Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A great, green local birding game for 2014

Rusty Blackbird, Terrapin Nature Park, Kent Island, Maryland
Dan Haas, founder and curator of the Maryland Birding pages on Facebook, has come up with this great local birding competition for 2014 - designed to increase birding knowledge of local sites, plus help the environment and save on gas.
It of course can be easily modified for any locale.
Happy 2014 everyone!

The Great 2014 Maryland Bird-Your-Patch Contest!

Before January 1st, 2014, PICK and SUBMIT 3 (three) "local" eBird HOTSPOTS (preferably, one located in YOUR neck of the woods), and also keep a SEPARATE yard / neighborhood / community list.

***In order to track this data, everyone should utilize www.eBird.org to enter and track data.***

-Observe and document the most # of species within their 3 specified HOTSPOTS and within their YARD/COMMUNITY.  

-Grow the # of checklists per HOTSPOT, as well as the species totals for each location.

-Across MD, eBird HOTSPOTS will get better, year-round coverage. Your personal local county lists may well improve. You will save $$ on gas. You will spend more time birding and less time driving. You will have more time for friends and families. 

Hopefully, some amazing rarities will be discovered throughout the year, throughout Maryland. But for nearly everyone, one's local knowledge and birding skills will improve (for some by leaps and bounds).

-For now, these are TBA.  I am hoping to line up some great prizes for specific categories like: most improved HOTSPOT, best yard/community, overall species count, best bird, highest totals %-wise in comparison to overall County year totals, etc. 

Some great prize suggestions have already been made, like: Tickets for a 2015 MD Pelagic, Paid Registration for an MOS Conference, a County or State Park Pass, Optics Gift Certificate, Restaurant Gift Certificate, Native Plant or Tree... just to name a few! Needless to say, I'll be working on that early in 2014.

NOTE: Suggestions for awards and categories are most welcome.

If you think you might be interested, do these simple steps:

1.) PICK your 3 eBird HOTSPOTS and name your 'yard/community/neighborhood' location.  

2.) Email your picks to me at "nervousbirds at gmail dot com"

3.) Pull your HOTSPOT data.  Research your locations using eBird data. Pull both the "All-time," and "2013," Year Totals and Checklist Totals for each of your locations, including your yard/community/neighborhood.

4.) Go bird your patch in 2014.

Good Luck, Good Birding and Happy New Year all,

Dan Haas
Annapolis, MD

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Snowy Owl Christmas

Well, when we ordered these beautiful Christmas cards back in November from the good folks over at Audubon, we had no idea that we would soon be in the midst of one of the greatest Snowy Owl invasions of all time, a lovely gift if ever there was one.

They seem to be everywhere- there is even one hanging out on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Larry over at Brownstone Birding Blog had one land on the roof of his car, where it proceeded to devour a mole in its talons.

Here's an updated look at Snowy Owl sightings in Maryland and nearby states, as logged into eBird:

Some other Snowy Owl news:
Audubon magazine has a nice Q and A about Snowy Owls by Kenn Kaufman.
The New York airports authority was planning to shoot Snowy Owls, as a threat to air traffic. After much protest, they wisely decide to trap and relocate them instead.
More soon. And Merry almost Christmas.
The Birdcouple



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Harry Potter's Owl

As more and more birders in the Northeast report Snowy Owls in unlikely places and public outcry forced a change in policy for New York airports who were previously killing owls who jeopardized air travel, the owl of Harry Potter is becoming a common conversation starter for anyone who knows Warren and I and knows we love birds. 

So, thankfully, the lovely Leslie Starr found some information about Snowys and posted it on the MDBirding listserv, so I can answer some of the questions I get on a nearly daily basis. 

Jean-Francois Therrien, conducted his Ph.D. research on Snowy Owls in NE Canada and according to his research:

  • Males tend to be whiter than females
  • Adults are whiter than juveniles
  • It is next to impossible to tell mature males and females apart
  • We are graced with Snowys this far South this year... probably because they had a very successful breeding year in the Arctic.

