Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Inner Birder Post


Thanks to Pines Above Snow ( http://pinesabovesnow.blogspot.com/ )for wrapping me into this welcome mid-week distraction! So here is my first meme - my thoughts on birds in 6 words:

Twilight fog
Whistling wings
Safe harbor

I instantly thought of that - a really special morning in the Delaware marsh (2006, the day I took this picture), full of bird activity, and a truly horrible and awful duck hunt. The ducks couldn't see the decoys, and wanted no part of the little pothole (a wigeongrass flat) where I was sitting. But since I wasn't shooting up the marsh, shorebirds and ducks were moving through - right above the fog, right over my head....all I could hear were different types of wings moving through. They never stopped, all morning. When the fog lifted, it was amazing to see the diversity of birds sitting out on the open marsh....safe harbor.

So here are the "birdy" folks whose blogs I read regularly:

Swampthing
Ohio Nature Blog
Blue Ridge Blog

Sorry there's only 3...but a man can only blog so much. More this weekend!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bizzarro Easter Wildlife

I knew Easter was off to a bad start when we saw the squirrels digging up & running off with the old folks' easter eggs next door (left out...2 days early.... for their incoming grandchildren). What the hell does a squirrel want with a pink plastic easter egg, anyway?

So, fast forward 48 hours.....I was out on the back deck talking to my mom (well, mostly listening to her bizarre rant about the latest job she is going to quit), when I heard a hawk call, followed by another LOUD bird call that I had never heard before (which is a little unusual).

Immediately, two large birds swoop directly over my head, and when I look up at them, I see a sharp-shinned hawk giving chase to a big fat parrot? or similar large green bird. WTF! After a couple of passes, the hawk pulls off and flies back down to the trees along the stream bank. The parrot/macaw/alien set himself up in the top of the tallest tree around and alternated between "Hellooooo" and this kind of retarded warble: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC7-RqdIjAY&feature=related ; calling out to the entire neighborhood. I snapped a couple of pictures, and hit up "The Google" and determined that it's a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot. Whose natural range obviously does not include Central Maryland....as confirmed by The Google.

OK, so we are already at a "Double WTF" status here. The situation worsens (i.e. becomes more hilarious) when one of our really intelligent squirrels gets ticked off by the constant cackling and mistakes the parrot for another male squirrel. It charges up the tree to confront the rival, and when it gets about 4 feet away from the parrot, realizes that the "rival squirrel" actually looks like a gigantic hawk! And in a "My Bad, Homey!" kind of way, hauls ass back down the tree. The squirrel regroups, but then once the bird starts cackling again, instinctively charges up the tree again, until it has a good view of the big old bird (repeat freakout and retreat, then repeat entire process 19 more times). You can see the squirrel in this pic. I tried to take a movie but it was pretty worthless.
Tragedy (or additional wildlife-induced stupidity, anyway) was averted when a woman showed up with what we in "the industry" refer to as a "ginormous parrot catching stick" (just kidding, I have no flippin' idea what it's called), and the parrot climbed down to her shoulder on the giant stick. She was very proud of being the owner of a free-flying domesticated parrot. I told her that her pet was about 1 foot away from being Parrot McNuggets for the hawk - she did not seem to find my comment funny, or intriguing or ironic (the whole domestic bird vs. wild native bird thing).


Oh well, it was all pretty amusing. I told Amy, "I don't think our bird list has "amazon parrot" on it."
32 days 'til Growing Season!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Early spring.

Year's first honeybee, on pickwick dutch crocus.

Everything from mason bees, to honeybees, to spring peepers, to cricket frogs are out! I'm sure we'll have another freeze, but here's some early spring photos. Weather hasn't been perfect, but has been exactly what it's supposed to be - volatile, sunny, rainy, breezy, and not freezing.

Honeybee chowing down on pickwick and Joan-of-Arc


Flower record enjoys our south-facing gneiss rock walls


45 days 'til growing season!

Friday, March 14, 2008

She Sells Shellfish

Had to do some short time in southeastern VA yesterday and stopped by one of our hunting spots. Can you tell why scaup love this place? Mmmmmmm......tasty razor clams!


