The newsletter of the Baltimore Bird Club

April/May 2008 -- Online Edition


  1. Editor's Note by Bryce Butler
  2. Beehler Lecture by Bryce Butler
  3. Bird Brains
  4. Bird Blitz by David Curson
  5. Conservtion Corner: Building Wind Turbines in State Forests by Joan Cwi
  6. Backyard Birding and Beyond
  7. Calendar Feb-Mar
Deadline for next CHIP NOTES: July 1, 2008 (the next issue will be August/September 2008). If possible, please email material to

Please help CHIP NOTES get out on time.

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Editor's Note

by Bryce Butler

So this is the fourth issue under my editorship. Thank all of you who have taken the time to come up to me to tell me how much you appreciate what I'm doing with Chip Notes. It's very encouraging to hear from you. All comments are welcome including critical ones that might help improve the issue.

I would also like to thank those of you who have been sending material for inclusion in Chip Notes as it makes my job not only easier but a little less lonely. I would like to invite more of you to do so. It will make this a much richer and more interesting resource for all the members of the Baltimore Bird Club. The Backyard Birding and Beyond section has been more beyond than backyard recently. It's been great fun to read accounts of birding in sunnier climes during these blear winter days. I would like to see more backyard reports. If you maintain bird feeders like I do you frequently see the interesting and unexpected. Please send those and any articles directly to me. If you don't have email please send it in typed format. My addresses again are:

Bryce Butler
2006 W Rogers Ave
Baltimore, MD 21209
email: capitano.
A few problems have come to light and a few kinks have yet to be worked out. I have tried having a later deadline so the information would be more current but that has proven impractical and as you all have noticed the issues are arriving too late for any notice about the lectures or early schedule changes to be of use. I now reluctantly will move the deadline to the 1st of the month preceding each issue. For the next Aug- Sep issue the deadline will be July 1st. And so on. I will publish the deadline for the each subsequent issue in this space. Please make a note of this. Terry Ross has told me that he will be posting Chip Notes online earlier then the mail. The website is very useful. The recent schedule change for speakers was posted there. (Field Trip Reports were few and sparse so are not included in this issue, however they will fill the Aug issue with the Apr-May reports)

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Beehler Lecture

by Bryce Butler

The Baltimore Bird Club was incredibly lucky to have Bruce Beehler, a world renowned ornithologist and writer on the avifauna of New Guinea, coauthor of the authoritative field guide, Birds of New Guinea, coauthor of the massively complete, The Birds of Paradise: Paradisaeidae, and Vice President of Conservation International's Melanesia Center for Biodiversity as its speaker for the March lecture.

"Exploring for Bowerbirds and Birds of Paradise in Western Papua" was fascinating and thrilling account of a 2005 expedition which found a species of bird new to science, Wattled Smoky Honeyeater, 20 new frogs, and 4 new butterflies. They also found many other species that were either thought to be extinct or are very rare elsewhere. For example, the Golden-fronted Bowerbird (first photographed by Dr. Beehler), Berlepsch's Six-Wired Bird of Paradise, the Golden-mantled Tree Kanagaroo and a Longbeaked Echidna (also called Spiny Anteaters), which is an egg laying mammal that has disappeared elsewhere due to over-hunting.

The expedition to the Foja Mountains, located in the north central region of Papua, was led by Dr. Beehler. The area was reached by helicopter, a trip made difficult by bad weather as the helicopter had to circle until an opening in the clouds revealed the bog where they would land. Originally six loads of gear were planned for but the group had to make due with five loads due to the poor weather conditions. In fact the rainy conditions in the forest made life in the mountains challenging. "Although there no mosquitoes or chiggers due to being 5000 feet above sea level, the camp itself became a horrible festering bog of mud and muck. The only time we felt even close to clean was when we were asleep in our sleeping bags."

