Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Preserve Some Land... Save the Bay

After all of the stories we've been reading about illegal developments, the bay's declining health and sprawl, there is finally some good news. Hopefully, there will be more stories like this in the coming weeks and months! NOT developing land that is important to the health of the Bay, our Board of Public Works agree, is a good thing.I am on the board for the Scenic Rivers Land Trust. We do things for the Bay and the region... like preserving lands and protecting and restoring the environment.After umpteen or so years of trying to "Save the Bay," groups like CBF, the local River Keepers, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, our State (and surrounding states), SRLT and every other environmental group, seem to be barely making a dent in protecting and restoring everyone's Chesapeake Bay. Do not get me wrong. These groups are doing some amazing things and enacting some fantastic changes to help our region's more precious natural resource. How many more failing report cards can the bay receive before we seriously address the problems?This deal is, at the very least, a step in the right direction.We residents of the mid-Atlantic should be doing more now. It's time that every one got their hands dirty in order to make the region clean and healthy again. Stream restorations, erosion control, intelligent agricultural practices and responsible development are the cornerstones that will help support this process.Wouldn't it be cool if everyone took one day a year to ACTUALLY clean up local streams, creeks, lakes and rivers around where they live?Just some wild ideas people... that's all. Here's hoping some of these wild ideas take off soon.

Good Preserving!

Dan

Monday, February 25, 2008

RED SHOULDERED HAWK RELEASE

This afternoon a RED SHOULDERED HAWK, that I helped to rescue from the thick mud of Back Creek last January, was released back into the wild. It was a wonderful event that I will not soon forget.The release took place on Greenbury Point in Annapolis, at the Nature Center just beyond the golf course and new athletic facility. At just about a mile or so as the 'hawk' flies from where it was found stuck in the mud, if this hawk so choses, it could easily find it's way back to Back Creek. If not, there is always lots to eat on the Point.The release was performed by Linda Moore (that is her in the photos!) from the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia. Actually, Linda is a biologist at Washington DC's National Zoo, which is run by the Smithsonian Institution. The point I making is that Linda is a trained, skilled, licensed pro when it comes to the art of releasing rehabilitated birds back into the wild.Kent Knowles, the fine gentleman in Falls Church, Virginia who runs and operates the Raptor Conservancy, should receive loads of credit as well. He not only cared for this bird, he brought her back to full health from the mud-caked state of trauma she was in when I brought her to him back in early January.This strikingly beautiful hawk was vocal for a brief bit just prior to her release, but it was not enough to get the attention of the locals. There are at least two local RED SHOULDERED HAWKS that I've seen recently on Greenbury Point. They didn't make an appearance during the bird's release. However, by now I feel quite certain that she's made their acquaintance.Linda, who drove all the way from Virginia, appeared about as happy as I was to be releasing this gorgeous bird. After a few minutes of conversation, questions and answers, Linda handed the hawk over to me an in less than a minute, she was free to fly. I was instructed to simply loft her into the air and the hawk would take care of the rest.The hawk was named 'Roberta' by the neighbors who live in the community where she found mud. Those neighbors were so very helpful that day, providing me with towels, a long pole and a kayak that helped me retrieve this raptor. They were even kind enough to squirt me with a hose on that relatively warm January day!The hawk flew up and into the pines, where she rested for a moment. Very soon after she took off heading Northwest into the blue sky. The release was fulfilling, uplifting and quite amazing, despite it lasting all of ten minutes.So if you're ever in and around the Annapolis area and you see a RED SHOULDERED HAWK, do check to see if the bird is wearing any silver 'bling', as our little Roberta has been banded.
I also would highly encourage you to donate to Kent and the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, as they are a non-profit and do wonderful work! And go out and get a copy of the Capital newspaper on Tuesday. Their environmental reporter Pam Wood was there with their best photographer, J. Henson, covering the event!

All the best,

Dan

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Leaves and Fallen Trees? Even better... American Woodcock.

