Sunday, January 31, 2010

Big January ends @ 116

It's 9:41pm on January 31. We're sitting in bed after a long, zany, fulfilling, exhilirating, educational month of birding. We put 450 miles on the car today alone. We got it out of being stuck in the snow at the bottom of a hill at Finzel Swamp in Garret County in western Maryland. (Or rather the tow truck guy did. There's a lot more to the story, coming to you in a post soon). We ended the birding day, spent with our friend and guide-for-the-day David Yeany, at the courthouse in downtown Cumberland, Maryland, where a Peregrine Falcon flew out of a tree and into the dusk. Species #116 in Maryland in January 2010. What a way to end it!

And so to bed....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Birding the Appalachian Trail...

No, we are not out hiking the A.T. in search of bumping up our big January, but we are super proud to be featured in A.T. Journeys, The Magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy this month!

Trail Birds

Text and Photos by Warren and Lisa Strobel

A few years ago, while section-hiking a portion of the Trail through Shenandoah National Park, we met a thru-hiker named Matt (we’ve long forgotten his Trail name) who told us something we’d never forget. “Everybody,” he said, “has to hike their own hike.”

We do hike our own hike.

We have walked every mile (595 Trail miles to date) wearing a pair of binoculars.

We not only hike the Appalachian Trail, we “bird” it.

Being avid birders has given us an opportunity to more deeply appreciate the vital habitat of the A.T. and the lands that surround it, and to reconfirm the importance of preserving and
enhancing the Trail.

It’s well known to most everyone familiar with the Trail that it provides a critical corridor for both fauna and flora. But the Trail’s importance to the avian life of North (and even South
and Central) America, is hard to overstate.

The Appalachian Mountains are irreplaceable north-south migratory flyways for raptors and
songbirds, and serve as feeding stops and breeding grounds, as well.

They are the bird equivalent of interstate highway, fast-food joint, and comfy home all in one....

Read the rest of the story here (and see super cute pictures of Cute Husband in the act of birding AND hiking)

We are particularly proud to be associated with the The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the work they do to protect a corridor of the East Coast for birds and the habitat they depend on.

An organizaton that is largely supported by hikers, but is well deserving of the support of birders for their work in conservation and education.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Big January - one week to go!!

Princess and I spent the weekend birding like crazed people, trying to use up every minute of our second-to-last weekend in January. We were all over Maryland's Eastern Shore, putting tons of miles on the new car - it's a hybrid - and having a good time to boot.

This close-up view of an immature Red-Shouldered (or could it be Cooper's?) Hawk at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was just one of many wonderful moments. We had 70+ Common Eiders and a male Harlequin Duck at the Ocean City, MD, inlet; found a Great Horned Owl after we heard it hoot just before dusk on Assateague Island, and had Dunlin and Greater Yellowlegs in the middle of the marsh as the sun went down. Magical. Along the way, we sharpened our bird skills and knowledge even more.

We have crushed our goal of seeing 100 species in Maryland in January - we are at 106, unofficially - and are not done yet. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mixed Feeding Flock, #8

Time for BirdCouple's (very) occasional round-up of interesting bird and birding news.

* First, word comes via Birding World magazine and Birdchick blog that an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has been seen and photographed in Texas. The photos have not been released yet, so we are going to reserve judgement for now. Hope it's true!

* The Large-Billed Reed Warbler, one of the world's rarest birds, is back in the news again. This is one of our favorite rare-bird stories. First identified in India in 1867, it was almost 140 years before the bird was found again, this time in Thailand. We've posted about this bird several times in the past, here and here.

Now comes word from the Wildlife Conservation Society that a researcher has identified the Large-Billed Reed Warbler's breeding grounds, or at least one of them, in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan of all places. The researcher, Robert Timmins, caught and released 20 - 20!! - of the birds. Wonders never cease.

* The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting article about troubles with endangered species lists, and whether they can do more harm than good. Nice pictures, although some of the birds are incorrectly identified in the website's photo gallery.