The Foja Mountains are so remote that Dr Beehler and his group saw no signs of human presence. The Kwerba, a tribe traditionally considered owners of the Foja Mountains, told expedition members that they never hunted more than an hour's walk from their village as game and herbs were available in abundance on the forest edges. The area where the expedition landed would have been more than ten days walk from the village. As a result animals in the area exhibited an unusual lack of wariness of humans. Dr. Beehler's remarkable photos showed animals like the Tree Kangaroo and Echidna cradled docilely in the arms of exhibition members.

The Foja Mountains were not entirely undiscovered territory as they had been visited in 1985 by Jared Diamond, the American scientist most recently noted for his books, Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, but who also had for years traveled extensively throughout New Guinea and nearby islands writing about the bird life there. Dr. Beehler credited him with laying important groundwork for the trip he led, although Diamond was in a completely different area of the mountains. (He first described the Golden-fronted Bowerbird mentioned at the beginning of this article.) There Diamond had also encountered females of Berlepsch's Six-wired Bird of Paradise, but it wasn't clear where they bred. On Dr. Beehler's second day in the jungle,a male and female of this bird of paradise appeared in camp, the male dancing and displaying spectacularly for the female. "I was too spellbound to go get my camera. It would have been a stunning series of photographs."

Wattled Smoky Honeyeater

"I had long given up thought of finding a new species. We all thought there might be great stuff in the Fojas, but thought it would be lesser discoveries - new populations, new subspecies, and the like" related Dr. Beehler. Early reports by other members of the expedition about a small black bird with orange wattles like a chicken led Beehler to think it was another widespread species, the Common Smoky Honeyeater. But after close observation it was clear to Beehler this was not the same species, as the bottom of the face patch on each side ended in a freedangling wattle of skin the same orange color as the face. "It was like no other honeyeater in New Guinea. As the trip took me away from my family during Thanksgiving, I decided to name the bird after my wife, Carol, as a gift to make up for missing the holiday. The Wattled Smoky Honeyeater now bears the latin name Melipotes carolae."

In 2007 the CBS show 60 Minutes returned to the area with Dr. Beehler, where they obtained stunning footage of the male Black Sickle Bill Bird of Paradise displaying for a female, as well as the Golden-fronted Bowerbird, the Wattled Smoky Honeyeater and numerous others.To see this amazing segment go to the 60 Minutes website

Photo:Bruce Beehler

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Bird Brains

It's All About Us

In spring, Black-capped Chickadees add a new vocalization to their repertoire, this soft fee, bee, bee. When breeding season begins, the tiny brains of chickadees and other songbirds enlarge to enable the birds to create more sounds. After the breeding season is over and the birds no longer need that singing function, the part of the birds' brains that controls vocalizations decreases in size. Studying the ability of a bird's brain to generate new neurons in order to sing in the spring has fundamentally altered how scientists think about the human brain -- and opened the door for new research on understanding degenerative brain conditions, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. One of the scientists studying neuron replacement in birds' brains is Fernando Nottebohm of Rockefeller University in New York. After first studying the brains of canaries and finches, he focused on the remarkable ability of Black-capped Chickadees to store hundreds of seeds and recall their locations when needed.

Juncos on Steroids

The ability to ramp up testosterone production appears to drive male dark-eyed juncos to find and win mates, but it comes with an evolutionary cost. Big fluctuations in testosterone may also cause males to lose interest in parenting their own young, scientists have learned.

In the December issue of The American Naturalist, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Virginia and University of Southern Mississippi researchers report the results of the first study to examine, in the wild, the way in which natural changes in testosterone levels determine how a male spends his time.

Diversity in the behavior of male dark-eyed junco is more of a continuum than a dichotomy of Don Juans and Mr. Moms. "One of the interesting things is that all males stick around and help. If they have higher testosterone they help less. If they have lower testosterone they help more."

