Saturday, January 31, 2009

Alpen Optics Goes Pink!

Dear Cute Husband,
I must, must, must have these new bins from our favorite binocular company!

We are so beyond proud to be associated with Alpen Optics.

First, they make quality binoculars at a great price.

Second, they truly care about their retail partnership with Wild Bird Centers.

Third, the folks at Alpen Optics give back. They support the Optics for the Tropics program and proudly sponsored this year’s U.S. Paralympics Archery Team.

And, then they give back some more...

Alpen recently partnered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). A portion of the profit of each of these adorable pink binoculars sold will go the NBCF to help find a cure for breast cancer.

Pink bins with extra power!

Love it!

And, they match my jacket!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Cormorant Rant

My Mom sent Cute Husband and I these lovely pictures of some Double-crested Cormorants that have been hanging near my parent's home.

My Dad used to duck hunt (not for Cormorants... too fishy tasting) and is still very much aware of the waterfowl comings and goings near their home.

But, my Mom was never overly interested in if there were a lot of "cans" (male canvasbacks) on the river or if the "dippers" (diving ducks) had come in or if the "green head" (male mallard) population around the docks had exploded.

So, I am delighted that she took the opportunity to check these out and snap some pictures for us.

Just think, Mom, you are one step closer to wearing Alpen binoculars 24/7, sporting zip-off pants and planning your weekend activities around where some vagrant showed up!

Speaking of the weekend.... we are off for some vagrant chasing and good fun with the Dan Haas family and Paul Baicich.

Dan's to-do list includes Snowy Owls, Golden Eagles and Lapland Longspurs...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mixed Feeding Flock, #1

Today, we're starting a new feature here at Birdcouple. There are many times when we have bits and pieces of bird- and birding- and nature- and environment- and wildlife- related news that we want to share with our visitors, bits and pieces that don't necessarily add up to a whole.

They're a vibrant, colorful, interesting mix that doesn't quite go together, just like a mixed feeding flock of migrant birds. They are streaks of color and noise without a theme.

But without a theme doesn't mean unimportant. Below, for example, you'll find links to stories about a major biological find in Mozambique; and a reminder about this month's Rusty Blackbird hotspot blitz.

And we want to give full intellectual credit to our fellow blogger John over at A D.C. Birding Blog, whose feature, Loose Feathers, we have admired for several years now. (John, sorry we missed you on your recent trip back to the Washington area). Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

So here goes:

_ The good folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology emailed us this week to remind us about the upcoming Rusty Blackbird Blitz, which takes place between Feb. 7 and Feb. 15. As many of you know, Rusty Blackbirds have suffered one of the most precipitous declines of any North American landbird, with population losses estimated at 85 to 99 percent over the last four decades. Truly catastrophic. Report your RUBL sightings via eBird. The blitz is being coordinated by the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group. part of the Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center.

_ A continent away, there is happier news. Our dear friend Paul Baicich passes on this great story from BirdLife international about how scientists discovered an uncharted forest in the African county of Mozambique using the free GoogleEarth software. And what did they find there? It still amazes us that this is possible, but they found new species of butterfly, a new species of snake, and important populations of seven threatened bird species. Wow!

_ Finally, don't forget that Feb. 13-16 is the Great Backyard Bird Count!!

That's it for Mixed Feeding Lock, #1.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nesting Bald Eagles

Did a nice spot of birding Sunday afternoon with Shawn Beach over at Shawn and Anne's spread near the Chesapeake Bay. They have an incredibly lovely home and farm, with dogs, chickens, goats and more. Are we jealous? Hmmm... maybe just a tad.

Shawn said he had seen three bald eagles in the vicinity, two adults and an apparent sub-adult. Just the day before, he had seen one of the adults and the sub-adult locking talons and somersaulting through the air in the incredible mating ritual that Bald Eagles do. Birdcouple would love to see this someday!

He'd also seen eagles scooping up large swatches of grass and flying away into a stand of tall trees. There must be a nest in there! Sure enough, we found it without too much trouble. This photo was digiscoped using a Canon point-and-shoot camera pressed up against the eyepiece of our Zeiss scope:

This bird looked like it did not want to be messed with. Shawn asked us if this was a normal time for Bald Eagles to be constructing nests and mating. We weren't sure. But it took us about 3 seconds surfing the Internet to find this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chart, which shows that in January in the Chesapeake Bay region, Bald Eagles indeed are building nests and laying eggs. Love learning new stuff about birds!