* Finally, friend Paul Baicich passed on this diagram of the new bird topography. We have no idea what it means, but it looks cool:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big January update - 2/3rds of the way there

Well, January will be 2/3rds over tomorrow. Where are we? That is, where are we in our crazy, zany quest to see as many birds as possible in the first month of the year?

This is where we are: We've learned a heck of a lot more about birds and nature in the last 20 days, that's where we are. When you are trying to eke out EVERY bird you can find in the middle of the mid-Atlantic winter, your senses are at full alert. You look at every gull, every sparrow, every raptor carefully. You listen just a little more intently to every bird song and call. You watch the weather and guage the habitat. You're out in the field more often. You go to old haunts, like Lake Artemesia in Greenbelt, Maryland, and discover, to your joy, that there's been a new birding trail, called the Luther Goldman Birding Trail, designated in your absence. You're happy even if you spent an hour there and didn't add a single bird to your 2010 list.

So ... let's do the numbers. Like many of our blogging friends and colleagues, such as Kathie at Sycamore Canyon, and Larry at Brownstone Birding Blog, we are doing this Big January thing, trying to see as many species of birds in 31 days as possible. Rough goal is 100, although we'd like a lot more than that. Some days they come in bunches, others in 1s and 2s. Some days they don't cooperate at all.

As of Jan 19 at 10:25pm, we have 81 species for our home state of Maryland, and, including the great state of West Virginia and the District of Columbia, 83. We've had some lovely surprises, and a few crazy "misses," common birds we have not laid eyes (or ears) on yet. Stay tuned. We're not half done yet...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It is kinda hard to bird if you keep falling down....

Cute Husband and I finally found a weekend that Mitch and Adam could escape with us for a quick ski get-away. Timberline in West Virginia was the destination and Warren and I decided to try cross-country skiing (with our bins in a backpack) on the first day.... perhaps we could add a bird or two to add to our January as we checked out the lovely scenery.

The boys only wanted something super scary, super fast and all downhill. So, they headed up the mountain with their snowboards.

We decided to take a lesson to ensure we were all good with sliding along a somewhat flat surface with long attachments on our feet.

Our instructor was quite wonderful and he even took us up on the lift so that we could test our skills going down a slippery slope between trees with long attachments on our feet.

After falling approximately 50 times (where he would kindly lift me off the ground each time because the long attachments on my feet were not helpful when one needs to get vertical again) he proclaimed us experts.

Our instructor also explained that cross-country skis were easier to use on flat ground and maybe we should look for some of that.

Ok, that sounded good.

Does my smile look fake?

I'm hiding the pain.

Off we went in search of flat land and birds.

We did pish up some Black Capped Chickadees which were a wonderful addition to our year list...

I discovered that you can be standing in one place, not moving at all, with long attachments on your feet and quickly drop right smack on the ground.

Snow is slippery with long attachments on your feet.

So, the next morning, we decided to ditch the bins and try our hand at down hill skiing.

He is very cute, is he not?

This is the view from the top of the mountain that my thoughtful husband took for me. After crashing and burning getting off lift at the first green trail and when complete and utter fear took over when I saw a hill larger than the bunny slope, I surrendered and watched my gents glide down the mountain from a cozy viewing area at the bottom.

I'm still in pain.

But, beyond happy to spend time with my three favorite guys.

So, the final birds of the weekend?

A Ravens win that, unfortunately, did not replay last night....

Monday, January 11, 2010

Big January update - 60 species

Birdcouple is doing a Big January, a bit of fun that we are sharing with several of our fellow bloggers, including Kim, The Curious Birder; and Larry at the Brownstone Birding Blog. We're also in a friendly - very friendly - competition with our good friend Ross Geredien, he of the Good Migrations.

Big January means trying to see as many different species as you can in the first, cold, snowy month of the year. On one level, it's a bit silly (especially to non-birders), we realize. But it's also a lot of fun, and forces us to get outside during a time of year when the inclination is to stay indoors and read or (worse) watch TV.

So where are we? With a third of the month gone, it's time to report! Lisa saw a Brown-Headed Cowbird in Annapolis today, our 60th bird species of 2010. Exlcuding birds seen out-of-state (an Orange-Crowned Warbler in DC and Black-Capped Chickadee in West Virginia), we are at 58. That's okay, but we clearly have to step it up just a bit to reach our goal of 100 by January 31. And of course, as the common birds are ticked off, it does get progressively harder. Ross G is miles ahead of us.

Onward and upward! Watch out winter birds! Watch out Ross!

We'll report back on the weekend...
W & L

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Birding Community E-Bulletin

The first issue of the Birding Community E-Bulletin for 2010 is out, and we want to draw BC fans' attention to this wonderful, and under-appreciated report.

This month's issue, available here, has interesting news about top North American rarities, including Bare-Throated Tiger Heron, Pink-Footed Goose and Ivory Gull. But (as the old TV commercial used to say), wait, There's More!

Other articles cover the 20th anniversary of Partners in Flight; worrisome news about two at-risk bird species in Canada; a nod to a VERY important book about bird-healthy gardens and invasive plants, entitled Bringing Nature Home (Lisa blogged about this book in November and Warren is reading it right now); and other good stuff about IBAs, Red Knots and bird-friendly coffee. Most importantly, a reminder that in 2010, we should be thinking not only about the birds we see and add to our various lists, but what we are doing for them.

The E-Bulletin is written by our good friend Paul Baicich and colleague Wayne Petersen, director of Mass Audubon's IBA program. Good, good stuff.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who doesn't like looking at Bald Eagles....

Great Blue Heron are lovely to admire also...

Thank you, Patty and Jonathan, (soon to be wed!) for sharing your adventure at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brrrr.... Cold Christmas Bird Count...

Wake up at 5:30 to start calling owls?

No problem.

Wake up and note that temperature is 14 degrees and wind is howling with gusts of 30 miles an hour.

No problem.... well, no problem seeing the weather report and reflecting on how cold that must feel.

But, IT is the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count - and Cute Husband had our usual section of the Annapolis Area AND our birding rock star friend, Peter Kaestner was willing to get up even earlier to join us for the counting.

Somewhat of a problem for me.

I got out of the car with my multitude of layers that made the Michelin Tire Man look svelte and lasted about 15 minutes before the tip of my nose lost feeling and my fingers stopped working.

I am such the cold weather wimp.

If the temp is below 65 degrees, I've got the heat blasting in my car and the seat warmers on high.

Lucky for me, Cute Husband and Peter are hard core - as I spent most of the day peering through the car windows with my bins.

No owls responded to our calls, but as the sun rose, the birds started waking up and looking for a sunny spot and feeding in mixed flocks on anything that wasn't frozen.

Birding with Peter is such a fun game - no wonder the guy has over 8,000 birds on his life list (currently #7 in the world at 8,196!).

If he found a Ruby Crowned Kinglet, then there must be a Golden Crowned Kinglet.

And, as if magic, Peter would pish one out.

If we sat at a random bird feeder for 45 minutes, then certainly a bird of prey would show up....

And, eventually, a Cooper's Hawk came to check out the menu.

Our goal was 50 species for the day, which we didn't quite make (the owls would have helped), but (thanks to Peter's eye and determination) it was BirdCouple's best count of this area in 3 years.

The Christmas Bird Count is not just a great tradition, but it is also an important survey (the longest running wildlife census!) to assess the health of bird populations.

It is also a rare day of birding that every single bird counts and is counted.

Which makes this lone Black Vulture on a creepy old house even more special....

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year, hello Big January

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of BirdCouple's friends in the birding community, especially the bird-blogging community.

Lisa and Warren decided a few months ago to get their 2010 birding off to a fast start, by doing a BIG January. Goals are good. Our goal: to see 100 species of birds in the first month of the year. It's not going to be a cinch, given the generally restricted number of species that over-winter here in the mid-Atlantic states. (Our previous best January was 88).

We started off today with a solid effort - especially considering our New Year's Day hangovers - with 27 species, during a delighftul mid-day walk with Chris Murray at Governor Bridge Natural Area. Highlights were Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Swamp Sparrow. We took a detour on the way home, and saw the decade's first American Kestrel.

Then it was time for the year's first nap.