May 29 2017

Two Fledge Watches: Gulf and Pitt

Three young peregrines at the Gulf Tower, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Three young peregrines at the Gulf Tower, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Two Fledge Watch locations this week!

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch continues May 29 and 30:

Even though you don’t always see them on camera the three young peregrines at the Gulf Tower haven’t flown yet.  There are still two more days of Gulf Tower Fledge Watch:

  • Today, May 29 Memorial Day, 11:30a – 1:30p at the Flag Plaza parking lot.  Plenty of free parking!
  • May 30, 11:30a-1:30p at the sidewalk leading up to the Pennsylvanian railroad station.

 

Meanwhile across town …

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is scheduled for June 2-6:

Three peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Three peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning are losing their down and turning brown so it’s time to plan for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

Meet me and/or John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts at the Schenley Plaza tent, Friday June 2 through Tuesday June 6, 11:30a – 1:30p.

Click here for a Google map of Schenley Plaza.

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Plaza tent

As always, check the Events page for last minute updates.  Fledge Watch will be canceled if it’s raining.

What a busy week!  It’s convenient that the two nests hatched a week apart.

 

(peregrine photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning. Schenley Plaza tent photo by Kate St. John)

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May 28 2017

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch Update, May 26 & 27

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)

Yes!  Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza today, Sunday May 28, 11:30a to 1:30p.

Yesterday, Saturday May 27, I stuck to my plan but I missed some fun.

It rained in the morning so I didn’t plan to hold a Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza.  However, the rain stopped by noon so John English, John Bauman and Anne Marie Bosnyak went over to see what was up.  Here are John English’s pictures.

At top is the view of the Gulf Tower with the nest area circled in yellow.  It’s very easy to see the peregrines with binoculars.  John took these photos through his scope.

Below, one peregrine chick perches on the pillar near the nest.  You can see the falconcam from Flag Plaza.

One young peregrine perched on the pillar at the Gulf Tower nest (photo by John English)

One young peregrine perched on the pillar at the Gulf Tower nest (photo by John English)

 

Louie, circled top left, and Dori, circled at right, watch over the “kids” at the nest (yellow square) as fledging time approaches.  They’re waiting for the next step:

When a chick flies for the first time one of the parents, usually the male, follows the chick to its landing place and makes sure it’s safe.  If all is well, the parent brings food to the chick at its new perch.  To us humans it looks like food is the reward for a job well done.

Both peregrine parents watch the 'kids' as fledging time approaches (photo by John English)

Both peregrine parents watch the ‘kids’ as fledging time approaches (photo by John English)

 

My reluctance to vary Saturday’s Watch schedule was due to my experience on Friday May 26.

The weather forecast said the rain would end around 11am but it was still pouring at 11:15a so I posted to Twitter and Facebook that I wouldn’t be Downtown until noon.  Unfortunately, Margaret was already on her way and wondered where I was when she arrived at 11:30a.  She sat out the rain under the railroad station portico, out of sight of the sidewalk were I set up my scope at noon.

After the drizzle stopped, Jean and Barb stopped over from the Federal Building around 1pm.  We were thrilled to see Louie hunting close by as he dove on two mourning doves near the Federated Investors building.  The doves escaped.  Whoosh!

Margaret found us at 1:15pm.  It started to rain hard at 1:30pmso Fledge Watch ended.

Fortunately, the weather looks good today and tomorrow so I’ll be at Flag Plaza both days, 11:30a to 1:30p.

 

(photos by John English, Pittsburgh Falconuts)

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May 27 2017

Now Blooming: Pink Lady Slipper

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Pink lady slipper (photo by Paul Staniszewski)

Pink lady slipper (photo by Paul Staniszewski)

Paul Staniszewski reminded me this week that pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are blooming now in Pennsylvania’s woods.

Take some time to look for them this weekend.

Last year I found some in a deer exclosure at Ohiopyle State Park.

 

(photo by Paul Staniszewski)

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May 26 2017

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch: The Forecast

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!

It doesn’t look good for Gulf Tower Fledge Watch this weekend.  As of this writing I have altered the schedule.

Today, Friday May 26:  yes, I’ll make the attempt AFTER NOON.  See you downtown at 1100 Liberty Avenue after the rain stops.  (It’s pouring now.)  Click here for directions.

Saturday May 27:  no

Rain and thunder forecast, May 26-27, Pittsburgh (mage from weather.gov)

Pittsburgh rain and thunder forecast, 26-27 May 2017 (image as of 26 May from weather.gov with relevant times framed in orange)

 

Sunday, May 28: yes.  The forecast has changed for the better. See you at Flag Plaza.

Monday, May 29, Memorial Day: yes. See you at Flag Plaza.

 

 

(screenshots of the Hourly Weather Forecast for Pittsburgh, PA from weather.gov as of 8am 26 May 2017)

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May 26 2017

First Robins Have Fledged

Fledgling American robin in D.C. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Fledgling American robin in D.C. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On May 23 I saw my neighborhood’s first American robin fledgling of 2017.

He’s the same size as his parents but has a speckled chest, almost no tail (his tail hadn’t grown in yet), and a loud voice.  He follows his mother around my backyard.  When she walks three paces, he walks three paces.  He maintains his distance, begging periodically, until she has food in her beak.  Then he rushes at her to get it.

In four weeks, around June 20, he’ll become independent.  Meanwhile his mother will build another nest, lay, incubate and hatch another brood.  If she’s quick about it they’ll fledge five weeks after he did, around June 27.

Robins raise two or three broods per year and though only one or two survive per nest it’s enough to keep their population booming.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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May 25 2017

Flying Tigers

Tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Female eastern tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

There are tigers in the park, floating among the trees, gliding in the sunshine, visiting the flowers.

