Saturday, June 29, 2013

Postcard from Afghanistan

Our dear friend Peter Kaestner is in Afghanistan for a bit. The birding is not great, he tells us, but there are always some birds around. Here are some snapshots he sent us, and they look pretty neat to Birdcouple:

A young Little Ringed Plover
A European Roller. Great photos!
 And a scary looking European Bee-eater.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The NY Times on the Duck Stamp: "Rising to Glory on the Wings of Ducks"

June 29 update to this post: the new duck stamps are now on sale. More info at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Quick post about a lovely New York Times article this week on the "Duck Stamp" and the artists who draw them. Click here for the article and here for a neat slideshow of duck stamps over the decades.

Now, here's the what the Times has to say. And remember, it's that time of year: BUY THAT STAMP!

Rising to Glory on the Wings of Ducks

Robert Steiner is not a household name, but on Friday, with the issue of the new federal duck stamp, he begins a yearlong run as one of the most visible artists in the United States.       
Last October, his acrylic painting of a duck known as the common goldeneye beat 191 other artists’ works in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual Duck Stamp Contest — the only art competition mandated by the federal government. As a result, his painting will appear on the 80th stamp in a series that began in the early days of the New Deal.
If you paint ducks, this is the big one. “Overnight you become a superstar in the wildlife art world,” said Mark S. Anderson, an artist in Sioux Falls, S.D., who won the 2004 contest with a painting of two hooded mergansers. “In music you have the Grammys. If you’re an actor, it’s the Oscars. If you’re a wildlife artist, it’s winning the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.”
If past sales are any guide, about a million and a half people will buy the $15 revenue stamp, which will be formally introduced in a ceremony at the Bass Pro Shops in Ashland, Va. Duck hunters, who are required to put the stamp on their hunting licenses, account for most of the sales. But stamp collectors, conservationists and fans of wildlife art also buy it. The image will reach a wider audience through prints, which duck stamp winners sell by the thousands, as well as T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, mouse pads, calendars and other memorabilia licensed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The prestige is gratifying. The money isn’t bad, either.
“They used to call it the million-dollar duck,” said Mr. Steiner, who lives in San Francisco. Winners receive no prize money, only a pane of stamps signed by the secretary of the Interior, but they retain the rights to sell prints of their work. After winning his first federal contest in 1997 with a painting of a Barrow’s goldeneye, Mr. Steiner sold 6,000 prints, at prices that started at $200 and reached $1,000 for a print with a remarque (a small original drawing by the artist, usually of the winning duck in a different pose). When the market for limited-edition duck stamp prints was at its peak, in the mid-1980s, sales could approach $2 million.
The contest grew out of the 1934 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, aimed at reversing the drastic shrinkage of the nation’s wetlands. Hunters 16 and over were required to buy a $1 stamp, with the money going to a special account, the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which is used to lease or buy wetlands for the National Wildlife Refuge System.
“It’s the single greatest idea that the federal government has ever had,” said Martin J. Smith, whose book “The Wild Duck Chase” chronicles the 2010 Federal Duck Stamp Contest. “It’s a simple idea: the people who use the resource pay for the resource. It’s a $450,000 program that brings in annual revenues of $25 million, and 98 percent of that is used for what it’s supposed to — acquiring wetlands. It’s a beautiful thing.”
To date, the program has raised more than $850 million to help acquire six million acres of wildlife habitat.
The contest, which costs $125 to enter, usually proceeds without incident. In 2008, however, 3.5 million copies of the 75th-anniversary stamp, with an image of pintail ducks by Joseph Hautman, were printed on cards with a toll-free telephone number for those wishing to order more stamps. Because of an input error, 1-800-STAMP24 became 1-800-TRAMP24. Callers who used the number reached Intimate Connections, a phone-sex line.
“The stamp is perfectly usable,” a spokeswoman for the duck stamp program said. “It will just be a lot more interesting for people now.”
Success has not brought recognition among the wider public, even though nearly every state, at one time or another, has set up a duck stamp program on the federal model. (Mr. Steiner has won 82 state contests.) It was a rare, highly gratifying moment at duck stamp headquarters in Arlington, Va., when the movie “Fargo” was released in 1996 and sneaked in a duck stamp subplot involving Norm Gunderson, the husband of Marge, the police chief played by Frances McDormand.
It was a family in-joke. Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmakers, grew up in Minneapolis, a few houses away from the Hautman brothers — Joseph, James and Robert — who among them have won eight contests since 1990. In the film a blue-winged teal by one of the brothers, mentioned only as Hautman, beats Norm’s mallard.
Mr. Steiner’s painting, which conforms to the contest size of 7 inches by 10 inches, reflects the photorealist style that currently holds sway in the contest. The central image is big, bold and highly detailed. The colors are bright, with strong contrast. The design is simple.
Depicted close-up, the duck, with a large, velvety green head and piercing orange eye, floats placidly on dark, rippling water. Six spare reeds stick up behind the black tailfeathers. A diffuse, purple-gray sky sets a twilight mood.
“I try to bathe things in a warm light,” Mr. Steiner said. “I am not a fan of cool daylight. I’m trying to do for ducks what Vermeer did for Dutch women in the 17th century.”
The earliest stamps in the contest, single-color engravings based on pen-and-ink drawings, tended to show birds on the wing, in crowded compositions that somehow squeezed seven or eight ducks or geese onto a stamp measuring 1 ¾ inches wide and 1 ½ inches tall.
Over time, the look of the stamps changed. Loose, sketchy drawings evolved into tightly rendered paintings, with precise accounts of every feather. The scenes became less crowded.
“It does get a little boring,” said Russell Fink, a dealer in wildlife and sporting art, and an author of “Duck Stamp Prints,” a collector’s guide. “You don’t get the kind of painting you’d like to hang on the wall, with a half a dozen ducks.”
That would change if Rob McBroom, the joker in the deck, breaks through with a win one day. In a Dadaist gesture, Mr. McBroom has submitted duck paintings for the last decade executed in a style he calls “lowbrow surrealist.” This year he entered a painting of four common goldeneyes, using materials like glitter, rhinestones, flock, glass microbeads and google eyes. “I think there might have been nail polish,” he said.
As usual, the judges voted him down. Mr. McBroom’s feathers remained unruffled. Surveying his future prospects, he made a cheery prediction: “There’s no way that mine are going to win.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

