Monday, January 28, 2008

Tricky Identifications

Last night I had a question about a sparrow identification (Please see blog post below from Sunday). By any stretch, it was a SONG SPARROW. But there was this issue with those darker-than-normal flanks. This bird had a thicker-than-song-like body (probably due to cold weather) and oh, I'm sure there were 10 other things that my mind could have tricked me into seeing while in the field. It only gets worse though, when this misidentification continues with photographic evidence.The moral of the story is to pay attention to all of the details when in the field, take a photo (if at all possible) and have ask those who know and have experience. It's the best way, I've found, to learn. In my Volvo Bird-Mobile Station Wagon, I always have several Field Guides.

Sibley: Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America? It's in there!
Kaufman Field Guide to Birds Of North America? Check.
National Wildlife Federation Guide? You bet.
Raptors of Eastern North America, Wheeler Guides? I just got it and really enjoy it.
Hawks From Every Angle? I'm pretty sure that it's under the passenger seat!
MOS Yellowbook? What County Lister doesn't have one?
Duck Stamp? It's a must have for every birder.

Truth be told, I'm just beginning this County listing thing. What better way to learn the birds and our amazing State? On a side note, my bird mobile is a 'turbo-wagon'. This feature helps when I am chasing a rare bird sighting.

So how about a quiz?

Can you tell me what's wrong with this photo? I found this bird (bag of coffee) at the Annapolis Whole Foods. The Bird Couple and the Haas Family like to refer to this store as, "Whole Paycheck."If this isn't reason enough to get your ALWAYS fresh-roasted coffee beans from Caffe Pronto in Annapolis, I just don't know what is!

I do think that the proceeds from this mislabeled coffee go to a very bird-friendly cause, so please don't stop buying because of the mistaken identity! Personally, I find the NORTHERN PARULA to be a strikingly attractive bird. Maybe I'll draw one with crayons and send it to this coffee shop?

Finally, my apologies for labeling those NORTHERN PINTAILS as LONG TAILED DUCKS. But, c'mon now it was late... and they BOTH had long tails. Geez... those details! I did correctly enter NORTHERN PINTAIL into my eBird Sunday evening before I wrote my blog.

Thorough, detailed but always GOOD Birding to you...


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Afternoons in Blackwater

Master Coffee Roaster and Avid Birder Andy Sprenger, along with his fine young son James, accompanied me to BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE on Maryland's Eastern Shore this afternoon. We got there around 2PM. I would highly recommend visiting this National treasure at this time of day, as the crowds were all but gone. We had the refuge almost all to ourselves.


We travelled all over the refuge, driving the loop and then headed South for the sunset SEOW SHOW. Our goal was to see the wintering ROUGH LEGGED HAWK. We also were hoping to see those SHORT EARED OWLS fly at dusk with the NORTHERN HARRIERS at sunset. I am happy to report that we were quite successful. Yes, today we were also hoping for GOLDEN EAGLE (*that would've been my third lifer for the weekend), but we couldn't find one.


As evening approached, we noticed that there was a controlled burn of the marsh taking place on the distant Eastern horizon. It got darker as the sun set and the flames became clearly visible. Now picture this: a SHORT EARED OWL hunting over the marsh, turning upwards and then diving down in the grass after some prey. The sky behind the owl was a deep blue and smokey gray, contrasted boldly by the bright oranges and reds of the distant flames. If ONLY I could've captured that sight with my camera.


Highlights of our afternoon included, but were not limited to, watching thousands of SNOW GEESE fly in, seeing Blackwater's famous BALD EAGLES, the plentiful numbers of low-flying NORTHERN HARRIERS, a few dozen NORTHERN PIN TAILS and COMMON MERGANSERS, and this tricky SPARROW identification. We went over the possibilities and had second, third and fourth thoughts about this particular bird.


Thank you to all who confirmed the ID.




I just had to TRY! Despite the limitations of an iPhone pressed against a scope (along with my shivering frozen fingers), I hope my photo offers you a better idea of the scene on this dusky Carroll County hillside. This owl was the first to appear (far, far away perched on top of a dead tree on the horizon). Three other SHORT EARED OWLS arrived mere minutes later, presenting even better views. But it was much too dark and I was far too cold to attempt any photography.

You will not hear me complaining. TWO life birds in one weekend is a weekend well-spent!

Have a great week,


Saturday, January 26, 2008


It has been a busy, but fantastic 22 hours. I went Friday evening for the sunset showing of "SHORT EARED OWLS flying with NORTHERN HARRIERS," in Northern Carroll County, MD. I laughed. I cried. I could see it again and again! It was well worth the hour and half drive. It was so far from Annapolis, that I could see skiers on Ski Rountop in my scope!

At close range, watching SHORT EARED OWLS fly low and quiet over the fields is awe-inspiring. And to witness their aerial engagements and acrobatics with the Harriers, well that is entirely something else!