It looks pretty much like a log, some leaves and a bit of mud.But upon closer inspection you'll notice the AMERICAN WOODCOCK lurking on the hill.This bird flushed while I was searching (unsuccessfully) for a BOHEMIAN WAXWING within the enormous flock of AMERICAN ROBINS and CEDAR WAXWINGS. I know, you think I'm crazy for looking for such a bird here in Maryland. But yesterday we had two COMMON REDPOLLS visit our county. Why not a 'COUNTY BOH' here in the land of pleasant living?

In order to understand that reference, I suppose I should inform you that National Bohemian Beer was originally brewed in Baltimore, MD (the land of pleasant living, as it stated on the can!). We locals have always referred to it our local affordable brew as 'NATTY BOH'.I was more than delighted to capture this elusive bird this during my two hour hike around Greenbury Point this morning.

Other birds seen during my little adventure: WHITE CROWNED SPARROW, FIELD SPARROW, BROWN THRASHER, RED SHOULDERED HAWK and one slightly inebriated, yet still rather wary BUFFLEHEAD.Bud, the king of empty floating beer cans! I do hope that this BUFFLEHEAD will not forget to recycle his empties.Finally, I'll leave you with two photos of a RED SHOULDERED HAWK from this morning. Perhaps you will recall a post from earlier this winter when I kayaked through the thick mud of Back Creek here in Annapolis in order to save the life of a RED SHOULDERED HAWK? Well, I have great news about this particular raptor. After a month or so in rehabilitation, this hawk is ready for release. If you'd like to watch the big event, please feel free to stop by the Greenbury Point Nature Center at 1:30PM sharp this Monday afternoon. Linda Moore, from the Smithsonian Institution and the Virginia Raptor Conservancy (where the hawk was given a thorough washing after it's mud bath), will be letting this hawk fly off back into it's own familiar, and hopefully less-muddy, territory within the Annapolis area.Good Birding,

Dan

Friday, February 22, 2008

REDPOLLS AT LAST

Bill Hubick found two female COMMON REDPOLLS this winter afternoon at Fort Smallwood Park in Northern Anne Arundel County. It was a County Bird for me. No, wait... make that a LIFE BIRD. Emery, Declan and I hoped in our car (the one with the bigger tires) and drove up to see this very rare winter visitor.

We arrived at the Fort around 5 o'clock, just before the lights were about to go out. Leo Weigant had his scope pointed right at one of the birds. Thank you Leo! Ranger Matt Grey was there as well, taking in the views of this red-headed guest from the boreal forest. There, in the company of a SONG SPARROW and a few DARK EYED JUNCOS, were the stars of the afternoon: TWO COMMON REDPOLLS. (For the record, I only really saw one. But it was getting dark and I was rushing to get these really blurry photographs!)I spent the better part of today checking out the JUNCO flocks that were continually visiting my back yard. As far as I could tell, there were no REDPOLLS in West Annapolis today. But, I certainly hoped that last night's wintery mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain might have pushed a few of these Northern birds into our area. Thanks to Bill Hubick's vigilant watch and Tom Tasselmyer's forecast, that little wish came true.Tomorrow? Who knows. By the time my morning coffee has brewed, West Annapolis might be crawling with COMMON REDPOLLS.In the meantime, I do hope that you have thoroughly enjoyed my terrible photographs of this particular REDPOLL. There is no need to adjust your computer screens, Bill will be posting some far more 'focused' shots on his website soon.Have a great weekend,

Dan

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Annapolis Has A Housing Boom (at least for TWO FALCONS)

