Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Chesapeake Bay at a tipping point

    The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued its most recent State of the Bay report this week, and its a mixed picture at best. The Bay scored 31 out of 100 - that's a failing grade in Birdcouple's book - an improvement over the 2008 report, but still far from where we want it to be. There is some good news, and we should not discount it. Eight of the 13 indicators measured in the report improved, including the status of Blue Crabs in the bay, which showed significant gains. Underwater grasses, critical to the Bay's health for oxygen, food and shelter for other organisms, also improved measurably.

   The CBF describes the Bay as at a "tipping point." And on Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a pollution diet for the Bay that will set legally enforceable limits on phosphorous, nitrogen and sediments flowing into it from six states. Past federal efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay have failed. Will this one be different?

    Here are some reminders, of the avian variety, of how precious the largest U.S. estuary and its surrounding lands are:

Hermit Thrush

American Tree Sparrow

Long-Tailed Duck

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A late, but very nice, Christmas present

    Yes, a Northern Wheatear, an extremely rare bird on the North American east coast. And there it was, for the viewing, in Wilmington, Delaware, less than 2 hours' drive from the Lovenest.

    Princess, Kathie Lambert and Warren threw aside concerns about the east coast snowstorm, shuffled off our post-Christmas lethargy and bundled into "Pipit," our trusty Ford Escape hybrid, this morning, hoping the Wheatear hadn't flown before the storm.

     When we got to Fox Point State Park, there it was like a shiny present. Other birders (we felt sorry for them, honest) had waited 90 minutes in the bitter cold for the bird to show. That was about 15 minutes before we got there.

    We watched this lovely bird forage for a while.

    It politely crept closer so Warren could get some nice shots.

    And then it was back into "Pipit," as we raced southward to get home before the snow really started falling.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

      To all our friends in the Blogosphere and everywhere else. May it be peaceful, merry ... and birdy.
                                                                  - Warren and Lisa, The Birdcouple.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another Maryland rarity - Golden-Crowned Sparrow

    It's been an amazing fall here in the fair state of Maryland for rarities, most of them visitors from the U.S. West. Since October, we've had a Say's Phoebe, Ash-Throated Flycatcher and Anna's Hummingbird (just the second Maryland record) to name the highlights. Dan Haas has more on the recent birding gold over at Nervous Birds blog.

   Then, on Sunday, participants in the Kent County Christmas Bird Count found what may be the first Maryland sighting of Golden-Crowned Sparrow:

      Warren went in search of this lovely little bird on Tuesday, and his and other birders' patience was rewarded with quite a show.


      Here is an immature White-Crowned Sparrow, with which the Golden-Crowned was foraging, for comparison:

     And, of course, it is now no longer fall. Tuesday saw the solstice, marking the onset of winter, as well as a lunar eclipse:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count is coming fast

    BC was just emailed a copy of this handsome poster, providing a timely reminder that the Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up fast. With some much to do this Holiday season - Christmas fun, New Year's celebrations, and of course the local Christmas Bird Count - we're going to make a calendar note that GBBC is only eight weeks away.

   The GBBC is cospondored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada. You can find out more about the GBBC, and download instructions here. There's even an instructional video:


Monday, December 13, 2010

Ash-Throated Flycatcher!

     Princess and I drove down on Saturday to Assateague Island National Seashore,  which has been a great site for end-of-the-year rarities. Hard to believe it's been two years since we got our life Snowy Owl there.
     Once again, Assateague didn't disappoint. After a nerve-racking 45 minutes, we found our quarry: an Ash-Throated Flycatcher, a southwestern species, that had been delighting birders throughout our region for several weeks. Last time we saw this bird was way out in Arizona, where it belongs, in April...

     Check out the gorgeous russet color on its tail feathers. Snapped this shot a quarter-second too late:

     Assateague is famous for its wild horses, which wander the island at will. There always have to be some tourist morons (tourons) who ignore signs in plain view that state not to feed the horses. It's bad for both man and beast.

