Jul 20 2017

Double Named

Published by under Musings & News

Red-footed booby, Sula sula (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Red-footed booby, Sula sula (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Some birds have scientific names that repeat themselves.

Read about this odd bird’s odd name in this vintage article from July 2010:

Double Names

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

No responses yet

Jul 19 2017

The Same Bird Everywhere

Published by under Travel

Northern shoveler (photo by Steve Gosser)

Northern shoveler (photo by Steve Gosser)

During my recent trip to England and Finland I was happy to see lots of new Life Birds but was amazed at how many birds were the same at home and abroad.

Some are on both continents because they were introduced — rock pigeons, house sparrows, starlings, ring-necked pheasants and mute swans. But many in the duck, gull and tern families occur in both places because they flew there on their own. There are usually different subspecies on each continent(*) but in a few cases the exact same species is everywhere.

Here are four such birds, easily found in North America and Europe. There are no subspecies so if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.

Above, I saw northern shovelers (Anas clypeata) in England where they’re simply called “shovelers.” I was amazed to learn they’re the same bird everywhere though I should have known. They breed across northern America and Eurasia.

 

Red-breasted merganser (photo by Steve Gosser)

Red-breasted merganser (photo by Steve Gosser)

Red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator) breed in northern America and Eurasia and travel far on migration (for a merganser). They spend the winter at both salt and fresh water so it’s no wonder they can change continents.

 

Caspian tern (photo by Steve Gosser)

Caspian tern (photo by Steve Gosser)

Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia) are the largest tern on earth and found on every continent except Antarctica, though their distribution is scattered on coasts and in the interior. In western Pennsylvania they’re at Presque Isle in the spring.

 

Great black-backed gull (photo by shellgame on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Great black-backed gull (photo by shellgame via Flickr Creative Commons license)

And finally, great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus) are coastal and Great Lakes birds found on both sides of the North Atlantic. As the largest member of the gull family this bird is so powerful that it eats smaller gulls, even adults!

When you see a great black-backed gull at the beach this summer, consider this:  It’s the same bird everywhere.

 

(Great black-backed gull photo by shellgame on Flickr, Creative Commons license; click on the image to see the original. All other photos by Steve Gosser)

(*) p.s. A few examples of different subspecies between North America and Europe: green-winged teal, sandwich tern, barn swallow, barn owl, peregrine falcon.

No responses yet

Jul 18 2017

Keep Eating!

Japanese beetle eating Japanese knotweed, Allegheny County, PA, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Japanese beetle eating Japanese knotweed, Allegheny County, PA, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last month along the Panhandle Trail I paused to look at a wildflower near some Japanese knotweed when I noticed the knotweed was being eaten by Japanese beetles.  🙂

Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) were introduced to North America by accident in the early 1900s and spread across the continent.  The adult beetles eat leaves, the larvae eat roots.  If you have roses, you’ve been battling Japanese beetles your entire life.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) was introduced as a garden plant but is so aggressive that it chokes out native plants and even grows through asphalt.  As one of the world’s worst invasive species, it’s such a pest in Great Britain that as recently as five years ago you couldn’t get a mortgage if there was Japanese knotweed on the property. (That has since changed.)

Of course I was happy to see these two “Japanese” species together.  The beetles felt so at home on the knotweed that they were mating on it.

Japanese beetles mating on Japanese knotweed, Allegheny County, PA, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Japanese beetles mating on Japanese knotweed, Allegheny County, PA, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

My hope is that the female beetles will drop to the ground below the knotweed and lay their eggs.  When the eggs hatch the larvae will burrow underground and eat the roots of nearby plants.

Good.  Eat the knotweed roots.  Eat the leaves.  Go on, Japanese beetles.  Keep eating!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Jul 17 2017

On Silent Wings

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

Barn owl at South Acre, Norfolk, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Barn owl at South Acre, Norfolk, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Last week I mentioned that seeing a barn owl in flight was the visual highlight of my trip to England.  Today I’ll give you a taste of what it was like to watch this beautiful bird.

Barn owls (Tyto alba) live around the world (see map) but declined 50-70% in parts of their range after World War II due to intensive farming practices, the conversion of farmland to housing, and the introduction of pesticides.  In the U.K. the population fell 70% by the 1980s.  In North America they’re now endangered in Vermont, Connecticut and the Midwest, including Ohio.

Because barn owls are so secretive and rare in the U.S. I had seen only one in the wild — and it was roosting.  I had never seen a barn owl fly.  What a thrill it was to see one hunting the tall grass near the River Wensum in England.

The short video below is similar to my experience, though not the same owl.

 

I know I wouldn’t have seen a barn owl in Britain if it weren’t for the decades-long efforts of local wildlife agencies and trusts working to restore this bird to the English countryside.  One such group is The Barn Owl Trust located in Devon near Dartmoor.  Since 1988 they’ve worked to conserve barn owls and educate the public about these beautiful birds.  Learn more in their video below.