I have no doubt that this Snowy Owl invasion is going to put some people over-the-edge from general interest in birds to all out birder mania!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Great Snowy Owl Invasion of 2013

Snowy Owl near Frederick, Maryland, 12/7/2013
As most serious birders on the U.S. East Coast know by now, we are seeing a major invasion - or, to be technical, irruption - of Snowy Owls coming down from the north.
No less than half a dozen have been seen in Maryland alone, in 5 or 6 different counties. (Still waiting on that Anne Arundel County Snowy!!)  Our local newspaper, the Annapolis Evening Capital, has even noted the phenomenon.
The ever-useful eBird has a great article on the irruption, with maps that compare this year's influx with a similar one in November-December 2011. It's fascinating - eBird sightings this year show Snowy Owls concentrated in the northeast and Great Lakes, whereas two years ago they moved into a much broader area, including the Upper Midwest and the Northwest U.S.
Here are Snowy Owl sightings this year, as of December 3:  Note the one in Bermuda!
One prevalent theory is that the influx is due to a particularly good lemming (food!) season for the owls in the high Arctic, which meant a very successful breeding year, with an excess of young birds now pushing south to look for food.
What a beautiful bird!! That one up there in the picture is only the second time Lisa and Warren have seen a Snowy Owl. We are happy to welcome them southward for a while. Go find yours!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Best Holiday Gift...

2013-2014 Federal Duck Stamp
You know what every birder (and non-birders too!) on your list would love for Christmas?   The Duck Stamp!  I know BirdCouple keeps reminding you... but one of the best ways to help birds is to purchase many! 
Duck Stamp sales have provided $850 million for conservation.  At $15 the Stamp is a beautiful piece art at a bargain!
And, don't forget to give your favorite non-profits at this time of the year!  Check out the right side of this page for some of BirdCouple's favorites. 
See you don't need to go to a mall to get your Christmas shopping list complete!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!!

To one and all!!!

Warren's Thanksgiving will be complete if his birds - the Ravens - beat the Steelers tonight. Yes, Warren, Adam and Mitch are going to the game.

Meanwhile, here is a Holiday treat: a preview of the soon to be published Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin, by Princeton University Press.

Happy Thanksgiving
The Birdcouple

Monday, November 25, 2013

Looking back on 7 years

Ruddy Turnstone

Hard to believe it has been seven years since Birdcouple the blog first got up and running. In November 2006, George W. Bush was still President, our boys Mitch and Adam were in their teens still, and Lisa and Warren were still fairly new. (It always feels new, babe). We had probably just hiked 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail, not the nearly 1,200 we have done today.

That's a long run for a blog, and we intend to keep it going.

A lot has changed indeed, but we think blogs still very much have a place in a social media space crowded with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, etc.  You can of course check us out on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Our focus will always be the same:  love of nature and each other; the joys of birding, traveling and hiking; and most of all, the urgent need for conservation.

With that preamble, we'd like to dedicate this post to all the wonderful friends and colleagues who have helped share the journey:

To best birding buds Paul Baicich and Peter Kaestner (and the Kaestner clan!) who have been our guides and mentors...

To Ross Geredien, who does so much for conservation in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County...

To Dan Haas, the funnest (and funniest) birding companion ever, and a great musician...

To Tim Carney - go with that big year - and the great new generation of young Maryland birders...

To Carlos Bethancourt and the great gang at Canopy Tower in Panama...

To Dave and "The Doodles" in Ohio

To Leslie Starr and Joe Turner, our partners in this year's Rarity Roundup...

And to Maryland birders across the state - they are the best in the land - including Jim Stasz, Jim Brighton, Bill Hubick, Matt Haffner, Mark Hoffman, Ron Gutberlet, Mikey and Jo Lutmerding, Leo Weigant and Karen Caruso, Joe Hanfman, Kevin Graff, Fred Shaeffer, Jeff Shenot, Jeff Culler and so many more...

It's been a great adventure so far. You never know who you will meet or what you will find: 


All friends and treasures we never would have met without birds!  Birding has introduced us to an amazing set of people who we, likely, would have never met without sharing an interest in seeing and conserving birds and bird habitat. 

With such good friends, who could imagine a happier (bird) couple?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Number One should be Birding!