The Severn River PEREGRINE FALCON pair have a new, rather luxurious box to call home tonight. Thanks to Craig Koppie of the US Fish & WIldlife Service, Allison Buckalew of the Severn River Keeper, Tim Fletcher, Steve Sparks, Paul Marley and all of the great folks at the MD State Highway Administration (SHA), our local PEREGRINES will not have to brave the harsh elements under the bridge any longer.Especially tonight, as local forecasters warn of ample amounts of winter precipitation, the falcons will have a safe spot where they may weather the coming snowstorm. Yes, to say it was cold under the bridge this afternoon would be a huge understatement. Windy? Eh, You bet. 'Chilling to the bone' just about describes our installation project this afternoon. Was it worth the numb extremities, time and effort? Without a doubt!Allison and I met at Tim and a few others (who's names are forthcoming) at the SHA offices in order to carpool over to the bridge. Once we arrived, we met up with Craig, off-loaded the supplies for the falcon's new home. Craig spent the last few weeks building, painting and drilling the bottom, top and sides. We hauled all of that, plus many of the extras that are needed for building a scrape (nest box). Bundled up, or so we thought, we headed for the catwalk under the freshly-painted underbelly of the US Route 50 Severn River Bridge.They call this bridge's latest shade 'Williamsburg Blue'. I think the falcons will enjoy the new look. What's more, this next box (possibly the best box ever designed, built and assembled by Craig) will prove to be a most inviting dwelling for our two falcons to raise their chicks. Facing the Southeast, in order to get the most warmth from the morning sun, we filled the box with buckets and bags loose stone and gravel. The female (MADRIGAL?) will scrape around in the next box and find the best possible spot to lay her clutch of eggs. While she renovates the home, the male (MAESTRO?) will be her delivery boy, bringing her meal after meal in the coming weeks.Thats Craig there on the left. Allison and Tim are, of course, working hard on the nest box as well.Everyone involved got to pour some of the fine gravel into the bottom of the scrape. My 'section' was the back left corner. With any luck, that corner is where she will chose to lay her clutch. Oh, and my money is on the female laying THREE eggs. Craig, for the record, predicts FOUR. I will certainly keep you posted on just how many eggs she lays once spring has arrived and she's completed her reproductive tasks.As l mentioned earlier, the male will be devoting his time and energy to hunting and delivering meal after meal for his female companion. Craig informed us that the female will spend her days gorging on these fresh birds (almost to the point of a lethargic food-induced coma-like state) in preparation for the chicks. She and her chicks will need the extra fat provided by those many, many meals Dad will be in charge of delivering.Unfortunately while we were there this afternoon, the falcons were no where to be found. I thoroughly scanned the horizon, examining every bare tree top and open perch where one of the two PEREGRINES might be watching us. No luck. Some of the workers mentioned that they had seen one of the falcons earlier in the morning perched on a nearby pier. They informed me that long before you see the falcons approach, you HEAR them! For fun, one of the workers has imitated the call of a NORTHERN BOBWHITE. This unmistakable whistle impression successfully managed to get both falcons very interested. Why the falcons would believe for even a moment that a Bobwhite would be hanging out with them under their bridge, well... I just can't say.After the box was assembled and fastened to the bridge, gravel was carefully poured into the scrape. Finally, the roof portion was attached to the walls and anchored to the bridge. As an added treat, Craig left the PEREGRINES a fresh meal of COMMON GRACKLE (found nearby, just moments before our work began) placed on the platform at the entrance of their new home.And to think, all I got from my realtor when I bought my home was a gardening book and a bottle of Pinot Noir that my wife Emery drank with her girlfriends while I was out at a GIG!I'll keep you updated throughout the spring and summer with any falcon-related news. I will be watching the pair regularly from Uncle Frank's beach on the Arnold side, as well as from this little speck of shoreline behind my friends Brian and Sarah's home here on the Annapolis side.This has been a very exciting day for BOTH our resident PEREGRINE FALCONS and for all those involved with the installation. SPECIAL THANKS to Craig, Tim, Steve, Allison, the USFWS, MD SHA and everyone of those incredibly durable bridge workers, the housing market in Annapolis is booming again. I just hope these birds can afford the property taxes. ;^)