 

Thanks to conservation efforts around the world, we’re still thrilled to see barn owls float by on silent wings.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Flight sequence video from the BBO Wildlife Trust on YouTube. Video on the history of The Barn Owl Trust UK from YouTube)

One response so far

Jul 16 2017

Now Blooming

Published by under Plants

Turk's cap lily, Butler-Freeport Trail, 15 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Turk’s cap lily, Butler-Freeport Trail, 15 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

In western Pennsylvania there aren’t many flowers in June but things start to get exciting in July. Here’s what I’ve seen in the past week.

It’s lily time! The Turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum), above, is blooming along the Butler-Freeport Trail. The Canada lily (Lilium canadense), below, was blooming in Raccoon Creek State Park on July 9.

Canada Lily, Raccoon Creek State Park, 9 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Canada Lily, Raccoon Creek State Park, 9 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) is also blooming everywhere.  This one was along Nichol Road at Raccoon.

Tall meadow rue, Raccoon Creek State Park, 9 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tall meadow rue, Raccoon Creek State Park, 9 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

And here’s a puzzle.  The photo is a nice “beauty shot” but doesn’t show enough of the flower for me to positively identify it. My best guess is woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus).  I wish I’d taken photos of the stem!

Woodland sunflower perhaps, 9 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Woodland sunflower, perhaps, 9 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Jul 15 2017

Catching Up With The Harmar Eagles

Published by under Birds of Prey

Juvenile bald eagle flies near the Harmar nest, July 2017 (photo by Annette Devinney)

Juvenile bald eagle flies near the Harmar nest in Allegheny County, PA, 9 July 2017 (photo by Annette Devinney)

While I was on vacation I lost track of local news.  Today I’m catching up with the Harmar bald eagles.

It’s been more than a week since the two young eagles from the Harmar nest made their first flight.  Annette Devinney and her husband Gerry captured photos and video last Sunday July 9.  The juvies are looking good!

 

I hope to have a look at them this weekend from the Harmar end of the Hulton Bridge if they’re still near the nest.

Meanwhile, read their happy news and see more of Annette’s photos in Mary Ann Thomas’s TribLive article from Monday July 10 (click here).

 

(photos by Annette Devinney, video from Gerry Devinney on Vimeo)

One response so far

Jul 14 2017

Only One Left

Published by under Peregrines

Juvenile female peregrine, 08/BR, at Heinz Chapel, 8 June 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Juvenile female peregrine, 08/BR, at Heinz Chapel, 8 June 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Yesterday I learned that this juvenile female peregrine, black green 08/BR, was found dead at Pittsburgh International Airport, apparently hit by a plane on Sunday July 9.

08/BR hatched at the Cathedral of Learning this year and left home to start her new life four weeks after she first learned to fly — right on time.  Just over 15 miles away she found a big open space in which to hunt.  Alas, she didn’t know anything about airplanes.

The video below by Peter Bell shows her on 8 June 2017 at Heinz Chapel when she was new to flying.

 

Her death, and the death of her brother 09/AP, leaves only one surviving juvenile from the Cathedral of Learning 2017 nest.  With a 62.5% mortality rate in their first year of life this peregrine brood has now matched the statistics, unhappy as that is.

Meanwhile, as of today July 14, we can confirm that the remaining young female is fine.  She’s been seen and heard nearly every day in Oakland, begging from her parents in a very loud voice.  She’s due to leave home any day now.

 

(photo and video of Pitt fledgling, black/green 08/BR, by Peter Bell)

13 responses so far

Jul 13 2017

The Dickcissels Came Back

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Dickcissel singing in western PA, 10 June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Dickcissel singing in western PA, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

While I was on vacation in Europe I missed the chance to report on an unusual bird in Pennsylvania this summer.

First seen in early June, dickcissels (Spiza americana) have now been reported in 14 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, north, south, east and west.

Their sudden appearance in the middle of the nesting season is a tribute to their peripatetic lives.  If nesting fails at their preferred location they’ll travel a thousand miles to find a better nesting site.

Perhaps they came to Pennsylvania this year because there’s a severe drought where they usually nest in the plains of North and South Dakota and Montana. Bob Mulvihill wrote about this correlation during the dickcissel invasion of 1988 (click here and scroll to page 6).

U.S. Drought Monitor map, 4 July 2017 (map from U.S. DroughtMonitor, UNL, USDA, NOAA)

U.S. Drought Monitor map, 4 July 2017 (map from U.S. DroughtMonitor, UNL, USDA, NOAA)

 

In the summer of 2012 when there was a severe drought in the Midwest, dickcissels came back to Pennsylvania.  Read more about them in this vintage post from June 2012.

Dickcissels

 

(June 2017 photo by Anthony Bruno)

No responses yet

Jul 12 2017

Birding Norfolk’s Fens & Forests

Published by under Travel

Bearded reedling (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bearded reedling (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

My husband and I joke that we’re “Bird and Word.”   I’m addicted to birds.  He spends time with poetry, literature and art.  On our recent trip to England we made sure to pursue our dreams.  While Rick spent time in London visiting museums and the haunts of great poets, I went on a three day Oriole Birding tour of Norfolk County’s fens and forests.

The Norfolk Summer Breeders and Late Migrants tour on 28-30 June was great!  Seven of us joined bird guide Ashley Saunders for a tour that included 114 species (88 were Life Birds) despite relentless wind and rain on the first day.

From the moment I arrived at Kings Lynn railway station to the end of the tour, everything was taken care of:  transportation, meals, lodging and birds. We stayed at the Blue Boar Inn in Great Ryburgh where we enjoyed excellent accommodations, delicious food, and cool birds just a short walk away at the River Wensum.  Every day we spent 10+ hours in the field but our schedule included pauses for elevenses, lunch and 4pm tea, all packed in the van so we could eat outdoors and not miss the birds.  How civilized!

Ashley tailored the tour for the weather, recent rarities, and our wish lists.  He’s excellent at finding birds and making sure everyone sees them.  The advantage is that you see even more this way.  While we paused for a lingering look at Dartford warblers a rare pair of European honey buzzards flew over.  Woo hoo!

I saw all the birds I wrote about in the past few weeks except, of course, the birds of Finland.  And there were bonuses: I had never seen a chaffinch, an extremely common bird, so Ashley paused at a bird feeder to show me a brightly colored male.  Wow!  Click here to see a male chaffinch, about the size of a house finch.

Here’s Ashley’s summary of our Norfolk tour on the Oriole Birding website.

If you’re visiting England, I highly recommend Oriole Birding for great looks at the best birds in the U.K.  You’ll also enjoy Oriole’s international tours departing from the U.K. for birding sites around the world. Check out their website by clicking on their logo above.

 

In case you’re curious, here’s my list of Best Birds.  They were very hard to choose:

  • Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
  • Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo) — excellent looks at this peregrine-like falcon
  • Black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa) — beautiful rusty color
  • Ruff (Calidris pugnax) in breeding plumage, far better than the non-breeding ruffs rarely seen in the U.S. in the winter
  • Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus shown above)
  • Great bitterns (Botaurus stellaris)
  • European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)
  • European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
  • A family of little owls (Athene noctua)
  • And, near the Blue Boar Inn, superb views of a barn owl (Tyto alba) coursing over a field with rooks (Corvus frugilegus) wheeling in the background.  Without a doubt this was my visual highlight of the trip.
  • Last species on the tour: a family of peregrine falcons high up at their nest site in Kings Lynn.

 

 

(bearded reedling photo from Wikimedia Commons, Oriole Birding logo from the Oriole Birding website. Click on the images to see the originals)

p.s. Oriole Birding was named for the Eurasian golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus), a rare bird that used to nest in poplar plantations in Norfolk County.  The golden oriole’s nesting requirements are so specific that when the old poplars fell down, the birds did not come back.

No responses yet

Jul 11 2017

Railroad Flowers

Published by under Plants

Buddleja -- a.k.a.butterfly bush -- escaped cultivation in the U.K. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Buddleja — a.k.a.butterfly bush — escaped cultivation in the U.K. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While visiting England and Finland my husband and I traveled by train. (Wonderful! Wish we had good trains in the U.S.)  In both countries I noticed beautiful flowers blooming along the rail lines.  As I feared, the flowers are invasive.

 

England’s railroad flowers:

Buddleja davidii by the railroad in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Buddleja davidii by the railroad in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In England the railroad waste places are crowded with butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii (pronounced “BUD lee ah”).  Originally from central China and Japan, buddleja has many cultivars and is planted around the world for its beauty.  It’s now invasive in most temperate regions outside its homeland including England, New Zealand and North America.  Yes, it’s invasive in Pennsylvania.  Here are Three Reasons to Never Plant Butterfly Bush Again.

 

Finland’s railroad flowers:

Lupinus polyphyllus (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Lupinus polyphyllus (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In Finland I was surprised to see so much lupine because it’s a treat to see it growing wild in North America.  Unfortunately Lupinus polyphyllus was imported for Finnish gardens and has escaped to waste places along the roads and railways.  It’s everywhere!  When I remarked on its beauty our Finnish friends said, “It’s awful! Very hard to get rid of.”   Here’s some lupine by the railway, taken from inside the train to Helsinki.

Lupine along the railroad in Finland (photo taken from the train by Kate St. John)

Lupine along the railroad in Finland (photo taken from the train by Kate St. John)

Click here to read about five invasive species in Finland. The North American mink is one of them.

 

Pennsylvania’s railroad flowers:

Orange daylilies growing wild in PA, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Orange daylilies growing wild in PA, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Though it’s hard to find a passenger train in western Pennsylvania, we still use railroads for freight and, yes, we have railroad flowers.  Ours are orange daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva), a garden cultivar from East Asia that grows wild along roadsides and rail lines.  This gave it two nicknames:  Ditch Lily and Railroad Lily.

Orange daylily seeds are sterile so the plant spreads by fibrous roots and rhizomes. These are so hard to get rid of that the plant is invasive in Pennsylvania.

Many invasive plants line the roads and railways of the world.  Fortunately the railroad flowers are beautiful.

 

(most photos are from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals.)

4 responses so far

Next »