I did manage to get lost on the way home, adding an extra hour to my trip home. (Sorry Emery!) Yeah, I knew I was causing some trouble for my friends and lovely wife when I saw a "Welcome to Pennsylvania!" sign. Argh!

This morning, after changing Declan, eating breakfast, drinking coffee and cleaning the house, I decided to go and see a NORTHERN SAW WHET OWL (NSWO) that has been roosting in Rockville. On the way over, there was a ton of traffic on the DC Beltway. Imagine that? So while I was parked on 495, I pulled out the iPhone and checked MDOSPREY for the latest bird sightings. Apparently, the WHITE WINGED CROSSBILL that was a regular in December, had reappeared to a back porch in Silver Spring near the Sligo Creek Parkway.

Noah, the homeowner, had posted at 11:30 AM. Lucky for me, I was stuck in traffic at the Silver Spring exit. It was now 12:30, so I figured that the bird had long since left Noah's feeders. Rather than go nowhere fast on the beltway, I changed course and decided to search for the elusive WHITE WINGED CROSSBILL.




Got it! Eating on the feeders from the time of my arrival until when I left nearly 45 minutes later. Now... if only I had any skills as a photographer! Since I don't, and the sun didn't shine on those thistle sock feeders for more that two minutes, you'll have to just deal with these images. But know that I am learning. Bills don't get crossed in a day!Traffic let up a bit after that and I made my way over to Rockville for the NSWO.

For over twenty minutes, I walked all around that tree where the owl has been roosting... looking and looking and looking. Nothing! All of the sudden I hear, "PLOP." There, on the ground before me lay a freshly deposited OWL PELLET (amidst all of the other goodies that this cute little owl had been leaving as a sign of it's presence).



Again, I stink at photos. I could've touched the owl it was so close, but I used a zoom and stayed far away so as not to disturb the beast. Go ahead, try and make heads of tails of this owl... I can't!

If you really want to see this owl (and you know you do), visit Warren & Lisa's Blog!

Good Birding,


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Owling, Not Jowling

There have been a flurry of posts on my birding email listserv MDOSPREY regarding OWLS lately.

Owls with long ears, owls with shorts ears and owls with great horns. Owls that go screech, owls that saw whet and even owls with snow on them!

And now here I am telling the whole wide world (or to be more precise, you) the news that an EASTERN SCREECH OWL has been visiting my one of the nest boxes in my back yard.Owls need to eat, sleep, raise a family and not get eaten themselves. They enjoy their quiet time.This owl may stick around, or it might decide to only use my wooden box as an Owl Holiday Inn. EASTERN SCREECH OWLS have been known to utilize various sites for their roosting and nesting locations.And now I will leave the owl to it's business. May it raise a nice little family soon!Note: please do not confuse owling, the search for owls, with jowling. Jowling is the art of loosening one's face, nodding left to right to left, as fast as one can and taking a self-portrait!I can see where one might get confused, so please... make a note of it.

Good jOwling,


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blinking Nuthatches... the PABU is back!

Declan wanted me to tell you this important news!

Norm Saunders from the Audubon Voice of the Naturalist reports the following bird update this Tuesday, January 22, 2008!

Top bird this week: a PAINTED BUNTING (PABU) in MARYLAND.

A beautiful male PAINTED BUNTING has been frequenting feeders in the Annapolis (Anne Arundel Co, MD) area. The first report dates to Dec 29. On Jan 20, a male PAINTED BUNTING showed up in Arnold; this yard is near Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd and backs to a bike path, close to the Asquith View crossing.Apparently, our little PABU that was in Ferry Farms, just across from the US Naval Academy, has decided to migrate closer to Severna Park (my childhood home). He was last seen at a feeder off the B&A Trail, just across the street from Chesapeake Academy on B&A Blvd. The PABU first showed up on my birthday, December 18th, at Pete and Margaret's home. It was last seen (and photographed) on January 7th. Maybe there is something of interest for this colorful bird in Severna Park?

Well, if you want to see one of North America's most spectacularly-colored birds, I say to you... GO! This male PABU is stunning and well worth the trip (and yes, even the shivering out in the cold).

In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy our WHITE BREASTED NUTHATCH blinking. I did make a promise.Stay Warm!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Foxy Day at the Point

Today was cold, just ask Declan! We would happily try and describe the weather as sunny, clear, crisp, or something more inviting. But really, it was plain freezing.It was so cold... Oiseau decided to do his birding from the comfort of his kitchen window. Ba dum bum!

There were a few great birds to see (and sometimes hear) for a few brief seconds. RUBY CROWNED KINGLET, GREY CATBIRD and FIELD SPARROW, to name a few. Mostly, everything that could fly decided to stay hunkered down in the brush. Why even attempt to feed, perch, hunt or even fly on a day like today. Spring is just around the corner, right?

