Clusters of white flowers are blooming in fields and open forests in western Pennsylvania.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial in the Aster family, native to the northern hemisphere. The genus name, Achillea, refers to the Greek hero who reportedly used yarrow to treat his soldiers’ wounds. The species name, millefolium, means “a thousand leaves.” Look closely at the tiny feather-like leaves and you’ll see they’re arranged in a spiral on the stem.
Yarrow’s flowers deserve a closer look, too. The central disk is a cluster of tiny flowers and the petals (rays) are individual flowers with nectar openings where the ray connects to the flower head.
In North America we have both native and introduced species and they hybridize so it’s hard to tell who’s who.
Watch for yarrow blooming this month and into June.
C1 flaps her wings near the green carpet that detached from the front perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Last night viewers noticed a new feature on the nestbox gravel that they’d never seen before. It’s a patch of fake grass carpet that used to be glued to the front perch.
At 9:49pm the carpet began to roll off the perch while Hope was standing on it.
The fake grass carpet starts to roll off the perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
She pulled it away. (Good job!)
Hope moves the green carpet out of the way (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
The green carpet has been on that perch for nine years. It was only a matter of time before the backing crumbled from sunlight (UV) exposure. Yesterday it loosened up when Dan Brauning had to stand on the nestbox to convince Hope to stop attacking the back of his head. That was just enough to make the glue spots fail.
Peregrine chick C1 cowers in the back of the nestbox while Dan Brauning stands on the green perch to fend off her mother’s attacks (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
So now there’s a patch of green carpet and a reddish circle floating around in the nestbox. You can see the backing still stuck to spots on the railing.
This fall when the nesting season is over we’ll remove the fallen carpet and that annoying red circle (people mistake it for an egg) and install new green carpet on the perch to make a soft place to stand.
How long will C1 have to live with that carpet? I predict she’ll be out of the nest permanently by June 11.
A closeup of female peregrine chick C1 from the Cathedral of Learning nest 2016 (photo by Peter Bell)
It’s taken me a while to publish this because I couldn’t take any photos at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine banding this morning. Thanks to Peter Bell, Kim Getz and John English for lending theirs.
At today’s banding we learned, first and foremost, that C1 is a healthy female and Hope and Terzo are devoted parents.
Even before the PA Game Commission‘s Dan Brauning retrieved the chick, Hope guarded her baby and didn’t give up until C1 was indoors. Then she stayed at the nest kakking while Terzo provided backup support.
Kim’s (silent) video below shows the perspective from the ground about halfway through: Terzo flying back and forth, Hope leaving the nest to attack the humans when C1 was returned, then perched on the bulwark after they’re gone.
Here’s why I didn’t take any pictures: Dan Brauning asked me to hold C1 while he applied the bands. (You can see I was concentrating very hard!)
Dan Brauning explains the banding procedure while Kate St. John holds peregrine chick, C1 (photo by John English)
Dan weighed C1 (900 grams), checked for trichomoniasis (none!) and feather pests (almost none). He dusted under her wings with anti-parasite powder and applied her bands. Here she is with her new jewelry.
Peregrine chick, C1, with her new bands, Black/green, 06/BR (photo by Peter Bell)
Then Dan braved Hope’s wrath to return C1 to the nest.
Female peregrine, Hope, attacks the banders on Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)
Hope shouts at the banders, Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)
What a privilege to hold the chick and see her parents protecting her!
It’s a shame this will be the only peregrine banding in western Pennsylvania this year. Here’s why:
Why weren’t more peregrines banded in Penna. this year?
Peregrines are endangered in Pennsylvania so the PA Game Commission (PGC) normally visits every known nest site and attempts to band the chicks — that’s 9 locations in western Pennsylvania. But this year severe budget cuts and layoffs forced PGC to band at only one site in the western half of the state — the Cathedral of Learning.
Why does PGC have a budget crisis? They don’t rely on state tax dollars. They’re self-supporting through hunting license fees, timber sales, mineral extraction, and a federal excise tax on ammunition. But state law forbids them to raise the license fees that comprise 40% of their revenue. There hasn’t been an increase since the 1990’s.