     Later, we stopped by the famed Ocean City inlet. This Ring-Bulled Gull is beautiful in its own u-g-l-y way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nevada birding

     Warren and our buddy Dan Haas  found themselves randomly in Nevada on the same day on Sunday - Dan for a business conference, Warren to see eldest son Mitch run the Las Vegas Marathon, his first. Well, no sooner had Dan's plane landed and he checked into his hotel, the two time-pressed birders rushed over to nearby Red Rock Canyon.

      There weren't huge numbers of birds around, but what W and D did find was great. This Crissal Thrasher first located by Dan was a lifer for both of us. ABA species #501 for Warren!

    The top of every third piece of vegetation was shaped like a perching bird, making finding those avians difficult. But this actually proved to be fauna, not flora, a beautiful western Red-Tailed Hawk:

     Red Rock Canyon, just 15 minutes from the western limits of the sprawl of Las Vegas, is beautiful and aptly named:

      We're not on the Vegas "Strip" anymore":

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cute Husband is Flying Back to the LoveNest!

Oh, Honey, you didn't need to bring me that... I'm eating plant based, remember?

Can't wait to have you home!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Birds vanishing from parts of Afghanistan?

McClatchy Newspapers' own Kansas City Star published this item on its website, written by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Warren has seen a lot of birds for sale in the Kabul market, including cages full of the Chukar partridge, which has of course been introduced into North America.

Here's the item (Herat is in western Afghanistan, bordering Iran):

Rahimullah stood in his field, killing field mice one by one as they were driven from their holes by a rush of irrigation water. But the 55-year-old farmer understands that he’s fighting a losing battle against the scrambling rodents. And he knows that he stands even less of a chance of successfully combating the swarm of locusts that are destroying his crops.

He’s tried using chemical sprays and insecticides, but to little effect. What he’s lacking are the various species of birds that have long been the Afghan farmers’ natural ally in the battle to protect his crop.

Birds are disappearing from Afghanistan, either killed by hunters or caught by trappers who then sell them to the burgeoning international market.

Agriculture officials in Herat province confirm that hunting and smuggling have decimated the bird population in the province, allowing pests like mice and locust to run wild.

There are no accurate statistics on wildlife numbers in Herat province. But officials say that a dozen bird species are in danger. Hunting bans are virtually impossible to enforce. Meanwhile, the booming business in exporting birds has had a devastating impact.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yes, I Should Be Raking this up...

Or, better yet, out birding....

In the meantime, and for Cute Husband's far away amusement, this is time lapse of just a portion of the leaves that need raking.  
Cool stuff created by our Wingscapes PlantCam

Friday, November 19, 2010


  Many of our readers are probably familiar with the book and movie The Kiterunner, a gripping story that spans the time of (relative) peace in Afghanistan to the 1996-2001 rule of the Taliban. As its backdrop, the book describes the favorite pastime of kite battles in Kabul, and the Kiterunners who race to get kites that are falling from the sky.

  Today being Friday in Kabul (the Western equivalent of Sunday), my Afghan colleague and I walked up to a hillside where dozens - maybe even 100 - kites were flying and battling in the sky. I was the only foreigner there, and I was mesmerized.

   A kite, its string cut by another's, floats to earth:

Kids use these long poles to catch the kites, twirling the string around them. You can faintly see kites flying in the background:


    Kites, which come in different sizes, are all handmade, from paper:

     String, coated with a material that makes it sharp, for sale:

     Not the bird kind of kites (as in Mississipi, Swallow-Tailed), but amazing all the same...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Miss you back, Princess!

Oh, I do! Those are waterfalls behind me, hint hint. 

This is at a famous lake in central Afghanistan called Band-e-Amir.   To quote from the Wikipedia entry (now a bit dated, since the road is being paved):  "The problems facing the visitors are harsh terrain, rocky plateau, lack of basic facilities and mined unpaved roads. The surrounding roads were heavily mined by the local militias and the Taliban during their respective reigns. Only a thin track is clear from mines and is in use by traffic."

Miss you darling.

PS - About these public love letters. ... Others read this blog, you know.... :)

Say I'm a Bird...

So, as most readers of BirdCouple know, Cute Husband and I far from hip, cool or current on anything pop culture.

We don't watch television and rarely go to the movies, although we do watch occasional movies through Netflix.  Which makes us completely clueless when it comes to current contestants on Dancing with the Stars and story lines to How I Met Your Mother, much less who is starring in what.  