Came across this lovely reminder of how happy people operate here

And although it has nothing to do with birding, I found it a good reminder that you are in control of your own happiness!  

The 21 Habits of Happy People.....

Appreciate Life

Be thankful that you woke up alive each morning. Develop a childlike sense of wonder towards life. Focus on the beauty of every living thing. Make the most of each day. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
2. Choose Friends Wisely

Surround yourself with happy, positive people who share your values and goals. Friends that have the same ethics as you will encourage you to achieve your dreams. They help you to feel good about yourself. They are there to lend a helping hand when needed.
3. Be Considerate

Accept others for who they are as well as where they are in life. Respect them for who they are. Touch them with a kind and generous spirit. Help when you are able, without trying to change the other person. Try to brighten the day of everyone you come into contact with.
4. Learn Continuously

Keep up to date with the latest news regarding your career and hobbies. Try new and daring things that has sparked your interest – such as dancing, skiing, surfing or sky-diving.
5. Creative Problem Solving

Don’t wallow in self-pity. As soon as you face a challenge get busy finding a solution. Don’t let the set backs affect your mood, instead see each new obstacle you face as an opportunity to make a positive change. Learn to trust your gut instincts – it’s almost always right.
6. Do What They Love

Some statistics show that 80% of people dislike their jobs! No wonder there’s so many unhappy people running around. We spend a great deal of our life working. Choose a career that you enjoy – the extra money of a job you detest isn’t worth it. Make time to enjoy your hobbies and pursue special interests.
7. Enjoy Life

Take the time to see the beauty around you. There’s more to life than work. Take time to smell the roses, watch a sunset or sunrise with a loved one, take a walk along the seashore, hike in the woods etc. Learn to live in the present moment and cherish it. Don’t live in the past or the future.
8. Laugh

Don’t take yourself – or life to seriously. You can find humor in just about any situation. Laugh at yourself – no one’s perfect. When appropriate laugh and make light of the circumstances. (Naturally there are times that you should be serious as it would be improper to laugh.)
9. Forgive

Holding a grudge will hurt no one but you. Forgive others for your own peace of mind. When you make a mistake – own up to it – learn from it – and FORGIVE yourself.
10. Gratitude

Develop an attitude of gratitude. Count your blessings; All of them – even the things that seem trivial. Be grateful for your home, your work and most importantly your family and friends. Take the time to tell them that you are happy they are in your life.
11. Invest in Relationships

Always make sure your loved ones know you love them even in times of conflict. Nurture and grow your relationships with your family and friends by making the time to spend with them. Don’t break your promises to them. Be supportive.
12. Keep Their Word

Honesty is the best policy. Every action and decision you make should be based on honesty. Be honest with yourself and with your loved ones.
13. Meditate

Meditation gives your very active brain a rest. When it’s rested you will have more energy and function at a higher level. Types of meditation include yoga, hypnosis, relaxation tapes, affirmations, visualization or just sitting in complete silence. Find something you enjoy and make the time to practice daily.
14. Mind Their Own Business

Concentrate on creating your life the way you want it. Take care of you and your family. Don’t get overly concerned with what other people are doing or saying. Don’t get caught up with gossip or name calling. Don’t judge. Everyone has a right to live their own life the way they want to – including you.
15. Optimism

See the glass as half full. Find the positive side of any given situation. It’s there – even though it may be hard to find. Know that everything happens for a reason, even though you may never know what the reason is. Steer clear of negative thoughts. If a negative thought creeps in – replace it with a positive thought.
16. Love Unconditionally

Accept others for who they are. You don’t put limitations on your love. Even though you may not always like the actions of your loved ones – you continue to love them.
17. Persistence

Never give up. Face each new challenge with the attitude that it will bring you one step closer to your goal. You will never fail, as long as you never give up. Focus on what you want, learn the required skills, make a plan to succeed and take action. We are always happiest while pursuing something of value to us.
18. Be Proactive

Accept what can not be changed. Happy people don’t waste energy on circumstances beyond their control. Accept your limitations as a human being. Determine how you can take control by creating the outcome you desire – rather than waiting to respond.
19. Self Care