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Bird Blitz identifies new IBA in Baltimore County -- Prettyboy Important Bird Area

by David Curson

photo: David Curzon
Last summer sixteen volunteers from the Baltimore Bird Club took part in a series of Bird Blitz surveys in the Prettyboy Reservoir watershed and Gunpowder Falls State Park. The objective was to help determine whether this area qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA). 2007 was the first statewide season of IBA Bird Blitz and was a great success with 50 volunteers completing 46 bird counts at 11 sites across Maryland.

Baltimore Bird Club members can be proud that their effort was the greatest of any bird club in the state, with 14 different surveys completed and 74.5 km of survey transect walked.

Bird Blitz surveys are done during the breeding season, within Atlas "safe dates", and the goal is to obtain a breeding count of the at-risk bird species for which Important Bird Areas are identified. If a site supports a population of one or more at-risk species that exceeds a species-specific threshold number (listed in the IBA criteria, available at then it likely qualifies as an IBA.

The results of the Prettyboy-Gunpowder Bird Blitz found that two at-risk species exceeded their respective IBA thresholds. These were Louisiana Waterthrush, which thrive along the gushing, unpolluted waters of the Gunpowder Falls River and its tributaries, and Worm-eating Warbler, which was found in impressive numbers along the steep slopes just above the river, especially where mountain laurel forms an understory.

Using the Bird Blitz results, the Maryland-DC IBA Technical Review Committee identified this area as an IBA (Prettyboy IBA) at its last meeting in February. This name was chosen because much of the Gunpowder Falls State park is not included in the IBA - only the Hereford section of the state park is included. Prettyboy qualifies as an IBA not only for the 2 at-risk species mentioned above but also for the species assemblage of Forest-Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS), birds that require large intact blocks of forest to maintain healthy populations. 20 FIDS breed regularly at the site, although some such as Broadwinged Hawk and Cerulean Warbler seem to be on the way out -- none of these species were found by last year's Bird Blitz.

Thanks to all who took part in the Bird Blitz effort last year, and thanks in particular to Paul Kreiss who coordinated the surveys. Participants included: Paul Kreiss, Georgia McDonald, Dan McDonald, Wendy Olsson, Rob Olsson, Kevin Graff, Carol Schreter, Peter Webb, Keith Costley, Nancy Grace, Bryce Butler, Tekla Ayers, Steve Ayers, Andrew Ayers, David Curson.

At risk speciesGrand total
Bird Blitz 2007
Breeding Pairs
Bald Eagle210
Black-billed Cuckoo110
Red-headed Woodpecker110
Wood Thrush43160
Prairie Warbler1130
Prothonotary Warbler130
Worm-eating Warbler5120
Louisiana Waterthrush2920
Kentuckey Warbler330

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Conservation Corner: Building Wind Turbines in State Forests

by Joan Cwi

The Baltimore Bird Club has been working in conjunction with the Maryland Ornithological Society to oppose building wind turbines on State Forests in Garrett County (Savage River and Potomac State Forests). A total of 100 wind turbines, each over 400 feet tall, are proposed to be built on mountain top ridges requiring the clear-cutting of 400 acres to build the towers and support roads. This land would be off-limits for future recreational use. To give you some idea of what 400 feet high means, think 115 feet higher than the US Capitol and 50 feet higher than the tallest tower of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held two public hearings on January 30th and 31st in Garrett County and Annapolis on "Wind Power and Maryland's Public Lands." An estimated 250 people attended the Annapolis hearing, including five BBC and two MOS members. We also represented three of the approximately 60 people giving testimony, which was about 90 percent against building wind turbines on public lands. A compilation of points from our testimonies are provided below.

In short, we believe that it is completely inappropriate for the DNR to lease or otherwise allow our public lands to be used for commercial development purposes or activities. In particular we are of the opinion that industrial wind turbines should NOT be erected on public or private land on Maryland's Appalachian mountaintops. We do not oppose wind power generation per se if there are no negative consequences associated with their location. However, the use of public lands for corporate gain should not be permitted. The drop-in-the-bucket contribution of less than 1% of the electric grid that serves the energy needs of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey cannot compensate for the consequences to wildlife, ecosystems, and esthetics. Consequences of

And NO studies have been done on eastern migratory flyways during peak migration periods.

It is our opinion that state forests are not suitable locations for the private development of wind farms given the opposition of our constituents, the environmental risks, and the minimal energy produced. Many of you received an email from the BBC asking you to go online to the DNR website by March 3rd to register you opinion on this matter ( We hope you had the opportunity to do so. The voting is closed now, but you can click on "Review the Public Comments" to read the hundreds of comments posted, most of them against using public lands for commercial use. We will keep you posted on what happens next.

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Back Yard Birding and Beyond

Hi Bryce,

Perhaps you might like to put an item in Chip Notes regarding the new accessible birding website:

I found out about it from a post on the NH listserv which listed Birdwatchers Digest as the source of their information. The website is interested in hearing from all of us about other accessible sites not already on their listings. I know there are members in the Baltimore Bird Club who have need of accessible birding.

Good Birding,
Georgia McDonald

Florida Birding - Merritt Island Revisited

by Jim Highsaw and Linda Prentice

We enjoyed our January 2007 trip to Merritt Island and the Titusville area so much that we decided to repeat the trip during January 22 - 25, 2008. Our goals were to spend most of our time on the Wildlife Drive at the National Wildlife Refuge, visit at least one other area that we missed in 2007, and photograph as many birds as possible.

As in 2007, the Wildlife Drive was terrific, with plenty of Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, four heron species, three egret species, Anhingas, Ibis, Avocets, Kingfishers, and a variety of ducks and raptors. This year we saw some birds we did not see in 2007 - American Bittern, Reddish Egret and Sora. There is also a new foot trail along the Drive (the Wild Bird Trail) with two observation platforms. Although we did not see any bobcats this time, we did see wild hogs on two occasions. An early morning walk on the trail at the visitors center was not very productive, but we did find a Black-and-White Warbler in a tree by the parking area. Three visits to the Oak Hammock Trail produced a Black-throated Green Warbler, another Black-and-White Warbler, a White-eyed Vireo, a Hermit Thrush, and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Gnatcatchers.

One afternoon we drove through part of the Canaveral National Seashore to get to Playalinda Beach. Along the road we saw various wading birds, ducks, and raptors as well as the Space Shuttle on the launch pad in the distance. On a deserted part of the beach we saw a variety of shorebirds, including Black-bellied Plover and Sanderling. Then we finished the day by doing a short walk on the Pine Flatlands Trail where we found several Osprey, some Ground Doves and a Phoebe.

We repeated our 2007 visit to the Water Treatment Plant ponds - the highlight this time was a group of Wood Storks strolling casually down the dirt road in front of us.

A new area on this trip was the Tosohatchee State Wildlife Area west of Titusville. We drove down the dirt Powerline Road to the St. Johns River and saw a Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawks, a Bald Eagle and a Kestrel. The wetland areas along the road were good for herons, egrets, Common Moorhens and Coots. On the way back to Titusville we found two Sandhill Cranes in a field and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (only one of the trip) in a tree outside the town of Christmas Post Office.

On the drive back to Maryland we checked our lists, discovered we had one more species than we had in 2007, and agreed that we wouldn't mind going back again.

Barred Owls Kissing in The Backyard

by Bryce Butler

Ok, ok. So it's not called kissing. It's "mutual preening". And admittedly with their powerful beaks kissing would be awkward if not downright dangerous, but it sure looks a lot like kissing. We've been enjoying this pair who are nesting again this year somewhere behind our property. Their courtship hoots and cackles and squalls are amazingly varied. And when he sidles up to her on the branch and puts his face right up to hers, touching his beak right next to hers and they both start nuzzling cheek feathers, it sure looks a lot like kissing (photo: Bryce Butler).

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Spring Field Trip Schedule -- Hooray!

(check web site or booklet for details and directions)

APRIL 2008.

MAY 2008.

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