I also like to blame the fact that I rarely clean the house on our lack of television viewing, as I simply am not aware of the latest cleaning solutions that are available and widely advertised on TV.

With Cute Husband reporting from miles away and me pining for him from miles away, it probably was not the best idea to watch (3 times so far!) The Notebook without him.  Now, I realize this movie is something like 6 years old, but referring back to our lack of hip-ness, it was completely new to me.

The movie has nothing to do with birds, although there appears to be some bird symbolism throughout.  And, if you care to,  you can may try to ID birds in certain scenes.   I think the gulls in my favorite scene are Ring Billed...

Anyway, as I'm sure you are completely aware, there is a scene where Rachel McAdams' character asks Ryan Gosling's character to "Say I'm a Bird".  He indulges and she then asks him to say he is a bird. 

And, he responds, exactly as I know Cute Husband would respond  (after I cajole him into watching the movie 4 more times with me)...

"If you are a bird I am a bird...."

I miss you, Warren P. Strobel.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Avian Keratin Disorder is Spreading...

Photo: USGS

Deformed beaks, elongated claws and feather color variations are on the rise in Alaska.

Avian Keratin Disorder, found first in Black-Capped Chickadees,  is showing up in an increasing number of other species including the Northwestern Crow.  The disorder makes foraging and preening difficult, not to mention raising young.

In the past, Avian Keratin Disorder has been associated with environmental pollutants.  Black-Capped Chickadees and Northwestern Crows are mostly permanent residents, but they do not share the same habitat, making finding the cause of the disorder difficult. 

In the meantime, it looks like nuthatches and woodpeckers are starting to also be affected.

Oh, sometimes it just makes me want to scream about what we are doing to our planet...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mitch, the Steppe Eagle from Afghanistan

Here's a heart-warming story about Mitch, a Steppe Eagle (a species which princess and I saw in India) that was saved in Afghanistan, after it was wounded, apparently after an Afghan soldier used it for target practice.

The magnificent creature was nursed back to health by Army soldiers and Navy SEALs (go Navy!) and finally taken to the U.S., where Mitch found a home at the Berkshire Bird Paradise, near Albany, N.Y.

We like Mr. Steppe Eagle's moniker. Mitch is the name of our first-born!

Meanwhile, my Afghanistan bird list continues to expand slowly, the equivalent of Chickadees and Titmice and Cardinals, but much appreciated all the same:  Laughing Dove, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Common Myna and Eurasian Magpie.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Starting that Afghan bird list

Warren's been in Kabul since Tuesday morning, and there are *definitely* birds here. So far, my Afghanistan bird list is quite humble, a Eurasian magpie (pica pica) and the ubiquitous Rock Dove. But late this afternoon as I was getting some fresh air on the veranda, I saw this little sucker with a plain brownish belly, flicked-up tail, dark eye, and white outer tail feathers. If only I could get a better look.....

Here's an interesting and accurate (as far as I can tell) blog about birding in Kabul.

I actually saw a version of this happen today, just before my unidentified passerine friend popped in:

‘Every afternoon at around 5.00, I go to my window and look outside because I have been watching something which happens every day around this time, just before the sky turns pink and spirals of sweet smelling smoke start to appear from mud brick homes.
A man stands on a roof and starts waving a long thin red flag, giving short sharp whistles, followed by long ones. Then he waves his flag again, waits for a while and the whistling resumes.
I thought at first he must be corresponding with another person somewhere close by, but as I watched I realized he was communicating with a flock of birds.
Kabul’s pigeons are light brown in colour with bright black eyes. They are actually probably doves. A group of around ten of them suddenly appears and they begin to circle overhead, diving and soaring for a while, then come back to land beside the man on the roof.
After a few moments he shoos them away with his flag and the whole thing starts again in a frenzy of trained wings and synchronized swoops, until dusk falls and the call to prayers sounds out across rooftops in the cold evening air.’

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Maryland 300 Club!!

  The "300" club is the elite group of birders who have seen more than 300 species of birds in the great state of Maryland.