Take care of your mind, body and health. Get regular medical check ups. Eat healthy and work out. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of water. Exercise your mind by continually energizing it with interesting and exciting challenges.
20. Self Confidence

Don’t try to be someone that you’re not. After all no one likes a phony. Determine who you are in the inside – your own personal likes and dislikes. Be confident in who you are. Do the best you can and don’t second guess yourself.
21. Take Responsibility

Happy people know and understand that they are 100% responsible for their life. They take responsibility for their moods, attitude, thoughts, feelings, actions and words. They are the first to admit when they’ve made a mistake.
Begin today by taking responsibility for your happiness. Work on developing these habits as you own. The more you incorporate the above habits into your daily lifestyle – the happier you will be.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Life list

Birders keep lists for all sorts of reasons. Some of it is competition, to be sure, as in - I'm #1 in bird species in Maryland this year, or I've photographed more species of birds in Tuvalu than anyone!!!

But there are other, more altruistic reasons, as well. Bird records help us keep track of when migratory species arrive and leave each year, and whether that is changing, and to record shifts in bird populations. They also make sure rare birds are properly noted and verified.

Finally, bird records serve as memories. Warren recently had the pleasure of shifting the bulk of his records from a program named AviSys (which he still uses for specialty records, like our Appalachian Trail bird list) to eBird. Birdcouple was able to relive past birding trips to the Florida Keys, Namibia, India, Arizona and elsewhere.

The bottom line? Warren has seen 1,056 of the world's approximately 10,000 bird species, with records of at least one bird in more than 30 countries. Lovely Lisa is not far behind, with about 900 species.

Photo by Glen Tepke
Warren's 1000th bird was a Gray-lined Hawk, soaring over the Parque Natural Metropolitano in Panama City, Panama. What a great Millennium Bird.!!
That's all for now. Gotta go find more birds....

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Afghan postcards, Part 2

Spanish Sparrow

Back in June, we posted about BBF (Birdcouple Best Friend) Peter Kaestner, who is in Afghanistan. It will come as no surprise that Peter has already built a super Afghanistan list of 110 birds (last we heard).

If he finds a species that no one has ever seen in Afghanistan before, we will be unsurprised.

Here are a few recent shots he kindly shared.  (For the record, Warren's Afghanistan list is five species: Common Myna, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Eurasian Magpie, Laughing Dove and Rose-Ringed Parakeet.

Desert Warbler

Eurasian Skylark
     And a distant Northern Lapwing:
Peter helpfully informed us that the fruit in the last post is a Persimmon, not a Crabapple. The man knows everything.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fall Birds

Palm Warbler
This is fall:
IN: Palm Warblers and Yellow-Rumps
OUT: All other warblers
IN: Sparrows and Juncos:
OUT: Tanagers and Vireos
IN: Kinglets, Sapsuckers and Ducks
OUT: Orioles, Flycatchers and Swallows
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Brown Thrasher
American Kestrel (eating Katydid?)

Someone is not happy that it just rained.
Mr. Bunny, bring back spring soon!
(Most photos taken at Point Lookout State Park).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Spy birds?!!!

Further proof the Middle East is way messed up...

Israeli eagles dangerously endangered by pesticides, electrical wires and poachers now apparently face a new threat: Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

Hezbollah’s al-Manar website recently boasted of capturing an eagle that carried an Israel-labeled transmission device on its back and claimed the bird was an Israeli spy. It said hunters in central Lebanon shot down the bird and found devices on it as well as a copper ring on its leg that reads “Israel” in English followed by letters that refer to Tel Aviv University. The fate of the eagle remains unclear.

Israeli ornithologist Yossi Leshem said Thursday he was tracking the bird for research and was “incredibly frustrated” it was harmed. Leshem, a Tel Aviv university professor, has specialized in the Bonelli’s Eagle for decades and said they are in great peril with just nine pairs of mating age remaining in Israel.

“The whole field of conservation is based on regional cooperation and not this nonsense,” said Leshem, who collaborates on several projects with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists. “It’s not enough that they kill people, now they are killing birds too.”

Leshem said Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Turkey all have targeted migrating birds from Israel in the past and made similar unfounded espionage accusations.