If you live in Pennsylvania, you can help.
The Pennsylvania State House and Senate must pass a law — SB 1166 — to allow the Game Commission to raise the license fees. Contact your State Senator and State Representative (find them here) and urge them to support “SB 1166.”
Click here for a letter about the budget crisis and information on what you can do.
C1 pants in the heat as Hope perches in the sun (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
The peregrine family at the Cathedral of Learning is in for some excitement today. Hope and Terzo’s chick, C1, will be banded this morning.
Just after 10:00am Dan Brauning of the Pennsylvania Game Commission will venture out on the Cathedral of Learning ledge. Don’t be shocked when you hear the peregrines “kakking” and the chick disappears for a while. The falconcams will continue to run while the chick is absent.
C1 will receive a health check and some new “jewelry” and will be returned to the nest very quickly. A side benefit is that we’ll learn whether he’s a “she” or a “he.”
Watch my blog for photos of the event later today.
p.s. It’s exceptionally warm here in Pittsburgh this week. As shown in the photo above, you’ll see C1 panting and holding his wings open to stay cool.
(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)
Note: I don’t announce the banding in advance because the event is not open to the public. The room is too small to allow for uninvited guests.
Budgie in the “budgie trap” before I let her go (photo by Kate St. John)
On Throw Back Thursday (TBT):
Seven years ago a budgerigar frequented my backyard bird feeder with a flock of juvenile house sparrows. I could tell she wouldn’t last long in the wild because she was not wise about predators. One of my blog readers offered to adopt the budgie if I could catch her, so I put a bird cage in the backyard and waited to see if she would go inside.
Screenshot from Pigeon Air Patrol website: pigeonairpatrol.com
The air’s going to be bad in Pittsburgh today — Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups — so don’t take baby out for a stroll this afternoon. How can we know exactly where it’s safe to breathe? Birds and bicycles test the air.
Birds: London, England, March 2016:
Pigeons have been used for breeding, racing and message-carrying. This spring in London the Pigeon Air Patrol tested the air — quite literally.
Solenodons are nocturnal mammals that look like large, big-footed shrews. They eat beetles, crickets, worms, snails and even birds and reptiles which they paralyze with a bite containing their venomous saliva. Interestingly, solenodons aren’t immune to each others’ venom so if they fight they succumb when scratched by the teeth of a combatant. (The Hispaniola solenodon is so poorly studied that we’re not even sure if it fights very often.)
These mammals evolved in the absence of predators so they are slow, clumsy runners and tend to trip and fall when pursued. They are now so rare and so endangered that they’re expected to go extinct in the next 10-20 years because of habitat loss and predation by dogs, cats and humans.
With time running out for this animal, scientists wanted to sequence its DNA before it disappeared, and they had to catch it in a manner that was safe for the animal and for them. But how?
p.s. Did you know there’s a venomous mammal in Pennsylvania? The northern short-tailed shrew has venomous saliva that paralyzes its small prey. From Joseph Merritt’s Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania, “When humans are bitten, they may experience considerable irritation and swelling that could last up to three days.” Predators, including house cats, don’t eat this shrew because it smells so bad.
top photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador of ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez with solenodon.
photo of Hispaniola solenodon by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)
Schenley Park outing near the Westinghouse Fountain, 22 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yesterday morning, twelve of us braved the foggy chill to look for birds near the Westinghouse Fountain at Schenley Park.
My original plan was to walk on the Steve Falloon Trail but it was a sea of mud after so much rain. Instead we walked along the Serpentine Road with a good view of the treetops.
The birds weren’t particularly active so we were happy to see these Best Birds: blackpoll warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, an eastern wood-pewee, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles. We also saw a half-completed Baltimore oriole nest hanging from a branch high above the road.
At the end of the walk we stopped near the Schenley Park Visitors Center and on Flagstaff Hill to see two peregrine falcons (flying and perched at the Cathedral of Learning), a red-tailed hawk, and a Coopers hawk.