A RED FOX greeted me whilst I went looking for a RED SHOULDERED HAWK behind the mulching facility. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, RED FOXES are small (10-14 lbs.) dog-like animals with a sharp pointed nose, erect ears and a bushy tail. Although they can come in colors from black to blonde, they are usually red, with black legs and a white tipped tail. They are active during the day and night, and inhabit the entire state of Maryland. Like many other wildlife species, they have become "urbanized" and do quite will in urban and suburban environments. Red foxes are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and animals. Their varied diet includes insects, birds, mice, snakes, rabbits, nuts, berries and fruits.

Truth be told, the GRAY FOX is the only fox species native to Maryland. The RED FOX hung out mostly in Canada and the Northern US. Some RED FOXES did manage to migrate South, but the vast majority of them were imported from England for the sport of fox hunting.

I imagine that the fox and the hawk were in that field searching for similar meals.Oiseau mentioned that the WHITE BREASTED NUTHATCH blinks it's eyes a lot. I did snap some photos of that eyelid excitement this morning. Maybe tomorrow, if you behave, I'll post proof of our winking nuthatch!

Stay Warm,


Sunday, January 20, 2008


It's been a week since that cute little red head (the EASTERN SCREECH OWL) was last seen in our owl box. Since then, the back yard has been filled with the usual suspects. CARDINALS, DOWNY WOODPECKERS, CAROLINA WRENS, DARK EYED JUNCOS and CHICKADEES.

Yesterday morning, I looked up and thought I saw the owl. Nope... it was merely a HOUSE SPARROW.

This morning, I thought for sure that wonderful little owl was in there keeping warm in this frigid cold. Wrong again... just a SQUIRREL.I'll keep you posted. But at least now there are two homes from which to chose! One for Mom and the kids, the other for Dad. Think of it as a SCREECH OWL bachelor pad.

I'm sure he'd be watching the NFL playoffs today with a few of his man-owl buddies over for beers and mice! More than likely, he'd be pulling for the Packers and the Pats. Scientists have proven that SCREECH OWLS prefer Green Bay's Cheese Heads.

Good Birding and Stay Warm,


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Merlin in Merlind (MD)

It was a wonderful Saturday morning birding the Annapolis area. It had been some time since my last visit to the wild bird infested regions about town. Birding is a lot like riding a bicycle. It's good exercise, it doesn't harm the environment and it's relatively easy to pick it back up again after some extended time off.


Grant it, I had trouble placing the unmistakable greetings from a pair of EASTERN TOWHEES. But from the moment I stepped out of the car, it was one great bird after another. The weather was brisk, although not so windy, with a shroud of sun-blocking clouds that dimmed the lights a tad. My sincere thanks to Marshall, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and his family for allowing me to bird their magnificent property today!


I love the way that jet airliner is in the background while this falcon contemplates his next flight. The KESTREL was sitting on top of this bubble building at the mulching facility at Greenbury Point.




The Nature Trail at Greenbury Point surprised me a few weeks ago with a WHITE CROWNED SPARROW. During today's visit, that beautiful bird was there yet again, waiting for me in the exact same spot.


This HERMIT THRUSH found my presence rather interesting. I was pishing and scolding like a TUFTED TITMOUSE to the best of my ability. As bad as I'm sure it sounded, it did manage to get this bird out of the brush and into my camera.


IF I can sneak out of diaper duty tomorrow or Monday, I might try to head out for some more birds. I did want to post notice that the second EASTERN SCREECH OWL house is up and ready for occupancy. I have a crisp, well-lit photo of Adam Whitaker's new and improved Owl residence soon! There have been no sightings of our little owl since last Sunday, but I remain optimistic.These last two photos are similar in the way these falcons were staring me down. Sure, the KESTREL is a bit blurry... but in addition to the clouds, it was cold outside too! I am still trying to master my new camera. so I welcome the challenges that go along with cold, copious layers of gray clouds and whatever else mother nature sends my way.

Good birding, be well and enjoy,


Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Family Moved In To Our Yard!

This morning, while I was out in the back yard checking the feeders, I noticed that five CAROLINA CHICKADEES, four NORTHERN CARDINALS and several TUFTED TITMOUSE were going nuts around the EASTERN SCREECH OWL house. My friend Adam Whitaker put it up for me last winter. We had a bad ice storm last winter that sheared off the entire side of the tallest pine tree in our back yard. I thought it would make a nice location for an nest box.I thought for sure that squirrels or HOUSE SPARROWS would use it, but held out little hope that we'd actually get owls! Around here, it's all house sparrows these days. Even my numbers of WHITE THROATED SPARROWS in the yard are down. I wonder if the OWL or the local feral cat population is more to blame?A bit later, I went out back to do some whistling. My OWL impersonations leave a little to be desired. Low and behold what pops up to investigate the bad whistling but a red morph EASTERN SCREECH OWL! What is that red-headed owl doing in my back yard? Crazy.I will keep you posted on the family. I think I'll hurry and get another house up on the other side of the property. I've heard that the Daddy Owl likes to be able to watch over his woman's nest from an opposing nest box.Such fun. Owl about that!!


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