Egyptian authorities, for instance, recently detained a stork that was tagged with a tracking device and claimed it was spying for Israel. Previously, Egypt has accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of training sharks to reach the Sinai Peninsula to harm tourism there.

“Every time a migrating bird from Israel, carrying a satellite transmitter or a ring, is captured by one of the neighboring countries, it is immediately thought to be the instrument of a sophisticated spy work by the Israeli Mossad,” Leshem wrote in a recent essay after an Israeli common kestrel was captured and investigated by Turkey. “All the countries mentioned employ the same methods of research and use the same electronic devices in tracking birds and mammals in their studies, and yet the paranoia persists in the Middle East. - AP

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Great Birding Projects

   Birdcouple has been remiss in not giving a shout out to Paul Baicich's new birding initiative and website, Great Birding Projects.
   Paul, one of our mentors, is always thinking outside the box on how to make birding about more than IDs, lists and ticks. Whether it be carbon offset birding, bird friendly coffee, the problem of diversity in the birding community, he pushes for a holistic view of birding and conservation.
  So, check out his site and sign up for his very useful and instructive e-mail newsletter. We love it.
  Paul writes: 
"New birding" must involve engaged bird education to reach not only the young but also adults as well as communities of diversity. Going beyond old birding means engaging new approaches to avitourism, creative conservation reaching diverse audiences, enriching the birding festival experience, and making bird education an integral part of the new birding. Birding will also have to respond to times of economic stress, climate change, shifting American demographics, and limited access.
BC couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bird art

Last month, we took an excellent young birder, Chris Berry, son of some good friends of ours and Papa Carl's, to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. (Click on that link and you will go to the Wikipedia page, the refuge's webpage is shut down due to .. the government shutdown).

Chris had a great time - so did we! - and he saw lots of new life birds. After he got home, he made us these amazing drawings of some of the birds we'd seen, proving that he's not only a keen birder, but an aspiring bird artist as well.

Someday, he could be the winner of the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest:

This year, that honor went to Adam Grimm, with this absolutely stunning painting of a male and female Canvasback. We cannot wait to buy the stamp next June!

Adam is now a 2-time "Duck Stamp" contest winner. His website, filled with lots of other wonderful art, can be found here.

Bird art - almost as good as the real thing.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Farewell (for now) shorebirds and herons

For the last 6 weeks, we have been enjoying the annual spectacle of sandpipers, stilts, dowitchers, herons, egrets and more making their annual southward - OK, homeward - migration. A few are still making their way through, but it is almost October now, and soon the waterfowl and sparrows will be with us.

A brief look back:

Least Sandpiper
 Semipalmated Sandpiper
Immature Little Blue Heron and Great Egret
Solitary Sandpiper
Now it is time for Birdcouple to do our fall hike on the Appalachian Trail. No shorebirds there. Well ... you never know!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Ebird function we've all been waiting for!!!!!

Hotspot happiness. eBird has just released a new function that allows you to remotely visit your favorite birding hotspots - or a new one you want to check out - and see all the species that have been seen there recently. Or this year. Or in prior years. 

It also shows you when a given species was last seen at the site; the top birders for each hotspot, and who among your birding friends has been visiting recently.

Here's a link with more info..

And here's an example of how it works, using the Cape May, NJ, Hawk Watch platform as an example:

Birdcouple is going to be using this a lot, as is, we expect the entire eBirding community.

We love Hotspots. Like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bluebirds for Hump Day

Our pals down the road, Vencka and Louis, have been trying for years to create a home for Bluebirds in their yard.   After several years and with many house hunting birds checking out the boxes and moving along, 2013 was finally the year for a family to settle in.

And, Vencka is like a proud Momma giving out cigars celebrating!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fall migration is upon us

Yes, it's that time of year on the East Coast, with warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes and grosbeaks flooding back through, on their way south after (we hope) a successful breeding season.

These birds can be confusing to identify sometimes, scruffy looking juveniles and warblers in fall colors that look nothing like what they looked like when we saw them a few short months ago in May.

There's no mistaking this male Baltimore Oriole, however. Warren found him on a walkabout at Milford Mill Park in ... Baltimore.