  Warren finally joined on Friday, and with a great bird, too - a Say's Phoebe, a western and midwestern flycatcher not often seen in these parts. Wahoo! The bird was found at Terrapin Nature Park on Kent Island over on the Eastern Shore by super-Maryland birder Joe Hanfman. Good buddy Dan Haas helped guide Warren into the site with calls and texts.

   The bird was being seen distantly in some snags over phragmites bordering a pond. Warren didn't get great looks, but he did see the bird. No photos, either, but this picture of celebratory champagne gives the general impression of size and shape of the party afterward:


  Mark Hoffman did manage to snap some shots with a 700mm lens. Wow! For those keeping track, Mark; Jim Stasz; and Paul O'Brien are at the top of the Maryland birding mountain, each having seen more than 400 species out of 435 species reported in Maryland. That's incredible! 

  The Say's Phoebe was a definite treat.  Happy Halloween everyone!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Does a Hokie Count as a Life Bird?

If so, we ticked many of these birds this weekend!

Cute Husband and Cute Son #2 share the same birthday.  And, Cute Son is working on his degree in Hokieville.   Otherwise known as Virginia Tech.

So, off we went this weekend to enjoy all things Hokie and the company of the two sons.  Too much fun!
It was a beautiful day to enjoy everything Hokie like.... And they won! 

I may actually be starting to become a true Hokie Parent, as the orange and maroon color combination is seeming more and more appropriate.

Happy October Birthdays, Strobel Men!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October on the Eastern Shore

   October is the most magical time on Maryland's Eastern Shore. ... Roadside stands full of pumpkins, mums and produce. ... Soybean fields, past their prime, turning golden in the sun. ... Trees starting to make the long transition to fall, then winter, then spring again. ... Ponds and lakes glistening in the crisp air. ... There are also long skeins of Canada and Snow Geese that fall gently out of the sky:

     Caspian Terns, sporting their winter haircuts, staging up for the next leg of migration south, calling raucously:

     An immature Bald Eagle on the hunt for goose or duck or something else for dinner.

      A Buckeye butterfly catching the last of summer's warmth:

     And watching it all, the swarms of migrating Tree Swallows, the last buzz of insects, a hovering Northen Harrier, is the vigilant Mockingbird:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Native Plants = Lots of Birds!

One of our favorite organizations, Saving Birds Thru Habitat, created this stunning poster to highlight the importance of native plants, which provide food for insects, which in turn provide masses of food for birds.

The back of the poster features native plant resources for all 50 states!

Interested?   I am!

If so, send the tiny sum of $5.00 per copy to:
SBTH Poster, P. O. Box 288, Omena, MI 49674.

Nice work to Kay Charter and the folks at Saving Birds Thru Habitat!

Monday, October 11, 2010

A third of the trail!

My honey and I have now hiked one-third of the 2,179 mile-long Appalachian Trail!! We did a 19.5 mile segment (new one-day record, too) in central Virginia on Saturday. Just 1,400 miles and change to go...

Full story soon on Birdcouple's Appalachian Trail blog.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Colony Collapse Disorder... we may know the cause, but we don't know the cure...

I do love my bees... even more than I love my hermit crabs.
 So, when people asked me about Colony Collapse Disorder,  (the phenomenon in which the vast majority of worker bees abruptly disappear leaving the queen and a only a few bees remaining in the hive), I often blamed it on pesticide use and big farm production. 

CCD would never happen in the LoveNest yard - Cute Husband and I never use anything with a -cide at the end of it.  Which, of course, makes all insects, spiders and stink bugs feel quite at home.

And, the only farming that occurs in our yard are the few veggies I try to grow each year before the deer eat all the leaves off the plants.
However, it looks like scientists have discovered one reason for the honey bee die off.

Researchers, predominantly from the University of Montana, have identified three viruses — Varroa destructor-1 (scary sounding, right?), Kakugo and an invertebrate iridescent virus and two fungi — Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae.

Fungi and viruses, all of which flourish in cool, wet environments. While scientists aren't certain, they believe the fungi and viruses work together to hamper the insect's digestive system.    The combination is deadly for worker bees.

And, something that could occur in the LoveNest's cool back woods.

So, we may know more about the what, but we still don't know the why or how best to resolve. 

Oh, I and also love the Cute Husband: