Friday, April 30, 2010

"...the oil is just going to get a free ride up into the wetlands..."

An interview with Robert Thomas, Director of the Center for Environmental Communications at Loyola University in New Orleans on NPR yesterday...

MELISSA BLOCK: There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of species of wildlife threatened by the oil that's headed toward the coast. And we're going to talk now with someone who has spent his career studying the ecosystems of that Mississippi Delta, Robert Thomas, a scientist at Loyola University in New Orleans. Welcome to the program.

Professor ROBERT THOMAS (Scientist, Loyola University New Orleans): Good to be here.

BLOCK: Can you give us a sense of the ecology, the diversity of this area where the oil is headed? What does this look like?

Prof. THOMAS: Well, first of all, it's America's most vast coastal wetlands. And it has an awful lot of variety of ecosystems, all the way from open water estuaries to bayous and swamps and a variety of types of marshes. Matter of fact, it's so diverse that we have a marsh here called intermediate marsh. It's not even recognized anyplace else in America.

So these are really, really special wetlands and they're extremely productive. I mean, they produce 40 percent of the commercial fisheries of the continental United States. But when a naturalist like myself goes out in the field, you know, just tremendous diversity of birds and reptiles and mammals and insects and plant species and the like, it's an absolutely spectacularly gorgeous place.

BLOCK: And all of that diversity would be threatened, I imagine, by the oil headed that way.

Prof. THOMAS: Exactly. And what we see coming right now, the image of what is coming toward us right now is a vast, vast oil slick is going to come right into Breton Sound, right across the Chandeleur Islands, right back into an incredible place for wildlife and it's coming in on a high tide. So the oil is just going to get a free ride up into the wetlands.

And once it coats those wetlands, once it contaminates oyster reefs, once it starts to contaminate the estuaries where 95 percent of the commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico have their nursery grounds, a major calamity is what we're going to have to deal with.

BLOCK: Major calamity. I'm thinking, too, about the bird populations and the timing of this. This would be, I think, peak nesting season, also peak migration season.

Prof. THOMAS: Yeah, you know, it's peak nesting season, especially for the animals that are nesting in the low areas like out on the Barrier Islands. A variety of terns and gulls and pelicans and things like that, and they're likely to get a good soaking from the oil. And everybody's very fearful of if they'll be able to survive. It's hard enough for the adults to survive when they get oil on them, but if the babies, if it gets into the nests and contaminates the babies, they're pretty much gone. So you'll lose a nesting season.

And then you can sit there and speculate on the migratory birds that are coming through. Most of them are landing in treetops and staying on higher ground. But an awful lot of them are going to land in the backwaters of the estuaries to feed and gather their resources before they fly on.

The rest of the interview can be found here.

Meanwhile, the American Bird Conservancy has released a list  of the top 10 bird sites threatened by the oil disaster, including one of the largest colonies of the threatened Least Tern.

More from McClatchy on the spill's effects on wildlife here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clownin' around

BC is back at the Lovenest, but still enjoying the afterglow of our amazing Southeast Arizona birding trip, and catching up on posting about our adventure. We were moving so fast, doing our power-birding thing, and sometimes staying in lovely canyon spots with no Internet (or cell phone!) access that we did not post as much as we wished to...

      Acorn Woodpeckers are the clowns of the bird world - outrageously colored, noisy and prone to all sorts of tricks.
      For us, they were just one of an amazing assortment of "yard birds" during our three night stay at Cave Creek Ranch in the beautiful Chiricahua Mountain range of Arizona's southeast. We loved the Ranch, and highly recommend it to birders heading to the region.
      Bridled Titmice, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Broad-Billed Hummingbirds - they all flew past the front of our cabin or stopped in at the feeders outside. From our windows, we could see the soaring, pastel-colored peaks of the Chiricahuas in the morning, and stars at night. We could hear the creek running just a few dozen yards away. Talk about a birders' paradise!
    Cave Creek Canyon is a magical place, home to the legendary Elegant Trogon (which we saw on our first morning!) and a unique assortment of North American avifauna.
    At the ranch, proprietor Reed Peters was wonderful - helping us get the lay of the land, and even giving us directions to some pre-Apache pictographs that could be found on rocks a 1/2 hour hike from the ranch. What a magical moment it was to see that. And we got three lifebirds on the hike! Reed also put us in touch with Peg Abbott and Narca Moore-Craig, of Naturalist Journeys, who took us on a wonderful evening owl prowl. Even though the owls were a bit elusive, we learned so much from both of them. And heard our first Western Screech-Owl and Common Poorwill.
    It was hard to leave the Chiricahuas.  But we know we'll be back - and we'll stay once again at Cave Creek Ranch, which gets the Birdcouple thumbs up.
   But we had more birding to do. And more clownin' around.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Headin' Home

