Not good.

I shopped hard enough at a Wild Bird Center that I needed help with the packages.

So, I'm all loaded up and I realize that I forgot suet!
Oh well, I can probably just render my own, by heating some fat until it liquefies and then I could strain it through some cheesecloth and watch it harden as it cools.

Or, alternately, I could just wait until pay day and go back to the Wild Bird Center.

So, the bag of peanuts is riding along in the front seat with me, which reminded me that it was lunch time and the most wonderful of all bistros was right around the corner.

I deserved a treat.

I mean, I have gone several weeks without any Cute Husband entertainment.

After a luxurious meal, I started thinking about the near starving birds at the LoveNest and high tailed it back to my car.

But on my way, I noticed the cutest red jacket in a store window.
Guess what?

They only had one left and it was in my size!

Yes, all perfectly normal behavior.

I'm just trying to stay busy.

Just trying to occupy the weeks before the Cute One returns...

Right, Warren Love?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Baghdad Update 3

Warren has been filing quick posts during his six-week reporting assignment in Iraq....

I'm actually not in Baghdad (or Kansas) anymore. Am spending three to four days in northern Iraq, the primarily Kurdish region of the country. Today, we were in the cities of Kirkuk and Irbil, from where I'm now posting.

I've added a couple of new birds to my slowly growing Iraq list in the last couple of days.

The first was (Eurasian) Magpie, a common species, but way cool nonetheless with its long streamer tail and shocking white wing patches. Saw a couple of those in the city of Suliemaniyah yesterday.

Then this afternoon, we were stopped in the line of cars at a checkpoint (part of life in Iraq), when out the window I saw something that looked a bit different than all the Eurasian Collared-Doves everywhere. It's amazing, no matter where you are in the world, those birding instincts kick in. What is it? hmm.. look quickly: long tail, pointy wings, accipter-like. Kind of ... kestrel-like. Look for a flash of color if you can find it. And it's gone.

Even without seeing much color on the bird, it was an easy call with the long, long tail and wing shape: Eurasian Kestrel. It helps that I've seen the bird before, in Egypt I think.

Checkpoints are good for birding. You have time to look around while you are waiting.. to ... be .. checked.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baghdad Update 2

There are birds in the Middle East, no doubt. But are there birds in Baghdad? Not many, to be honest. I've seen just a handful of species (see posts below), to which I can now proudly add the very rare (not!) Hooded Crow.

I've astutely narrowed down the lack of avian diversity I've encountered to three possible explanations:

1) All the cool birds have fled, because Iraq has been at war (1980-89, 1991, 1998, etc.); has been under brutal UN economic sanctions (1991-2003); and has gone through an invasion, occupation, insurgency and sectarian strife (2003-present).

2) There are really cool birds here, I just haven't seem them. Due to security restrictions, my movements are limited to leaving the hotel only for specific purposes, ie., to interviews, to press conferences or events within the protected "Green Zone"; or a brief bit of shopping. Lingering anywhere too long is verboten.

3) It's winter. All the migrants have passed through on their way to Africa and Asia to wait out the cold months, and only the boring old birds are left. (Sorry doves, pigeons and crows).

Not sure which is correct. I'm hoping to head north to the Kurdish regions of Iraq next week. The terrain is quite different, higher altitude and cooler. Maybe there are birds there. Birds of Kurdistan anyone?

P.S. - Gee do I miss the BETTER half of Birdcouple.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Easton Waterfowl Festival!

The 39th Annual, no less!I'm so lucky to have such wonderful friends to invite me to join them on such wonderful events while Cute Husband is away...

Paul Baicich
escorted me to the Easton Waterfowl Festival to enjoy a damp Saturday of everything waterfowl and some really tasty Maryland Crab Soup.

Easton Maryland has all things charming plus some really great galleries and restaurants. The Waterfowl Festival is one on the town's fall highlights.

And, did we see waterfowl!None actually moving off a body of water, but the exhibits have every manner of bird imaginable.

Some tiny miniature portrayals...Many life size decoys (and antique working decoys) along with prints of everything with wings.

It was somewhat torturous, as I wanted to build a whole LoveNest decorated with wooden replicas and sculptures of birds with bird portraits hanging on every wall!

I wanted to purchase bird holiday gifts for everyone I knew!

I wanted to wear bird paraphernalia to work every day!
I was lucky that Paul was there to remind me of my limited bank roll and the freakishness of such thoughts...
There was one piece of art that really moved me.

The above work is called "Old Tom" and although we tried not to ever refer to my Dad as "old", his name was Tom. He was a duck hunter and he sported a mustache, much like this gentleman.

My Dad would have really enjoyed the show today....

Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of the festival for me, was meeting Robert Bealle, a Maryland artist who won the 2009 Duck Stamp Contest.
Perhaps you can tell I was a little shy standing in the shadow of a Duck Stamp SuperStar.

Mr. Bealle's portrayal of an American Wigeon will help raise about $25 million in the upcoming year to fund wetland habitat acquisition for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Duck Stamp is good business for birds, so if you haven't purchased the 2009 model, now is the time. My personal autographed memento.

And, although Paul is the most wonderful of company, I couldn't help missing Cute Husband all day as I know this was one event we can not miss in 2010.

Plus, next year marks the 40th anniversary of the festival!

See why I call him Cute Husband?

Missing you...