To celebrate the change of seasons, Birdcouple has spruced up the blog a bit. Scroll down the right-hand bar, and you will see a new Public Service Announcement for the Duck Stamp, as well as an "Eye in the Sky" award conferred upon us by the good folks at Perky Pet birdfeeders. They liked Warren's shot of a rare Maryland Swallow-Tailed Kite.

Happy September, and good birding out there.

- Birdcouple

Monday, September 2, 2013

Discover BirdNote!

Birding buddy and conservationist extraordinaire Paul Baicich was over to the LoveNest for dinner the other night and told us all about BirdNote, a  daily, two-minute radio show (and podcast and Internet feed) about birds that comes out of Seattle and airs on about 200 public radio stations nationwide.

The sections are short, informational and packed with bird sound, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We have added the widget to the Birdcouple site (down there on the right-hand bar), so you can listen right here. Or go directly to their website at birdnote.org. There are great bird photos along with the lovely sounds!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thank You, Pipit!

Pipit, Birdcouple's main birding transportation, is so named because after we first bought her, we saw American Pipits on our first two birding trips with her. She passed a big milestone earlier this month - 100k miles in less than 4 years.

Pipit is a 2010 Ford Escape hybrid, gets 35+ miles to the gallon, and is the perfect birding and adventure car. When we are creeping along a country road, looking or listening at birds, her gas engine kicks off and the electric battery kicks in - she goes quiet, and the birds hardly know we are there.

She's a beaut:

She has taken us on hiking and related adventures from Maine to far southwest Virginia, ferried Mitch and Adam to and from colleges, and has gotten us safely to find birds in every county in Maryland, and beyond. All without complaint or major problem.

Here's a snap from one of Warren's recent outings, a Swallow-Tailed Kite, his 355th species seen in Maryland. Thanks, Pipit!

Monday, August 19, 2013

NY Times on eBird: Crowdsourcing, for the Birds

August 19, 2013

HELENA, Mont. — On a warm morning not long ago on the shore of a small prairie lake outside this state capital, Bob Martinka trained his spotting scope on a towering cottonwood tree heavy with blue heron nests. He counted a dozen of the tall, graceful birds and got out his smartphone, not to make a call but to type the number of birds and the species into an app that sent the information to researchers in New York. 

Mr. Martinka, a retired state wildlife biologist and an avid bird-watcher, is part of the global ornithological network eBird. Several times a week he heads into the mountains to scan lakes, grasslands, even the local dump, and then reports his sightings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a nonprofit organization based at Cornell University. 

 “I see rare gulls at the dump quite frequently,” Mr. Martinka said, scanning a giant mound of bird-covered trash. 

Tens of thousands of birders are now what the lab calls “biological sensors,” turning their sightings into digital data by reporting where, when and how many of which species they see. Mr. Martinka’s sighting of a dozen herons is a tiny bit of information, but such bits, gathered in the millions, provide scientists with a very big picture: perhaps the first crowdsourced, real-time view of bird populations around the world. 

Birds are notoriously hard to count. While stationary sensors can measure things like carbon dioxide levels and highway traffic, it takes people to note the type and number of birds in an area. Until the advent of eBird, which began collecting daily global data in 2002, so-called one-day counts were the only method. 

While counts like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey bring a lot of people together on one day to make bird observations across the country, and are scientifically valuable, they are different because they don’t provide year-round data.

And eBird’s daily view of bird movements has yielded a vast increase in data — and a revelation for scientists. The most informative product is what scientists call a heat map: a striking image of the bird sightings represented in various shades of orange according to their density, moving through space and time across black maps. Now, more than 300 species have a heat map of their own. 

“As soon as the heat maps began to come out, everybody recognized this is a game changer in how we look at animal populations and their movement,” said John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab. “Really captivating imagery teaches us more effectively.” 

It was long believed, for example, that the United States had just one population of orchard orioles. Heat maps showed that the sightings were separated by a gap, meaning there are not one but two genetically distinct populations. 

Moreover, the network offers a powerful way to capture data that was lost in the old days. “People for generations have been accumulating an enormous amount of information about where birds are and have been,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “Then it got burned when they died.” 