Good nesting,

Dan

Monday, February 18, 2008

PEREGRINES COURT, DECLAN ROCK OUT and EVERYONE SLEEPS IN

After a hard night of rocking out... Declan decided to sleep in this Monday morning. His parents happily obliged and snored for an hour and half longer than usual.Declan (I mean, just LOOK at him... a TOTAL rock star) enjoyed a few breakfasts and his mother and I, an entire pot of coffee. Now full, the entire Haas family decided it was time to take a trip. First stop, oddly enough, turned out to be lunch. Did I mention that we move slow on holidays? In accordance with our new fitness goals, a turkey sub with no mayo proved to be both healthy and delicious. The family's hunger was now subsiding, so this was the perfect time for me to pop the question:

Can we go watch the falcons?Happily, they responded with a rousing, "Yes!" So off we went to Uncle Frank's beach.Not two minutes after we got out of the Volvo and finished stretching our legs, the Severn River PEREGRINE FALCONS appeared in the sky over the river. Darting between the puffy white and grey clouds, in and out of the blue skies and sunbeams, the male falcon and the visibly larger female falcon were conducting an wildly acrobatic aerial display. I felt like I was watching nature's version of the Blue Angels, the US Navy's best impersonators of the PEREGRINE. The Blue Angels perform here in May every year for the Naval Academy's Commissioning Week.At one point, both falcons streaked into the middle of a passing flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS over the Severn River. PEREGRINE FALCONS (click to view Bill Hubick's deluxe photo) are exceptionally fast fliers, capable of reaching speeds up to 69 mph in direct pursuit of prey. Cool, yes? Well check this out: in a hunting stoop from nearly a half a mile up, a Peregrine can reach speeds of 200 mph as they plummet toward their prey. Needless to say, the Haases were thoroughly impressed with today's show. And Uncle Frank says hello too.While we were there, we met up up with two folks from the bridge painting company named Gary and Paul. Along with their workers, these two guys crisscross the country, painting bridges and other hard-to-reach areas. Gary installed the scrape that helped a pair successfully fledge chicks on the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia. He told Emery, Declan and I that no one else really had the desire to climb that high with the box, rocks and materials. Lucky for the falcons, Gary and Paul are used to great heights.Hopefully, our local falcons will have their scrape installed and ready for occupancy soon. I shall keep you posted.

Good Courting,

Dan

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pax River Saturday

Jim Brighton, Bill Hubick and I birded Calvert County all day yesterday. From 7AM until 7PM, we scoured the Southern Maryland landscape, blue skies and shining waterways. Beginning with the Patuxent River Waterfowl Survey and ending with the three of us ankle deep in the marsh South of Route 4, our little excursion covered most all of Calvert, with just a sliver of Anne Arundel and Prince George's County, Maryland. My county lists are looking much more robust after yesterday's travels.

There are counts going on at this very moment all across the United States for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Are you counting? I am. Sadly, I've not seen the EASTERN SCREECH in her nest box for a couple weeks. I hope she is okay. As for this character, he made it on to my yard count this morning.Highlights from our day in Southern Maryland were too many to mention.Notice how this brown bump on the tree starts out looking like nothing much. But upon closer inspection, that bump becomes a BROWN CREEPER moving up this tree at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp.For reasons that are obvious, I'm not going to go into great detail about yesterday's adventure. I am however, going to go back to spending time with my son Declan, my wife Emery and yes... even the dogs! Yes, I just got back from taking my Golden Retriever Oiseau to see our local PEREGRINE FALCON. I am happy to announce that he ran the entire time and even snuck in a ten minute swim in the Severn River. He is a nut.I did not see these tell-tale signs of a YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER until after I returned home to look at the day's photos. Notice the many holes this woodpecker has drilled all in a straight line? Perhaps this bird should get a job in construction? It would have to be temp work though, as the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the ONLY woodpecker in Eastern North America that is COMPLETELY migratory.

Speaking of which... I gotta fly.

Enjoy your weekend. And if you're lucky enough to have off tomorrow, enjoy it EVEN more!

-Dan

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