Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Beaver

While Lisa was being the marvelous daughter that she is, visting her dad in the hospital Saturday, Warren kept up the BC quest by doing a spot of birding up at Fort McHenry up in Baltimore, which is actually quite a birdy spot.

Warren didn't expect to see the Snowy Owl that had been reported there a few days ago - at the least the third in Maryland this winter - and didn't. There were some nice ducks in the Patapsco River, but after a frigid hour, he headed off to Oxbow Lake Nature Preserve on his way to meet Princess at home for dinner.

After checking out some lovely Northern Pintails and Hooded Mergs, Warren continued along the lakeside path, when he heard the rustling of a fairly large mammal in the brush nearby. A closer inspection revealed a beaver, which took its sweet time moving away, allowing for a really nice photo opportunity....

Here she is slapping the thin sheen of ice on the lake with her paws:

No sooner had Warren gone back down the path and put his camera back in the backpack where he had dropped it, than he heard another large rustling sound behind him.

He'd missed this:

Papa beaver. The trained journalist, observer and nature-watcher in Warren was more than a bit embarassed to realize he had nearly missed the second half of BeaverCouple!!

Incredibly, papa beaver sat there chewing on a stem for several minutes, allowing me to take more pictures from no more than six or eight feet away.

He was watching me, however:

Finally, Mr. Beaver had had enough, and made for the water:

Checking me out again:

Putting on the Ice Hat:

And gone....

I figured the beavers must have been groggy and hungry, having just woken up from hibernation. But after spending five minutes on the Web, I learned that beavers DO NOT hibernate.
My new theory for why this pair didn't slip away at the first sight of me like beavers normally do is that they were quite hungry, gnawing on shoots that may have just sprouted as the days lengthen and start to warm a bit, and they didn't want to be disturbed.
Thanks for the show, BeaverCouple.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mixed Feeding Flock, #2

Time for our occasional, eclectic mix of birding and blogging news, new and old. For starters, we just LOVED this piece by the Kitchen Window Birder about how she discovered the joy of birds and birdings just a year ago. Wonderful photos, too!

On a much more depressing note, a DC Birding blog has the story of seven men in Florida arrested for shooting protected birds, including White Ibis. Warning: photos may be disturbing to birders of any age.

Most everyone who follows birding news has by now heard about the Wood Thrushes and Purple Martins who were captured and fitted with minature "backpacks," allowing ornithologists for the first time to closely study precise migratory patterns of small songbirds (as opposed to shorebirds, raptors, etc.) One Purple Martin flew 4,650 miles from wintering grounds in Brazil to its summer home in Pennsylvania in 13 days. Story is here. We especially love this story because a Wood Thrush family comes to our back woods every spring and serenades us. (and will soon be here).

Finally, a few photos from last weekend's jaunt to the Delmarva peninsula:

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Silver Lake, Rehobeth, Del.

Brant, Ocean City, Md.

Eared Grebe, Ocean City, Md.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crossbills, at last!

White-Winged Crossbills have been everywhere this winter, hanging out in every hemlock tree for miles around. Everywhere except in Birdcouple's bins, that is. They've been kind of hiding from us, to tell you the truth:
Until today, that is. We headed down towards Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, where WWCBs have been seen almost daily, with Dan Haas, young Declan Haas and -- special treat! -- Adam Strobel. On cue, a smal flock of gal crossbills arrived.
Lisa, Adam and young Declan were patient as Dan and I waited for the birds AND the light to be right so we could make some White-Winged Crossbill portraits. Enjoy:

After enjoying the crossbills and five Pine Siskins that cooperatively flew in and made it a two-new-birds-in-Anne-Arundel-County type day, we headed south to a secret location where Mrs. Barn Owl is known to live.

This is the third time Birdcouple has been there looking for it. Warren positioned himself exactly on the wrong side of the barn to make sure he would be denied once again, but Adam, Dan and Lisa all got good, brief looks as it flew out of the barn and into the nearby woods. ARGH#&#*?!

Sigh. There are always more birds. And tomorrow, there will be. Lots of 'em.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


You are sweet, funny, beautiful, clever, goofy, sexy, smart, sharp, classy, down-to-earth, creative and wise. You keep bees, kick butt at work and take care of your parents and your children. You are a talented birder and blogger. You put up with me.

Happy Valentine's Day, doll. I love you. Thanks for this life.



Thursday, February 12, 2009

And the Rabbit became a Red-tailed Hawk...

Our friend, Patty, sent us these shots of a Red-tailed Hawk feeding on a rabbit a few months ago. These pictures may be a bit disturbing for rabbit lovers. We occasionally hear from folks about how sad or horrified they are to find feathers or remains of a squirrel after a hawk has stalked their bird feeder.

And, I always find that interesting.

Because, I think one of the biggest reasons people feed birds (or rabbits or deer) is the pleasure of bringing nature a little closer to them.

It is difficult to understand why "nature" stops at the cute or non-threatening.

And, when we set up bird feeders or feeding stations for our pleasure, we are in essence, creating an artificial environment where large concentrations of prey gather and attract predators.


In this case, birds of prey.

The big boys of backyard feeders who will gladly take an easy target from a feeder, but whose hunting also controls over population of rodents, and culls the weak, injured or diseased.

Natural selection at work in your backyard.

Enjoying Darwin Day and sending birthday wishes to my always evolving Mom!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

White-Throated Sparrow with Conjunctivitis

Birdcouple hates sights like this. After participating Sunday morning in the annual Patuxent River Waterbird Count - and snagging a cool male Barrow's Goldeneye spotted by another team - we headed up to one of our favorite spots in southern Maryland, Battle Creek Cypress Swamp.