No longer: eBird has compiled 141 million reports, or bits, and the number is increasing by 40 percent a year. In May, eBird gathered a record 5.6 million new observations from 169 countries. (Mr. Martinka’s sighting of 12 herons at once, for example, is considered one species observation, or bit.) 

The system also offers incentives for birders to stay involved, with apps that enable them to keep their life lists (records of the species they have seen), compare their sightings with those of friends (and rivals), and know where to look for birds they haven’t seen before. 

“When you get off the plane and turn your phone on,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said, “you can find out what has been seen near you over the last seven days and ask it to filter out the birds you haven’t seen yet, so with a quick look you can add to your life list.” 

The system is not without problems. Citizen scientists may not be as precise in reporting data as experienced researchers are, like the ones in the Breeding Bird Survey. Cornell has tried to solve that problem by hiring top birders to travel around the world to train people like Mr. Martinka in methodology. And 500 volunteer experts read the submissions for accuracy, rejecting about 2 percent. Rare-bird sightings get special scrutiny. 

The engine that makes eBird data usable is machine learning, or artificial intelligence — a combination of software and hardware that sorts through disparities, gaps and flaws in data collection, improving as it goes along. 

“Machine learning says, ‘I know these data are sloppy, but fortunately there’s a lot of it,’ ” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “It takes chunks of these data and sorts through to find patterns in the noise. These programs are learning as they go, testing and refining and getting better and better.” 

Still, some experts question eBird’s validity. John Sauer, a wildlife biologist with the United States Geological Survey, says that bird-watchers’ reports lack scientific rigor. Rather than randomness, he said, “you get a lot of observations from where people like to go.” And he doubts that Cornell has proved the reliability of its machine learning efforts. 

Still, the information has promise, he said, “and it’s played a powerful role in coordinating birders for recording observations, and encouraging bird-watching.” 

 And the data are being used by a wide array of researchers and conservationists. Cagan H. Sekercioglu, a professor of ornithology at the University of Utah who has used similar bird-watching data in his native Turkey to study the effects of climate change on birds, called eBird “a phenomenal resource” and said that it was “getting young people involved in natural history, which might seem slow and old-fashioned in the age of instant online gratification.” 

Data about bird populations can help scientists understand other changes in the natural world and be a marker for the health of overall biodiversity. “Birds are great indicators because they occur in all environments,” said Steve Kelling, the director of information science at the Cornell bird lab. 

A decline in Eastern meadowlarks in part of New York State, for example, suggests that their habitat is shrinking — bad news for other species that depend on the same habitat. In California, eBird data is being used by some planners to decide where cities and towns should steer development. 

The data is also being combined with radar and weather data by BirdCast, another Cornell bird lab project that forecasts migration patterns with the aim of protecting birds as they move through a gantlet of threats. “We can predict migration events that would be usable for the timing of wind generation facilities to be turned off at night,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. 

In California, biologists use the migration data to track waterfowl at critical times. When the birds are headed through the Central Valley, for example, they can ask rice farmers to flood their fields to create an improvised wetland habitat before the birds arrive. “The resolution is at such a level of detail they can make estimates of where species occur almost at a field-by-field level,” Mr. Kelling said. 

EBird data has been used in Britain, too, combined with that of a similar program called BirdTrack, which uses radar images, weather models and even data from microphones on top of buildings to record the sounds of migrating birds at night. 

And for bird-watchers, the eBird project has given their pastime a new sense of purpose. “It’s a really neat tool,” Mr. Martinka said. “If you see one bird or a thousand, it’s significant.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bad Boys of Birding...

Men's Journal currently has on feature on the most irrelevant World Series of Birding team....

My trick is I wake up early, smoke a lot of weed, and start drinking by 10," Rodney Johnson says, lighting an American Spirit and pulling out from the parking lot of a strip-mall sushi restaurant in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. It's minutes before midnight, the official start of the 30th annual World Series of Birding – a 24-hour competition held every May in which upwards of 1,000 international birders race around the Garden State, in teams averaging four people, trying to identify as many bird species as possible – and Johnson, captain of the three-man Diving Dabblers, is explaining how....

Read the article here: http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/bad-news-birders-20130812#ixzz2by8Vu8w7

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In the garden...