And Shawn started his life list on Sunday! We were able to add a few more to his list. He has the bug, and we suspect that soon he will be out chasing rarities with us.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

John Heinz NWR

Update: Gary Stolz, Refuge Manager at John Heinz NWR, e-mailed us to say that the Bald Eagles there are the first nesting pair recorded at the refuge. Isn't that wonderful news?!

As Lisa blogged a few days ago, we had a wonderful time last weekend giving a talk and meeting folks at Terrain at Styer's, a unique home and garden store just outside Philadelphia.

Afterward, we escaped for a couple of hours of chilly birding and walking at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. We like this refuge for the following reason: It is tucked right off of the I-95 industrial corridor, just a stone's throw from Philadelphia International Airport. It seems completely out of place, dominated by interstate highways, plane noise and urban development on all sides. And yet, it shows the value of conserving even the most unlikely parcel of green - 280 species of birds and many mammals have been seen there, and it is part of an important tidal marsh.

As I said, it was quite chilly, but we saw some nice sights all the same:

A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet flashing its crown:

A very cooperative Northern Mockingbird:

A Great Blue Heron walking carefully on the ice:

A Bald Eagle (they are nesting here) in a distant tree:

A Belted Kingfisher fishing from a snag:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hawaii goes digital early ... for the birds

... and some other news.

As many of our readers may know, next month (Feb. 17, to be precise), the United States is supposed to convert entirely to digital TV, dropping analog signals that go through the air, and with them those "rabbit ears" that used to stick out of the back of every one's TV.

The state of Hawaii, bless its heart, has begun switching early (last week), in order to protect the Hawaiian petrel, also known as the Ua'u. The petrel is endangered, and officials feared if they didn't move now, its breeding season would be disrupted by the destruction of old analog towers on the slopes of Haleakala volcano. (Thanks to Papa Carl for passing this one on...)

In other news, BIGBY (that's the Big Green Big Year) is out with its report for 2008. BIGBY means Green Birding -- and carbon-neutral birding. One aspect of this is to find as many species as possible without resorting to the use of an internal combustion engine. This means birding on foot, by bicycle, etc. Another variant is birding through the use of public transportation.

Birdcouple's BIGBY list is at 57. This nothing compared to the biggest BIGBY list of 2008, which goes to two Californians who went green and still saw 295 species. Amazing! You can get the full 2008 report here (It's a PDF file).

Finally, we'd like to welcome our dear friends Louis and Vencka Peterson to the blogosphere. Please take a moment to check out their place, Wood Chips and Kitty Fur.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gardens + Birding = Great Event!

Find an over-the-top garden center.

No.... garden center does not even begin to describe Terrain at Styers....

Ok, find an incredibly luxe, yet peaceful nursery, with a creative and imaginative use of retail space that has gorgeous accessories for the home and garden and add in an interest in birds and you have... The Birding Event at Terrain is the brainchild of Lynsey Richardson. Bringing together people who enjoy gardening and who are interested in creating backyard habitats with birding.... genius!

Because, how can you not (no matter how small your backyard habitat is) want to enjoy all the fruits of your labor.

And, birds can't help flocking to a backyard that provides food sources, water and cover. A wonderful by product to any backyard! Cute Husband and I were honored to be invited to talk about our favorite subject.
We had a nice turnout for our little gig and it was a great opportunity to give folks a chance to try out our favorite Alpen binoculars, even if it was a bit cold for an all-out bird walk. But, perhaps the best part was looking out at the group and seeing some young faces.
In fact, after our talk, I asked one girl if she was going to start birding and she informed me that she already was a birder.

Chickadee being her favorite bird.

Love it!

And, amazingly I made it out of Terrain (with its loads of handmade, organic, sustainable, drop dead gorgeous items) without breaking the BirdCouple bank.

Because I could have gone wild....

But, birding and the last bit of daylight called and we waved goodbye to our new Philadelphia friends and headed to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (another great refuge supported by Duck Stamp proceeds).
Highlights of a cold walk included a Blue Heron skating on ice and a Ruby Crowned Kinglet flitting within feet of us.

The perfect end to a perfect BirdCouple day!

Thanks Lynsey, Stephanie and the folks at Terrain!

And, congratulations on what will surely be a yearly welcomed event!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thoughts for Inauguration Day

As if we needed more proof that birds have long permeated our culture and society: the word inauguration is actually related to birds.

Inauguration comes from the word "augur." Augurs were priests in ancient Rome who were consulted when any important decision had to be made--like going to war, signing a peace treaty, etc. And how did augurs get their magic powers? By looking skyward!! They studied the flight patterns of birds.

In a way, I guess, that makes all of us birders augurs, or potential augurs of the future.