15 new bird species??!!

Don't know how Birdcouple missed this one. Ornithologists have recently described 15 new avian species discovered and studied in Brazil's Amazon rain forest. And they look really cool:

(All photo credits to Vitor de Q. Piacentini)

According to this article in Wired magazine, this is the largest number of new species described in Brazil since 1871.

Wired goes on to say this: "Discovered mostly within the last five years, in southern swaths of forest, many of the birds live near rivers. Eleven can only be found in Brazil; four of the species have also been seen in Peru and Bolivia. Most are Passeriformes, belonging to an order that includes ravens, sparrows, and finches."

Wonder what they are going to call this:

To our eye, this bird looks reminiscent of a Vireo. But researchers say it resembles the Black-Capped Antwren:

Reminder to selves:  more good reasons (as if they were needed) to save the Amazonian rain forests.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Training of Alvin...

Please feast your eyes on the cutest little being ever. 


Yes, babies are cute and all.  Puppies and kittens pretty adorable.  But, Chipmunks... come on!  You really don't get much better than chipmunks. 

Every year I attempt to hand feed one in the LoveNest yard.   In the past, I admit to not being quite as dedicated or as consistent in my training.  I name them all Alvin each year without knowing if it is the same little striped rodent or not. 

Ok, so before you send me 100s of email about how I am going to get bit and then get rabies.... remind yourself that I am the Snow White of the yard.   The female half of the amazing BC!  Perhaps even a Warg.

Without further ado... here is Alvin approximately 1 week from eating out of my hand.

 Check back in a few weeks to see the mangled mess of my hand from a hospital bed getting intraveneous antibiotics and rabies medication...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

She Says She is not into Birding...

So, I have a best buddy who is the most insanely lovely gal a gal could ask for in a pal.  Cute Husband is such a good husband, he puts up with our excessive wine consumption, constant texting and giggling about the most inane silly stuff. 
So, Kari asks me about this birding thing... she just doesn't get it.  What is the appeal?  I try to explain that it is kind of like searching for the perfect dress all through the mall... and then once you find it - on sale - you are so happy and exhilarated by the hunt.  Yes, she says, but the mall has air condition and I don't think you can get Lyme's Disease in the mall....
So... Kari is still in training...
But, I know my gal pal loves birds because they are painted all over her body. evening after too much wine and chocolate, I documented the birds that make up the art on Kari.
Maybe a Mountain BlueBird
A Barn Swallow with a humming bird bill
A Grosbeak of some variety...
Kari in her natural habitat...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Finally.... bees!

I sadly lost both my hives last summer and have been patiently (because that is how I am- ask Cute Husband!) waiting for my new hives to arrive. 

Well,  after continuous calls (some might call it harassment) to the bee guy and constant moaning that the LoveNest yard was practically an empty desolate wasteland which only hosted inferior insects....
My Girls are HERE!
This is Iona, the goddess of mystery.  Iona the Enchantress. Italian bees who were so calm when I put them in their new home, I almost climbed in with them.  One decided to join me today in my hood. Naturally, I only noticed after I was fully zipped up, but she just calmly walked around the edge of my face without stinging me. 
I tend to prefer a little aggression.  In my bees.  Goddess Hera, girls from Russia, will help out me out there.  They were up early and busy hours before Iona. 

Bees rock - plus you get to wear a costume!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Birds of Panama, Part 2: Trogons

Violaceous Trogon
Some of the most beautiful birds we saw on our trip last month to Panama and the Canopy Tower ecolodge were tropical Trogons (Trogonidae), which are not only beautiful, color and fairly easy to identify, but have a lovely habit of staying still for quite a while even when people are near. Result: decent photos!
Hmm.. Tropical Trogons - sounds like a great name for a rock band. But we digress. Here are some more of the members of Trogonidae we saw in and around Panama's Canal Zone and Soberania National Park:

Black-Throated Trogon, Female

 Violaceous Trogon, Female

Slaty-Tailed Trogon
No, that's not a trogon. In case you were getting bored, we threw in a Red-Capped Manakin just for fun. This was the best pic Warren could get of the bird, which stayed deep in the vegetation off Pipeline Road.
Bye for now...