There, we planned to check out their always-active feeders, and take a walk on the boardwalk through one of the northernmost stands of bald cypress trees in the United States.

While Lisa checked out an observation bee hive, I sat at the window in the nature center and snapped pictures of all manner of birds. It was not until we got home and took a closer look that we realized this White-Throated Sparrow has conjunctivitis, a highly contagious bacterial infection better known as House Finch Disease.

We blogged about this almost a year ago, when we had an afflicted goldfinch show up at our home feeder. But we thought the disease was limited to House Finches, American Goldfinches and closely related species. Not so. This scientific paper (it's a PDF file) based on the Cornell Lab's House Finch Disease Survey, found that the disease was reported in 31 species other than House Finches. Of those other cases, three-quarters were in American Goldfinches, Purple Finches and House Sparrows.

But there were a smattering of cases in species such as Cedar Waxwing, Northern Shrike (!) and, yes, White-Throated Sparrow.

So a reminder to all: Please clean those feeders!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Flirting and Displaying...

Cute Husband and I do some citizen science each year by helping with the Patuxent River Water Bird count.

We always find something wonderful and the weather (it hit 60 degrees!) yesterday begged to be outdoors. On our first stop, we found a Lesser Black-backed Gull slumming with some Ring-billeds.

And, when we scoped the river, we found more Common Goldeneye than we have ever seen on the river. The males, in their finest breeding clothes, were in the midst of some serious flirting.

Common Goldeyes have a spectacular courtship display. It starts with some innocent roaming around a female. The male then throws his head back so that his neck is contorted against his rump.

Occasionally, he will kick up his legs and let out a sound which is very similar to a Common Nighhawk.

The show was so stirring, I found it difficult to count the multitude of Buffleheads (who were doing their own displays) or note the number of Scaup who kept mixing in with the action.

I thought I might try some of this displaying business on the Cute Husband.

Spring was in the air!

I started by giving him the eye.....

He remained focused on the job at hand.

I then gave him my winning smile.... no luck. So, I moved to the tousled hair, hopeful look.
Warren took no notice.
So, I threw my head back and made Nighthawk like sounds. Nothing. In desperation, I moved to some Bufflehead-like displays.
I tried to enlarge my head and pump it up and down.
Shaking it from side to side.....

Finally! Success!
In all honesty, this picture was taken after we had just seen our first ever Barrow's Goldeneye which my genius Husband found in a flock of Greater Scaup.
But,I still think he is not immune to my flirting....

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Got Fish?

Once in a while, you snap a picture and don't even realize, just from looking through the viewfinder, what you've got. We were toodling along the Wildlife Drive at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge last Sunday when we noticed cars ahead of us stopped to see and photograph this Great Blue Heron chowing down on a monster fish.

We stopped, too, and Warren snapped a bunch of shots. He didn't notice the Ring-Billed Gull lurking at the edges of the scene, hoping for a morsel--or more.

Guess who won?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Our House and the White House

Apparently, Cute Husband and I have something in common with the new first family. The LoveNest is constantly under attack by a family of raccoons who enjoy tipping the trash, eating bird seed and washing their cute little critter hands in the bird bath.

And, according to this from The Washington Post, it looks like the White House is having similar issues with everyone's favorite neighborhood varmite....

A small band of masked intruders has broken into the secure White House grounds and has evaded capture by agents of the new Obama administration, officials said today.

The National Park Service is in pursuit of one very large raccoon and several medium-sized raccoons, who have been spotted roaming the grounds around the Executive Mansion and the West Wing...

So far, the raccoons have evaded capture despite the presence of several "live traps," which are essentially cages with a one-way doors to keep the animals inside.

Live traps.

Hopefully, not for release in LoveNest territory.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sunny Sunday

It's been mostly in the 20s and 30s here lately, so when we saw the weather Sunday forecasted in the 50s, Birdcouple knew we had to don our shirtsleeves, shorts and go do some birding. Off we went with Paul Baicich, Dan Haas, Ross Geredien, Chris Murray and Chris' girlfriend Eliza. And of course, young birding phenom Declan Haas.

Our first target was the lovely little Eastern Shore town of Oxford, Maryland, where a Snowy Owl - one of many that have irrupted out of the north and come our way this winter, had been seen. Well (you've heard this story before), we did NOT see the Snowy Owl, despite a couple of hours of dedicated searching. But we were delighted with much else, including this pair of Palm Warblers.

And some amazingly close looks at Wilson's Snipe.

Isn't it incredible how, even at such close range, the snipe's plumage melds with the leaves around it? Check out that schnoz, tailor-made for rooting around for worms and other little goodies in damp soil.

Then we were off to the waterfront at Cambridge, Maryland, where all sorts of odd ducks, literally, have been showing up. The lighting was just perfect for photography, and the waterfowl were obligingly close. Check out this Redhead:

And these Canvasback:

Female Canvasback can be really beautiful, too. The ducks were cavorting in the sunshine and open water.

American Wigeon:

We saw two of three rarities hanging out at Cambridge, Tufted Duck and Eurasian Wigeon. Once again, we just missed the Barrow's Goldeneye.
This is a good look at the difference between male Eurasian Wigeon (top) and American Wigeon (below).

Then it was off to nearby Blackwater NWR, where we feasted our eyes on American White Pelicans, White-Crowned Sparrows, Meadowlarks, and more. We chased a report of a Golden Eagle just oustide the refuge. We didn't find it, but did even better. Soaring above a controlled forest burn, Dan H picked out a distant Rough-Legged Hawk.

Thanks, Dan! This was a life for both Warren and Lisa. Paul B thinks this and the other raptors we saw soaring high over the flames - Northern Harrier, Red-Tailed Hawk, etc. - were watching for mice and other small critters running from the fire.
Only three days until next weekend!