I like this take from the website of the United Church of Two Harbors (Minnesota):

"As we inaugurate a new leader I think it's important to look skyward.

And if we did look skyward, what signs would we see?
• Migration patterns altered by climate change.
• Bird species going extinct at the rate of 10 a year.
• Air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution, and ground pollution all heavily impacting avian life.
• Natural habitats and nesting grounds being destroyed.

What signs, indeed?"

So there you have it. Here's another take.

P.S. - Thanks to Paul B. for passing this along....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Baby, it's cold as )#$#)($^#()^% outside

Birdcouple yearns for temperatures that are, say, a balmy 55 degrees. We yearn for our trip to sunny India in seven weeks. We yearn for green leaves, the songs of warblers and long summer nights.

That's how cold it is. It was 11 degrees F when we started Lisa's car at 10am-ish this morning. I think we hit a high of 20.

We ran to the bank and then decided to do a very little, teensy, weensy bit of birding around the Hillsmere and Bay Ridge section of Annapolis, which abuts the South River and the Chesapeake Bay. After checking out the Tundra Swans that return each year to Hillsmere Beach, we headed for Bay Ridge, where there was some great waterfowl. Canvasback, Red-Breasted Mergs, Long-Tailed Duck, Surf Scoters, and more. We drove along for a bit, and ran into ... who else? ...local birding maestros Dan Haas and Chris Murray.

They were off to Thomas Point Park, and we eagerly tagged along. It was cold. Dan, in the orange on the right, said he was yearning for a mosquito bite. That's cold.

You can just barely see Thomas Point Lighthouse to the left of Warren (in blue). Three cold birding dudes, and Princess Lisa (who braved the cold for a bit) in the car. We stood it as long as we could, and then skedaddled when we got word of a Painted Bunting in a hidden location nearby.

Mr. PABU must have wondered what hit him. He is supposed to be in south Florida or Central America right now. But seeing him, warmed our hearts.

Incredibly, amazingly, unbelievably, Warren left his good camera and zoom lens at home. So Birdcouple did the best they could with a point-and-shoot. There's a Painted Bunting in this picture. Really:

Thanks for the fun, Dan and Chris.

On Sunday, we're off to give a bird talk in the Philadelphia area, at Terrain at Styer's.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Miracle on the Hudson, and bird strikes

January 21 update: The New York Times has an interesting photo of a bird strike in 1916.

Warren covers international news on a daily basis, and much of the news is bad, depressing--or both.

So it was beyond uplifting to see Thursday's emergency water landing of a US Airways Airbus in the Hudson River off Manhattan turn from tragedy to triumph, as a calm and skillful pilot prevented catastrophe, ferryboats converged on the scene to help and all 155 lives on board were saved.

First reports (which can often be wrong) say that the crash was caused by a bird strike--or more precisely, a collision with two birds, probably Canada Geese.

It breaks our Birdcouple hearts to know that birds were likely the cause of this near-disaster. But interactions between humans, their machines and wildlife can be dangerous, we know.

Luckily, research is being done to try and minimize the danger from bird strikes on aircraft. One such group is the Bird Strike Committee USA. Its website says that, since 1988, 219 people have been killed and over $600 million in damage has been caused to civil and military aviation as a result of bird strikes.

The committee's website includes a list of significant bird strikes over the years. The first recorded one? Well that would have been on September 7 1905. Here's a quote from the Wright Brothers' diaries:

“Orville … flew 4,751 meters in 4 minutes 45 seconds, four complete circles. Twice passed over fence into Beard's cornfield. Chased flock of birds for two rounds and killed one which fell on top of the upper surface and after a time fell off when swinging a sharp curve.” According to the committee: This was the first reported bird-aircraft strike. Because of the location near Dayton, Ohio and time of year, the bird struck was probably a red-winged blackbird.

The US Air Force, along with the FAA and others, has also developed a Bird Avoidance Model, that combines bird migration, habitat and breeding characteristics along with environmental and other data to reduce the risk of bird collisions with aircraft.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Looking ahead

Princess and I have busy jobs (they pay for our birding and other fun) and they're especially busy right now, after the Holidays.

So, no time for a full-out blog post today, as much as we might wish. But there's lots coming down the pike.

First, the Great Backyard Bird Count is just around the corner, February 13 through 16.

Last year, nearly 86,000 checklists were submitted, with 9.8 million birds of 635 species counted. So stock those feeders - the weather here in Maryland and everywhere north is cold.

Next, in the days ahead, Lisa and I will be blogging about some really interesting stuff, including a California vineyard dedicated to dealing with the problem of birds killed by powerline infrastructure, as well as the troubling question of why there are so few minority birders.