Eastern tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) first appeared in Schenley Park in April.  Their caterpillars feed on many kinds of trees including wild cherry, magnolia, tuliptree, cottonwood and willow, so they get started early and can produce two to three broods per year.

You can sex this butterfly by color.  Female tiger swallowtails have iridescent blue on both sides of their hindwings.  The males are black where the females are blue.

While you’re looking closely to figure out their sex, notice that their tiny bodies are striped, too.

Eastern tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Eastern tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Striped all over, tiny tigers.

 

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

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May 24 2017

Looking Speckled

Cathedral of Learning chicks, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Cathedral of Learning chicks, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At 29 days old, the peregrine falcon chicks at the Cathedral of Learning look different than they did a week ago on Banding Day.  Their juvenile feathers now give them a speckled brown-and-white appearance.

For comparison, here’s what they looked like on May 16.

Cathedral of Learning peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Cathedral of Learning peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Even though they’re older they still act like baby birds.  They sleep on their bellies and whine at their parents.  In the photo at top, two chicks shout at one of their parents while a third sleeps on her belly.  When they shout like this, one of the parents is perched above them out of reach.  😉

 

Meanwhile at the Gulf Tower …

Three peregrine chicks at the Gulf Tower, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Three peregrine chicks at the Gulf Tower, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

… the peregrine chicks are a week older (35 days old) and already look quite brown.  When they’re not sleeping or eating they spend time pulling white down from their bodies.

The transformation is amazing.  Here’s what they looked like a week ago.

Gulf tower peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Gulf tower peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

The Gulf Tower youngsters will fly by the end of the month so come on down to Fledge Watch at midday, May 26-30, to see them getting ready to go.  Click here for date, time and location.

Keep an eye on the sky and check the Events page before you come Downtown!  Fledge Watch is a fair weather event so I will cancel if it’s raining. (Ugh! Rain is predicted all weekend.)

 

p.s. Yes, there will be a Fledge Watch for the Cathedral of Learning peregrines — probably June 2-6 — but I haven’t scheduled it yet.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at University of Pittsburgh and Gulf Tower)

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May 23 2017

Fluff In The Air

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Cottonwood fluff on the ground (photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

Cottonwood fluff on the ground (photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

In late May, you’ll see white fluff in the air as you search the sky for birds.  It’s not dandelion fluff.  This is cottonwood season.

The eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) grows in open and riparian habitats from the Rockies to the southeastern coast. Western Pennsylvania is on the eastern edge of their range.

Range map of the eastern cottonwood (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Range map of the eastern cottonwood (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Cottonwoods are one of the fastest growing and largest trees in North America.  Reaching up to 130 feet tall the trunk can be more than five feet across.  The trees require bare soil and full sun to germinate so you usually see them out in the open, sometimes alone.

Eastern cottonwood (photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Eastern cottonwood (photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

 

Their species name, deltoides, describes the leaf shape that looks a lot like aspens. Both trees are in the willow family.

Cottonwood leaves (photo by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

Cottonwood leaves (photo by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

 

In early spring cottonwoods sprout male and female catkins. The females are fertilized by wind-blown pollen and become drooping strings of seed capsules.  In May the capsules burst open to release thousands of tiny seeds, each one attached to a bit of “cotton” that carries it on the wind.  (The brown spots in this photo are seed capsule covers, not the seeds.)

Eastern cottonwood seeds, still on the branch (photo by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org)

Eastern cottonwood seeds, still on the branch (photo by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org)

 

The fluff breaks off and blows away but each tree is so prolific that in windless conditions, when the fluff falls straight to the ground, it looks like snow.

Do you want to see a lot of cottonwood fluff?  Drive north on Route 528 from the bridge over Moraine State Park‘s Lake Arthur. Eventually cottonwoods are on both sides of the road.

There’s fluff in the air there!

 

(photo credits:
fluff on the ground by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
range map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original
clump of cottonwood trees by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
cottonwood leaves by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
cottonwood seeds on the branch by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org
)

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May 22 2017

Why He’s Called Orange Crowned

Published by under Songbirds

Orange crown on orange-crowned warbler (photo by David Amamoto)

Orange-crowned warbler (photo by David Amamoto)

Have you seen an orange-crowned warbler?  Have you ever seen his crown?

Orange-crowned warblers (Oreothlypis celata) are difficult to identify because they are so dull.  They’re drab grayish-yellow or olive-yellow birds with no wing bars and no obvious field marks except for yellow undertail coverts, very pointy beaks (like so many other warblers) and faint gray eyelines.

Like ruby-crowned kinglets, orange-crowned warblers don’t raise their head feathers unless they’re excited.  Kinglets are often excited but these warblers are calm.  I’d never seen an orange crown … until now.

Thanks to David Amamoto we can finally see how the bird got his name.  Great photo, David!

Click here and scroll down to see more orange-crowned warblers and the birds they resemble.

 

(photo by David Amamoto)

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May 21 2017

Today’s Outing in Schenley Park

Published by under Books & Events

Schenley park outing, 21 May 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Schenley park outing, 21 May 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Fifteen of us had a great time in Schenley Park this morning.  We saw 33 species of birds including nesting Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes.  The two youngest members of our group found frogs, turtles and an enormous goldfish in the lake.  Wow!

We started off with a distant look at a peregrine falcon perched at the Cathedral of Learning.  My guess is that we saw Hope watching over the chicks.  If you were viewing the falconcam you wouldn’t have seen her but she was quite close.

Best Birds were scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes, plus a first-of-year Acadian flycatcher.  Here’s the complete checklist on eBird.

I was worried that storms would cancel the outing but we had bright sunny weather.  As I write this, dark clouds are moving in.  Now it can rain.  🙂

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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