Birdcouple has done a few low-key birding trips lately, to some our favorite local hangouts like Jug Bay Natural Wetlands Area, Pickering Creek Audubon Center and Swan Creek. It's been a bit slow, but shorebird migration is slowly kicking into gear, to be followed by passerine migration.

And of course another major bird event, the Baltimore RAVENS home opener.

But we digress. We have also had a lot of fun exploring our garden - Lisa's garden, we should say, as Warren only mows the grass - a little more closely than ever, as we build our Lovenest biodiversity list.

Today, Warren found this spider hanging out by the front door. (It is spider season out there!). It's fairly common - a Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider - but we had never noticed one in the garden before.

Meanwhile, Lisa's plantings, in this case Joe Pye Weed, seem to have attracted half the butterflies in Anne Arundel County. Look closely below- there are 10, 12 or more Tiger Swallowtails in the picture.  We only recently learned that the dark one is not a separate species, but the female Swallowtail.

(Sorry for the lame BlackBerry-taken photos).

A weekend with time to discover the garden. Bliss!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Duck stamp: nice boost from the Cornell Lab, and a new PSA

Good stuff for all of us Duck Stamp lovers. and important reminders about how .. well, important! ... the stamp is to birders, conservationists and birder-conservationists like Birdcouple.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has done a really nice blog on "Eight Reasons to Love the New Migratory Bird Stamp." Among them:

_ $850 million for conservation and counting.

_ A79-year tradition of beautiful art.

_ A bargain at $15.

Check it out. There's also a really nice Google map with the nation's National Wildlife Refuges and the percentage of lands paid for with duck stamp funds.

... And, that image up there is a Public Service Announcement that is ran on the back insider cover of Bird Observer, the New England Birding Journal.

The word is spreading! Onward.....

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Appalachian Trail birds

Credit: Steve Faccio, Vermont Center for Ecostudies
  We're just back from a 98.6 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts and Vermont. Princess will blog about the hike itself on BC's AT Blog, but we thought we would talk about our bird encounters here.
  We scored two new species for our life lists, the Black-Backed Woodpecker and, most cool, Bicknell's Thrush. Bicknell's, only recognized as a separate species from Grey-Cheeked Thrush a few decades ago, has one of the most restricted breeding and wintering ranges of any North American bird. We heard and saw it on one of its breeding territories - at the top of Vermont's Stratton Mountain, elevation 3900 feet and change. Yes, we climbed up there!
 We learned a lot about the bird and Bicknell's studies from Jean, the caretaker at the top of the mountain. More info on this amazing bird is available from the US Fish & Wildlife Service here
All told, as we have hiked from Virginia to Vermont, we have identified 120 species along the Appalachian Trail, from the expected woodland species to a Common Loon (also in Vermont), Great Blue Herons and ducks at the pond in Boiling Springs, PA. Here's the list, arranged taxonomically:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Ruffed Grouse
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Woodcock
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech-Owl
Barred Owl
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Bicknell's Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Saturday, July 13, 2013

We haven't gone away...

Just gone hiking!! Click that button up there for details.

We already have Winter Wren, Swainson's Thrush. Veery, BT Green and BT Blue warblers on this section of our AT hike in Massachusetts. Back soon.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Breaking the summer birding doldrums

Lisa and I were just bemoaning how slow the birding gets in Maryland in June and July. Then we get word of a Painted Bunting in nearby Glenn Dale, Maryland. We were on it as soon as we could, and it didn't take long to find. This isn't the first Painted Bunting we have seen in Maryland - it's the 3rd or 4th, but it's the first in mid-summer and the first time we've ever heard one singing.

Boy, does that cure the summer birding blahs!!!!
Here are a few other random photos from what's been a hot, hot summer so far:
A Marsh Wren on Elliott Island Road in Dorchester County
Turtle (Red-Eared Slider?) at Fort Smallwood State Park
                                                  Unidentified dragonfly, Elliott Island Road
Cliff Swallows nesting at the Sykesville Bridge
Damselfly at Patapsco State Park

The Princess liked this sign by the Painted Bunting spot. She saw and started to boogie..