So stay tuned.

Finally, in writing the post below on Brown Pelicans, Warren stupidly neglected to note that one of the McClatchy Newspapers (his employer) has also been on the story. The San Luis Obispo Tribune says that an estimated 270 dead or sick pelicans have been found from Washington state to Baja California.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's wrong with Brown Pelicans?

January 15 update: The culprit may be weather, according to a story in the NY Times.

Some of BC's readers are undoubtedly on top of this story already, but for those who haven't yet heard: Brown Pelicans out on the Pacific coast have been suffering from a mystery ailment or ailments. As the Los Angeles Times reports, disoriented birds have been found in the middle of California freeways, backyards, even LAX airport, all a long distance from their usual coastal habitat.

As one of the volunteers at the International Bird Rescue Research Center quoted by the Times points out, Brown Pelicans have been hammered over the years. By oil spills. And DDT. And fishing line. And gunshots.

A DC Birding Blog has more on this. One possible culprit, according to the IBRRC is domoic acid, a neurotoxin. But the mystery is far from solved...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

We came, we saw, we birded

     Some days are just treasures. Sunday was one. We started out early (well 9 a.m., which is actually kind of late for birders), doing a bird survey at the Organic Dairy Farm in nearby Gambrills. It's a lovely property, one of the largest undeveloped tracts in northern Anne Arundel County. A parcel is going to be turned into a low-impact park. Our job, along with friends from the Anne Arundel Bird Club, was to conduct a bird survey. 

     Lisa and Dan Haas were happy. And they hadn't even started birding yet. Mike had started birding. Everyone was in a good mood. Except for Cow 428:

    Mostly thanks to Dan and Mike, we had some great finds, including White-Crowned Sparrow, Purple Finch, Horned Larks, a flyover Pine Siskin and much more. The farm is the only place in Anne Arundel county where I have found some species of birds, including Horned Lark, Bobolink and Cattle Egret.

   After nearly three hours of birding, we grabbed some snacks at the nearby organic supermarket (yum!), then we were off to Lisa's folks to help with a few chores. And then? And then we made a mad dash to Cambridge, Maryland (about 60 miles south and east), where a rare Tufted Duck awaited us. Interestingly, Christopher over at Picus Blog just got his life Tufted Duck, too. 

   The Tufted Duck is a Eurasian bird, very rarely seen in North America. Plus, a Barrow's Goldeneye, which very rarely comes this far south, was being seen at Cambridge. PLUS, a Eurasian Wigeon. How could we not go?! With this Star Wars-bar scene-of ducks, who knows what else we might see?

   Go we did. Your intrepid narrators here, went two for three, easily finding the Tufted Duck with the aid of other birders in the vicinity. The weather was lousy and the water choppy, so this is the best photo I could get. You can see the tuft of feathers pretty clearly:

     Warren found the Eurasian Wigeon almost by accident, huddling up against a rockwall at the water's edge. The Barrow's Goldeneye was alas not to be. It had left, and we left, too, very happy campers, and were home in time for supper.

   A few more photos from the day:

     Mike, who knows a lot about these things, thinks this might be a goldfinch's nest.

     Ring-Billed Gull, looking kind of handsome in the cold. (The photographer was in the car taking this shot).

   A closer look:

   Good birding to all!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Well-dressed Winter Friends

Princess and I have been doing a lot of birding at Centennial Lake over in Columbia, Md., lately. That's because young Adam plays his weekend soccer games for the Freestate Fire at Covenant Park right next door. We usually squeeze in a half hour or so of birding before or after the big match.

This morning, Lisa used her magic to call in all sorts of birds, including the Cedar Waxwings above, this Dark-Eyed Junco, plus a House Wren, a beautiful Golden-Crowned Kinglet, assorted sparrows, cardinals and mockingbirds.
They were just flying in at her command. Amazing! Or maybe not so amazing.

And here's the big bird. (Adam played magnificently, making some amazing saves, and they tied 1-1).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Catching up with Blogging Buddies...

Cute Husband and I really enjoy catching up with some of our favorite cyber birding buddies.

When we read other bird blogs, we often learn something new about birds. We sometimes get turned on to a new book or piece of bird paraphernalia. We may laugh at some corny bird jokes or we may simmer with jealousy over a good bird chase.... but mostly we are charmed by reading another birders' perspective.

Want to see a White-tailed Kite hovering and tons of other great bird pics? Christopher over at Picus Blog always has something fabulous to look at.

Plus, I learned that in Greek and Roman mythology, Picus was a man turned into a woodpecker by Circe for scorning her love. (Lesson to Cute Husband).

Over at Dawn's Bloggy Blog, there is always great fun a-happening. Probably because Dawn and her Hubby get to tool around birding and shelling and mushrooming in their motor home (known as it!).

Full time Motorhoming.

Dawn and Jeff are currently in Florida. Their bedroom currently faces East. They are currently neighbors with Limpkins and Moorhens.

Yup, we are jealous.

On Nervous Birds, Dan's got the scoop on Barred Owls elbowing into Spotted Owl territory. He also seems to be having a major chocolate fix. His blog includes bonus pictures of his lovely wife and adorable son.

Karen and Albert over on The Distracted Birders have a great illustration comparing the Purple and House Finch. Oh, how often Cute Husband and I have tried to turn House Finches into Purple ones at our feeders!

I may just print this illustration out and plaster near the window.

We love DC Birding Blog's Loose Feather edition! John puts together a bunch of birding news, highlights some birding blogs and carnivals and adds in some environmental highlights of the week.

Our #1 source for birding news!

Good clean blog fun!

Happy weekend birding!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

CBC (Christmas Bird Count) 2009

Birdcouple did our part to help with the annual Annapolis/Gibson Island Christmas Bird Count, aided for part of the day by Patty Sanford.

This year's was the 109th Christmas Bird Count. The tradition dates from 1900, when ornitholigists and conservationists turned the annual practice of a Christmas hunt--whoever had the biggest pile of feathers at day's end won--on its head.

6 1/2 hours of birding, 30 miles in the car, 1 hour on foot, 33 species, 2 Great Horned Owls calling just before dawn and 2 immature Bald Eagles = lots of fun.

Explosion of Young Snowys....

Photo: iStockphoto/Andre Gravel

Cute Husband and I made a recent trek to Assateague Island National Seashore to get a glimpse of the Snowy Owl that has been hanging out South of its normal winter range.

And, this past week, it seems another Snowy showed up on the same beach joining the juvenile male we spotted.

ScienceDaily has a recent press release about the discovery of several Snowy Owls hunting on the Artic Sea ice.

Again, way out of its normal winter range.

So, why are Harry Potter's owls showing up in odd places this year?

Well, just yesterday I thought it was because of a crash in the lemming population up North which forced the owls to search for food outside their normal range.

Apparently, the reason we are seeing so many Snowys heading South this year is because the lemming population this summer in their breeding range was explosive. Lemmings so abundant that Snowys had little trouble raising their young. Young birds that are now moving outward searching for hunting territory.

Learning something new everyday....

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cackling Goose

Paul Baicich and I were walking around Centennial Lake in Howard County this morning (Princess Lisa was down with a bit of a cold) when we ran into Joanne Solem of the Howard County Bird Club and a friend, who had their 'scopes on a Cackling Goose. ... They did the hard work, scanning the flock. All we had to do is walk up and say, watcha got? And there it was.
I still have a bit of a hard time separating our common Canada Goose (in the background here) from the Cackling Goose. The two used to be considered part of the same species. When you see a small Canada Goose, or one with its head really tucked in, your brain tries to turn it into the much rarer (at least in the Eastern U.S.) bird.

So this was a great learning experience. This picture clearly indicates the differences. The Cackling Goose (in the foreground) has a much smaller, stubbier bill and a much smaller, compact head, as well as a darker back (not a sufficient fieldmark alone to ID the bird). They really do look different. Live and learn.

We also had some very cute Eastern Bluebirds playing around in a tree with berries.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bring on 2009!

Cute Husband and I could not think of a better way to ring in the New Year than birding with friends!

Patty and Stephanie (sporting our favorite Alpen Binoculars) joined Paul Baicich, Louis (who captured these pictures of our morning jaunt), Super Cute Husband (2009 has made him even more handsome) and myself for a half day of all new birds in Southern Maryland. The first day of the year is always so exciting! How long before we get our first Turkey Vulture of the new year? Is it possible to bird for several hours and not see a House Sparrow?Ring-Billed Gulls are new again! Mallards seem novel! Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches and all the other winter usuals seem fresh again!We also managed to add some swell and not so usual birds. We caught a brief look at the Rufous Hummingbird that has been hanging at a feeder for a couple of months. We had a Pine Warbler feeding from a fruit basket and a flock of irruptive Pine Siskins traveling with a group of Goldfinches. We didn't tick many raptors, but we did have the pleasure of spying two American Kestrels hunting near the roadways of Southern Maryland. The top of flagpole makes for a nice view for hunting...
But the the best part of the day was sharing all this with friends.Looking forward to more of the same in 2009!

See, I told you Cute Husband got even cuter in 2009.