Also, last fall, we (brothers and I) assembled and delivered a couple of oyster floats to the folks that own that property. The oyster larvae have been living in the float all winter, and still measure less than 1cm long. We hope to harvest about half of the oysters, and plant the other half on the existing oyster bar right down the cove. Oysters are not doing well in the Chesapeake Bay - living oyster beds (like a living reef) are at about 1% of their historic extent. Not good! If you have a boat dock (and live on suitable salt water, and can get a permit, etc etc) and are interested in helping the oysters out (you have to set them all free when they grow up), you can get an oyster float for free (or almost free) through local watershed groups, and sometimes even get a tax write-off for installing oyster floats! If you're like us, and you'd like to taste at least a few of the little guys after they're all growns up, you can purchase an oyster float from folks like Atlantic Aquaculture in RI.......http://www.atlanticaquaculture.com/ . The floats (trade name: "Taylor Floats" - named after Taylor's Hardware in Virginia Beach!) sell for anywhere from $60 to $120 a piece. We made our own from supplies from a Marine Supply wholesaler (bought at cost) and the Home Despot, because we were SURE we could make them for less than $50 each. We were wrong. The cost of 6" PVC drove the price through the roof. Final price: about $52 each and a lot of PVC primer inhaled.

Technical note: you do NOT want a full size float (6' x 2') unless you have an electric winch on your dock. Half-size (3' x 2') floats are the way to go!

Got enough information to get started? Great! Check out this link of folks doing the REAL thing with oysters http://www.oyster.unh.edu/other%20restoration.html ...very cool....but remember, the key to oyster survival is improved water quality...not just more oysters!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wood Duck Box Visitors


Brown-phase screech owl in the wood duck box! (borrowed photo)

Well, the spring migration is on! And not just ducks and songbirds. A local duck hunter, who maintains a few dozen wood duck boxes on the eastern shore of Maryland, was cleaning out the wood duck boxes and found these fellas. Both gray and brown phase too!
I have heard of all kinds of critters using wood duck boxes...but screech owls? Seriously?

And if you are cleaning out debris to enhance nesting for one migratory bird, and you inadvertantly disturb a protected migratory bird, I mean.....?....

Anyway, check 'em out! Cool little guys.

Gray Phase

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bird Seed Mix Update

Bird Seed Mix #2 has really shaken things up! Prior to the warm weather, the new seed mix resulted in about a 80% decline in squirrel visits (transition from peanut halves to cracked corn), and a significant increase in the number of wrens, and now titmice, visiting the yard. We are also now roosting about 2 dozen doves (not real excited about that), who apparently are big fans of the millet, since the concentration of sunflower seed has not changed. Juncos and chickadees are still in play.

Our local sharpshin is becoming very active and aggressive, swinging by at low altitude, at about 70mph, a few times a day. I can't get a good picture of him until he catches something and sits still for a moment.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Countdown to Growing Season


It's easy to get distracted (or excited) by the 65 degree temperatures we had out here today, but the real news is our 3-day warm streak of low temperatures in the 30's (as recently as friday, the low was 17 degrees). The streak looks to continue for the forseeable future.....which means....spring is here!

High temperatures will come and go for the next 7 weeks, and many days will have temperature ranges in the neighborhood of Low 33, High 35. And it is pretty likely that we will get some more snow and ice before it's all said and done. But it looks like our very short winter, only about 6 weeks old, is headed out of town.

On the drought front, things are still pretty dicey. Some of the great wetlands we built in the fall still have not totally filled with water up to their prescribed elevation - and they'll start to evaporate in just another 6 weeks or so. Most of the reservoirs in Maryland are still down several feet. And in addition to receiving no snow events over 6" in depth, we are receiving very little rainfall during what is typically our wettest time of year.

But we have our first crocii, Crocus vernus "Bowles", and Crocus vernus "Pickwick." The first harbingers of spring. Large flocks of migrating robins are next in line! And after that - frog, toad, and salamander eggs (my favorite)!

60 days until growing season.