    Posting this from DFW Airport, as we wait for our flight home to the East Coast, where the juncos assuredly don't look like this yellow-eyed fellow.

   We'll be posting more in the days ahead on our amazing Southeast Arizona adventure - the birds; the incredible deserts, canyons, plants and critters; the lovely people we met.

   Unofficially, we saw more than 150 species of birds in 10 days, with 73 new "life birds" for Lisa, and 71 for Warren. Astounding.

   And we'll be back at the Lovenest in the mid-Atlantic just in time for .... SPRING MIGRATION!

- W and L

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to one and all! On Earth Day 2010, we were privileged to see these rare, endangered creatures, two Spotted Owls, roosting in Miller Canyon, in Arizona's Huachuca mountains. Along with the incredible diversity of other birds, flowers and mammals, we saw today, this Spotted Owl Birdcouple was a reminder of the wonders of the natural world, and our responsibility to protect them.

There's a lot of bad environmental news out there, but the fact that these birds still exist, and that a lot of people cared enough to hike up a mountain to see them - and might be touched enough to want to preserve them - is good news.

There's a lot to celebrate, and a lot to do. More soon on our incredible birding marathon-adventure here in southeast Arizona. Tonight's final thought:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Maginificent. Just like that Magnificent Hummingbird up there, that is how our Arizona birding vacation has been so far.

Lisa and I have been in Southeast Arizona for 4 days, the last 3 1/2 days, the last 2 at Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains, and our heads are spinning with all we have seen - birds, amazing scenery, even ancient pictographs.

Bird-wise, we have racked up an incredible 91 species in the last 74 hours, including 41 life birds for Warren and 42 for Lisa. (Working on that harmony list). Elegant Trogon? Red-Faced Warbler? Zone-Tailed Jawk? 7 species of humminbirds? We've seen 'em.

More posts and pictures soon.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

SE Arizona, Day 1

What can we say? Not much after a 20-hour day, that began with a 3:15 am wake-up call to make an early flight out of Washington, DC.

    Worth it? You had to ask? First afternoon in Southeast Arizona, spent at Sweetwater Wetlands. 37 species of birds. Eight lifers for Lisa, seven for Warren (she caught me up one!). Including this beautiful drake Cinnamon Teal. Enchanting. Our appetite is whetted for more, much more...

New arrivals

     We've been looking for new birds to show up in our yard, now that spring is well underway. But we've had a lot of other new arrivals, too. Like this beautiful Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

    And this baby Box Turtle that Lisa found when she was getting ready to move some leaves:

    The Redbud Tree that Lisa planted in memory of her father, Tom, has started to bud out. This is one of the most special trees at the Lovenest.

   And we have a new Bluebird nestbox. Now if the Bluebirds would just arrive!

Friday, April 16, 2010

What did the Big Flower Say to the Little Flower?

Hi Bud.

Pictures by Plant Cam!
Time Lapse movie to follow as soon as Blogger starts to behave and let me upload video again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mixed Feeding Flock, #11

Lots of good stuff for our occasional round-up of birding and nature news, much of it contributed by McClatchy web editor Tish Wells and other friends from McClatchy's Washington bureau. They are constantly sending me bird-related news, or asking me bird questions, which is nice.

That photo up there, taken by Laura Cardenas, is the first photographic evidence of the continued existence of the Santa Marta Sabrewing. The area where it lives in Colombia's Santa Marta Mountains had been slated for development in 2006, but was purchased at the last minute with funding from the American Bird Conservancy, Conservation International and Fundacion Pro Aves, a Colombian organization.

