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...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baghdad Update 1

Well, not much new to report (bird-wise) after my first 10 days here in Baghdad, capital of the Land of the Two Rivers.

Most of the "birds" I see and hear are military helicopters, both U.S. and Iraqi security forces, flying over the city. I was at a reception at the US ambassador's house a few days ago, sitting at an outdoor table, when I heard some clearly plover- or killdeer-like things flying close overhead and land nearby. It was dark. I couldn't exactly go rushing around the ambassador's residence searching for shorebirds, now could I? Well, maybe...

Anyway, in addition to my paltry list a couple of post belows, I can now add:

_ White Wagtail
_ probable Black-Headed Gull.
_ Roller, sp. (Probable Indian Roller, could it be European Roller???)


_ U.S. military helicopter, sp.
_ Iraqi Armed Forces helicopter, sp.

- W

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nothing Like a Good Book... Especially when it teaches you one of the keys to helping our feathered friends...

Kay Charter of Saving Birds Thru Habitat passed along this gem of a book, Bringing Nature Home , by Dr. Douglas Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy chairs the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at University of Delaware.

And, he owns 10 acres of farmland that was once loaded with invasives. Which, he discovered, supported very little insect life and also strangled out the native plants.

I thought I knew the importance of planting natives, but I really didn't get it until I read this book. I just didn't get how important native trees and plants are to birds.

There is so much in my dog eared, heavily highlighted copy, it is hard to begin....

Perhaps, the most important thing this book taught me is that I have a decision every time I plant or remove something from the LoveNest garden. And, if I choose a native plant I am managing the LoveNest habitat in a way that supports native insect populations and provides valuable nutrition for nesting birds.

Native insects love native plants and birds love (and need) insects. Most terrestrial birds rear their young on protein (pound for pound, most insects have more protein than beef), energy filled insects, not seeds and berries.

And, a successful breeding season is dependent on the amount of food birds find for their brood.

Which is just one of the many reasons Cute Husband and I will never put anything but native in the Lovenest's ground.

Dr. Tallamy's book is also a beautiful reference book that details the best native to plant to support the most insect species. The book is also brimming with great bug pictures!

Cute Husband and I recently planted a Redbud (Cercis canadensis).

Native, but not as important as an Oak Tree in supporting a diverse population of insect species.
We are ok with that.

It was one of my Dad's favorite trees.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Creation of a Thousand Forests.... in one acorn.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ahh... fall on the East Coast!
It is the time of year in Maryland when trees are literally raining leaves.
But according to this from NPR, leaves aren't exactly falling...

But, rather, the trees are shoving the leaves off the limbs.

In Cute Husband's absence, I have further
fallen into senselessness.
We picked up the new Sibley Guide to Trees few weeks back and ever since this book entered the house, I have become freakishly obsessed with collecting leaves and trying to ID them.

Oh, and also listing them.

I'm pretty much raking the front yard onto the dining room table, where I have my ever growing display of leaves in various stages of fade.
Yesterday, my leaf press arrived and now I can preserve them!
And, look at them some more!

For those that I want to capture exactly as they existed when I found them, I scan them!

And, look at them some more!

Normal, right?

Sure, yes, I'm ok without Cute Hubby to entertain me...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Birding a Bit in Baghdad

W is starting a six-week reporting assignment in Iraq. While it's much less violent here than it was just a few years ago, it's very far from stable - and he can't exactly go wandering with bins looking for parks and rivers with birds in 'em.

So far, birding has been limited to his hotel balcony. Here's the list so far:

_ House Sparrow
_ Rock Pigeon
_ (Eurasian) Collared Dove
_ crow, species.

Impressive, huh?

Much more importantly, our sponsor, Alpen Optics, has now made it to Iraq! Alpen has kindly given us several pairs of binoculars over the years to test and share with folks we meet at bird walks and bird tours. Warren decided to bring a pair to Baghdad and loan it (permanently) to one of McClatchy's Iraqi employees who is crazy about birds. Our Iraqi friend was thrilled. Maybe he and Warren can go out birding sometime soon.

"Pass the glass" whenever and wherever you can...

Did W mention that he misses L?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Birding is a Happy Adventure

We love this sign at Piney Orchard Nature Preserve that invites you down the trail. Yes! Happy! Birding!