* Nature magazine reports here on how birds' positions in flocks depends on their position in a group hierarchy. Study was done with homing pigeons equipped with GPS devices.

* McClatchy's Miami Herald story on Everglades vultures munching on everything - including car parts.

* More owl video, via The Island Packet, another of McClatchy's 30 daily newspapers.

* Lastly, from Paul Baicich, good news about nabbing bird trappers in Florida.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Our Black Cherry Tree Would be Unwelcome in Paris...

But Paris would welcome me with open arms!   (Hint to Cute Husband)

I digress. 

Apparently, the Cherry Tree (we are pretty sure it is a Black Cherry) which we recently discovered in the LoveNest habitat would be unwelcome not only in Paris, but in most of Europe as well.

According to this article from Science Daily, the North American Black Cherry is super invasive in Europe.  

We can thank a soil-borne pathogen that exists in the U.S. for keeping our Black Cherries in check.  In Europe, the pathogen (Pythium) is just too wimpy to regulate these trees from taking over plots of land and pushing out European native trees.

But, this, I think, is the most important bit of the article...

"Evidence of an invader encountering more aggressive enemies in its native versus non-native range provides new evidence for the popular hypothesis that invasive species-whether plants, insects, or other animals-thrive outside of their native lands in part because they have escaped their enemies."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mystery tree ID? Help!!!!

   Tuesday Update: the consensus seems to be that this is some species of cherry tree, perhaps a Black Cherry, as first suggested by Dan Haas. That would be good news - a native plant! We're still welcoming comments, suggestions. - BC

    Princess Lisa is intent (some might say obsessed) about knowing every plant and tree that grows in her garden. Lately, we've been ripping out nasty invasives like Japanese Honeysuckle and Multiforal Rose, and replacing them with good native species, like Milkweed, which attratcs Monrach butterflies. We like Monarchs.

   But there is one species of tree growing at the Lovenest that we can't identify, even with our trusty Sibley Guide to Trees.

   We'd greatly appreciate any help BC's readers can lend--even what family of trees this belongs to. One curious note--the tree is already well-leafed out, even though most other trees on our property are just beginning to show a little green.

    Here's the tree in full profile:

     Here's a close-up of its leaves:

     And here's a look at the bark:  Many thanks in advance!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oxbow Lake on an April morning

   Happy Easter, everyone! It's a beautiful spring morning here in the mid-Atlantic, and one of the bluebirds that have suddenly begun hanging around just made an appearance. Life is good!

  Saturday morning we spent with Paul Baicich at Oxbow Lake Nature Preserve, an incredible oasis in the middle of a suburban community and a stone's throw from major highways like the Baltimore-Washington parkway. Marcy Stutzman, who cares for the trails, the trees and the preserve in general, and knows it perhaps better than anyone else, says more than 160 species of birds have been recorded here. That includes some real Maryland rarities, like Bridled Tern.

  It's a beautiful, soothing spot: 

Well, we counted 33 species of birds during our 90-minute visit, comprising an incredible diversity: snipe and other shorebirds; raptors; three species of swallows and Purple Martin; woodland birds like Hermit Thrush and Brown Thrasher; and waterfowl.

Warren was watching some very large "crows" settle on a distant branch when he decided to put a scope on them. Then he asked, Uh, do you ever get Common Ravens here? Marcy and friend Jay answered in the affirmative. And the birds in the scope were indeed Ravens, which are found to our north and west and are a  very uncommon sight in Anne Arundel county. 

Minutes later Jay said he thought he'd heard the gobble of a Wild Turkey, and pointed out the distant slope where they are sometimes seen. Warren scoped it and found a single male bird, who quickly wandered away into the forest.

Oxbow is also home to lots of frogs, turtles, snakes and mammals like muskrat, otter and beaver:

Getting up early in the morning after a late night at Anne Arundel Bird Club, where Paul was the guest speaker, can be hard. But it was worth it! Warren's bird species list for AA County jumped from 200 to 202! 

Marcy found a turtle shell, no longer in use by a turtle, that will be used for kids' nature education: